Best spots in the Bay to pitch a tent

TimeOut.com came out with an interesting list recently, about the 12 best places to pitch your tent and go camping in the Bay Area. One of the biggest perks of living where we do is access to the beautiful outdoors in any direction. We have great camping on Mt. Diablo right in our backyard which has amazing sunset views, or we can go out on the coast or up into the mountains to get an even bigger thrill.

Image result for pantoll campground

I’ve taken a few of TimeOut’s suggestions and curated a list with my favorites to combine into a top-5 camping must-visit list in our area. Where are your favorite spots to camp? Add to the list!

Pantoll Campground (Mt. Tamalpais)

Pantoll Campground is a phenomenally-located area on the windy roads of Mt. Tam. There are hiking trails (including some long ones down to the beach see previous blog – great hike) and good-sized campgrounds with tables and fire pits under heavy tree cover. It’s first-come, first-served, so get there early!

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (Big Sur)

This is a hike-in campground, but you can’t beat the beauty of Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns. You can hike all around the campground, enjoy a picturesque, relaxing night under the stars listening to the ocean, and even see McWay Falls, which tumble into the Pacific. It’s truly a beautiful place to pitch your tent.

Juniper and Live Oak Campground (Mt. Diablo)

You know I had to get one on this list in our own backyard. Mt. Diablo, for all its splendor, is an even better place to hike, bike and camp. One of the best spots is Juniper and Live Oak Campground, which gives you spacious campsites and unbelievable views of all of the Bay Area.

Image result for desolation wilderness

Desolation Wilderness (Lake Tahoe)

This is cheating, a little bit. Lake Tahoe is not in the vicinity of the Bay Area, but it’s close enough that you can make a last-minute trip up there. If you want to camp in the gorgeous Desolation Wilderness, among the peaks and lakes, you will have to plan ahead. Get a permit, prepare to hike, and bring some snacks. You won’t regret it.  This is one my favorites as I love Tahoe and the surrounding area.

Redwood Regional (Oakland)

I’ll be honest – I knew about Redwood Regional near Oakland, but I had no idea it was a prime camping spot. This is a good place to go if you want something different from Mt. Diablo, don’t want to tangle with dozens of other campers for a spot, and don’t want to drive hours to get somewhere. California is famous for its redwoods, so hang a hammock here and enjoy the soothing sounds of nature.

Eliminating PMI (private mortgage insurance)

According to my friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending, there are three options for eliminating the private mortgage insurance (PMI) obligation associated with a conventional loan plan. We go over his three options below, with a little input from yours truly:

Image result for refinancing

Option #1: Refinancing

If your property appreciates to the point where we can garner a new appraisal to support a value high enough to reduce your loan-to-value (LTV) ratio to 80 percent or less, you can refinance into a new loan with no PMI. This assumes, of course, that rates remain favorable. Keep in mind that most appraisers will correlate to the purchase price for the first six months, making it wise to wait at least this long to start the refinance process.

Option #2: Paying down

You can eliminate PMI by paying your loan down if you notify your servicer with your request, have a good payment history, and are willing to prove to the servicer that your property has not depreciated with an appraisal in some cases. This can help you pay down your loan to an amount equal to 80 percent of the original purchase price.

Option #3: Proving home

If your loan is owned or backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you can eliminate PMI by notifying your servicer with your request, as long as your loan has seasoned for two years with a good payment history. You’d also have to provide a current appraisal with high enough value to support a 75 percent LTV. If your loan is more than five years old, your LTV can be 80 percent. If you prove your home has appreciated to the point where the LTV is at 75 percent or less, you can eliminate PMI this way.

As rates increase, the option of refinancing becomes less feasible. There are currently loans called 80/10/10 or 80/15/5 where you take a HELOC (home equity line of credit). The buyer puts down 10 or 15 percent and the HELOC covers the balance and there is no PMI. The only issue is the HELOC has higher rates that tend to move with the market. They work well if one gets abonus or is expecting a pay increase and the HELOC can be paid off quickly. Always speak to your lender about the various options. I know from experience if you work with JVM, you are in good hands!

Event Round-Up: Sept. 15

It’s that time again, folks! School is back in full swing, and we’re on a holiday drought until Halloween. But that doesn’t mean the well of fun activities in the Bay Area has completely dried up. That’s one of the best parts about living here – there is always something to do!

Here are five fun events around the Bay Area for the next month or so to tide you over:

Image result for exploratorium sf

Exploratorium After Dark (San Francisco – every Thursday)

The Exploratorium is a super interesting, cool museum no matter the time of day. But make it adults-only, serve drinks, cut the lights, and give us a mind-bending cache of exhibits to wander through from 6-10 pm every Thursday? Sold! Don’t miss it!

