Hotel Boom in Walnut Creek?

As prices for housing, hotels and, well, pretty much everything continue to skyrocket in San Francisco, travelers are starting to realize they can stay in the East Bay and BART to and from the city in order to save a lot of money. This will have a direct effect on Walnut Creek, which is right on the BART line and becoming a hotspot anyway.

New hotels are being reviewed for Walnut Creek, including a 160-room business traveler-targeted Marriott Residence Inn near BART (where the Jaguar/Range Rover dealership and Bank of the West are currently situated) that would open this time next year. The city has also reportedly discussed a boutique hotel being built in the downtown corridor.

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On one hand, this means more visitors discovering our beautiful little city and, therefore, more of a boost to the local economy. On the other hand, it means even more crowds and traffic. Higher prices for food, movie tickets and shopping. More loud, rowdy party-goers hopping from Crogan’s to Tiki Tom’s to Stadium Pub. You take the good with the bad.

Either way, if this hotel boom in the East Bay continues, it will accelerate Walnut Creek’s transition from small suburb to a must-visit Bay Area destination. I have already heard a few opinions of how people feel about Walnut Creek’s growth…please share your comments too! It’s always a hot topic.

Top 5 Must-Do’s for First-Time Home Buyers

first time home buyer featuredSo you’ve finally made the big decision. You’re going to buy a house!

You are aware of the long road ahead, but excited to take on the challenge and have a home you can call your own.

It’s a stressful process, however there are a few things you can do to help prepare for your first time through the home-buying process:

Determine your budget.

There are many online calculators available that can help you to get an idea of what your monthly mortgage payments should be, based on how much money you are looking to borrow. Don’t forget to include property taxes, though – estimate 1.25 percent of the purchase price for a yearly property tax estimate. If you are looking at a condo or a townhouse, then you most likely will have to consider a monthly HOA fee. Also, look at what your income, debts and assets are; this is where I strongly recommend you speak with a lender. The good ones break that all out for you and can help you work up a budget.

Examine your credit and credit score.

You want to get yourself in the best position to qualify for the lowest interest rates and best mortgage terms and one way to do that is to beef up your credit score. If your score is less than perfect, look for ways to increase your score. If you have limited credit history, look for ways to build positive credit before you apply for a mortgage loan. This is another area that a good mortgage broker can give some suggestions to improve your credit. No matter what your score is, review your credit report to ensure that there are no errors on your report which ay impact your ability to qualify for the mortgage you want.

Where will your down payment come from? And how much will you need?

Buying a home is a big financial commitment, which can often require a big cash down payment. Where will you be getting your down payment from – savings, a 401(k) or IRA withdrawal? As a gift from family? Although FHA loans are often an attractive option for first-time homebuyers because they only require you put 3.5 percent down, you’ll still need to roughly determine how much 3.5 percent will be and where you’ll be getting those funds from, while still saving enough for closing costs. All the while, you must keep your debt-to-income ratios in line with guidelines.

Begin to gather up all the documents you’ll need to qualify for a mortgage.

When you apply for a mortgage you’re likely going to need to show your lender proof of your identity (passport, driver’s license or similar) as well as recent pay stubs from your employer and copies of your past year (or two years) of tax returns. Each lender will have their own requirements, but gathering together these basic pieces of information can help make the mortgage application process go smoothly. Again, a good lender will send out an introduction email with a list of the things that are required.

Get preapproved for a mortgage before you begin house hunting! 

This is a MUST! Home sellers want to know that you’re serious about buying, and one of the best ways to show them that is by submitting an offer that comes with mortgage pre-qualification. In some hot housing markets, sellers won’t even accept offers without a pre-qualification or DU Approval. A good real estate agent will also help guide you through this process, which can include an informative face-to-face about the whole process or a good lender recommendation.

Excerpts of this blog generously borrowed from The Orland Group Realtor Coaching.

Tips Before You List – Economical, DIY Home Improvements

remodelWhen preparing your home for sale, statistics show staged homes sell faster and for more money than non-staged homes.

However, if your house is already a picture from Architectural Digest or your budget is limited, I am sharing a few tips from BuzzFeed about how you can make a few inexpensive, DIY upgrades to your house to increase the value and improve its aesthetics before listing.

Adding paint in certain parts of the house, evaluating house plants, replacing light bulbs, landscaping and giving your home a good, deep clean are examples of a few things you can do to improve the look of your home before listing.  You, the homeowner, can do quite a bit to significantly raise the value of your home and increase interest among prospective buyers.gardening

For the most part, these projects can be easily completed by you or a handyman and the materials are relatively inexpensive. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, it may pay big dividends in the end.

Selling your home is an investment in your financial future, and the more TLC you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. Should you need some recommendations for a handyman, gardener or painter, give me a call. I also provide a free consultation on things you can do to help spruce up the home and get it market-ready.

