Saturday, March 24, 2018

Recent report states that California has the worst quality of life in the U.S. (Recent report is crazy.)

The headline jumped out at me immediately: “California ranked as the worst quality of life in the U.S.”

I dismissed it as more fake news, or possibly a satirical headline written by The Onion.

But then I saw it again, and it was referencing a study conducted by the well-respected US News & World Report.

In fact, this same headline about California’s dubious rating was being reported by just about every media outlet across the country. Ludicrous as it sounded to anyone who actually LIVES in the Golden State, my curiosity got the best of me, so I clicked and read the entire article.

My conclusion? They’re flat-out crazy.

In fact, California should rank right at the top of any list for quality of life in the U.S.

Before I make that case, let me rewind and tell you a little more about this news story.

U.S. News & World Report released their annual study based on two years of data and 30,000 respondents, in the end ranking all 50 states for several factors and revealing the best state in the U.S. to live.

When they added it all up, Iowa ranked #1 as the winner. Let that sink in.

Second was Minnesota, and the rest of the top five went like this:

3. Utah
4. North Dakota
5. New Hampshire

To be clear, the study didn’t conclude that California was the WORST state to live in, just that it ranked dead last for criteria number 8 on the following list of factors, quality of life.

The survey’s categories were:
1. Health Care
2. Education
3. Economy
4. Opportunity
5. Infrastructure
6. Crime & Corrections
7. Fiscal Stability
8. Quality of Life

Overall, California ranked #32 (which still isn't that hot), way behind perennial hot spots like New Jersey (#19) and Nebraska (#15). Riddle me this: when was the last time someone said, "I really want to move to New Jersey," or wrote a song about Nebraska?

(For the record, there are 583 songs about California and only one, Bruce Springsteen’s curious ‘Nebraska’ about the state with that name.)

Earning dead last overall as the best place to live was Louisiana, with Mississippi #49 and New Mexico #48.

But let’s refocus on the topic making headlines: California ranking #50 for quality of life. North Dakota won top honors, with Minnesota #2 and Wisconsin #3.

Dubious choices, at best. So, how was the quality of life determined? The scores were based on two meta-categories: social environment (50% of the score) and physical environment (the other 50%).

According to their study, Social Environment includes:
1. Community engagement
2. Social support
3. Voter participation

The first two items make perfect sense, as they polled how often respondents engaged in community events as well as spent time with family and friends.

“In addition to a healthy environment, a person’s quality of life is largely a result of their interactions with those around them,” explains the U.S. News & World Report editors. “Studies show that when people feel socially supported, they experience greater happiness, as well as physical and mental health.”

But voter participation as means to measure social environment? They just measured the average voter turnout for the 2016 congressional and presidential elections and used that outcome.

When it comes to social environment, Alaska, Montana and North Dakota were at the top of this list.

The next factor is Natural Environment, which includes:
Drinking water quality
Air quality
Total toxic chemical pollution per square mile.
Risk of chronic, long-term health effects due to pollution

Understandably, places like LA (and even Sacramento Valley during allergy season) may drag down the air quality index, but I can’t envision the great state of California, with all of its national parks and natural wonders, being such an atrocious place to enjoy the great outdoors?

But while California did represent in the ‘economy' category (#4 in the U.S.), it also was #46 in citizen opportunity, #43 in fiscal stability, and, like we mentioned ad nauseam, #50 in quality of life.

Of course, California is a big place, and you rarely hear people complain about how terrible their quality of life is in San Diego, how un-social it is in LA, or how the natural environment is lacking in San Francisco.

As for our own local Greater Sacramento area, there’s a whole lot going for us – right here at home and also nearby – that speaks to an amazing quality of life:

• San Francisco and the Bay Area is an easy drive or train ride away.
• Incredible pro sports like the Warriors, 49ers, Raiders (if you consider them incredible!), A’s, Giants, Sacramento Kings, and the like.
• Napa Valley and some of the best wine (and wine country) in the world.
• Lake Tahoe!
• Speaking of which, we have some of the best skiing, snowboarding, etc. in the U.S. right in Tahoe.
• Unlimited hiking, camping, fishing, boating, and nature-loving in NorCal.
• Some of the best of California history in and around Sacramento.
• Plenty of sunny, warm weather but also the chance to see the seasons change.
• Easily affordable real estate compared to prices in the rest of the state!
• A fast-growing economy, rapid redevelopment, and outstanding Sacramento civic pride!
• Some of the friendliest, coolest, and most friends and neighbors people in the world!

