Moving from Hoarder to Not-so-Hoarder

I just finished moving from 1,500 square feet to 950 square feet, and let me just sum it all up for you in three words: I’m a survivor.

More specifically, a relationship-survivor. I’m happy to announce, that I’m still engaged to a man who had every reason to run-don’t-walk during the last two months of pawing through box after box filled to the brim – okay more like smashed jam-packed – with what I’ve been schlepping around for the last 47 years.

I affectionately call my belongings “things” and “stuff.” My problem began when I was young. Real young. Say around five-ish. I remember begging my mom not to get rid of my priceless collectibles with the strong argument of, “that’s my stuff” or, “those are my things.” Stuff like newspapers with my articles in them from 12 years ago. I had no idea newspapers – that many – weighed so much either, since I’ve always had help by strong peeps, carrying my boxes of stuff from one storage place to another.

I reasoned that because those articles were not on the Internet back then, I needed to save them, the entire newspaper too, not just my 15” prose on page 7. But for what? I was a crappy writer then. Not that I’m Pulitzer-material now – close though – I realized that those clips were not going to score me a cover story in the New Yorker.

I found lies in those boxes too. Neatly tucked away in box number 85, was my son’s green and yellow crocheted baby blanky, the one I had told him his dad and I “lost.” He’s 20-years-old now, and when I showed him his security blanket, he was miffed. I couldn’t blame him. White lies don’t hoard well.

My claws came out like switchblades when my fiancé questioned why I needed to save 15 remote controls, over 20 surge protectors and make-up from the 80’s. I growled another strong argument of … “back off or else.”

Thoughts of becoming rich through eBay sales danced through my head. So did thoughts of strangling my fiancé with the 30 extension cords too. I mean, what did he know? This is my life and those are my things and stuff.

In the end, I made progress. I sold about a quarter of my things and stuff during three days of garage sales with his mom’s help; I threw a quarter of it away; donated a quarter of it to Goodwill; and ultimately kept the remaining must-haves-or-I’ll-die stuff.

It felt good. It felt like a weight was lifted. I learned about my problem. Two months and seven Hoarder episodes later, I realized my problem was in letting go. First step, realizing you have a problem. Second step, finding very good reasons to not let go. Third step, letting go.

Fourth step, hello shopping.

The Great American Bandstand

A favorite summer tradition – a Sunday band concert in the park, often accompanied by a family picnic – has always been a great American pastime in many towns and cites.

“The American bandstand has always been popular,” writes Professor Jonathan Elkus, noted band conductor and musicologist. “Yet at its best and most influential, these concerts have welcomed the new, revived the forgotten and revitalized the mainstream.* The American Bandstand has provided a friendly stage for soloists and ensembles. And it is to the widespread impact on American musical values that these concerts are dedicated.

The outdoors is almost an exclusive venue for bands. “Other ensembles which lack its acoustical properties and mobility cannot function with similar success,” writes Fredrick Fennell in his book Time in the Winds.

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries John Philip Sousa, (1854-1932) was a household word. He did more to insure the success of the band movement in the United States than anyone before or since. Before Sousa, were Patrick Gilmore and his famous bands and after Sousa came Herbert L. Clark and Arthur Pryor, Sousa’s former soloists.

The tremendous popularity of the bands and of the outdoor concerts in the park started to wane as the population was drawn to other forms of entertainment such as radio and live orchestral concerts. We are fortunate in the Bay Area to have some of these traditions of yesteryear still available to us.

The Golden Gate Park Band in San Francisco was founded in September 1882 and has been in continuous operation ever since. When it started it played year-round until funding became harder to obtain and now they only play from April to October. It is still a popular Sunday afternoon attraction.

In the East Bay one can enjoy the Oakland Municipal Band in Lakeside Park at Lake Merritt in Oakland. They play an abbreviated summer schedule on Sunday afternoons. The concerts are an eclectic program of classical, marches, jazz, big band, pop and show tunes. This band dates back to 1912.

If you are planning a trip to Hawaii don’t miss a concert by the Royal Hawaiian Band. This band dates back to 1836 and was started by King Kamahamaha. It is the only full-time municipal band in America and has been operating continuously since it was founded. They play every Friday at noon at the Iolani Palace in downtown Honolulu plus many other locations in the islands. The band is a real treasure and a true example of an historic American tradition in the present day.

