Friday, December 18, 2009

The Grinch Loses One!!!


Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will suspend foreclosure evictions from December 19, 2009 through January 3, 2010. To help struggling families over the holidays, both owner-occupants and tenants living in properties foreclosed upon by Fannie Mae will not be evicted. Freddie Mac's suspension of evictions will be limited to properties up to four units.

In a similar move, Citigroup Inc. will suspend foreclosure sales and evictions for 30days through January 17, 2010 for loans it owns. Citigroup's foreclosure moratorium, however, does not extend to loans it services on behalf of other investors. Given these developments, other lenders may follow suit, so check with the lender if appropriate.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cash for Caulkers Could Seal $12,000 a Home

Under President's proposal, homeowners would be reimbursed for energy-efficient appliances and insulation.

NEW YORK ( -- President Obama proposed a new program Tuesday that would reimburse homeowners for energy-efficient appliances and insulation, part of a broader plan to stimulate the economy.

The administration didn't provide immediate details, but said it would work with Congress on crafting legislation. Steve Nadel, director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, who's advising on the bill, said a homeowner could receive up to $12,000 in rebates.

The proposal is part of the President's larger spending plan, which also includes money for small businesses, renewable energy manufacturing, and infrastructure.

We know energy efficiency "creates jobs, saves money for families, and reduces the pollution that threatens our environment," Obama said. "With additional resources, in areas like advanced manufacturing of wind turbines and solar panels, for instance, we can help turn good ideas into good private-sector jobs."

The program contains two parts: money for homeowners for efficiency projects, and money for companies in the renewable energy and efficiency space.

The plan will likely create a new program where private contractors conduct home energy audits, buy the necessary gear and install it, according to a staffer on the Senate Energy Committee and Nadel at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Big-ticket items like air conditioners, heating systems, washing machines, refrigerators, windows and insulation would likely be covered, Nadel said.

Based on earlier bills, consumers might be eligible for a 50% rebate on both the price of the equipment and the installation, up to $12,000, said Nadel. So far, there is no income restriction on who is eligible. That would mean a household could spend as much as $24,000 on upgrades and get half back.

Homes that take full advantage of the program could see their energy bills drop as much as 20%, he said. The program is expected to cost in the $10 billion range.

It's not clear how the home efficiency plan would be administered - the government may issue rebates to consumers directly, homeowners might get a tax credit, or the program could be run via state agencies.

If consumers have to spend a lot of money up front to get the credit, it could throw a wrench in the works, David Kreutzer, an energy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, told CNN.

"This will not be something that's attractive to people who are having trouble already making their budget payments month to month or week to week," he said.

To keep consumers from having to spend thousands of dollars before getting reimbursed, Nadel said, one idea is to have contractors or big box retailers pay part of the cost up front.

Fraud issues could also come up, Kreutzer said.

"Any program that is going to run through a third party and is going to distribute billions of dollars needs to have lots of checks and balances to make sure there's not abuse," he said.

Nadel noted that as a way to guard against fraud, contractors would have to be certified to participate.

Energy company boost
Obama's new spending plan also calls for renewable energy companies to get additional support. That could come in the form of loan guarantees - basically, money the government uses to secure loans for startups.

In the original stimulus bill passed earlier this year, $6 billion was earmarked for such loan guarantees. But then lawmakers took away $2 billion to fund Cash for Clunkers - the popular program that paid people to turn in their old cars.

The $4 billion from the original bill has funded about $40 billion in loans, said the staffer on the Senate Energy Committee. Meanwhile, firms are hoping for another $4 billion in loan guarantees, since they have another $40 billion worth of projects that need funding.

A bill on energy efficiency reimbursements already has supporters in the Senate.

"Not only will [such legislation] increase our energy security and transform our energy infrastructure to a modern, clean and efficient one," Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., wrote in a recent op-ed column in the Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper. "But it also will position the United States to lead in the development of clean energy technologies."

Source: Steve Hargreaves,

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fondly Remembering the 50's and 60's

What were we thinking?

How could these pastel tubs have ever seemed like a good idea? Was it just the novelty of not being "white"? It makes me wonder what the next big design goof is or will be...

Source: Sunset at Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Benefits of a Buyers Agent

For most of us, buying a home is the biggest single investment we’re likely to make and we’re only likely to do it maybe once or twice in a lifetime. The process is, by nature, filled with checks and balances – and many complex details. Traditionally, agents were legally obligated to protect the interests of the home seller. Today preferences are changing. One of these changes is that more homebuyers are choosing to have their own real estate agent, known as a buyer's agent, to legally represent them.

A buyer’s agent represents you, the buyer, not the seller, and has full fiduciary duties, including loyalty to you. By definition, the buyer’s agent has your best interests in mind throughout the transaction. The percentage of homebuyers with buyer representation has grown significantly in the past decade. According to a recent National Association of Realtors® survey, nearly half (46%) of home buyers used the services of a buyer’s agent last year, and four out of every five buyer’s agent agreements were in writing.

The benefits of buyer representation is the dedication of a buyer’s agent to the home buyer. The buyer’s agent and homebuyer establish a mutual agreement, known as a buyer agency agreement, that will entitle the homebuyer to, but is not limited by:

Loyalty The real estate agent must act in the best interest of the buyer.

Disclosure All material facts such as relationships between agent and other parties, existence of other offers, status of earnest money, seller’s financial condition, property’s true worth, commission split with other brokers, and legal effect of important contract provisions.

Confidentiality Any discussions, facts, or information that should not be revealed to others but does not include responsibility of fairness and honesty in dealings with all parties.

Accounting in dealings Reporting of where any money placed in the hands of the broker is kept.

Reasonable Skill and Care Arriving at a reasonable purchase price and advising the buyer of such, affirmatively discovering material facts and disclosing them to the buyer, investigating the material facts related to the sale. With a buyer agency, the interests of the homebuyer will be represented in the purchase of the home. This scenario is different from a typical transaction where the buyer is not technically represented.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Fed’s all in and throwing in the kitchen sink for good measure

"The Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth and to preserve price stability"

Stock and bond markets are celebrating in the wake of an FOMC statement that exceeded nearly all expectations for a substantial easing of policy today. At the time of this writing, the Dow is up about 340 points, and the 10-Yr Treasury yield has plunged to 2.36 percent from 2.50 percent yesterday. Throwing all caution to the wind, the Fed is betting that drastic rate cuts are needed immediately in order to support consumer and business borrowing in the face of a rapidly deteriorating economy and the specter of deflationary forces afoot. Such drastic measures only highlight the scale and scope of the current economic and financial crisis that still lies ahead. The Fed is now pulling nearly all its policy levers and only time will tell if it is pushing on a string, or if monetary policy still has a viable channel in which to operate.

For the first time in its history the Fed has decided to establish a target range for the Fed funds rate of between zero and 0.25 percent, effectively making 0.25 percent its interest rate ceiling. This is also an admission that the Fed has been having trouble maintaining its target as massive injections of about $1.0 trillion into various credit facilities, bank re-capitalization, and the payment of interest on bank reserves make an explicit target nearly impossible to achieve. The movement to a target range also rightly puts the focus of additional policy actions on the scope and scale of outright purchases of MBS, and agency debt. The committee is also exploring the potential benefits of purchasing longer-term Treasury securities as well.

