Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

Be kind to Mother Earth and take a hike! Berkeley Hills Realty has walking maps of Berkeley and Oakland which include many fabulous pedestrian pathways. For a complimentary copy of Berkeley’s Pathways or Walk Oakland!—while supplies last—stop by our office:

Berkeley Hills Realty
1714 Solano Avenue (between Tulare and Ensenada)
Or contact us at 510-524-9888

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Introducing Our New Agent - Auggie Wilms

“We’re very happy that Auggie decided to join our company,” says BHR co-owner Tracy Sichterman. “I’ve rarely met an agent with so much energy and drive. Auggie has a great work ethic, and I think his clients will be delighted with his results.”

Auggie Wilms is an agent who really knows how to combine the ingredients of a good real estate deal. A former chef, Wilms has spent two decades combining interesting ingredients with the same talent and skill that he now brings to his real estate activity.

It almost sounds like the setup for a joke, right? “A chef walks into a real estate office... ” But it’s no joke, and it actually began a quarter century ago with the chef’s mother. In 1985, Berkeley Hills Realty co-owner Nancy Mueller helped Wilms’s mom Barbara Clark buy a house on Pine Street in Berkeley. In 2006, Nancy did the same for Auggie, helping him buy a house on Monterey Avenue. Wilms says the experience was so positive that he decided to go into real estate himself.

Aside for a brief foray to Los Angeles, Wilms is Bay Area born and raised. But after graduating from Berkeley High, he set his sights on the Big Apple and enrolled in New York’s famed French Culinary Institute. Along with slicing and dicing, Wilms learned a valuable life lesson: the importance of doing the job right. “They were very strict at the school,” he says. “You follow a classic recipe, and you don’t mess with it.”

Returning to the Bay Area in 1987, Wilms started his two decades of pleasing local palates. Among other places, he worked as a sous chef at Masa’s in San Francisco and at Lalime’s in Berkeley. In 1994, he started a business smoking seafood for local restaurants, the Ohlone Smoke Company in Emeryville.

Ohlone Smoke scored a major hit in a taste competition in December 2001 sponsored by the San Francisco Chronicle. “We beat everybody,” says Wilms, “including companies much larger than ours.” Wilms says he still hands out samples of smoked fish to his present-day clients. “I give them a small package with my card stapled to it.”

The next few years brought a series of momentous turning points for Wilms. He sold Ohlone Smoke Company, got divorced, bought his Monterey Avenue home, and hung up his chef’s toque for good. “It was time for a change,” he says simply.

But why go into real estate? How does a person move to escrows from escargots?

Wilms argues that his career switch isn’t as strange as it seems. “I’ve always been interested in building and architecture,” he says, “and I’m a hands-on kind of guy. I’ve done a lot of work on my own house, everything from attending zoning meetings to nailing up sheetrock.” In addition, Wilms has lived and worked here all his life, and has a wealth of knowledge about the local real estate scene. “I’m good with people, and I bring tremendous energy to my work,” he says. “As in cooking, my focus is on getting the job done, and doing it right.”

Auggie Wilms can be reached at Berkeley Hills Realty at 510-524-9888 x44, 415-948-6323 (cell), and by e-mail at

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Buy a House, but Don't Pay the Mortgage!

A new reverse mortgage option, HECM (Home Equity Conversion Mortgage, the FHA term for a reverse mortgage), has been unveiled that may help senior citizens age 62 or older buy a house or downsize from a current home in the Bay Area. Reverse mortgages have been around for quite some time. However, the concept of their use to purchase a home is new.

In the past a reverse mortgage was a way for seniors to access the equity they had built up in their primary residence. The concept is simple; a homeowner receives a check (in lump sum or multiple payments) from the bank against the existing equity in his/her home and the homeowner's obligation to repay the loan is deferred until the owner dies or the home is sold.

The new version of the HECM program allows buyers to use a reverse mortgage as a plan to permanently finance the qualified buyers new home. Through the program, the qualified homeowner may live "mortgage free" and only be responsible for property taxes, insurance and maintenance costs for as long as they live in the home. Beyond living mortgage free, additional financial benefits may be found by freeing a retired homeowner's equity:

The purchase program, in effect, doubles the purchasing power of eligible buyers, several brokers said. Under the program, a couple with a $1,800 monthly payment on a home in which they have $250,000 in equity could sell the house, use $150,000 of their equity to buy a $300,000 condo and never make another mortgage payment.

They would then have $100,000 in cash that could be used for any purpose, such as supplementing their retirement savings or pension income.

Here are few of the fine points:
  • Buyers need to be at least 62 years old. The older the borrower, the greater the amount of the home price that can be financed.
  • The property being purchased must be a principal residence and owner-occupied.
  • Homes can appraise at up to $625,500.
  • Buyers need to put up a substantial down payment (often 40% or more) to create the instant "equity". The size of the down payment varies depending on the age of the buyer and the interest rate of the loan.
  • Reverse mortgage costs and fees can be substantially higher than for conventional loans.
  • Buyers must pay 2 percent of the property's appraised value - up to the maximum value of $625,500 - as a premium for federal mortgage insurance.
Resource: New reverse mortgage opens options for seniors, by Robert Hollis, Special to the Chronicle.

Friday, April 3, 2009

First-time Buyers Benefit by Employing a California REALTOR®

From C.A.R: C.A.R. launches mortgage protection plan for first-time home buyers

The CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (C.A.R.) launched the C.A.R. Housing Affordability Fund Mortgage Protection Program (C.A.R.H.A.F. MPP), for first-time home buyers.

Through the Housing Affordability Fund Mortgage Protection Program, first-time home buyers who lose their jobs due to layoffs may be eligible to receive $1,500 per month, for six months, to help make their mortgage payments. A qualified co-buyer also can participate in the program, and receive a monthly benefit of $750 per month for up to six months. Program benefits also include coverage for accidental disability and a $10,000 death benefit.

C.A.R.’s Housing Affordability Fund is dedicating $1 million toward its Mortgage Protection Program, and estimates that as many as 3,000 families will benefit from the program this year.

To qualify for the Mortgage Protection Program, applicants must:
  • Be a first-time home buyer – someone who has not owned a home in three or more years
  • Open escrow April 2, 2009, or later, and close on or before Dec. 31, 2009
  • Use a California REALTOR® in the transaction
  • Purchase the property in California
  • Be a W-2 employee (cannot be self-employed)

To apply for the program, home buyers must request an application for the H.A.F. Mortgage Protection Program from their REALTOR®.

Note to first-time home buyers: All Berkeley Hills agents are REALTORS®, and can help with the paperwork. We can also help provide details of other programs such as the $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers. Call 1 800 Hi Berkeley to start the process.