According to Michael Wirgler, conductor of the Golden Gate Park Band, the Sunday band concerts are drawing interest from a growing number of younger people. This is a good omen as it is vitally important to keep this great form of Americana alive and well.

*Program notes by Jonathan Elkus

Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.

Stamps In My Passport: North Korea

Stamps In My Passport: North Korea

Military Demarcation Line sign on the south side of the Bridge of No Return.

From time to time I admit to having visited over one hundred and fifteen countries, at least once. Some of these visits were quite lengthy, while others were extremely brief and came close to not counting at all.

The shortest stop in a country on my list had to be the one in North Korea. It may have been the quickest, but with the North Korean troops watching me through a window, and the impending threat of strife around me, it was one of the more interesting stops.

It came very close to not happening at all. Let me tell you about it.

Stamps In My Passport: North Korea

A South Korean sentry in a guard tower near the demilitarized zone.

Regnibuh is our Internet handle – it’s our last name spelled backwards. And, when we travel, it really gets a workout. Barb uses it to make reservations, book tours in cities we hope to visit, and hunt for sites not always obvious in those fat travel brochures.

The gravel/sand divided by a concrete bit, in Joint Security Area also known as Panmunjom, is where the border is drawn between North Korea and South Korea. South Korea is on the left hand side of this photo.

Singapore Air was offering an attractive price for airfare, a week’s lodging, and a couple of delightful side tours while visiting its principal city – a city which we both love dearly. We discovered the package on the Internet. Day by day, visit by visit, the details of our trip were falling into place. People thousands of miles apart were typing little notes to one another confirming our journey and making room for us.

A special feature of this package was a stop along the way at any point serviced by Singapore Air. We chose Seoul. This bustling metropolis in South Korea appealed to our sense of adventure, particularly because of the impasse of almost sixty years that exists with its neighbor to the north. Here, on a narrow band of land, two nations have faced one another with the constant threat of attack for almost two generations. We’ve fought several wars since then, but this belonged to my generation. The line separating the two countries is called the demilitarized zone or DMZ. A Quonset hut sits half in the north and half in the south and marks the piece of ground where the two countries negotiated an impasse way back in the fifties. The location of this standoff is the city of Panmunjom. We had heard that visits to Panmunjom could be arranged, but we were not quite sure how. Back to the Internet. Barb found a soldier stationed in the DMZ and after a great deal of Internet communication, he volunteered to arrange a visit for us up to the front line. The trip was sponsored by the USO. We were told what to wear, yes what to wear. Jeans were not acceptable – sorry Levis. Ladies needed to avoid shorts or anything even vaguely revealing. No tennis shoes. We all needed to look proper and prosperous. Instructions were also given on how to behave and what to expect. The deal was closed. At 7 a.m. we were to arrive at the Seoul USO facilities on the agreed-upon date, present ourselves, and we would be taken by military bus to the north. We congratulated ourselves on our Internet success. The deal was we would come in from the south and walk round the “negotiating” table – this stroll would put us in North Korea for only a few steps.

Stamps In My Passport: North Korean

The South Korean guard standing in attack position, is blocking the entrance to North Korea inside a conference building at the Joint Security Area in Panmunjeom. ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers always wear these sunglasses to intimidate the enemy.

Stamps In My Passport: North Korea

North Korean soldier at the DMZ.

Some three weeks later, on the agreed-upon morning, we left our hotel in downtown Seoul and headed toward the USO. Twenty minutes later our cab deposited us at the door in plenty of time to meet any contingencies. It took us only a few minutes to find the proper authorities, and with due respect we presented ourselves.

“Mr. and Mrs. Hubinger are here and ready to go,” we said. The soldier smiled and began to search his list. Over and over again he checked the spelling, looked at all of the possibilities, and then grim-faced, announced, “Your names are not on the reservation list.”
Stamps In MyPassport

Stamps In My Passport

The table is in the U.N. main conference room at Panmunjom. South Korea is the left side of the table, North Korea is the right side of the table. The table is divided down the middle by the invisible Military Demarkation Line. When a North Korean group is in the building the soldier on guard is South Korean and vice versa.

Some mistake? Was our soldier friend unreliable? What could possibly have gone wrong? We were dejected and apparently had no options. We were about to retreat out the door to our hotel and lick our wounds when I happened to glance at the soldier’s list. Sure enough, there it was Mr. and Mrs. Regnibuh. I explained the situation to a smiling sergeant, who graciously acknowledged,

“Well, if Mr. and Mrs. Regnibuh don’t show up, I’ll be sure that the two of you can use their seats.”

