I’m a Realtor First, Blogger Second

I’ve received a handful of calls over the past year from home buyers and sellers looking for my opinion on their individual real estate situations. The buyers are either in contract on a property and a transaction issue has come up, or are negotiating a purchase agreement and seeking assurance about where the market is going. The sellers have accepted an offer but are looking for my input on whether or not they should grant a requested buyer credit or risk falling out of contract.

I’m always happy to hear from my extensive blog base, but I thought it might be a good time to remind everyone that I’m able to stay in business and write my blog because I’m selling real estate. And I do reserve a good portion of my strategies, market insights and advice for clients—meaning there’s way more you need to know beyond my blog post content when you’re transitioning from reader to being a home buyer or seller.

If you’ve already engaged the services of a Realtor you trust, it’s probably best for you to follow his or her advice. Because if you committed to working with your Realtor, it should mean that you value his or her counsel and have worked through many details together. You now have a track record with your agent, a professional who will also get paid a fee when your transaction closes. We work in a service-based industry, and our time, market knowledge, and negotiating expertise are a few of the services we offer that make us valuable.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time and are now planning to buy or sell a property, please remember that I am an experienced, knowledgeable, highly organized and down-to-earth agent who will work in your best interest (even if it means advising you to pass on a particular home or reject a certain offer). Many of my readers have become clients, and have gone on to refer their friends, co-workers, neighbors and family to me.

And every time that happens, it allows me to keep writing this blog and sharing my insights with you on a consistent basis.

Need further proof? Check out my Yelp reviews and video here.

Looking forward to working with more of you in 2014!

Ignore the “Homestead” Scam

It’s inevitable that after you complete the purchase or refinance of your home, you receive a notice in the mail from a company with a random name like “TRS” offering to prepare a Declaration of Homestead for you. They typically request anywhere from $25-$75 to draw up the declaration and send it back to you so you can take it to City Hall to record the document.

When you get the letter, throw it out. It’s a scam.

A homestead declaration, in a nutshell, is a legal document that protects the equity in your home from creditors. The reality is that homestead protection is automatic in California, so there’s no need to pay anyone to create it for you. These companies target first-time home buyers who may not be aware of all the facts.

5 Ways to Avoid Home-Buying Closing Delays

Contract timelines are always tight in the current San Francisco market. That means that buyers are typically removing appraisal and loan approval contingencies within days of having offers accepted. If you’re not prepared to jump on the fast track to completing your purchase, drama can ensue.

Here are five ways to avoid major closing delays, courtesy of my colleagues at Guarantee Mortgage who presented at our Zephyr sales meeting this week:
1. Be ready to pay for your appraisal. In order to meet a fast appraisal approval turnaround, the lender has to order the appraisal immediately. You should be sufficiently committed to the property to pay for your appraisal within the first day of offer acceptance.

2. Don’t switch your bank accounts around. The lender will typically require re-verification of all money you wire into escrow for your cash balance. If that money is suddenly coming from an account previously undisclosed during your preapproval period, the lender will demand that you provide documentation for that account. The statements will then have to be resubmitted and reviewed by underwriting while time is ticking.

3. Make sure your cash balance is liquid and ready to be transferred to the escrow account. The lender will want to see that the balance of your down payment and closing costs have been wired into the escrow account prior to funding the loan. Best strategy? Wire in that cash balance a few days prior to close of escrow to ensure that your loan funds on time.

4. Watch the AMEX charges. Lenders are picky about American Express credit card balances. If you have a high balance on your AMEX, a lender may want to see proof that you have the money to pay off that balance in full. This proof of funds should be separate from the funds you’ll need to pay your cash balance and any reserves required.

5. Lock in your homeowners insurance early. You should select your home insurance policy no later than a week prior to signing your loan documents. The latter are usually issued about a week ahead of the closing date.

What You Need To Know About Gift Funds

It’s no secret that the cost of real estate in San Francisco is high. Many first-time home buyers are turning to family—specifically, to their parents—for a little extra help. If you’re considering making a purchase that will partially rely on what are called “gift funds,” here’s what you need to know, courtesy of my colleague Gordon Friedman of Mortgage Service Professionals:

- The funds must be for a primary residence or second home (not for an investment property)
- The gift must be from a parent, relative, domestic partner, spouse or fiance
- A gift letter is required, which must state the gift amount, property address, date given/to be given, and donor address. The letter also must state that no repayment will be required
- Buyer must have 20% or more in down payment, though the entire down payment can be a gift
- If the buyer has less than 20% down, there will be a 5% borrower contribution required
- For a jumbo loan (more than $625,500), a 5% borrower contribution is required regardless of the down payment.

