What should I look for in a lender?

This question came up in an agent to agent chat room last week.  I thought you might be interested in my answer.

 As a real estate agent, I want a loan officer who is knowledgeable, ethical, and who cares about the transaction going as smoothly as possible.  A person who will keep my clients’ best interest foremost in their thinking at all times.  Someone who is persistent and will ‘go the extra mile’ to work through any obstacles that may arise.

I want a professional who is available and responsive.  If I need an amended approval or a question answered over the weekend, I want to know I’ll be able to reach them or a qualified assistant to help me out. 

But first and foremost, I want to work with someone who considers me as a member of their TEAM — who returns my calls and keeps me in the loop — updating me as the process progresses, so everyone knows what is going on and so there are no surprises at closing.

I suggest that, as a buyer, you look not only at interest rates and fees but also at how responsive the loan officer is to your particular needs — first of all does he or she invite your questions, then do they actually take the time to explain and educate you (rather than a “don’t worry, you don’t need to understand, just trust me” attitude)?  Do they speak in a manner that is understandable to you?  Are they willing to be flexible and accommodate your schedule?  Do they give you the guidance needed to provide them what they need?  Will they make themselves readily available by your preferred method of communication (whether phone or email) to respond to concerns that come up following the initial meeting? 

Transaction managing a loan process involves much more than determining your creditworthiness and verifying your income.  A loan officer needs also to understand the home purchasing process and the unique requirements of various sellers  — whether the  seller is a bank that has already foreclosed, a homeowner who is moving toward foreclosure (and who requires cooperation from their lender), a seller who simply wants to minimize any costs associated with selling or the seller who just wants it done as quickly as possible — each demand different strategies, all require close tracking of the  transaction process and the attentiveness to troubleshoot  any possible difficulties before they have become problems. 

I suggest using a loan officer who friends or family have successfully used or a professional your agent recommends rather than someone chosen from the Sunday paper simply because they offer “the best rate”.  Rates and terms will change over the course of your house hunting, but the ability of a loan agent to be responsive and truly helpful will be consistently required throughout the transaction.

Graton: Best Place to Live in Sonoma County?

When I first bought property in Graton in the early 1970’s, primarily because it fit my budget, I had no idea how my life would unfold. But as its turned out, I could not have chosen a better place to match the twists and turns of a life filled with changes. Located near Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State University, various private educational facilities, and the county’s business and governmental core in Santa Rosa — Graton has made a perfect headquarters, readily accommodating a wide-ranging variety of lifestyle and livelihood pursuits. And I can travel to almost anywhere in the county without ever getting on a freeway!

Graton is also in an ideal central location for enjoying the diverse pleasures of Sonoma County living — a short drive to the redwoods, the ocean, and the seafood houses of Bodega Bay, it is surrounded by an abundance of world class wineries. First-rate live entertainment is a hop-skip away to the 6th Street Playhouse, the Wells Fargo Center, and the Summer Repertory Theater, all in Santa Rosa, or to the Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, with many established and some experimental community theaters and music venues scattered throughout the area. Graton is also not far from downtown Healdsburg’s fine dining and shopping, Santa Rosa’s multiple malls, the Petaluma outlet mall, and is close to the heart of the Russian River resort area in Guerneville — home of the annual Stump Town Parade, the Blues and Jazz Festival, and Sonoma County’s Gay Pride Parade.

Graton is a place for folks who love their privacy as well as community — rednecks, yuppies, good ol’ boys and sassy gals, political neophytes and aging 60’s activists, communal gardeners, solitary working artists, craftspeople and Makers, collaborators, housekeepers, day laborers, retirees and entrepreneurs — all live here in harmony. Graton has two Buddhist centers and a Christian elementary school.  Downtown Graton is home to several long standing businesses — two award winning dining establishments which attract customers from countywide and beyond (Willow Wood and Under Wood, owned by the same people and located directly across the street from each other — why not, if nothing succeeds like success!?), Mexico Lindo (love the chicken flautas), Mr Ryder’s (an antique store, named after a dog)  and the Graton Gallery, a top-quality local artists’ showplace.   A block south of main street is a unique art gallery, Funeria, open primarily by appointment, the first in the nation devoted entirely to funerary art.  It is housed in the Atelier One, a studio/office complex, home to a variety of designers and artists, created from a defunct cannery building.  A biking/walking/horse trail runs along the western side of town which you can take a few miles in one direction or the other to either Forestville or Sebastopol.

