Forma Gym’s transformation

The lot just off Olympic Blvd. before you go under 680 toward Parkmead has changed many times over the years. A long time ago, the lot was occupied by Walnut Creek Sports & Fitness. A few years ago, new owners came in and created Forma along with many great changes. They also added healthy options for food on-the-go to take to work. Now you can grab a green smoothie as you are walking out the door.

That is the gym I most often go to – not just for its proximity to my neighborhood, but because the new owner has done a fantastic job remodeling to make Forma appealing to everyone!



With a new gym coming in over by Zara, Orange Theory getting people all fired up, and other big-name gym chains popping up around town, there’s probably a little fear of competition for Forma. But, whatever it is, they’ve done a marvelous job with the gym.

Now, Forma has cryogenics (which is amazing if you haven’t tried it!), a jiu jitsu room, childcare, classes, a weight room, the pool, and more. They took out the racquetball courts, sadly, but it created a ton of room for other things. Forma still attracts the older Rossmoor crowd, but has also become more contemporary to attract a younger crowd.

Among the classes they offer, there is a mind/body studio for yoga and barre, with a separate area for spin. They have a spa with facials and massages, too! And one of the coolest things about Forma is their involvement with the local community. They sponsor the Turkey Trot, WCEF, food banks, etc. around town. They host golf tournaments, art days, and a kids club.

They also have Project Walk, which helps people learn or re-learn how to walk! I can’t say enough good things about Forma Gym, and if you’re looking for a community-oriented, affordable place to work out, this is the spot!

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.

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:

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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!

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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!

Event Round-Up: June 16

Welcome back to the newest installment of Event Round-Up! As always, this is where we gather five of the best Bay Area events taking place over the next month or so. Let us know if you go to any of these, and if so, how you liked them!

1. Walnut Creek Uncorked (Weds., June 20)

Walnut Creek Downtown presents a brand new event, designed for the wine-lovers in our town. Tickets are $40 in advance, and get you access to wine tastings, restaurants, artisan fashion and jewelry stands, and live entertainment. You must be 21 to buy a ticket!

2. Danville Summerfest 2018 (Sat., June 23 & Sun., June 24) 

Danville has a little festival of its own that you may want to check out! Our neighbor has a cute downtown that will be filled with local music, art, and food vendors. There is a classic car show on Sunday, and the event is family and dog-friendly. Danville Summerfest will take place from 10-5 each day.

3. Alameda County Fair (Fri., June 15 – Sun., July 8)

It’s that time of year again! The Alameda County Fair at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton kicked into full gear yesterday, and will carry on through the weekend after 4th of July. If you don’t have larger travel plans, you can trek over to Pleasanton for this awesome annual event – LeeAnn Rimes, Blue Oyster Cult, and Sean Kingston are some of the many musical acts expected to perform this year.

4. 4th of July Fireworks (Weds., July 4)

I don’t have any particular event or link for you here. There are generally tons of good spots to choose from to watch East Bay fireworks on the 4th of July. Take the kiddos, your leftover BBQ, and a blanket to enjoy the show. My favorite place to catch them is up at Tahoe.

5. Walnut Creek First Wednesdays (Weds., July 11)

Another stellar outdoors event to celebrate all that Walnut Creek summers have to offer! There is free parking after 5 p.m. in many major downtown garages to help you get around. If you’ve never experienced a First Wednesdays celebration, it is chock-full of live music, food trucks, drinks, games and even a Kids Fun Zone. Check it out from 5:30-8:30 p.m. on Cypress St. in downtown.