Parents may co-sign to help their child qualify for financing. Their role in the transaction is as a “non-occupant co-borrower.” They will be on the loan and title, but will not live in the property. Here are the ground rules:
- Parents’ income is combined with son or daughter (and spouse if married) for qualification
- Parents’ debts must be considered
- A loan will only be available from lenders that underwrite to Freddie Mac conforming loan guidelines (not Fannie Mae)
- There’s limited availability among jumbo lenders
- Parents’ contribution towards down payment is not a gift since they will be on the loan

If you’ll be using gift money in your purchase, it’s important to let your lender know during the preapproval stage so there are no surprises.

All Deeds Must Record At Same Time for Condo Conversion

As the current crop of TICs converts to condos, I’m seeing many owners listing their TIC interests prior to the actual condo conversion of the entire building. This means the buyer is expected to step in at the tail end of the condo conversion and work with all existing owners as they refinance and everyone completes the conversion process.

In other words, whether there’s a group loan or fractional financing in place, all new condo deeds have to record simultaneously. If there is one owner in the group who doesn’t have a loan, that owner needs to wait until everyone’s refinancing/new purchases are completed prior to obtaining a condo deed.

This is a very important fact to know when you’re getting ready to sell your TIC interest as a condo. It’s critical to communicate with TIC partners so everyone is on the same page about all owners’ refinancing or sale plans. You’re all in this together until the condo conversion is complete, and no one can record a condo deed any earlier or later than anyone else.

If you’re a TIC owner on the verge of condo conversion and you’re aiming to sell before your conversion is complete, make sure your TIC partners know of your plans. One of them may also be planning to sell within the same timeframe, and it’s most advantageous to go on the market at the same time. It won’t do anyone any good if one owner has a buyer in place and then discovers that another TIC partner is going on the market two weeks later. That sequence of events will only delay the first sale, and the lack of coordination could actually kill both sales if buyers grow impatient.

And if you’re a buyer, make sure you receive a deed that clearly states the unit is a condo. You’ll have a new lot number, and you will not be sharing title with anyone else.

Inventory for Every Price Point in Bernal

The Bernal Heights market is experiencing a jolt of inventory, and not just in $1M+ dollar single-family houses. There’s something for everyone, and I wanted to point out some of my favorites. Whether you’re looking to spend up to $500,000 or $2M, here are some good choices in prime neighborhood locations:

515 Eugenia
1BR/1BA, no pkg
515 Eugenia is one TIC interest in a newly renovated, three-unit property at the corner of Bonview and Eugenia. This is a great location because it’s only a block to Cortland, as well as a few short blocks to Mission Street and its public transportation. 515 Eugenia is small, but well appointed. The kitchen is a good size and has reasonable counter and cabinet space, and there’s shared laundry and exclusive storage. The unit is located over the two-car garage, so this may not work if you’re sensitive to the noise of garage doors opening when your fellow building owners are coming and going. But overall, 515 Eugenia is a good package for this price point. (Also available are 199 Bonview #A, the other 1BR unit listed for $495,000, and the two-story main house unit at 199 Bonview for $995,000.)

149 Wool
1-2BR/1BA, 1 pkg
149 Wool has a flexible floor plan, with the option of having one bedroom and a formal living room up front, or two bedrooms and a kitchen/living/dining area at the rear. Either way, it’s good space that leads out to a deck and yard and also has a nicely renovated bathroom. The foundation is newer, and storage is included.

308 Anderson
Single-Family Home
3BR/2BA, 2 pkg
If you love SoMa-style architecture but want to be in more of a neighborhood environment, 308 Anderson is a great bet. Two stacked cubes offer a narrow but spacious interior across two levels. And it’s a house, so there are no HOA dues, CC&Rs or any other restrictions. There’s no yard, but there are a couple outdoor balconies.

98 Anderson
Single-Family Home
3BR/2BA, pkg
98 Anderson is a detached Victorian that features a main living area with excellent flow that leads out to a glass-enclosed deck and protected, private garden. There’s a front room that can be used as a bedroom (though it doesn’t have a closet). Upstairs are two large bedrooms and two bathrooms, and there is a bit of expansion potential on the garage level. This house has a great corner presence and has views from just about every window.