Mission accomplished – we went to North Korea – we walked around the table – and I added another country to my list.

2011 Ford Mustang V6: 
The Answer to the Need for Speed!

Passing Lane
They, whoever “they” are, say competition is healthy and makes competitors strive to be better. Well, there has always been a competition race between the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro, with the Mustang usually coming out the sales leader. In 2010, the podium had a new leader in the form of the re-introduced and re-invented Chevrolet Camaro, which was returning after an eight year absence. The race resumes!

Ford cocked the pistol in preparation for the rivalry battle by upgrading the 2010 Mustang with styling, quality, brakes, and suspension improvements. However, the 2010 retro-looking Camaro came to the track packed with a 304-hp V6 engine that smoked the Mustang’s 210-hp V-6. Not to be out done, Ford’s engine gear-heads pulled the trigger launching the 2011 Ford Mustang with a new 3.7-liter V6 with variable inlet and exhaust valve timing that cranks out 305-hp (beating the Camaro’s 304-hp), and 280 lb-ft of torque. Ok, you are thinking how impressive is one more horse, well, here is the deal breaker; not only do you get the extra horse but it also comes with a very impressive 19 MPG city and 31 MPG highway verses its competitor at 17/29.

The 2011 Mustang comes in two body styles, Coupe and Convertible and three trims with variations. Here is the lineup: base Coupe ($22,995), Premium Coupe ($26,695), GT Coupe ($29,645), GT Premium Coupe ($33,695), Shelby GT500 Coupe ($49,495), base Convertible ($27,995), Premium Convertible ($31,695), GT Convertible ($35,495), GT Premium Convertible ($38,695), Shelby GT500 Convertible ($54,495). All prices include an $850 destination charge.

The power behind the 2011 Mustang comes from three new engine options: the 3.7-liter V6 with 305-hp mentioned above and standard on the base and premium coupe and convertible models, a 5.0-liter V8 with 412-hp standard on all GT trims and the big daddy 5.4-liter Supercharged V8 packing 550-hp is the Shelby GT500’s engine of choice. All trims except the Shelby GT500 come mated to a 6-speed manual transmission or an optional 6-speed automatic transmission for $995. The Shelby GT500 is equipped only with a 6-speed Tremec manual transmission.

The Mustang was given new life in 2005 when it was redesigned with a retro flare recalling the 1968 Mustang fastback. The 2010 redesign pays homage to the 1969 Mustang with a new front end that includes a wider grille and a more aggressive look. Other changes are in the rear tail lights with their three chamber lights that blink in a sequential order similar to Ford models of the past. Sheet metal changes have improved the aerodynamics and along with an overall weight reduction of 255 pounds and the new engines and transmissions, the 2011 Mustang also delivers better fuel miles per gallon.

The 2011 Mustang expands on the noise, vibration and ride improvements of the 2010 model redesign including additional sound deadening material on the instrument cluster and rear wheel well liners to help eliminate the sounds you don’t want to hear. The convertibles trims come standard with a power top and a glass rear window.

Like with the exterior, the 2010 Ford Mustang took the interior to a new level of quality never scene in a Mustang and the 2011 Mustang has even added additional improvements. Past years were riddled with hard, cheap interior plastic surfaces. Starting with 2010, the interior is so radically enhanced with soft touch points, beautifully molded door panels, ambient lighting, extremely comfortable seats, and aluminum trim vs. plastic pieces. Personally, I wished they would have found a way to give the rear passengers just a couple more inches of legroom. It is livable for short drives.

The muscle cars of the past were built for speed not comfort. The 2011 Mustang adds features that you wouldn’t expect in a high-performance car like Ford’s Sync voice-activated entertainment and communications system, rearview camera, Sirius satellite radio and a navigation system with Sirius Travel Link. High-tech meets performance!
Room for improvement:

  • Rear passenger seat room is limited

Cool Features:

  • Sync voice-activated entertainment and communications system
  • Rearview camera
  • Illuminated Mustang door plates

New safety features include Ford’s MyKey system, power side mirrors with integrated blind spot mirrors, fold-down rear headrests and a rearview camera. Some of these items are available for an optional fee.

