Archive for August, 2009

Active Scam in Real Estate

The lastest scam to hit the internet is taking advantage of the current real estate market.  This is how it goes:

1.  a property is legitimately listed for sale on the MLS.

2.  a con artist lists it on Craig’s List for rent using pictures from the MLS

3.  a person looking for a rental sees it on Craig’s List and contacts the lister by email

4.  either a) the con artist asks that a deposit check is sent to them in Nigeria or some other inconvenient place or

worse – b) the con artist says that they will meet the renter at the house and that the renter should bring cash for the deposit.  When the renter is met, there is an excuse that they cannot go inside but that the deposit needs to be given to the con artist at that time or they will rent it to someone else.

5.  When the renter arrives to move in, they learn that the property was never for rent and there is no way to get their deposit back.

With these difficult times of foreclosures, it is a challenge to find rentals.  That will undoubtedly change as the recent investment purchases are available to rent.  But, right now, there are many people competing for a few rentals.  Be very careful to whom you give deposits.  Make sure that you know that they are really the owners of the property.

While on floor today, I got a call from a fellow who saw a listing on Craig’s List.  He thought that the response from the lister was odd as it was asking that the money be sent to Nigeria.   He drove out to see the property and saw that it had a For Sale sign in the front yard.  He called to confirm that the house was on the market and was for rent.  He was right in checking as this property is not for rent.

Talk about this scam with friends.  Send them to this blog.  Tell everyone to beware.

Pears are picked!

Pears are not a fruit to be tree ripened.   Pears are to be picked when they have reached their maximum size and then carefully set aside for the flesh to become tender and the skin a lovely yellow.  Back by the compost bins is the espalier of pears in a Belgium fence pattern.  Of the 13 original pear trees, we have four varieties.  This spring the gophers got into two of the wire baskets in which each tree was planted.  So there is a break in the espalier that needs to be filled once we have purchased replacement saplings.   The pears that I picked today are Duchess d’Angouleme, an early ripening variety.  Named after the daughter of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, this is a delicate French pear that is not common in commerce.  Later in the fall, I will harvest the other pears – Comice, Louise Bonne de Jersey and White Doyenne. 

Harvested Duchess d'Angouleme Pears

Harvested Duchess d'Angouleme Pears


Tom counted 96 pears on the table.  That should keep us stocked until the others are ready for picking.  There are no other fruits in the garden with the exception of some orange trees in pots that are really only ornamental although we have had a few wonderful oranges from them over the years we have had them.  Apples are abundant in the Sebastopol area so there is little need for growing them.  There is a fantastic peach farm north of Healdsburg with tree ripened peaches.  Forestville has a great berry patch that sells blueberries and raspberries.   Just another reason to live in Sonoma County.

A week in Sonoma County

This last week has been really full of Sonoma County fun.  It started on Monday with a party at the home of some friends outside of Forestville whose daughter is leaving for Madrid to get her MBA.  Katherine is a beautiful, vivacious young woman who seems to know everyone in West County.  It is not often that we find ourselves in a crowd of 20-somethings.  Great food (there were a good number of local chefs in attendance), a tango demonstration and beautiful scenery.  Why is she going to Madrid?  Wednesday I was sitting at my desk and my phone started beeping – I had forgotten that it was Wednesday!   Wednesday is my afternoon to play golf with EWGA.  That stands for Executive Women Golf Association.  We meet up around 4:30 at Oakmont East golf course and play 9 homes.  Oakmont EastOakmont is a planned community with two golf courses.  Oakmont West is an 18-hole regulation golf course.  Lots of views and some challenging holes.  Oakmont East is a par 63 executive course.  It is a lot of fun because none of us take ourselves too seriously and we just play to have a good time.  After our nine holes, we meet up at the clubhouse and have a glass of wine and a few nibbles before we all go home for dinner.  I cannot believe that I got so involved in work that I almost missed it!   Thursday is our day to have dinner with my friend, Phyllis, who I know through the rose society.  This Thursday was so busy that we decided to meet at a local diner on Fulton Road in Santa Rosa, Louie’s.  We were pretty quiet but had great down home food – Tom had liver and onions, Phyllis had the cheese omelet and I had a chicken taco salad.  Friday was a long work day for me.  After visiting a couple of past clients with magnificently remodeled homes, I headed for San Jose to show property.  I got home around 11.  Saturday was six hours of work and then another party.  This party was  outside of Guerneville on a hill that has views forever.

