Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking forward to 2011 in the East Bay!

As local real estate agents, we enjoy sharing everything we love about living in the Bay Area. If you are interested in obtaining a complimentary 2011 Calendar of East Bay Events, please contact Berkeley Hills Realty at (510) 524-9888, or email Or, tweet us at @BerkeleyHillsRE. Here's to fond memories from last year, and to all the new memories waiting to be discovered in 2011!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It's Time to Invest in Bay Area Real Estate

With a projected market recovery, historically low interest rates, ample inventory and low prices, now may be the time to invest in California real estate. Many first time home buyers lamented the loss of the $8,000 tax credit. However, lower interest rates still provide an opportunity. Today’s mortgage rates are hovering around 4.5%. This is a substantial financial incentive. Each percentage point saved on a home loan equates to about a 10% increase in affordability. With a principal and interest (PI) payment of $2,025 at today’s 4.5% interest a borrower can get a loan of $400,000. If interest rates increase to 5.5% that same PI payment of $2,025 will only allow the borrower $360,000. The extra $40,000 of affordability is a direct result of low interest rates. Each percentage point increase in rates decreases affordability by an additional 10%.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

2010 California Housing Market Outlook & the East Bay Market

According to the California Association of Realtors, the market is on the mend. However, the healing process is expected to slow and lengthy. There hasn’t been a “magic bullet” from the government stimulus incentives.

Home prices have stabilized or improved throughout California. Home prices bottomed out in 2009, with sizeable gains in 2010. Alameda County saw year to year (August 2010 over August 2009) median price gains of 15.1% for existing detached homes. Contra Costa experienced a year to year gain of 6.8%. The market bottomed in 2007 and since then, California has recovered at a faster rate than the National Market and has performed at or above the long term averages. Bay Area Notices of Default decreased by 38.8% in 2010.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Update on Foreclosures from the CAR President


October 12, 2010

Dear C.A.R. member,

No doubt you’ve heard the news recently that a number of major banks have volunteered to temporarily suspend foreclosures in 23 states and Bank of America is temporarily suspending foreclosures nationwide.

While this situation is changing daily, I want to tell you what we currently know to answer any questions you may have.

In late September and early October some lenders and servicers began voluntarily halting foreclosures in select states while they reviewed their foreclosure processes.

So far, only Bank of America has extended its foreclosure moratorium to California, where the vast majority of foreclosures are conducted without a court order. Foreclosures in the other 23 states are processed through the court system.

Non-judicial foreclosures in California, however, do have legal requirements that lenders must follow. For example, California law requires that lenders for certain mortgage loans made between Jan. 1, 2003, and Dec. 31, 2007, attempt to make contact with borrowers to discuss options for avoiding foreclosure at least 30 days before filing a notice of default. Lenders also must sign a declaration in the notice of default stating that they tried to contact the borrower, made contact with the borrower, or fall within an exception (such as a bankruptcy filing).

The lenders and servicers that have placed their foreclosure moratorium on properties in the 23 states where courts are involved in the foreclosure process include: Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s Litton Loan Servicing, Ally Financial Inc.’s GMAC Mortgage unit, JPMorgan Chase, and PNC Financial.

These lenders/servicers have only temporarily halted their foreclosures while they review their foreclosure process. This is in response to findings that questioned whether some lenders/servicers were following the correct procedures to foreclose on a property.

This halting of foreclosures is a voluntary action taken on the part of these lenders/servicers and has not been mandated by either the states or the federal government.

Some members have begun to report the immediate impact of this moratorium on transactions that involve foreclosed properties. Delays in escrow and the removal of listed foreclosures are temporary results of this moratorium.

The immediate impact on the market will be the slowing of home sales, which could put upward pressure on home prices in the short term. The long-term effect on the market is uncertain at this point as it depends how long the moratorium remains in place.

Assuming the moratorium is lifted in the next month, the flow of REOs to the market should resume, but the uncertainty created by the moratorium may cause hesitation on the part of buyers.

Federal agencies, including the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Housing Administration, and the conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have asked lenders and servicers to review their foreclosure processes. This review would apply to all states including those like California where the vast majority of foreclosures are non-judicial.

The participating lenders and servicers believe their internal review processes should take anywhere from a few weeks to 30 days to complete.
NAR has sent a letter to regulators expressing their concerns over the foreclosure issue. Please visit for the latest developments and additional information.

C.A.R. is supportive of lenders taking action to ensure homeowners are not improperly foreclosed on and that they are following state law. We hope they are able to conduct their review expeditiously so as to minimize the impact on California’s housing market.


