Tips For Getting the Best Deal on a Mortgage

Tips For Getting the Best Deal on a Mortgage

SOURCE: The Fiscal Times, via C.A.R.

With the spring housing market in full swing, prospective buyers are battling rising prices and tight inventory. Still, it’s not all bad news for today’s buyers. While lending standards are far stricter than they were during the height of the housing boom, it is nevertheless possible for most qualified borrowers to get a loan these days. Here are a few tips. You can read the full story here. 

Start the process early. If you’re serious about buying a house this year, you need to meet with a mortgage lender now. That will give you a better idea of how much you can realistically borrow to purchase a house. You’ll also be able to get a pre-approval letter, required by most sellers these days before they’ll consider your offer.

Shop around. Get quotes from at least three lenders, including a national bank, a local bank or credit union and an online lender. Having multiple offers may help you negotiate with the lender you ultimately end up using for your mortgage.

Understand private mortgage insurance. While putting down 20 percent will typically get you the lowest monthly payment, a growing number of lenders now also offer low down payment loan programs in which you can put down as little as 0 percent on the loan.

Ask about all your loan options. In addition to figuring out how much you’ll put into a down payment, make sure you’re considering all available loan options, including fixed and adjustable-rate mortgages, and shorter-term loans like 15-year mortgages. Consider locking in your rate since mortgage rates can fluctuate.

Remember you don’t need to borrow the max. If you’re in a competitive market where bidding wars are common, it can be tempting to find a home or make an offer for the maximum amount for which your lender has approved you. Before you do, consider the short and long-term impact of those mortgage payments on your budget and lifestyle.

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Source: Terra Firma

Choosing the Best Offer for Your Home

Choosing the Best Offer for Your Home

Source: HouseLogic | REALTOR®

You’ve worked hard to get your home ready for sale and to price it properly. With any luck, offers will come quickly. You’ll need to review each carefully to determine its strengths and drawbacks and pick one to accept. Have a plan for reviewing purchase offers so you don’t let the best slip through your fingers.

6 Tips for Choosing the Best Offer for Your Home

1. Understand the process.

All offers are negotiable, as your agent will tell you. When you receive an offer, you can accept it, reject it, or respond by asking that terms be modified, which is called making a counteroffer.

2. Set baselines.

Decide in advance what terms are most important to you. For instance, if price is most important, you may need to be flexible on your closing date. Or if you want certainty that the transaction won’t fall apart because the buyer can’t get a mortgage, require a prequalified or cash buyer.

3. Create an offer review process.

If you think your home will receive multiple offers, work with your agent to establish a time frame during which buyers must submit offers. That gives your agent time to market your home to as many potential buyers as possible, and you time to review all the offers you receive.

4. Don’t take offers personally.

Selling your home can be emotional. But it’s simply a business transaction, and you should treat it that way. If your agent tells you a buyer complained that your kitchen is horribly outdated, justifying a lowball offer, don’t be offended. Consider it a sign the buyer is interested and understand that those comments are a negotiating tactic. Negotiate in kind.

5. Review every term.

Carefully evaluate all the terms of each offer. Price is important, but so are other terms. Is the buyer asking for property or fixtures — such as appliances, furniture, or window treatments — to be included in the sale that you plan to take with you?

Is the amount of earnest money the buyer proposes to deposit toward the downpayment sufficient? The lower the earnest money, the less painful it will be for the buyer to forfeit those funds by walking away from the purchase if problems arise.

Have the buyers attach a prequalification or pre-approval letter, which means they’ve already been approved for financing? Or does the offer include a financing or other contingency? If so, the buyers can walk away from the deal if they can’t get a mortgage, and they’ll take their earnest money back, too. Are you comfortable with that uncertainty?

Is the buyer asking you to make concessions, like covering some closing costs? Are you willing, and can you afford to do that? Does the buyer’s proposed closing date mesh with your timeline?

With each factor, ask yourself: Is this a deal breaker, or can I compromise to achieve my ultimate goal of closing the sale?


6. Be creative.

If you’ve received an unacceptable offer through your agent, ask questions to determine what’s most important to the buyer and see if you can meet that need. You may learn the buyer has to move quickly. That may allow you to stand firm on price but offer to close quickly. The key to successfully negotiating the sale is to remain flexible.

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has survived several closings. A frequent contributor to many national publications including, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

The moral of the story — even with price being equal, not all offers carry the same weight.  There are quantitative items to evaluate, as well as qualitative. Perhaps the buyer’s lender doesn’t have the best reputation vs. a well-known lender who is known for “getting the job done”. Or you may receive an offer over-asking, however the appraisal contingency is still in place putting you in a position to have to renegotiate price later if the appraisal comes in low. Having a trusted real estate professional representing you, to vet out all of these potential pitfalls is your best tool towards selecting the right offer for your home. If you are considering selling your home, please contact us today so we can match you with a REALTOR®  best suited to help you meet your goals.


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Source: Terra Firma

The Must-Sip List

The Must-Sip List

Wow! This sunshine was worth waiting for!

Just in time to enjoy the last hint of spring and to welcome in summer, we have our must-sip list of wineries and tasting rooms in Sonoma and Napa counties. Since real estate agents are great resources from everything from leaky pipes to yes, you guessed it, wine tasting, we asked our Sonoma and Napa Associates… “What is your favorite tasting room and why?” Whether you are just visiting wine country or have lived here forever… check out our must-sip list, you might discover a new favorite! Cheers!