The Most Competitive House Markets in San Francisco Right Now

If you’re aiming to buy or sell a single-family home in San Francisco, it’s important to take note of the selling patterns in the city’s various neighborhoods. You’ve probably read my blog post from earlier this week on the hottest condo markets, but when it comes to overbidding on houses, the landscape looks slightly different.

The neighborhoods where buyers are overbidding most intensely are varied, and there are many. Here are the most competitive markets according to the average overbid percentage:
Inner Sunset 26.18%
The Mission 22.47%
Glen Park 21.95%
Inner Parkside 21.61%
Miraloma Park 20.48%
Noe Valley 20.14%
Bernal Heights 19.94%
Ingleside Heights 19.51%
Forest Hill 19.45%
Ingleside 18.96%
Crocker Amazon/Outer Mission 18.18%
Eureka Valley 17.77
Sunnyside 17.69%
Central Richmond 16.58%
Outer Richmond 15.38%
Potrero Hill 15.15%

The Runner-Ups
Central Sunset/Parkside 14.93%
Outer Sunset/Outer Parkside 14.80%
Excelsior 14.74%
Portola/Silver Terrace 13.93%
Mission Terrace 12.81%

The Most Competitive Condo Markets in San Francisco Right Now

One of the keys to success in the current San Francisco market is knowing which neighborhoods are the most competitive. Armed with that intel, you can more easily gauge how much to offer on a property, or what list price will work to your advantage.

As many of my regular readers know, I’ve been running a feature highlighting extreme overbidding for several months, regularly inducting new members into the SF Overbidders Club. The reality is that we have many neighborhoods in San Francisco that are showing double-digit overbid percentages, and it’s important to know what the selling patterns are when you’re determining values.

When it comes to the San Francisco market, these patterns can change pretty quickly. My sales data is based on reported MLS sales in the time period April 1 – May 12, 2014, so it’s the most current info available.

Here are the most competitive neighborhoods and their average overbids right now for condo sales:
1. Cow Hollow: 21.87%
2. Cole Valley/Buena Vista Terrace: 21%
3. The Haight: 19.85%
4. Eureka Valley: 18.69%
5. Noe Valley: 16.28%
6. NoPa: 15%
7. Pacific Heights: 13.88%

The Runner Ups
Bernal Heights: 11.37%
Mission/Mission Dolores: 10.49%
Potrero/Dogpatch: 10.49%
Corona Heights: 10.16%
Hayes Valley/Alamo Square: 9.6%
Presidio Heights: 8.52%
Lower Pacific Heights: 8%
The Marina: 7.61%
Mission Bay: 6.32%
SoMa: 6.61%

As for more specifics on how much you should offer or for what price you should list your home—well, that’s my job, and I’m happy to work for you. Give me a shout at 415.823.4656 / ebermingham@zephyrsf.com and we can talk about how I can help you. And yes, I’ll be hitting up the single-family home market later this week so you can see where the hottest markets are right now in the city.

My Offer Was Accepted—Now What?!

Most San Francisco buyers are focused on competing for properties. What’s equally important is that you have a firm understanding of what you’ll be responsible for once your offer is accepted and you’re officially “in contract” to purchase your home.

The first week to ten days after “ratification” (seller accepting your offer) are essentially a juggling act. Here are the five things you should be prepared to do:
1. Place your deposit into the escrow account. You’ll need to wire in your good faith deposit (typically 3% of the purchase price). You can also write a check, but wiring is what most buyers do. Make sure that deposit money is liquid and able to be transferred within one to three days of ratification to the title company account associated with your escrow.

2. Submit outstanding financial documentation to your lender. Your lender will invariably need updated financial documentation in order to get your loan package approved. If you’re working within a competitive contingency timeframe (who isn’t?), you’ll want to deliver those docs to the lender within a day or so of the request.

3. Conduct your inspections. You’re going to have to quickly get inspections on the calendar if you didn’t pre-schedule them. This will require some flexibility and probably time away from work during the week. Once you have the inspections and review written reports, you’ll be asked to address the contingency—either removing it, or negotiating any items—as per your contractual deadline.

4. Sign outstanding disclosures. You may have signed a bulk of seller disclosures and reports up front, but there will be more. Be sure you set time aside to review what comes in.

