The Fed lost control over interest rates – so now what?

My friend Jay Vorhees of JVM Lending had a great blog recently about The Fed and interest rates. Here is the article below, with my two cents included:

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Rates are at an eight-month low right now – about 1/2 percent lower than they were at their peak in October. I should add though that they still remain about 1/2 percent higher than they were last year at this time. So, did the Fed finally achieve its stated goal of pushing up rates?

Not in the way anybody expected.

According to former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, the Fed now has less control over interest rates than at any other time in its 105-year history. I won’t go into all the details, but it has to do with its massive bond holdings (almost $4 trillion) and the excess reserves in the banking system. You can read more about it here.

The Fed can influence rates in the short term with its actual policies and statements, but the markets now seem to have much more say in the matter than the Fed. We are watching this currently, as the Fed’s short-term rate increases are not resulting in long-term rate increases like we have seen in the past.

What this means is a repeat of what I have been saying repeatedly over the last several years – nobody really has any idea of what will happen with rates (or anything else for that matter – remember Mr. Trump’s election?). A slowing world economy could continue to bring rates down, or a resurgence in bank lending (according to the article referenced above) could spark an inflationary spiral that will send rates through the roof.

Suffice it to say that we will see a lot more volatility in both the stock and bond markets for a long time to come. What is really scary though is what will happen when everyone figures out that there is no way that the world can ever pay back the $250 trillion in worldwide debt that has built up over the last ten years. When that happens, today’s environment will seem like very calm sailing.

Bond Market

Lastly – despite the uncertainty, many pundits are now predicting low (and even declining) rates throughout 2019.

Great stuff from Jay, right? So, here are  my thoughts: The Fed came up with four rate hikes last year, and now the mortgage rates are lower than expected as stock market sways are leading people to bonds. What that means for the real estate market, especially locally is that more buyers maybe taking advantage of getting in now.  I am starting to see the market pick back up, but this year it didn’t happen on January 3rd, didn’t really see it until the weekend after January 7th when the kids returned to school from their holiday break.  January has been interesting the last few years, as buyers have been out, but sellers want to wait until March and they often loose that burst of lots of buyers and no inventory.   At any rate, nobody has a crystal ball and I believe we will be on a wild ride as the stock market will have more volatility (as it is suppose to).

Event Round-Up: Jan. 19

There’s usually a bit of a lull after the holiday season where the events fizzle out and everyone recovers at the beginning of the year. However, I was able to dig up a few awesome ones in and around Walnut Creek to keep you satisfied. Enjoy the end of January and early February events before we head into the big Valentine’s week and let me know if you go to any!

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Napa Valley Restaurant Week: Jan. 20-27 (Napa)

Everyone knows the cuisine in Napa is just as good – if not better – than its wine. Now is your chance to gobble up some of that delicious fare for a fraction of the normal cost. Napa Valley Restaurant Week is the perfect excuse to visit the wine haven in its off-season.

Exploratorium After Dark: Radioactive: Jan. 24th (San Francisco)

This is a weekly event in The City at “After Dark” at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Go down to Pier 15 and enjoy the adults-only event in the incredibly cool museum. It costs about $20 at the door and is free for members. You can go to this from 6-10 p.m. on Jan. 24th.

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San Francisco Beer Week Opening Gala: Feb. 1st (San Francisco) 

You can’t beat a fancy night out in San Francisco for the most anticipated craft beer event of the year in Northern California. It’s not a cheap ticket, but the kickoff for SF Beer Week takes place from 6-10:30 p.m. at Pier 35. More than 120 NorCal breweries will be pouring their newest, most specialized beers. Check it out!

Pink Floyd Concert Experience with House of Floyd: Feb. 1st (Walnut Creek)

At 8:00 p.m. at the Lesher Center on Feb. 1st, you can go to see the Pink Floyd experience in concert right downtown! It’s a live musical tribute that pays homage to Pink Floyd’s famous shows, with sound effects, lights, lasers, video projection, and more. More info here!

Free First Tuesday: Feb. 5th (Walnut Creek)

As you’re probably well aware by now, there is a Free First Tuesday in downtown Walnut Creek at the Bedford Gallery. From 12-5 p.m., you can get free admission to the coolest art gallery in town and check out all the new exhibits. If you haven’t been, it’s definitely a hidden gem in Walnut Creek.  With a new exhibit that just launched on Sunday the 13th, going through March 24th, “Altered States” features artists across generations living and working along the California coast who harness natural elements of the environment to create their artwork. I think that will be a future blog!

OMG the best Old Fashioned ever!

Craft beer and cocktails are still all the rage among the bar and restaurant scene these days. With breweries popping up all over the place, it was only a matter of time until the cocktail scene blew up a little bit, too. Now, there’s a new spot called Hops & Scotch at the Contra Costa Centre at the corner of Treat and Oak.

