Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sweets for the Holidays

It's always fun to indulge in a few extra sweets during the holiday season, so I'm including a recipe for a delectable Eggnog Fudge! I hope that you and your family will enjoy this recipe, and I wish you all a day that is overflowing with love, mercy and hope.

Eggnog Fudge

1/8 cup butter, chilled
3 cups sugar
1 cup eggnog
6 ounces white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cup mini-marshmallows
1 cup almonds, chopped
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Line a 9" x 9" cake pan with aluminum foil (set aside). Spray the sides of a large saucepan with a non-stick spray and add the eggnog and sugar, and bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat - stir constantly! Boil for two full minutes.

Fold in the marshmallows, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Bring back to a rolling boil for another 6 minutes, stirring constantly. The mixture will start to turn brown, which is normal, but if you see brown flakes in the mixture, simply turn down the heat a little.

Remove from heat and add the butter, chips, and nuts. Stir until thoroughly mixed or until the mixture starts to lose its glossy appearance. Pour into prepared pan. Cool at room temperature. Remove from pan, remove foil, cut into 1-inch squares. Enjoy!

Enjoy & Seasons Greetings!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

San Leandro Adopts Climate Action Plan

The San Leandro City Council adopted a Climate Action Plan (CAP) at their meeting on Monday (Dec. 21).

In response to significant input from Bay East members the Council removed the Residential Energy Conservation Ordinance (RECO) that was part of the original version of the CAP. The RECO was replaced with several alternatives that included incentives and financial assistance for property owners to perform energy efficiency upgrades. Unfortunately, a point-of-sale requirement was included as an option in the future. On a brighter note, the council directed staff to include REALTORS® in the implementation of the CAP.

The city council action on this item, while not a complete victory for REALTORS® and property owners, shows that our voice was heard in city hall. Special thanks to those Bay East members who sent e-mails, made phone calls, met with city council members and testified at the meeting.

Monday, December 21, 2009

More Issues for the REALTOR@ Radar Screen

Government involvement in real estate and property rights issues isn't taking a break for the holidays. During the last few days, the following issues have popped up that we'll be tracking:

Historic Preservation Ordinances: The cities of Hayward and Livermore are both preparing historic preservation ordinances, which could directly impact private property rights and property values. Last year, Bay East REALTORS® successfully fought a historic preservation ordinance proposed by Alameda County. We'll be watching both of these cities to ensure their ordinances don't negatively impact property values or property rights.

Development Moratorium in Cherryland: Several environmental activists are urging the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to enact a building moratorium in Cherryland. Additionally, they are asking all currently vacant parcels be developed as park land. Members of the Bay East Local Government Relations Council and Bay East staff will be working with Alameda County officials and the Board of Supervisors to ensure private property rights are protected.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Conforming Loan Limits Extended

Late last week President Obama signed a continuing resolution that, among other things, extended the $729,750 FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac conforming loan limits through December 31, 2010.

Maintaining the $729,750 limit makes home ownership more affordable for thousands of home buyers because borrowers do not have to pay the higher interest rates typically associated with "jumbo" non-conforming loans.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Halloween Safety

Halloween is fun. Candy corn, kids in costumes and carved pumpkins set the scene. Follow these simple tips provided by the Home Safety Council to make sure your Cinderella or Frankenstein does not get spooked by holiday dangers:

~ Make sure walkways and porches are well lighted to help prevent falls.
~ Make sure your lawn is clear of things that could be tripped over, such as pumpkins, ladders, garden hoses, flowerpots, bikes and animal leashes.
~ Do not overload electrical outlets with holiday lighting or special effects.
~ Keep all exit doors clear.

Have a happy and safe Halloween.

Tax Credit Extension Update

The National Association of REALTORS is stepping up pressure on Congress to extend the $8,000 home buyer tax credit. Their strategy includes a nation-wide call-for-action which more than 450,000 REALTORS® have answered by either calling or emailing their elected officials. NAR is also placing ads in Washington D.C. newspapers and on the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and Google websites.

Finally, NAR officials are meeting directly with congressional leaders. Earlier this week NARs First VP Ron Phipps testified in front of the Senate Banking Committee about the impact the Tax Credit has had on home buying activity in 2009.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fourth of July Picnic and Fireworks

Red, White & Blue Picnic and Fireworks
Saturday, July 4th, 2009
San Ramon Central Park
Presented by Shapell Homes

The City of San Ramon’s Red, White & Blue Picnic & Fireworks is scheduled for Saturday, July 4th in San Ramon's Central Park located at 12501 Alcosta Blvd from 5pm - 10pm. Enjoy our beautiful park setting with a family picnic and music from KKIQ radio being broadcast for your listening enjoyment. There will be a spectacular fireworks display synchronized to music at 9:30 p.m. For those of you not in Central Park, the accompanying music for the fireworks can be heard on KKIQ radio, 101.7.