Looking over the pool at Pool Ridge

Looking over the pool at Pool Ridge

  It was the 70th birthday of our host and was quite an event.  Not many 20-somethings but there were about 12 kids under age 8.  We headed out to the river early and just hung out in Monte Rio and Guerneville before we went up to the party.  Interesting people and more great food.  I was the designated driver so I skipped the array of wines but one really doesn’t always need wine!   Sunday was the Redwood Empire Rose Society annual picnic.  This year we had our luncheon at Western Hills Nursery and Garden outside of Occidental.  It is an exceptional botanical garden with some exotic plants that you will not find in other gardens.  We wandered the garden and enjoyed the company.  It was a spectacular day.  To top the whole week off, my compost pile was around 125 degrees F.  Not bad for a hand turned compost pile.  Now it is another Monday.  No great party tonight but after last week, I need a quiet night at home.

What about those Foreclosures?

Last night I was chatting with my son and daughter-in-law over the best chili relleno in San Jose about the current reality of getting into contract on a less than $250,000 priced home.  My son quoted a news story that 13% of all mortgages in the USA were either in foreclosure or had been foreclosed on.  I found this statistic unbelievable.  I stated that I just didn’t see how that could be.  Foreclosures are a huge part of our real estate business right now but to say that 13% of all mortgages were in foreclosure seemed excessive.  When I got to my Google page, I saw the real story – 13% OF ALL MORTGAGES HAVE MISSED A PAYMENT.  Okay, that seems a bit more realistic but didn’t feel real.  The article broke down the numbers as 9% had missed payments and 4% were in foreclosure proceedings.  That still seems to be way off from my experience.  Another statistic which I found on the website was that 1 in every 200 homes will be foreclosed. While that is huge if you are the 1, that is no where near 13%.  This would calculate to more than 85% of the homes in USA not having mortgages.  That doesn’t seem realistic either.   What is it that Mark Twain said?  “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”  I don’t know how to reconcile these statistics but I can look at this from a different approach.   I decided to examine some sales figures to work with facts instead of feelings.

Closest to home is Sebastopol.  In the last six months 109 homes have sold in the “Sebastopol” area.  That area includes Freestone, Occidental, Graton and the lands around them.  Of those sales, 22 were bank owned properties referred to as REOs and 5 were short sales.  A short sale is when the sales price does not cover all of the liens.  These are short on funds but not in time.  A short sale can take up to a year to complete depending on the bank and circumstances.  Either an REO or a short sale is considered a “distressed” property.  That makes 25% of the sales being destressed properties.  This is higher than I had expected because of the 119 currently active listings only 6 are REOs and 3 short sales.  The REOs are all under $500,000 list price and the short sales are all under $800,000.  Of the 37 homes in escrow, 6 are REOs and 12 are short sales.  My interpretation of this data is  that while there are many homes on the market that are not distressed, the ones most likely to sell are the distressed properties. 

In Sonoma County, Sebeastopol is one of the less distressed markets and Rohnert Park is one of the most distressed markets.  There are only 37 properties active in Rohnert Park.  11 of these are REOs and 14 are short sales.  The highest asking price is $625,ooo.  In the same 6 month period as quoted for Sebastopol, 238 sales have closed in Rohnert Park.  Of those 238 sales, 114 were REOs and 55 were short sales.  105 homes are in escrow with 75 being short sales waiting for bank approval.  I wrote an offer for a client in February and we are one of those 75 still waiting for an answer.  The stark difference between these two markets is why national statistics are so difficult to decipher.  

Bottom line on all of this is that there are a great many distressed properties on the market and they are the ones that are selling.  Short sales are closing behind REOs due to the long approval process with lien holders.  It is a sad time for homeowners who are losing their homes with the counterside of first time home buyers bringing their dreams to fruition.   The high percentage of distressed property sales has impacted the selling prices for those homes that are not distressed.  This is good news for the conventional homebuyer.   Economic forecasts are positive this week but I don’t know what statistics are being used for that prediction.  In my mind, this is a wait and see environment.

Tuesday at Fit Club

A group of people interested in getting healthy and fighting the obesity meet each Tuesday evening at 8.  Our place is the Sebastopol Community Center and we have a great time.  We start out each week with a discussion of some aspect of nutrition.  Tonight our topic was the importance of protein in the diet.   With all of the great bakeries and the fabulous produce, we could easily skip on the proteins.   Yes, we need these foods, also, but nothing should be excluded.  We tasted a number of Beachbody products that provide  protein including Shakeology and P90X Peak Performance Protein bars.