Laura A. Hall/Santa Rosa office: Lynmar is one of my favorite places to taste. Well known for its expansive “veggiscaped” gardens, the best time to visit is in the Summer and Fall when everything is in full bloom. The wines are very well layered pinots and hearty chardonnays. They offer small bar bites with tastings in their beautiful tasting room or outside on their patio, which overlooks the rolling vineyards and gardens. If you want to enhance your experience, call ahead to have them prepare a lunch from the garden and paired with their finest wines. It is a very memorable experience.

Summer Stubblefield/Petaluma office: We love Gundlach Bundschu (or as it’s lovingly called by locals, “Gun-Bun”). You can do a tasting, then buy a bottle and head down to the beautiful large grassy area overlooking the Vineyard…Super peaceful and totally a Sonoma County day. And kid friendly!

Sonya Kern/St. Helena office: Truett Hurst is one of my favorite because of their river seating and an exceptional group of people.

Tom Kern/St. Helena office: Twomey is a great tasting room with two locations. South of Calistoga and Dry Creek. Calistoga is a beautiful tasting room with a very nice outdoor area, they have Sav Blanc, Pinot’s, French Style Merlot and nice folks. The Dry Creek Location has a fantastic tasting room with high ceilings and floor to ceiling glass. Great sitting area shaded outdoors and a fun gift shop with Twomey and local goods.

Carolyn Fereday/Santa Rosa office: The views, lavender gardens and peaceful setting at Matanzas Creek make it one of our favorites. Sipping lovely wines on the patio in the shade of giant oak trees make this place hard to beat.

Lauren Thompson / Santa Rosa office: We are loving Medlock Ames in Alexander Valley, at the north end of Healdsburg. Vineyards are farmed organically and the winery is completely solar powered. And the wines are amazing… Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Bordeaux Blends.

Dave Fahrner/Santa Rosa office: Dutton Goldfield Winery on Hwy 116 in Graton. The tasting room staff is first rate run by David Hewitt and Nicole Kosta. Plus the single vineyard Pinot Noirs are fantastic!!!!! Awesome California Pinot.

Lani Gullotta/Sonoma office: I do love Pangloss Cellars – it has a very warm and rustic lounge feel rather than the traditional bar feeling at most tasting rooms. Not to mention a beautiful olive tree growing right in the middle of the tasting room. It is not inexpensive but the experience is worth it and the wine is delicious!


Jonna Beck Lewis/Napa office: Pure Cru in Downtown Napa is the perfect place to sip before dinner. Stay “Hi” to Steve, the super friendly and knowledgeable host.

Michele Ikemire/Napa office: Eleven Eleven Wines in Napa – lesser known, fantastic wines and a designers dream- super unique and inspiring winery. Great people too!

Jennifer Long/Napa office: Of course… David Arthur!! 🙂 [full disclosure: her husband is David Arthur] Boutique winery that is classy however super super fun!!!

Amber Payne/Napa office: St. Clair Brown Winery in Napa, it’s in an unexpected location …It’s a garden setting in a greenhouse. Great wine and food!

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Source: Terra Firma

Got Listings?

Got Listings?

In a recent HousingWire article, “California home sales start year off strong…but will that last?“, low inventory is being cited as a concern for the health of the housing market in 2017, despite being off to a strong start. Data recently released by the California Association of REALTORS® shows California home sales increased from December to January for the first time in five years. February, although posting a decrease in sales of 4.7%  from January, actually saw a near 5% increase in sales from February 2016 to February 2017. A good sign! Right?! However, as any seasoned real estate professional can attest, it’s a marathon not a sprint. Will this momentum carry us through the remainder of the year?

The recent bump in sales activity is being widely contributed to the Fed’s recent decision to raise interest rates [and moreover the expectation that this raise was only to be the first of three over the coming year]. Buyers are deciding to “get off the fence” and get serious about getting into a home before it becomes unaffordable to do so. Even so, buyers are still being selective and haven’t acquiesced that this low inventory market is a seller’s market. “Buyers are still exhausted from the competition in 2016 – too many buyers, and not enough houses to buy. Buyers and sellers have not synced up yet this year on where housing prices are headed: whether sellers will get further increase in prices, or whether buyers will refuse to pay more – or somewhere in between,” observes Rob Jones, Senior Sales Associate/Sonoma office. Even still, the recent bump in sales is expected to be short-lived, as affordability will become an issue for some would-be homebuyers as interest rates continue to rise.

However, the bigger concern for the housing market in 2017 lies with the lack of inventory. According to CAR Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young, “The number of active listings has been on a downward trend for the past 20 months and has shown no signs of improvement.” Currently, there are 2+/- months of inventory in our North Bay counties of Marin, Sonoma and Napa. A “normal” market bears closer to 6 months. For example, in Sonoma county there are currently 491 active listings for single family homes. From 2/27 to 3/27 there were 292 sales of single family homes, i.e. “current pace of sales”. Given the current pace, the existing supply of homes (if no new listings were introduced to the market) would be absorbed in 1.68 months. We will of course see an up-tick of homes coming to market, especially as the sun continues to shine here in the North Bay. However, a corresponding increase in demand is expected to offset those gains in inventory. “There are a few factors at play keeping the inventory low. When the bottleneck opens up we may see a minor correction in home prices, but the fact is we live in a desirable area and the demand for homes will continue to exceed the supply,” Lani Gullotta, Sales Associate/Sonoma office.