What to know about the new tax bill limits in 2018

The GOP finally pushed through its tax package, and the reaction has been interesting to say the least. While some seem to love it (The Wall Street Journal said the bill is the best thing to ever happen to our economy), many others hate it. Regardless of how you feel about the bill, it is signed in now and it’s time to see how it affects you, as a homeowner, seller or buyer.
My friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending put together a blog detailing some main points about the GOP tax bill and how it may affect real estate. Here are the main thoughts:
1. Current homeowners will be grandfathered in and still allowed to deduct interest against $1 million of mortgage debt. In 2018, buyers will be limited to $750,000 and interest against home equity lines will not be deductible.
2. State and local tax deductions will be capped at $10,000. This will be difficult for people in California.
3. Standard deductions are doubling to $12,000 for single filers and to $24,000 for married filers, so many homeowners won’t have to deduct their interest and property taxes anymore.
4. We have no idea what exactly the bill will do for the market when all is said and done, but for now, we can expect the low-inventory, high-demand market to suffer in high-end areas down the road, while remaining neutral in the short term.
5. To fully understand the bill’s impact on you, see a CPA. Defer your commissions. And if you’re planning an out-of-state move, consider relocating to a low-tax state like Florida, Texas or Nevada.
I’d like to expand on #5 quickly – as Jay mentioned, there will be a new $10,000 cap on tax deductions starting in 2018. If you paid off your property taxes before January, you should be able to save thousands of dollars on that by avoiding the new rule for a year. And if you are planning a move out of the Bay Area to another part of California or another state, you should be consulting a realtor or a CPA to see what kind of savings you can get!

Selling a home without an agent is risky!

When you sell a home, you don’t need a real estate agent, just like you don’t need a lawyer when facing criminal charges. You can, if you want to, represent yourself in a court of law, and you can always put your home up for sale by owner (FSBO).

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But, it’s an extremely risky proposition. As outlined in this Inman article, there are many things to consider when putting a home up FSBO. Here are eight things, summarized from said Inman article, that sellers risk when they don’t have a realtor representing them:

1. Knowledge

Realtors are professionals in this business. They have expansive knowledge of the complicated home-buying and selling processes, possess loads of helpful data, and have large networks of people who can help minimize the difficulties that arise.

2. Time

The non-realtor probably doesn’t realize how many hours are put into any given home, buy or sell. Real estate agents are available for clients around the clock, on a whim, and can confidently and smoothly quell any concerns by potential home buyers.

3. Presentation

Preparation is essential to selling a home – what buyers see when they walk through the door will determine if your home sells. Agents can prepare the finest details and have stagers, professional photographers and others who will help make the space beautiful.

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4. Marketing

Anyone can draw up a “For Sale” poster, but realtors will design, distribute and widely market the home to a huge number of potential buyers. Realtors can access predictive analysis and promote to those demographics on social media. Also, they know just what to write to draw interest.

5. Negotiation experience

If you’re doing FSBO, what do you do when you actually receive an offer? There’s a purchase agreement to be discussed, price negotiations to be had, and so on. Realtors will make sure you don’t get screwed by a buyer, and that you only incur costs you’re supposed to pay.

6. Inspection and repair know-how 

One of the most important parts of any real estate transaction is knowing which inspections to expect and how to get them done. This is where the realtor’s web of resources comes in handy again – he or she should be able to provide repair people to fix anything discovered in an inspection.

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7. Transaction management

Once a home is in contract with a buyer, there are more steps to close the deal. Realtors can make sure the right people are contacted to handle the closing, appraise the property, repair anything found in inspections and anything else to follow up on.

8. Closing finesse

There are expectations upon closing a property. Non-realtors probably don’t understand what the buyers expect, in terms of when move-in/move-out occurs, the condition one should leave their home in, or what to do if a last-minute issue arises. Realtors do know, and they are worth the time and money to ensure your sale is in good hands.

FSBO’s may be intriguing to the cheap and/or self-confident, but the small savings on a realtor’s commission is not worth the hassle that comes with navigating such a difficult process without professional help, and often a house sells for less than what it would have with an agent even after the commission has been paid.

On that note, there’s a reason I do what I do! I’d love to help you buy or sell a home. Please reach out any time for information regarding the current, local real estate market!

Burger Lounge, Hella Good!

Burger Lounge, the new burger joint on Oak Grove Rd., is making its first foray into Northern California with its Walnut Creek location.

Rooted in San Diego, they are well-known for their grass-fed beef, craft sodas, huge salads, half-and-half fries and onion rings and delicious shakes. The decor is fresh and stylish; I saw lots of people comfortable and conversing.

(Note: if you get there after 11:30 on weekdays, there will be a line out the door)

Burger Lounge also serves wine and local craft beer (Calicraft at the Walnut Creek location). Maybe the coolest aspect of the Burger Lounge mission is that they try so hard to make food that tastes good but is also as sustainable as possible. As mentioned, their burgers are grass-fed and they avoid a lot of the processed ingredients other places use.