In Summary
– The 2011 Ford Mustang is now the complete package of exterior styling, interior enhancements, technology, and performance. In other words, the 2011 Mustang has regained its muscle car status and is back in the fight. My dad owned a 1965 Mustang and it’s hard to believe that the “Stang” has been in production now for 46 years. There is a reason for its longevity; it continues to grow and mature and attracts a wide age range of buyers. The 2011 Mustang is now dressed to kill and has the guns to make it happen.

For more information and a complete list of features and specification go to
Passing Lane
2011 Ford Mustang

Base price:  $26,950 as driven: $32,580 (including destination and optional equipment)
Engine: 3.7-Liter 6-cylinder
Horsepower:  305 @ 6500
Torque:  280 pound-feet @ 4250 rpm
Transmission:  6-Speed Automatic Transmission
Drive:  Rear Wheel-Drive
Seating:  4-passenger
Turning circle:  33.4 feet
Cargo space:  13.4 cubic feet
Curb weight:  4000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 16 gallons
EPA mileage:  31 highway, 19 city
Wheel Base: 107.1 inches
Warranty:  3 years/36,000 miles
Also consider:  Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Future changes: Redesigned in 2010

Market Fresh: Sliding through Summer

Market Fresh
Harry Truman said it best, and I follow his advice to this day: I can’t stand the heat, so I stay out of the kitchen. Okay, so I go there periodically throughout the day to fill my water bottle, and of course to do some minor food prep for meals. But when the temperature rises, cooking is done outdoors or not at all. As far as I am concerned, my ovens take a vacation in August. With so many locally grown fruits and vegetables at their peak of perfection this month, however, none of my guests seem to notice.

Who could complain about a bowl of perfectly ripe raspberries, or a slab of juicy watermelon? Locally grown strawberries, plums, and grapes are as sweet as candy. What possible adornment could improve upon a fragrant, tree-ripened peach or nectarine? Veggies like organically-grown tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, multi-color bell peppers, tender young green beans, and summer squash are often best after little or no cooking, with nothing more than a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Just a few minutes on the grill makes summer’s sweet corn the thing dreams are made of.

Thank thrifty Italians for this ingenious way of pairing summer vegetables with good, crusty bread that has gone stale. Panzanella is ideal for entertaining and potlucks this month, since it doesn’t require an oven and actually benefits from being made in advance. When tossed together, the vegetable juices blend with the fruity olive oil dressing and soften the chunks of dry bread. (In fact, in the Tuscan dialect panzanella translates to “little swamp”—a fitting description of the juice-soaked bread.)

Serve this as a light meal on a hot day, or as a side dish with grilled foods. And don’t skimp on the quality of the ingredients—especially the olive oil. Only the best will do. Fortunately everything is available at the August farmers’ market.

Market Fresh

Farmers’ Market Panzanella
(Italian Bread Salad)

When I lack the foresight to reserve bread for making this, I simply start with a fresh loaf. Cut the bread into thick slices and grill over indirect heat, turning several times, until well toasted but not necessarily charred, 5 to 10 minutes. When cool enough to handle, tear or cut into bite-size chunks.

2 tablespoons California red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed through a press
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup California extra virgin olive oil
2 or 3 large vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into 3/4-inch dice, juices reserved
3/4 pound of 1- or 2-day-old Tuscan-style bread, torn into bite-size pieces or cut into 3/4-inch chunks (about 6 cups)
1 medium farm-fresh cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded if desired, and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
about 10 large fresh basil leaves, shredded or coarsely chopped*

In a large serving bowl, combine the vinegar, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Mix in the olive oil. Gently stir in the tomatoes and their juices.

Add the bread, cucumber, onion, and basil. Toss gently to moisten the bread. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at cool room temperature for at least 30 minutes or as long as 2 hours to blend flavors. Bread will soften as it absorbs the dressing and vegetable juices. Taste, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Serves 4 to 6.

* For variation, substitute arugula, mint, or flat-leaf parsley for the basil.

Ten Slick Facts
The late food authority and writer Waverley Root observed that the type of fat in which food is cooked defines regional cuisine far more than any other ingredient used in a dish.

Some of the best food in the world comes from olive-growing regions—consider Provence in France, southern Italy, the Catalan section of Spain, and parts of Greece, the Middle East, and California.