There is definitely a healthy amount of pent up demand from last year, and 2017 could play out to surprise us all — if the listings materialize.

For a peak at our current listings please check out our Featured Listings and for a search of all current listings across the North Bay, visit our Property Search page.



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Source: Terra Firma

Let’s Talk Luxe

Let’s Talk Luxe

On March 1st, Terra Firma Global Partners proudly sponsored The Luxury Marketing Council of San Francisco‘s  5th Annual Wineries Boot Camp, hosted at the Lincoln Theater in Napa. Heidi Rickerd-Rizzo, TFGP’s Vice President and Broker, kicked off the event with opening remarks.

The Wineries Boot Camp is growing in popularity each year among wine country influentials, with more than 300 marketing, sales and hospitality managers and operating staff, representing 100+ Napa and Sonoma wineries, attending the event. The Boot Camp program provides a networking and corridor-talk environment that remains unrivaled, and compelling program content to address the current business environment.

So what does that have to do with real estate and Terra Firma Global Partners?

Terra Firma is a proud member of Luxury Marketing Council, representing the luxury real estate market in the North Bay.

Members of The Luxury Marketing Council are companies, organizations and individuals who:

  • Are purveyors of luxury products or services
  • Pursue bottom-line, results-oriented marketing strategies and activities
  • Recognize the potential of innovative collaborations and relationship marketing
  • Are seriously committed to an open sharing of information and the energetic pursuit of creative collaborations and partnerships
    that bring measurable value to their customers

Instantly recognizable and widely respected in the markets we serve, Terra Firma Global Partners is the best way to open doors, put your best foot forward, and achieve all of your personal and financial objectives. We collaborate with clients to design and implement a tailored, full-service marketing strategy for each Estate/Luxury opportunity utilizing our relationships with traditional and new media outlets – and leveraging the most emergent technologies and social media strategies – to ensure maximum exposure for every property we represent.

Terra Firma Global Partners fosters a culture of partnership in which all clients and listings are represented in a collaborative environment by all of our agents, thereby ensuring our clients and listings have the competitive edge, and that buyers have access to information and opportunities in advance of traditional outlets. That is how we stand apart in both the representation of Sellers and Buyers and why we are now synonymous with luxury real estate sales.

For more information about our approach to luxury real estate, visit our Estates page.


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Source: Terra Firma

Inside Scoop on the North Bay Market

Inside Scoop on the North Bay Market

Happy New Year, everyone! We hope you all enjoyed a wonderful holiday season with friends and family. We just wanted to give you a quick update on our real estate market here in Marin, Sonoma, and Napa counties. Take a look at the infographics below!

The word on the street — AKA the consensus from our weekly meetings — is that inventory of listings is WAY down. There are 925 active (i.e. available/not in escrow) residential (single family residence or condo) in Marin, Sonoma, and Napa counties COMBINED. A “normal” market in Sonoma County alone is about 2,000 active listings…

If you are considering selling your home this Spring, you may not want to wait to do so. There is pent up demand from last summer/fall and buyers are out there. Fewer houses on the market means less competition for you and your home.

If you are interested in selling your home, contact us today so we can discuss the market, your specific situation, and how we can best help you reach your goals. We look forward to working with you in 2017!

(You will notice the updates are from November, as it takes the California Association of REALTORS® time to gather the data and release it. The same thing with real estate articles you read in the newspaper, the “news” is usually a bit behind what is actually happening.)

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Source: Terra Firma

What Does the Fed Rate Hike Mean to You?

What Does the Fed Rate Hike Mean to You?

“I believe the message is still how low interest rates are compared to the average over the last 10 to 15 years. Affordability is still above 30% in California which means 30% of the families in California can still qualify for a mortgage based on their income.” – Bill Facendini, President & CEO

Source: The Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Times advises potential home buyers to “proceed as planned” after the Federal Reserve Board announced Wednesday that it would raise interest rates.

The Fed raised the interest rate by 0.25 percent, and the next step for consumers depends on which side of the saving-borrowing divide they stand. The Times answers pressing questions from homeowners, home shoppers, and investors.

Making sense of the story

  • If you’re all set to buy, don’t let moderately higher mortgage rates worry you. Proceed according to plan. Although the long-term outlook seems to indicate steadily rising interest rates, we’re building on very low ground. You know that whole “historically low mortgage rates” thing you’ve heard for the last few years? Yeah, we’re still there.
  • Yes, your buying power can be affected by higher interest rates, but that can also be offset by the better wages and greater employment opportunities of an improving economy.
  • Thirty-year fixed mortgage rates rose more than half a percentage point in the four weeks after the election of Donald Trump, according to the NerdWallet Mortgage Rate Index. Rates are solidly over 4 percent for the first time this year. On a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for $300,000, each half-point increase adds close to $100 a month to your payment.
  • With additional Fed rate hikes expected next year, mortgage rates may have as much as another half a percentage point to go. That would put home loan interest rates just under 5 percent by the end of 2017. Refinance activity has already taken a hit because rates have climbed to their highest levels since July 2015.
  • If you have an adjustable-rate mortgage, you’ll probably see your payments increase over the next year, depending on how often your rate resets. Keep an eye on mortgage rates and consider moving to a fixed-rate loan. You may want to begin the mortgage shopping process soon if you intend to stay in your home for a few years.


