Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rates on 30-Year Mortgages Edged Down This Week, but Remain Above 5%

McLEAN, Va. (AP) -- Rates on 30-year mortgages edged down this week, but remained above 5 percent, Freddie Mac reported Thursday.

The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage dipped to 5.10 percent this week from 5.12 percent last week. At this time last year, the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage averaged 5.68 percent.

Mortgage rates have been declining since the Federal Reserve said in late November it would buy up to $500 billion in mortgage-backed securities to get banks to lend more money in hopes of bolstering the troubled housing market.

Rates hit 4.96 percent two weeks ago, the lowest level since Freddie Mac started its survey in April 1971.

This week, the average rate on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage was unchanged at 4.8 percent. The comparable rate a year ago was 5.17 percent.

Average rates on five-year, adjustable-rate mortgages rose to 5.27 percent from 5.24 percent. Rates on one-year, adjustable-rate mortgages fell to 4.9 percent from 4.92 percent last week.

The rates do not include add-on fees known as points. The nationwide fee for 30-year and 15-year mortgages averaged 0.7 point for this week. Fees for one-year and five-year adjustable rate mortgages averaged sixth-tenths of a point.

Freddie Mac and sibling company Fannie Mae own or guarantee about half of the $11.5 trillion in U.S. outstanding home loan debt. The government seized control of the companies in September.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Instant Analysis of Today’s FOMC Decision

Instant Analysis of Today’s FOMC Decision
by Dr. Scott Anderson, Senior Economist for Wells Fargo & Company

The Fed sees economic fundamentals continuing to deteriorate and credit conditions for households and firms as "extremely" tight. In the December statement they only characterized credit conditions as tight. They still anticipate that economic activity will begin later this year, but see the downside risks out-weighing the upside risks at this point.

The Fed kept the federal funds target rate in its present range of 0 to ¼ of a percentage point, and promised to keep the Fed funds target rate at "exceptionally low levels for some time."

The statement acknowledges that the economy has weakened further since December, citing steeply declining industrial production, housing starts, and employment, as consumers and businesses cut back on spending.

The FOMC added a comment about global prospects, perhaps a nod to the IMF’s substantial downward revision in their global growth forecasts today from 2.2 percent to 0.5 percent in 2009, the worst global growth performance in the post-war period. The FOMC statement says today that "global demand appears to be slowing significantly."

Finally, the Fed doesn’t mention the word deflation in the statement, but did highlight the prospect for inflation to persist below rates that best foster economic growth and price stability in the long-term. That’s central bank code for a period of deflation!

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 "credit easing". The FOMC said it was prepared to purchase longer-term Treasury securities if it could help improve credit conditions in private credit markets. This will be somewhat of a disappointment for the bond market, which was hoping for an actual announcement of the plan today.

I believe there are some members of the FOMC that want to move slowly on the plan to buy long-term Treasuries, since in doing so the Fed is basically "monetizing" the debt, trading government IOUs for Federal Reserve IOUs, that could ultimately be destabilizing for the dollar and U.S. inflation down the road.

Right now, 10-Yr Treasury bond yields are up about 13 basis points from yesterday’s close, though stocks are holding on to substantial gains.

Economist: $825B Plan May Avert 'Depression'

Wednesday, January 28, 2009.
Inman News

The House of Representatives is expected to vote today on an $825 billion stimulus bill that could save millions of jobs and prevent foreclosures, but which might also make the recession worse if the government's growing debt sends interest rates up and the dollar plummeting.

President Obama urged fast passage of the bill, saying new statistics being released every day "underscore the urgency of the economic situation."

"The American people expect ... us to put together a recovery package that puts people back to work (and) creates investments that assure our long-term energy independence, an effective health care system (and) an education system that works," Obama said.

House Republican Leader Rep. John Boehner called the stimulus plan "wasteful and unfocused" and said it would be "irresponsible to pass this massive debt onto our children and grandchildren." Boehner and other Republicans are pushing for an approach that puts more emphasis on tax relief and less on government spending to stimulate the economy.

H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, would earmark money for a range of federal programs and increase or extend benefits payable under Medicaid, unemployment and food-stamp programs. The bill also includes an estimated $165 billion in tax cuts for individuals and $110 billion for businesses.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dealing with Appreciated Real Estate -- Is a 1031 Exchange Right for You?

Dealing with Appreciated Real Estate

One downside of real estate investments is that they are not liquid assets like stocks or bonds. Even in today's booming market, it can sometimes take more than a year to settle a real estate deal. If you've decided to sell your real estate and get out while the getting is good, you may be faced with a hefty tax bill on your gain. You could mitigate this tax burden by controlling the year in which title and possession passes and, therefore, the year in which you report the profit or loss on the transaction. In other words, you can set the transfer of ownership to a year in which you expect to have a lower tax burden. However, if your income is steady and paying tax on the gain looks inevitable, you may want to consider using the IRC Section 1031 exchange. (For further reading, see A Long-Term Mindset Meets Dreaded Capital Gains Tax.)

