Inspiration Saturday: Beginning

From Seth Godin’s blog:

Beginning is underrated.

Merely beginning.

With inadequate preparation, because you will never be fully prepared.

With imperfect odds of success, because the odds are never perfect.

Begin. With the humility of someone who’s not sure, and the excitement of someone who knows that it’s possible.

American Kitchen in Lafayette is cute, cozy and comforting

A friend recently treated me to dinner at American Kitchen in Lafayette for my birthday. This was my first visit and I enjoyed the atmosphere, service and food. What I am most excited about is a having a new place for breakfast! Tucked in between Chow and some non-descript office buildings in downtown Lafayette, American Kitchen is a hidden gem among the other well-known restaurants and bars.

It is actually an 80-year-old converted farmhouse that is run by locals Victor Ivry and Sariah May. They emphasize American comfort food and use the freshest, healthiest, most local ingredients. The coolest part about the space itself isn’t necessarily the adorable indoor dining area. It’s their “front yard,” which has a fire pit, a patio and multiple seating areas. It gives off the vibe that you’re enjoying your meal at a homey picnic more than a restaurant, which I loved.

I had the Gingered Squash & Pear Soup and a small Autumn Chopped salad with chicken, along with a glass of champagne. I was so enjoying my dinner and conversation that I forgot to take pictures of the food, but there are enough of the venue to entice you to try American Kitchen. They also have “themed nights,” like burgers on Monday, “Breakfast for Dinner” on Tuesday, and grilled cheese on Sunday.

It is truly a family spot, with drawings from the kids posted at the front door and only beer and wine being served. Stop by American Kitchen and give it a try for breakfast, lunch or dinner – I would love to hear your review.

Overall, I give American Kitchen 4 out of 5 Mt. Diablo’s!

How to get your offer accepted in a crowded market

Our friends at JVM Lending shared a Redfin link recently that had a ton of great information on how to get an offer accepted. I currently have two homes on the market and the amount of offers on each are on opposite ends of the spectrum; I have one with 21 offers, and the other with 6. It’s funny to see that disparity between the two, and strategies to get an offer accepted and/or a house sold, can vary greatly because of it.

Here are some pro tips from the Redfin piece:

Nearly 1 in 4 (23.6%) homes that sold in 2017 went for over asking price, up from 21.8% in 2016. This means that buying a home has become more difficult and expensive in a hot, crowded market. You can’t simply offer the highest price and expect to be selected by the seller. Instead, try other strategies like offering all cash, waiving the inspection, or writing a personal cover letter to the homeowner. Above all, make sure you talk to your agent to create the right combination of strategies for the home you’re bidding on, or for the seller you’re trying to woo.

Here is some information from the Redfin article that breaks down data on thousands of offers written over the last two years, to see how effective these other strategies can be in improving a buyer’s chance at winning a bidding war:

Rank Strategy Improves a Competitive Offer’s Likelihood of Success by… Improves a Competitive Offer’s Likelihood of Success in the Luxury Market (Top 10% by List Price) by…
#1 All-Cash Offer 97% 438%
#2 Waived Financing Contingency 58% 76%
#3 Personal Cover Letter 52% No Significant Gain
#5 Pre-Inspection No Significant Gain No Significant Gain
#6 Waived Inspection Contingency No Significant Gain No Significant Gain

Cash is king, as you can see above. That’s because it allows for smooth, fast transactions without the hassle of loans or appraisals. If you don’t have the means to make an all-cash offer, you can always waive your financial contingency, which means you won’t have to wait for a loan approval. That will still increase your odds by 58%, according to Redfin! However, I find that the cash offers – especially if they are investors – will not be the highest price. On the home that had 21 offers, the key to the winning bid was who removed a portion of their appraisal contingency as the offer was so high we all knew it wouldn’t appraise, but that means the buyer has to have extra cash. That can be tough when it is an entry-level condo.

All this said, sometimes it just takes a personal touch to win over a seller. Writing a letter to the seller can be effective and increase your odds in a bidding war. Fortunately for most buyers, cash is not the only way into a seller’s heart.  Often these letters can forge a powerful connection between the buyer and seller, highlighting shared hobbies or interests, earning a seller’s compassion or trust, or ensuring that the home will be loved and cared for in the years to come.

