Hangar One: Good times!

I went to a tasting/pouring event at Hangar One Vodka in Alameda recently, and wanted to share my experience! First, the good: food and pours of vodka were $46 for the event. It was a perfect price point for what we got.

They had a very nice layout, beautiful flowers, and a stunning view of the city from the event. Overall, we had a great time trying drinks and enjoying a night outside in the East Bay.

Of course, nothing is perfect. This was the first event of this kind coordinated by Hangar One. There was room for improvement. Some tables were too close to the lines at the bar, which caused servers to have trouble getting through. They only had one bar line with two servers hand mixing drinks. People ordered one drink, and then stood in line for the next one.

There were five different cocktails you could choose from; we basically tried them all. My favorite was the Honeycomb Mule and Hecho En Alameda. At the end, they started bring out Honeycomb Mule from another bar to serve those standing in line. However, everybody kept standing in line to order the next drink.

All in all, though, it was a really fun time and I’d highly recommend trying to book a tour at the distillery or showing up for one of these events in the future!

Peet’s Coffee is holding its own

In a town dominated by big chains like Starbucks and Dunkin, and little hipster shops like The Coffee Shop, it’s impressive that Peet’s Coffee (also a chain, just not as big as the others!) is still standing in downtown Walnut Creek.

I still love going there for a cup of coffee, especially on the weekends when a group of regulars play some music in the morning. It’s such a good “locals” spot, they have some great seats out front and it seems like I always know somebody when I am there.

Peet’s recently remodeled, updated their interior and seating, they even changed the color of the ceiling – check it out if you haven’t already or just enjoy the pictures.

There are no shortage of coffee options in downtown Walnut Creek, but if you like a good strong cup of Joe and want to listen to some music wander down to Peet’s on a Saturday morning and see how you like it!

Wine tasting in the East Bay?

Wine tasting in the East Bay! It exists, it’s real, and it’s plentiful! Check out this image, shared by Anneta Tsapouklis of the Placer Title Company:

Those are all wineries in Livermore! That’s just a short jaunt down the freeway from Walnut Creek, and though you might not find Napa-level quality here, you’ll definitely find good value and still plenty of fun.

I have only been to Wente and that was to golf, so I might have to try some of these vineyards on a day off. I have also heard of a few people getting married at some of the venues. If you have any favorites, give me a shout out.

Also don’t miss the Wente Vineyards concert series, which has some legitimate names coming through the beautiful amphitheatre there: Daughtry, Matt Nathanson, and Styx to name a few. Who knew!

Event Round-Up: Aug. 10

We’re going to go a slightly different direction here today, as I usually pull from a larger list of events and compile them for you. Instead, I’d like to focus on the Broadway Plaza Concert Series which has started this month. First, a few thoughts on the series itself:

Since they re-did the mall and have moved these concerts into the event plaza by Macy’s, I don’t really enjoy these shows as much as I used to. It is too crowded and it is fenced off, so people can still walk through.

I really liked the casual area that was once next to Stanford’s and behind the parking structure. It never felt too crowded there. I was thinking it might be better to move it to the top of the parking structure by Macy’s in the future.

With all that said, this is a good opportunity to get downtown on a warm summer night and enjoy some music with family and friends. Even if the layout isn’t as good as it used to be, the music is still there! So, here is the schedule for this summer – go check it out and let me know how you like it!

Image result for live music

(We’ve already had two of the shows go by, but there are still three more! You can bring blankets or chairs to the venue. Music always starts at 7 p.m.)

Aug. 15: The Cheeseballs

Aug. 22: The Unauthorized Rolling Stones

Aug. 29: Queen Nation

Home Sales Fall Despite Falling Rates?

Another great blog from Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending! He asks, with home sales falling despite the rates also falling, whether the end is finally here? “We can only hope,” he quips. Read on for more from Jay, and a bit of insight from yours truly at the end!

Tulip Mania

In the 1630s, the Dutch experienced one of the world’s first major financial bubbles – Tulip Mania. They were all convinced that the price of the exotic (at the time) tulip bulbs would increase forever, not taking into account how easy it was to reproduce them and how the ridiculously high prices were clearly not sustainable.

Everyone (even common laborers) was borrowing money to buy as many tulips as they could, trying to get in on the action. At one point, a single bulb cost as much as some of Amsterdam’s most expensive mansions at the time. Then, it all collapsed. There have been many bubbles since, including the 1929 stock market crash, the dotcom crash of the late 1990s, and most recently – the mortgage meltdown of 2008. All those bubbles were partially driven by easy credit, so every time the Fed lowers rates, I am terrified that it is fostering a new bubble.

Home sales fall in June – despite lower rates, higher wages, and lower unemployment

Image result for housing market slowdown

So, that is why I was actually marginally encouraged to see this recent headline and article in the WSJ: U.S. Home Sales Stumble (in June). “Home sales slumped in June as home prices for major West Coast cities decline for the first time since 2012, ending the spring selling season with a thud.”

This is amazing to me because rates were about 1% lower than where they were the previous June, and everyone thinks rates drive housing prices. But, they clearly don’t. Home sales fell in the face of rising wages and decreasing unemployment too, leaving economists perplexed, as those factors are also supposed to drive prices higher.

Sales are probably falling because borrowers are hitting their affordability limit, and because buyers are acting prudently (unlike prior to 2008). While fewer sales overall are never a good thing, it is a good thing to see a potential bubble start to deflate instead of popping – so YAY! (sort of)

I might add that a huge brokerage we work with in Texas is currently projecting a downturn in the near future, telling agents that they need to trim expenses by 20%. So, it is not just the West Coast experiencing a slowdown. And finally, despite the apparent slowdown, numerous agents we work with are still experiencing record years simply because of their relentless marketing. We too have almost tripled our purchase volume year over year by improving our value props and increasing our marketing efforts.