Moreover, the FOMC signaled that they expect to maintain an exceptionally low fed funds rate target of some time. This signal is designed to push longer-term Treasury yields even lower, and from today’s action it seems to have worked.

The FOMC statement begins by describing an economy mired in a deepening recession, with little prospect for near-term relief, stating that labor market conditions have deteriorated, and consumer spending, business investment, and industrial production have declined. The Fed’s view of credit market conditions has not improved, and their outlook for the economy has weakened further.

Finally, the Fed doesn’t mention the prospect of deflation in the statement, but did highlight the prospect for inflation to moderate further in the coming quarters.

Expect further expansion and utilization of the Fed’s existing credit facilities, as well as the addition of new ones in 2009 as the Fed moves further down the path of quantitative easing.

Source: Scott A. Anderson, Ph.D.
Senior Economist, Wells Fargo Economics

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Daily Commentary

Tuesday’s bond market has opened fairly flat after this morning’s economic data gave us mixed results. The stock markets are giving back some of yesterday’s gains with the Dow down 36 points and the Nasdaq down 12 points. The bond market is currently up 2/32, but we will likely see an improvement in this morning’s mortgage rates of approximately .250 of a discount point due to strength in bonds late yesterday.

This morning’s release of the 3rd Quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) revision revealed a downward revision, as expected. It revealed a 2.8% annual rate of growth during the third quarter that nearly matched forecasts. This means that the economy did not grow as much during the 3rd quarter than previously thought. That is good news for bonds and mortgage rates, but since the 2.8% increase was nearly what analysts had predicted, the impact on this morning’s trading and mortgage pricing has been minimal.

November’s Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) was posted late this morning, showing a reading of 49.5. This was higher than forecasts were calling for, indicating that consumers were more optimistic about their own financial situations than many had thought. That is considered negative news for bonds because rising confidence means consumers are more apt to make large purchases in the near future, effectively fueling economic growth.

We have two more events to watch for later today. The first are the results of the 5-year Note auction being held today. They will be posted at 1:00 PM ET. If there was a strong demand from investors, we could see bond prices rise and mortgage rates fall this afternoon. But a lackluster interest in the sale could lead to higher mortgage pricing.

The FOMC minutes may be a major mover of the markets or a non-factor, depending on what they say. The key will be concerns over inflation and the Fed’s next move. If the Fed members were concerned about inflationary pressures and overly optimistic about economic growth, we may see the bond market move lower and mortgage rates higher after they are released at 2:00 PM ET.

There are four reports scheduled for release tomorrow morning. October’s Durable Goods Orders is the first and will be posted early morning. This data helps us measure manufacturing strength by tracking orders for big-ticket items, but is known to be quite volatile from month-to-month. It is expected to show a 0.5% increase in new orders. A smaller than expected rise would be considered good news for the bond market and mortgage rates.

The second is October’s Personal Income and Outlays data. This data is thought to measure consumers’ ability to spend and their current spending habits. This is important because consumer spending makes up two-thirds of the U.S. economy. It is expected to show that income rose 0.2% and that spending increases 0.5%. Smaller than expected readings would be good news for bonds and could lead to improvements in mortgage rates.

The revised November reading to the University of Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment will be posted late tomorrow morning. Analysts are expecting to see an upward revision of 1.0 to the preliminary reading of 66.0. Unless we see a significant variance from the forecasted reading of 67.0, I don’t think this data will cause much movement in mortgage rates tomorrow.

October’s New Home Sales is the last report, but it is the least important. I don’t think this data will influence mortgage rates unless it varies greatly from forecasts and the rest of the day’s news matches forecasts. It is expected to show a slight increase in sales of newly constructed homes.

Source: Ken Mason, Mortgage California

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Daily Mortgage Commentary

Monday’s bond market opened in positive territory despite early stock gains and mixed economic news. The stock markets are kicking the week off in positive ground with the Dow up 119 points and the Nasdaq up 27 points. The bond market is currently up 5/32, which with Friday’s late gains should improve this morning’s mortgage rates by approximately .250 of a discount point.

The Commerce Department reported this morning that October’s Retail Sales rose 1.4%, exceeding forecasts of a 0.9% increase. At first look, this headline number is bad news for bonds. However, two factors prevented the bond market from selling. The first was a sizable downward revision to September’s sales that indicated consumers were spending even less than previously thought. Last month’s estimate was a decline of 1.5% in sales, but it now believed that sales fell 2.3% that month. The second piece of positive news was the reading that excludes October’s more volatile auto sales. With those transactions excluded, sales rose only 0.2%, which was weaker than the 0.4% that was expected. So, today’s report can’t really be considered favorable or negative for bonds and mortgage rates. Its impact has been fairly neutral.

Fed Chairman Bernanke is making a lunchtime speech to the Economic Club of New York today. I don’t believe that we will see too much reaction to his speech, but the possibility always exists whenever he speaks. Therefore, we should not ignore it, but if we see the markets move noticeably between noon and 12:30 PM ET, it likely is a result of something he said.

There are two reports scheduled to be posted tomorrow morning. The first is October's Producer Price Index (PPI) that is one of the two key inflation readings this week. The PPI measures inflationary pressures at the producer level of the economy. There are two portions of the index that are used- the overall reading and the core data reading. The core data is the more important of the two because it excludes more volatile food and energy prices. If it reveals stronger than expected readings, indicating that inflationary pressures are rising, the bond market will probably react negatively and should drive mortgage rates higher. If we see in-line or weaker than expected numbers, mortgage rates should fall tomorrow. Current forecasts are calling for an increase of 0.5% in the overall reading and a 0.1% increase in the core reading.

Tomorrow’s second report is October's Industrial Production data. It gives us a measurement of manufacturing sector strength by tracking output at U.S. factories, mines and utilities. It is expected to reveal a 0.4% increase in production. Stronger levels of production would be considered bad news for the bond market and mortgage rates, but this data is not as important as the PPI readings are.

Source: Ken Mason, California Mortgage
November 16, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Senate Votes to Renew Tax Credit for First-Time Home Buyers

Senate Votes to Renew Tax Credit for First-Time Home Buyers --
Provision for $8,000 Refund Part of Bill to Extend Jobless Aid

Source: Washington Post, By Dina ElBoghdady
November 5, 2009

The Senate voted Wednesday to renew the government's $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers through the first six months of next year as part of a broader bill designed to extend unemployment benefits. For the first time, the tax credit program would also enable many homeowners who buy a new primary residence to receive a $6,500 refund. The bill, which passed 98 to 0, should reach the House floor by Thursday, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement. His office said the legislation would then go to the White House for the president's signature.

Under the bill, first-time home buyers would receive the $8,000 tax credit if they sign a contract by April 30 and close on it by June 30. The plan would also make those who buy a new primary residence eligible for the $6,500 credit if they owned their current home for at least five consecutive years in the previous eight years. But the measure limits the purchase price of the home to $800,000. It also imposes income caps so that people who make more than $125,000 annually and couples who make more than $225,000 would not be eligible for the program, which is estimated to cost $10 billion.