Steve Goddard
2010 President

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Recurve Offers Free Home Energy Audits for Berkeley Residents Eligible for New Money for Energy Efficiency (ME2) Program

Recurve streamlines home energy remodel and rebate process for homeowners

San Francisco, CA – July 7, 2010 – Recurve, a San Francisco-based provider of home performance services that helps homeowners and contractors create healthy, energy-efficient homes through home energy audits and green energy remodeling, today announced that it will provide free audits and deferred remodeling payments for residents of Berkeley who are eligible for the City’s new rebate program, Money for Energy Efficiency (ME2), that launched on July 6, 2010. In conjunction with the city rebate offer, PG&E is offering incentives as well.

The ME2 program is an important component of the City’s Climate Action Plan and is designed to help the community achieve a 33% reduction in green house gas emissions by 2020. The City of Berkeley expects that residents and business owners will save over $100 million dollars in net energy savings by 2020 and create 19 local green jobs this year alone from implementing the new program. ME2, combined with additional rebates from PG&E, will provide up to $8,500 per unit for homeowners eligible for the program, which will be awarded by lottery from applications received by midnight on July 20th.

Recurve will provide the following services for Berkeley residents that wish to apply for ME2 and are awarded funding for home energy efficiency improvements:

Between July 6th and 20th homeowners can call Recurve at (877) 303-0977 for ME2 online application assistance
Free home energy audit and deferred home remodel payment equal to the projected rebate amount
BPI accredited services, as required by the program
Comprehensive home energy efficiency services by the Bay Area’s leading provider of energy audits and green remodels
Streamlined home energy audit and retrofit process that provides all three steps at one time (audit, retrofit, retest)
“We are pleased to see more and more incentive programs become available that will help homeowners achieve energy efficiency,” said Recurve VP of Marketing Marcia Kadanoff. “The city of Berkeley and its residents have been at the forefront of effecting positive change for the environment and we look forward to working with them in helping to achieve their climate action goals.”
For additional information about how Recurve can help you take advantage of ME2 rebates please visit:

About Recurve
Based in San Francisco and founded in 2004, Recurve is the leading provider of home performance services, helping homeowners and contractors create homes that are comfortable, healthy and energy efficient. A licensed general and solar contractor, the company specializes in home energy audits and energy remodeling / retrofitting of existing homes. Recurve applies building science to quantitatively analyze a home’s performance as a dynamic system, so as to tailor its construction services to the client’s goals, budget, and priorities. The Company has been recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council as the case study in their REGREEN Green Remodeling Best Practice Guidelines. For more information, please visit or follow us on Twitter at @recurveus.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Home of the Brave

The upcoming Fourth of July celebrations have me thinking about today’s pioneers in home ownership: First-time Buyers. It is certainly an event worthy of celebration. It is also worth honoring the bravery it takes to enter a market after the turmoil in the mortgage and real estate markets.

As a mother, I can’t help but see the similarity of buying your first home and the miracle of birth. When I was pregnant, my world stopped and re-centered around the miraculous event of my babies birth. This coincided with the perspective that everyday, all over the world, other mothers were giving birth. I was comforted to know that this was somewhat ordinary, despite how big the emotions felt. It is similar for new home owners. You find that first house and the thought of it can keep you up at night and fill your days with wonder of the life yet to be lived inside. There is also always a bit of fear in all of life’s big events. It is comforting to realize that others have gone through the process and settled comfortably into life as homeowners.

Beyond this sense of belonging to a larger movement, there are other ways to feel brave during the transaction. The more you know about the process, the less trepidation you are likely to feel. There is a lot of advice on the web on how to buy your first home. Much of it is useful. But remember, too much of information can be overwhelming. It is difficult to sift out the essential nuggets that pertain best to your local market. Even real estate agents, after obtaining their license and fulfilling the educational requirements, realize that what they learned in the book does not directly translate to the day-to-day practice. As a first-time home buyer, the only way gain the benefit of true market knowledge is to align your self with a trusted advocate, your Realtor. A good Realtor will walk you through the process and focus your concentration on the areas most crucial to your goals.

Beyond the insight gained by the self-taught and the well-represented, owning a home takes a leap of faith. Homes are intricate and complicated investments. Even with good advice, it is impossible to know everything that will be involved in the future stewardship of a home at the onset. The adventure of home ownership is not for everyone. This post is not about pushing anyone off the proverbial fence. For those who feel ready, be brave. A rare combination of low prices and historically low interest rates make it a good time to buy. Expert Realtors at Berkeley Hills Realty are waiting to help you. Check out our Agent Profiles to find your advocate.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Berkeley Residents Can Claim up to $8,500 in Energy Rebates

Starting in the Summer of 2010, Berkeley residential and commercial properties will qualify for Federal Stimulus Funding for Energy Efficiency. Single-family and duplex homes may qualify for as much as $8,500, including rebates through PG&E. Commercial and multifamily properties may qualify for as much as $30,000. Rebates can be used to improve comfort, durability, air quality and can work to help you save money on your energy bills.