Come to think of it, I'm starting a new poll and, according to this guy, California ranks #1 in Quality of Life in the entire U.S.!

Friday, March 16, 2018

10 Important factors that go into city planning.

“Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.” -Le Corbusier

City planning is a complex endeavor, with myriad considerations that shape the best form and function of the community for its residents. Even more challenging, city planners have to not only work to create a city that meets today’s needs, but also anticipates growth and fits the longterm vision of the municipality.

To do so, city planners factor in three major sectors of their urban environment:

·      Physical environment
·      Social environment
·      Economic environment
·      Cultural environment

In part one of this blog, we outlined a timeline of city planning in the United States, and how the vocation grew out of the profound needs of a rapidly growing nation, and then profound industrial, economic, and social shifts of the 20th century.

Today, we're going to cover some of the ideals, best practices, and guidelines that modern-day city planners adhere to when developing our urban centers.

1.     A big part of successful city planning involves consideration of transportation and the layout of streets, canals, railroads, and public transport services. As we see with our modern cities, increases in population and the number of drivers on the road can cripple its infrastructure, and become one of the biggest daily concerns for residents. 

Therefore, major highways, through-ways, and surface streets should be carefully planned to ease the flow of traffic, with secondary streets and aesthetics garnering less importance. The hierarchy of roadways is also so important because it’s extremely difficult – and far more costly – to expand or fix later on.

2.     City building departments need to always keep safety in mind, following all guidelines and regulations for fire codes, building construction safety, health codes, placement of public facilities (like not putting an elementary school next to a prison or an airport). This includes the placement and zoned routes of mail carriers, fire departments, police, and hospitals.

3.     City planners need to carefully consider the best use of open land and public spaces, especially parks but also recreational spaces and facilities, jogging trails, river trails, waterways like lakes, rivers, and ponds, protected lands, and other natural resources.

4.     Other community assets like public libraries, recreation centers, civic buildings, and community halls need to considered and strategically placed. While some city planners choose to concentrate many town buildings in one complex, they are often purposely spread out over the city, so all residents have equal access.

5.     Proper delineation of zoning is crucial for any well-functioning city, with clearly defined areas that serve as commercial zones, industrial zones, and residential zones, with specific regulations for each. 

6.     Most cities have a Greenbelt Zone, which is an area on the outskirts of town, or servicing as the transition from urban and suburban to rural. It usually serves as the border – officially or unofficially – to contain the urban sprawl within and prevents further building and population of this natural wildlife area.

7.     Parking is a major consideration, at least as important as the roadways and transportation infrastructure. Street widths, street parking rules, public lots, and private pay-for-parking lots and facilities are all necessary, creating adequate options that can keep up with the inflow of automobiles every day.

8.     With all of these important items on our city planning TO Do list, we almost forgot about housing all of the city’s residents! Every city needs plenty of housing alternatives that are affordable (in theory). These days, a mix of single-family homes, townhouses, multi-family units like duplexes, condominiums, apartment buildings, and other rentals fill that need. City planners hold major sway on the direction housing will take with its use of zoning, building regulations, construction permits, development deals, and other ordinances. Most cities also provide some sort of public housing, either[ through actual facilities or through support programs.

9.     A city needs citizens, but it also requires plenty of businesses to hire all of those citizens, providing vital jobs and income to support prosperity. Therefore, cities carefully balance the interests of the public good with the incentives needed to attract private employers, like tax breaks, land deals, and other special considerations.

10.  We have our city’s layout, roads, parks and green spaces, businesses, and civic buildings. But we can’t forget some very important necessary aspects of daily life. Any city’s governance is responsible for ensuring utility companies provide electricity, water, and telecommunications, as well as sewers, trash pickup, recycling, snow removal, tree cutting and landscaping of public areas, street cleaning, maintenance of public areas, and just about every other minute detail of keeping the city functioning well. What a massive endeavor!

Look for the next installment in this blog series, when we cover the technology, environmental control, and planning that will go into our smart cities of the near future.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The 8 steps to building new construction.