In the Senate's measure, taxpayers would be able to claim the credit on their 2009 income tax return for purchases made in 2010.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Extension of Current Loan Limits

WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 29, 2009)

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) today applauded passage of legislation that will maintain the existing loan limits for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) through December 31, 2010. An extension of the current loan limits (which had been due to expire December 31, 2009) was included in the continuing resolution (H.R. 2996) that passed the House and Senate today.

MBA's Chairman, Robert E. Story, Jr., issued the following statement.

"Given the lack of a private secondary mortgage market, FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are pretty much the only game in town. Extending the current loan limits through 2010 will allow more loans to qualify for these important programs and will help keep mortgage credit more accessible and affordable for qualified borrowers.

"As we try to maintain the momentum of the housing recovery, providing affordable financing for qualified borrowers is critical. Extending the loan limits, along with other initiatives such as extending and expanding the homebuyer tax credit, will help restore stability to the housing and mortgage markets."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

All of my girls --

All my girls together last evening!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Topics To Move Fence Sitters

Topics To Move Fence Sitters:

High Balance Conforming of $729,750 ends 12/30/2009. Reverts back to $625,500. Simultaneous Closing, 1st and 2nd 80% CLTV to $1,250,000 (San Mateo County)

First Time Homebuyers Tax Credit ends 11/30/2009.

Economic News:

Leading economic indicators for September were up 1% and up 11.8% for the last 6 months. Strongest showing since 1983.

New home sales were up for the fifth consecutive month in August. Inventory of new homes are down to their lowest levels since 1990.

The report on Real GDP to be released this week is expected to show an increase of 3.7% annual pace for the 3rd Quarter. By comparisson, first quarter Real GDP was (-6%) Another sign that the economy may have hit bottom and is on a recovery path.

Friday, October 23, 2009

NIMBY Won’t Stop California High-Speed Rail

Source: WIRED: Zach Rosenberg

Democracy, it has been said, is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to eat for dinner. We’re seeing that in California, where resistance to a planned high-speed rail line is mounting in three affluent cities. A vocal, and influential, grassroots movement has sprung up to reroute the line around the San Francisco Bay Area communities or have it run underground.

There is tremendous support — not to mention a concrete plan and $10 billion to get the project started — for a high-speed line linking San Francisco and Los Angeles. But disgruntled residents of Menlo Park, Atherton and Palo Alto could make things very difficult. The cities are home to some of the Bay Area’s wealthiest residents, and they’re suing. Their NIMBY opposition could turn the project into a mind-bogglingly expensive and impractical boondoggle.

This issue goes beyond the Bay Area and California, because other proposed high-speed lines almost certainly will face similar opposition. The plaintiffs simply do not want the trains running through their neighborhoods, and such views are not unique to California. The Obama Administration set aside $8 billion in stimulus funds for high-speed rail and our next transportation spending bill could include as much as $50 billion for it.

As high-speed rail becomes a national reality, planners of potential lines can expect fierce resistance in the courts and intense local political pressure.

The California resistance comes from communities that voted heavily in favor of Prop. 1A, the 2008 ballot initiative that allowed the state to issue bonds worth about $10 billion, or roughly one-quarter the total cost of the project. The measure passed with 52 percent of the vote. Gov. Schwarzenegger has sought another $4.7 billion of the $8 billion set aside in the stimulus package. Forty states are pitching projects — some 272 applications in all — totaling $105 billion.

California’s project is well into the planning process, and the cities of Atherton and Menlo Park have joined some environmental groups in suing the California High-Speed Rail Authority and Caltrain. They’re the two major bureaucratic forces behind the project. The suit alleges two things: first, an improper environmental assessment; second, infringing on Union Pacific’s track ownership.

The first issue is relatively straightforward — the plaintiffs argue studies of the environmental impact the project would have on their communities weren’t handled correctly and therefore underestimate the noise, vibration, displacement and other problems the line would create. Much of this was settled in an earlier lawsuit, but the judge sided with Atherton on a few minor issues, allowing for further suits.

The second point requires a little history: Southern Pacific once owned the tracks California hopes to retrofit for high-speed trains. In 1991, Southern Pacific, which became part of Union Pacific in 1996, sold the tracks to Caltrain for use as commuter tracks, but it retained the exclusive right to use them for freight and to hire an operator for intercity trains. The latest suit claims Caltrain lacks the authority to allow intercity high-speed trains on the tracks because Caltrain is dealing with the High-Speed Rail Authority, not Union Pacific. Union Pacific, which has been happy to allow high speed rail as long as it can still haul freight on the lines, seems puzzled by the lawsuit.

Assuming the plaintiffs aren’t actually outraged at the creek displacement or wholly overlooked violation of California contract law, this appears to be, at its heart, a case of NIMBYism. The plaintiffs worry about the noise, vibration, increased traffic and loss of privacy — and decreased property values — high-speed rail might bring. They also argue that no one involved in the project adequately or honestly studied alternatives, which, in fairness, is true. These are legitimate issues.

So the proposed solutions are to reroute the rail line or run it through underground tunnels (or both). The proposed reroute might require passengers to stop at an Amtrak station and transfer to Amtrak. Burying the line would be extremely expensive, while rerouting and burying it makes it more expensive and impractical.

Huge projects like this always inflame passions and incite litigation. It is a usual and occasionally necessary part of the process. But California’s high-speed rail line, which is currently the country’s best shot at a credible and useful high-speed intercity train, will be built one way or another.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Are you a slave to driving the kids everywhere and worry that they aren't safe either walking or riding bikes from your home to school or sport activities? Would you prefer to live where you can walk to church, the grocery or the local Coffee spot? While some clearly adore living behind secure gates in an exclusive enclave, increasingly "Walkability" is becoming a factor that savvy Real Estate Buyers are considering.

Source: The following is excerpted from Go to this website and put in your address to see how "walkable" your residence is!!!

What makes a neighborhood walkable?

A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a discernable center, whether it's a shopping district, a main street, or a public space.

Density: The neighborhood is compact enough for local businesses to flourish and for public transportation to run frequently.

Mixed income, mixed use: Housing is provided for everyone who works in the neighborhood: young and old, singles and families, rich and poor. Businesses and residences are located near each other.

Parks and public space: There are plenty of public places to gather and play.
Pedestrian-centric design: Buildings are placed close to the street to cater to foot traffic, with parking lots relegated to the back.

Nearby schools and workplaces: Schools and workplaces are close enough that most residents can walk from their homes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

House of the Week...

A perfect home for adults just came on the market! Located at 216 Selby Lane in Atherton, it is a small home by Atherton standards, but it is well priced at $1,695,000 and offers many amenities and loads of privacy...

Please call me at (650) 543-1215 DIRECT or (650) 888-6628 CELL to see this property.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Menlo Park has a new vehicle for Parking Enforcement -- it is a very tiny little Smart Car and replaces a golf cart.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Christine Horstmann with Clive Owen at the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Christine says, "Here I am working to direct the activities and no one is paying attention to me..."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

House of the Week...

Well, currently there are several new homes on the market in Menlo Park and Atherton. One that I think is really special is located at 1080 Lassen Drive in Menlo Park. Beautifully done Interior Design by Joanne James, this home is filled with light and lovely finishes.
Priced attractively at $3,540,000.

