Refinance while Underwater? HARP Expanded to Reach More Borrowers

A ray of hope has just been offered to some homeowners with properties that are seriously upside down, according to the California Association of Realtors.

In order to help a broader range of distressed homeowners and offer relief to the housing market, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced on Oct. 24 that the mortgage relief program HARP — the Home Affordable Refinance Program — has just been expanded.

Per FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have helped approximately 9 million families refinance into a lower cost or more sustainable mortgage product, approximately 10 percent of those via HARP. HARP is unique in that it is the only refinance program that enables borrowers who owe more than their home is worth to take advantage of lower interest rates and other refinancing benefits.

One of the biggest hurdles for borrowers who are current on their home loans and are considering refinance is the fact that the equity on their house is too low to qualify for a refinance. Until now, Fannie Me and Freddie Mac would only allow fixed-rate mortgages if the borrower’s property stays under 125 percent loan-to-value.  This requirement prevented many upside-down borrowers from refinancing to take advantage of the current low interest rates that they desperately need.  The enhanced HARP guideline lifted that restriction.

Other HARP program enhancements effectively reduced certain fees associated with the refinance as well as eliminated the need for a new property appraisal if the FHFA has a reliable automated valuation model estimate.  Both allowed cash strapped borrowers the ability to refinance without the steep fees a refinance might require.  The HARP program, schedule to expire at the end of 2011 has now been extended until the end of 2013.  New federal guidelines for the HARP changes should be released to mortgage lenders and servicers by Nov. 15.

According to the California Association of Realtors, the basic eligibility requirements for an enhanced HARP loan are as follows:

  • Existing mortgage loan must be owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.  Borrowers can check whether they have a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan by going to
  • Existing mortgage loan must have been sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac before June 1, 2009.
  • Existing mortgage loan cannot have been refinanced under HARP previously (except for Fannie Mae loans refinanced between March and May 2009).
  • Current loan-to-value (LTV) ratio must be more than 80%.
  • Existing mortgage loan must be current, with no late payments in the past six months, and no more than one late payment in the past 12 months.

Words of Caution:  Remember my previous blog about SCAMs – Too Good To be True, Then Beware? There are a lot of scammers out there to take advantage of distressed homeowners at their most vulunable stage.  Before engaging services that promise to modify your loans or save your home from being foreclosed on, make sure you check out the FTC Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule that outlaws advanced fees and false claims and requires clear disclosures from the servicers.

More Information About HARP:

More information about HARP is available from FHFA.

Other Resources for Distressed Homeowners:

9 Fabulous New Luxury Homes on Olive Court. Novato, Marin County

9 Fabulous New Luxury Homes on Olive Court, Novato, Marin County

Please make appointments with Sylvia Barry or your Realtor if you want to see these new Craftsman Style Homes located on Olive Court in Novato.

Millworks Novato Grand Opening brings New Dimension to Town!

mw_logo_rgbA controversial project due to the sheer size, the location and what it is and what it is not (a bit vague?  Ask me!), Millworks Novato had it’s grand opening today (April 25th).  What a pleasant surprise the development is!

As a Novato resident and a Realtor; although I missed the design, approval phases of the project; I, as many Novatans,  have watched with great interest and concerns in the progress of the building.   Today, I got to tour Millworks with my friend, Barbara.  We came away quite impressed!

Millworks – According to the developer, Millworks Novato is “Nestled among the North Bay’s rolling hills landscape, charming Old Town Novato is the home to Millworks, and environmentally sustainable and pedestrian-friendly new home community”. 

Millworks Novato

Millworks Novato

The building, sits atop the coming-soon Whole Foods,  located at the east end of Old Town Novato, consists of 124 flats and townhomes.  The homes are designed to be a combination of 1 bedroom/1 bath, 2 bedrooms/2 baths flats and 2 bedrooms/2 baths plus Den Flats. 

Amentities — Other than a few larger units on selected locations; first and second floors are mostly for Whole Foods and parking for Whole Foods and third floor is mostly for residents parking.  In addition, there is a library, a fitness center and a social room for gatherings.


'Roof Garden - Living Roof' on 4th Floor

Roof Garden – One of the Millworks’ most unique design is the rooftop garden on the 4th floor where the interior units all have patios on the ‘Roof Garden’.  This Living Roof – centrally located with open sky courts – have living gardens and flag stone patiors, gives the 4th floor residents a sense of being on the ground floor which is a very appealing, surprising feature!

Views Galore – For outdoor lovers, the floor to ceiling windows brings tons of sunshine and the breathtaking surrounding Novato hill views inside.  I can only imagine how beautiful the night time views will be with the twinkling lights from the distance.

Kitchen and Living Room

Kitchen and Living Room

The Interiors – Millworks have open floor plan where kitchen opens into living and dining rooms (area – depending on plan).  Kitchens have granite slab counter tops, break fast bar, Bosch stainless steel, Energy Star appliances, Kohler sinks and faucets.  Bathrooms have Kohler faucets, Marble slab counters and surrounds on bathtubs.  Dual flush toilets conserve water.   All units are equipped with air conditioners (although I always say that we really don’t need that in Novato – the breeze from the ocean cools down most hot days by night).  Schlage hardware, recessed lighting, sustainable flooring, cable ready.