National Public Lands Day (All Parks – Sept. 22)

It’s one of the best days of the year for outdoor enthusiasts. All National Park Service sites that normally charge an admission fee will have free entrance for the day. If the one excuse for not exploring this beautiful place we live has been a desire to not pay the fees, well, now’s your chance.

Autumn Beer Tasting with Anchor Brewing (San Francisco – Sept. 26)

Anchor Brewing is one of the better local breweries to come out of the Bay Area, and now you have the chance to taste autumn beers right as the season turns. It’s only 20 bucks, 90 minutes of your time, and you get generous helpings of newly released beers from the head honcho brewer at Anchor!

Image result for movies under the stars

Movies Under the Stars: The Jungle Book (Civic Park – Sept. 28)

There’s nothing better than laying out under the stars and catching an outdoor movie with the family. On Sept. 28th, the Movies Under the Stars series in Walnut Creek comes to a close with The Jungle Book, playing at 7 p.m. on that night. There is a little music for about an hour beforehand too, if you want to come out early!

Grease Sing-A-Long at Sundown Cinema (San Francisco – Sept. 28)

Well, sorry Walnut Creek. San Francisco took your outdoor movie idea for this date and went all-in. You can go to the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in San Francisco and watch Grease on the big screen outside for free! Food trucks and vendors will be there early, and the best part about this is you get to sing along to the catchy tunes of this movie classic!

The ultimate Berkeley bucket list

Everyone loves going to Berkeley. Whether you’re catching a concert at the Greek Theatre, wandering around Cal’s campus, or hitting up one of the many incredible dining and drinking spots, Berkeley is the perfect mixture of private, chill, and weird in the Bay Area.

Image result for the greek theater berkeley

TimeOut.com has their list of 10 must-do items in Berkeley here, and it inspired my short list of how to best spend your day over there. It obviously depends on the weather, but we’ll start with some outdoor activity and go from there. What are your favorite things to do in Berkeley?

Morning: Wake up early and drive out to Tilden Park in the Oakland Hills overlooking the Bay. It’s one of the most beautiful views you’ll ever see, and you can hike around above and through Berkeley for hours without getting bored. If you’re way up by Fish Ranch Rd. and Grizzly Peak, you can keep going to Tilden Park, where you can stay busy all day.

Image result for berkeley rose garden

Noon: You have to hit up the Berkeley Bowl downtown. It’s the most iconically Berkeley market there is, and you can get a super fresh meal to gorge on after your long hike.

Afternoon: Not tired of walking around outside yet, are we? Good! The Berkeley Rose Garden is a breathtaking sight, and if flowers aren’t your thing, you can cruise through the gorgeous Cal campus. Feeling like shopping? Okay, wander through downtown and check out some of the random clothing and art vendors that dot the street!

Dinner: I can’t just recommend one place. From popular local jaunts like Zachary’s pizza, to more celebrated restaurants like Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen, it’s hard to go wrong in Berkeley.  Hit me up and tell me your favorite places to ea – I would love to try them.

Image result for zachary's pizza

Nightcap: You’ve earned a drink after a long day soaking up the Berkeley sun. Again, there is no shortage of libations in Berkeley, from your average dive bar to the craftiest of craft cocktail bars. Try out a place like Tupper and Reed on Shattuck and tell me it isn’t a perfect end to your night!

Is the housing market shifting, an opportunity for some?

Is the housing market going to start shifting in the direction of price reductions at the higher end of the spectrum? According to Zillow Senior Economist Aaron Terrazas, it could happen. Approximately 14 percent of homes for sale underwent price reductions back in June, and most of them happened at the more expensive levels.

Image result for housing market

Over the last two years, the housing market has tilted sharply in favor of sellers. But this might be an early warning sign that the tide is turning a little bit. Although it’s too soon to officially call this a buyer’s market, this data does indicate that the trends in the housing industry may be normalizing. In speaking to my title rep, Jason Webb at Fidelity, I asked what he is seeing in the industry. His response was that there are currently more contingent offers, homes taking longer to close, and more demands to close escrow. I am personally experiencing all that in one escrow and it is not fun!

In my situation, the sellers have already moved and the buyer (who did not have a contingency on selling their condo) is delayed on it closing by three weeks. It was originally supposed to close by tomorrow. The agent representing the seller of the condo and the buyer on my listing is a rookie agent who has not been great at communicating the status. My sellers are frustrated and gave a demand to close escrow, but it was really to get them to push on the buyers of the condo, as I had no control and no authorization to speak to them.

We will now most likely close in another week on my my clients’ home because the buyer decided to go out and buy a new car. That caused his debt-to-income percentage to be too high, and now the car has to be paid off with proceeds from the sale of his condo. That causes further delays in our closing because the lender needs to see it get paid off. Another interesting component to this was that my clients Google’d the buyer and the results were…surprising. We knew it could be a challenging process, but we didn’t think it would be this much of a wild ride!