The 1031 Exchange

The 1031 exchange allows an investor to trade real estate held for investment for other investment real estate and incur no immediate tax liabilities. Under Section 1031, if you exchange business or investment property solely for business or investment property of a like kind, no gain or loss is recognized until the newly acquired property is sold. Keep in mind that Section 1031 does not apply to exchanges of inventory, stocks, bonds, notes, evidence of indebtedness and certain other assets.

Fully Tax-Free Exchange

For a tax-free 1031 exchange transaction to occur, certain conditions must be met:

Property must be "like kind" - Properties are like kind if they are of the same nature or character, even if they differ in grade or quality.

Property must be related to business or investment - Exchanged property must be held for productive business or investment use and traded for the same use.

New property must be identified within 45 days - The new property that you intend to receive in exchange for your existing property must be identified in writing within 45 days of the first transfer.

Transfer must take place within the 180-day window - The like-kind property must be received by one of these two dates (whichever comes sooner): within the 180-day period following the property transfer, or by your tax return due date (including extensions) for the year in which you transferred the property.

Home Remodels, Retrofits are Key to an Energy-efficient Future

As the nation's home builders embrace green building in growing numbers, industry research indicates that even the most aggressive efficiency goals for new homes won't make a dent in overall energy consumption. Instead, remodeling and retrofitting the nation's older homes is by far the more efficient solution, industry experts said at a recent press conference The home building industry can combat the potential effects of global climate change by providing additional training to its members and by encouraging homeowners to alter some of their habits - and make energy-efficient improvements to their homes.

Federal energy officials estimate that Americans consume about 21 percent of the energy produced each year to operate and maintain their homes: for heating, cooling and electrical appliances, from stoves and refrigerators to televisions, computers and hair dryers. "By just making thoughtful choices, we can reduce that impact," said Ray Tonjes, chair of the NAHB Green Building Subcommittee and a green homebuilder in Austin, Texas. "Energy efficiency is absolutely key to our nation's continued security and to our economy. Additionally, we know that building with energy conservation in mind is practical and profitable. My industry has stepped up to the plate to prevent the effects of global warming - but we call it responding to market demand," he said. The greatest energy savings can be achieved by making changes to existing housing, which is less energy efficient than today's new homes. "We obviously can't solve the problem by tearing down all our inefficient housing stock and replacing it with new. We need to make some significant improvements to our existing homes," Tonjes said.

Further, the study demonstrated that pending $10,000 retrofitting a 1960s home could save 8.5 tons of carbon, a cost of $588 to $1,176 per ton depending on tax credits and incentives. On the other hand, increasing the energy efficiency of a new home 35 percent over current state requirements would cost about $5,000 and would reduce emissions by 1.1 tons at a cost of $4,545 per ton.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Distinctive Palo Alto Architects

Local Points of Interest for Architecture Buffs

Monty Anderson

Two of Palo Alto's most illustrious architects, Birge Clark and Pedro DeLemos, had a decided influence on the way Palo Alto looks today. Both practiced architecture in and around Palo Alto beginning in the 1920s and they shared a love of the Spanish Revival style of architecture that blossomed in California during the Arts and Crafts movement.

As Californians became tired of transplanted Eastern styles, architects searched for a style of architecture that better represented the uniqueness of California. They didn't have to look far, because California was dotted with Spanish missions. The missions, with their thick adobe walls, exterior courtyards and clay tile roofs, were perfectly adapted for the climate of California. Clark and DeLemos embraced this style of architecture, and forever changed the look of Palo Alto.

Today many of the city's most important buildings are designed in this Spanish Revival style. Local buildings of note by Birge Clark include the Palo Alto Post Office, the University Arts Building, the President Hotel, the Varsity Theater and many of the buildings along Ramona Street between University and Hamilton. This area is designated a National Register Historic District.

Also on Ramona Street are buildings by DeLemos; the buildings housing Nola's restaurant, and the Double Rainbow Ice Cream Parlor across the street are examples of his work. In addition, Waverley Oaks, his own residence off Waverley Street, has been featured on the Gamble Garden Center Tour and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Menlo Park boasts Allied Arts, which was also designed by DeLemos.

Join the Museum of American Heritage as we celebrate these and other local architects and architectural styles with displays of graphics and architectural artifacts at MOAH's Spring exhibit On the House: Architecture and Artifacts.

Monty Anderson, a Principal at Cody Anderson Wasney, is a member of MOAH's Board of Directors and consulting with the Exhibits Committee for On the House.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Buying a Slice of Architectural Distinction

What do Dave Brubeck, Jane Fonda, Alice Waters and Dr Seuss [aka, Theodor Geisel] have in common?

It turns out that they were all inducted into the California Hall of Fame last month, a body set up in 2005 by California's First Lady Maria Shriver to honor individuals who embody the state's innovative spirit.

Included in the 2008 list of 12 inductees is architect Julia Morgan, who crashed through the gender barrier at the turn of the 19th century and went on to design more than 700 buildings over a 47-year career, most of them in the Bay Area.

Julia Morgan

Morgan's most famous building is William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon home, Hearst Castle. But the more modest homes she designed come onto the market fairly regularly and they are always worth checking out -- whether you want to live in a home of architectural distinction, or if only to indulge in a little snooping on a Sunday open-house tour.