Being a Real Estate Broker doesn't only mean that I help people buy and sell existing homes, but also represent them in new home sales, or even help them purchase land and navigate the process of building their own custom house.

However, although a lot of folks would love to build their own home or purchase in a new development, I’ve noticed that there’s a huge lack of education as to what that entails and how to get started.

The good news is that our team at The Alfano Group Real Estate Agency can assist you through the entire process, whether you’re buying a model home from a builder or looking for land to erect your own homestead.

Today, we’ll cover the eight crucial steps in any new construction project. Of course, there are some variations in the process depending on if you’re planning to build a custom home yourself, buy a new model, etc., but the steps are all good to know.

Step 1
Start with a lender
Just like when you go shopping for an existing home, you’ll first need to sit down with a mortgage lender. Just by bringing them some loan documentation (just as you would with any other mortgage loan) and pulling your credit, they'll be able to get you prequalified and explore loan options with you. At that point, they'll be able to answer all of your important questions, as well as tell you how much new home you can afford, what your payments will be, and how the loan process works from there. Of course, the mortgage process will be much different if you get a construction loan compared to arranging financing from the builder or a mortgage broker (which I highly encourage) for a new home project.

Step 2
Where will you build (or buy)?
Some new home consumers purchase a parcel of land, while others have family land they’ve inherited, and still more purchase a lot in a subdivision with a new home builder. No matter which option is for you, the old home buying wisdom, “Look for location, location, location” still holds true. Luckily, our team at the Alfano Group will help you find and purchase the perfect piece of land that meets your needs, or identify the new construction project that is just breaking ground.

Step 3 
The blueprints
We have the financing in place, and the land or new construction project picked out, so now we can start the fun part – designing your new dream home! Of course, that’s easy (and more limited) with a builder, as they’ll have a framework for your model with a series of options or upgrades to choose from. Or, if you’re building a custom home, we’ll coordinate meetings with the builder and construction team to determine square footage, amenities and upgrades, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, layout, and your preferences with style.

Step 4 
Choosing the color pattern
While many new home subdivisions come with standard "ceiling white" paint, you'll have the opportunity to upgrade to just about any color pattern you want. There are also some practical considerations such as the quality of paint, sheen, accent walls, trim colors, and other details that will make your house look and feel like home!

Step 5
Closing the loan 
Before we even found the land, drew up the blueprints, or started picking out paint colors, you sat down with a lender to get the financing in place. Now, it’s time to revisit that and get your loan underway – and closed, shortly.

If you are just getting a normal mortgage loan as the paint dries and the home is finished, that process is well-documented.

Even though construction loans are far less prevalent than regular home loans these days (and often misunderstood), you’ll find them just as easy to navigate and close. Of course, each lender may have different stipulations, criteria, and loan products to offer, but a great lender will help you navigate that portion of building a new home.

Step 6
Construction orientation meeting
Now that you have the financing all set, the construction team can actually start swinging their hammers. But before the foundation can be flagged and the digging started, you’ll get all parties together to carefully go over the plans. During that meeting(s), you’ll want to cover every detail from the blueprints, architectural drawings, budget, timetable, and more, down to every last doorknob and light fixture.

If all of that is being taken care of because you’re buying a new home project form a builder, you’ll still want to cover the fine print in their agreement. Take a close look at items like the cost of upgrades, warranties and inspections, and what happens in the case of delays due to bad weather or material shortages, etc.

Step 7
Building the home! 
It’s an exhilarating feeling to see workers first break ground on what will soon be your own new home, from the time the foundation is dug until the final coat of paint dries. As an eager homeowner, you’ll probably want to follow along, too. So, in a coming blog, we'll go over the four typical phases of new home construction.

Step 8
Get your keys and move in
It may seem like the work was never going to be finished, but one day, all of the contractors will put the finishing touches on your new home, and you'll be able to get the keys and move in!

But there is still business to conduct and more paperwork to sign. If you're closing a standard home loan, you'll go in to sign at a title company, and the loan will close. Or, if you utilized a construction loan, you’ll get an official certificate of occupancy once the final payment is made to the contractors, which often comes with their releasing any right to a lien. At that point, your temporary construction loan will most likely roll into a more long-term and stable home loan, like a traditional 30-year fixed rate mortgage.

Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of your very own custom new home!

