Bill Fletcher
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Real Estate Update

WELCOME TO WINTER... California Style

It's the time of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and first day of winter. Fortunately our season is mild: hills blush green under mostly gentle rains rather than turn white under heavy snow.
And yet there really is a winter in the Bay Area - and it's wet. Water intrusion can destroy the value of your home. Mostly it's a slow process: seepage through a wall, roof leaks, fungus growth in damp areas, and down-spout flows that undermine foundations. The damage is often invisible, not discovered until there is major structural damage. Like the body, a home benefits greatly from regular check-ups. Here are some suggestions related to moisture issues, and do contact me for referrals to my favorite service providers.

Roof and gutters
WHEN: Ideally, once before the rains start and again after they stop
WHO: Licensed roofing contractor.

All wooden components
WHEN: Every two years
WHO: Licensed pest inspector. Not just an exterminator.

Sewer pipe
WHEN: Prior to sale or when you see symptoms like back-ups, or seepage and settlement in the ground
WHO: Licensed plumbing contractor

Foundation/Retaining walls
WHEN: If you see cracks, moisture seepage, dampness, or tilting
WHO: Foundation or drainage contractor, perhaps a structural engineer

Speaking of home improvements, this is your last chance to take advantage of energy conservation rebates that may expire at the end of the year. Check the sites below to see if there is a financial gift for your stocking:
Thank you for your continued readership, comments, and referrals. Questions are always welcome. I will gladly learn along with you if I don't know or have the answer at hand. Until next year... Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night!

Monthly Market Snapshot

In November of 2010, the real estate market experienced some signs of improvement. But 2011 headed towards a double-dip, and activity in November 2011 reflects that decline: Year over year, sales were down 8% and average price was down 12%. However, some East Bay cities experienced growth, like price increases in Albany, El Cerrito and Oakland. As we progress through December, I have seen a notable increase in buyer activity. Let's hope this is a sign of renewed growth for 2012.

Mortgage Rates

Different day - same story. The European Union has done little to convince global investors a plan is in place to bring the euro zone crisis to an end. The lack of decisive leadership and lingering doubt about the European financial crisis has bond investors gravitating to the relative safety of US Treasuries. This may mean fractionally lower mortgage interest rates as we head into the New Year. Investors are looking to the usual macroeconomic data, but until the sovereign and bank debt concerns in Europe are put to rest, the European theater will continue to be the driving force behind the most significant market activity.

Many hopeful homeowners are waiting to hear the details behind HARP 2.0 - the government-sponsored program designed to help underwater homeowners refinance so that they can take advantage of today's record low rates. If you'd like to check your possible eligibility for the program, please call 925-627-2563 and ask about HARP 2.0.

Have a safe and Happy New Year. If you have any questions about rates, programs, or would like to get pre-approved to purchase a home, please call Bank of Commerce / Mortgage - Faramarz Moeen-Ziai 925-627-2563 or email

With the Holiday season in full swing, saving money may not be at the forefront of your mind. Smart Money recently published an article showing that Americans are certainly not scrooges when it comes to spending money. How is it that you're supposed to save for a down payment on a home in an area with a median home price approaching the half-million dollar mark? The answer is, you may not have to. While buying a home with 20% down has its advantages, there are still many ways that home buyers can purchase with less than 20% down.

Most recently FHA reinstated their loan limit up to $729,750 with only 3.5% down. Thanks Santa! If your price range is a little bit more modest, conventional loans offer alternatives up to a $417,000 purchase price with only 3% down. Of course there are requirements for each, but for those of us who get carried away with Christmas cheer, it's important to know that there are lending options out there. For more information on the requirements or a referral for a good lender, please let me know.

As we head into the craziness of the winter holidays, sometimes it's nice to experience a restaurant that simply offers simple, healthy food. Consider Polata, a brand new establishment in Albany. The chef spent 15 years cooking at Shangri-La, a vegan, Chinese restaurant with two locations: one in Oakland, one in San Francisco. Polata offers a similar approach to the other restaurants, but the delivery is particularly similar to the Oakland location. First of all, there are no menus per se - each day the chef writes the day's offering on the board, one for lunch, one for dinner. Next, the only thing you need to decide is "medium" or "large" - each guest receives all the day's offerings on their plate. The end result is an unending variation of dishes, from collard greens with tofu basil parsley sauce, to a shitake mushroom rice ball that tasted surprisingly like Thanksgiving stuffing. Don't expect tablecloths or a fancy room, but the service is kind, and you will walk away full, but not overwhelmed. Polata, 1045 San Pablo at Marin, Daily 11a-3p and 5:30-9p.

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