To see this home please give me a call at (650) 543-1215.

Mortgage Rate Outlook

Oct. 2, 2009 -- With September now
behind us, stock markets started
October in a fashion similar to other
Octobers: they sold off to some
degree. After a pretty good third
quarter's profits were booked, at
least some of those gains from
equity sales have been stashed
back into Treasuries, driving yields
down. This is turn is pressuring
mortgage rates down to the lows of
earlier this year.

The overall average for 30-year
FRMs declined by almost a tenthpercent
this week, and HSH's FRMI
closed Friday with five-day average
of 5.40%. Five-one hybrid ARMs
also eased back, shedding eight
basis points to close the national
survey at 4.74%. At 5.07%, conforming
30-year FRMs sported their
lowest average rate since the late
March to late May period gave us
nine consecutive weeks just over
(and under) the 5% mark.

A bright spot was Construction
Spending rose by 0.8%, its second
positive reading of the year. More
impressive was the 4.7% rise in
spending for residential projects,
which was more than enough to
offset drags from the troubled commercial
sector (-0.1%) and the 1.1%
drop in the public sector. Stimulus
money isn't making it out to lowerlevel
projects all that quickly, and
cash-strapped states and counties
are simply putting projects on indefinite

Low mortgage rates continue to
provide support for housing markets,
and the gains in residential
construction spending could be one
of the keys to getting a firmer recovery
underway. However, credit
conditions remain tight, and while
home prices have begun to firm to
some degree, it may be a long time
until most underwater homeowners
will be able to take advantage of
those low rates to recast their balance

Does October continue to live up to
its reputation as a wicked month for
stocks? To the degree that it does,
mortgage rates should benefit.
Spring lows ignited a fair bit of refi
activity, but building lasting refi
waves requires low (if not continually
declining) interest rates for a
period of weeks, even months. We'll
continue to have low rates, but
significant declines are unlikely. If
you're considering refinancing, don't
hesitate too long or a fickle October
market may catch you napping.

Treasury yields dipped at week's
end, so mortgage rates should start
next week on a softer note.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Doing Your Real Estate Homework: The New York Times Rent vs. Buy Calculator

A common question for all first-time home buyers is -- Does it make sense for me to buy or rent?

It’s likely that you’ll receive as many different answers to this question as people you ask it to. The majority of Realtors are going to tell you it’s a great time to buy because interest rates are low and numerous media outlets are reporting that the US is at the tail end of the recession. At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who feel like it never makes sense to buy and that you will always come out ahead financially if you con-tinue to rent. The reality is that determining if it’s a good time to buy requires a full review of the buyer, from their finances to their life goals.

Most first-time home buyers want an easy, non-intrusive way to figure out if it’s the right time for them to buy. Cirios has searched the Web for the best rent vs. buy calculator that combines ease of use with a valuable output.

The one we recommend can be found on The New York Times’ website. The basic form of the calculator only requires 5 inputs (Monthly rent, Home price, Down payment, Mortgage rate and Annual property taxes) to give you a reading on when (if ever) buying is better than renting.

Here are our tips and precautions regarding this calculator which will allow you to get the most out of this web-based tool:

Use a rental rate for a home similar to the home you are looking to purchase. If you input the rent of your one-bedroom apartment and want to see if it makes sense to buy a 3-bedroom home, the calculator will tell you it’s never a good time to buy.

Do not use an annual home price appreciation of more than 3%. At this point, its unreasonable to expect more than 3% annual appreciation.

Use a higher than a 1% increase in annual rent increase/decrease. If you are thinking about buying a home, it is likely that you are looking to upgrade your current living situation. If you don’t buy a home now, over the next 10 years you are very likely to be renting a larger home. As a re-sult, you’ll probably be paying more than just your standard 1% rent increase.

(NOTE: There are advanced settings on the right side of the calculator which allow you to make the calculator more reflective of your personal situation.)

Source: Cirios Trends -- Getting to the Bottom of the Housing Market

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My niece, Christy Raedeke, just got the final cover art for her book that is to be published May 1, 2010 by Flux Publishing.

I'm so excited...the book is fabulous Young Adult Fiction! Congratulations, Christy.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rosewood Hotel -- a mini Vacation in Menlo Park!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Looks like the winner for oldest building still standing in Menlo Park is the train station, which now serves Caltrain passengers.

This report is the 10th annual CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION of REALTORS® Buyers Survey

This report is the 10th annual CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION of REALTORS® (C.A.R.) buyer survey that details how home buyers have changed their behaviors in recent years to adapt to the new housing market environment and to the increased use of the Internet in the real estate business.

Some of the key findings include:

• Distressed sales made up more than half of sales in California. According to results from the survey, 49 percent of all buyers bought a home through a regular market sale, 38 percent bought an REO/bank-owned property, and 13 percent bought a short-sale property.

• Home buyers, in general, were optimistic about the future direction of home prices in their
neighborhood. While fewer than one in ten believed prices would go up over the next year, one-third believed prices would go up in the next 5 years, and 60 percent thought prices would go up in 10 years.

• Home buyers continued to experience considerable difficulty in obtaining financing for the homes they bought. On a scale of “1” to “10”, with “1” being “very easy” to obtain financing and “10” being “very difficult”, home buyers reported a high average level of difficulty in obtaining finance of 8.1.

• A recent study by the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® suggests that the financial benefits of owning a home outweigh that of renting for first-time buyers. For a first-time buyer household that purchases an entry-level home between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30, 2009, the overall tax liability savings in the first five years of homeownership is well over $11,000 when compared to renters.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Great picture below of my Dad, Emmet Cameron and his friend David Packard
See below...

Merger of Agilent, Varian Brings Two Companies Full Circle

Merger of Agilent, Varian Brings Two Companies Full Circle

By Brandon Bailey

More than 60 years ago, a group of young scientists and engineers were getting ready to change the world. Brothers Sigurd and Russell Varian started a company to develop electron tubes and other cutting-edge devices, with help from several Stanford instructors and grad students who were also pals with Bill Hewlett and David Packard.

Varian Associates would become one of the first tenants of the Stanford Research Park, later joined by Hewlett-Packard and a host of other high-tech companies. In their early years, Packard served on Varian's board and, the story goes, let the Varian crew borrow tools from the HP supply shed. Varian co-founder Edward Ginzton, who would later help build the Stanford Linear Accelerator, raced Hewlett to see whose car could reach the top of Page Mill Road first.

Now that story is coming full circle, as a company that was spun off from the renowned Hewlett-Packard is preparing to buy a company that was spun off from Varian Associates — which is not quite as well-known but has a notable history of innovation in fields ranging from radar and telecommunications to semiconductors and health science.

The purchase of Varian by Agilent Technologies, in a $1.5 billion deal announced last week, will reunite elements of two companies started by visionaries who shared a common belief in the power of technology and the importance of treating workers with collegiality and respect, said Stanford science historian Henry Lowood.

The deal could almost be considered "harmonic convergence," added local author John McLaughlin, who has written about the early days of the tech industry here. Varian Associates and HP, he said, "helped create the foundation of Silicon Valley."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Frustrating Lack of Inventory in Menlo Park Homes

Today was Tour day...
There were only four first time tours for Menlo Park property, three homes or condos and one lot. There was absolutely nothing available in Central Menlo (Area #303, my 'hood), except the building lot, priced at $1,400,000.

