How to be a Happy First-Time Home Buyer

It’s peak buying season and first time buyers are eager to achieve their dream of home ownership. My best advice to them? Think of a home purchase as a two-track process:

  1. The real estate track consists of finding, bidding on, evaluating/inspecting and closing on a specific property.
  2. The mortgage track consists of two parts: (a) a client’s personal credit-worthiness and (b) the property’s financing possibilities and problems.

I’m an Accredited Buyer’s Representative, so I keep myself up to date on issues related to the real estate track. AND I recommend that my clients talk to several lenders BEFORE we start looking at property.

Buyers should fully explore both their ability to qualify for a loan on different types of properties (condos, PUDs and single family homes) AND the pros and cons of various types of loan products (fixed-rate, VA/FHA, ARMs). NOTE: today’s ARMs are NOT the easy-qualify, funny money loans of 2006!

When a client has their lending parameters firmly in mind and a relationship of trust built with their chosen lender (and, me, of course), then I can be sure my new buyers will be as happy a recent first-time buyer.

Home Buyer Tips – Determining Neighborhood Safety

Buyers — especially buyers moving to Napa from other areas — are always anxious about the safety of neighborhoods they are looking in. And, in a more general way, they want to know if they’ll find their prospective neighborhood compatible with their preferred lifestyle. Those are sensible questions for buyers to ask. We just can’t answer them.

The way fair housing laws are written, REALTORS(r) aren’t really able to say “this is a bad neighborhood ” or “this is a good neighborhood” without risking violation of non-discrimination laws. So this is what we advise ALL our buyers to do. (If you do this before you start looking for a house, you’ll be miles ahead of your competition.)

Visit the neighborhood at varying days and times

Napa Condo DevelopmentCheck during the day during the week and on weekends. Check in the evening after everyone gets off work. Talk to the neighbors. This is the single best way to get a feel for your compatibility with the neighborhood in general and with specific neighbors. If the house next door to one you want to buy is the practice spot for the drum and bugle corps, maybe that doesn’t work for you. Or maybe your kid PLAYS bugle and would love to live next door.

Visit the Internet and search for information about your prospective neighborhood

Search for Napa CA and you’ll get pages of information on anything you’re curious about from the history of California to modern winemaking techniques. Or try these specific sites.

Are you unfamiliar with Napa’s neighborhoods? Call me for an appointment to talk about neighborhoods with homes typically listed within your price range. My direct line is 707 815-1336.

Sellers: How much is your home worth?

Any home is worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it.

Comparing a potential listing to other active listings and sold properties reveals a price range for similar properties in specific neighborhoods.

But how do we figure out exactly where in that range a specific new listing should fall?

First: If you haven’t sold a property in the last decade, you won’t believe how much buyer expectations have changed. See for yourself by watching a few episodes of reality TV shows like HGTV’s House Hunters.

Then, to price a home, we suggest sellers align their price with these buyers expectations:

  • A low to rock bottom price for an older property being sold in as is condition — that is, one that is cosmetically dated (i.e., it has 25 year old carpet, vinyl, a 25 year old kitchen and baths, etc.), that shows wear and tear, that has not been recently painted inside and out, and that has an old roof, rotted decks, and dated electrical, HVAC, plumbing or other systems.
  • Kitchen RemodelA property priced at a mid-range must be uncluttered and in pristine condition although not necessarily recently updated (kitchen could be, say, 10 years old) and it must have unique assets unrelated to condition (location, excellent floor plan, useable oversize lot, views, etc.). Plus, the HVAC, roof, electrical and other systems must be relatively new and exquisitely maintained.
  • At the high end of the price range, buyers demand a solid house, perfect newer HVAC and other systems, an excellent floor plan, clean inspections (or repairs paid by seller), updated flooring — preferably hardwood, new paint, upgraded kitchens (the preference is for quartz/granite counter tops, tile backsplashes, painted cabinetry, and stainless steel appliances) and newer baths (sunken tubs are not considered an asset these days). They will pay a higher price for a house with new carpet — even if they intend to go in and rip it all out — but not as much as they will pay for the same house with hardwood.

So if you’re thinking of selling and hope to get a mid-range to top price for your home, you can use buyer expectations as a guide to getting your house ready to go on the market. Start now. Don’t wait until peak buying season to begin preparing your home for sale.