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Source: Terra Firma

Water-Conserving Plumbing Fixtures Now Required

Water-Conserving Plumbing Fixtures Now Required

 All I want for Christmas is… a low flow shower head?

Ok, not as catchy of a jingle but humor us… Beginning on January 1, 2017, California law requires property owners (for properties built before 1994) to install water-conserving plumbing fixtures by 2017 for single-family properties and by 2019 for other properties. Additionally, if a property is altered or improved after 2014, then water-conserving plumbing fixtures must be installed as a condition of final permit approval. (Cal. Civ. Code section 1101.4)

In 2012, the Transfer Disclosure Statement was expanded to include a check box for water-conserving plumbing fixtures. As explained in the TDS itself, the check box does not create a point of sale requirement. (Cal. Civ. Code section 1102.6.)

Beginning in 2017 a seller of a single-family property will also be required to disclose whether the property is in compliance with the law. This same disclosure requirement will apply to other types of properties beginning in 2019. Even then, the law creates no point of sale requirement. (Cal. Civ. Code section 1101.4 and 1101.5.)

However, lenders could decide to make water-conserving plumbing fixtures an underwriting requirement, to be addressed via the appraisal, similar to the carbon monoxide detector requirement. The bottom line: if you are considering selling your house in 2017 or doing any bathroom remodeling, you will definitely want to consider installing water-conserving plumbing fixtures. There are some links below that can help, as well as some FAQ’s/additional information.

Here are some helpful links for public programs to assist with the cost of installing water-conserving plumbing fixtures:

City of Santa Rosa

City of Petaluma

Sonoma County Water Agency serving: Airport/Larkfield/Wikiup Sanitation Zone, Geyserville Sanitation Zone, Occidental County Sanitation District, Penngrove Sanitation Zone, Russian River County Sanitation District, Sea Ranch Sanitation Zone

Marin Municipal Water District

City of Napa



Q 1. What is the purpose of the water conserving plumbing fixtures law (“WCP fixtures law”)?

The legislature thinks that water conservation is a cost effective approach to the challenges created by not having enough water. Those challenges include future economic health; environmental health; growing urban areas; water reliability; waste water treatment; energy and other resource costs; and protecting and restoring aquatic resources. All of these issues were cited as reasons behind this effort to promote water conservation.

Q 2. Does the water conservation law create any point of sale requirements?

No. There is nothing in the law that requires the installation of water-conserving fixtures as a condition of sale.

Q 3. What is the significance of it NOT creating a point of sale requirement?

Because the WCP fixtures law does not create a point-of-sale requirement, there is no obligation on either agents or brokers to ensure that sellers or buyers install WCP fixtures. However, as in all transactions, agents should impress upon the seller the necessity of carefully and accurately completing the appropriate disclosure forms.

Q 4. If there are no point of sale requirements, then what is required?

The law will require owners of real property to install water-conserving fixtures simply because they own the property regardless of whether they are selling it. The requirement for installation is not immediate, but will take effect in later years depending on the type of property or whether improvements are made. For single family properties built before 1994, the installation requirement takes effect on January 1, 2017. For multi-unit residential property and any commercial property, these requirements will apply starting January 1, 2019. See questions 25 and 26 below.

Q 5. I’m a homeowner selling my pre-1994 single-family house. Are there any installation requirements under this law?

There is nothing in this law that requires installation of WCP fixtures as a condition of sale. However, if you haven’t already installed water conserving plumbing fixtures on your pre-1994 single-family house, then beginning January 1, 2017, as an owner of the home, you will be in violation of the basic requirement of the law to have water conserving plumbing fixtures installed.

Q 6. Under the law WCP fixtures are not required as a point of sale. However, isn’t it possible that lenders may require it as a condition of the loan?

Yes. It’s possible. Lenders may make their own underwriting decisions regardless of what the law technically does or does not require. If a lender requires the installation of WCP fixtures as a condition of the loan, that is his or her right to do so. At this time, however, we are unaware of any lender requiring it.

Q 7. What does the law require a seller to disclose regarding water conservation plumbing fixtures?

Presently, the law only requires the seller to check the box on the TDS as to whether there are water conserving plumbing fixtures. Commencing January 1, 2017, for single family pre-1994 houses, the law will require a seller to disclose to the buyer the requirement of water conserving plumbing fixtures and whether the real property has any noncompliant fixtures. This same requirement will come into effect for multi-unit residential and commercial property starting January 1, 2019. See questions 25and 26 below.

Q 8. Are there any forms that allow the seller to meet their disclosure obligations?

Yes. There are a few.

First, the TDS will allow the seller to disclose to the buyer the legal requirements of the law. That’s on the second page of the TDS in the fine print. Secondly, with the 2016 December forms release, the Seller Property Questionnaire (Form SPQ) will be revised to ask the seller whether they are aware of any non-compliant plumbing fixtures. Thirdly, on those transactions which are TDS exempt, the Exempt Seller Disclosure (Form ESD) will be amended to facilitate both disclosures. (Since for TDS exempt properties, neither the TDS nor the SPQ is used). Finally, with the December forms release there will be an optional disclosure form for “Water conserving Plumbing Fixtures and Carbon Monoxide Detector Notice” (Form WCMD). This form will provide an explanation of the technical requirements of the law. It is not actually a new form, but instead, is a revision of the existing “Carbon Monoxide Detector” form. Although, it is an optional form, agents should check with their broker to see if the brokerage requires its delivery.
Q 9. The TDS was changed to include a check box asking if the property has any water-conserving plumbing fixtures. Does that make it a point of sale requirement?