Check out the chart above illustrating the sad facts -- from 24 months of inventory to 1.4 months of inventory...YIKES!!!

Monday, July 27, 2009

National Association of Realtors Releases Existing Homes Sales Stats

Washington, July 23, 2009

Existing-home sales rose for the third consecutive month with inventory easing and home prices declining less sharply in June, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – increased 3.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of 4.89 million units in June from a downwardly revised pace of 4.72 million in May, but are 0.2 percent lower than the 4.90 million-unit level in June 2008.

Source: National Association of Realtors

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Town Hall Meeting on the High-speed Rail Issue

Senator Joe Simitian and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo invite you to attend a Town hall Meeting on High Speed Rail.

This from Joe "I'll be joining Congresswoman Anna Eshoo for a town hall meeting on California's high-speed rail project. If you'd like to learn more or get a question answered, I hope you'll attend.

"WHAT: Town Hall Meeting on High-Speed Rail hosted by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo
(State Senator Joe Simitian will also be there.)

WHEN: Saturday, July 25 at 2:00 PM

WHERE: Menlo Park City Council Chambers, 701 Laurel Street, Menlo Park, CA

Live webcast at and a video will be available soon afterwards at This town hall is open to the public, and no RSVP is necessary.

For more information, call (650) 688-6384 or (408) 277-9460.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Housing Info from the Urban Land Institute

Housing starts increased to 582,000 in June, the second straight month of increases after reaching the lowest point since 1970 in April. Single-family home starts are driving this growth, with 470,000 housing starts in June, while multifamily starts declined from 143,000 in May to 101,000 in June. Single-family starts in June were 28 percent lower than in June 2008 while multifamily were 75 percent lower.

Prices for new homes rose slightly in May and are now just 3.6 percent lower than in May 2008. Prices for existing single-family homes increased very slightly according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) data, but remain 16 percent lower than the previous May. At the same time, the S&P/Case-Shiller Index remained about the same. Prices of existing condominiums remained about the same as well but are almost 22 percent lower than last May. Housing affordability remains near historic highs although it declined slightly, reflecting the rise in prices and mortgage rates.

Total existing home sales increased slightly in May, a welcome positive sign, and the inventory of homes for sale decreased, with a nine-month supply, down from 9.5 months’ supply in April. Still, this remains above the historic average of 7.2 months’ supply (since 1982). The number of new homes sold decreased slightly from 344,000 in April to 342,000 in May, and the inventory of new homes for sale declined as well—the months’ supply decreased to 10.2 from 10.4.

Home mortgage rates (30-year fixed) rose slightly in June to 5.42 percent, but remain very favorable by historic standards. Mortgage delinquency and foreclosure rates remain very high.

These housing trends in total suggest continued movement in the right direction, but a healthy and balanced housing market is still not in view.

Source: Urban Land Institute

Huge Losses in Sharon Heights Fire

A Sharon Heights fire Thursday night destroyed two townhouses and caused major damage to a third, according to Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

He estimated the loss at 15 Susan Gale Court, where the three townhouses are in one structure, at between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Firefighters battled the five-alarm fire for about two hours Thursday night.

The fire, reported at 5:11 p.m., was contained by around 7:15 p.m.

More than 50 firefighters, including crews from Redwood City, Woodside, Palo Alto and San Mateo, as well as Menlo Park, fought the blaze. A total of 17 engines, five ladder trucks and two breathing units were involved, supervised by six battalion chiefs.

The fire started in the middle unit of the structure, said Chief Schapelhouman. The fire spread through the walls from the center of the middle unit, and got in between the first and second floors of the middle unit, he said.

One firefighter was injured slightly, with a minor burn to his ear, the chief said.

Source: Dave Boyce, the Almanac

Friday, July 17, 2009

Gibson's Chicago

This picture inspired me to commit to booking this restaurant NEXT YEAR!

My friend, John Getze, looking quite satisfied with his very cold, dry martini from Gibson's Chicago...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

This Week-end in Menlo Park

Connoisseur's Marketplace
For festival lovers, it’s a can’t-miss event on the summer calendar!

Connoisseur's Marketplace celebrates the Bay Area’s best in culinary, visual, and performing arts on July 18-19, along charming Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park.

Presented by the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, thousands of visitors are expected to pour onto the downtown streets for this vibrant extravaganza of art, music, food, wine and all-around family fun.

For Artist information, see; for Food Vendor information, see; for Sponsor information, see

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bastille Day

Bastille Day

The French national holiday celebrates the beginning of the French Revolution

Date: 14 July

Bastille Day, the French national holiday, commemorates the storming of the Bastille, which took place on 14 July 1789 and marked the beginning of the French Revolution. The Bastille was a prison and a symbol of the absolute and arbitrary power of Louis the 16th's Ancient Regime. By capturing this symbol, the people signaled that the king's power was no longer absolute: power should be based on the Nation and be limited by a separation of powers.

Although the Bastille only held seven prisoners at the time of its capture, the storming of the prison was a symbol of liberty and the fight against oppression for all French citizens; like the Tricolore flag, it symbolized the Republic's three ideals: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity for all French citizens. It marked the end of absolute monarchy, the birth of the sovereign Nation, and, eventually, the creation of the (First) Republic, in 1792.

Bastille Day was declared the French national holiday on 6 July 1880, on Benjamin Raspail's recommendation, when the new Republic was firmly entrenched. Bastille Day has such a strong signification for the French because the holiday symbolizes the birth of the Republic. As in the US, where the signing of the Declaration of Independence signaled the start of the American Revolution, in France the storming of the Bastille began the Great Revolution. In both countries, the national holiday thus symbolizes the beginning of a new form of government.


La Marseillaise was written in 1792 and declared the French national anthem in 1795.
Read and listen to the words.

On the one-year anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, delegates from every region of France proclaimed their allegiance to a single national community during the Fête de la Fédération in Paris - the first time in history that a people had claimed their right to self-determination.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sales are Up and Months of Inventory Down Sharply in West Menlo Park

These Charts represent West Menlo Park Area #303 (Central Menlo Park) ONLY.
Source: Trendgraphix

Saturday, July 11, 2009

New "Hyperlocal" Blog -- InMenlo

My friends, Linda Hubbard and Chris Gulker each have their own Blogs --

See for Linda's Blog about early morning joggers and much more .

Find Chris at for commentary on technology, photography, brain tumors, France, wine & food and more...

Now they are the co-creators of a new "hyperlocal" Blog -- not just about Menlo Park, but about West Menlo Park; it's doin's, people, scenic spots, good wi-fi and coffee, etc.

Discover the new Blog at

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

NAR Data on Existing Home Sales

Earlier this week, when the NAR released data on existing home sales, their statement about appraisers’ role in killing purchase transactions was dead on the mark:

“The increase in sales is less than expected because poor appraisals are stalling transactions.
Pending home sales indicated much stronger activity, but some contracts are falling through from faulty valuations that keep buyers from getting a loan. Lenders are using appraisers who may not be familiar with a neighborhood, or who compare traditional homes with distressed and discounted sales.”