And if you’re not certain where to start in preparing your home for sale, give me a call (707-815-1336). I’m happy to provide suggestions on what will make the most impact with today’s buyers.

Napa or Sonoma Home Buyer Expectations

Real Estate AgentHomeowners: if you haven’t sold a property in a decade or more, you’re in for a shock. Buyers aren’t willing to buy properties just because they’re clean. They want them to be updated AND move-in ready or they expect the price to be deeply discounted.

Buyer expectations were shaped by the housing market correction that lasted from 2007 through 2011. During that time, foreclosed properties sold below market value partly because the bank owners did nothing to repair them. Private sellers had to set themselves apart by upgrading kitchens and baths, refreshing the paint, even installing new flooring to meet buyers’ top desires. Now, that’s the new normal.

Today’s buyers want granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, hardware floors, and move-in ready UPDATED properties. Sellers who expect buyers to see “potential” and pay top dollar for homes that haven’t already realized that potential are going to be disappointed.

Don’t believe me? Watch HGTV’s many home-buying (or flipping) shows. House Hunters is a real eye opener for most sellers. And, yes, today’s buyers really WILL walk away from an otherwise perfect house because they don’t like the paint color in one room. They don’t DO DIY.

If you aren’t planning to sell now but think you may in the future, you might as well upgrade your home now and get some enjoyment out of the work before you put your house on the market. Call me at 707 815-1336 if you’d like to talk about the features buyers value most. I’m delighted to provide information well before you’re ready to sell.

Napa/Sonoma Home Buyers: Consider DIY Projects

Buyers: Give yourself an edge. Bring back DIY!

Painting a kitchenWe’re noticing that today’s buyers are ALL bidding on properties that have been updated, repainted and staged. (Sellers: pay attention!) Unfortunately, the buy-perfect mentality drives up prices on updated properties while dated properties are the wallflowers at the home buyers’ prom.

Let me tell you a secret: all perfect properties were once wallflowers.

If you’re a buyer with a limited budget (and who isn’t?), do yourself a favor. Buy a structurally sound but cosmetically dated house and do the updates yourself. That’s a time-tested way to build equity fast.

Here are projects that improve a property a lot but are more labor than money intensive:

  • Refinish or paint kitchen and/or bath cabinets.
  • Remove glass shower/tub doors and replace with a shower curtain rod.
  • Paint walls, ceilings and molding.
  • Clean the carpets.
  • Overhaul the landscaping.

Changing light fixtures, installing new counter tops and appliances, replacing carpets and refinishing wood floors are jobs best left to professionals. But even these are not hugely expensive improvements and they’ll pay dividends down the road.

So, the next time you tour a home for sale, bring your checkbook AND your imagination. If you can see potential that others cannot, you’re going to succeed where others don’t.

Napa Foodie News!

San Francisco Chronicle - Top 100 Restaurants 2014Time to share the latest Napa foodie news. Then we’ll update Napa’s Main Street culinary map:

The San Francisco Chronicle just published its annual  guide to the Top 100 Bay Area restaurants and 19 were in Wine Country. Another, Coqueta in San Francisco, is the brainchild of Yountville Chef Michael Chiarello, whose Yountville eatery Bottega also made the Top 100 list.

Other Top 100 eateries in the Napa Valley include: Angele, Bistro Don Giovanni, and Oenotri in Napa; Ad Hoc, Etoile, Redd, Redd Wood, Bouchon and French Laundry in Yountville; Terra/Bar Terra and The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, and Solbar in Calistoga.

Five Healdsburg’s standouts also made the list: Bravas Bar de Tapas, Madrona Manor, Mateo’s Cocina Latina, Spoonbar and Scopa/Compo Fina along with Sonoma’s Sante..

Deli at First and Main in NapaMeanwhile along Napa’s Main Street Culinary corridor:

  • Bellissimo, a gourmet Italian deli, has opened at First and Main Streets (where Cake Plate used to be). It’s open daily from 8 to 8 and has, in addition to expected Italian sandwiches, sides, salads and pastries, vegetarian/vegan/gluten free offerings. Sidewalk seating, too.
  • Work appears to be proceeding on the old Tuscany location but with downtown Napa’s First Street torn up, it’s hard to speculate when this might finally morph into a new home for the Bounty Hunter now located in a tiny space just east of Main on First.
  • Lulu’s Kitchen is downtown’s hot spot since full restaurant service began at 1313 Main wine bar a couple of months ago.
  • Molinari Caffe’s old space on Main near 3rd is shuttered with notice of a new application for an ABC license taped to the window. Zuzu owner Mick Salyer plans to open a Spanish tavern in the renovated space this summer.  Molinari Caffe has moved to 828 Brown St.