So, whether you are offering all cash, waiving contingencies, writing a personal letter, or trying any number of other strategies to win the bidding war on the house of your dreams – especially in a saturated market like the Bay Area – always remember to consult your realtor first. He or she will have great insight into the market and what extra touches it might take to get the home, but at the end of the day the buyer has to be comfortble with the offer they are making!

Art Town: The beautification of Main St.

As Walnut Creek continues to rapidly evolve, with it goes the art scene. We try to feature cool public art pieces around Walnut Creek in this Saturday showcase. This week, we want to pay homage to the general beautification of Main St., especially all the colorful new planters!

As you can see, these really pop and make the sidewalks much more attractive. All the minor landscaping details and added colors have begun to give Walnut Creek’s remade downtown corners a lot more character. Instead of a sea of concrete and expensive shops, locals and visitors will be distracted by all the good-looking art!

That’s a good thing. I really appreciate that the city is making an effort to incorporate art into its downtown landscape. It seems very necessary! As long as there are beautiful flowers in beautiful planters along the sidewalk, it will feel pretty homey around here.

Pinky’s Pizza – still a Walnut Creek classic!

If you’ve lived in Walnut Creek long enough, you’ll remember Pinky’s Pizza and its old location across from the current Trader Joe’s. That was the place to go for pizza after swim meets, soccer games and school functions. When it shut its doors many years ago, it seemed like the next in a long line of Walnut Creek classics to be chased away by inflated costs.

via Groupon.com

Luckily, Pinky’s was spared. It re-opened a new location across from the Post Office in downtown Walnut Creek a few years ago. The pizza tastes exactly the same (some like it, some hate it…I am personally not a fan of the cheese, their own special blend), but they’ve come back with more TV’s, fewer arcade games and a revamped menu and bar.

For whatever you think of the pizza itself, you can’t beat the friendly staff and environment that has made Pinky’s a favorite among locals for decades. Nowadays, Pinky’s is actually a really cool place to watch sports, as they have enough seating inside and a little outdoor seating area as well. They make sandwiches, salads and wings now, too.

via Yelp.com

Pinky’s is definitely more grown-up now with the bar scenario and their awesome Happy Hour (Monday-Friday from 3-6 pm), but still caters to kids. Any kid 12 and younger can get a free ice cream, and there are still plenty of classic arcade games in the corner for them to play with.

Whether it’s the nostalgia, the service, the fact that Pinky’s has survived the Walnut Creek rent crisis, or the food itself, Pinky’s is still a downtown fixture. Hopefully, it’ll remain a place for after-Little League pizza and Warriors-watching for years to come (and provide a closer option than Rocco’s).

Client Appreciation Party

After sending out invites, speaking with past clients and those who have referred me, coordinating with the venue, and designing the event, I am happy to share some pictures of a fun day with my wonderful clients and friends. I also want to give a big shout-out to Prima Ristorante, where we enjoyed appetizers, wine tasting of old and new-world wines, great company and friendship all in the cozy space of their room with a fireplace.

Frank, our sommelier, did a wonderful job of introducing us to the nuances of French vs. California wines, and we finished with a blind tasting of a white and red. We had to guess if it was a French or California wine based on the taste. We also had a seasoned waiter who served us some amazing appetizers of  calamari, shrimp, antipasto platters, rice balls and deep friend olives – yum!

We also gave away some door prizes: two $50 gift cards to Whole Foods donated by Lukasz Wilk of Wolf Construction, a certificate for house cleaning donated by my stager Heather Farry, and two bottles of wine from Prima as part of the day’s event.

Many may think the job of a realtor only involves buying and selling homes with my clients. But being a guide, friend and advocate for my clients is actually the biggest part of the job and celebrating them is my favorite part! I look forward to seeing new and old faces at future events!

Open House Saturday 1-4 pm, Kirker Pass Rd. in Concord

Offers Due Monday 2/5 at noon!

Top 5 Housing Predictions for 2018

As the first month of the new year closes, we are starting to see the 2018 market take shape, and getting a clear look back at the 2017 year. Last year was a strong one for sellers – interest rates remained low, but are now rising, and refinancing plummeted. So, what’s next for 2018?