Housing is a hodgepodge assortment of about 500 homes within a mile radius of the ‘downtown core’ with about 1000 people living in them. Of these less than 40 homes have sold over the last 3 years — at a median price (if you leave out the two condos and the one 1.1 million dollar sale) of $497,599 .  Graton is not known for its  hip or folksy vintage architecture, though it has some of each. Most homes built prior to the 70’s are extremely modest and, except for a few built before the 1920’s, not particularly architecturally interesting. The majority of housing was built 1970 – 2000.

Local builder Orrin Thiessen and a few other forward-looking souls did an admirable job of renovating the block-and-a-half long downtown in the late 1990’s, recapturing some of the character of its early 1900’s origins’.  But people don’t move to Graton for the aesthetics of the built environment. Graton’s unique claim to fame is first and foremost, Place. As the old real estate adage tells us: long term value derives from ‘location, location, location’.

People love the live-and-let-live social environment and the absolutely fabulous weather. In my opinion Graton’s climate is the best in the county: not too wet and not too dry, not too windy, not too hot and not too cold. Sitting just west of the Laguna de Santa Rosa and just east of Atascadero Creek, on ancient Pomo and Miwok settlement grounds; to me it seems a sacred spot, an energy center rivaling Sedona in its ability to support an experience of well-being and peace.

What else can I say? It is a little piece of paradise.
It’s my intent for this to be the first of many opinion pieces on the delightful qualities of the many small communities scattered across the countryside and within the larger towns of Sonoma County. I welcome you to contribute yours.

2010 Sonoma County Foreclosures and Short Sales

Just the Facts: In 2010 there were 5015 residential property sales in Sonoma County (not including those in the 2-4 unit category).  Of these, 1430 were sold by lenders who had foreclosed, commonly referred to as REOs.  Of the remainder, 1020 of these were distressed property sales — 1000 Short Sales plus 20 that were designated simply as being in default. 

So, just slightly over half of all sales would be classified as “normal”— presumably sold by a seller under no duress.  However in this economic climate, making such a statement is not really an accurate representation.  The truth of the matter being that many normal sellers were not doing so under happy circumstances.  Especially those in the higher price range, who sold for much less than they’d paid — but, because they’d made large down payments when purchasing, the proceeds exceeded the amount owed, or they paid “out of pocket” to make up the difference, so these were not reported as short sales.  Read the rest of this entry »

An Educated Sonoma County Real Estate Broker

NEWSFLASH! It’s official. I am the most educated real estate broker in Sonoma County for 2010. At Tuesday’s holiday breakfast the North Bay Association of Realtors awarded me for attending the greatest number, a total of 14, of their class offerings — from “REO Specialist Certification” to “Legalizing Unpermitted Work” to “Getting the Most out of your Android Phone”.

Of these, the most career-shifting was a teaser presentation, called “Tech Double Shot”, which lead to my enrolling in the National Association of Realtors e-Pro Technology Program — Web 2.0 and Social Media — and becoming certified as an e-PRO Internet Professional.

AND, they didn’t even take into account the many classes I took elsewhere.  That I also completed two, two-days each, Build It Green courses to become certified as an Advanced Green Building Professional, plus six all-day and 3 half-day PG&E sponsored energy conservation training classes — on topics ranging from air sealing and insulating to retrofitting crawlspaces to incentives and rebates available for implementing green building practices. Read the rest of this entry »

Planning and Paying for Energy Retrofits and Renewables

Interested in doing energy retrofits on a home? I participated in a couple of very useful classes on this topic in the last week. The first was an all day event sponsored by PG&E — “PG&E Incentives and Green Building Programs”. This course did the best job of any I’ve taken through them (and I’ve taken at least a dozen PG&E classes on energy retrofits topics) at specifically describing how to qualify for reimbursements or other incentives and how to meet the requirements of various third party certification programs.

The course provided guidelines for existing home ‘whole house performance’ retrofits, as well as new construction and multi-family property energy upgrades— all with an emphasize on having an overall master plan in place before beginning any actual work.  Also included was information on how to qualify for reimbursement for the cost of this planning process, referred to as a charrette, in which representatives from the various building specialties meet to develop a common vision and strategy. Read the rest of this entry »

A Sonoma County Best Buy?

This is my first Best Buys? post, so I want to make clear what I’m up to here: these will all be current BAREIS (Bay Area Real Estate Multiple Listing Service) property listings. You can assume that they do not belong to sellers I have contracted with, unless I specifically say so. Please also understand that I have no aspiration to represent both sellers and buyers in the same transaction. My motto — when I work as your agent, I represent you and you alone.