Check out BuzzFeed’s list for some ideas here.

Why It’s Important to Hire a Landscape Architect

Yard 1Last year, my sewer kept backing up and I found that I needed a new sewer lateral. My front lawn had a bunch of crabgrass, and the lawn never seemed to get green enough. Then, with the drought, I just let it go.

My whole front yard was torn up, so I decided to do some landscaping – new grass, plants and an automatic sprinkler and drip system.

The project turned out to cost much more than I expected. The sewer lateral was $6,000, and then I ended up paying an additional $8,000 for the landscaping and sprinklers.

I thought I was getting a deal, as the person I hired was a personal friend – though he admittedly knew nothing about plants – who could plant the yard and put the new system in.

Turns out, it was much more difficult than either of us expected. This is on me for thinking it would be an acceptable, cheap way to get the yard done. I still wonder if I hired a landscape architect, would I have saved money and would I be happier with the end result?

Of course, no home improvement project is as simple as it seems. My sprinkler heads had faulty gaskets and some of the plants were not getting water and I lost plants. Luckily, Admirals Choice, who installed the sprinklers, is Yard 2replacing them at no cost to me.

A year and a half later, we are still working on the grass, there’s still a line in the grass where the sewer lateral was dug out, and I need to get rid of the weeds.

We put weed killer on it, but I had to wait until the weather cooled, then it didn’t kill my stubborn crabgrass, and the rain began. So…I waited some more.

The gaskets should be replaced next week, then hopefully it will be time to seed before it gets too hot, and then I can fill in the plants that died.

So, with the hope that you don’t end up like me, with a two-year-old front yard project that cost me a fortune, I am sharing a great Houzz article on Landscaping Trends:

A Taste of Spain in Walnut Creek

IMG_8455The downtown Walnut Creek landscape is ever-changing. If you’ve strolled through the construction zones of Broadway Plaza lately, you’re well aware. What was once a beautiful, high-end shopping center is now an even more beautiful, more high-end shopping center.

While many of the Walnut Creek favorites have survived the remodeling boom, there is also an exciting array of new restaurants being squeezed into every available lot in town. Sunol Ridge and the Library on Main are just a few new options popping up downtown.

One of the new restaurants is also the most recognizable: Teleferic, taking over what used to be a drab parking lot kitty corner from Neiman Marcus, is a very cool, unique building. It dominates the skyline at the North Main/Mt. Diablo light, where a rebirth of the Four Corners is taking place in downtown Walnut Creek.

IMG_8456The Barcelona and Basque-inspired tapas and wine bar has a beautiful outdoor terrace that looks West at the setting sun over the hills.

It hovers over Vineyard Vines, a new clothing store that rules the ground floor. And despite being situated in the middle of a busy downtown, in a California suburb, you still get that old world charm when you enter.

Speaking of the Basque country, that is what influenced the owners of Teleferic to create a restaurant in Barcelona. They grew from their humble beginnings in Sant Cugat in the early 90’s into a dual-location behemoth that spans two countries.

For anyone who loves good tapas, this is the place to be. Named after the word “cable car” in Catalan, Teleferic will also sit below a new Asian fusion restaurant called Rooftop, run by Iron Chef alum and former Chef de Cuisine at Slanted Door, Justine Kelly, which will add an extra level of spice to this awesome new downtown IMG_8457spot.

Give them a try and let us know what you think while you enjoy the great dishes they serve tapas style, in addition to their paella and sangria.

Though more pricey than your standard tapas in Spain, and slightly different than the homemade bar tapas you’ll find abroad, the food at Teleferic and the atmosphere of the location is one of the most interesting combinations in Walnut Creek.

We’d expect nothing less with Spaniards at the helm! Speaking as a Basque descendant from Reno!

Check out Teleferic when you get a chance – it’s food and charm is well worth it.

Best of Walnut Creek: Coffeeshops

Image: http://va388.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Pacific-Bay-Coffee-outside-710x363.jpgLike most things in town, there is no shortage of coffee to drink in Walnut Creek. There’s Starbucks for the on-the-go coffee drinker. Peet’s Coffee has been opening its doors to loyal customers for decades. The Coffee Shop is new and attracting a young, hip crowd. And La Scala has a European feel, but is also popular as a corner spot perfect for a laptop and latte.

Then, there’s a local favorite right across from Kaiser: Pacific Bay Coffee Co. They opened up around the corner from Las Lomas and across the street from the hospital in 2004. It was founded as an independent coffee shop, offering on-site roasting. In 2010, they upgraded their brewing methods to siphon coffee, 24-hour cold-brew, aeropress and Japanese drip style pour-over. Additionally, they’ve expanded into loose-leaf tea from all over the world.

