Donations to Paradise

As mentioned in my blog on Tuesday, the proceeds and donations from my Love You A Latte event went straight to the fire victims in Paradise, CA. In addition, I posted that we were taking up donations on NextDoor, and many people went out of their way to donate items there. Last Sunday, we drove everything up to Paradise and the weather cooperated with blue skies. We knew the fire was devastating, but we were still shocked to see what kind of shape the town is still in and the needs of the people who lived there.

I want to say thank you one more time to everyone who contributed. We had three trucks full of donations; from tents, to pillows, boots, sleeping bags, food, and water. It was really an impressive showing of community support and appreciated by the folks of Paradise! Kathy, who was the inspiration for helping Paradise, also had two tables to donate and coordinated on the Facebook page “Paradise Fire Adopt a Family” with a family who indicated they would take them, prior to our drive up. They met us at the last ongoing facility that is still providing items to Paradise.

The Magalia Community Church has provided their parking lot to set up two tents: one for needed supplies, food, and clothing, and the other to serve food. In addition, they allow the use of their kitchen to serve meals in the other tent. We also volunteered our time helping unload bags and organizing some of the items. The biggest project was the shoes – they had been sorted through and in different locations, many were single shoes, so we dumped all the boxes and sorted them into pairs by men, women, and children. We ended up throwing a bag of single shoes out along with some very worn out pairs.

I also would like to give a big shout out to Noah’s Bagels for their donation of bagels – whatever was left over on Saturday before they closed, were donated and served for breakfast on Monday. The other giving business was 54 Mint on Locust who made fresh loaves of bread early Sunday morning. Those loaves were gone from the community store before we left. A reminder, that there is still a great need that won’t go away soon. If you really want to help, check out the Facebook site and it could be as simple as sending a birthday card to someone!

Cinemark Movie Club prices are now the same as Costco’s, but better!

As with anything in Walnut Creek, prices to see a movie have skyrocketed in recent years. Going to Cinemark to catch a flick used to be a relaxing treat. Now, after tickets, popcorn, a drink, and parking downtown (if the lot is full), you’re looking at a solid $50 outing. Unless you went to Costco and got the movie passes which used to be about $7.50 a ticket, and has steadily increased in price over the years. The new price is $17.99 for two which gets me to point of this blog.

With the remodel of the new Lux seating in the theaters, you now have to plan way ahead and reserve your seat if you want to sit next to the person you are going to the movies with. The Costco tickets do not allow you to reserve online; you either have to go ahead of time to buy the tickets or be hopeful there are a couple of seats together. With the Movie Pass on the verge of non-existence (they are trying to rebound with unlimited movies every month), the best deal going is the Cinemark Movie Pass.

It automatically bills you every month for one ticket at $8.99, but you can buy more tickets for the same price and then you get 20 percent off your concessions and can earn points for more discounts. Plus, you can then reserve your seat online, which waives any fees. This is now a slightly better offer than what you can get at Costco. Oscars are just around the corner and it always my favorite time of year to catch up on the movies nominated. Just don’t make the mistake I made when booking the Favourite. I accidentally got the movies for Thursday night when I was going on Friday. Note my surprise when I no longer had tickets. I still had the email receipt and the manager was kind enough to print 2 ticket for Friday!

If you don’t mind going on a Tuesday, it is $6 all day in Walnut Creek and $5.75 in Pleasant Hill. What a great deal, but for those of us who work and have families, fitting that day and time in can be a challenge.

Remember back in the day, how Festival Cinema 5 was the downtown theater to go to? Those of us who have lived in Walnut Creek for a while will remember! It was opened in 1969 and expanded to five screens (wow! LOL) in 1971. It was closed and demolished in 2001, and now Momo’s stands on its corner. Check out this old picture:

Movie-going in Walnut Creek (and in general) sure has changed over the years, but it’s hard to complain about the quality of theater and film we get nowadays! Just curious to know, how many of my readers enjoy going to the movies by themselves? I have done this a few times and actually don’t mind it!

Road Trip: Fifty Fifty Brewery in Truckee

As you well know by now, I love to go up to Truckee and Tahoe to ski in the winters. Especially when we have snow like we have this winter! But there are a lot of other places to check out that are off the mountain.

For example, there’s Fifty-Fifty Brewery in Truckee. It’s bound to be packed these days since everyone should be going up to take advantage of all the snow we’ve been getting. I recently was recommended to try it out on a stay at Northstar with my son and a family friend, who are in these photos with me.

My son got an Eclipse which is a whiskey Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout that was over 11% and cost a whopping $22 for a big bottle (he purchased one after the glass I bought), ohhh but it was really smooth and tasty! They also have burgers and other food there, and it’s a really great place to stop on your way home from skiing or to enjoy while staying at Squaw or Northstar.

It has a cozy atmosphere with twinkle lights tucked off the main road in Old Town Truckee at 1197 Brockway Rd. It gives another option for an quick meal and a good beer other than Bar America or some of the more touristy places on the main street of Old Town Truckee! Enjoy!

Congrats on the closing!

I met Lisa and Grant in the middle of November and by the middle of January, we closed on their new home. They lived in Daly City, work in San Francisco and just had a baby and decided it was time to buy a house – the East Bay is more affordable than the city or the Oakland area.

They were initially not in a hurry, but were very active right out of the gate; then I found out that it made sense for them to purchase before Lisa’s maternity leave was over in February, thus a couple of weeks later we were in contract! There was one other offer, we got a Seller Multiple Counter and in the end their offer was accepted.

After all the inspections were completed, they received a credit and a slight price reduction because of a couple of unfinished portions of a recent remodel job. I have to give a big shout-out to Tobi, the Escrow Officer at Fidelity, on this transaction. She went above and beyond to work through a title issue. Overall, the process was smooth, JVM (the lender) was on point, and they got the house before Lisa goes back to work.

They now are in the process of doing some repairs prior to moving in and putting their personal touches on the home. They were so excited! I wish them many wonderful memories and happiness.

Why I only refer clients to lenders I trust!

I won’t be pasting the entirety of Jay Vorhees of JVM Lending’s blog about this here. I’ll just hit the major points. But this is a perfect example of why I only refer clients to lenders I trust. Read on:

Last week, a borrower came to us to discuss her refinancing because she had lost trust with the lender she was working with (America’s largest non-bank lender). She was trying to refinance the house she lived in but it was owned by her Dad and she was not on the title, so a refinancing was impossible.

In any case, she was trying to refinance the house she lived in but it was owned by her Dad and she was not on title.  So a refi was impossible – something the other loan officer failed to comprehend – and it had to be structured as a purchase.

Further complicating things was a “gift of equity” down payment, the need for “cash out” for improvements, and the need to avoid capital gains taxes for the seller – all issues that the other loan officer had zero understanding of.

In any case, one of our Mortgage Analysts quickly figured out how to structure the loan and then re-locked the same borrower with the same lender via our correspondent relationship but at a 1/2 percent lower rate. 

I share this story not to make JVM the hero but to once again warn buyers away from the big call center mortgage companies. The call centers stuff bodies into cubicles to do nothing but sell.

Those “bodies” often do not have the skill to close transactions when there is even a small amount of complexity, and…their rates are way higher to boot.  

That’s Jay’s horror story about call centers. It does a great job of explaining why I prefer to refer specific lenders I know who will always get the job done. It creates a smoother process for everyone that way. Most banks or Quickens of the world don’t fully underwrite upfront; it requires a lot of paperwork initially, but it creates a very smooth process to closing. This way the buyers are aware of any potential issues before you ever write an offer. They also don’t tell you that once you are in contract, you are handed off to loan processor who you have never spoken with and many loan agents are on to the next approval and are no longer in the immediate loop. Communication often falls apart at this point. Your loan officer may be local, but the processor could be in a different state.

I currently have a new home buyer who is shopping three different lenders looking for the best rate. With two of them, I expect possible delays and a questionable overall experience for my buyers. One is fantastic, but a first-time home-buyer doesn’t understand those nuances far outweigh an eighth of a point difference in an interest rate. Hopefully whoever they choose will do right by them and it will be smooth sailing.

I just closed on a house (blog to come on Thursday). When we first met, they were talking to one of the largest non-bank lenders. I recommended they speak to JVM and just compare the experience and decide who they would like to work with. They closed with JVM and when I handed them the keys, they remarked at how smooth the overall process was for them and when compared to their friends who recently purchased and had a loan with one of the big banks, they said their lending experience was horrible.

Did you know you can get raw, affordable dog food delivered to Walnut Creek?

Okay, I have two secrets to tell you. First, this is a repeat of a blog I posted more than three years ago on this very same site. I know, I know, but it’s because I feel like this information needs to be recycled once in a while. A service this great needs to be showed off to my readers new and old!

Secret number two is the service itself! Creston Valley Meats is essentially a traveling butcher in that they come up to NorCal from the SLO area every couple of weeks with a white freezer van full of dog food deliveries, park in the Rudgear Park and Ride, and wait for clients to come to meet them!

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Creston Valley Meats logo 2

Creston Valley offers raw diet options for dogs and humans (with a specialty in wild game!). They post real-time delivery updates on Twitter, and they’ll call or text you about 30 minutes before arrival. It’s a really smooth, awesome service, and Bodie LOVES his Creston Valley food!

CrestonValleyMeats Pics

I joke that it’s my canine drug deal, as they open the back of their van, say your name, and hand you a box in exchange for a check. It must look hilarious from an outsider’s perspective! For Bodie, I get a combo patty of chicken and banana or pork and anchovies. You can also get 20 buffalo bones for $10!

I just mix two patties with Honest Kitchen Base Mix and top it off with yogurt or cottage cheese (whole fat).  Yes, my dog eats better than me.

This last time when I went to pick up the food, I saw some very interesting “art” at Rudgear Park & Ride, some teenagers must have left behind. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? LOL!

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.