Some are more desirable than others. A 3/1.5 on Parker Street in Berkeley lingered on the market for almost a year before selling last June for $938,000. However another Morgan was snapped up in a flash in October: 2616 Etna St, a 3/1 brown-shingle, also in Berkeley, sold for $1,257,000, comfortably over its $1,115,000 asking price.

I can't say I was surprised. Built in 1905, the home had the swathes of paneling and built-ins one associates with the Craftsman style, as well as a sleeping porch, working pocket doors, window seats, casement windows and precisely 271 linear feet of custom-built bookshelves. A slice of history and an architectural gem for Morgan fans.

The Landmark Heritage Foundation is celebrating Morgan's induction into the Hall of Fame on January 18 at the Berkeley City Club, designed -- of course -- by Julia Morgan. For information, visit their website.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mortgage Rates Hit New Low -11th in a Row

(01-18) 04:00 PST McLean, Va.

Rates on 30-year mortgages set a record for a fifth straight week by dropping to below 5 percent, the lowest mark since Freddie Mac started tracking the data in 1971.

Freddie Mac reported Thursday that average rates on 30-year fixed mortgages dropped to 4.96 percent last week, down from 5.01 percent the previous week.

The average rate on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.65 percent from 4.62 percent last week, while rates on five-year adjustable-rate mortgages fell to 5.25 percent. Rates on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages fell to 4.89 percent from 4.95 percent.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Inaugural Address

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
January 20, 2009

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

A New President for America

Richard Perry/The New York Times
The Capitol in Washington early on Tuesday.

Published: January 20, 2009

WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands thronged to the Capitol this morning preparing to witness the midday inauguration of Barack Obama of Illinois as the 44th president of the United States and the first African American to hold the nation’s highest elected office.

Scott Andrews/Reuters

Crowds filled the National Mall in the early morning hours on Tuesday. Even before the sun rose, people streamed from all directions to the West Front of the Capitol, making their way on foot and by mass transit since traffic was barred from a wide area around the grounds and the National Mall for security and to prevent gridlock due to the multitude expected to attend.

Given the historic nature of Mr. Obama’s election, black Americans appeared to be much more prevalent in the gathering crowd than at inaugurals of the recent past.

Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, were scheduled to meet the outgoing president, George W. Bush, and his wife, Laura, at the White House for a coffee at 10 a.m. before driving to the Capitol for a carefully choreographed ceremony that will climax with a peaceful transfer of executive authority to Mr. Obama shortly before noon. His inaugural address will follow.

Aides said Mr. Obama was expected to emphasize personal responsibility in his speech.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Working With a Realtor®

All real estate licensees are not the same. Only real estate licensees who are members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® are properly called REALTORS®. They proudly display the REALTOR "®" logo on the business card or other marketing and sales literature. REALTORS® are committed to treat all parties to a transaction honestly. REALTORS® subscribe to a strict Code of Ethics and are expected to maintain a higher level of knowledge of the process of buying and selling real estate. An independent survey reports that 84% of home buyers would use the same REALTOR® again.

Real estate transactions involve one of the biggest financial investments most people experience in their lifetime. Transactions today usually exceed $100,000. If you had a $100,000 income tax problem, would you attempt to deal with it without the help of a CPA? If you had a $100,000 legal question, would you deal with it without the help of an attorney? Considering the small upside cost and the large downside risk, it would be foolish to consider a deal in real estate without the professional assistance of a REALTOR®.

But if you're still not convinced of the value of a REALTOR®, here are a dozen more reasons to use one:

1. Your REALTOR® can help you determine your buying power -- that is, your financial reserves plus your borrowing capacity. If you give a REALTOR® some basic information about your available savings, income and current debt, he or she can refer you to lenders best qualified to help you. Most lenders -- banks and mortgage companies -- offer limited choices.

2. Your REALTOR® has many resources to assist you in your home search. Sometimes the property you are seeking is available but not actively advertised in the market, and it will take some investigation by your agent to find all available properties.

3. Your REALTOR® can assist you in the selection process by providing objective information about each property. Agents who are REALTORS® have access to a variety of informational resources. REALTORS® can provide local community information on utilities, zoning. schools, etc. There are two things you'll want to know. First, will the property provide the environment I want for a home or investment? Second, will the property have resale value when I am ready to sell?

4. Your REALTOR® can help you negotiate. There are myriad negotiating factors, including but not limited to price, financing, terms, date of possession and often the inclusion or exclusion of repairs and furnishings or equipment. The purchase agreement should provide a period of time for you to complete appropriate inspections and investigations of the property before you are bound to complete the purchase. Your agent can advise you as to which investigations and inspections are recommended or required.

5. Your REALTOR® provides due diligence during the evaluation of the property. Depending on the area and property, this could include inspections for termites, dry rot, asbestos, faulty structure, roof condition, septic tank and well tests, just to name a few. Your REALTOR® can assist you in finding qualified responsible professionals to do most of these investigations and provide you with written reports. You will also want to see a preliminary report on the title of the property. Title indicates ownership of property and can be mired in confusing status of past owners or rights of access. The title to most properties will have some limitations; for example, easements (access rights) for utilities. Your REALTOR®, title company or attorney can help you resolve issues that might cause problems at a later date.