Please contact The Alfano Group if you have any questions about buying a new home, or building your own!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Another trip down memory lane in Sacramento with these historic photos.

The rise of modern photography just about coincides with the growth of Sacramento as a city and state capital of California. We have the iconic photographs to prove it. In fact, historians trace the birth of practical photography to 1837, and it grew steadily over the decades through the 19th century before exploding into the mainstream in the 1900s. Sacramento really took off as a gold rush community in the mid 1840s, and took a great step forward as a modern, functional city in the early 20th century. In part one of this blog, we took you on a trip down memory lane in Sacramento with 20 historic photos of the city.  

Here are 20 more photos our beloved Sacramento from yesteryear, spanning from the mid 1800s to the 1970s. 

Whenever possible, we told you where, when, and even why the photo was taken. 

The Crocker Art Museum in 1893. Crocker Art is still iconic in Sacramento today!

In 1972, a small plane crashed into a Sacramento residential neighborhood, tragically killing 22 people as it slammed into Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor.

This is the Sacramento Bee headline the next morning.

The Sacramento residence of Dr. WM Moore in 1900.

The Flagstone Motel on 1530 W. Capitol Avenue in the 1960s.

Front Street in Sacramento in the 1860s - one of the first photographs of Sacramento in existence.

The Sacramento Governor's Mansion in 1907.

The Great Depression of the 1930s hit Sacramento hard, like many western communities and the whole nation. This is a photo of a woman living in the American River Migrant Camp during the Great Depression.

Another shot of a family at the American River Camp in 1936.

The original Guild Theater! Year unknown.

Old Town Sacramento turned into a river for months during the historic floods of 1861-62, which led the city planners to raise most of the downtown streets and establishments.

Levinson's Book Store on K Street around 1924.

Another shot of K Street in the 1940s.

Midtown Sacramento 1920s.

An advertisement for the new Parkway Estates real estate development, which is near Florin Road and Stockton Blvd. By the way, the phone number on the ad is just "2-0621"

J Street Sacramento in the 1900s, including the cable car.

Sacramento Fire Department with horses and carriages!

K Street Sacramento during the snow storm of 1942.

Hotel Berry, downtown Sacramento in the 1920s or 30s. 

A 1950s postcard for the Sacramento "Business District."

Sacramento in the 1840s! 

Sacramento aerial view from 1857. How did they get this shot? Hot air balloon? Or is it just a drawing?

Another photo of K Street during the snowstorm of 1942.

A squatter's camp in Sacramento during the Great Depression.

The Mansion, built in 1877.

The urbanization of Sacramento, as the city grows up and becomes a thriving community.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

10 More iconic real estate quotes (with images)

There is no greater ladder to building wealth and stability for generations to come than through real estate ownership. In fact, it's been the American Dream to own a home all throughout our nation's existence. But don't just take our word for it.

In part one of this blog, we memorialized the words and thoughts of great Americans, from Robert Kiyosaki to John D. Rockefeller; Barbara Corcoran to Warren Buffet, on the topic of real estate. 

Here are ten more quotes about real estate from accomplished, famous, and iconic people for you to enjoy.

"The one thing all humans share is that we all inhabit the same limited amount of real estate, which is Planet Earth.” 
-Bjarke Ingels

“In the real estate business you learn more about people, and you learn more about community issues, you learn more about life, you learn more about the impact of government, probably than any other profession that I know of. ”
-Johnny Isakson

“In any market, in any country, there are developers who make money. So I say all of this doom and gloom, but there will always be people who make money, because people always want homes."
-Sarah Beeny 

“Landlords grow rich in their sleep without working, risking or economising."
- John Stuart Mill

“Before you start trying to work out which direction the property market is headed, you should be aware that there are markets within markets." 
-Paul Clitheroe

"I would give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground."

"Buy on the fringe and wait. Buy land near a growing city! Buy real estate when other people want to sell. Hold what you buy!"
-John Jacob Astor

"Real estate investing, even on a very small scale, remains a tried and true means of building an individual's cash flow and wealth."
-Robert Kiyosaki

"Buy real estate in areas where the path exists and buy more real estate where there is no path, but you can create your own." 
-David Waronker

Thursday, February 15, 2018

10 Real Estate Trends to Watch in 2018 (part 2)

2018 is already well underway and that includes the real estate market, as homeowners, sellers, and buyers alike all have critical questions about what the rest of the calendar year will hold.

