Marin County Registrar Apologizes for $100k Mistake

The Marin County Registrar of Voters apologized this week for a coding error made on the ballots for the June 3rd primary election.  ”I take full responsibility for this mistake and apologize to voters for any confusion this has caused them,” Elaine Ginnold said in a prepared statement.  Insiders say the mistake will cost almost $100,000 to correct.  The mistake involves the placement of Measure A on all ballots and voter info pamphlets, even though only voters within the Marin County Library District are eligible to vote.  The measure would extend a $49 per year parcel tax for nine years to provide funding to the Marin County Free Library.  Ginnold indicated she only learned of the mistake after receiving a call from the town clerk in San Anselmo.

07

05 2014

Sausalito Marine Mammal Center Overwhelmed by Sick Seals and Sea Lions

Officials from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito said this week they have been overwhelmed in recent months by the number of aquatic mammals brought in for care. The majority of the influx are sea lions, elephant seals harbor seals and fur seals, many of them young pups found near the shore and suffering dehydration. Since the year began, the center has already seen 446 seals and sea lions, up from 302 during the same time frame last year. It’s also a record for the first four months of the year for the center, eclipsing the previous mark of 418 animals treated through April in 1998.

Particularly mysterious, officials noted, are the 144 sea lion pups that have been brought in, as they have been of an age during which they would usually be with their mothers still. Sea lion pups appear to be going out on their own several months earlier than normal, and scientists are not sure why. There is speculation that the change could have been caused by changes in fish populations and locations, but that premise has not been backed up by any studies at this point.

06

05 2014

How-To Class for Confused Apple Users

Officials in San Rafael announced this week that they are starting a new instructional course for adults having difficulty using their Apple devices. This includes not only the popular iPhone smartphones but also the original tablet computer, the iPad. The two-week course will one-on-one instruction on everything from checking and sending emails to editing pictures to downloading and using apps from the iTunes store. The class will be held from 10AM to 12PM Monday, May 19th and Monday, June 2nd in Room 3 of the Pickleweed Park Community Center. The fee for the class is $56 for San Rafael residents and $62 for non-residents. Click Here for more information or to register.

05

05 2014

Buying a Home by Assuming an Existing Loan

In most home purchases, the buyer gets approved to borrow a certain amount, finds a home and finances the purchase price. Some sellers, however, list their homes on the market even though they do not own it outright. In these cases, the lender will sometimes allow the buyer to assume the outstanding mortgage. The new borrower has to meet the same qualifying criteria as the original owner, and go through the entire qualifying process just like they would for a traditional loan.

Prior to the 1990s, banks would allow borrowers to transfer most loans without fully vetting the new borrower. Those days are long gone, however, and many banks today will not even consider allowing a loan transfer from one borrower to another, particularly for conventional loans. Most government-backed loans are assumable, however, such as those backed by the Federal Housing Authority, but the new borrower must be able to come up with the difference between the outstanding balance on the loan and the full purchase price. Essentially, this means that you have to reimburse the current homeowner’s equity in the home.

One thing to remember before assuming a home loan is the interest rate. If the interest rate is close to or lower than current rates, assuming the loan is probably a good decision. If, however, the interest rate on the loan is substantially higher than the latest posted rates, you’ll spend more money in the long run by assuming the mortgage, and should probably just get pre-qualified and search for another property as you’ll end up paying more than you would by securing a new loan. It’s also extremely important to make sure you understand the terms of the loan. Meet with a representative of the lender to discuss and ask about any surprise fees or balloon payments. Ask if the interest rate is adjustable and ensure that the loan is in good standing.

05

05 2014

Housing Market Kept GDP Growth in Check in Q1

US economic growth was held in check by the housing market in the first quarter, marking the first time since 2009 that housing weighed on overall growth for back-to-back quarters. The news didn’t come as a complete shock to observers, as recently released reports have hinted at weak growth in the sector. On the bright side, a report from the National Association of Realtors issued this week shows a marked improvement in pending home sales, suggesting a pickup as Spring rolls into Summer. Nonetheless, some economists are concerned that a continued decline in housing affordability and a lack of improvement in the job market could continue to hamper demand in the sector.

 

The recent trend in housing data has been downbeat enough that both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have made revisions to their forecasts for 2014 housing market growth. Nobody expects the sector to slip back to the sad state it was in during the Great Recession, but to say economists are disappointed in this year’s spring season, typically the busiest time of the year for home purchases, would definitely be an understatement. Speculation about the causes behind the slower-than-expected spring has been rampant, with blame being assigned to a longer than normal winter storm season, dwindling supply of homes on the market and a mortgage environment that hasn’t completely opened up in the wake of the recession.

02

05 2014

Marin Air Quality Report

Marin County’s air quality is good, according to a report issued this week by the American Lung Association, though it could be better in terms of soot in the air. Marin received a grade of “A” in the report for ozone air quality, joining the neighboring counties of Sonoma and San Francisco, but received a “C” grade in terms of particulate matter, or soot, in the air. Local officials say that the low soot grade is because of people burning wood in fireplaces, which releases particulates into the atmosphere via ashes.

Air quality is particularly important for vulnerable residents such as those with asthma or other lung-related diseases. Marin County is home to nearly 23,000 people that suffer from asthma, and another 11,000 that suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Air samples for the ALA air quality report were taken from an air monitor in San Rafael. Critics say that this leads to the county receiving better grades than it should, as samples coming from one of the county’s valleys would likely contain higher amounts of particulates because air lingers there.