"The ME2 for Berkeley cash incentives will be provided through federal stimulus funds awarded to Berkeley from the U.S. Department of Energy. ME2 for Berkeley is an important part of Berkeley's efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by 33% over the next 10 years and 80% by 2050 while creating green jobs in our community. " - City of Berkeley

If you would like to learn more about how to qualify for cash incentives for energy efficiency audits and improvements for your Berkeley home or business, attend one of two public workshops:

Tuesday June 15, 6-8pm
North Berkeley Senior Center
1901 Hearst Avenue, Berkeley 94709
Thursday June 17, 6-8pm
South Berkeley Senior Center
2939 Ellis Street, Berkeley 94703

To learn more about the City of Berkeley's Climate Action Plan, visit the Berkeley Climate Action Plan.

Program Details for Money for Energy Efficiency (ME2):

Free Weatherization Program (low-income eligible residents)- available now
The City of Berkeley's Weatherization Program provides free energy saving improvements to income-eligible residents. Services vary by program, and can include free attic insulation, weatherstripping, water heater blankets, low-flow shower heads, duct insulation, high efficiency lighting, window repairs/replacement, and ceiling fans.
Check the Weatherization income eligibility chart, or call (510) 981-7773, to see if you qualify.

Subsidized Retrofit Services - available summer 2010
The City of Berkeley proposes to offer subsidized direct installation of home energy improvements in partnership with Rising Sun Energy Center.

City-wide Rebates - available summer 2010
The City of Berkeley proposes to offer rebates to Berkeley property owners who retrofit their buildings to improve energy performance.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I Met My New Neighbors Online

I once had a wonderful client whose top priority was finding a "hi Bob" neighborhood. A view, fireplace and hardwood floors might be nice.... But, her highest priority was finding "friendly" neighbors. This was a bit of a challenging task where double incomes are the norm, and few have the time to hang out looking to meet the neighbors.

More and more, the secret may lie online. We have been noticing some fantastic neighborhood involvement: First at 2347 Spaulding Avenue in Berkeley, and now a new listing at 5512 MacDonald Avenue in El Cerrito. Some neighbors still get together for a good ol' fashioned BBQ, or in preparation for "the Next Big One." But before the first hot dog is cooked, the neighborhood conversations are taking shape online.

Many neighborhoods are finding new ways to share collective information through email lists, Yahoo or Google groups, and community Facebook pages. Online groups are a great way to share information. The popularity of the Berkeley Parents Network is a great example of the value of shared knowledge. This idea works well on a micro level, where the neighbors might wonder who takes care of the Taylor's garden or who painted the Jones's house. On the neighborhood level, the sharing is enhanced by the trust you already have for the people you know near your home. Today, neighborhood list shares create babysitting co-ops and tool lending libraries. Baby sitting co-ops offer kids fun play-dates and parents the opportunity for a night out. Tool lending libraries are eco-friendly solutions where neighbors can take a look at what they already own and are willing to share with other neighbors. In this way, a neighborhood can share things like a power washer, sewing machine or hedge trimmer.

Here is what the neighbors at 5512 MacDonald Avenue have in place:


NEAT meets 4 times a year to make sure everyone has all the equipment needed to help each other if there is an earthquake. It is well organized with a command post, a search and rescue team and walkie-talkies. There is a nearby first aid site with common equipment, water and canned food for the neighborhood. The group also organizes a big earthquake drill once a year, simulating all kinds of things that could happen. The fire department comes to these drills. This event morphs into a BBQ. Everyone gets to know each other which makes this a fun place to live.

2. APTNA (Alta Punta Neighborhood Association)

This is a "social committee." The committee organizes a Cinco de Mayo block party and maintains a list serve. The list serve shares information about contractors, cat sitters, babysitters, house cleaners.... If you have a question, you post it to the list and the neighborhood shares it’s wisdom.

3. Cocktail Hour

There are also a number of 30 somethings with kids and they do kid friendly cocktail hours, BBQ and such at each other's homes.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Grandma's Blueberry Cake

Yesterday's Social Media Boot Camp was a tremendous success. It was "standing room only" at the Berkeley Association of Realtors as we ran out of chairs to seat all of the attendees. The presentation from Katie Lance of Inman News was very informative and the feedback was positive.