During his extensive travels, Thomas Jefferson was so enamored with the taste of olive oil that he tried—unsuccessfully—to cultivate olive trees at his home in Virginia. Fortunately the Franciscans had better luck when they planted mission-variety olive trees in California.

California dominates the domestic olive oil industry, producing 850,000 gallons (worth about $17 million) in the 2009-2010 season.

There are 3 basic types of olive oil. From mildest flavor to most robust, those grades are pure, virgin, and extra virgin. Extra virgin oil comes from the first cold-pressing of olives. Cold-pressing preserves aromatic compounds and higher levels of antioxidants; and produces an oil that is relatively low in acid. (Pale-colored “lite” olive oil is not even a category—it is merely a way to sell flavorless, often chemically rectified oil. Contrary to what producers might have you believe, it is not lower in fat or calories.)

When it comes to fats, olive oil is considered a healthy choice thought to lower the risk of heart disease.

Most olive trees bear fruit only after 3 or 4 years. They reach full maturity at 8 to 10 years, and can continue to produce olives for centuries. (Yes, centuries.) Different varieties of olives ripen at different times.

Olive Arithmetic:
It takes between 325 and 500 olives to yield 1 cup of oil.

One tablespoon of olive oil contains119 calories, no carbohydrates, and about 13.5g fat. An opened bottle of olive oil can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.

Both here and abroad, high-quality olive oil is expensive to produce; and added freight costs make it even more so. When a producer sells olive oil directly to consumers at the farmers’ market, the “middle man,” has been eliminated and you are ensured the best price for a superior California oil.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM or visit their web site at

Market Watch

Taxes, taxes and more taxes!

Watch out! A tidal wave of new taxes is likely to go into effect in 2011 and 2013. These tax hikes will primarily be targeted at higher income earners. We are all aware of what has been happening. Our national debt has ballooned and is still growing. Sooner or later we are going to have to pay for all of the bailouts, stimulus money, war spending and ambitious social programs such as health care. Unfortunately, budget cuts will only take us so far in reducing the debt. Nearly 60% of our national spending is devoted to Medicare, Social Security and other mandatory programs.1 Therefore, be prepared for the likelihood of higher taxes in the future. What follows are some of the likely changes for upper income earners and how to plan for them.

It is very likely the Bush tax cuts will expire for high income earners and the top two ordinary income rates are likely to go from 33% and 35% to 36% and 39.6%. Capital Gains rates could go from 15% to 20%. The tax on dividends could leap from 15% to 39.6%. Several tax increases related to the health care bill our on the horizon as well. Medicare payroll taxes are slated to go from 1.45% to 2.35% in 2013. A new Medicare tax of 3.8% on investment income, including capital gains, interest, dividends, royalties, rent and annuity income is also in the queue for 2013. Estate taxes are also expected to be back in one form or another starting next year. States need all the money they can get as well so don’t be surprised if we see some state tax increases as well.

Plan ahead for these tax increases by considering the following: If you have appreciated investments, you may want to sell them this year to take advantage of lower capital gain tax rates. It may be best to hold dividend paying stocks in tax-deferred accounts. The rate increases will make municipal bond’s tax free income all the more attractive. Overfunded cash value life insurance policies can also be used to provide tax free income though policy loans. Be sure to explore converting all or part of your IRA or 410k to a Roth IRA.

Keep in mind that the majority of these possible tax hikes will only affect top earners. In fact, many taxpayers at lower incomes may actually see their taxes decline. But, if you are single and make over $200,000 or married and make over $250,000, watch out!

1. Barron’s 6-21-10, Watch Your Assets

Damien helps individuals invest and manage risk. He is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and a principal of Walnut Creek Wealth Management. These are the views of Damien Couture, CFP® and should not be construed as investment advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Not all recommendations are suitable for all investors. Each investor must consider their own goals, time horizon and risk tolerance. Your comments are welcome. Damien can be reached at 925-280-1800 x101 or

Short Game Tips and Secrets

Your short game holds the secret to guaranteeing lower scores. I want to share some thoughts when it comes to practicing and improving this area of your game.

To simplify, I specifically want to discuss chipping, pitching and sand shots. I suppose putting could be included but I will save that for another day. To define the two most played shots around the green, the chip shot is a shot played with maximum roll while the pitch has more air time and less roll. Every golfer should strive to practice and play these two types of shots. The sand shot is played somewhat differently as the club head passes underneath the ball while sliding through the sand. It is what we call “an explosion shot” because the ball is literally pushed out of the sand by the sand itself.