01

05 2014

Refinancing Advice for Non HARP-Eligible Borrowers

Over the last few years, millions of underwater American homeowners have managed to save their homes by refinancing under the Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP. The program was recently extended as well, meaning the government expects millions more to benefit from it. The program is available to most underwater borrowers provided their loan is owned by either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and was purchased by one of the two mortgage giants prior to June 2009. Some banks, however, have declined to take part in HARP, leaving millions with no other choice but to seek refinancing on their own. The following advice is for those homeowners.

 

When trying to get refinanced the most important thing to remember is to take your time and get quotes from as many lenders as you can, as the rates and fees they charge will vary substantially. The best way to achieve this is to contact several mortgage brokers, because they have access to rate information from multiple lenders. Banks, on the other hand, will only quote their own rates to customers, so shopping around through a broker can be a real time saver. Another thing to remember is to protect your credit score while shopping around. Before allowing multiple lenders to run a credit check on you, narrow your choice down to just a handful of lenders, because multiple credit checks can bring your score down. Finally, if you opt to do business with an online lender, ask if your loan can be handled by a single representative, rather than being passed around from one to another every few months. Most lenders will gladly honor that request.

01

05 2014

San Rafael Man Arrested on Child Pornography Charges

A San Rafael man was arrested last week on suspicion of downloading pornographic images of children at a friend’s house in Sausalito.  The arrest was the result of a joint investigation conducted by the Novato and Sausalito police departments in cooperation with the Silicon Valley Internet Crimes Against Children task force.  According to a statement from Sausalito police, they were informed by the task force that child porn had been downloaded from a computer at a Sausalito address last September.  Officers obtained a warrant and searched the residence, but found no evidence of the suspected activity.  Residents were cooperative, however, and gave the officers a list of houseguests that would have had access to their Internet connection.  Officers worked through the list and eventually tracked down 32 year-old Mark Magner of San Rafael, finding the files they were looking for on his computer.  Magner was booked into the Marin County Jail and is out on bail awaiting trial.

30

04 2014

Developer Pours Asphalt on Ancient Indian Burial Grounds

Archaeologists were livid this week after a Marin developer paved over an ancient 4,500 year-old Native American site that is believed to hold over a million unexamined artifacts. Scientists have been secretly excavating the site for about 18 months, but claim they need more time to adequately comb through what is believed to be the last untouched site of its kind in the Bay Area. Tribal authorities, developers and local officials, however, said that all state regulations governing these situations were followed to the letter.

Located in the city of Larkspur, the Indian burial ground was discovered in 2010 when a local developer began construction of a $55 million luxury home development. A pile of shells was found on the site almost immediately, and the find was linked with the Miwoks, a group of Native American tribes that inhabited Northern California several thousand years ago. A hundred years ago, archaeologists claim, there were over 500 Miwok sites throughout the region. Upon finding the initial artifacts, the developer called in scientists to study the find, in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. Conducted by Holman & Associates Archaeological Consultants, early examinations of the site were kept from the broader scientific community until last month.

Among the artifacts reportedly discovered at the Larkspur site were the burial sites of about 600 people, musical instruments, stone tools and other items. According to the law, the decision on how the artifacts are handled and what happens to them belongs to the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, a group of 1,300 Native Americans believed to be the Coastal Miwoks’ likeliest descendants. The group declined to approve the use of DNA testing on the artifacts, and ordered them reburied on-site. With the Federation’s approval, the developer continued work on the development.

30

04 2014

The Difference Between a Pre-Approval and Pre-Qualification Letter

Selling a home can be a stressful, confusing process because of the various terms and rules governing real estate. One of the most confusing aspects of the process is the difference between a pre-qualification letter and a pre-approval letter. It’s all-too-common that a seller will take their property off the market after receiving an offer from a buyer that’s pre-qualified, only to have to list the home again when the buyer can’t get approved. Buyers, meanwhile, may get pre-qualified to see how much they can borrow, only to find they can’t get approved for the amount when it comes time to make an offer because they’ve maxed out a credit card or missed a payment.

Learning the difference between pre-qualification and pre-approval can help- simplify the home buying or selling process and save on the costs involved. The primary distinction between the two is that a pre-qualification is designed to let buyers know how much they could borrow based on the information they provide to lenders, while a pre-approval is only issued after the lender verifies the information provided. Many sellers will not accept an offer from a pre-qualified buyer but will gladly deal with a pre-approved borrower. That’s because lenders do not verify things like income and credit when issuing the pre-qualifying letter.

While a pre-approval letter is better than a pre-qualification, it does not necessarily guarantee that the buyer will get the loan. Even though the lender has verified credit score, income and other factors before issuing the letter, those criteria will be looked at again when the loan is processed. The lender may still decline to originate the loan if the appraisal comes in too far below the purchase price or the buyer’s credit score has taken a hit. Many lenders also require homeowner or title insurance for borrowers, and may cancel the loan if the buyer fails to acquire them.

The other major difference between a pre-qualification and a pre-approval is the process by which they’re obtained. Pre-qualification letters are relatively easy to obtain, since the lender does not actually require any documentation of the buyer’s finances. In fact, a pre-approval can be obtained without even meeting with a lender, either by phone or using a qualification tool on the Internet. Before handing over a pre-approval letter, however, lenders will do a thorough background and credit check on the borrower. This also gives the borrower the advantage of time to clean up any surprises that show up on his credit history, whereas a pre-qualified buyer may not have the same chance because he does not find out about those surprises until the bank turns them down.

While a pre-qualification letter from a reputable lender can be a useful tool for a home shopper, most experts agree that it’s far better to go ahead and get pre-approved. While the pre-approval does not guarantee there won’t be any pitfalls, pre-approved buyers can avoid many problems that pop up when a buyer only gets pre-qualified.

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04 2014