We received many requests for more social media learning opportunities at the Berkeley Association (BAR). BAR has a wonderful education committee working on future events. We also received a number of requests for my grandma's blueberry cake, which many of the participants tasted at the event. Thank you Grandma!

Grandma's Blueberry Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs (well beaten)
1/2 cup sour milk or buttermilk (substitute milk with 1Tbl. vinegar)
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp baking powder (if doubling the recipe 3/4 tsp baking powder)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 pint box fresh blueberries (or 1 large can drained)

Cream sugar and butter. Add eggs and stir well. Add baking powder to flour and sift three times. Add baking soda to milk and add to the creamed mixture alternating with the flour. Add vanilla. Carefully fold in the berries.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. (if using a glass dish bake at 350 degrees.)

Sprinkle when done with sugar and cinnamon mixture. Return to oven for an additional ten minutes.

P.S. Berkeley Hills Realty would like to apologize to anyone who came with the expectation of "lunch" and instead encountered a sugar rush. Some signals got crossed in our preparation for a successful event.

Thursday, May 20, 2010



BERKELEY, CA – Calling all Berkeley, Albany, Piedmont, Montclair and Oakland real estate agents! Berkeley Hills Realty is sponsoring a one-hour social media ‘hands on’ training for the Berkeley Association of Realtors on Wednesday, May 26,, 2010. Lunch will be served at 12 noon, followed by the training starting at 12:30 PM.

The training will be held at: Berkeley Association of Realtors, 1553 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Berkeley, CA 94709

Katie Lance, Marketing Manager from Inman News will be the keynote speaker. The topic is: Social Media Boot Camp
- 5 Keys to Social Media Success. Katie is an experienced trainer and speaker on social media and how it applies to the real estate industry. She is also a contributing author to the Future of Real Estate Marketing blog.

This one-hour training is designed for the beginner or seasoned pro.

Topics covered will include:
• How to create a connection with people online
• Step-by-step ‘how to’ get started with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
• Best practices for making the best use of time with social media
• Building your network online
• Ideas for generating content
• The “Secret Sauce” – 1 hour a day plan to jump-start your social media plan

For questions or additional information, please contact Tracy Sichterman
Berkeley Hills Realty, 510-524-9888 x27 or

About Inman News Inman News ( is the leading source of independent real estate news, information, advice, research, technology, opinion and commentary for industry professionals and consumers alike. Inman's unbiased and hard-hitting stories are known throughout the real estate industry. Agents and brokers globally trust Inman News as their first source of accurate, innovative and timely daily real estate news.

For more information, visit

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New Renovation Rule and the East Bay's Older Homes

Starting in April, renovations that disturb lead-based paint in older residential dwellings and child-occupied facilities must generally comply with the Lead-Based Paint Renovation Rule of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Under the newly implemented rule, renovators of housing built before 1978 must now be trained and EPA-certified to perform safe work practices to prevent lead contamination. Additionally, renovators must deliver EPA's lead renovation pamphlet to an occupant within 60 days before a project begins (and, if mailed, at least seven days before a project begins). Renovators must also obtain the occupant's signed acknowledgment of receipt or substitute documentation as specified.

The EPA issued this rule in 2008, but delayed implementation until now. The rule generally applies to building contractors, handymen, residential landlords, property managers, and anyone else who is paid to perform renovations or to direct workers to perform renovations as specified. The lead renovation rule does not apply to homeowners renovating the homes they live in. However, sellers of target housing must, among other things, disclose to their buyers any known lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards.

Renovation work covered by the lead renovation rule is defined as a modification of an existing structure that disturbs a painted surface, such as surface restoration or surface preparation activity. Excluded are minor repair and maintenance activities that disrupt up to 6 square feet of interior painted surface or 20 square feet of exterior painted surface. Demolitions and window replacements are not considered minor repairs.

Berkeley Hills Realty
has investigated the new rule as it applies to the way we help sellers prepare their homes for sale. Conversations with several small area broker/managers produced an interesting array of reactions. Local responses run the gamut from agencies who believe they have no obligation to police the new rule (maintaining business as usual), through agencies who have halted pre-market preparations over broad liability concerns associated with complying with the rule. At Berkeley Hills Realty, we believe in staying attune to all new information affecting real estate and home ownership. We also believe in the value of well chosen market preparations and will continue to advise our clients on the best approach to market their homes.

Berkeley Hills Realty hopes to be a source of consumer education regarding the new EPA rule. We are informing clients of the existence of the regulation. In addition we have checked with some of the painters and contractors whom we regularly recommend to make certain they are aware of the Lead-based Paint Renovation Rule and to verify that any new certification requirements have been met. We recommend all owners of pre-1978 homes make certain that new work is preformed by licensed contractors with knowledge of and the certification required by the new rule.