6. Your REALTOR® can help you in understanding different financing options and in identifying qualified lenders.

7. Your REALTOR® can guide you through the closing process and make sure everything flows together smoothly.

8. When selling your home, your REALTOR® can give you up-to-date information on what is happening in the marketplace and the price, financing, terms and condition of competing properties. These are key factors in getting your property sold at the best price, quickly and with minimum hassle.

9. Your REALTOR® markets your property to other real estate agents and the public. Often, your REALTOR® can recommend repairs or cosmetic work that will significantly enhance the salability of your property. Your REALTOR® markets your property to other real estate agents and the public. In many markets across the country, over 50% of real estate sales are cooperative sales; that is, a real estate agent other than yours brings in the buyer. Your REALTOR® acts as the marketing coordinator, disbursing information about your property to other real estate agents through a Multiple Listing Service or other cooperative marketing networks, open houses for agents, etc. The REALTOR® CODE OF ETHICS requires REALTORS® to utilize these cooperative relationships when they benefit their clients.

10. Your REALTOR® will know when, where and how to advertise your property. There is a misconception that advertising sells real estate. The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® studies show that 82% of real estate sales are the result of agent contacts through previous clients, referrals, friends, family and personal contacts. When a property is marketed with the help of your REALTOR®, you do not have to allow strangers into your home. Your REALTOR® will generally prescreen and accompany qualified prospects through your property.

11. Your REALTOR® can help you objectively evaluate every buyer's proposal without compromising your marketing position. This initial agreement is only the beginning of a process of appraisals, inspections and financing -- a lot of possible pitfalls. Your REALTOR® can help you write a legally binding, win-win agreement that will be more likely to make it through the process.

12. Your REALTOR® can help close the sale of your home. Between the initial sales agreement and closing (or settlement), questions may arise. For example, unexpected repairs are required to obtain financing or a cloud in the title is discovered. The required paperwork alone is overwhelming for most sellers. Your REALTOR® is the best person to objectively help you resolve these issues and move the transaction to closing (or settlement).

-Source: National Association of REALTORS® (

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The National Association of REALTORS®' 10 Steps to Home Ownership

For First Time Homebuyers

The home-buying process doesn't need to be scary. The National Association of Realtors®' step-by-step guide will walk you through the process and answer your questions on what you should expect from your REALTOR®, where to look for loans, and what to watch out for when closing the deal.

Homebuying Guides

Even before you begin looking for a home, the homebuying process requires diligent preparation. Buyers who have been preapproved for a home loan often have their offers taken more seriously by sellers. With advance preparation, you can tackle the process of acquiring the financing you need with more confidence. To help you on the path to homeownership, the Fannie Mae Foundation offers free step-by-step guides that can help you get closer to achieving your dream:

Knowing and Understanding Your Credit
Opening the Door to a Home of Your Own
Choosing the Mortgage that's Right for You
Borrowing Basics: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

These authoritative homebuying guides (in PDF format) are available in nine languages, including English, Chinese, Haitian-Creole, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. You can download a guide or order a print version online from, a Web site run by the Fannie Mae Foundation.

The Fannie Mae Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization devoted to affordable housing and the revitalization of communities. The foundation has provided free, step-by-step homebuying information to more than nine million people.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Many Home Buyers Need Higher Loan Limits, Upper-End Stalled

WASHINGTON, January 15, 2009

The drop in mortgage loan limits for conventional financing at the end of 2008 is hurting home sales and trade-up activity in higher price ranges across the country, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

The latest existing-home sales data shows transactions under $400,000 are 3 percent below a year ago. However, sales of homes priced at $750,000 or more have declined a whopping 47 percent.

Outside of FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, mortgages that do not have government backing are still experiencing a credit crunch. Buyers who need jumbo mortgages must pay interest rates that are nearly 2 percentage points higher than conventional financing; as a result, the high-end market is not moving.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said restoring higher mortgage loan limits is critical to this part of the market. “Buyers in higher price ranges are at a severe disadvantage because they have to pay higher interest rates,” he said. “Lower loan limits are having a pronounced impact on trade-up activity at the upper end of the market, which depends more on large downpayments to keep mortgage amounts below the maximums for conventional financing.”

While homes above $750,000 are considered luxurious in many areas, they are modestly sized homes in the midprice ranges of many high-cost markets. “However, the lower mortgage limits for conventional loans mean upper middle-class home buyers in much of the country, including many areas in the Midwest and South, also have to pay higher interest rates,” Yun said. “As a result, we are seeing a universal stalling of sales in higher price ranges across the country.”

To illustrate in dollar terms, if mortgage limits are permanently raised to $729,750, the maximum limit that expired at the end of December, the mortgage payment on such a loan would drop by $942 per month by lowering interest rates 2 percentage points. Over the life of a 30-year loan, the homeowner would save $338,000.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said all consumers should have access to today’s historically low mortgage interest rates. “It’s only fair that all hard-working, tax-paying, successful people who want to purchase a home have equal access to low interest rates regardless of where they live or where they want to buy,” he said.

“Every segment of the housing market needs a turnaround to spark an overall housing recovery, which will help the economy to begin to recover,” McMillan said.

