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make smart decisions w/Tara's real estate + mortgage need-to-knows

By Tara-Nicholle Nelson | Broker in San Francisco, CA
  • Streets vs. Avenues: an important need-to-know for Oakland House Hunting

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Oakland  |  January 9, 2010 4:22 PM  |  205 views  |  No comments
    In Oakland, the numbered streets cause novice homebuyers no small amount of confusion. Let me clear this up.

    The numbered streets start virtually on the waterfront, with 1st street {in Jack London Square} running parallel to the bayfront and to 880.  The numbers go up as you move away from the Bay, toward downtown.  As you get into the higher numbers, like 50th and 60th Streets, you'll find these streets in North Oakland, bordering Emervyille and, eventually Berkeley.

    But these streets are long - in fact, East 14th Street runs all the way through Oakland (where it turns into International in parts), San Leandro, Hayward (where it turns into Mission Blvd.), Union City and beyond. This street was actually part of the first major roadway in California, El Camino Real - the Royal Road, named so because at the time, California was part of a Spanish colony.

    So, thi is where the confusion comes in. At their easternmost, the Streets begin to intersect with the Avenues, which are ALSO numbered! 

    Right near Merritt Bakery, by the Lake, Lakeshore and 11th Street merge into 1st Avenue, which intersects there with 14th and 15th Streets.  So the Avenues increase from there, intersecting with the Streets, eastward through Oakland right up to the San Leandro border. To orient yourself, think of 35th Avenue and 98th Avenue (both of which are well-known exits from 580).

    This gets tricky during house hunting when someone says there is a house for sale on, for example, "60th," without specifying street or avenue. 60th Street is right near the Berkeley border, in North Oakland.  60th Avenue is deep in East Oakland. Very different, neighborhood-wise. 

    So, when you see a listing with a numbered street name in Oakland, in the furture, your first question should be: Street or Avenue?
  • Top 10 Credit Card Moves for Buyers, Sellers + Refi-ers in 2010

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Oakland  |  January 9, 2010 3:26 PM  |  257 views  |  No comments
    Today, AOL real estate has a great article with 10 very detailed credit card moves buyers and sellers should consider making in 2010. This is especially timely because lending guidelines are tightening (again) and the new Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (CARD) takes effect on February 22, 2010.

    There are a number of provisions in the CARD Act with significant implications and action points for homebuyers and sellers (most of the latter of which will also be homebuyers soon). One, in particular, is to request credit limit increases - if you qualify for them and need a boost to your FICO score - before the act takes place.  Afterwards, the CARD Act will make it harder to obtain an increase.

    If you're applying for a mortgage soon, you might also want to use any accounts you have that have been inactive. Credit card companies are highly likely to close those accounts, in this marketplace, which reduces your debt-to-available credit ratio - a major component of your FICO score. I know this seems like a penalty for being responsible, and it is to some extent, but fair or not, it makes sense to avoid inactive accounts being closed by simply using them and paying the balance off ASAP.

    Homebuyers wanting to jump into the dawning Era of Conspicuous Frugality might want to look at the free spending and credit management tools referenced in the article.

    Check it out!

    Tara-Nicholle Nelson
  • Are you a closet case? My cures for closet PTSD.

    Posted Under: Property Q&A in Oakland  |  November 7, 2009 8:09 PM  |  1,931 views  |  No comments

    House hunting with my client A. today – super cool chick! – and she brought along her friend, J. , my client who referred her! Fabulous surprise, and we got to spend some great time all 3 together, verbally processing some properties and going over to see the work J. had done to her house since she closed a few months ago.


    A.’s particular homebuyer neurosis is that she has Closet PTSD. She currently lives in a duplex that is very nice, private and in a great area, but has virtually ZERO closet space. This is a problem, for a gal who I have never, I repeat, NEVER, seen repeat an outfit. The girl’s shoes are always Gucci or Louis – she’s young, single, makes a great living and has a great figure, so she has, let’s just say, embraced her inner clothes horse.


    The result?  Her bedroom is always a mess. Not dirty – messy, primarily because she has dramatically insufficient storage space. The number one rule of feng shui is that that old adage: a place for everything, and everything in its place. But following this rule of thumb is impossible if there is no place for all the things.

    Could she downsize? Sure. And she probably will, as she’s actually a orderly person by nature, and fiscally smart, so I know she will not want to spend a single cent moving a single unneeded or unwanted item. Nevertheless, she knows herself well enough at this point to know that to live out her Vision of Home – including the vision of a totally orderly, fabulously organized home with a place for every loafer and every miniskirt in its place – she’ll need to set herself up for success by ensuring that she picks a place that has either huge closets or supersized storage or a plus room that can be used as a closet or something.


    I work with a lot of well-dressed women (who also happen to have great taste when it comes to choosing their real estate broker!), so this is certainly not the first time this exact issue has come up.