Friday, July 3, 2009

Chambers Landing at Tahoe

THIS is where the truly blessed are right this moment. I hope they were all smart enough to drive up late, or early, or several days ago...

Happy 4th of July!!!

Affordable French Rose

2008 mas Carlot

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Meridian 2006 Chardonnay, California

Meridian Chardonnay is grown in the coolest regions of Santa Barbara County where classic, sought-after characteristics are typical. About half of this wine comes from our coolest vineyard, White Hills, so named for its rolling sand dunes. The soil keeps vigor in check so that yield is not huge, but fruit intensity is quite the opposite. The pineapple, floral, citrus and apple aromas typical of Santa Barbara County occur in abundance in the White Hills Chardonnay.

The other Santa Barbara County Chardonnays in the blend are from the Santa Maria Valley and the cool Los Alamos area to the south. They contribute floral, grapefruit and textural components to the blend. Designed to show off this lush fruit, the oak was kept to a minimum.

Exotic aromas mingle pleasingly in this wine and include notes of fresh cut flowers, lychee, vanilla and nutmeg. A dash of toasted almond brings about an intriguing mid-note. This is not a shy Chardonnay. On the palate expect flavors of pineapple, lime and grapefruit essence with a touch of oak, followed by a lengthy finish. Appellation Santa Barbara County

I feel like the recession has had some effect on all of us. Some are entertaining less, the trips are shorter, or more local, some are shopping in their own closets for long-ago purchases that may still fit and seem approprite.

Some of my friends are downright struggling; with the mortgage payment, the kids' expensive school and extracuricular activities, the tickets to games and plays they have "always" gone to...choices they must make and explanations they must proffer to their friends, colleagues and co-conspiriors. YIKES! It's not easy to observe.

I've been in recession mode for YEARS. My son, Andrew, dubbed my house wine "Windsor Kool-Aide" because we always had copious amounts of it chilled and ready to go here on Windsor Way. It is actually non-vintage Chardonnay from Meridian Vineyards coastal vineyard on the Central Coast of California, very tasty wine from near the Santa Barbara Coast.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Things are Picking UP!

The Real Estate market is perking up in a big way. I did three different searches today for three different clients and most of what I had in mind to show them was GONE!

So, I have a wine recommendation - only $13.99 at K & L!

Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé, Perle d'Aurore, Louis Bouillot

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael -- Dead at 50

I'm Starting With The Man In
The Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change
His Ways
And No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lake Tahoe in Summer -- closer to heaven than we have a right to be...

Tahoe in Summer...
My colleague just sent me this picture on his iPhone so I remember where I am suppossed to be in the summer. Lake Tahoe has to be the most beautiful place on the planet.
Ideas, comments, arguments???

Monday, June 22, 2009

Homeowners Should be Careful About How They Hold Title to Properties

This important decision is often an afterthought during a sale but it has significant legal ramifications.

Reporting from Washington -- The manner in which homeowners hold title to their properties has significant legal ramifications. Consequently, it's not wise to leave this important decision to chance.

Escrow agents will ask how you would prefer the title to read. But often the question isn't posed until you near the close of the sale, and by then it may be too late to give any real thought to your options.

With that in mind, here's an overview of some of the more common forms of ownership:

Tenancy by the entirety.

In most cases, this is the correct way for married couples to hold title. In fact, it is available only to married couples.

Tenancy by the entirety creates an estate in which each spouse has an undivided interest in the property, or the equal right of possession and enjoyment during their joint lives. It also vests each spouse with the right of survivorship so if one dies, his or her interest transfers to the survivor.

Since probate is unnecessary on the death of the first spouse, the property won't be tied up in court. Instead, it can be sold right away if that's necessary. Also, the survivor takes title to the share of the property attributable to the deceased at its "stepped-up basis," or its fair-market value as of the date of the spouse's death.

Equally important, the individual creditors of either spouse cannot attach a lien on a property held as tenancy by the entirety. If a judgment is against both of you, the creditor can put a lien on the house, but not if the judgment is against one of you.

Tenancy in common.

Under this alternative, each person owns a set but not necessarily equal percentage. And there is no right of survivorship. Thus, the decedent's share vests with whoever is named in the will. And unless the deceased holds his share in trust, it goes through probate just like the rest of his estate.

Furthermore, the share that transfers to the survivor counts against the federal estate tax credit. So if the husband is very ill and may not survive, it might be a good idea to retitle the house as tenants in common with him holding a 99% share. That way, when he dies, his share will pass at the date-of-death value to his wife. And then, if she must sell shortly thereafter, there may be less capital-gains tax to pay, if any.

This is often the preferred method of ownership for unrelated co-owners and for remarried couples who want to leave their share to children from previous marriages.

Co-owners may have unequal shares, and each can convey his portion without the consent of the other. When a tenant in common dies, his share is passed on according to his will or, if there is no will, by state law as it applies to intestate succession. But there is no protection from creditors.

Joint tenancy with right of survivorship.

This is similar to tenancy by the entirety, except that the property is not protected from the individual creditors of each owner. Another potential drawback is that regardless of what the deceased's will says, his share will pass to the joint tenant.

Because of the right of survivorship, joint tenancy may be the best way to hold title for parent-and-child owners. Since it is more likely that the parent will die sooner, the child will receive the parent's share at its current value.

But under this form of ownership, all joint tenants are presumed to have an equal share, a situation that may leave the co-owner parent a bit uneasy. Also, in many states, one co-owner can dissolve the joint tenancy without the other's approval, which might not make any of the owners comfortable.

Sole ownership.

For the most part, a single, unmarried buyer will take title as the sole owner in his or her name alone. It is sometimes known as "ownership in severalty."

Holding property in this manner gives you complete control. If you marry later, your spouse does not automatically acquire ownership in that property. And if you divorce, your ex may still have no claim to the property.

However, you won't have the benefits that come with other forms of ownership. You won't be able to avoid creditors or the probate process, and the property will be considered part of your estate for federal estate tax purposes.

Married persons also can take title as sole owners. But in some states, the spouse not on the title must sign a quitclaim deed, giving up any claim to ownership in that property.


There are many types of trusts, but the revocable living trust is probably the most common and useful for holding title to real estate. You convey title to a trustee -- who can be anyone, including yourself -- who manages the property on your behalf.

Sometimes known as an inter vivos trust, this is a tax-neutral device, meaning that all the tax benefits and burdens of ownership continue to accrue to the grantor even though he or she no longer owns the property directly.

Holding property in this manner is useful if one of the co-owners becomes incapacitated or incompetent. Then, his or her trustee can make whatever property decisions are necessary without petitioning the court for permission. Also, property held in trust passes without probate. But creditors cannot be avoided.

Source: Los Angeles Times by Lew Sichelman

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

First things first, then on with the day...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Home Buyer Tax Credit

Home buyer tax credit can be applied to purchase costs U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan recently announced that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) will allow home buyers to apply the administration's new $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit toward the purchase costs of a FHA-insured home. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 offers home buyers a tax credit of up to $8,000 for purchasing their first home.