I believe we will see more of these types of issues as the market softens and reverts to a better balance. We can’t keep increasing, and it is time for the market to come down off this upward trajectory. There are some positive outcomes to a correction, but it is change and change is hard for most people; especially sellers when they still expect a higher price than their neighbor.

Art Town: Fish Benches

No, I’m not being koi, this piece of art is really titled Fish Benches! It’s located just downstream, er, across the street from the Walnut Creek BART station in Ygnacio Plaza. You can see them when you wander through the plaza at the corner of N. California Blvd. and Ygnacio Valley Rd. in downtown Walnut Creek.

When you’re trout and about in Walnut Creek, and you need to rest your legs a bit, you can always cross over from BART or Target to take a seat on these bronze benches designed by Judy Kensley McKie in 2003. They are surprisingly comfortable for being flat, metal benches, but you have to admire the artwork itself!

They truly look like fish swimming, and that must have been the goal from the start: to tuna public space into a relaxing retreat for pedestrians. I can’t say it’s the most impressive, attractive, or exciting piece of art in downtown Walnut Creek, but it deserves recognition nonetheless. Don’t flounder and go check it out!

Gotta love Mr. Green Bubble!

It’s just fun to say this new tea shop’s name, but it also happens to be a great place for a quick pick-me-up! Boba tea shops and poke places seem to be the new craft cocktail and food crazes, respectively. Tea shops are popping up all over Walnut Creek, and Mr. Green Bubble is one of them.

Located on Locust St., Mr. Green Bubble serves mainly boba teas, but also has bento boxes, egg puffs, mochi waffle treats, and smoothies. I found out about this place when I was visiting my friends Todd and Jocey to see their new baby. Todd came rushing into the house with a package of diapers and two teas from Mr. Green Bubble. I asked about the chewy balls at the bottom called boba – it is a tapioca gelatin that comes in different shapes, like sharks (not sure how they fit through the straw). So I went in and tried the tea in a passion fruit flavor, which can be adjusted for sweetness at 25%, 50%, or 100%. I have since been back three times and have found a preference for the green tea. They have a fancy machine that puts a plastic seal on the cup and you push the large straw through which helps suck up the boba!

I thought the interior was cute, and it’s a place with friendly, fast service. If you’re out shopping or wandering Walnut Creek and are craving something new or love the refreshing taste of the freshly brewed tea with your choice of flavoring and boba, check out Mr. Green Bubble – and try not to giggle when you say that out loud!  Todd says one of his favorite bubble tea joints is in San Ramon, but I am not going to drive that far to find out!

Twilight Tour with wine and cheese on Friday 9/7!

With the kids back in school and the last wisps of summer fading away, you might be busier than ever. You might just need your own little Open House night to wind down and get away from it all for a few hours! If that’s the case, stop by 1947 Eagle Peak Ave. in Clayton for a wine and cheese Open House event!

This condo is so beautiful, it could star in the next Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. It’s a quiet respite with breathtaking views, top-of-the-line finishes and a serene appeal. It boasts 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a deck overlooking the cozy backyard, and modern updates.

As usual, we will have our normal Open Houses this Saturday and Sunday from 1-4 p.m. each day, but you don’t want to miss the chance to see the house on Friday night from 5:30-7 with wine in hand. Join the neighbors for this exclusive event and take a look at this stunning space!  I would love to see you! If you like what you see, contact me at www.kristinlanham.com , 925.899.7123 or kristin@lanham.com. I’m happy to help with sell or buy the perfect home for you!

Road Trips: Burma Superstar

I have a super tasty, local road trip for you all this week! It’s really a restaurant review, but I was able to go do a couple other things in the vicinity that made it more into a day trip that ended up being a blast! You may have heard of the restaurant: Burma Superstar! I went for the first time to the Alameda location (there is one in San Francisco and Oakland, too), and it was really good!

Honestly, I was a little bit disappointed in the spicy shrimp noodles, as they were a little too sweet, and I would have liked a little more spice. It was more like a pad thai dish than I was expecting. I had a chili cocktail, which was essentially beer, ginger, and squeezed lemon. That was really tasty and offset the spicy chili beef. They also had phenomenal coconut rice!  The fermented tea leaf salad was a burst of many flavors and definitely worth trying.

We also stopped into a cute little shop next to Burma Superstar called Daisie. It is perfectly situated because Burma Superstar tends to have lines and while people are waiting outside, they meander into Daisie’s homes goods/gift shop. I really enjoyed wandering through and found a cool vase. And, lastly, we were hoping to get into a little local theater production company but we couldn’t get there in time and they would not let us in because the stage was a circle you would have to walk over. We moved the reservation to September.

It was a great day out in Alameda. I finally got a taste of a popular restaurant, got to explore the local shops, and at least got to see the local theater company, even if we weren’t on time for the show itself. I’d highly recommend checking out Alameda, which is an often-overlooked part of the East Bay.