I have not conducted any formal systematic comparisons to arrive at these selections. I have no special arrangement with the listing agents to promote these listings and I did not specifically query them for any details to arrive at my opinion. What appears under the Best Buys? heading are simply properties which caused me to say to myself “Wow, this looks like a great deal, I wish I had a buyer right at this moment to match up with this property”.

I bring these to your attention so that if you or some one you know are sitting on the fence waiting for that ‘great deal’ to come along, that you might be inspired to take action and to give me the opportunity to talk with you about the ins and outs of ’good deal’ making.

As with the majority of great buys in today’s market, these typically are not move-in ready or are suffering from the buyer enthusiasm dampening effect of having been on the market for much too long (usually due to having started out at price that was much too high).  Or some, now owned by a lender who has foreclosed, are simply priced low in an effort to generate a quick sale; and, to the surprise of some buyers, may actually end up selling for much more than is initially asked, due to competitive bidding.

This first Best Buy is a country property located in western Sonoma county, on Occidental Road, between Sebastopol/Graton and Occidental. It’s been foreclosed on and is being sold by the bank (so its buyer will not have the benefit of an individual seller’s disclosure). It sits in the middle of three quarters of an acre, is south facing and surrounded by redwood trees which are at some distance from the house, so that it still gets plenty of sun. First impressions are that it is in quite good condition with a remodeled kitchen and bath, fresh paint, and new windows – though they haven’t yet been completely trimmed out on the inside.  The tax records indicate that it was built in 1944 and that it has 1400 square feet with four bedrooms and one bath — these last two pieces of data provide a tip as to why it might be priced at only $382,000. Read the rest of this entry »

Energy-Wise Retrofits … Flip or Keep?

I just attended another fabulous, reality-based, seminar sponsored by PG&E, on integrating energy upgrades when renovating foreclosed properties for resale. It was taught by Dave Robinson, a retired contractor, whose mission is generating income while “saving the planet, one foreclosed home at time”. He defines what he delivers in three parts: ENERGY, WOW, and DONE — pointing out that ENERGY efficiency alone doesn’t create much buyer excitement, but that top dollar returns can be achieved by combining this work with such WOW factors as granite counters, tile floors, and stainless appliances, plus a DONE Package of purely practical upgrades such as a new garage door and windows, 30–50-year roofing , and water-efficient landscaping with proper drainage — meaning that the new owner won’t need to make a ‘to-do’ list upon moving in nor spend a lot of time on routine maintenance while living there. Read the rest of this entry »

Short Sales Give ‘Contingent’ a New Meaning

Background: A new client finds a Contingent property he likes. He wants to know what this might mean to him as a potentially interested buyer. I check the agents’ version of the listing information and discover that it is a short sale. Here is my response.

Contingent is a customary phase in all normal real estate sales transactions — however when the property is a Short Sale, Contingent takes on a whole new meaning. Read the rest of this entry »

e-PRO certified and back on track

After several months of ’analysis paralysis’  around where is the best location to blog — so potentially interested persons might actually find me — I am back where I began. Having just completed the National Association of Realtors e-PRO Certification and Social Media courses I’m now confident of your finding me — once I’ve set out proper directionals for you.

As you might imagine, the last few years have been rather chaotic for real estate professionals — requiring major adjustments in our knowledge base, how we deliver services, and the role we play and how we perform during a transaction. Yet time tested principles remain basic to a successful outcome for our clients — investigation leading to truly meaningful and relevant information and evaluations made with the assistance of a knowledgeable professional are still crucial to successful decision-making.

So welcome. It is an interesting time to be involved in the world of real estate buying and selling. I hope you’ll enjoy and benefit from reading my upcoming articles. I’ll be posting responses to clients’ questions that I think might interest others besides them, offering localized data and market insights, and sharing some of the joy I experience just from living in Sonoma County.

Square Footage Value?

I have recently felt almost crazy due to buyers in the $500k to million +  range wanting to rely primarily on square footage pricing  information taken from online estimators to determine an offer price.  Hello!  Square footage doesn’t take into account condition, setting, view, the quality of materials used, construction details, workmanship, or lot size!  But, even more significantly, square foot pricing doesn’t reflect the functional value of those square feet — the usability of the space — its utility or suitability for a given person’s lifestyle.  Read the rest of this entry »