I really liked my burger. I got mine to go and it was gone before I hit 680. Overall, I give Burger Lounge FIVE Mt. Diablo’s! Give it a try and let me know if you agree.

Road Trips: Strawberry Jam 5K in Capay

Grab your kids for a short road trip! Today there is a fun event going on in Capay (1.5 hours from Walnut Creek, just North of Vacaville): a 5K run and farm tour at Capay Organic.

I get produce from the delivered to my door weekly if I choose and you pick what you put into that box – of course it is only fruits and veggies currently in season and they often have a recipe included.  Last week I got sunchokes as I forgot to modify my order – these are also called Jerusulum  articokes and I made a wonderful potato sunchoke latke which will be recreated and served for Easter Brunch.

From the Capay Organic website.

Tickets are available here, and sign in begins at 10 a.m., with the run starting a half hour later. The farm will be open to tours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and includes the options of tractor rides, a Q&A, arts and crafts, face-painting, a petting zoo and an Easter egg hunt!

If that’s not the most perfect way to spend Saturday of Easter weekend, I don’t know what is! For you foodies, there will be a little farmer’s market section with local honey, olive oil and pesto tastings, fresh Mexican food and plenty of sweet dessert and coffee options.

For a little different twist on your regular Bay Area road trip, consider Capay Organic for your next weekend away. They have events almost every month, and the pictures make it look like an absolutely gorgeous setting. I wish I could have been there today myself!

The problem with large AMC’s for lenders and clients

Our friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending wrote a blog recently about Apprisal Management Companies (AMC’s) that I found really interesting. Jay wrote about the mess that usually comes out of a broker-lender relationship due to appraisal issues.

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After the mortgage melt down the laws changed that required lenders to use AMCs instead of cherry picking their appraisers directly.  This past practice created an opportunity for dishonest practices.  However, creation of AMC’s created a separate list of issues and caused the cost of appraisals to increase.  The AMC’s usually paid the appraisers too little and decreased motivation by appraisers to do a good job or they hired inexperienced appraisers because the seasoned appraisers got out of the business as their salary decreased. Initially there was no parameters in place for the appraiser you got.  Many times, I got an appraiser from Sacramento appraising a property in the Walnut Creek School District and would get a low value because the comps they pulled were parts of Walnut Creek not in the school district.  As you can imagine, this led to some huge problems

As time passed, mortgage brokers such as JVM have moved to a “mortgage banking channel” to avoid using AMC’s and now utilize their own internal AMC that is still compliant but staffed by competent, local, highly-skilled appraisers of JVM’s choosing.  The lender still can’t talk to the appraiser, but at least they have control of the quality of appraisers and know the area they are appraising.

For more information about this topic, see this Washington Post article Jay quoted in his blog. You can visit JVM Lending here.

East Bay New Year’s Eve events

This New Year’s Eve, there seems to be a ton of fun events at local establishments for you to ring in 2017 with.

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For me, New Year’s is a time to reflect on the year that has just passed and to focus forward with new resolutions – what can be improved, how to get into shape and what can I do better. I tend to struggle with the idea that one has to have a special celebration for this event, as I always find the hype does not live up to the expectation, and I am left with disappointment.

My best New Year’s celebrations have always been the unexpected. My favorite was a last-minute ski trip to Sugar Bowl where we scored a small room due to a cancellation. Our kids had the run of the lodge because the only way in was by gondola, and we could walk out the door to the lift.  To our surprise, they had night skiing, champagne and sparkling cider at the hut atop the hill. Then, at 11:30, those who wanted to participate did the torch run, and when all were safely down, the fireworks exploded! So as the clock hits midnight, we all turn the page and start looking forward to new adventures in 2017.

If you feel that you have to do something and have made no plans, but don’t want to venture all the way to San Francisco, take a look at a couple of local events taking place on New Year’s Eve:

  1. The Groove Doctors at San Ramon Marriott (8:30 p.m. for $77/ticket)
  2. Phantom of the Opera Masquerade at Nica Lounge in Concord (8:30 p.m. for $15-50/ticket)
  3. New Year’s Eve at Jack’s in Pleasant Hill (9:00 p.m. for $40/ticket)

Of course, you could always do something unexpected and maybe have the best New Year’s ever! No matter what you choose, I wish you a delightful evening and a prosperous 2017!