Much of the above infomation is sourced through the California Association of Realtors. For more information about the lead renovation rule, C.A.R. offers a legal article entitled Federal Lead-Based Paint Renovation Rule. See also EPA's Renovation, Repair and Painting webpage which includes the new requirements, pamphlets, and other resources. To locate an EPA-certified renovation firm, go to

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Vacant Home Targeted -- Realtor Responds

Tonight's excitement: I am representing buyers in the purchase of a home at the end of my street. 9:18 p.m. the buyer informs me that he has been to the property and noticed some suspicious things; a previously locked gas meter hatch is now open, there are some triangular glass cuts near a kitchen window lock, and a bedroom closet window is left ajar. I immediately call the police. Responsive men-in-blue arrive in minutes and I hand over keys to the property. I stand back, way back (more like several houses back), until they confirm that the coast is clear. Then, I take inventory while they dust for prints. Nothing appears taken, no proof of bad guys inside the house... so the incident is just reported as a "suspicious event." No harm, but a bit of adrenaline pumping anyhow.

Break-ins at vacant listings are on the Realtor radar as a growing concern. Best tip of the day: The officers recommended that real estate agents visit the station and register the address of any home that is not occupied. You can also leave a key at the station, but this is not required. This helps them keep an active look out for suspicious activity. Tomorrow I plan to do this for all my listings. This service is also available to any vacationing or otherwise absent resident. Be safe and let's all look out for each other.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Berkeley Association of Realtors spreads the love & takes out the trash

The Love: Next Wednesday, the Berkeley Association of Realtors, Community Funds Committee will award $32,000.00 in grants to 21 local organizations from The Youth Arts & Education Fund and The Workforce Housing & Homeless Fund. The Realtor volunteers of the Community Funds Committe worked hard to invite applicants, screen grantees and arrange next Wednesdays event. The agents at Berkeley Hills Realty are active and regular supporter of these two programs.

The Trash:

FREE Office Electronics Recycling Day @ BAR

When: Friday, April 23, 10am-3pm

Where: BAR Office, MLK & Cedar

In the basement, in the hall
We've got printers, big and small,
TV's, cell phones, chords galore;
Laptops lurking. Such a chore
to recycle. Ah, but NO!
On this Friday, you should go
To the BAR with your old stuff!
Recycling's FREE! Is that enough
For you to get motivated
Knowing that it's all donated?
Green Council's there from 10 to 3!
Think how happy you will be
to have given stuff away
and helped us celebrate Earth Day!
Thank you Arlene Baxter, Berkeley Hills Realty for all your hardwork in organizing this and other Green Council events (and for penning the poem.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Daily Californian: Berkeley's Housing Market Faces Foreclosures

The Daily Californian :: Berkeley's Housing Market Faces Foreclosures

By Leah Moskovic

Foreclosure rarely occurs at the top of the housing market, but on Monday a revamped North Berkeley Mediterranean-style home priced at over $2 million in 2008 will be headed to foreclosure auction.

Although Berkeley's high-end real estate market has been resistant to symptoms of the national housing slump since 2005, sales at a loss for the lender and foreclosures such as this one are now slightly more prevalent, even as buyers have been creeping cautiously back into the market as of late 2009 and the Bay Area is expected to slowly stabilize.

"We'll see a little bit of both-stabilization and foreclosures," said Anne Van Dyke, a broker associate with The Grubb Company, an East Bay real estate agency. "Some people are coming onto the market while others can't afford to stay in their houses. People are feeling a little tenuous."

Since 2008, instances in which a borrower cannot pay the mortgage loan on his or her property and a lender sells the property at a moderate loss have increased in Berkeley as a final effort to avoid foreclosure, according to Bill McDowell, co-owner of Berkeley Hills Realty.

Property values in the Berkeley, Albany and Rockridge housing markets-which are the strongest in Alameda County-have declined 5 percent per year from their highest point in 2005, McDowell said.

"Since the market has gone down, people are reluctant to sell for less than what they think their house is worth," McDowell said, adding that because of this, it is difficult for buyers to purchase better homes, when five years ago they could put a down payment on a new house using a type of interim financing that is no longer available.

The federal reserve has kept interest rates "extremeley low" in an effort to support housing credits for first-time buyers and foster housing stability, according to Robert Helsley, UC Berkeley Professor and Chair in Real Estate Development at the Haas School of Business.

"We expect to see the markets stabilize, the foreclosures to go down, the real estate owned by banks to go down, and for prices to slowly firm up," Helsley said. "But we don't expect dramatic returns. Activity will remain pretty low-particularly price appreciation-for the next while."