Napa/Sonoma Buyers: Be Prepared

Be prepared!Like the Scout motto, before you even think about making an offer on a property, do these things to be prepared:

  • Get your credit house in order. Pull a credit report and get rid of false information. If you have low FICO scores, consult a credit counselor and bring those scores up.
  • Find a lender who can close fast. Then, work with that lender to explore your options and get your loan teed up. If a seller has to choose between two equal offers, they’re going to pick the one with the ability to close quicker. Unfortunately, the big banks are notoriously slow.
  • Because multiple offers are driving up prices, don’t even look at properties at the very top of your price range. Instead, focus on properties that are priced 5 to 10% lower than you can afford so you can offer more than the asking price.
  • Do you homework; study the market — not just Active listings but those in contract and those that have sold so you can see if houses are going over or under asking, how long they’re staying on the market and how fast they close after going “contingent” (into contract).

We can set up a portal in a wide price range for you on our Multiple Listing Service (MLS). You can set up your own search right on my web page ( Or you can go to the public version of our local MLS

Napa/Sonoma Condos make a comeback as starter homes

Entry-level buyers, including first time buyers, are once again getting a toehold in expensive markets like Napa and Sonoma by purchasing condominium homes. These homes offer carefree living plus community amenities like a pool. And HOA dues cover expensive items like roofing, exterior painting, and common area landscaping. So they can be a budget buyer’s best bet.

Napa Condominium - Vanessa Ct.In Napa, for example, buyers have a choice of one to two bedroom condos priced from $240,000 for a one bedroom/one bath single level unit on Golden Gate Circle to $305,000 for our two bedroom/two bath condo home with fenced yard and double garage at 21 Vanessa Court.

In Sonoma, where prices are higher than Napa overall, a bank-owned two bedroom/1 bath condo at 1247 Broadway is priced at $239,000, a two bedroom/two bath condo on West Thomas is $369,500 and a three bedroom/2 bath condo 2nd St W is $399,000.

Buyers may find any of these options more appealing than single family homes priced even $100,000 more or even higher.

Condo financing can be a little trickier than single family home financing. But I’ve worked hard to find lenders who can and want to do condo loans. So, give me a call 707 815-1336 if you’d like to get your foot in the housing market with a Napa or Sonoma condo.

Napa and Sonoma Buyers: you’re not calling the shots anymore

Too many buyers are acting like it’s still 2011 when they could demand more time to conduct inspection after inspection, delay releasing inspection and loan contingencies, and demand major seller concessions to fix even minor flaws.

Burying head in the sandNothing could be farther from 2014’s Spring market reality:

  • Move-in ready houses are drawing multiple offers — with some prospective buyers offering more than 10% over the asking price on particularly desirable properties.
  • Winning buyers are eliminating or offering shorter inspection periods, agreeing to pay the stated price even if the appraisal falls a little short (which it can when prices are rising quickly), or paying cash.

Losing buyers continue to act like they’re in the driver’s seat or, worse, think prices are bound to go down on the kind of properties they covet.

Those aren’t winning perspectives in this market. If you expect to succeed, get your head out of the sand and into the present reality.

Sellers: it pays to stage

We had a listing that lingered on the market for several months before the sellers finally agreed to have the property staged. Staging made the house look better online — where most buyers see a property for the first time — and MUCH better in person.

Here are just two pairs of before and after views:
Empty Living Room - No Home StagingLiving Room full staged

Family room - no home stagingFamily room - fully staged

Showings went up immediately, and the house went into contract three weeks after the staged house went back on the market.

If the seller had agreed to staging when the house first went on the market, they would have eliminated months of agonized waiting for an offer. And the house would probably have sold for more.

So if you’re thinking of selling and HATE waiting, as most sellers do, refreshing paint and paying for staging up front can help you sell faster and for the maximum price.