No. In fact, the TDS box has an asterisk to the second page that says, “Installation of a listed appliance, device, or amenity is not a precondition of sale or transfer of the dwelling.” (Cal. Civ. Code section 1102.6.)

Q 10. If the seller checks the box indicating that there are some water-conserving plumbing fixtures, is he or she representing that the fixtures are in compliance with this law?

No. The TDS specifically says, “Fixtures in this dwelling may not comply with Section 1101.4 of the Civil Code.” (Cal. Civ. Code section 1102.6.)

Q 11. Should this box on the TDS be checked if the seller is uncertain about whether there are WCP fixtures installed?

If the seller is uncertain, its best to leave it blank.

Q 12. How should a seller answer the question on the SPQ (or ESD if TDS-exempt), “Are you aware of any non-compliant plumbing fixtures?” if they are uncertain?

A seller who is uncertain should probably err on the side of caution by checking “yes” and stating that they are aware of noncompliant plumbing fixtures.

Q 13. How can a seller know for sure if the property has non-compliant plumbing fixtures?

A CAR form WCMD states the technical specifications of non-compliant fixtures. However, if the seller is unsure then they should consult with someone who has expertise in the matter such as a contractor, plumber or retrofit compliance company.

Q 14. What do agents need to know about compliance with the WCP fixture law?

Agents should be aware that beginning January 1, 2107 owners of single family properties built before 1994 need to replace non-compliant fixtures with WCP fixtures – whether or not the owners are selling their property. And also, starting at the same time, sellers have certain disclosure obligations as discussed above in question 6 through 14.

However, generally agents do not have the expertise of contractors or plumbers, and therefore it is prudent to not offer definitive advice on whether there are or aren’t non-compliant plumbing fixtures on the property.

Q 15. If the seller would like, at his or her option, to install WCP fixtures as part of a sale, where on the California Residential Purchase Agreement (Form RPA-CA) should this be indicated?

Paragraph 7D under “Other Costs” is the appropriate place to indicate this.

Q 16. Is there sample language that could be used to negotiate for the installation of WCP fixtures?

Yes, A seller or buyer may use the following language: [Buyer or Seller shall pay for]… the installation of water-conserving plumbing fixtures per Civil Code § 1101.3 if required by law not to exceed the cost of $________.

The phrase “water-conserving plumbing fixtures” is defined to mean plumbing fixtures in compliance with current, new-construction, building standards (Civ. Code 1101.3(e)). The suggested language on the contract, “if required by law,” would leave open the possibility that the plumbing fixtures already meet the standards of the Civil Code and thus, there would be no obligation to upgrade them.

Q 17. What is the definition of “water-conserving plumbing fixture”?

Water-conserving plumbing fixture means any fixture that is in compliance with current building standards applicable to a newly constructed real property. (Cal. Civ. Code section 1101.3.)

Q 18. What is the definition of “noncompliant fixture”?

The law calls for installation of water-conserving plumbing fixtures only when the existing plumbing fixtures are “non-compliant.” Noncompliant plumbing fixture means (1) any toilet manufactured to use more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush (2) any urinal manufactured to use more than one gallon of water per flush (3) any showerhead manufactured to have a flow capacity of more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute (4) any interior faucet that emits more than 2.2 gallons of water per minute. (Cal. Civ. Code section 1101.3.)

Q 19. Does the water conservation law apply to all types of property?

No. The law only applies to property built and available for use on or before January 1, 1994. (Cal. Civ. Code section 1101.2.)

Q 20. Why does it only apply to buildings built before January 1, 1994?

Under federal law, all residential toilets manufactured after January 1, 1994 must use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush. In California ultra-low flush toilets have been required in all new construction since January 1, 1992.

Q 21. When must the water-conserving fixtures be installed?

It depends on what kind of property you own, and whether you make improvements. The law sets up three categories: “single-family residential real property,” “commercial real property,” and “multifamily residential property.”

Q 22. What is a “single-family residential” property?

A single-family residential property means any real property that is improved with, or consisting of, a building containing not more than one unit that is intended for human habitation. Therefore a condo, even a single condo occupied by only one family, is not a single-family residential property under this law. (Cal. Civ. Code section 1101.3.)

Q 23. What is a “multifamily residential real property”?

A multifamily residential property means any real property containing more than one unit that is intended for human habitation. This would include the residential portions of a mixed use property. (Cal. Civ. Code section 1101.3.)

Q 24. What is a “commercial real property”?

Commercial real property means any property that is not in the above two categories and includes hotels and motels. (Cal. Civ. Code section 1101.3.)

Q 25. If I own a single-family residential property, what are the requirements and when do they take effect?

Beginning January 1, 2017 all single family property owners will be required to replace noncompliant plumbing fixtures with water-conserving fixtures regardless of whether any improvements are made and whether or not the property is being sold.

Beginning January 1, 2017 a seller must disclose in writing to the buyer the requirement of water-conserving fixtures and whether the real property has any noncompliant fixtures.

However, if you do any improvement requiring a permit after January 1, 2014 on a single-family property, the permit will not be issued unless all noncompliant plumbing fixtures have been replaced with water-conserving fixtures. (Cal. Civ. Code section 1101.4.)

Q 26. I own a multifamily residential property or a commercial property, what are the requirements and when do they take effect?