Barbara Norkus, broker and owner of Capri Real Estate Services, said the entry-level, first-time buyer market in Berkeley has been bouncing back slowly since January.

At the bottom of the market, the Berkeley Housing Authority-a rental assistance program-has been met with more demand for services to low-income families since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, according to Rachel Gonzales-Levine, a management analyst for the authority.

"Anecdotally, we have more and more families that are housed in properties facing foreclosure calling us with lots of questions," Gonzales-Levine said. "They want to know if they have to move and what laws are applicable to them."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Legislation provides Golden Tax Credit for California Buyers

A piece of legislation was signed on March 25th that should be a tremendous incentive for home buyers in California to take action, and soon! AB132 provides $200 million for home buyer tax credits, dividing the money equally between purchasers of new (previously unoccupied) homes, and first-time buyers of existing construction. Beginning with purchases closing escrow on or after May 1 until the end of 2010, eligible purchasers of a personal residence will be able to take a tax credit equal to the lesser of 5% of the purchase price or $10,000, in equal installments over three consecutive years. A requirement of the bill is that purchasers live in the home for at least two years, or else they forfeit the credit. Those rules will apply from January 1 through July 31, 2011 as well, if funds remain.

C.A.R., the California Association of REALTORS, reported that nearly 40% of first time buyers last years indicated that they would not have purchased a home had the federal tax credit for first-time buyers not been offered. That program is still in effect, and first-time buyers who manage to get into contract by the end of April could qualify for an $8,000 Federal Credit in addition to the new $10K credit from the state.

The previous California program was supposed to have continued into the first months of 2011. However, the popularity of that program was so great that all funds were used by June 2009. That program applied only to buyers of new-construction. Some analysts calculate that the new California program funds will only last for one month or so before first-time buyers of existing homes snap them all up. Time is of the essence!

How does a homebuyer qualify? The state's Franchise Tax Board (FTB) allocates the credits on a first-come, first-served basis. The homebuyer must submit a properly executed settlement statement to the FTB within two weeks of close of escrow, which can occur no sooner than May 1, 2010. In order to receive the tax credit, escrow must close no later than Dec. 31, 2010, unless a credit has been reserved prior to that date, in which case the home must close escrow before Aug. 1, 2011. For these purposes a "first-time buyer" is defined as any individual who did not have an ownership interest in a principal residence for the three years preceeding the close of escrow date of this qualifying purchase. Homebuyers can check to see more details by checking the Franchise tax board website. That is where they also will need to check once the program has begun to see if funds are remaining.

Between this new text credit, the possibility of still taking advantage of the Federal credit through April 30th, and the current low mortgage interest rates that have been bobbing upwards lately, one would hope there would be great incentive for buyers to be willing to compromise a bit on their list of requirements, in trade for some handsome financial advantages!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fourth quarter housing affordability

C.A.R. reports entry-level housing affordability remained at 64 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009

Quick Facts:
. C.A.R. First-time Buyer Housing Affordability Index stood at 64 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009
compared with 61 percent (revised) in the fourth quarter of 2008
. The median price of an entry-level home in California was $257,940 in the fourth quarter of 2009
. The estimated monthly payment including taxes and insurance was $1,470 in the fourth quarter of
. The minimum household income needed to purchase an entry-level home in California in the fourth
quarter of 2009 was $44,100.

LOS ANGELES (Feb. 12) The percentage of households that could afford to buy an entry-level home in California remained at 64 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009, compared with 61 percent (revised) for the same period a year ago, according to a report released today by the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (C.A.R.).

C.A.R.’s First-time Buyer Housing Affordability Index (FTB-HAI) measures the percentage of households that can afford to purchase an entry-level home in California. C.A.R. also reports first-time buyer indexes for regions and select counties within the state. The Index is the most fundamental measure of housing well-being for first-time buyers in the state.

The minimum household income needed to purchase an entry-level home at $257,940 in California in the fourth quarter of 2009 was $44,100, based on an adjustable interest rate of 4.5 percent and assuming a 10 percent down payment. First-time buyers typically purchase a home equal to 85 percent of the prevailing median price. The monthly payment including taxes and insurance was $1,470 for the fourth quarter of 2009.

At $44,100, the minimum qualifying income was 4 percent lower than a year earlier when households needed $45,900 to qualify for a loan on an entry-level home. Home prices remained below peak levels, resulting in an improvement in housing affordability compared with the previous year.

At 84 percent, the High Desert region was the most affordable area in the state. The San Luis Obispo County region was the least affordable in the state at 48 percent, followed by the San Francisco Bay region and Santa Barbara area both at 50 percent.