For the third year in a row now, we've combed the best research by economists, analysts, and experts and summarized it for you with these ten real estate market trends to watch for the rest of 2018 – and beyond. 

In part one of this blog, we covered the first six of these ten trends to watch, so here are the final four (plus, a bonus trend).

Are you thinking about selling your home and moving up to your dream home this year? Finally investing in rental properties? Or maybe selling and downsizing? How will interest rates affect the real estate market?

You'll definitely want to read this so you can make the best, well-informed decision.

7. The GREAT news – experts predict a “soft landing”
Will home appreciation slow in 2018? We certainly hope so.

That may sound contrarian coming from someone that makes their living selling real estate, but the simple truth is that we all still feel the sting from the housing crash and Great Recession, and want to avoid those mistakes at all costs. 

Thankfully, white-hot home appreciation that is based on the "Gold Rush mentality," artificially-low interest rates, and reckless bank lending is a thing of the past.

In today’s real estate cycle, expansion is slowing, which is a completely normal and even healthy process of any market. There are still a whole lot of factors encouraging people to buy homes, as well a few economic fundamentals that point to caution. But that’s the sign of a balanced market, which is always best for everyone. 

Caution, common sense, and the impetus to buy or sell a house ONLY if it’s priced fairly act as parachutes, keeping the housing market from ever falling too quickly. 

And in Sacramento, there are even more factors that point to a home price gains this year, albeit a little bit slower and more measured than the last few years. That should inspire even more consumer confidence that the highs will be rolling hills, not sheer cliffs, and the real estate market will be strong for a long time to come.

8. Housing technology science fact not fiction
We often talk about breakthroughs in new technology for homes and real estate, but it usually applies to space-aged appliances, really cool TVs, and state-of-the-art remotely operated security systems, etc. 

But technology is shooting past luxury amenities and this year, as practical high-tech housing will rule. For instance, the incredible demand for affordable housing (homeownership rates are at an all-time modern low AND rents are rising steadily in most major markets) is pushing companies, investors, and inventors alike to create new solutions. Prefab homes that can be helicoptered in and dropped on location, homes that are 3D printed within one day, and other ingenious home construction advances aren't just a thing of science fiction, but present-day fact.  

Tech evolutions in the luxury marketplace, like sinking floors, shape-shifting walls, and complete automation of every light, door, and system in your home are sure to continue, but technology will really skyrocket when it solves real-world problems for the entire housing market. So,  2018 will be the year we look back and say it was a “tipping point” in that technology. 

9. Inventory better, but still lags
We still don't have enough houses for sale around the country to fulfill the demand, whether new construction or existing homes. In fact, while more projects that were initiated in 2016 and 2017 are finished in 2018 and available for a resident, the inventory shortage still has a long way to go. Somehow, rental prices are surging in most metro markets at that same time as home prices because of this shortage, and that double-edged sword is especially true in the Sacramento area.

Of course, no one could have anticipated the additional home shortage caused by the myriad natural disasters we suffered through in 2017. In some cities and states around the country, millions of homes were lost – for both owners and renters – due to flooding, tornados, wildfires, etc.

But the need for housing also presents incredible opportunities for landlords, investors, savvy homeowners, and even first-time buyers who put in the time and work to find the right home in 2018.

10. Tax bill shakeup
No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, the recent passing of a historic tax bill still poses more questions than it does answers. Will a rising economic tide “lift all boats” – including the real estate market? Did saving (although capping) the Mortgage Interest Deduction make it a non-factor for homeowners? Or, will the sting from new property tax rules further slow homeownership rates? We’ll find out in 2018!

Bonus trend:

Interest rate roundup
In part one of this blog, we pointed to a possible interest rate “nudge” this year, as we predicted 30-year mortgage rates settle somewhere between 4% and 4.5% this year. Since writing that only 45 days ago, guess what happened? As predicted, rates are already hair higher than we enjoyed in 2017, but rates are still FANTASTIC if you view them through a long-term lens. 

Just as important, banks will continue to ease lending standards and loosen their guidelines as the economy bustles, making homeownership a reality and more affordable for tens of millions of Americans. 

2018 is already turning out to be a great year to buy or sell a home!