Source: National Assocition of Realtors

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Facts About Residential Real Estate Appraisals -- Part 2

Residential Appraisal Methods

There are two common appraisal methods used for residential properties:

Sales Comparison Approach

The appraiser estimates a subject property's market value by comparing it to similar properties that have sold in the area. The properties used are called comparables, or comps.

No two properties are exactly alike, so the appraiser must compare the comps to the subject property, making paperwork adjustments to the comps in order to make their features more in-line with the subject property's. The result is a figure that shows what each comp would have sold for if it had the same components as the subject.

Cost Approach

The cost approach is most useful for new properties, where the costs to build are known. The appraiser estimates how much it would cost to replace the structure if it were destroyed.

So What Does the Appraisal Mean to You?

Your personal approval is accomplished early in the loan process, but final loan commitment usually hinges on a satisfactory appraisal. The bank wants to be sure its investment is covered in case you default on the loan.

If the property appraises lower than the sales price, the loan might be declined, but that isn't the only hurdle it must pass. Other facts on the appraisal can be a problem, too:

The bank probably won't like it if the estimated time to sell the property is longer than the area average.

If the appraiser notes that entry to the property is from a private, shared road the bank might want to see a road maintenance agreement signed by everyone who uses the road, verifying that maintenance is shared by all parties.
Those are just a few examples of negatives that could stall your purchase. The lender will study the appraisal carefully before determining whether or not the property qualifies to serve as security for your loan.

An Appraisal Isn't a Home Inspection!

Appraisers make notations about obvious problems they see, but they are not home inspectors. They do not test appliances, look at the roof, check the chimney or do any other typical home inspection tasks. Never count on an appraisal to help you determine if the home is in good condition.

If the Appraisal Comes in Low

Don't panic if the appraisal comes in low, because there are often steps you can take to make the deal work.

If the appraisal uncovers other problems, remember that most problems are correctable. Try to keep your cool and work through issues one step at a time.


Facts About Residential Real Estate Appraisals

Appraisals are an Important Part of Your Home Buying Transaction

A real estate appraisal helps to establish a property's market value–the likely sales price it would bring if offered in an open and competitive real estate market.
Your lender will require an appraisal when you ask to use a home or other real estate as security for a loan, because it wants to make sure that the property will sell for at least the amount of money it is lending.

Don't confuse a comparative market analysis, or CMA, with an appraisal. Real estate agents use CMAs to help home sellers determine a realistic asking price. Experienced agents often come very close to an appraisal price with their CMAS, but an appraiser's report is much more detailed--and is the only valuation report a bank will consider when deciding whether or not to lend the money.

About Appraisers and Appraisals

Appraisers are licensed by individual states after completing coursework and internship hours that familiarize them with their real estate markets.

The lender might use an appraiser on its staff, or contract with an independent appraiser. If you are allowed to choose the appraiser, and it isn't someone the lender is familiar with, the results might be subject to review before they are accepted.

The appraiser should be an objective third party, someone who has no financial or other connection to any person involved in the transaction.

The property being appraised is called the subject property.

You will probably pay for the appraisal when you apply for your loan.

What You'll See on a Residential Appraisal Report

Appraisals are very detailed reports, but here are a few things they include:

Details about the subject property, along with side-by-side comparisons of three similar properties.

An evaluation of the overall real estate market in the area.

Statements about issues the appraiser feels are harmful to the property's value, such as poor access to the property.

Notations about seriously flawed characteristics, such as a crumbling foundation.

An estimate of the average sales time for the property.

What type of area the home is in (a development, stand alone acreage, etc.).


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How to Improve Curb Appeal

Home Selling Advice to Help You Attract Potential Buyers

Curb Appeal Exercise
By Janet Wickell for

The next time you come home, stop across the street or far enough down the driveway to get a good view of the house and its surroundings.

What is your first impression of the house and yard area?

What are the best exterior features of the house or lot? How can you enhance them?

What are the worst exterior features of the house or lot? How can you minimize or improve them?

Park where a potential buyer would and walk towards the house, looking around you as if it were your first visit. Is the approach clean and tidy? What could you do to make it more attractive?

Take photos of the home's exterior. If you have a digital camera, view the color versions first, then remove the color and look at it in black and white, because it's easier to see problems when color isn't around to affect our senses.

Make a list of the problem areas you discovered. Tackle clean up and repair chores first, then put some time into projects that make the grounds more attractive.

Kill mold and mildew on the house, sidewalks, roof, or driveway.

Stow away unnecessary garden implements and tools.

Clean windows and gutters.

Pressure wash dirty siding and dingy decks.

Edge sidewalks and remove vegetation growing between concrete or bricks.

Mow the lawn. Get rid of weeds.

Rake and dispose of leaves, even if your lot is wooded.

Trim tree limbs that are near or touching the home's roof.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

25 Low-cost, Maximum-impact Tips for a Green 2009

25 low-cost, maximum-impact tips for a green 2009
Cameron Scott, Special to

1. The single largest impact you can have as an individual is to drive less by car-pooling, biking, walking, or using public transit. Find suggestions for decreasing your reliance on your car here.

2. Maintaining correct air pressure in your car's tires can significantly increase fuel efficiency. Check tire pressure once a month.

3. Help end the junk mail madness. Dramatically reduce the amount you receive by following these instructions, and sign a petition demanding a national Do Not Mail registry here.

