Art Town: New-look California Plaza

If you’ve ever hopped on BART in downtown Walnut Creek, you’ve probably seen the towering, 10-story office buildings just across the street from the North parking lot (if the train was headed towards the Pleasant Hill station). It has recently gotten a makeover, including state-of-the-art conference facilities, residential units and an outdoor area with bocce ball courts.

Also part of the makeover is a brilliant art installation, which paints a beautiful picture of Mt. Diablo across multiple fans against a wall. I call them “fans,” though I’m not sure exactly what the structure is, what kinds of materials were used, or who created it! Information is sparse.

What I do know, though, is this is an amazing upgrade to a space that was very 1970s outdated. I’m excited to see what other changes they will add to the building to spruce up the Walnut Creek BART area. It seems like good timing, with all the changes going on around and in the Bart area that destined to become a little village.  Just on Riviera the back road to WC Bart and where my office is located, are 3 new condo complexes being built (a future blog), not to mention the large apartment complex across from Bart on Ygnacio.

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Bouquets to Art at the De Young Museum

If you haven’t been to the De Young Museum in San Francisco, I’d highly recommend visiting, no matter the season or featured exhibit. But every year in March, they have a showcase called Bouquets to Art, which is just as awesome as it sounds.

I became a member of the De Young, so it was free for me – kinda – the bonus is I can take a friend for free and also have free access to the Legion of Honor. I loved this exhibit; it was only the second time I have been, the first was in the old De Young building. It’s a really cool event in its 33rd year. I even know one of this year’s florists, Valarie Ow, from J Miller in Oakland on Piedmont. She is pictured above explaining how her piece (with the little Nemo fish!) was designed. The concept for this fund raiser is the artist gets to pick a piece of art to design a flower arrangement that enhances or ties to the art. Valerie is shown here explaining the work that went into her beautiful piece and how in the week time she had to refresh a few flowers because the lights can get so hot. In addition if there is any water leakage, the museum will have your piece removed…so much to think about.

You can see more information about the events and exhibit at their website. For non-members, prices ranged from about $19-28. They have an opening gala, and even a raffle. They attract florists from as far away as Tokyo for this event!

Check out my slideshow of pictures below to get an idea of what you could see. Mark it down for March 2019!

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Road Trips: Whistler

Okay, now I’m really stretching this whole Road Trips theme. You could, hypothetically, drive all the way to Canada from the Bay Area. It would take a solid 16 hours and would be a pretty nice drive through Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. But, I’d recommend flying.

I recently took a 2 1/2-day trip to Whistler. I left at 4 pm on Saturday afternoon and got to Whistler at 10 pm. I skied Sunday and Monday and flew back to the bay area at 6 am on Tuesday. I was back at work by noon! With the tail end of the skiing season approaching, Whistler – which always has great snow – recently got dumped on much like Tahoe. I met a couple of friends up there and had amazing snow to ski. It was a great trip.

I had a room at the Westin on the hill on the Blackcomb side. The Whistler-Blackcomb mountain resort is also massive, it has a glacier and the longest peak-to-peak tram in the world. There is also lost of expert skiing available. I wonder if the weather is a little different because the resort is so close to the ocean, but the clouds would come in and out. At one point I felt like I was skiing in soup, could not see in front of me and we just happened to be in the Whistler Bowl (a black diamond run) at the end of the day.

And if you aren’t feeling the snow vibe, but just want to explore the area, Whistler is a really cool place itself. The village has some great restaurants; we ate at 21 Steps, which serves great comfort food and a good selection of fish, pork and meat. I would also explore the rest of the area if you have the time. Just outside the Whistler area, you can trek back to Vancouver and explore one of the underrated cities of the Pacific Northwest.

Next year: Revelstoke and Heli-skiing!

Compare and contrast: VA vs. FHA

VA and FHA loans are both backed or insured by the Federal Government, so realtors often confuse the guidelines between the two types of loans. There are a lot of differences, however, and my friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending has the scoop below:

Image result for FHA loan

Appraisals: Similar

We’ll just let this blog, by JVM’s Appraisal Manager, do the talking.  I, Kristin added a few thoughts in brackets afterwards.

Appraisers: Different

The VA loan forces people to use “VA approved appraisers,” which they assign. That often makes the quality worse. The FHA allows us to pick appraisers from whomever we want.

Property Condition: Different

The VA requires clear Section I termite reports, and clear Section II if the items are health and safety risks. FHA allows for “as is” transactions, and does not require a clear Section I.  (There have been some recent changes regarding this, but not every lender is aware of them)

Closing Periods: Different

For VA loans, you need 21 days to close them because appraisal turn times are slower, and it’s generally just a more cumbersome process. For FHA, we can close the loans in about 14 days.  (Note these are amazing turn times, most lenders need 30 days or more)

Rates: Similar

Both types of loans have lower rates than your typical conventional loans. Lower rates are a major advantage for both.

Mortgage Insurance: Different

VA has no mortgage insurance, which is one of the reasons this type of financing is such a great opportunity for veterans. The FHA, on the other hand, has a mortgage insurance of 0.85 percent for most loans, with less than 5 percent down.

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Up-Front Fees: Similar

The VA has a “funding fee” of 2.15 percent with 0 percent down that decreases with larger down payments. The FHA has an “up-front mortgage insurance premium” of 1.75 percent.

Down Payment: Different

The VA loan allows for 100 percent financing (0 percent down), whereas the FHA requires a minimum of 3.5 percent down.