Leading the way…® in California real estate for more than 100 years, the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® ( is one of the largest state trade organizations in the United States with more than 167,000 members dedicated to the advancement of professionalism in real estate. C.A.R. is headquartered in Los Angeles.


Berkeley Hills Realty notes: Our market is highly localized. For East Bay specific data, contact your Berkeley Hills Realty agent.

Click here to access housing affordability tables.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Don't Expect to See 2009 Rates in 2010

The following is an excerpt from Mortgage News Daily. For the full story click here.

Plain and Simple:
Because the overall economic environment is cloudy and the Federal Reserve is still quite cautious, investors will remain defensive, which will prevent benchmark Treasury yields from moving significantly higher. On the flip side, equity bulls will rely on "THE WORST CASE SCENARIO WAS AVOIDED" perception as a reason to speculate that long term "buy low, sell high" investment strategies will be profitable. This will help stocks maintain positive progress instead of retracing back to "worst case scenario" lows. This risk taking attitude combined with a slowly recovering economy (anything but drastically worse) will prevent benchmark 10s from revisiting the days of old when 10s held between 3.27 and 3.51%. The rates of 2009 look to be a thing of the past.

For information on the housing market Berkeley, Oakland, Kensington, Albany, El Cerrito, and the surrounding areas, contact your Berkeley Hills Realty Agent.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Landmark north Berkeley property up for sale

Jan 27th, 2010
by Tracey Taylor.

Anyone wanting to get their hands on an architecturally distinctive property in Berkeley — and with $3,680,000 in their pockets — is in luck with the recent arrival on the market of this multi-unit complex on Codornices Road.

Designed by Henry Gutterson in 1924, the nine units are across the way from Bernard Maybeck’s Rose Walk. Four two-story duplexes face a garden. A separate cottage with a large deck faces Codornices Road near Rose Garden. Together they were designed as an integrated urban community bordering a public pedestrian path.

Because the buildings are landmarked, property tax relief is available for the buyer who takes them on. The listing is with Berkeley Hills Realty. For details and a photo gallery visit the Rose Walk Complex website.

Henry Gutterson graduated from UC Berkeley’s School of Architecture in 1905 and attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His major projects include houses in St. Francis Woods, San Francisco and the school building for the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Berkeley. He also designed several homes in Berkeley and worked with Bernard Maybeck on the Principia College Library in Illinois.
Click here to Contact Arlene Baxter, the Rose Walk listing agent.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some Home Buyers Can't Afford to Wait for the Spring Market

An article by Matt Carter in today's Inman News titled, FHA hiking premiums this spring, details FHA changes and mentions two other events which could impact our Spring real estate market.
The Federal Housing Administration won't raise the 3.5 percent minimum down payment requirement for mortgages it guarantees as long as borrowers have FICO scores of 580 or better.

Beginning early this summer, however, borrowers with credit scores below 580 will be required to make down payments of at least 10 percent in order to participate in FHA's mortgage insurance program.

This spring, the Obama administration also plans to raise the upfront mortgage insurance premiums paid by all FHA borrowers to 2.25 percent, up from 1.75 percent now.

The increase -- some of which may later be shifted to annual premium payments -- will help build FHA capital reserves back to statutory minimums and bring back private lending, FHA Commissioner David Stevens said today.
Mr. Carter goes on to mention two other events that could have an impact on home sales
The Federal Reserve will wind down a $1.25 trillion program at the end of March that's helped keep mortgage rates low, and the recently expanded homebuyer tax credit expires for buyers not under contract by April 30 and closing by June 30 (see story).
Although the changes may affect a small percentage of individual buyers, Berkeley Hills Realty retains faith in our local market; a market which has remained stronger than the national averages. This belief will continue to be supported by the high number of cash buyers in the bay area (see story). In addition, Carter quotes NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun as stating that he does not expect the "modest tightening" announced today will stall the housing market recovery, given that interest rates remain near historic lows and that the homebuyer tax credit will remain in effect during the first half of the year.
"Any tightening will knock some would-be buyers out of the potential pool," Yun said. "But at the same time, any lax underwriting or FHA insolvency can have more significant future negative ramifications for the housing market."

Useful links:
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Press Release: FHA Announces Policy Changes to Address Risk and Strengthen Finances
Berkeley Hills Realty website
Berkeley Hills Realty tools for home buyers
Berkeley Hills Realty agents

Monday, January 11, 2010

Curbing Lawn Lust

From the National Association of Realtor's Green REsource Council

A lush green lawn has long been prized in the American culture and routinely regarded as a selling point among real estate practitioners.