4. Replace all incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and save about $100 over each bulb's life. Find low-priced bulbs by looking for PG&E "Save" stickers on bulbs at Walgreen's, Rite Aid and other local stores.

5. If you buy new appliances, make sure to buy energy-efficient models labeled "Energy Star." These models can cut energy use in half. Look for rebates here. A 2009 federal tax credit is also available for some EnergyStar products.

6. S.F. Public Utilities Commission customers can pick up free aerated faucets or showerheads at the PUC offices. EBMUD customers, inquire about rebates here. You'll reduce your water use — and the electricity required to treat and heat it — without even noticing a difference.

7. Stop buying expensive and toxic cleaning products. You can accomplish nearly all household cleaning and maintenance tasks with vinegar, baking soda, and boric acid. Download natural cleanser recipes here.

8. Unplugging electronics, including microwaves and chargers, when not in use will shave about 5 percent off your electric bill.

9. Buy only what you'll eat. Agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, and Americans waste at least 20 percent of their food.

10. Eat less red meat, and buy only grass-fed or organic meat. Feedlot operations produce large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and pollute water. Find tips on sustainable meat eating on Gastronicity.

11. Avoid processed foods whenever possible. Processing and packaging make processed foods' environmental footprint bigger than natural foods', and many contain palm oil, production of which is the primary cause of deforestation in Asian rainforests.

12. Wear a sweater this winter. Invest in an Energy Star programmable thermostat, and set it to 65 - 67 degrees when you are home. You'll make a big dent in your heating bills and reduce your carbon footprint.

13. You can save up to 30 percent on your energy bills by sealing all leaks in your house using caulk or foam. Learn how to locate leaks here.

14. Keep your hot water heater set at 120 degrees, or the "normal" setting. Water heating accounts for nearly 15 percent of your monthly bill.

15. Perform routine maintenance on your furnace, including filters and ducts, to keep heating costs down. Learn more here.

16. Wash only full loads of laundry and use natural detergent. Using the cold cycle can reduce your electricity use by 90 percent. Clean the lint filter before you put clothes in the dryer, and remove them as soon as they're dry.

17. Use the dishwasher! A full Energy Star model uses less water than hand washing does. Just be sure to choose the air-dry setting.

18. Maintain freezer temperature at 0 degrees, and refrigerator temperature at 40 degrees (but no warmer).

19. Replace as much of your yard as possible with native plants that require minimal watering. Experts believe California is entering a serious drought. Find SFGate's tips on water-conserving landscaping here.

20. If you're in the market for furniture, buy used. If you must buy new, avoid rainforest hardwoods including mahogany and teak.

21. Use paperless bill-paying for all of your bills, and ask about paperless direct deposit stubs at your place of work.

22. Ask the IT department at your office set computers to turn off after an hour and make double-sided printing the default setting.

23. Dispose of old electronics using a certified recycling program. Otherwise, your gadget may be shipped to China and dumped in a landfill there. Alameda and San Francisco counties offer services and information.

24. Make sure to take advantage of your city's recycling and composting programs. Many recyclables still end up in landfills. Learn more about San Francisco's program here, and Oakland's here.

25. Travel ready! Carry a portable mug for coffee stops and canvas or recycled-plastic bags to do grocery shopping. You can get a shopping tote by donating to some green groups or by making one yourself.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Enhancing Your Landscape To Sell Your Home - Now or Later

Enhancing Your Landscape To Sell Your Home - Now or Later

By Marie Iannotti, Guide to Gardening since 2004

The housing market has been a bit of a free-for-all lately. If you were hoping to sell and now find yourself facing a dwindling market, you’ve probably gotten lots of advice on how to make your house more attractive to prospective buyers. Well don’t forget the outside of your home, since that’s the first thing buyers will see. Many of the same principles apply outdoors as in. Clear away clutter and toys, repair cracks, keep things clean... About’s Guide to Landscaping has a few more tips on Enhancing Real Estate Value Through Home Landscaping.

As gardeners, we might think that our landscapes would be the envy of every on-looker. In reality many buyers are intimidated by large gardens, which they view as high maintenance. David has some interesting insights that even those of us not yet ready to sell should take into account. Like choosing dwarf trees instead of majestic beauties, when pruning is likely to become an issue. Of course, you could always take your plants with you when you move. I’ve known people to do it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

California Sunset Climate Zones

Micro-Climate of the San Francisco Peninsula
Sunset Magazine

These zone descriptions will guide you in choosing the right plants for your garden

ZONE 14. Inland Northern and Central California with Some Ocean Influence
Growing season: early Mar. to mid-Nov., with rain coming in the remaining months. Periodic intrusions of marine air temper summer heat and winter cold (lows run from 26 degrees to 16 degrees F/-3 degrees to -9 degrees C). Mediterranean-climate plants are at home here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mortgage Rates are Low, but Loans are Difficult to Get

By Pete Carey

Mercury News
Posted: 01/06/2009 06:07:52 PM PST

Valley saw surge in foreclosure filings in 2008 Mortgage rates are at their lowest level in decades, but thousands of Silicon Valley residents are discovering that qualifying for a loan is tougher than it has been in years.