Takeaways from this blog: This slowdown might be averting another bubble-pop! The Fed can’t stimulate everything with low rates. They might call Japan and ask how their low-rate experiment has gone, as 20 years of near-zero rates have not revived Japan’s economy at all. No matter how soft markets get, the overall market remains huge and business can always be found with stellar value props and very aggressive marketing.

Kristin’s insight: Some houses still have multiple offers, usually ones that are updated, and are priced slightly below market or in a highly desired neighborhood. The rest are sitting longer on the market and may see a price reduction or two as buyers become much more discriminant.

Go check out the Ed Hardy exhibit in SF!

According to the deYoung Museum’s website, California native and renowned tattoo artist Ed Hardy had a goal of elevating the tattoo from its “subculture” status to an important visual art form. I’d say he succeeded!

Ed Hardy is a household name now because he got into mass branding on shirts, skateboards and surfboards. My kids and even I had an Ed Hardy shirt. He says in the exhibit that business decisions allowed him to retire. The deYoung Museum is currently holding a really interesting exhibit on his work that I’d highly recommend visiting.

From now until early October, you can go see the Hardy exhibit for less than $30 (or FREE if you’re a member!). The exhibit surveys Hardy’s life in art that has its inspiration in both traditional American tattooing and Japan’s ukiyo-e era culture.

He actually started his tattoo career at age 10 with eyeliner and ink pens, when a friends father came back from the war and his tattoos intrigued the young artist who had been drawing from a very young age. I find him interesting because he has studied fine art and is truly an artist. When we handed in our tickets to enter, the staff said he often visits the exhibit with his dog. He is there most days. Unfortunately not the time I was there, but maybe you will get lucky!

Art Town: Painted Frog!

I recently came across this in sculpture on my way to Physical Therapy. I hurt my shoulder back in March while skiing at Jackson Hole and kept thinking it would heal. In June, I finally went to my doctor to see if the PT would help. Muir Orthopedics recently moved to 2625 Shadelands Dr. in Walnut Creek. On the corner of Shadelands and N. Wiget, there is a community garden. On the Wiget side, I drive past this artwork and every time I laugh. This may not be the typical type of Walnut Creek art that I have shared in the past, but it is so funny and cute, I couldn’t pass it up!

The structure is made of rock, and shaped into a large frog with its tongue out, which is like a mosaic. The rocks have been painted to create a cute sculpture by the garden. I don’t know who created it, but I love it!

It’s refreshing to have a nice mix of goofy and eclectic art in our little town. We have a beautiful city to wander through, and this just adds another level of charm!

Who funds Mortgage Loans?

For buyers, this JVM Lending blog from Jay Vorhees is a great “101” on the differences, pros, and cons of the three institutions you can go to for your loan. I often recommend JVM for their efficiency and getting the loan done in a short time frame, not because I get something in return. Having said that, I do get a big benefit by having a smooth escrow, closing on time with short contingencies, and happy clients. A buyer who has never been through a nightmare purchase will never fully appreciate a smooth buying process, but at least I know I have done a good job representing them.

Image result for mortgage loans

We host “Homebuyer Seminars” for buyers and “Mortgage 101 Seminars” for agents, and one of the slides that always derive a surprising amount of interest is the one that sets out the different mortgage origination channels.

This is because there are so many companies and individuals offering mortgages that it can be both very confusing and overwhelming for consumers and agents alike. Because of this, I am revisiting the topic in today’s blog.

Three Primary Channels for Mortgages: Commercial Banks and Credit Unions

These big institutions dominated the mortgage industry after the 2008 meltdown, but their overall market share has been dropping quickly in recent years, as Mortgage Banks and Brokers (see below) reclaim market share. The “big banks” include Wells Fargo, Citi, Chase, B of A, and U.S. Bank, among others. Major Credit Unions include Navy Federal and USAA, but there are hundreds of others.

Advantages: Bank and credit union advantages include a low cost of funds; they can loan out customer deposits and sometimes offer low rates. They also can “portfolio” (or retain) tough loans that otherwise could not be sold on the secondary market.

Disadvantages: The big banks are very slow and bureaucratic largely because they are so heavily regulated. They also rely on national appraisal management companies that do not employ the best, local appraisers – so appraisal issues are common.

Private Banking: Commercial banks have an offshoot for “high net worth” customers called “private banking.” These channels often offer exceptionally low rates that other entities usually can’t compete with.

Image result for mortgage loans

Mortgage Banks: Mortgage Banks include Quicken, Guaranteed Rate, and Fairway at the national level, and RPM and SWBC at the regional level. JVM Lending is also part of a mortgage bank. Mortgage banks do not hold deposits; the ONLY thing they do is underwrite and fund mortgages. Mortgage Banks use lines of credit to fund mortgage loans and then quickly sell the loans to investors or third parties to make money.

Advantages: Mortgage Banks can typically move much faster than commercial banks because they are less regulated, smaller and more nimble. They can also set up their own appraisal management companies, ensuring access to local appraisers and better appraisal quality.

Brokers: Brokers do no underwrite or fund loans. They only “originate” loans and then send them to outside “wholesale” lenders for underwriting and funding.

Advantages: Brokers can access dozens of different wholesale lenders and submit loans to whichever lender is offering the lowest rates or best terms at any given time.

Disadvantages: Wholesale lenders force brokers to use national appraisal management companies (like the big banks use) and there are frequent appraisal issues as a result. In addition, brokers have no control over underwriting (because it’s not “in house”) and turn-times. Brokers also have very few competitive options for jumbo financing. JVM was in the broker channel for years, but left it in 2014 because we had too many appraisal and service issues.