Thursday, August 30, 2007

If You Build It, They Will Come (for Permits!)

Have you been following the story of the Danville man who built a baseball practice field for his son's little league team in his back yard? Sounds sweet doesn't it? But it is also a good reminder to get those permits when you are making any additions or alterations to your home--from upgrading a bathroom to building a miniature AT&T Park in the back forty.

Here's the basic information. The Danville man spent about $300,000 to transform 18,000 square feet of his lot into a baseball field and practice location with batting cages and more. However, he did not get the proper permits to build something so large, especially the 14-foot high fences that obstruct his neighbors' views of Mt. Diablo and the hills. Some neighbors complain that the structure looks like a prison.

The City of Danville has denied the man's belated permit requests and ordered him to deconstruct the unsightly addition. He is, however, trying to make peace by lowering the fences to below 6 feet high. But he is unlikely to get approval.

You can read the coverage of the whole story in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Some people think that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Our cities and communities have zoning laws and permit processes for a reason--to preserve the sanctity and value of the community as a whole. While this man has a right to make improvements to his property (within reason), his neighbors also have the right to their views and quiet enjoyment of their own property. How would this man feel if his neighbor built a huge windmill in his backyard because he just love windmills? By the way he plays the game, that would have to be acceptable as well.

Need more reminders to run your improvement plans by the city for permits? This man in Rolling Hills Estates in Southern California is getting one day in prison for every foot of un-approved fence he put up on his property's border. The fence is 180 feet long. That is six months in jail, because the new fence poses a safety risk on a popular horse trail.

So, even if you are just making minor improvements, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you have questions about permits and city ordinances, please let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Labor Day Weekend Events

So, what are you going to do this weekend? Remember, the Bay Bridge will be closed, so keep alternate transportation in mind. As I wrote yesterday, you can get all the 411 right here. Here are some ways to have fun and avoid the freeways.

If you are in the East Bay, I highly recommend the annual Art & Soul Festival in Downtown Oakland. Six stages of music (including Lucinda Williams and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy), rides and activities for kids, an artisan marketplace, food and wine tasting, and more. This is a great event each year!

Or take the Ferry to the Sausalito Art Ferry. Now in its 55th year (!!!), the best artists and artisans from the west coast show of their latest work in one very beautiful location. If you've never been, you must check it out!

Or take BART to the Big City for two very different events. Celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love with a reunion concert in Golden Gate Park. And, the gay community celebrates bear culture at the huge new event--the 4th Annual Hairrison Street Fair. (Woof!).

No matter what you choose to do...have a great time with your friends and family. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bay Area Bridges--Good News / Bad News

Well, there are a lot of developments with Bay Area bridges, and I just had to weigh in. I've written about the bridges (and public transportation) before, and here is an update.

So the new Benicia Bridge opened this past weekend, and it is a wonderful thing! In addition to having an expanded capacity, the bridge features "open road tolling" allowing FasTrak users to glide on by at the speed limit with no slowing down. There are no toll booths to slalom through. Previously, when I took this bridge during the evening commute, there would be a traffic jam waiting to get across the bridge that could hold you up 15-20 minutes. We literally flew across the bridge yesterday at the height of rush hour. Heaven!

As the traffic reporter on the radio said as crossed the bridge, "Property values just went up in Benicia thanks to the new bridge!"

And, unless you've been living under a rock the last month, you probably already know that the Bay Bridge will be closed all of this Labor Day Weekend for retrofitting. Highway Patrol will start to close off access to the bridge by 8pm in both directions. It will not re-open until Tuesday at 5am.

So, how will you get around? BART will be running around the clock to its main stations, and the ferries will be expanding their services. Or, you can stay off the freeways, relax, and enjoy your community. Last year, when the Bay Bridge was closed in just one direction over Labor Day Weekend, there was a significant drop in traffic across the system and other bridges.

For more information on the Bay Bridge closure and other transportation options, please visit the Bay Bridge website.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Market Update

The media continues to spread a message of gloom and doom about the real estate market. While the reports should be listened to and deeply considered, always keep your individual situation in mind if you are currently active in the real estate market.

CNN reports that the "glut of homes hits 16-year high." Keep in mind that this statistic is on a nationwide basis. That information is helpful for a large snapshot of the market and for a look at macroeconomic trends, but you are presumably buying or selling a home in the Bay Area. Well, today the San Francisco Chronicle calls the market in East Oakland a "dead zone," and finds the inventory of homes for sale to be rising, and homes in escrow to be flatlining. But even that requires a closer look. That same article mentions that there have been 65 homes sales in Oakland over $1 million since May.

So, it is same old story that the rich are getting richer and the poor can't buy homes. And, the market is undergoing a correction period more than a freefall or collapse.

What this means in common sense terms is that if you have money, you should have no problem continuing to buy real estate. Mortgage lenders are tightening up their regulations. If you are a buyer, you are going to need 20% down and a great FICO score in almost every situation (and you should consider great tools like the Monthly Mortgage Assistance Programs). If you are a seller, you might need a little patience and a lot of courage to price your home lower than you expected.

It is a complicated market there. It always has been, and it always will! If you would like to discuss the East Bay real estate in more depth, let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or