Families can only access this credit after filing their tax returns with the IRS. Home buyers using FHA-approved lenders can apply the tax credit to their down payment in excess of 3.5 percent of appraised value or their closing costs, which can help achieve a lower interest rate.

Currently, borrowers applying for an FHA-insured mortgage are required to make a minimum 3.5 percent down payment on the purchase of their home. Current law does not permit approved lenders to monetize the tax credit to meet the required 3.5 percent minimum down payment, but, under the terms of the announcement, lenders can now monetize the tax credit for use as additional down payment, or for other closing costs, which can help achieve a lower interest rate.

Source: California Association of Realtors

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Most Expensive Suburbs to Live In

ATHERTON selected as the most expensive suburb to live in...
Source: Business Week
Suburban Excess
To many, the suburbs represent a chance to escape expensive city living. But that all depends on which suburb you choose. While you might not spend as much on taxis or parking, many suburbs can be just as expensive as the city you left, if not more expensive — especially if you want Wisteria Lane-like homes, strong schools, excellent parks and recreation departments and carefully mowed lawns. The recession has only made things harder as residents struggle to pay mortgages in the face of job losses and shrinking stock portfolios.

BusinessWeek worked with data analytics firm OnBoard to identify the suburbs in each state where expenses such as mortgage and utility payments, clothing, food and beverages, property taxes, health care and home prices were the highest. Here are the suburbs that made the list in the 10 most populous states.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lender Checklist: What You Need for a Mortgage

Lender Checklist: What You Need for a Mortgage
Source: REALTOR Magazine

  • W-2 forms — or business tax return forms if you're self-employed — for the last two or three years for everyperson signing the loan.
  • Copies of at least one pay stub for each person signing the loan.
  • Account numbers of all your credit cards and the amounts for any outstanding balances.
  • Copies of two to four months of bank or credit union statements for both checking and savingsaccounts.
  • Lender, loan number, and amount owed on other installment loans, such as student loans andcar loans.
  • Addresses where you’ve lived for the last five to seven years, with names of landlords ifappropriate.
  • Copies of brokerage account statements for two to four months, as well as a list of any other major assets ofvalue, such as a boat, RV, or stocks or bonds not held in a brokerage account.
  • Copies of your most recent 401(k) or other retirement account statement.
  • Documentation to verify additional income, such as child support or a pension.
  • Copies of personal tax forms for the last two to three years.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pending Home Sales Gain for Third Month


Amid mortgage rates holding near record lows and news that some buyers might be able to use the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit toward closing costs on government-insured mortgages, home sale transactions picked up for the third consecutive month in April.

An index of pending home sales, calculated by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) from contracts signed in April, indicated a 6.7% month-on-month rise in activity across the US.

“Housing affordability conditions have been at historic highs, but now the $8,000 first-time buyer tax credit is beginning to impact the market,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, in a media statement today.

“Since first-time buyers must finalize their purchase by November 30 to get the credit, we expect greater activity in the months ahead, and that should spark more sales by repeat buyers,” he adds.

I Couldn't Have Said it Better...

"It’s tangible, it’s solid, it’s beautiful. It’s artistic, from my standpoint , and I just love real estate." - Donald Trump

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Available New Home Purchase Tax Credit Funds Dwindle

In March the California State Legislature passed a law establishing a personal income tax credit for purchasers of a qualifying principal residence. The tax credit is capped at the lesser of $10,000 or 5 percent of the purchase price for the purchase of a principal residence that has never been occupied between March 1, 2009 and March 1, 2010.

Over the past two months homebuyers have reserved over $65 million in tax credits, with only $35 million in available credits remaining, according to the California Franchise Tax Board. It is important for buyers to be aware that the seller must file paperwork with the state within seven days of the sale for the buyer to qualify for the credit.

The credit provides in equal amounts ($3,333 for the $10,000 credit) over the three successive taxable years beginning with the year in which the purchase is made.

Qualifying residences must never have been occupied and must be eligible after purchase for the Homeowner's Property Tax Exemption. The taxpayer must live in the home as his principal residence for at least two years, or be subject to payback for any tax credits received.

Unlike the federal tax credit, the state has limited the total amount of credits that may be claimed to $100 million. Because of this provision buyers must make a tax credit reservation, and credits will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

The California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) is accepting applications (via form 3528-A) for allocation (reservations) of credit by fax only (916-845-9754). For more information about the credit reservations, applicable forms and the number of credits still available, please see this California Franchise Tax Board Web page.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Andy and Christine -- lovely!

Andy leaves tomorrow for USC to study for a Master's in Real Estate Development.

We will miss him so much...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Atherton Meet Focuses on High-speed Rail

Source: by Andrea Gemmet Almanac Staff

If it's a hot topic in town, chances are that the Atherton Civic Interest League is working on it. The group's annual meeting, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 28, will feature a panel of experts discussing high-speed rail.

The meeting is open to the public, and will be held at the Jennings Pavilion in Holbrook-Palmer Park, 150 Watkins Ave. in Atherton. Atherton officials, and many of the town's residents, have grave worries about the local effects of the state plan to run high-speed trains along the Caltrain corridor that bisects the town. If the high-speed rail line can't be rerouted to avoid the town, Atherton officials would rather have the train run through a trench or tunnel, instead of on an elevated berm.

The scheduled speakers at the meeting are: Mike Garvey and John Litvinger, public outreach consultants working for the California High Speed Rail Authority; John Townsend, executive vice president of Hatch Mott Macdonald, a leading tunnel-engineering and construction firm; Duncan Jones, Atherton's public works director; Gary Patton, attorney and former director of the Planning and Conservation League; and Jim McFall, who will present a digital model of elevated high-speed rail tracks going through Palo Alto.

The meeting kicks off with a roll call and election of new ACIL officers, followed by presentations from the speakers and a half-hour Q&A with the audience. The Atherton Civic Interest League, open to all residents, is a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the quality of life in Atherton and assure effective town governance. It was founded in 1946.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Why Buy Now, Why Buy Ever?

Excerpted from
Change, Logic and Money
by Eric Trailer, Absolute Mortgage Banking

Want another compelling reason why the smart, savvy buyers are acting sooner than later? Because they know that average appreciation rates in California are 8.8% over the last 40 years (yes we all know that the Peninsula is much greater), and today provide an opportunity for both tremendous value and cheap financing. Let’s think about real value for a moment. The last year we had average appreciation in California, it was the year 2001 (8.7%). If we strip out the overbuilt areas of California.., and concentrate specifically on areas where housing expansion is extremely limited, like the Peninsula, one can simply take the median price of comparable homes in 2001, add 8.8% appreciation per year, depreciate appropriate improvements to the property and a value may be derived. Thus, if a would-be buyer can obtain a home at that value or better, and combine the cheap cost financing, that’s an ideal move on a fundamental basis, whether the purchase is for shelter or for investment.

Want more? OK. How about the fact that, since 1968, there have only been four real periods of decline: 1984 (0.1%, so not really), 1990 (only 1.2%, despite the Loma Prieta earthquake in October 1989), 1992-1996 (Average of 2.44% despite a major recession following a major earthquake) and today (yes, believe it or not, there was NO decline for CA as a whole in 2001 when the stock market crashed; in fact, it was up 8.7% in 2001 and up over 20% in 2002. All the more reason why 2001 is a good basis to use.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Towns Look to Influence High-speed Rail Design

Source: by Sean Howell Almanac Staff

As the agency that oversees the high-speed rail project begins to plan how high-speed trains will pass through the Peninsula, local cities and towns are trying to figure out how best to get the agency's ear.