I went to experience it myself with a couple of friends and past clients – I chose the distilled menu and have never had a better Old Fashioned (or two).  The menu is an extensive list of whiskey/scotch/bourbon – from everywhere you can imagine – Scotland, Ireland, Japan…and I even saw some from south of the border.  As the name dictates, they also have a good selection of microbrews and, of course, any other type of cocktail you desire.  There is some food in the form of bar bites; we had the naan pizza and wings, but I saw mac and cheese,  hummus, a cheese board, and gyros (which really caught my eye).

There are also TVs for all the sporting events and on Monday nights they have the Geek Squad doing Trivia night, which is always fun.  Overall, Hops & Scotch is a great place to be and, come summer, look for the new patio currently under construction for some chill outdoor enjoyment, next to a couple of cool walnut and oak trees.  This will help with their seating as the place can fill up quickly and it isn’t too large, which creates a cozy ambiance.

Walnut Creek allowing cannabis permits

This past November, the City of Walnut Creek allowed people to apply for cannabis permits that are being processed to fill the two delivery-only medical cannabis operation slots to be opened in town. These are commercial business applications, and will bring a new type of business to downtown.

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With the passage of marijuana legislation in the state of California, which legalizes the sale of recreational products, the city of Walnut Creek is now getting involved. Of course, with new laws come new restrictions, and Walnut Creek’s marijuana policy is no different.

On a personal, non-commercial level, the maximum amount of non-medical cannabis plants allowed to be grown per residential unit is six. Selling the cannabis you legally grow is still prohibited (that’s what the permit application process was for!). Additionally, cannabis plants must be locked up, can’t create an odor, and must abide by all electrical and building permits.

It will be interesting to see how this law changes the business landscape in Walnut Creek. I’m guessing it probably won’t be a massive noticeable difference, since marijuana has been a fairly visible part of the California culture for years. But now that it’s legalized, what will the businesses look like? The delivery services? I guess we’ll find out soon!

Art Town: Folded Square Alphabet G

Have you ever been walking near BART and noticed a few, well…strange structures? Some of the art across the way from the northernmost BART parking lot is made up of some intricate statues. One of my new favorites is called “Folded Square Alphabet G,” and upon close examination, I can see why.
The piece was created by Fletcher Benton in 1984, and is part of a larger series called “Folded Alphabet.” It’s described a geometric puzzle because they contain a letter which is either obvious or hidden. You’re supposed to walk around the sculpture – which is made of painted aluminum – to get the full experience.
According to Benton’s bio, he was born in Ohio and supported himself as a sign painter. He became fascinated with the alphabet and geometric forms created by letters. That led him to create the “Folded Alphabet” series, which intertwine letters within shapes. He perches metal plates atop each other and balances them precariously, which adds a whole new layer of awesome to the piece.
It’s a truly unique, timeless piece that has only gotten more impressive with age. Next time you’re wandering near Walnut Creek BART, keep an eye out for the folded “G,” and see if you can spot it!

Reasons to buy in the off-season!

Lizzie Weakley of RIS Media’s Housecall wrote a blog recently about why it’s okay to buy in the off-season. I want to piggy-back off of that here. First of all, yes, there is an “off-season” in real estate. For the most part, winter is the time of year that the industry slows down in markets around the country.

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However, there are a few good reasons why the off-season might actually be a great time to buy a home, especially in the Bay Area! As Weakley lists, there are fewer buyers crowding the markets. This decrease in competition is an excellent advantage for any prospective home-buyer. On that note, sellers seem to accept lower bids in the winter because of the low competition.  In our area, we also don’t have to worry about trudging through snow storms to see a listing (one of the major reason for a slow-down), in addition to the holidays when most people are entertaining or having family visit.

Everything can move a little bit faster in winter. Home inspections can get done quicker, and mortgage companies tend to finish paperwork faster, too, because – again – they don’t have as much traffic.  I should mention that in the Bay Area, with our warmer climate in Spring, the winter “off-season” tends to be much shorter than in other places, but still usually extends for a couple months at the end of the year and wraps around into January (we are nearing the end of the off-season now).  Often buyers are out in January, but the sellers have not yet readied their home for sale, so we often find a switch back to a seller’s market this time of year.  We will see what 2019 holds.

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One more perk to buying homes in the winter? Us real estate agents have more time to dedicate to you! Sure, we love to give as much personalized attention as possible to each and every client, but the truth of the matter is that we get busy in peak seasons too. When I can focus all of my energy on one listing, it’s almost always smooth-sailing and everything gets finished at the speed of light!

Next time you are thinking of buying a home, and read that you should wait until the weather warms up again, give it a second thought. There are some big-time perks to buying in the off-season!