Everyone is encouraged to bring a picnic to the park, enjoy time with family and friends and celebrate the birthday of our great nation. Please note that there will not be any food booths or live entertainment on-site this year. Plan to bring your food and non-alcoholic beverages with you. Please be kind to your pets and leave them secure at home.

The charge for parking in lots surrounding Central Park will be $10 per car. Handicapped parking will be located in the Community Center lot off of Alcosta Blvd. Residents are encouraged to go green and carpool and walk to the park to help the environment.

From the 680 Freeway exit at Bollinger Canyon and head east to Central Park.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tips for Improving Memory

Have you ever been introduced to someone, only to forget her name two seconds after you shake her hand?

Don't worry. This is NOT evidence that you're losing your mind. Turns out, it's actually an extremely common occurrence for many people. The good news is there is plenty of research on the subject and there are a number of simple, practical steps you can take to improve your memory now and long into the future.

With that in mind, here are a couple of great tips for proactively strengthening your memory:

Tip #1: Neurobic Exercise
You know all about the wonderful effects aerobic exercise has on the heart, but have you heard of neurobic exercise for the brain?

According to Lawrence Katz, co-author of Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises, the best exercise for the brain is to force it to form "new patterns of association" or new pathways. In other words, challenge your brain every day. take it off autopilot and make it relearn or create new associations with the most routine activities of your day.

Katz's book offers numerous examples of small changes you can make to activate your brain, including: brushing your teeth with the other hand; taking an alternative route to work; moving your wastebasket to the other side of your desk; closing your eyes while putting your key in and unlocking the front door; and changing where you and your family members sit at the dinner table.

So if you feel like your memory might be starting to slip a bit, try some of these simple neurobic exercises today!

Tip #2: Mnemonic Drilling
There are actually three steps or stages of memorization: acquisition, consolidation, and retrieval. That means, once we acquire new information, like someone's name for instance, the way in which we consolidate that data will directly affect how well we're able to retrieve it from memory.

Whether you're a visual or auditory type of learner, there are many mnemonic devices that can help you to better organize or consolidate the new information that you need to recall.

Here's an example of simple steps that might help:

First, associate the data you want to remember with common images. For instance, let's say you meet someone named Jennifer Green. Imagine Jennifer playing golf, or picture her wearing all green clothes, or imagine her face painted completely green.

Second, think of associations you can use to help you remember this person. For instance, link Jennifer to the quality that best fits her personality (use alliteration and rhymes whenever possible): Jolly Jennifer Green.

Finally, connect sound to your memory by saying the name aloud.

Do this regularly and, before you know it, you'll never forget anyone's name again!

Info from MMG Weekley

Monday, May 18, 2009

What's New in Washington DC

Bay East Goes to Washington D.C.: With the federal government deeply involved in trying to jump-start the real estate market, the timing could not have been better to take our concerns to Washington D.C. A team of Bay East REALTORS® including President Pat Huffman, President-Elect Pam Winterbauer and treasurer Otto Catrina joined federal political coordinators Dorothy Jackson and Kevin Brown as REALTORS® from across the country descended on the nation's capitol as part of NAR's mid-year meeting.

Our visit to Capitol Hill was welcomed by elected officials and their staff looking for ideas to help housing and the economy. The Bay East team was ready to provide the REALTOR® perspective. On Wednesday, May 13, they met with staff members from Congress members Barbara Lee and Pete Stark. On Thursday, they met personally with Congressman Jerry McNerney. Our message focused on federal policies that impact home purchase financing; energy efficiency; commercial lending and health care reform.

Home Purchase Financing: Our team urged the East Bay congressional delegation to make the 2008 conforming loan limits permanent, extend the $8,000 Federal Tax Credit and make it available to all home buyers.

Energy Efficiency: We explained why proposed federal legislation that would require an energy audit at the point-of-sale would not accomplish the goal of making homes more energy efficient. Instead, we're supporting another bill that offers incentives to homeowners to make energy efficiency improvements.

Commercial Real Estate Financing: While the nation has been dealing with the fallout from sub-prime mortgages and ARMs resetting, commercial real estate financing also is at risk. Specifically, many loans for commercial real estate are based on very short terms and the lack of available credit means limited refinancing options. The Bay East team explained that the short, three-year term of the Term Asset-backed Securities Loans that help secure commercial mortgage-backed securities need to be extended.

Health Care Reform: The REALTOR® position on health care issues is to make sure small businesses and independent contractors are included in federal plans for making health care available and affordable.