Seeking strength in numbers, Menlo Park and Atherton have signed an agreement to formalize an ad hoc group that has been meeting weekly to discuss issues related to the project. A majority of council members say the cities will have more sway if they work together to lobby the High-Speed Rail Authority, and that they will be better able to share resources and ideas.

Rail agency plans
The main question in the minds of local officials has been, and continues to be: In designing the rail, will officials pay attention to how it will affect local communities?

Rail officials have said repeatedly that they plan to work with local jurisdictions throughout the process, though local officials have said they're skeptical that the agency will do more than state law requires. At an April 30 meeting, a state Senate subcommittee that included Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) expressed concern over the rail agency's outreach efforts, holding off on granting the agency its next wave of funding until it showed a better program for "outreach and oversight.

"The rail agency has laid out a plan to meet quarterly between May 2009 and April 2011 with "working groups" from Peninsula counties and agencies.

Mike Garvey, a former San Carlos city manager who's heading up outreach efforts in San Mateo County for the engineering company contracted to design the rail line, said he's sympathetic to the concerns of local residents.

"The (environmental review) process is a formal, ritualized process," he said. "Some people had the impression that that specific, fixed process would be the only opportunity for comment, and it's not. This will be an ongoing, informal attempt to involve grassroots organization, and to hear from every community.

"In convincing local officials that the rail agency is serious about working with local communities, Mr. Garvey has his work cut out for him. Count Menlo Park Councilman Rich Cline among the skeptics.

"Our point is that there needs to be a dialogue. We need to work together to plan this thing successfully," Mr. Cline said. "The work group (plan) doesn't necessarily make it better, because we have to see that there's a proper input and reaction process.

"Mr. Cline characterizes the rail authority as an organization that's still oriented toward promotion of the concept of high-speed rail, rather than the logistics of how trains will pass through the state. He has joined a rising number of people calling for a restructuring of the organization.

The rail agency expects to issue a draft of its analysis of the various design possibilities in January 2010, according to Mr. Garvey. He said it's too early to say whether that report will identify a preferred configuration.

The agency plans to make portions of its analysis available to the public throughout the course of its analysis in the coming months, according to Mr. Garvey. He said he doesn't yet know exactly how that information will be presented, but that "everyone will have access to it.

Local strategy
The group of Peninsula jurisdictions, dubbed the "Coalition of Cities," would include one council member from each constituent jurisdiction. In addition to Menlo Park and Atherton, the ad hoc group has included representatives from Palo Alto, Mountain View, Burlingame, and Sunnyvale.

The group is separate from the "working groups" set up by the rail agency. That group is divided along county lines.

The coalition of cities would likely only take positions on broad issues that affect most of the member communities, Menlo Park council members say.

Menlo Park Councilman John Boyle said he supports the cities working together, but fears that formalizing the group would clog an already complicated bureaucratic process. The rail agency is legally required to listen to each city throughout its design process, he said. And if the group takes a stance on an issue that Menlo Park opposes, the city runs the risk of having its position misinterpreted in the press.

In an interview, Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson said she thinks a "formalized communication strategy" would make it easier, not harder, for news outlets to interpret the stance taken by Peninsula cities.

Peninsula counties would seem to have built-in leverage with the rail agency, because they own the Caltrain corridor. The agency will negotiate to lease the corridor from the joint powers board that oversees it, in order to run trains along it. But some local officials think the board is more focused on securing benefits for the Caltrain system than it is on the impacts to the communities along the rail line.

Mr. Boyle disputed the notion that the board's interests are by definition inimical to those of the jurisdictions it represents.

"They are responsible to their member cities," he said of the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board at a recent council meeting. "I think they would represent our interests, if we asked them to."

As part of its outreach efforts, the High-Speed Rail Authority has set up a hotline for people to get general information on the project: 510-597-8640. For questions specific to San Mateo County, call outreach coordinator Mike Garvey at 596-9047, or e-mail him at The project's Web site is

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Basics: 2009 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit

Bringing the Dream of Homeownership Within Reach
Source: National Association of Realtors

As part of its plan to stimulate the U.S. housing market and address the economic challenges facing our nation, Congress has passed legislation that grants a tax credit of up to $8,000 to first-time home buyers.

Here is more information about how the 2009 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit can help prospective home buyers become part of the American dream.

Who Qualifies?
First-time home buyers who purchase homes between January 1, 2009 and December 1, 2009.
To qualify as a “first-time home buyer” the purchaser or his/her spouse may not have owned a residence during the three years prior to the purchase.

Which Properties Are Eligible?
The 2009 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit may be applied to primary residences, including: single-family homes, condos, townhomes, and co-ops.

How Much Will the Credit Be?
The maximum allowable credit for home buyers is $8,000. Each home buyer’s tax credit is determined by two factors:

The price of the home—the credit is equal to 10% of the purchase price of the home, up to $8,000.

The buyer's income—single buyers with incomes up to $75,000 and married couples with incomes up to $150,000—may receive the maximum tax credit.

If the Buyer(s)’ Income Exceeds These Limits, Can He/She Still Get a Credit?
Yes, some buyers may still be eligible for the credit.The credit decreases for buyers who earn between $75,000 and $95,000 for single buyers and between $150,000 and $170,000 for home buyers filing jointly. The amount of the tax credit decreases as his/her income approaches the maximum limit. Home buyers earning more than the maximum qualifying income—over $95,000 for singles and over $170,000 for couples are not eligible for the credit.

Will the Tax Credit Need to Be Repaid?
No. The buyer does not need to repay the tax credit, if he/she occupies the home for three years or more. However, if the property is sold during the three-year period, the credit will be recouped on the sale.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rates on Bigger Mortgages Finally Should Come Down

Home loans from $625,500 to $729,750 in high-cost regions, including most of the Bay Area, should get cheaper in the next few weeks.

To make bigger mortgages cheaper, the economic stimulus act passed in February increased the conforming loan limit in high-cost regions to a maximum of $729,750 from $625,500 for single-family homes through the end of this year. The conforming-loan limit is the biggest mortgage that can be purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Anything over the limit is called a jumbo loan, and they cost considerably more than conforming loans because Fannie and Freddie can't buy or guarantee them.

Raising the limit should bring down the price of loans between $625,500 and $729,750. But more than two months after the stimulus bill was signed, loans in that zone are still being priced like jumbo loans.


Lenders say they couldn't lower their rates until Fannie and Freddie issued underwriting criteria. Fannie issued its criteria March 30 and Freddie on April 16. Both will start buying loans of up to $729,750 from lenders on May 4.

That opens the door for lenders to begin making them.

Wells Fargo says it will start making conforming loans of up to $729,750 on Monday.

Bank of America will begin making them "by mid-May," says Vijay Lala, a product executive with the bank.

As they and other lenders start making these loans, the price should come down. By how much remains to be seen.

Source: Kathleen Pender
Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

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