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.