5. Address your appraisal/loan contingencies. Make sure you set time aside to review your appraisal (particularly to make sure that it has come in at value) and respond to any remaining conditions once the lender has reviewed all property and financial documentation. You’re aiming for a big thumbs up from the lender on all aspects of your loan so they begin generating loan documents for you to sign. You will have to ultimately sign and submit the loan/appraisal contingency removal form to the seller to officially clear your contractual obligation.

What You Need To Know About Leased Parking

You start your home search with a parking space as part of your criteria. And then you see the perfect condo, but it has what’s defined as “leased parking.” What exactly are the ramifications for this?

The SF Realtor Association recently changed the data fields in the MLS to include leased parking and its related details in a given listing. Previously, you either had some type of deeded parking, or not. Some agents indicated “1L” in the data field, which resulted in listings showing a parking space that technically wasn’t going to be sold with the unit. So the new leased parking fields are a good thing, in my opinion.

The main distinction to make with respect to parking is that a space is included with the purchase, or it’s not. There are also variations on parking that comes with a unit, such as deeded, assigned, tandem or independent style.

A leased space is not included in the purchase price, and it doesn’t run with the property. The seller typically has leased the space for a while, or has just secured it so the property can be marketed with a solution to the no-parking problem. The seller has a signed agreement with a third party, and that third party also has to approve the buyer if the lease is to be transferred to the new owner.

Leased parking can be in a private garage, or it can be in a lot or even a public parking garage. You’ll want to visit the space and consider the distance to and from your unit. If the space is in a parking lot, know that someday that lot may be a condo development.

Most importantly, there is no guarantee that the leased space will be available throughout your ownership, or that you’ll be able to transfer the lease in the future. But having a leased space available addresses immediate concerns (i.e., where am I going to park?!). Neighborhoods that have major parking challenges—the Mission, Russian Hill, the Haight, Hayes Valley, to name a few—often also have leased parking available, and securing that lease may entice some buyers to move ahead with a purchase.

So if you’re considering a property that has leased parking, just know that there is no guarantee you’ll have that space forever. It’s also a good idea to get a sense for how available other leased spaces are in a particular location, in the event you someday have to replace that space. And also note the monthly cost of that space, because it will be in addition to HOA dues, too, if you’re purchasing a condo.

Why Your Appraisal Matters in a Home Purchase

It’s important to understand the major contingencies in a purchase agreement, and one of the most important ones is the appraisal.

All lenders will require that a licensed appraiser determine the value of the property. This appraisal represents an unbiased and objective value opinion. The appraiser studies recent comparable sales in the neighborhood, making adjustments for various attributes such as number of bedrooms, bathrooms, parking, remodeling and the like. In the end, he or she arrives at a value for the property, which will hopefully be at least what you’re paying. (The appraisal can sometimes end up being more than you’re paying, which is great for you but doesn’t affect the loan.)

The appraiser submits the appraisal document to the lender, whose underwriter reviews the material. If the appraisal is “at value” for the price you’re paying, the underwriter will approve the appraisal—or could require more time if they have any issues with the content. If the appraisal is under the value you’re paying, the bank won’t kick in the difference. It will then be up to the buyer to bring in more money, or potentially negotiate with the seller to reduce the price.

Your appraisal contingency will cover you if the appraised value comes up short. If you don’t have that contingency, you’ll be in a position to cover the shortfall with more cash, or your good faith deposit sitting in escrow can be at risk. Your contingency timeframe has to allow for the appraiser to visit the property, complete/submit the written appraisal to the lender, and the underwriter to review and sign off.

It is very important for you or your agent to consult the lender about how much time will be needed for this contingency. I’ve recently had lenders tell me that it will only be seven days for the process to be complete, yet that seven days seems to cover only the time for the appraisal to get to underwriting. That means the buyer will have to potentially remove the contingency prior to underwriting giving its blessing, and that is not ideal.

How to Evaluate a Condo and HOA

There are always more condos than single-family homes available at any given point in time. And condos are the most popular property type in San Francisco, especially for first-time home buyers who want to be in popular, central neighborhoods. But before you rush out and write an offer on one, it’s important to consider the complexity of owning this type of property.

Here’s a quick condo primer that will help you evaluate the fundamentals of a unit and its homeowners association (HOA):

HOA dues: How much are your monthly HOA dues, and what do they cover? Is the total amount in line with buildings of the same scope? Are there any unit owners who are behind on their HOA dues?

HOA reserves: How much does the HOA have on hand in the event a major component of the building needs to be replaced?