All of the elected officals and staff we met with were receptive to our concerns and issues. NAR's lobbying team in Washigton D.C. welcomed our participation in their daily activies and encouraged REALTORS at the local level to help make sure Congress is aware that we're paying attention.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

No Job? Can' Refinance? How to Talk to Your Bank

As unemployment rises in many states, more homeowners are finding it difficult to pay their mortgage each month. Although most unemployed homeowners do not qualify for refinancing, as they do not meet the minimum qualifying requirements such as proof of income, there are steps they can take to improve their chances of a successful refinance.

• The first, and probably most important step in the refinance process, is to find out which company services the loan. The loan servicer may or not may not be the company where the mortgage payment is sent each month. This step is crucial, because the loan servicer is generally the one that can modify the loan. If the loan servicer is not able to provide assistance, the owner of the mortgage may be able to help.

• Once a homeowner realizes he or she may no longer be able to pay the mortgage, the homeowner should contact the “loss mitigation department” of the lender. The “loss mitigation department” is where the refinance and/or loan modification process begins.

• After discussing options with the loss mitigation department, homeowners should write a
forbearance letter, also known as a postponement of payment letter. This letter is sent to the
servicer or lender and details the homeowner’s current financial situation and hardship.

• Many government agencies and nonprofit organizations provide free services to homeowners and will serve as an intermediary between the lender/servicer and the homeowner. Some companies charge fees for the same services. Housing analysts caution homeowners to conduct research and due diligence prior to paying a company for loan modification and/or refinance assistance.

To read the full story, please click here:

Article compliments of California Association of REALTORS

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spring Forward Began March 8

Daylight Saving Time (DST) began on Sunday, March 8, 2009. The way we refer to time zones also changes. For example, Eastern Standard Time (EST) becomes Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).

But remember, some areas of the United States don’t use DST, such as Arizona, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the US Virgin Islands and American Samoa. More Sun…

Daylight Saving Time Runs Longer
In case you hadn’t noticed over the last two years, DST now begins earlier and runs longer. The extra time that we enjoy is actually the result of the Energy Policy Act, which President Bush signed into law in 2005 and went into effect in 2007. The Act changed the start date of DST to the second Sunday in March — three weeks earlier. It also moved the end date out one week to the first Sunday in November.

Benefits of Daylight Saving Time
Despite some concerns, Americans overwhelmingly like Daylight Saving Time. There is simply more sunlight in the evenings to enjoy the outdoors and get things done. Plus, additional hours of daylight can help save energy on a national scale — as much as 100,000 barrels of oil per day according to some estimates.

And brighter is safer. Studies have shown that the DST shift reduces traffic accidents. Additionally, a study by the US Law Enforcement Administration also determined that crime is consistently lower during DST, with violent crimes down as much as 10% to 13%. For many crimes, like mugging, darkness is a factor — so more light in the evening hours reduces these types of crimes.

Cons of Daylight Saving Time
Not everyone benefits from DST. For example, many farmers say that DST has a negative impact on their livestock’s natural schedules. The airline industry also reports that it costs millions of dollars to adjust time schedules — and even then, airlines report numerous problems with international flight connections during the transition time since DST isn’t followed uniformly worldwide.

Finally, since many electronic devices and computer programs are set to adjust to DST based on the old dates, they may not change automatically on March 8. So, you’ll want to double-check all of your devices and confirm that the time is correct.

Compliments of Cherry Creek Mortgage

Friday, February 27, 2009

Limited Tax Credits Available to New-Home Buyers

Senate Bill 15 was approved by the Governor on February 20, 2009, and provides for a tax credit against the net tax for a taxpayer who purchases a qualified principal residence on or after March 1, 2009, and before March 1, 2010. The maximum amount of credits available to allocate is $100,000,000.00 (one hundred million dollars) and are available on a first come first serve basis.

The following qualifications and limitations apply:

Ø The qualified principal residence is a single family residence, whether detached or attached, that has never been occupied

Ø Allowed for the purchase of one qualified principal residence per taxpayer

Ø Must be occupied for at least two years immediately after the purchase and is eligible for the homeowners property tax exemption

Ø The credit is the lesser of 5% of the purchase price of the qualified principal residence or $10,000.00 (ten thousand dollars). The credit must be claimed in equal amounts over three consecutive tax years beginning with the tax year the purchase is made

Ø The seller must provide a certification to the taxpayer and the Franchise Tax Board within one week of the sale that the qualified principal residence has never been occupied. Upon certification, the Franchise Tax Board will allocate the credit to the taxpayer on a first come, first serve basis.

Ø To claim the credit, the taxpayer will submit with each tax return the certification by the seller.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Federal Foreclosure Prevention Plan Launched

On Wednesday, Feb. 18, President Obama unveiled a major new foreclosure prevention program - the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan (HASP). The multi-billion dollar effort is based on three strategies:

Foreclosure prevention by refinancing mortgages held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: The goal is to protect those homeowners with homes that have lost significant value to the extent they are unable to refinance under the current Fannie and Freddie rules. As part of the HASP, Fannie and Freddie will change their policies regarding the amount of equity a borrower must have in their home in order for them to refinance into a mortgage with a lower interest rate.
Homeowners able to refinance their mortgages under these new rules could end up with a lower mortgage payment. In situations where a borrower has lost their job or is experiencing other financial difficulties, the lower payment could prevent them from becoming delinquent on their payments and help them avoid foreclosure.

