Trail running in the Bay Area

This past Sunday, tons of people showed up at Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland to voluntarily run. For fun. At 7:00 a.m. on a weekend.

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Courtesy CoastalTrailRuns.com.

I don’t know why, but running for fun seems to be a thing here in the Bay Area. Give me an hour walking my dog or a light jog for exercise purposes all day, but full-on running for enjoyment? Yikes.

Anyway, as someone who passes along lifestyle options in the East Bay, I feel obligated to stop joking around and share this awfully cool organization with you! It’s called Coastal Trail Runs, and they just hosted the aforementioned Cinderella Run in Oakland.

There was a marathon, half-marathon, kids run, 5-mile run, and more. On Sunday, August 27th, they will be hosting another one on Mt. Diablo. This will consist of similar distances, and like most of the Coastal Trail Runs events, will get each runner a t-shirt and medal, and award the fastest finishers in each gender and age group separately.

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The Coastal Trail Runs group’s mission is to share trail running around the coast of California, and many of their events take place in the Bay Area. Though unaffiliated, their organization also brings to mind The Dipsea Run in Mill Valley that traverses the popular hiking trail to Stinson Beach.

Coastal Trail Runs organized more than 400 races in the past 16 years, and according to their website, about 25 percent of runners in a given race are first-timers. And they do have options for flatter, slower runs called “Zoom” and “Zombie.”

Almost makes me want to give running for fun a shot! Almost…

Tax returns and your loan approval!

Our friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending came up with another relatable blog recently: Tax Transcripts and 4506-T forms. It generally explains how those forms work, and reminded me of an experience of my own. First, a summary of Jay’s blog:

Every time a lender gets a loan from a borrower, they also have to get the last two years of tax returns. This is why borrowers sign IRS Form 4506-T as part of their disclosures. It formally authorizes lenders to request tax transcripts, which then show the filer’s status and income information.

Lenders are required to request transcripts from the IRS before a borrower can (borrowers can only request them directly if the IRS reject’s a lender’s request). If there is a minor error between the 4506-T and the tax return, this rejection may occur, so it happens pretty often.

That covers the basics of how the 4506-T form works and the role it plays in a real estate transaction. It’s a more subtle part of the process, but can cause huge headaches when done incorrectly. Take, for example, my experience with a property at Madeira in Pleasant Hill last year.

I represented the seller, and the buyer had their lender in Oakland, with a Bank out of L.A. Unbeknownst to us, the bank was being bought out and the new bank was called Bank of Hope – yes, really. But it turned out to be the Bank of Hopelessness.

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Processes changed, the lender in Oakland was let go and nobody knew what they were doing. Communication was terrible. One of the balls that got dropped was getting the tax returns. We closed almost two weeks late and the only way this ended up closing at all is by the processor who I had been speaking with regarding other issues. They actually went down to the IRS office and got the tax returns. She went beyond what is required (and probably got tired of our phone calls), but my seller is an attorney and also made multiple phone calls as they had already purchased a new home that was about to close.

This is one of the best reasons to get fully underwritten before you start to write offers. If all the documentation is in upfront, there won’t be any surprises or delays once you get into contract. Selecting the right lender can be the difference between smooth sailing and dark nightmares.

Don’t get delayed flying in and out of the Bay Area

According to Travel + Leisure, only 71.82% of flights in and out of SFO are on-time. That’s the worst rate in the entire country. Yikes!

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I try to travel to and from Oakland as much as possible, which is more convenient from the East Bay anyway, but they also experience fewer delays. The BART ride from Walnut Creek to Oakland isn’t bad, especially now that they have the little connection from the Coliseum station straight to the airport. And it’s definitely quicker than going to SFO on BART! I also have a great driver that is more reasonable than Uber who is on time and a pleasure to drive with. E-mail or call me if you want his name and number.

Another great trick was getting my Known Travelers ID, which gives me TSA Pre-Check so I don’t have to take off my shoes in security and I can cut to a shorter line for my screening. It’s well worth the effort and $85 to get if you can!

Obviously, the big holiday season is over, and you might not be traveling as much now, but this is still good to know. As nice an airport as SFO might be, flying in and out of it can cause all sorts of headaches.