    Here are the various solutions and alternatives that I generally suggest to my clients who are hunting for a house that cures their Closet PTSD:


    Supplemental Storage. East Coasters and people who love old homes can’t imagine disliking a home just because of its closet space (or lack thereof). They would just buy furniture for additional storage – whether you go to flea markets, Craigslist or Ikea, there are tons of “pieces” you can buy to create additional storage. On the Ikea end of the spectrum, there are even pieces you can install flush against the wall to look built-in, without spending more than you put down on the house.


    The Closet Room. This is my personal preference. One of the luxuries of living alone in a home you own is that if you keep one room as a guest room/office and one for your personal domain, if you have another room to spare, you can use the entire room as a closet/dressing room. You can make the investment to hire a company which customizes closets and have them line the walls with design-yourown shoe racks, sweater cubbies, short and tall rod/hanging areas and purse cabinets. Or, you can take the more frugal and arguably more luxe tactic of lining the walls on your own with rolling racks, dressers, a vanity, etc., leaving space in the middle of the floor for The Ultimate Holy Grail of Home Ownership: the ability to leave your ironing board standing open. All day long. Every day. The end.


    Hog, I mean, USE all the closets. The other closet-relevant side effect of single living is that every single closet in the house belongs to you! All the bedroom closets. All the utility closets. The linen closet. The broom closet. Those little tiny closets with the built-in ironing boards. All of them! Just something to keep in mind before you pooh pooh a house over the too-small master bedroom closet. . .


    Blow it out. If you’re buying a home worth several hundred thousand dollars, minimum, and the deal-killer is that the closets are too small, perhaps it might be worth the $500-$2500 it might cost to extend, enlarge or even relocate your closet(s). Most often, this just involves pushing one wall out a few inches and maybe some fixes to the flooring you disturb.

    If you have other good ideas for closet fixes to houses that are awesome except for their insufficient storage space, leave a comment and let us know!
  • Is the fear of losing your job stopping you from buying a home?

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Oakland  |  November 7, 2009 3:11 PM  |  247 views  |  No comments
    I've heard it time and time again: wanna-be homebuyers who know this might be the best market of their lives hesitating to buy because they're concerned there's even a remote chance they'll lose their job.  Really, it's not a bizarre or pretextual concern - everyone knows someone (or 10 someones!) who thought their position was secure and ended up out of work in the last year.

    If you're a first-time homebuyer and W-2 employee (not self-employed) who is trying to get beyond this fear, but would like to stack the decks in your favor - just in case, buy your home from a broker or agent who is a member of the California Association of Realtors®. In addition to having committed to a high standard of ethics and education, they can offer you an insurance policy of sorts that will help you pay your mortgage if you actually do lose your job (knock wood).

    {Oh - btw, I'd love to be your Realtor® - 510.910.6713. Shameless plug over.}

    All you have to do is:
    • buy a home
    • close escrow before 12.31.2009, and
    • ask your Realtor® to register you - they're your liaison to the program.
    Per the CAR website:

    To help provide first-time home buyers with peace of mind when purchasing a home, the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® Housing Affordability Fund is offering a mortgage protection program to first-time home buyers.

    Through the C.A.R. Housing Affordability Fund’s Mortgage Protection Program, first-time home buyers who lose their jobs due to layoffs may be eligible to receive up to $1,500 per month, for six months, to help make their mortgage payments. A qualified co-buyer also can participate in the program, and receive a monthly benefit of $750 per month for up to six months. 
  • Best-Kept Secret About the First-Time Buyer Tax Credit Extension: Higher Income Limits

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Oakland  |  November 7, 2009 2:51 PM  |  280 views  |  2 comments
    If you're a house hunter, by now you surely know that the 2009 First-Time Homebuyer Credit has been extended so that you can get the credit so long as you are in contract to buy your home before April 1st, 2010 and close escrow before July 1, 2010.

    You've probably also heard that the credit has been expanded to offer a $6,500 credit to non-virgin homebuyers.

    Many Oakland homebuyers think the tax credit headlines don't apply to them because those who make enough money to afford a home at all have income exceeding the credit's $75,000 (single)/ $150,000 (married filing jointly) income limits. What sounds like a super-high income in other parts of the country is really a moderate income here in the Best Place On Earth to Live. No, not Disneyland: the Bay Area.

    Well, wake up, folks!  This credit's for you!

    In addition to extending the deadline for the credit, the new law also expands the income limits - individuals can be eligible with adjusted gross income less than $125,000, and marrieds can earn a joint income less than $225,000 and still be eligible.

    If you've worked hard to get (and keep) a career that earns you six figures, you're now also eligible for up to 8,000 reasons to stop waiting for the bottom, get off the fence and start enjoying your life A.D. (After Domicile).

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