But such lawn lust is getting a second look by those committed to sustainability.

After all, that green carpet has serious environmental consequences when you consider the resources it devours and the chemical it emits in order for it to flourish. Those include water and gas and pesticides and herbicides that eventually run off and pollute waterways and disturb the aquatic ecosystem. Such chemicals also aren't healthy for adults, kids or pets.

"Unless your shiny green lawn can thrive without supplemental irrigation, gas-powered mowing, fertilizer and without spraying, that lawn of yours is leaving a pretty dirty footprint," comments Billy Goodnick, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based landscape architect, educator and the writer behind Fine Gardening magazine's Cool Green Gardens blog.

Those are among the reasons that groups like the Lawn Reform Coalition ( and the Sustainable Sites Initiative ( have emerged to promote more sustainable landscapes.

The Lawn Reform Coalition, for instance, includes gardening and environmental advocates from across the country who have joined forces to promote change in the American lawn. "The Lawn Reform Coalition wants people to rethink the idea that every home needs a sprawling, unimaginative patch of green," says Goodnick, a coalition member. "We’re working to quiet the siren song of the ‘perfect’ lawn and providing practical resources for creating beautiful, low-maintenance, environmentally-friendly landscapes."

And the Sustainable Sites Initiative has developed a performance benchmarking system for sustainable landscapes after recognizing that green building rating systems offer excellent tools for new and existing buildings, but relatively little for things beyond a building’s skin.

The group is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden, and its rating system applies to numerous environments, including retail centers, subdivisions, corporate campuses and single-family homes.

A question that may emerge is, "So what? What do lawns have to do with green housing."

A lot.

"You can’t call a home 'green' if it’s surrounded by a sink-hole of resource-greedy, nature-fouling lawn. A truly green lawn is one that doesn’t require a lot of inputs, like potable water and fossil fuels, and doesn’t produce waste or polluted run-off," says Goodnick.

If you or your clients are considering a lawn replacement or want to transition to a more sustainable landscape, resources and information abound.

Goodnick offers four paths to address lawn reform. They are:
1. Eliminate all turf and replace it with useful improvements, like lounging areas, paths, rain gardens or orchards.
2. Convert from resource-greedy varieties of grass to locally-adapted species, like buffalo grass or native sedges. Most use fifty percent less water and require less fertilizer and care than traditional grasses.
3. Keep lawn space just for recreation, and if you absolutely need a lawn, shrink it to save water, time and money and to reduce its environmental impacts.
4. Grow food. Although vegetables require about as much water as a typical lawn, the return on your efforts is immeasurably superior.

Additional sources of information include:
Berkeley Hills Realty has agents who specialize in green real estate as well as a collection of eco-friendly resources on the Green House page.
The EPA's GreenScapes program provides environmentally-friendly landscaping solutions to preserve natural resources and prevent pollution.
Calculate the resources a lawn is consuming offers a series of videos on everything from aerating the lawn to composting, mulching and weed control

Friday, January 8, 2010

C.A.R. H.A.F. Mortgage Protection Program Extended

Due to the popularity of this program, the qualifying period has been extended to December 31, 2010 or when allocated funds have depleted, whichever occurs first.

On April 2, 2009 the Housing Affordability Fund launched a new program designed to provide peace of mind to first-time buyers who are hesitant to enter the housing market due to concerns about potential job loss, and subsequently being unable to meet their monthly mortgage obligations. Qualifying buyers can receive up to $1,500 a month for up to six months in the event of job loss, a qualified co-buyer can also receive a $750 benefit for up to six months to help pay the mortgage.

· Be a first-time home buyer – someone who has not owned property in the last three years
(includes co-buyer).
· Open escrow April 2, 2009, or later, and close on or before December 31, 2010
(purchase agreement cannot be dated before April 2, 2009)
· Use a California REALTOR® in the transaction (fee for referral does not qualify)
· Purchase the property in California
· Be a W-2 employee (cannot be self-employed)

Due to the demand for the program, CAR has created a pre-qualification process that will ensure you get a policy if you meet the program qualifications and closes escrow before December 31, 2010.
Just ask your agent for an application and have he/she submit it with a copy of the qualifying executed purchase agreement – your file will be approved pending the receipt of the HUD-1 Closing statement indicating the close of escrow for your buyer.

Click here to meet a qualified Berkeley Hills Realty Agent.

· Download the Revised MPP Application followed by a list of Frequently Asked Questions.
( This must be submitted by an active California REALTOR® )
· Click here to review cynoSure Financial, Inc.'s program Terms & Conditions and
sample welcome packet.