Take a look at the summaries of Summit Funding’s Top 5 Housing Predictions for 2018, with commentary from yours truly:

  1. A rise in cash-out refinance

Low-interest rates have fueled buying, kept inventory low, and likely even helped speed up housing recovery in Miami and Houston after their 2017 hurricanes. Interest rates will continue to rise in 2018, but not high enough to deter interested homebuyers. We should, however, keep an eye on a potential rise in cash-out refinance, as Americans’ home equity wealth is at an all-time high. We are also seeing the rise of all-cash purchases, a high rate of home purchase co-borrowers, and increased buying assistance from family. As home prices become even higher — and overvalued, according to CoreLogic — expect to see more parents cash out their home equity to help their adult children begin building their own housing wealth.

  1. Return to services

With higher home prices come great risks and more compromises for homebuyers, who will become ever more reliant on experienced and informed housing professionals to make buying and mortgage decisions. Mortgage rates will continue to become a commodity; homebuyers have access to rates on their devices and know mortgage brokers are quoting from the same rate sheets. As homebuyers evaluate their partners, they should look for realtors and mortgage professionals who offer value that protects the clients’ bottom line. Housing professionals who deliver this will be the ones who can truly stand out and have longevity in this crowded market. A great lender and agent can make all the difference in the world. Be careful you are comparing apples to apples when getting rate quotes, as it can’t be locked in until you get an accepted offer so lenders can you give varying rates as they know they will be different the day you get an offer accepted.

  1. Advancement in housing Fintech

Expect technology to continue to make breakthroughs in housing. The proliferation of information has made everyday consumers more demanding of progress and fairness, which is a good thing. They demand more competition for their business and stronger customer empowerment. New housing financial technology will not just be about faster search results or more photos, it will be expected to serve up more home buyer protection. In 2018, homebuyers will increasingly question why they could sell a home at a loss when realtors still collect their brokerage fees. When they see a pre-closing statement listing fee paid to protect their lenders, they would demand to see the calculation of risks and returns designed to protect their purchase. Getting ahead of these questions and demands will become table stakes in the advancement of housing financial technology.  This may be a ways off.  There is a lot of buyer protection now as a result of the downturn.

  1. Millennials may continue to prolong homeownership

Americans — including millennials — want to own homes; we knew this already. However, millennials may want other things in life more than homeownership, or they don’t want to be “house poor.” Affordability is definitely the top barrier to home buying, no doubt. However, there are increasing indications that millennials are not pulling out all the stops to buy a home even if they could afford one. In ValueInsured’s latest Modern Homebuyer Survey, 36% of millennials who want to buy a home say they are delaying buying in order to keep their options open. Nearly half (47%) of millennials also say they worry their job future is uncertain and want to figure that out first. Instead of paying high home prices, millennials have proven unafraid to give up buying and go back to renting. A generation known for defying conventions and expectations may change the housing market forever in 2018 if they say “enough” to high home prices and decide to do their own thing.

  1. The next Seattle or San Jose

In the future, scorching-hot real estate markets will give rise to more calm and cool emerging markets. Places like Provo, UT, Athens, OH and Aberdeen, SD may be hot spots in 2018. More Americans will telecommute to their jobs or shop from their devices instead of at malls. This is simply a fact of life. So, as real estate prices and commercial rents increase, more Asian fusion restaurants, CrossFit studios and organic micro-breweries will open in previously ‘B’ or ‘C’ designated counties. Once upon a time, Portland, OR and Chattanooga, TN were seen as hidden real estate gems, and now they are cities millennials are leaving behind in search of more affordable homes. Millennials’ tendencies to be nomadic and to reject established institutions (or markets), and their sophistication in forming their own community, could prove to be very interesting in challenging traditional housing cycles and expectations.

Stay tuned for December to see if these things panned out or were just a pie in the sky.

Walnut Creek Yacht Club: Better to be lucky!

For the record, it was me who was lucky in this situation! I had reserved a seat to Walnut Creek Yacht Club’s January lobsterfest but had to cancel when my son couldn’t get out of bed for lunch. Then, my friend Laura invited me with her reservation when a friend canceled.

This has been a yearly event that I have enjoyed many times. They used to charge the price of the year (i.e. $20.18), but this year they had to raise it to $25. If you’ve been to the Yacht Club before, you know that its cuisine is well-respected and the atmosphere is slightly upscale but inviting. “Lobster Month” is available for lunch or dinner, it includes 1.25 pounds of Maine Lobster either grilled or boiled, drawn butter, lemon, Regatta fries, and their WC Yacht Club coleslaw.