Homeowner Stability Initiative: This part of the plan will provide a variety of incentives to lenders to keep "at risk" borrowers out of foreclosure. In exchange for federal assistance, lenders will either reduce interest rates or principal amounts in order to also reduce a borrower's payment.

Additional support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Stabilizing and supporting the two major players in the secondary mortgage market is key to the security of residential real estate. The Treasury Department will take several steps to ensure the viability of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, including providing $200 billion to each and purchasing mortgage-backed securities. These actions are anticipated to boost investor confidence in both GSEs and ensure lower interest rates for mortgages purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

For more details about the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, please click here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

President Signs Stimulus Bill

Last week Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. President Obama has signed the bill today. Among other things, the stimulus legislation resets the conforming loan limit cap at $729,750, up from $625,500 and reinstates these 2008 loan limits through Dec. 31, 2009.

The bill also increases the first-time home buyer credit from $7,500 to $8,000, and removes the requirement that the credit be paid back if the buyer stays in the home for at least three years. It also extends the expiration date for the credit from July 1 to Dec. 1, 2009. Homebuyers must have purchased a home after Jan. 1, 2009, and before Dec. 1, 2009, to be eligible for the $8,000 credit.

Thank you to everyone who contacted their Member of Congress in support of the housing provisions contained in this legislation.

State Budget Negotiations Continue ~ As of this time, the California state Senate is still debating an emergency measure to address the state's ever-growing budget deficit. C.A.R. will keep you posted on the budget's possible impact on your business and the real estate market.

Septic Regulation Update ~ The State Water Board (SWB) has extended its deadline for submitting testimony on the currently proposed regulations of septic systems to February 23rd. C.A.R. is deeply troubled by several items contained in these proposals and understands that due to public outcry, the proposals will probably be revised. However, there is still a danger that even the revised regulations may contain a point-of-sale provision. If you would like to submit testimony to the SWB, please click here for background and instructions.

Information compliments of the California Association of REALTORS®

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tips for a Larger Tax Refund

No one ever wants to pay more taxes than necessary, but this year it's even more important to save every penny you can. Here are some tips that can help you get a larger refund:

Property Tax Deduction for Non-Itemizers: Before 2008, only people who itemized their deductions could deduct property taxes. For 2008, individuals who do not itemize can deduct up to $1,000 of property tax on a joint return or $500 on a single return.

Driving Deductions: The IRS increased the cents-per-mile deduction for business-related driving expenses from 50.5 cents to 58.5 cents from July 1, 2008 through December 31, 2008. They also increased the rate for deducting medical and moving driving-related expenses from 19 cents to 27 cents for that same time period.

Disaster Losses: Casualty losses (i.e. like those from storm or fire damage) are normally deductible only to the extent they exceed 10% of AGI. For 2008, casualties in federally declared disaster areas can be deducted without having to abide by the 10%-of-AGI rule, which raises the amount that is deductible.

Capital Losses: Review your portfolio and note all your realized losses for 2008. You can write these off against capital gains and you can have a net loss of up to $3,000 deductible against your salary and other ordinary income. What's more, any excess can be used to offset gains or can be deducted in 2009 or later years.

Retirement Plan Contributions: You can make tax-saving contributions to retirement plans for 2008 through April 15, 2009.

Charitable Donations: Not only can you claim deductions for money and items you donate to a charity, you can also claim deductions for expenses you incur on a charity's behalf (i.e. driving costs, printing costs, long distance phone call costs, etc.).

Make sure you take time to go through your records carefully so you receive the biggest refund possible. And if you are looking for a great tax professional to help you, please let me know and I'll be happy to recommend someone.
Information compliments of Diversified Capitol Mortgage

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Winter Weather Preparations

We may actually get some rain this winter. To be prepared, we suggest that you have your gutters cleaned. Also, be sure to clean the areasaround your skylights and chimneys. Leaves tend to gather in these areas,which leads to pooled water leaking into the house past the flashings. Over the years, we have also had problems with our sunken living roomsflooding. This is caused by improper surface drainage. Sometimes thes urface drains become blocked, causing rain runoff to gather around thefoundation. Other causes include re-landscaping, which can inadvertently lead to water running toward the foundation.

We suggest that you walk the perimeter of your house during a downpour.Look for backed-up surface drains and water pooling around yourfoundation. Also check for malfunctioning (blocked, broken, leaking)downspouts. As always, if you decide to clean your own gutters, please be ladder safe.
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