Sunday, February 22, 2009

Introducing Our Two New Agents – Mary Gray and Mykah Larkins

Two top-notch agents, Mary Gray and Mykah Larkins, have joined Berkeley Hills Realty. They are not only longtime business partners, they’re related: Mary is Mykah’s aunt. “Mary and Mykah combine the wisdom of age and the enthusiasm of youth,” says Berkeley Hills Realty co-owner Tracy Sichterman. “They make a great a team.”

Mary Gray: on Being of Service

Mary grew up in the Pacific Northwest and moved to the Bay Area in 1979 to work as a hospice nurse before switching to real estate. She worked with Mason McDuffie and Marvin Gardens, acquiring a list of loyal clients, especially around El Cerrito, where she lives.

In her real estate work, Mary uses the same intuitive skills that served her as a nurse. “I’m good at walking in other people’s shoes,” she says, “especially in times of stress and transition.” Mary says she is also good at “listening below the surface,” by which she means hearing what her clients tell her while intuiting their deeper hopes and wishes.

Mary, who is in her early sixties, is especially fond of the elderly. “When I was little, my mother and I lived with my grandparents,” she says. “The old ladies on the block taught me to play canasta before I was five, and I appreciated their wisdom and beauty.” She loves to hike and read, Mary says, “but relationships are what interest me most-and will remain so forever.”

Mykah Larkins: Learning from the Best

Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1970, Larkins forged her connection to the East Bay when she moved in with her aunt in 1986. Mary Gray was an agent with Mason McDuffie then, and would become her mentor and business partner. When Larkins decided to go into real estate in 2003, her aunt was there to help. “I would get a stager, pick the colors, and do all the preparation work,” she says, “but Mary had been through many markets and she knew exactly what was needed.”

At the time, the real estate market was booming. “Mary started training me at a time when the seller’s market was amping up,” says Larkins. “In the beginning, a house would typically get a few offers and sell for $20,000 over the asking price. But pretty soon houses would get 16 offers and go for $150,000 over the asking price.”

The pace was frenetic. “We got houses ready in three weeks, put them on the market for two weeks, and have them close escrow three weeks later,” says Larkins. “Six to seven weeks from start to finish, and you were done.”

But during all that time, Gray was preparing her niece for the slowdown she knew was sure to come. “In a down market, those houses will just sit around,” Gray warned her. “You can struggle to set the right price, do all the same preparation work, and a house might still take three months to sell.” Says Larkins: “Way back then, Mary was already training me for the market we’re currently in.”

Larkins is a great communicator, and she knows the East Bay intimately. “I live and work and play right here in the El Cerrito-Albany-Berkeley area,” she says. “My entire life is here. My children go to school here, and I’m on the PTA; I know the community really well.”

Two Heads are Better than One

Mary and Mykah—sometimes called the “M & M team”—think of real estate as not just a business, but also a service. “A house is most people’s greatest asset and buying or selling it is hard on them,” says Mary. “It’s a privilege to help somebody through the process.”

The women also form something of a mutual admiration society. “Mykah is smart and creative,” says Mary. “We’re very good together.” Both women are detail oriented, and committed to helping their clients accomplish what they want. “We’re going to sell your house, or find you one,” says Mykah. “Either way, we’re going to get the job done.”

To contact Mary Gray and Mykah Larkins:

Mary Gray: 510-524-9888 x40;

Mykah Larkins: 510-524-9888 x40, 510-520-6692 (cell);

Friday, February 20, 2009

Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan

From the National Association of Realtors

On February 18, 2009, President Obama announced his Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, designed to help up to 7-9 million families avoid foreclosure by restructuring or refinancing their mortgages. In doing so, the plan not only helps responsible homeowners behind on their payments or at risk of defaulting, but prevents neighborhoods and communities from being pulled over the edge too, as defaults and foreclosures contribute to falling home values, failing local businesses, and lost jobs.

The key components of the plan are:

1. Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) Refinancing for Up to 4 to 5 Million Responsible Homeowners with GSE loans to Make Their Mortgages More Affordable

A $75 Billion Homeowner Stability Initiative to Reach Up to 3 to 4 Million At-Risk Homeowners

Supporting Low Mortgage Rates By Strengthening Confidence in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Download NAR's Summary on the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan> (PDF: 100K)
Chart: The New Housing Plan> (The New York Times, Feb. 18, 2009)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sweet Treats for Home Buyers - The Stimulus Bill

Last night, the U.S. Senate passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 by a 60 to 38 vote. Earlier today, the stimulus package passed the U.S. House of Representatives in a 246 to 183 vote. Yesterday's votes followed several days of negotiations by the House, Senate, and White House, with the final tab for the stimulus bill coming in at $787.2 billion.

The good news is that the legislation resets the conforming loan limit cap at $729,750, up from $625,500. Numerous counties in California experienced a marked decrease in their conforming loan and FHA limits on Jan. 1, and the stimulus bill reinstates 2008 loan limits through Dec. 31, 2009.

The bill also increases the first-time home buyer credit from $7,500 to $8,000, and removes the requirement that the credit be paid back if the buyer stays in the home for at least three years. It also extends the expiration date for the credit from July 1 to Dec. 1, 2009. Home buyers must have purchased a home after Jan. 1, 2009, and before Dec. 1, 2009, to be eligible for the $8,000 credit.

The stimulus package also contains $308.3 billion in appropriations spending, including $120 billion on infrastructure and science and more than $30 billion on energy-related infrastructure projects. It also allocated an additional $267 billion for direct spending, including increased unemployment benefits and food stamps; and provides $212 billion in tax breaks for individuals and businesses.

*source: James Liptak, 2009 President, CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Toilet Isn't Green Enough

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As a member of the Berkeley Association's Green Council, I am starting to lose sleep over my eco-inadequacies. I love the original tile in my kid's bathroom, but the pottie is not so hottie. Wasting over 3.5 gallons per flush is not just an embarrassment, it's going to start costing me money.

Two dry winters have resulted in the biggest water supply threat in nearly 20 years (according to EBMUD). To safeguard its shrinking supply EBMUD has declared a severe water shortage emergency. Mandatory water rationing is now in effect. Single family residences are expected to reduce water use by 19%, or face possible fines, water flow restrictions, or loss of water service.

To get me to give up my throne of green for a greener throne, EBMUD offers this pot of gold: EBMUD will rebate $150 or up to the toilet cost, whichever is less, for the purchase of qualifying high-efficiency toilets. They offer this rebate for up to three toilets per household.

EBMUD and PG&E also offer rebates for clothes washers. EBMUD will also come conduct a free on-site survey of indoor and outdoor water use. Residential customers who use at least 500 gallons of water per day during the summer can also receive a rebate of up to $1,000 for a portion of the cost of irrigation system parts and landscape materials, including permeable hardscape. The also offer some instant freebies such as water-saving shower heads and faucet aerators.

Call EBMUD 1-866-403-2683 or click here: