Bored yet? Here are some fun coping ideas!

Well, this isn’t ideal! With COVID-19 spreading quickly around the country, Governor Gavin Newsom made a bold move to be the first state to shelter-in-place. I am respecting that order, as should everyone else; it is getting real out there. That said, many of us are not used to being home all the time and not interacting with others!

So, I’ve come up with some great ideas of ways you can still cope and have fun while social distancing! Please share any other ideas you have:

Get outside!

Find local trails with AllTrails, a fantastic app/company that tracks local hiking spots in most major areas. With typically good weather and so many miles and miles of trail in the Bay Area, this is a good time to get some fresh air and not go stir-crazy in your home all the time. Yes, going outside is allowed, just don’t congregate, as the state had to close our Parks due to the number of people that headed to the beach with our great weather this past weekend.

“Visit” 5 National Parks

If you can’t get outside for real, try going to Travel + Leisure and take virtual tours of National Parks in Hawaii, Alaska, Utah, New Mexico, and Florida! Maybe, when this is all over, you’ll remember that virtual tour and plan a trip to the real place. Unrelated to Travel + Leisure, you can also tour museums from home!

Join Club Quarantine

DJ D-Nice is holding virtual dance parties for people all over the globe from “Club Quarantine.” So far, special guest appearances have included Michelle Obama, Oprah, Ellen, and more. Good exercise and good times! Check it out here.

Visit virtual Aspen

There are a lot of beautiful places in this world that are inaccessible to visitors for the time being. Aspen, CO is one of the best, and luckily, the Aspen Chamber of Commerce has brought the town’s experience into our homes with digital resources.

Take a free online course from Yale on Happiness

When Dr. Laurie Santos, a professor of psychology at Yale University, started her “Psychology and the Good Life” course in 2018, she set out to give her students practical, science-backed information about how to be happy. To her surprise, nearly one in every four students signed up for the class, making it the most popular course in Yale’s history. Another option is to listen to some Ted Talks; there are many on happiness, this one from Malcolm Gladwell is a good listen.

Try some new recipes

I have a personal favorite – Willie’s Chile! The recipe is below! And, I just made my first sourdough loaf – thank you, Chris Morrison, for the starter – my neighbor dropped it on my doorstep. I suspect many are baking as the flour and sugar shelves have been bare at multiple stores. Today, my neighbor Dorothy just dropped off some homemade cookies – knock and run, baking is one way she relieves stress! There are so many great recipes to learn and master while cooped up for weeks that we should all emerge as five-star chefs, honestly. Please share your favorite recipe!

Willie’s Chile:
1. Brown 2 lbs lean hamburger meat
2. Add crazy salt to taste, a packet of Mexican spice or taco seasoning, 2 tsp chili powder, fresh minced veggies (bell peppers and hot peppers, 1 onion, grated zucchini)
3. Once mixed and brown, drain, and add A1 until the meat changes color
4. Add hot sauce to taste and 1 small can of tomato paste
5. Put into a crockpot, add 2 cans of tomato sauce, 3 cans of drained beans (your choice!), and chili powder and hot sauce to taste!

Read or listen to some new books

Remember that novel you’ve been wanting to finish for the past six months? Now’s your chance! You can also take a look at this Bestseller list from The New York Times for some fresh ideas, or Reese’s Book Club on Audible. One of my personal favorites for new ideas on books to read is Novel Visits. Speaking of Audible, they are allowing kids everywhere to stream stories in six different languages on any device as long as school is closed.

Take yoga classes…from home!

Just Be Yoga in Walnut Creek is offering their in-studio classes online. You can even stream them at a later day or time, so you don’t have to be available at the exact time they do the class. This is a huge boost for people who made yoga part of their normal workout routines before COVID-19. You do have to be a member, but they do have a trial for one month which costs $55.

Roam from Home

I got this great message from Xanterra: “We invite you to join us every day starting Monday, March 22nd as we “Roam from Home” and serve up a spectacular image from each of our brands on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter to share a moment of peace and splendor during this stressful time.” You can also go to xanterra.com, scroll down to the bottom and the have some wonderful travel articles or join their newsletter! I had a Northern Italy bike trip planned in September through VBT, part of Xanterra, which we just canceled; hoping to do it in 2021 – a quality travel company.

Subscribe to Lily Lines from The Washington Post

This is a great way to stay informed AND entertained. The Lily Lines offers helpful, but also humorous, anecdotes about COVID-19 and how to stay on top of your social distancing game. Here is the link to a recent one. You can subscribe at The Washington Post.

Grab Soup & Cocktail Fixins from Walnut Creek Yacht Club

 WCYC Soup Kitchen&Bottle Cocktail Service for pick up! Famous for their soups and chowders, they have turned their collective skills and creativity towards putting together soups and chowders for you to enjoy at home. These are available frozen by the quart, and your soup order will include two Acme bread rolls. Also famous for their cocktails! Bar Manager, Kiki, has created five DIY cocktails for you, which are ready for pick-up. The pick-up days and times for their soups and cocktails are Monday through Friday from 1-5 pm. They will be doing prepayment by credit card, so that you will be able to come by, pick-up your order, and go. Give them a call at 925-944-FISH to order. Pick-up is in their parking lot, behind the restaurant. The entrance is on the Locust St. side of the building. Please click on this link for our soup and cocktails menu.

Join the Facebook Group “Social Distancing Together”

Social media is a regular feature of our lives, but especially so now! Join the “Social Distancing Together” Facebook group to get support and ideas on how to make it through this crisis. I’ve gotten some awesome ideas from my fellow shelter-in-placers!

Subscribe to my Outbound Engine emails

This isn’t because I want more people to read them – it’s because these are automatically-curated and sent newsletters that often include tips about real estate and home improvement. This is a great time to fix up the house and take care of projects you’ve been putting off!

Tender Greens does away with cash

Technology is advancing everyday things in our daily lives. As you’ve probably experienced plenty of times by now, you can simply swipe your card straight on a register’s iPad and have the receipt emailed to you. Tender Greens in Walnut Creek is taking things even further.

They have a sign when you walk in declaring that they are “cashless” now. They accept all major credit and debit cards, and have an app that makes everything super easy and streamlined. To me, that is a dangerous move since they are eliminating an entire form of payment. I don’t always use cash (rarely, in fact), but it’s nice to have that choice. And this move has totally backfired for other restaurants recently.

As the link above mentions, the wait can be even longer, and it becomes very inconvenient for anyone with cash on them and being surprised by the new policy. Additionally, there’s the aspect of losing the human element. Also, doesn’t that kind of ruin tipping for their staff? Sure, you can tip on a receipt, but just having a tip jar out at the counter probably invites people to throw a couple extra bucks in there after ordering. Besides the move to cashless, Tender Greens also updated their logo and menu.

I went there recently and tried the salmon with a side salad and roasted cauliflower. Like usual, the food was great! I enjoy the freshness of the food they provide and the menu is right up my alley. However, I’d still like to be able to pay with any petty cash I may have on me at the time. Hopefully this strategy works out for them, and they don’t have to issue a mea culpa like Shake Shack.

Don’t miss the Parkmead Garden Tour this Sunday!

My Parkmead neighborhood, in Walnut Creek, is hosting a Garden Tour this Sunday. Come by and check it out if you have a chance!

Get to know the Parkmead neighborhood and learn about the local flora and fauna that thrive in our Mediterranean climate. We have 8 gardens participating this year!

Here are the details:

  • Sun, Apr 30
  • 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
  • Maps available at 1701 Lilac Drive
    As listed above, you can pick up your Garden Tour map at 1701 Lilac Dr., anytime between 1 pm and 4 pm on Sunday, April 30th. 
We will feature a garden designed by our very own resident landscape designer, Janet Cohen and one with Admirals Choice discussing irrigation, drought resistant plants and sprinklers that can be controlled by your phone.  Plus the non-profit Sustainable Contra Costa, will have information on raising chickens at home and sustainable gardening tips. They will also have a “sheet mulching” demonstration and composting discussion! Additionally, we will be sharing some info on beekeeping at home and composting.
For more information please visit our website: http://www.parkmead.org/Home_Page.html or contact events@parkmead.org. Can’t wait to see you there!

P.S. We will also be accepting donations to finish the walking path that takes you to Parkmead Elementary School. It has many potholes and when it rains, many puddles. Thus students, dog walkers and neighbors divert them by walking into the street!

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Tips for preparing to buy a home

It takes a lot of preparation to buy a home. I know, I know, thank you Captain Obvious, right? But if you’re going to be searching for a home in 2017, I want you to be ready for what is headed your way!

credit score

From our friends at Bank of the West, here is a list of great tips for preparing yourself to buy a home. See my summary below:

1. Fix Your Credit

Your credit is one of the first things a lender will look at when approving you for a mortgage loan. You can get a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion at annualcreditreport.com. Make sure to check for mistakes and file a dispute with the business in question, as well as the credit agency, if you find any inaccuracies. They must investigate within 30-45 days.

2. Maintain Your Credit Score

Your FICO score is the most common number used by mortgage lenders to rate your creditworthiness. You can get your credit report with a FICO score for free, or for a small fee. Anything above a 740 FICO score will help you secure better interest rates. If your score is lower, you may still qualify for a mortgage, just with a higher interest rate attached. Your first instinct may be to find ways to boost that credit score. Here are two things NOT to do:

– Don’t close lines of credit – it may indicate credit risk and actually hurt your score

– Don’t open new lines of credit – the uncertainty of your spending habits with a new card might indicate risk and cause your score to tick up

mortgage2

3. Get a Big Down Payment

You’ll get a better interest rate on a mortgage if you have a larger down payment because lenders will think you’re less likely to default on your loan. Aim for a down payment of at least 20 percent of the selling price. This will also protect you from paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects lenders if you default on a loan.

4. Get Pre-Approved

Meet with a mortgage specialist before you start shopping. They can help you determine an accurate budget and decide what kind of home you can realistically afford. Get a pre-approval letter and add it to a good credit report, income verification and a maximum allowable loan, and home sellers will take you most seriously among the suitors.

5. Keep Track of Your Money

You’ll have lots of documents, bank statements, etc. during the pre-approval and underwriting processes. These will be examined closely to verify income and expenses. If your records show unusual activity, you’ll be asked to explain it and you’ll have to jump that hurdle before continuing the approval process.

If you need a recommendation for outstanding mortgage brokers.  I have a few that I highly regard.

 

Does your front door impact your curb appeal?

front-door-1Yes, it does! When it comes to your front door, big decisions must be made. I’ve seen some of the prettiest houses ruined by the ugliest paint jobs on front doors.

For example, unless the rest of your house can really pull it off, please don’t paint your front door bright, neon pink!

From merging classic colors to considering nature tones and your home’s immediate surroundings, there are a lot more factors to consider than one would think when painting a front door.

When all is said and done, a good paint job can really tie a house together visually.

Check out Better Homes and Gardens’ guide to the “do’s and don’ts” of painting your front door.  I think you’ll find these tips helpful. I know I did, though my front door is in need or repair and really needs to be moved back to it’s original spot – remodeling is on the horizon!

You can also check out this free guide on how to paint your front door right here!

How to Ensure a Smooth Home Purchase

5 steps 3If you’re planning on purchasing a home this year, you’ll will want a transaction as smooth as possible. That’s what us agents are for! We want to help you find the perfect home and then ensure the process becomes as pain-free as possible.  You don’t realize how important this is until you have the transaction from Hell!

Taken from a Better Homes and Garden’s article and repurposed with some of my insights, here are five tips for a smooth home purchase:

Tip 1: Communicate with Your Agent

You spend a lot of time with your agent in a finite window, so, you should work with a real estate agent you are comfortable with. They should be straight up and express everything you want and need in your new home. By communicating your desires from the beginning, your agent won’t waste time showing you homes that don’t fit your criteria. If you know you want an updated kitchen or two baths, make that clear. It is also a process; sometimes what you want and what your budget can afford creates a discovery process, but when it comes to finding that perfect home, clear communication is key. And if you run into any problems along the way, be sure to speak with your agent to iron out any issues.

Tip 2: Be Reasonable with Expectations

If you’re searching for a three-bedroom home located in a certain neighborhood that has the right schools, and your agent shows you a property with a color you don’t like that only has 1.5 baths, don’t simply write off the home. When searching for the home of your dreams, you may have to give something up or make some changes once you move in. No home will be perfect and, again, it is a process to find that out.

Tip 3: Don’t be Discouraged

Don’t expect to find your dream home overnight. Buyers often get frustrated because nothing pops up in their price range for two weeks or they have written five offers and none of them were accepted, but remember, it is a process. And, this is the Bay Area! 5 steps 2Buyers usually course correct, change their expectations, get a quick education on the market and – voila! – the universe unfolds, the right house pops up and your offer is accepted! Woo-hoo! Now the rubber hits the road and you are in contract!

Tip 4: Play the Money Game

If you offer $375,000 on a home that’s listed at $400,000 and the seller refuses to budge, be prepared to negotiate. Wait!!! This is the Bay Area! When you offer $650,000 on a home listed for $620,000 and you are one of nine offers, you need to have some wiggle room for a counter offer. Before making an offer, discuss your strategy with your agent as he or she will be able to tell you whether your offer is fair or not. It’s also important to check out comps in the neighborhood so that you can make a reasonable offer from the get-go. Don’t forget how important a good lender is and the reputation they have with other agents. This may make the difference in your offer getting accepted over the other eight.

Tip 5: Get Your Mortgage Pre-Approved

This could be the smartest thing you do all year. By having a mortgage approved before you even begin looking at houses, you’ll be ready to make an offer as soon as you find the home of your dreams. Not all lenders are equal, and a good lender may give you the upper hand over other buyers who may be interested in the same house. Can they closer faster than 30 days? Do they get all the paperwork upfront and desktop underwrite you so there are no surprises? Are they responsive to your calls?

If you have any interest in purchasing a home this summer, and are looking for an agent who can guide you through the process smoothly, I am at your service and I have a great lender or two to refer!

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.