Beginning January 1, 2019 all noncompliant plumbing fixtures in any multifamily residential real property and any commercial real property shall be replaced with water-conserving plumbing fixtures.

Beginning January 1, 2019 a seller of these types of properties must disclose in writing to the buyer the requirement of water-conserving fixtures and whether the real property has any noncompliant fixtures.

However, after January 1, 2014, if you do any improvement which either costs at least $150,000 or increases total floor area by more than 10, then all nonconforming fixtures must be replaced with water-conserving plumbing fixtures. And replacement of nonconforming fixtures will be a condition of permit approval or certificate of final completion. However, if you only do improvements requiring a permit in a room then you only have to replace nonconforming fixtures in that room. (Cal. Civ. Code section 1101.5.)

Q 27. Who is required to make the disclosure as to whether the property is or isn’t in compliance, the seller or the listing agent?

The seller. The law specifically says a seller or transferor shall make the disclosure in writing. Earlier drafts of the bill attempted to make agents responsible for the disclosure, but these were removed from the final law.

Q 28. Are there any exemptions?

Yes. There are exemptions for historical sites; property where it isn’t technically feasible to install water-conserving fixtures; buildings where the water is permanently disconnected; buildings slated to be demolished; and a special exemption for a city (or county) itself that has an existing retrofit law. (Cal. Civ. Code section 1101.7.)

Q 29. Can I comply with this law by just putting a brick in my toilet?

No. The law defines as nonconforming any toilet manufactured to use more than 1.6 gallons. Therefore, displacing water in the tank will not put you in compliance with the law, even though you might be saving just as much water.

Q 30. I am a landlord, and I want to install or test my water-conserving devices in the rental unit. Can I enter the property for that purpose?

Yes, as long as you give the proper written notice for entry of a dwelling. (Cal. Civ. Code sections 1101.5, 1954.)

Q 31. I own a property in city where there is an existing retrofit law for water-conserving fixtures as a point of sale requirement (such as Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco). Are those retrofit laws still in force?

Yes. Local laws passed before July of 2009 requiring retrofit of plumbing fixtures remain in effect. The state law also allows a locality to pass more restrictive requirements at any time.

Q 32. Can a city or county require greater water savings than the state law? Or have local laws now been superseded by the state law?

No. A city, county or a retail water supplier has the authority to enact local ordinances or establish policies that will result in a greater amount of water savings than those provided under California’s statewide law on water-conserving plumbing fixtures (Cal. Civ. Code section 1101.8).

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Source: Terra Firma

8 Reasons Why December is a Great Time to Sell

8 Reasons Why December is a Great Time to Sell

There’s this myth out there that the real estate market slows or even stops in December. It may seem counterintuitive, but the holidays are actually an excellent time to sell your home!

Here are 8 reasons to buy or sell a home during the holidays:

1. Serious Buyers: People who are looking to buy a home during the holidays are serious about finding their new residence! There may be fewer of these folks out there in general, but the ones who are looking are ready and wanting to buy, and they’re not messing around.

2. Low Supply: Typically, there are fewer homes for buyers to look at around the holiday season, which means there’s less competition for the attention of those buyers! When the holiday season ends and the new year begins, the supply of homes goes up. More inventory can mean more competition, longer days on market and potentially less money for your home.

3. Sell High, Buy Low: If want to buy a home in the 2016 spring market, selling now (and potentially renting short term) gives you the chance to be a non-contingent buyer when you’re ready to purchase in the spring. This is ideal. Since the spring time will bring more buyers into the marketplace for you to compete with, now you are set up as a “great buyer” who can compete with anyone, without a house sale contingency!

White cup of tea and warm woolen things near fireplace on wooden table. Winter and Christmas holiday concept.
4. Holiday Decor: The holidays tend to bring out the best in a home, when it’s all decorated and dressed to the nines! Your home will show beautifully, decked out in wreaths, red bows, and white lights! I particularly love the winter scents of pine, cinnamon and the toasty feel of a fireplace. Plus, the holidays can provide that emotional connection to a home that will help a buyer feel more attached and pay your asking price.

5. More Time: While your first instinct might be that people are too busy during the holidays to look at homes, think again! Many buyers may have less demanding schedules during the holiday season, or time off during Christmas as opposed to a normal work week. This is especially the case for relocation buyers… one of the best opportunities for a seller. They need to purchase and only have a short time to find their next home before the new year. (See #8!)

6. Scheduling Control: Don’t worry—if you’re selling, you can still enjoy the holidays as usual! You can limit home showings to when you’re comfortable. You stay in control!move. lots of cardboard boxes in an empty new apartment

7. Move in the Spring: You can sell during this prime holiday time, but still not have to worry about moving until January through March, well after the holiday season is over. You can negotiate a longer closing period or an extended use and occupancy.

8. Capture the Relocating Buyer: January is often a time when employees begin new jobs. Oftentimes, when someone is transferred to a new position, they need a home, and they need it ASAP! This means they can’t necessarily wait until spring to buy, and that means you need to be on the market during the final months of the year to capture this unique buyer opportunity.

A big thank you to Tracey Reynes from our Sonoma Office for bringing us this great insight!

headshotFor Tracey Reynes, she attributes much of her success as a Realtor to the time she spent in the culinary and event planning fields and her Culinary Arts degree from the acclaimed California Culinary Academy. She spent years learning and fine-tuning organizational, customer relations, and project management skills, as well as the attention to detail and follow-through.