A good rule of thumb would be to follow the formula of putting when you can, chip when you can’t putt and pitch only when you have to. Most good players and tour pros follow this strategy because it has proven to yield favorable results. Too many times golfers try to do more then they should by hitting a high shot. Anytime you put the ball up in the air around the green, greater skill and much more practice is required while not assuring better results. Keeping the ball low to the ground and rolling it to the target is a much safer and smarter approach.

There are several factors which need to be properly assessed before any choice or decision should be made. The way the ball is sitting in the grass may be the single most important factor when determining the way to play the shot. How much green you have to work with is a close second.

Club choice is another factor when it comes to controlling the trajectory or height you intend for the shot. One idea, when playing the low shot, would be to use a less lofted club, like a nine or seven iron, and choose a land point that safely carries onto the front edge of the green. The set up for the chip or pitch is slightly different however. I recommend placing more weight on the leg that is closest to the target for either shot. This, more or less, assures a slightly downward strike, allowing for the club to contact the ball first.

Ball placement for the two shots should be altered. Setting up with feet close together (approximately six inches apart) is appropriate for either shot. The big difference is where the ball is placed. Addressing the ball across the rear or back foot help to keep the shot low while addressing the ball up or toward the front foot help get the ball higher in the air. Placing the ball further forward, widening the stance and opening the face would help it fly even higher and is what I recommend while facing a sand shot. At all costs, do not try to lift the ball in the air by shifting your weight to the back foot. This tendency causes a multitude of problems that will be avoided by keeping the weight forward and pivoting toward the target.

You can receive a complimentary short game lesson from me with any purchase of a Nike Wedge at Boundary Oak Golf Course during the month of May. Also, look for my Get Golf Ready Class for woman beginning in May. Just log onto and click Get Golf Ready. You can also contact me at or 925 997-3683.

Is This the Year 49ers Finally Gel?

Spring and summer have been wonderful for the 49ers. The stadium proposition passed in Santa Clara with more than 60 per cent of the vote. Their draft selections of Anthony Davis and Mike Iaupati promise to shore up the offensive line, and the team was selected to participate in the annual NFL regular-season game in London.

Its coach, Mike Singletary, has had time to put his own imprint on the team, young owner Jed York has put a much better public face on the team than did his father John, and the constant stumbling by the Raiders enhances the 49ers local reputation.

Next month begins the games begin, which can be the hard part. This year, though, looks to be the first since 2002 when the team should be a solid bet to make the NFL Playoffs.

Alex Smith showed signs late last season that he is ready to lead the team. If he falters, former Houston Texans starter David Carr provides insurance. They also have legitimate All Pro candidates in running back Frank Gore, linebacker Patrick Willis, and receiver Michael Crabtree. The best news might be that 2010 looks like a down year for the team’s division opponents.

Arizona should be negatively affected by the retirement of quarterback Kurt Warner and the questions regarding replacement Matt Leinart’s fitness as an NFL quarterback. The Rams are coming off a season where they won just one game, and Seattle is adjusting to a new coach as Pete Carroll escaped from USC just before the NCAA put the Trojans on probation and will try to reverse the losing NFL record he built with the Jets and Patriots in the 1990s.

The schedule also works in their favor. Two of their toughest opponents figure to be defending Super Bowl champions New Orleans and the Philadelphia Eagles. Both those games are at home. They also have a rare showdown with the Raiders, also scheduled for Candlestick Park. The 49ers’ toughest road game is just 500 miles away in San Diego, and they only face the distraction of a Monday Night Football game just once, in Arizona on Nov. 29.

Coach Singletary is upbeat regarding the team’s performance in early drills. “I thought our offense got better, I thought Alex (Smith) did a great job of having a command of the offense and executing the offense fairly well. I thought the receivers did a good job. The O-line continues to progress,” he said. As for the defense, “On the defensive side of the ball, our D-line is working. Our linebackers, it was great to see Willis back in the mix. It’s a work in progress, but I think we’ll get better.”

If Singletary is right and things do get better, then last year’s 8-8 record could become 10-6 in 2010, which should be enough to win the NFC West and earn a berth in the playoffs.

Trivial Matters

A whole bunch of us got lost in “Lost,” the terrific TV series that just ended a seven year run. It almost never made sense, but we did not care. It is too soon to do a quiz based on the show, but we can “lost” anyway.