Rental capability: What is the restriction on renting your unit, should you decide to move and not want to sell? And how many units in the building are rented?

Affordable housing designations: Is unit resale restricted by any city ordinances, such as affordable housing laws?

Pending litigation: Is the HOA involved in any lawsuits?

Special Assessments: Will there be any future, per-unit charges in addition to the existing HOA dues?

Parking: Is the parking space deeded to the unit, or is it leased separately? Are you able to rent your parking space in the event you want to? Will your car fit in the space?

Pets: What are the number or pound restrictions for pets in each unit? What restrictions exist for pets off leash?

Insurance: Is the insurance policy current? Does it include earthquake insurance? (You’ll know if the HOA dues are substantially higher than usual.)

Renovations: What’s the process required for remodeling any part of your unit? Similarly, did the previous owner complete any renovations, and were they done with permits?

Available Services: Is there a lobby attendant? Fitness center? Common garden or roof deck? HOA lounge? Check out every aspect of the building—even the trash and recycling room.

Move-out Fees: Is there a fee for moving in, and what days/timeframes does the HOA permit moves to take place?

Contract Contingencies Protect Your Deposit

When you submit an offer for a property, your contract will most likely have some contingencies, which are conditions of the sale. These contingencies exist to ultimately protect your good faith deposit in the event that you discover, for example, unacceptable property issues, end up with an appraised value that is less than the amount you’re offering, or suddenly can’t obtain financing.

But let’s back up. In a San Francisco purchase, it’s required to include a deposit equal to three percent of your purchase price. If your offer is accepted, you transfer that money via a wire or check into an escrow account held by a title company. In the event you back out of the sale for a reason other than a specified contingency, the seller is technically entitled to retain that deposit for what is called “liquidated damages.”

The primary contingencies in the purchase agreement are typically that of the inspection, appraisal and loan. If you include these conditions and decide to back out due to one or more of them, the sale will be cancelled and the deposit rightfully returned.

Many buyers are waiving these major contingencies in the current market in order to be competitive. If they’re doing that, it means that they hopefully fully understand that they need to be comfortable absorbing costs and repairs that may come up unexpectedly in the absence of inspections. Or they are extremely confident in their financing and have no doubt they will obtain their loan. (These buyers typically have much more than 20% down.) And finally, if their appraisal comes up short for the value they’re paying, they are ok covering the difference between the purchase price and appraised value.

If you’re not quite confident in all of that, it’s best to include the standard contingencies. Three percent of the price of any San Francisco home is a hefty amount, and you won’t be happy potentially losing it to a seller who seeks damages due to a sale cancellation.

My Clients Remodel With Amazing Results

My clients purchased a single-family home in the Crocker Amazon neighborhood last year, and aimed to complete an extensive remodel prior to moving in. They just moved in a few weeks ago, and I stopped in to see the renovations this week.

This was an older house that sorely needed a new kitchen, bathroom, and a better “flow.” My clients worked with their contractor to totally revamp the kitchen, move doorways, add closet space and create a more open living/dining room area, among the more major items. They agreed to let me post a few before and after photos, as I thought it would be cool for my readers to see just what you can do when you buy a cosmetic fixer.

The living room got a fireplace facelift, with lovely stonework, a darker wood stain and new wall color:


Here’s the before and after of their kitchen. I love their choice of new countertops, cabinets and finishes:



It’s always encouraging to see what can be done to make a home more enjoyable, and ulimately, more valuable.

RSVP This Week for Home Buyer Boot Camp!

Time is running out for RSVPs—Get in shape for the Spring real estate market by attending our Home Buyer Boot Camp! Back by popular demand, Boot Camp will whip you through the ins and outs of getting financing, writing a winning offer and completing a smooth transaction. We’ll give you tons of practical, useful information you won’t find anywhere else.

Here are the deets:
Date: Saturday, April 19th
Time: 10:00-noon
Place: 1746 18th Street (betw Arkansas & Carolina in Potrero Hill)
Your Hosts: Yours truly, blogger-Realtor Eileen Bermingham of Zephyr Real Estate, and loan extraordinaire Mike Koran of Primary Residential Mortgage.

We’ll have refreshments and we won’t make you do push-ups. RSVP today to Eileen at ebermingham@zephyrsf.com, or call/text at 415.823.4656. I’ll confirm your reservation. Space fills up quickly, so please RSVP as soon as you can so we can guarantee you a seat.