In addition, as a California resident for nearly three decades and a Wine Country home owner for several of those years, she possesses vital, in-depth knowledge of the local real estate market, as well as of schools, services and other aspects of life in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. She is a Director and Secretary of Sonoma League for Historic Preservation, and is an active volunteer with the Sonoma Community Center and Sonoma Film Festival. She is a Board member of Sonoma Valley High School Boosters Club and Sonoma Little League. When prospective clients choose to work with Tracy Reynes, they are assured it is not only a Realtor who represents them, it is a respected professional who is also a valuable and contributing member of their community.

Tracey works out of our Sonoma office. She can be reached via email at or via phone at 707-775-7654. Also, check out her website at

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Source: Terra Firma

2017 Residential Real Estate Market Forecast

2017 Residential Real Estate Market Forecast

As published in The Registry on November 22, 2016 and the North Bay Business Journal on November 28, 2016

North Bay Residential Real Estate Market is Decelerating and Showing Signs of Fatigue

The residential real estate market in the North Bay counties of Marin, Napa and Sonoma is decelerating and showing signs of fatigue after five consecutive years of growth, according to a recent survey from Terra Firma Global Partners, a residential real estate services firm with nine North Bay offices.

Using the most common metrics to measure the markets, single-family home and condominium sales in the three North Bay counties seem to have plateaued, and the forecast for 2017 is for home and condo sales to remain flat with a chance to actually decline in some micro-markets.

House for sale with sign

During the first nine months of this year, compared with the first nine months of 2015, 15% fewer homes and condos traded ownership in Marin County, 5.3% fewer in Sonoma and 9.6% fewer sales occurred in Napa counties.

Sales velocity is clearly down in all three counties and for a variety of reasons, some of which are true for each county. The common theme relates to supply and demand, with limited supply in high demand markets driving up pricing in all three counties but particularly in Marin and Sonoma County, where the median price of sold homes increased 9% during the first nine months of 2016 compared with the first nine months of 2015. In Napa County, the median home and condo sale price increased 1.75% during the first nine months this year.

The median sale price means that half of all homes sold above the median figure and half of the homes sold below the median figure. See table below for specific pricing in each county.

Lack of inventory is an issue in each county, with only 2.5 months of supply available in Marin (homes and condos listed for sale) as of Sept. 30 this year, 1.8 months of supply in Sonoma and 2.85 months of supply in Napa counties, according to data compiled from BAREIS® (Bay Area Real Estate Information Services) and NorCal MLS®. The data was mined by Terra Firma Global Partners’ Senior Associate Jaime Pera for Marin County, Senior Associate Trish McLean, CRS and Certified Green Real Estate Professional for Sonoma County and Senior Associate Ellen Politz for Napa County.

Photo Of White Puzzle House On Green Grass

The average price per square foot increased nominally in Marin and Sonoma counties for the reporting periods, largely because home prices have been rising since 2011 with the biggest spikes coming in 2014 and 2015. That left little room for big price increases in 2016 – at least in Marin and Sonoma, which is another sign of a decelerating market. In Marin, the price per foot increase was 3% in 2016 and stood at $662 a foot at the end of September this year compared with $642 per foot at the end of September in 2015. The price per foot was 4.9% more in in Sonoma County ($381 vs. $364) yet in Napa County, the price per foot shot up 19% ($483 vs $391) during the first three quarters of this year.

Days on the market (DOM), while an imperfect measurement because DOM is reported differently by all of the sales agents in the industry, is still a good indicator as to which direction the markets are heading. DOM in Marin declined by 9% in the first three quarters of this year and by 1.5% in Sonoma, yet increased by 4% in Napa County. The 9% median price increase in Marin combined with the shortened DOM has taken the Marin County housing market to unprecedented heights and begs the question – how much higher can it go, if at all? The relatively flat DOM in Sonoma County and modest increase in days on the market in Napa County indicates the markets have stabilized there.

As markets go, Marin County typically lags and follows home sales trends in San Francisco, while Sonoma lags and follows Marin County and Napa lags and follows Sonoma County.

Total Homes and Condos Sold 1Q2016 through 3Q2016
Marin: 1,928
Same Period 2015: 2,264
Percentage Change: -15%

Total Homes and Condos Sold 1Q2016 through 3Q2016
Sonoma: 3,953
Same Period 2015: 4,156
Percentage Change: -5.3%

Total Homes and Condos Sold 1Q2016 through 3Q2016
Napa: 1,242
Same Period 2015: 1,123
Percentage Change: -9.6%

Average Price Per Square Foot 1Q2016 through 3Q2016
Marin: $662
Same Period 2015: $642
Percentage Change: 3%

Average Price Per Square Foot 1Q2016 through 3Q2016
Sonoma: $381
Same Period 2015: $364
Percentage Change: 4.9%

Average Price Per Square Foot 1Q2016 through 3Q2016
Napa: $483
Same Period 2015: $391
Percentage Change: 19%

Median Price September 30, 2016 of 2016 compared with September 30, 2015

Marin: $1,014,817 vs. $930,786
Percentage Change: 9%

Sonoma: $545,000 vs. $500,000
Percentage Change: 9.0%

Napa: $629,000 vs. $618,000
Percentage Change: 1.75%

Average Days on Market First 9 Months of 2016 compared with First 9 Months of 2015:

Marin: 49 vs. 54
Percentage Change: -9%

Sonoma: 62 vs. 63
Percentage Change: -1.5%

Napa: 89 vs. 85.5
Percentage Change: 4%

Shifting Markets

“In Sonoma County, we are seeing more price adjustments and more negotiations for repairs occurring. Repairs and repair credits are hard to quantify, but it is an indicator of a softening market, or at least movement toward a more level market. While this is one indicator of a stabilizing market, we are still seeing strong competition among buyers for available homes. There’s an interesting subset of data in the percentage of agents reporting “Multiple Offers” in MLS. This isn’t a required field, so there may be more sales getting multiple offers than are being reported, but we know at least these number of homes have received offers from more than one buyer. In Sonoma County, through Sept 30 this year, 1,438 homes sold with multiple offers, compared to 1,335 homes during the same period of 2015, or a 7% increase,” reported Trish McLean.