East Bay housing market is shifting

housing-marketLately, we’ve started to see a “shift” in the Walnut Creek-area housing market. Price appreciation growth has slowed and we are now seeing more price reductions. Home price appreciation has generally declined to single-digit annual appreciation with estimates in the next year of 3-5 percent.

In the 24/680 corridor, homes are sitting on the market longer than they did in the Spring (20-26 days, as compared to 15-20 days). I am receiving 1-3 offers  with a final sales price of 4 percent over the asking price on most of my listings.

The Federal Reserve Bank will not increase interest rates this month. Currently, the best mortgage interest rate for a 30-year fixed rate is approximately 3.5 percent. In the big picture, global growth concerns remain the driving force behind the long-term trend toward lower rates.

Kitty Cole, who coaches many Bay Area agents, has noticed two distinct Bay Area markets. Many of them are side by side. Check out her insights:

Some of the market (still a seller’s market) is hot, with low DOM’s, high Sales Price to List Price ratios, low inventory, no contingencies, multiple offers and buyers aplenty. This market is going on in Oakland, Berkeley and surrounding cities.

It looks similar to the last 4 1/2 years. The only thing that is quite different is the number of offers that was 10-25 a few months ago, and is now 2-6 (and occasionally higher). This market requires savvy pricing and negotiating to get your seller the highest price. san-francisco

The other part of the market (a buyer’s market) has slowed with these factors in place: price reductions (up to 10 percent, and sometimes two before it brings an offer), contingent offers (contingent upon the sale of another property), high DOM’s, few offers (sometimes only one!), expired listings, cranky sellers and demanding buyers (because they can be!).

In the city, one client whose specialty is high-rise condos, literally slowed overnight and now the DOM’s for her listings are more than 30 days. Another San Francisco agent has had three listings expire in the past three months. One agent in the East Bay (Pleasant Hill) is stymied by her listings that sold within seven days and are now sitting for weeks. Many newer agents are not prepared to have the “I need a price adjustment to sell your property” conversation.  In three months, it will be different … how, I don’t know, wished I had that elusive crystal ball.

Art Town: Geologica

If you’re strolling down North Main in Walnut Creek, you might wander right past a really cool piece of art. Surely, you recognize Geologica, the glittering half-rock fountain piece in front of Wells Fargo. But have you taken the time to actually look at it?

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The piece, created by husband and wife artist team Wowhaus, was created in 2012 using ceramic and glass tiles. They designed it to change with the light, weather and seasons so that every time you walk by it, the look is slightly altered. You’re never supposed to see the same thing twice!

The mosaic patterns flicker and change in the water. Wowhaus likes to play with narrative to help understand the communities we live in, and puts that into their work as well. Other pieces they’ve done reside in places like Emeryville, Oakland and San Francisco. They have another piece coming to Walnut Creek soon!

Give it an extra look next time you’re downtown and maybe you’ll notice that it’s different from every angle.

 

The story behind Civic Park’s “Hand of Peace”

FullSizeRender (4)We continue our tour of Walnut Creek’s public art scene with one of the more recognizable sculptures in the city: “Hand of Peace,” located just outside the library in Civic Park. The aptly-named sculpture is a monument to peace by Italian-born artist Beniamino Bufano, who passed away in 1970.

Legend has it that Bufano cut off his trigger finger and sent it to President Woodrow Wilson to protest World War I. He was a peace activist who taught at the San Francisco Institute of Art, UC Berkeley and Oakland’s California College of Arts and Crafts, according to a 2012 San Jose Mercury News story. Bufano has other prominent pieces in the Bay Area, including a sculpture in Chinatown, one at Mondavi Vineyards in Napa, and one at Lake Merced.

According to the San Jose Mercury News article, Bufano originally created the “Hand of Peace” for the San Francisco Arts Commission, but when the piece was put up for sale, developer Bill Swigert paid $50,000 to place the sculpture in Walnut Creek, outbidding Fox Plaza and Ghirardelli Square.

The sculpture sat in an office park in Walnut Creek from 1967 to 2009, when it was taken down for restoration. Now, it’s up for display for many years to come in Civic Park. The sculpture weighs nearly 5 tons, stands 30 feet tall, and is made of copper, mosaic and stained glass.