Banks are reluctant to lend at favorable rates to all but the most bulletproof of borrowers, according to area mortgage brokers. Unless you have a gold-plated credit score, low credit-card debt and a big down payment or a lot of equity, those rates of 5 percent or less on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage may be out of reach.

Adding to the difficulty for many people hoping to refinance loans taken out in the past few years is that the collapse in home values has eroded their equity so much that they don't qualify for a new loan.

"It's like cable TV — there's 200 options and nothing worth watching," said Andy DelGesso, a hospital department manager who failed to qualify to refinance his loan on his San Ramon home because his equity had declined to less than 20 percent of its value.

"We were all spoiled the last few years when it was so easy to qualify," said Patrick Dudum, area sales manager for Equitas Capital in Los Gatos. "Relative to 2004 it is difficult, but if you have followed the market for any length of time, this is a normal market."

A couple of years ago, you wouldn't have needed much of a down payment. These days, to get the absolute lowest rate, it's likely you will need a big down payment and a credit score of 720 or above, and be able to document your income. Banks don't want to see much credit-card debt, either. They say much depends on individual circumstances, with no two borrowers exactly alike.

In any case, government actions to revive the housing market appear to be bearing fruit, even as the lending industry has returned to the tighter standards that prevailed before the housing bubble.

There are still loans for those who don't meet those requirements, but they cost more and carry higher interest rates. "The credit is available, it's just not as favorable," said Keith Gumbinger of HSH Associates, a New Jersey firm that tracks loan rates. A person with a 620 credit score putting less than 20 percent down "could be looking at 6.5 percent or more," he said. (Credit is rated on a scale of about 300 to 850 in a system known as FICO.)

"It's more back to the basics,'' said Cathy Warshawsky, president of the Silicon Valley chapter of the California Association of Mortgage Brokers. Warshawsky said people who have less than 20 percent equity or who are trying to take cash out in a refinance are being told they need to buy mortgage insurance. Also, loans above $417,000 but below $625,500 — Fannie Mae's limit on so-called "jumbo" loans that meet its standards — still cost half to three-quarters of a percent more in interest.

"Standards across the country absolutely have tightened," said Arlene Allert, a Wells Fargo Home Mortgage retail regional sales manager responsible for the Bay Area. She said Wells already had tight standards, so it hasn't had to change them as much as others have. But the biggest hang-up for refinancing is the decline in home values, Warshawsky said.

Jerry McClain of S&L Home Loans in San Jose, who is hospital department manager DelGesso's broker, said he's seeing lots of people who have perfect payment histories, good credit scores, stable income and low credit-card debt being turned down because their equity isn't enough to satisfy lenders.

"In the Bay Area, we not only have microclimates, we have micro-neighborhoods," McClain said. Some areas have lost value dramatically, while others are at least holding their own. If you aren't in one of those areas, unless you have a great deal of equity, you're having a rough time getting a loan.

The banks are demanding tougher appraisals, too. "Everything has to be explained in greater detail," said appraiser Greg Walker of San Jose. "Every appraisal I do, we look at what's happened in that neighborhood over the past year, and everything's declined over the past year with the exception of a few neighborhoods."

Among the stable areas, Walker said, are Los Gatos, Cupertino (within the Cupertino school district), Sunnyvale and the Almaden area of San Jose. East San Jose is down 38 percent to 50 percent, depending on the neighborhood, he said.

But if you qualify for a loan, the rates are truly great, the best in a generation.
So, despite the stricter standards, first-time buyers are beginning to snap up homes — still mainly foreclosures and short sales — tempted by the unique combination of lower prices and low interest rates. They're the people who sat on the sideline during the boom, saving money for a first home.

"I've been stoked about this market for the last three months," said Dudum of Equitas. "The government is going to throw everything in their power at this problem to fix it. We're going reap the benefits. We're going see a boom in the next 24 months, and the last one will pale in comparison."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Private vs. Public Schools: What is the Difference?

Your goal is to find a school that will meet your child's needs. But how do you choose between a public school and a private school?
By GreatSchools Staff

Public schools cannot charge tuition. They are funded through federal, state and local taxes. When you pay your taxes, you are paying for your child's education and the education of other children in your community.
Private schools cost money. Private schools do not receive tax revenues, but instead are funded through tuition, fundraising, donations and private grants. According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the median tuition for their member private day schools in 2005-2006 in the United States was close to $14,000 for grades 1 to 3, $15,000 for grades 6 to 8 and $16,600 for grades 9 to 12. The median tuition for their member boarding schools was close to $29,000 for grades 1 to 3, $32,000 for grades 6 to 12. Note that of the 28,384 private schools in the United States, about 1,058 are affiliated with NAIS. The Digest of Education Statistics 2005 from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that for the 1999-2000 school year, the average private school tuition was about $4,700.
Parochial schools generally charge less. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, in their annual statistical report in 2005-2006, the average elementary school tuition for Catholic schools (in 2005) was $2,607; the average freshman tuition (for 2002-2003) was $5,870. Catholic Schools enroll more students (49%) than any other segment of private schools.

Public schools admit all children. By law, public schools must educate all children, including students with special needs. To enroll in a public school you simply register your child by filling out the necessary paperwork.
Private schools are selective. They are not obligated to accept every child, and in many private schools admission is very competitive.