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In January, when we saw the windows papered and the shop closed, many assumed the worst. Via NextDoor.com comment boards, the potential closure led to concerns about, and a spirited discussion of, the support of small businesses in Walnut Creek. Since I live only three blocks away and needed some tea, this prompted me to stop by and ask a few questions.

I spoke with the owner Richard Fong, checked out the remodel (it feels brighter, more upbeat, and has more seating) and asked about the reason for the remodel. He told me that it was time for an update. Originally, the remodel was set to start in March, but the contractor was available in January and moved it up. As a side note, competition is moving closer with Starbucks opening below the not yet completed Agora Apartments just across the way.

IMG_4225What sets Pacific Bay apart is the on-site roasting of beans. They have perfected the medium-to-light roasting technique of single-origin beans. They work in small batches, in order to maintain the highest quality and freshness. Pac Bay recently won a Bronze Medal at the Roasting Awards in Oregon, and have purchased the Victoria Arduino Black Eagle espresso machine – one of only two of its kind in the area (the other is at Sextant Coffee in San Francisco). IMG_4220

They also have a new slow bar, which takes anywhere from two to seven minutes to fill, and is a process deemed “the third wave of coffee.” Lastly, they added custom drip teapots to strengthen their already delicious tea selection! If you want fresh coffee, this is the place to go, as they roast a couple times a week. You can find them up at 4 in the morning on Saturday’s brewing and roasting fresh batches.

Pacific Bay is keeping up with the trends and continues to set the standard for coffee and tea in Walnut Creek. The freshness and quality of their drinks, on top of a great location and updated decor, makes it well worth a visit, along with supporting a local small business that helps keep Walnut Creek unique.

We would love to hear your favorite coffee place along with any comments you would like to share!

Upcoming Spring Holiday Events in Walnut Creek

St_Patricks_Day_Parade_MontrealThis is a wonderful time of year. Everything starts blooming, the sun comes out – springs forward for an extra hour and we start daydreaming about where to vacation over the summer. To signal the start of Spring, we have two holidays filled with family fun: St. Patrick’s Day (yesterday, but most celebrations carry through the weekend) and Easter!

Walnut Creek becomes especially beautiful in the Spring, and it’s a perfect time to get out and about and take part in some of the local events coming up around these two holidays. Here are a few ideas for this weekend for both kids and kids at heart:

Egg-Stravaganza at Heather Farm (Sat., Mar. 26 – 9 a.m.)  (my kids used to love this)

The Walnut Creek Interact Youth Council and Walnut Creek Recreation bring you a fun-filled egg hunt for the kids at Heather Farm next weekend. The kids can take photos with the Easter Bunny, paint their faces and do crafts, along with the egg hunts. It’s a perfect way to get your family out in the sunshine to celebrate Easter!

St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl in San Francisco (Sat., Mar. 26 – 12 p.m. – 7 p.m.)

Okay, this one is not technically in Walnut Creek and is definitely adult-only, but if you’ve ever been in the city on St. Paddy’s Day and not taken part, you’re missing out on a great time! Leave the kids with a sitter for the day, dress in your most leprechaun-like outfit and go slug a few green beers at SF’s favorite Irish bars.bunny

Easter Event at Alamo Plaza (Sat., Mar. 26 – 12 p.m.)

If you want to take the kids out for a beatuiful day to celebrate Easter, but don’t want to battle the Walnut Creek crowds at Heather Farm, check out Alamo Plaza as an alternative. Train rides, an Easter Bunny, live street entertainment and more will make for an awesome family day in the sun!

Check back next week for additional events as we move into April. Happy Easter!

 

 

Things to Do in Tahoe if You Don’t Ski or Snowboard

TahoeUp until this winter, recent ski seasons had been unseasonably warm and extra frustrating for those looking to shred powder around Lake Tahoe. As anyone who has read this blog knows, I love to ski, so I’ve been taking full advantage of this winter’s El Nino storms and going up to the Sierra’s as often as possible.

A couple of weekends ago, I went up to Tahoe to ski and attend a Wounded Warriors event at Alpine, only to find the recent warm spell had turned all my favorite runs into ice and slush. We were debating what to do, but we punted and instead went to yoga and then had a wonderful lunch at Dockside 700. Of course, with that name, we were right on the beach with a great view of the lake.