Oh, and it’s a PokeStop, by the way…

Walnut Creek starting to rock the foodie scene

IMG_9049Do you smell that? It must be the eclectic mix of fresh, local dishes and fancy San Francisco-transplanted restaurants that dot the little town of Walnut Creek. It’s no secret anymore: Walnut Creek has become a foodie haven.

In fact, earlier this year, Livability.com ranked Walnut Creek as the 10th-best foodie city, based on the residents preferring independent and locally-owned restaurants over fast food chains (that might explain the disappearance of McDonald’s and Taco Bell over the last few months!).

Also getting a shout-out was The Art and Wine Festival, which draws thousands of visitors every year. From highly-rated stops like Walnut Creek Yacht Club, to the neverending list of new restaurants popping up, Walnut Creek has put itself on the radar among the best food cities in the country.

Is it any wonder that Walnut Creek is getting so much attention for its culinary game when places like Teleferic, Rooftop and Slice House can all pop up within a few months in the same building? A building that is next door to long-time favorites like Tomatina and La Fogata? Just down the block from hip dessert shops like Kara’s Cupcakes and Cream?IMG_9045

Walnut Creek has become an extension of the nearby food meccas of Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco.

It has become the crown jewel for tourists craving good eats in the East Bay. It may not have any restaurants listed in the Yelp Top 100 nationwide, but the Bay Area has a ton.

So if you are looking to expand your epicurean tastes, check out Open Table top 10 Diners’ Choice Winners for the greater Bay Area. We are so lucky to live in this beautiful place and taste the bounty of menus it has to offer.

East Bay Booze Boom!

The Bay area is leading the nation in innovation, and not just in the tech sector. A new industry on the rise in the East Bay is the alcoholic beverage market!

75e4cb_70530afefa2c4ac597c7198da59bd280With the craft brewing industry on the rise, many local entrepreneurs have hopped (get it?) on the bandwagon, starting many new breweries in Oakland, San Francisco, and even Concord! Many of these East Bay brewers are really pushing the envelope by making unusual beers, like sours, rare varietals, and other creative concoctions.

One such brewery in the sour beer market is Rare Barrel in Berkeley. They go the extra mile by aging their beer in oak barrels for about a year to develop the lovely tart flavors in their brews. Some other notable East Bay breweries are Linden Street Brewery and Pacific Coast Brewery in Oakland, Jupiter and Pyramid Brewery in Berkeley, and EJ Phair in Concord. Don’t sleep on 21st Amendment Brewery, famous for their Hell or High Watermelon beer, which just opened a huge new brewery in San Leandro. Or the popular Calicraft Brewing Co. based right here in Walnut Creek which is my favorite; I love their Buzzerkeley champagne beer.

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Beer is not the only game in town, however. The wine and liquor industries in the area have also been growing in popularity. St. George Sprits in Alameda has become well-known for their brand, and Hangar One vodka is named after the old World War II-era hangar where the distillery is based. Although they recently sold the brand to be produced next door, the distillery is excited to have more space to focus on new experiments in distillation. Some of their more creative liquors include Green Chili Vodka, Absinthe Verde (I know this one from personal experience and it was not a good one), Agricole Rum, and several Fruit Brandies. They have a great guided tour for $15, which includes a tasting of six spirits! They even have a small outdoor seating area where you can hang out with a drink after your tour and check out the San Francisco skyline from the other side of the Bay.

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Many wineries have also begun to spring up throughout the East Bay. Although this may seem like a new development, the East Bay, especially the Walnut Creek area, was actually one of the main wine-grape growing regions until prohibition in 1920. One such winery making a revival in the area is Urban Legend Cellars in Oakland. They source grapes from other local regions, and use various blending and oaking techniques to produce unique and delicious wines.

Walnut Creek has also been put back on the map with Shadowbrook Winery. This vineyard grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah, right on the foothills of Mount Diablo. Mark Lavezzoli, the Winemaker there, combines traditional and innovative techniques to create some very tasty vino. The entire team there is very excited about Walnut Creek’s potential to produce a first-class wine.

With so many great beverages to try right here in the East Bay, it’s hard to find a reason to leave and another great reason to own a home in this amazing area.

Have you been to any of these places? Please share your thoughts – we would love to hear from you!