You do have to be a Loyalty Member (free!) to take part in the special deal, or even hear about them in their scuttlebutt newsletter and they can only accept in-restaurant reservations of 10 or fewer people, but it’s well worth it. One of the best-kept secrets in downtown Walnut Creek, especially since you have an entire MONTH to take advantage!

via wcyc.net

For this year, the lobster boil is almost over (unless you can snag a ticket last-minute for tomorrow), otherwise, you will have to wait until January 2019!

Road Trips: Bay Area Hikes with a bar at the end

John Solaegui, a realtor in San Francisco (ironically, I went to high school with his sister!), shared a blog about five Bay Area hikes that end with a reward – in this case, a drink! I know we typically talk about actual road trips here, but hiking is just as much a way of life in the Bay Area as driving, so we can make an exception this time around, plus you most likely will have to drive to the destination!

See below for a summary of the 5 in the initial blog, as well as two I’ve added myself!

Hike #1: Grape Stomp Trail (2.4 miles) in Sonoma

The best part of this hike is that you start AND end at Bartholomew Park Winery. So, if you lose motivation at the beginning, you can just sit down with a bottle and enjoy the sunshine anyway. But, for the purpose of respecting the hike, let’s talk about Grape Stomp Trail – it is a 2.4-mile loop that starts and finishes at the winery, just to the left of the tasting room. You can see views of San Pablo Bay and cross Arroyo Seco Creek twice. If you stay left on the You-Walk Miwok Trail, you can “summit” the trail at 640 ft.

Hike #2: Zinfandel Trail (2.9 miles) in Cupertino

A beautiful hike that starts from the southern end of Picchetti Winery’s parking lot and loops back a few miles later. The winery itself is a sight to behold – more than 100 years old, shaded by oak trees, and home to a brood of peacocks! On the hike, you’ll walk past wild roses, small ponds, and a creek. At the end, you’ll end your day with a nice glass of Picchetti’s famous red wine.

Hike #3: Dipsea Trail or Sun Trail (1.5-4 miles) in Mill Valley

You may have heard of this one. A hike through part of the Dipsea Trail in Mill Valley will take you to the Nature Friends Tourist Club. The German lodge, buried within the trees of Mt. Tam and erected in 1917, is a local favorite. But you either have to be a member, or plan your hike on a day that they open to non-members. You can hike straight from Panoramic Highway down the Sun Trail, or start in Mill Valley and climb all the steps for the first part of the Dipsea Trail to get there and enjoy some German lagers, food and music!

Hike #4: Muir Beach to Tennessee Valley Trail to Green Gulch Trail (9.7 miles) in Mill Valley

Wow, that’s a mouthful. But so is the meal and drink at the Pelican Inn when you arrive. If you’ve hiked the entirety of the Dipsea Trail, you’ve probably seen the Pelican Inn at some point. This is a little bit longer, more difficult route that will start you at Muir Beach, take you through the Tennessee Valley Trail (can’t-miss views of the ocean!) in Mill Valley, and eventually out onto the Green Gulch Trail. That will bring you back close to the Muir Beach parking lot, where you’ll be ready to gorge and splurge at the Inn.

Hike #5: Coastal Trail/Lands End Trail (3.3-6.6 miles) in San Francisco

Ah, a Bay Area classic! For being a big city, San Francisco has an enormous amount of beautiful, natural hiking spots within it. One of the best, and most popular, is the Lands End trail that gives you unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you take this trail down the coast, past the Sutro Baths, you’ll end up at one of the most iconic restaurants (with a surprisingly affordable bar), Cliff House. You can’t beat this one!

Now, for a few of my more local favorites…

Hike #6: Danville Fire Trail in Las Trampas 

Las Trampas Regional Wilderness towers over Danville on the West side of 680, and most people don’t seem to bother with it. There are so many hiking spots in the Bay Area (and the East Bay specifically), that it might not seem worth the trouble. But the Danville Fire Trail loops back onto itself, and spits you out just a few blocks from the cute downtown area of Danville, where you can do anything from grab a beer at any restaurant or taste wine at Auburn James.

Hike #7: Lafayette Reservoir Loop

No list like this would be complete without a local favorite like the Lafayette Reservoir. You can take your fur baby up for a short loop around the reservoir, or take a friend on the long loop for spectacular views of the East Bay. Once you’ve looped back to the start, tack on another half hour walk, or jump back in your car, to get to downtown Lafayette. Once there, you have no shortage of drink options, but I’d highly recommend Rustic Tavern, Chow, and The Cooperage.