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I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who would like to buy a home, but don’t think they make enough money to qualify to buy an average-priced home around here. Or they assume that even if they did, they couldn’t compete with all the cash investor-buyers. Well, there is good news! The City of Brentwood has an affordable housing program designed just for this situation. They do NOT allow investors to buy homes in this program, so you are only competing against other owner-occupants. This is also restricted to buyers that have not owned another primary residence during the last five years. You must be employed full-time, and you must have at least $4,000 in a savings account. Furthermore, there are income minimums AND maximums. I don’t have space to list all the income guidelines for a family sizes, but for a single person the minimum is about $45K a year and a maximum of about $75K. For two people’s combined incomes it’s about $52K minimum and about $82K maximum, and it goes up from there. You must make enough to qualify for the payment, but if you make too much, you can’t participate in this program.


So this program really creates an opportunity for someone that would like to buy their first home but is getting beat out by stronger buyers on other properties.


If you would like more information on this program, send me an email at Brian@SharpHomesOnline.com and I’ll send you the City’s brochure. I also happen to have one listing that falls under this program’s guidelines and it’s currently priced at $279,900 for a 3 bed townhouse built in 2004. You can view more info about that listing on my website at www.SharpHomesOnline.com and click on “our listings” and look for 364 Jefferson Drive in Brentwood. If it’s sold by the time this article prints, it will be moved from the “Active” listings into the “Pendings.”


Many homeowners in our area were pleasantly surprised a few years ago when they received a notice from the County Tax Assessor’s office that their tax bill would be going DOWN. This was due to Proposition 8, which allows the County to drop your tax bill when the value of your property goes down.


But now I’m getting calls from people saying that their bill is now going back UP. They didn’t realize that Proposition 8 is a TEMPORARY reduction, and that once the values go back up, your tax bill can, too. It can go up a little bit, or it can go all the way back up to the prior value, plus the Proposition 13 increases along the way. (Proposition 13 limits property tax increases to only 2% per year.)


So if you benefited from a Proposition 8 reduction in the past, just know that the County is likely going to review that situation annually and they can raise it back up to accurately reflect the market value.


If you have received a notice that your tax bill is going up, and you think the assessed value is too high, you have until November 30th of this year to appeal it. You can call 925.335.1901 and ask for an appeal form. Or contact me, I have them in my office. They’ll ask you to provide information on recent sold properties to support your appeal. Again, I can help you with this if you like. Just email me at Brian@SharpHomesOnline.com and give me your address and what the new assessed value is. I’ll email you back if I think it’s worth appealing and I’ll provide the comparable sold information you’ll need at no charge.


When the bottom dropped out of the market a few years ago, new home builders either pulled out of our area entirely, or shuttered their developments and waited. But now that prices are back up, we are seeing many new homes being built again.

This raises an interesting conversation when I meet with potential sellers in these neighborhoods. I bring the information on the active, pending and sold RESALE homes that are like their home to establish a value for theirs. They often furrow their brow and say, “OK, but the builder is selling new homes for a LOT more than that. And our home has the upgrades in, window coverings in, plus the landscaping. So we think we should be selling for even MORE than what the new homes are getting.”

This is when I explain that new homes are NOT apples to apples comparisons to resale homes for several reasons. For starters, new home builders are HIGHLY ALLERGIC to having a phase of homes sell for LESS than the ones they just sold (they’ve been sued for this in the past), so they try to find ways to keep the reported prices as high as possible. There are lots of ways for builders to credit the buyers of their homes at either the design center, or through their loan in the form of credits or points. This can add tens of thousands to the price, so the final numbers can be artificially high from what the buyer actually paid. The other reason is that many buyers are willing to pay a BIG premium in order to pick out their flooring, their paint, their floor plan options, etc. through the builder. They want to be able to dictate if there is a veggie sink or not, is there a super-family room or 3rd car garage, etc. And on top of that they are willing to pay a big premium for “that new home smell” and to know that no one else has ever lived there.


If you aren’t familiar with Zillow, it’s a very popular real estate website. You can get information on homes for sale and sold information, along with school scores and other neighborhood information. But what Zillow is famous for (or “infamous” to many real estate agents) is their “Zestimates” which is an estimate of what a home is worth. I will say that I’ve found Zillow to be very accurate as far as sold information goes. They almost always get that right. They are mildly accurate as far as active listings, although there are still a lot of homes listed as “active” on Zillow that are really pending, and then sometimes it takes Zillow several days to load the new actives, which can be frustrating in a hot market.


However, I have found the Zestimates of value can be WAY off, either high or low. Sometimes by tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes by hundreds of thousands! It is a computer algorithm that is trying to automate and standardize the appraisal process, which can lead to wild results. Zillow doesn’t know the difference from one neighborhood to another or the level of upgrades/cleanliness from one home to the next. It doesn’t know what your view looks like. It only knows house size, lot size, age, etc. So if a trashed home with dead lawn and no appliances backed up to a power pole in the inferior neighborhood next to yours sells at a big discount, but it happens to be larger than yours, your Zestimate will drop drastically. But then the next month, if a smaller, but cleaner and highly upgraded home with a golf course view sells, your Zestimate will skyrocket! (If you want a laugh, go to Google.com and type in “Zillow is” [make sure you put a space after the “is”] and look at the suggestions to complete your search which are based on the most common requests people type in.) If you are curious what your home is worth, email me at Brian@SharpHomesOnline.com. I’ll give you a free estimate that will likely be closer than any computer “Zestimate.”


If you own a home, you should have insurance to protect it. If you have a loan, your lender will require proof that you have adequate insurance on the property before they will release the loan proceeds, and they’ll check to make sure you keep it up to date. If you paid cash for the property, then it’s up to you to make sure you get, and then keep, adequate insurance.

Questions arise when something happens, and a claim is filed, as to who gets the check, you, or your lender, or both? When you signed your loan papers, you signed a promissory note and a deed of trust. The note specifies the amount of the loan, the rate, etc. The deed of trust is the security instrument (the lien) and it spells out the rights and duties of both parties. One of the sections of that deed of trust likely spells out what happens in the event of an insurance claim. What your lender is worried about is their security (your house) being damaged in a major way, and then you get a check for $100K from the insurance company and then spend it on something else other than the repairs.

If it’s something minor (small enough that it doesn’t really impact the integrity/value of the house, but big enough to exceed your deductible) it’s possible that your lender may allow the insurance company to cut the check directly to you and expect you to get it repaired. But most of the time, your lender will require proof that the repairs are completed before they’ll let the insurance company release the funds. If it’s a big repair job, they will likely allow partial payments to be released, like a draw situation, as the repairs progress. Contractors are used to this situation, so don’t think that you’ll have a tough time finding someone to agree to this.


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