  • Who played the mother on the TV series “Lost in Space”?
  • Who won an Oscar in 1946 for his performance in “Lost Weekend”?
  • What major league pitcher lost the most games in his career?
  • What mythical land was celebrated in the novel “Lost Horizon”?
  • A classic song about loss is “The Man Who Got Away.” Judy Garland sang it, Harold Arlen wrote the music, but who wrote the lyrics?
  • Who lost the 1968 US Presidential election to Richard Nixon in 1968?

1. Mel Gibson 2. Mel Ott 3. Mel Torme 4. Melvin Purvis 5. Mel Blanc 6. Mel Allen

John Martinez of Walnut Creek

The first person to email or mail, no calls please, the correct answers to all of the above questions will win a $25 gift certificate at The Uptown Cafe in downtown Danville, compliments of Ben Fernandez!

Entries must be received by May 20, 2010. In the event of a tie, the winner will be drawn at random. Please email your answers to, or mail to ALIVE East Bay, 199 East Linda Mesa Avenue, Suite 10, Danville, CA 94526. Employees and family members of employees of ALIVE East Bay are not eligible. Restaurant may be changed without notice.

Divorce Sales

Q. Tom, in addition to short sale and bank-owned property sales in my neighborhood, there are also several ‘divorce’ sale situations where it seems the sellers are ‘giving the home away’. My impression is that ‘divorce’ sales drive down the values on my street more than anything else. Is that true?

I understand how you feel but I can assure you that ‘divorce’ sales do not significantly depress values in any given neighborhood. There are a couple things going on here; first, divorcing sellers consistently account for approximately 15% of the available homes in any market – good, bad or otherwise.

Second, regardless of the seller’s personal situation, there is a ‘market price’ for every property here in the Diablo Valley based on normal buyer demand. Just because two people are getting divorced doesn’t mean that the home is automatically worth less; divorcing sellers are generally highly motivated but not desperate for a quick sale. Third, there is however a higher probability that these homes have not been maintained optimally … remember, when people are happy with themselves and each other, it is usually reflected in how they care, maintain & improve their homes. Poor condition is a major reason for lower pricing when a home comes to the market.

Lastly, I believe my industry can be a bit more sensitive and strategic with regard to representing divorcing sellers. I remind all my real estate colleagues not only of the personal nature of such information but also that openly disclosing a sale as a ‘divorce situation’ does nothing to enhance the negotiating leverage of the sellers. As a rule, I don’t disclose that sellers are divorcing unless they approve of such or if the release of the information benefits them in some way. Instead I simply state that ‘they are moving locally’.

Q. Is late summer/early fall a good time to sell a home?

It certainly can be. After the typically strong spring and early summer markets, the months of August, September and October are historically robust times for selling and buying. The traditional ‘buy before school starts’ market window has closed but the ‘sell before the holidays’ window is wide open for about a 90 day time period starting in late summer. Keep in mind that no matter when you sell your home a successful outcome is always dependent on location, condition, pricing, marketing and the skill of your agent.

Q. Tom, as either a seller or buyer, do I actually have to be physically present here locally on the close of escrow day in order to finalize the sale?

Nope! In fact, a great many sellers & buyers are not available on the closing day due to work, travel or other scheduling issues. In our area, the principles (seller & buyer) in a transaction typically sign estimated closing documents somewhere between two to seven days in advance of the actual closing then both receive a final statement on the closing day. Documents can be signed in person at a local title & escrow company or the papers can be overnighted/emailed to the principle to be signed in the presence of a notary anywhere in the world.

‘Electronic signature’ technology is also now emerging as a convenient way of allowing important documents to be legally ‘signed’ on a computer or smart phone without having to print out, sign, scan & fax back. All of which makes it easier on buyers and sellers and precludes them from being ‘here’ on the actual closing day unless, of course, they are moving into or out of the home.

Tom Hart

Tom Hart

Tom Hart is a practicing Real Estate Broker and a partner at Empire Realty Associates in Danville. He is a Certified Master Negotiator by the University of San Francisco and a Certified Master Strategist by HSM Harvard Program on Negotiation. He is past president of the Contra Costa Association of Realtors (2005) and past president of the Realtors’ Marketing Association of the San Ramon Valley. Tom is in high demand as a speaker & trainer inside & outside the real estate industry.