We then chose a workout DVD to get the blood pumping.  Tonight we did Turbo Jam 20 Minute workout.  When I first watched this workout, I thought “this looks pretty easy.”  When I first did it, I could not keep up.  After doing the 20 Minute workout for a couple of weeks, I can keep up and I really work up a sweat.  As Chalene Johnson promises, it is the best 20 minutes of my day.  I just want to smile. 

Tonight there were ten of us smiling with Turbo Jam.   We end every night with a raffle thanks to our host, Kevin Jensen.  Everyone had a great time and we will do this again next week.   I did many things today – including submitting an offer and opening an escrow – but Fit Club was my highlight.  That is what exercise will do for you!

This is Sonoma County Life

Tom and I spent this warm Sonoma County afternoon in the Sebastopol movie theatre.  We saw Julie & Julia.   It was wonderful.  It reminds me of my personal steps of learning to cook.  Just like Julia Child, I had Joy of Cooking as my guide.   I still give Joy of Cooking to newlyweds as the kitchen guide for every new bride.  My very first kitchen had the pegboard lining the kitchen walls so that everything had its place and was easily accessible.   My first Julia Child cookbook was Julia Child & More Company.  I made many a dinner for parties from that cookbook.  I still have favorites that I make on a regular basis.  I may  have made all of the recipes but that was before blogging and when I was a young mother and working engineer who used cooking as a relaxing activity.   If memory serves me, Tom brought Mastering the Art of French Cooking into our household.   Definitely I know that Tom brought a higher level of cooking into my life.  While I was a skilled hostess, Tom’s culinary skills eclipsed mine.  It is for that reason that he does most of the cooking now and is the chef at any dinner party. 

I don’t mean to dwell on Julia Child or our household cooking.  What I really want to convey is that I had a realization during the film.  I have been far too critical about what I write in this blog which means that I don’t write about all the aspects of Sonoma County lifestyle and I don’t write often enough.   Last week we had a wonderful Fit Club experience – But I did not write about it.  I thought about writing but said “no, no one would be interested.”  Why did I censor myself when I get more hits for Beachbody comments than any other?

So, what does all of this mean?  Expect to get a bit more random and definitely more frequent posts.  All will relate in some way to living in Sonoma County – even if it is to point out places we have visited that may or may not compare to our wonderful home here.  I love to write and I would really appreciate your comments.

How is the economy in Sonoma County?

Friday night Tom and I went to the Sonoma County Fair and attended the Youth Livestock Auction.  Our first observation was that there were many regular vendors that we just could not find.  For many years we had stopped at the Tuff Shed display and looked into the cost and discount that was available for Fair attendees.  We could not find them this year.  There wasn’t even an unmanned display.  No Tuff Shed booth means no discount for us and we thought that this might be the year to get a shed and close out or storage unit where we store Christmas decorations and staging materials.  The busiest booth was the Clover Dairy booth that was giving away ice cream cones.  Few people were buying.  Next on our agenda was the dinner for the Youth Livestock Auction.  This dinner is a thank you to the previous year’s buyers and bidders.  Last year we purchased a lamb.  Previous years we have purchased either a lamb, steer or hog – sometimes we bought two animals – so we are invited and we take our daughter and her husband so that they too can enjoy the experience of the fair.  This is always our favorite part of the Fair.  There is a great meal of steak, baked beens and Ceasar Salad topped of with cheesecake.  Wine flows freely and a good time is had by all.  The tables have historically been topped with promotional gifts from local businesses that prove to be useful throughout the year.  This year there was no check-in table.  There was nothing on the tables but the plastic table clothes.  Less than half of the people that usually attend were there.  There was plenty of tritip but the kids serving the pre-dinner sausage were clear that filling everyone up with sausage was part of the plan.  It was less than usual all the way around.  The auction was painful.  The bidders’ arena was less than a third full.  The grand champion went for $7.50 a pound and the next champion went for $2.50 a pound.  These are very low numbers.  While the Press Democrat stated that the tears were for the loss of the animal, I can assure you there were tears for the lack of income.  Many of these teens look to the profits on their steers to bolster their college funds or buy a car.  They love these animals while they are raising them but after the first year, they know that this is a business proposition.   There were no smiles amongst the students and their parents who have seen the hard work that they put in all year.  It was a sobering event.

The economic news in the papers is on the upside.  Thankfully, houses are beginning to sell more quickly.  The unemployment numbers are going down but that could be people giving up on looking.  The stock market is recovering but we all know how fickle the market it. 

I am a bottom line kind of person and looking around the Fair, economic recovery is still in the future.


August 2009


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