When I got home, I ran across this article about things to do in Tahoe if you don’t ski or snowboard. The author nails a few good ones, and I picked out the best five for those of you who find yourself in a similar situation as I did last weekend (or those of you who just prefer not to ski at all!). Now with the recent storms and more than three feet of new snow, I don’t think I will be doing much other than hitting the slopes. But for those who don’t ski or ride…ice-skating-235542_960_720

  1. Ice skating: at many large resorts in the Tahoe area, they have fairly inexpensive access to skate rentals and the village rink. It may only last a half hour or so, especially if it’s cold outside, but it’s hard not to have fun when you’re out there zig-zagging across the ice!
  2. Spa day: Many nice hotels around the Tahoe area have spas inside to pamper their guests. But even if you’re not staying at one, you can pay for a day pass to get your massage, hot tub and facial on while everyone else freezes on the mountain.
  3. Casinos: This is an obvious one, but why not try to make back the money your family spent on their pricey lift tickets by playing a few hands of blackjack on the Nevada side? It’ll be warm, social and entertaining at the very least. And who knows? Maybe you’ll win big!
  4. Other snow activities: snowmobiling, sleigh rides, sledding and snowshoeing are just a few of the fun activities casino tahoeyou can pay for at many of the bigger areas in Tahoe. You still want to be out in the powder, just don’t feel like strapping into a board or skis for the day? Here you go!
  5. Yoga: I’m biased, as yoga is my go-to relaxation activity, but it’s something you can find studios for all over the state; even up in the mountains. If you want to just take it easy and stay warm and dry inside, might as well stretch yourself out and enjoy a moment of zen while you’re at it.

Of course, if these options don’t appeal, you could always just enjoy a classic – laying by the resort fire with a good book and a hot chocolate, waiting for everyone else to finish up their day on the slopes.

1777 Park Place Rd. Open House

park pl 3The perks to this beautiful home are endless! Located in the Summer Lake neighborhood of Oakley, this new property (built in 2012) is close to hiking and jogging trails, and just one mile from the Delta. The neighborhood boasts the lake, a pool, tennis courts and playgrounds.

It gets even better when you go inside – enjoy a home office, open-floor plan between the eat-in kitchen and livingPark Pl 2 room, and an upstairs den that is perfect for the kids! One of the master suites is on the first level, and the other is upstairs for total privacy. That was not a typo; there are two master suites in this home! And still, there’s more – in the backyard, you can relax near the pond or have a drink around the outdoor gas fireplace.

Don’t let this one pass you by. Stop in and see the Open House this weekend! We’ll be open from 1-4 p.m both Saturday (3/12) and Sunday (3/13).

You can see a virtual tour of 1777 Park Place Rd. right here.

Best Hikes near Walnut Creek

We know the next storm’s a comin’ to the Bay Area soon – 3 feet expected up at Trucke, but you can’t deny you’ve enjoyed this crazy beautiful warm weather for the past couple weeks. I don’t know about you, but I’ve taken full advantage of it and gone hiking as much as possible with my dog, Bodie.                                                              IMG_4109

 

 

Funny enough, I found this story about the best hikes in the East Bay recently, and I’m dying to try a few that I’ve never been on before. Once this next storm clears, I’m going to hit the trails! Here is a list of the top five East Bay hikes, combined from the story linked above and my own experiences.shell ridge 1

  • Camp Force Overlook, Mt. Diablo (0.7 miles – easy) – according to the article, this starts just past Rock City and takes you through an area of crumbling stoves where famous Boy Scout leader Raymond Force and his troop used to camp. You can also watch some epic rock climbing from a distance
    (bring binoculars!) on the face of Gibraltar Rock.
  • Shell Ridge, Walnut Creek Open Space (3 miles – easy) – technically, the trail we’re talking about here is the Indian Creek – Twin Ponds loop that takes you up to the Rockspring entrance in Walnut Creek, past Bullfrong pond, and up and down many moderate slopes. The best part is the breathtaking view of downtown Walnut Creek and beyond you get on clear days.  This is the hike I tend to do the most and Bodie absolutely loves to be off leash and running abound.  IMG_3549
  • Bruce Lee Spring Trail, Mt. Diablo (3.1 miles – moderate) – this trail winds through the hills behind Clayton and affords you a nice view of the borges ranchMt. Diablo summit. There will be a little bit of a creek crossing and plenty of uphill hiking, but it’s well worth it in the end. According to the story above, your best bet is to go from the Bruce Lee Spring Trail to the Hetherington Trail to complete the loop.
  • Borges Ranch, Walnut Creek Open Space (9 miles – difficult) – the longest hike on this list isn’t a terribly steep climb (unless you opt to climb up into the Castle Rock area, which is clearly visible for most of your hike), but will bring you on a long, ambling loop that starts and finishes at the historic, unique Borges Ranch. It feels like you’re in the Wild West for a moment when you walk by the old homestead!
  • The Amphitheater, Mt. Diablo (4.3 miles – difficult) – this hike starts just off Morgan Territory Rd., and gives you expansive views of the Delta and Mt. Diablo. To get to the “amphitheater,” follow the Morgan Creek Rd. trailhead to Jeremiah Creek Trail, take a right and then a left on Old Finley Rd. The history and beauty of the spot will amaze you.

Do you have a favorite to share?