(Final note:  most condo complexes are not FHA approved as they have not gone through the approval process which has to be updated periodically, I have not found that issue for the most part with VA because usually the complexes get VA approved at the time of building and it stays with the property)

Twice the slice, twice as nice at Extreme Pizza

We’ve talked about Pinky’s, we’ve talked about Pizza My Heart, and most recently, we talked about Pan Coast Pizza. But I wouldn’t want to leave out one of the best (if not THE best) pizza places in Walnut Creek when discussing great local food: Extreme Pizza might top them all!

The first thing you’ll notice about Extreme is it does all the little things right. They are open until the bars nearby close (smart move!), make good use of the physical restaurant (and decorate it in an interesting, attractive way), and seem to always have good customer service.

Then, there’s the pizza itself. Not only is the pizza top quality, but they have some really great styles on the menu, as well as sandwiches, salads and drinks. They serve beer on tap, make calzones and wings, and will make you a gluten-free or vegan pizza as well. On nice days, check out the patio outside!

Lastly, an ode to the title of this blog: the “slices” you can order there? Yeah, it’s two slices. Every time. Last time I ordered two slices to go, it was essentially four because the slice is so big, but they only charge you for the original two!  They also deliver into the wee hours and can do large parties.  We recently got 12 pizza’s for the Parkmead Pathway Meeting, the pies were hot, it included all the paper products and I also was able to get the sodas in one stop.   They also gave my son a job for a few summers and the owner lives up the street from me, so I am a big fan!  Give them a try if you have not already, they are located on Cypress next to Philly Cheese Steak, around the corner from where Crogan’s used to be.

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Interest rates remain a gift

Recently, we’ve talked a lot about the rising interest rates. Everyone seems to be in panic mode over it, and my friend Jay Vorhees of JVM Lending is here to explain – in a historical context – why the reaction is overblown. He says the only people who should really be worried are businesses and companies that focus only on refinancing.

We’ve already touched on why higher interest rates are good, but an interest rate under 6 percent is amazing when put in a historical context, and should be treated as such. Here is a graph from Freddie Mac that shows an in-depth breakdown of interest rates over the past 30 years, but we’ve also shared JVM’s table on interest rates:

DATE                                      RATE                      COST
 
March of 2017                    4.2%                     0.5 Points

April of 2014                      4.34%                   0.6 Points

2008 (entire year)           6.03%                   0.6 Points

2000                                      8.05%                   1.0 Point

1995                                      7.93%                   1.8 Points

1990                                     10.13%                  2.1 Points

1985                                     12.43%                  2.5 Points

This shows that not only are rates much lower than they have been at the highest points of the market, but that loans are also much lower than usual – yes, I know our prices are higher than most of the country, but higher interest rates, always hurt you in the pocket book more than higher prices.  Anytime you can lock in a rate below 6 percent, you are doing quite well. So maybe now is the time to get into the market!

Pokeatery is a new hotspot

Downtown Walnut Creek is always getting new restaurants. Every genre and culture of food seems to be represented. However, one that I hadn’t seem much of was poke. That is no longer the case – enter, Pokeatery on Newell Ave., in the set of shops by Whole Foods.

Pokeatery has locations throughout California, as well as one in foodie-haven Austin, TX. For those who are unfamiliar, poke is pronounced “poh-kay” and is typically a raw, Hawaiian salad. Usually, it’s made with ahi tuna, but Pokeatery offers different fish options, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free styles.

I went in to try out their menu- it is a bit different than poke I have had in the past and it is a LOT of food. You start with the base and then add the fish, the salad, the spices and the veggies. You make it your own!

The origin of Pokeatery is pretty cool, too. The owners and their family love Hawaiian food, especially poke. They wanted to bring those flavors back to the mainland, where it is less plentiful. In their family, they have more than 20 years of experience in sushi restaurants. Those skills go into crafting every meal at Pokeatery.  Check out their website:

You can see from these pictures that the ingredients are fresh, the dishes are colorful (and plentiful!), and they really take great care to provide you with a good meal. The owner is pictured here at the bottom. There are a couple of other poke restaurant that have opened up downtown called Oke Poke (which just opened) and  T4 and Poke that also has bubble tea. I have to try both eventually. Overall, I give Pokeatery Mt. Diablo’s!  I keep comparing all the poke I eat to the Da Poke Shack  on the big island of Hawaii – hang out at the beach all day, walk over to Da Poke Shack and have a cold beer – magic!

Art Town: Car Mural

Just outside of Anthropologie in downtown Walnut Creek, there’s this really cool mural of a couple and their car. There’s a huge American flag waving in the background. I don’t know exactly where it came from, what it signifies, or why it’s placed there. But for some reason I really like it!

Maybe it’s just because it’s “classic” American. It reminds me of a scene from The Great Gatsby, where the lavish, wealthy crowd would gather for parties with fine cocktails. I don’t know if that’s what Anthropologie is going for here, but the sheer size of the mural itself makes it interesting to me!

Love you latte!

A couple weeks ago, I held an event for my sphere of friends, clients and neighbors at the Capital One Cafe in downtown Walnut Creek! It was about connecting people, community and just a Saturday morning coffee get-together. Overall, about 20 people showed up and most stayed to enjoy the conversation and Peets coffee. We had a large, round table that enhanced the flow of conversation. It was the perfect spot to host the gathering. At the end, there was also a drawing for a few gifts donated by JVM Lending.

I love these get-togethers and I believe everybody enjoyed themselves. Here is one comment I received: “What a delightful morning spent meeting new people while sipping a yummy latte. Such good vibes for building a strong community. I think I heard at least four people say if they have anything real estate-related you are their go-to person. I agree. Very cool. What a nice group of friendly people. You did a great job keeping it all flowing. I was impressed with your knack for remembering names.”

Check out the pictures below. I would love to see you at my next event!

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