Get lost in Flowerland

Was it all a dream? Or did I really stumble upon an oasis of flowers, plants, and coffee in the East Bay? Oh, I definitely did. Just North of Berkeley, in the oft-forgotten tiny town of Albany, sits the aptly-named Flowerland, which has been open for more than 70 years and is locally-owned and operated.

Flowerland offers in-house potting, deliveries, custom orders, holiday orders, and a good old-fashioned nursery. They run a gift shop, and have Highwire coffee to keep you warm and hydrated. The plants they sell are hand-picked with the Bay Area climate in mind, and they try to keep a smorgasbord of species around, including those from other continents!

I wandered in here one day after picking up a friend who lives down the street, and she said, “Let’s grab a cup of coffee at my cool neighborhood go-to place.”  If you’re refurbishing your home, or planning to buy a new one, you’ll definitely want to go check out the little trinkets, decorations, and design options there. Grab a few houseplants while you’re at it – that always brightens up a dim room!

Next time you’re in the Berkeley or Albany areas and want to experience a truly magical, quaint slice of heaven, stop into Flowerland. Maybe pick up one of those cute succulents for your desk (and another, for me!), or just have a coffee and enjoy the outdoor ambiance! Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

Road Trips: Half Moon Bay

New year, new road trip! I went down to Half Moon Bay (HMB) to grab some pumpkins, eat seafood and have a drink at the Ritz-Carlton while enjoying the sunset. This blog is specifically about happy hour at the Ritz to enjoy the bagpipes. It was a wonderful experience, but pricey – just to park is $40.  We ordered a tea, Shirley Temple and a margarita for $35.  You are paying for the ambiance and the bagpipes.  If you haven’t been to HMB before, it’s such an easy trip down from the East Bay, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.


Obviously, the view is wonderful, but there are also a lot of parks and bars and restaurants to see. There are distilleries, breweries, wineries and of course, golf. Half Moon Bay is also known for its pumpkin festival; we went down a couple of weekends before the big event – fewer crowds.

This was a little “treat yourself” day trip for me and a couple of friends, as we wound down the day with views of the golf course and a cold drink by the outdoor fireplace. Bagpipes serenaded the crowd from the golf course as an incredible sunset descended over the beach. It was just what the soul needed!

Whether you’re doing a day trip like I did, or going to HMB to enjoy the beaches and restaurant scene for a few days, make sure to fully appreciate how great this little slice of California’s central coast is!

A new seafood restaurant on the outskirts of Walnut Creek!

I recently tried a new SoCal chain in Walnut Creek, and it was good for quick fish dishes! California Fish Grill, primarily located in Southern California, has opened a new spot in Walnut Creek at the corner of Oak Grove Rd. and Ygnacio Valley Rd. in The Orchards, which is continuing to become a go-to place in Northgate.  You can even grab your food and take it over to the new brewery called Mike Hess, which I will have to check out in 2019.

It advertises healthy food, even though the most popular dish at the restaurant is a 1,500-calorie fish and chips dish. That said, there are quite a few good, healthy options here. They serve everything from sockeye salmon, to Hawaiian swordfish, to ahi poke and grain bowls. I tried the shrimp with Dynamite sauce, grilled zucchini spears and Brussel sprouts. The fish tacos actually look really good too.  They have a salsa bar and a help-yourself artisan soda fountain.

I’d recommend checking out California Fish Grill next time you’re hankering for some quick fresh seafood. We don’t have a ton of affordable seafood options in Walnut Creek, so this is definitely a step in the right direction. Let me know if you try it!

Home affordability at lowest point in a decade

I recently read a blog from my friend Bob Schwab, a certified mortgage consultant with Finance of America, that had me thinking. It’s about how the median home price in the fourth quarter of 2018 was the least affordable level since the third quarter of 2008, according to statistics from ATTOM Data Solutions.

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But, it’s not all doom-and-gloom on that front. Nationally, 58 percent of counties analyzed by the data report recorded an improved home affordability ranking on a quarter-over-quarter basis. According to Daren Blomquist, SVP at ATTOM and quoted in Bob’s blog, “home price appreciation falls more in line with wage growth,” and “high-priced areas such as San Diego, Brooklyn, and Seattle saw annual wage growth outpace annual home price appreciation.”

Here are my two cents on this, and about what it means in the local real estate market: You can’t time the market. Buying over renting is always a better long-term strategy.  I have had buyers looking this December and were able to quickly get into a home that had some healthy price reductions (really it finally just got priced right) and we have been able to negotiate on repairs.  They also found a home that was about $70k below their top end budget. They were motivated, they just had a baby, wanted a house, and were very methodical.  They will simply build equity just by paying their mortgage every month and doing some improvements.