Public schools must follow all federal, state and local laws in educating children. Such laws usually include specifics about funding, program development and curriculum.
Private schools are not subject to as many state and federal regulations as public schools. Since private schools are funded independently, they are not subject to the limitations of state education budgets and have more freedom in designing curriculum and instruction.

Public schools offer a general program, designed for all children, which usually includes math, English, reading, writing, science, history and physical education. In addition to these key subjects, many public schools offer programs in music and art. In a public school, the substance of what children learn is mandated by the state and learning is measured through state standardized tests.
NOTE: The charter school movement is picking up momentum in many states; these schools are public, but many offer specialized programs and smaller classes.
Private schools have the flexibility to create a specialized program for students. For example, private schools may use art or science in all classes, or take children on extended outdoor trips that blend lessons across the curriculum. Private schools can create their own curriculum and assessment systems, although many also choose to use standardized tests.

Public schools: All teachers in a public school are usually state certified or, at a minimum, working toward certification. Certification ensures that a teacher has gone through the training required by the state, which includes student teaching and coursework.
Private schools: Teachers in private schools may not be required to have certification, and instead often have subject area expertise and an undergraduate or graduate degree in the subject they teach.

Public schools: The children at most public schools usually reflect the community. Students may be split up based on ability or interests, but in many public schools, there is a diversity of student backgrounds.
Students (Continued)
NOTE: In many states, if you are not satisfied with your assigned school, you may be able to send your child to another public school in the area. Start here to learn more information about these options.
Private schools: The student population at a private school is determined through a selection process; all students must apply and be accepted in order to attend. Although students may be from different neighborhoods, they will probably have similar goals and interests. This tends to create a fairly homogenous student body.

Special Needs
Public schools: Due to special education laws, public schools must educate all children, and provide the necessary programs to meet their special needs. This means that most public schools have special education programs and teachers who are trained to work with students who have particular needs.
Private schools: Private schools do not have to accept children with special needs, and many choose not to (although there are a small number of private schools specifically designed for special needs children). As a result, most private schools do not have special education programs or teachers trained to work with students with severe special needs. Private schools will try to help all the students they admit, but extra resources may also come at an additional cost.

Class Size
Public schools: Many states recognize the value of small classes and have provided funding to keep class sizes small in grades K-3. As students become older, class size tends to get bigger in public schools, especially in large school districts and urban schools.
Private schools: Private schools are generally committed to providing small classes and individual attention to students. Many parents choose private schools for this reason.

The Bottom Line
There are a few fundamental differences between public and private schools, but here's the bottom line: There are great private schools and there are great public schools. The trick is finding the school that best fits your child's needs. You may also want to consider public charter schools or homeschooling. It's a good idea to research the schools that interest you and, to get a true picture of the school, visit in person.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The San Francisco Peninsula -- a Special Place Indeed!

As we begin the New Year, it has once again occurred to me how really special is this place where we live -- the "Peninsula" evokes many images and meanings for all of us. The verdant hills in spring, morphing into the golden hills of summer. The fog bank rolling in over the mountains in the late afternoon or burning off mid-morning in summer to reveal another perfect day...

We are blessed to live here. I became curious as to how the "experts" would describe this magical place. The following is from Wikipedia --

San Francisco Peninsula
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

USGS Satellite photo of the San Francisco Bay Area. The San Francisco peninsula protrudes northward. San Francisco is at its tip. San Francisco Bay Area portal
The San Francisco Peninsula in California separates the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. On its northern tip is the city of San Francisco. Its southern end is part of Santa Clara County, including the cities of Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Mountain View. San Mateo County, located south of San Francisco, includes Atherton, Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, Colma, Daly City, East Palo Alto, El Granada, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Hillsborough, La Honda, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Montara, Pacifica, Pescadero, Portola Valley, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Gregorio, San Mateo, South San Francisco, and Woodside.

"The Peninsula", used as a local geographic term, refers only to the parts south of, and excluding, the city of San Francisco. It is roughly equivalent to the area served by the 650 area code, or to San Mateo County itself. A couple of the aforementioned cities in the northern part of the county are considered to be suburbs of San Francisco, Daly City and South San Francisco in particular. Parts of the peninsula on the bay side are sometimes referred to as the "West Bay".

The east side of the peninsula is a largely densely populated area that includes portions of Silicon Valley. It forms a commuter area between San Francisco to the north and San Jose to the south. A number of major thoroughfares run north-south: El Camino Real (SR 82) and US 101 on the east side along the bay, Interstate 280 down the center, Skyline Boulevard (SR 35) along the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Highway 1 on the west along the Pacific. The Caltrain commuter rail line runs roughly parallel to the El Camino and Highway 101 corridors.

Three bridges—the Dumbarton Bridge, the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, and the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge—cross San Francisco Bay from the Peninsula. To the north, the Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco with Marin County

Along the center line of the Peninsula is the northern half of the Santa Cruz Mountains, formed by the action of plate tectonics along the San Andreas Fault. In the middle of the Peninsula along the fault is the Crystal Springs reservoir. Just north of the Crystal Springs reservoir is San Andreas Lake after which the famous geologic fault was named.