Yet asking rates for homes have not lowered on any wide scale in Marin County, Jaime Pera reported. However, Pera wrote that the lower end of the market is shrinking and so is the middle part of the market, while the high end market is growing. Based on homes and condos listed for Blue button with house on computer keyboardsale, as of 9.30 this year there were 163 homes on the market priced below $1 million, or down 16% compared with Sept. 30 of 2015. There were 252 homes for sale priced below $1.5 million – 11% fewer than a year earlier. Yet 32% of Marin homes for sale were priced at $2 million or more at the close of the third quarter this year, or 7% more than the same period a year ago.


Regarding inventory, McLean wrote that “we’d have to go back to 2011 to find more than two months of inventory…indicating that (at least for now) under two months of inventory is the new normal.”

Ellen Politz attributes the lack of inventory to broader ownership trends with lower turnover, citing a California Association of REALTORS® report that homeowners are staying in their homes for an average of 10 years instead of a range from five-to-seven years.

Hispanic Couple Viewing Potential New Home“Marriage is down, and the millennials aren’t pursuing the American Dream of getting married, buying homes and having kids the way

previous generations have. Instead, they are looking to experience life and travel. So housing is not turning over at the same rate as the households are not changing as they once did,” Politz wrote.

Mortgage rates are likely to rise, making it harder for first-time buyers and move-up buyers to afford to buy their first homes or to trade up. With real wage increases occurring in the U.S. following regular monthly gains in employment, the Federal Reserve appears poised to increase interest rates by a quarter point when it meets in December, and Fed bankers have publicly stated that another rate increase is likely in the first half of 2017.

The Fear Factor

Both McLean and Pera cited fear as a market driver in written comments that they included with their data findings.

“Another factor affecting inventory is fear… sellers who are concerned that they won’t be able to find a replacement property so they don’t want to sell their home,” wrote McLean.

Similarly, “there are a lot of sellers on the fence about downsizing, not knowing where they are going to go plus as a general rule they have fear about downsizing and making a mistake,” Pera wrote.

Looking Ahead

Higher borrowing costs are nearly a certainty and “could feel like a double whammy,” Politz stated, because borrowing rates actually declined by nearly 50 basis points from the end of the third quarter 2015 to the end of September this year. The 30-year fixed rate mortgage average in the United States was 3.9% at the end of the third quarter in 2015 and had fallen to 3.45% by Sept. 30, 2016, according to data compiled by Freddie Mac and reported by the St. Louis Federal Reserve. Even so, Politz noted, “assuming that rates go up, we will only be moving from super low to low, historically speaking.”

“The silver lining in the shifting market is that the move-up / move-down market is gaining strength as more and more agents are willing to broker deals between parties involving contingencies for sbuy house Mortgage calculations, calculator with Magnifier Searchingelling or buying property. I just closed two transactions for a client who was doing a move-up purchase. They were concerned about selling their house and ending up homeless. We got their home “ready” to sell…pest inspection, cleaning, professional photography, etc. so that we could take action the moment they found a house they wanted. We also found a house that had been on the market for two weeks (which can seem like an eternity to the seller). That seller was willing to accept our full price offer and give us time to find a buyer for our house, largely because they also needed time to find a house to move to! So both buyer and seller had the same challenge…wanting to move and needing someone who would be understanding. In the end, this “daisy chain” of escrows closed successfully with a minimum of drama. It’s cooperation like that and trust that keeps the market moving,” McLean wrote.

“Over the last five years we have seen the housing market increase at a rate that significantly outpaces income growth. In 2017, with the (forecasted) increasing interest rate environment, simple economics tell us housing prices have to respond by softening to absorb the rate increases. Well priced, updated homes will continue to be highly sought after as buyers generally are willing to pay more for them, rather than fix up a property themselves. Today’s buyers are weary that we have reached new heights in the real estate market and they are watching and waiting to see if things hold or fold,” Politz wrote.Giving house keys

“I’d say that 2017 is a good year to start taking some chips off the table particularly if the goal is to downsize in the next couple of years. There is no point in waiting. I expect next year to be like this year with relatively low levels of inventory. Properties that are priced correctly, are updated, and are in the right neighborhoods will sell quickly with multiple offers. Homes that are overpriced with inflexible sellers will sit and likely end up selling for less than if they had been priced correctly in the first place. I expect prices to continue to rise, but at a slower pace than 2016 as buyers are starting to resist price increases. Downsizers will continue to ponder the question: Where do I move to? When they finally figure this out we will have more inventory. If they wait too long and sell during a period of rising interest rates, slowing sales, and growing inventory they will pay the price for having waited too long to make a decision,” concluded Pera.

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Source: Terra Firma