Green Features at Millworks

Green Features at Millworks

Building and Living Green – Millworks is also designed with ‘Building Green’ in mind as Sustainable is a big concern for environmental minded Marin Residents.  The building is designed with

  • Money Saving features such as emergency efficiencies while determining the direction of the building (South facing), insulation grades,  dual paned windows, doors, Energy Star appliances..
  • Preserving Health – such Cabinet doors are free of formaldehyde, none-toxic and low VOC Materials are used throughout
  • Environmentally Sustainable– Pre-engineered lumber, waste recycling during construction, Build-in recycling centers, sustainable flooring’s and cross ventilation windows are some example of the environmentally friendly design.

The Units and Pricing – One Bedroom / One Bath unit (812 sf to 883sf) starts from the low $400,000s; Two Bedroom / Two Baths Flats (1260 sf to 1360 sf) starts from the mid $400,000s and the Two Bedrooms, Two Bath plus Den Falts (1452 sf to $1595sf) starts from the high $500,000.  

HOA Fees – HOA fees ranging from $393 to $494 monthly.  An interesting chart provided by Millworks compares  HOA fee to the average single-family detached homowner’s regular maintenance cost per year, and of course, Millworks HOA seems more reasonable according to the chart – email me if you are interested!

Keep in mind the price includes standard features, and any and all upgrades will be additional costs to the buyers.

As a baby boomer and looking forward, I thought this will be a great place to retire – low to no maintenance, single story (elevator up/down), walk to town, new, green building, etc.  Having a Whole Foods downstirs works well also.   However, as a  young, single professional living in Chicago many years ago, I also enjoyed staying in downtown highrise for the amentities it provides (Millworks is not close to the 45th floor I was on before).  

Releases – The current plan the developer has is to release 10 homes at a time while gauging the interest ,control inventory and proper pricing. 

Tax Credit – And don’t forget the Federal First Time Homebuyer Up to $8,000 Tax Credit as well as the California State Up to $10,000 Tax Credit for purchasing new contrustions !

Interested in Checking out Millworks? – I enjoyed my visit to Millworks with Barbara.  Let me know if this stirs up your curiosity.  Please give me a call (415) 717-0293 or email me at sylvia@SylviaSellsMarin.comif you want to check out Millworks.  I would love to come with you and get your input about the building that changed the face of Old Town Novato, For Better For Worse, and hopefully, since it’s already here, we will make it ”For Better’ because that’s the only way we can all benefit! 


Marin County Bank Owned (REO) Homes – Take Advantage Now!

This is one of the very rare times in history where there are bank owned homes in Marin county, coupled with low interest rate; definitely a great time for buyers to take advantage of the current buyers market, even in Marin county.

marincountyreoI  have many clients who asked me about Bank Owned (REO – Real Estate Owned) properties in Marin county.  Although Rare in comparison to other counties in California, we are seeing more bank owned properites in Marin county with the majority in Novato, then San Rafael, and trickle down to Southern Marin county.
Several of my clients have taken the opportunity and bought bank owned homes, a couple are listed on multiple listing, and one bought before the house went on multiple listing from an investor associate of whom I have built a nice working relationship with. 
A sample of currently bank owned properties are listed below – 
One unit in Belvedere, Tiburon Area  Belvedere, Tiburon, Marin County Bank Owned – Extremely desirable area, and will normally have no foreclosured properties, but there is a very special reason for this  low price/bank owned in such desirable area – ask me for details. 
One unit in Corte Madera, Larkspur area – Corte Madera, Larkspur, Marin County Bank Owned
None in Greenbrae, Kentfield – Not too surprisingly that there are no bank owned home in Kentfield, Greenbrae area considering we just had 12 offers on a basically tear down house (Trustee Sale) all because of the highly desirable location for Greenbrae, Kentfield 
None in Ross – Same reason as Greenbrae, Kentfield on why there is NO Bankowned in Ross
None in Mill Valley – Same thing about Mill Valley Bank Owned – None in such desirable area.
3 Bank Owned properties in San Anselmo – A little west, but still short commute to the city, full of charm and character, a town you don’t want to miss!
21 bank owned proeprties in San Rafael – fabulous time to buy in San Rafael – these bank owned properites in San Rafael are from Canal area, Terra Linda, Spinnaker Point, Santa Venetia area, Civic Center area, all the way to Gerstle Park.  Homes are condos, contemporary homes, Eichler homes, newer constructions, you name it!  
26 in Novato – Novato is the north most city in Marin County.  These bank owned properties in Novato, Marin make Novato a ‘relatively’ affordable place to live now.  Several condos have restricted usage, a couple are in flood zone, some have higher HOA fees, but most of the others are excellent buys – many are gobbled up with multiple offers – make sure you don’t wait for competition if you are interested in any of these properties.
And there is even ONE in West Marin Muir Beach Bank Owned Homes just waiting for you to finish it up…..
My hope for 2009 is that the homeowners who own distressed homes will be able to take advantage of the government’s bail out plans and avoid foreclosures…….
This means there will not be as many foreclosure properties as forecasted, and that’s a good thing in my book…. So, take advantage of today’s foreclosure inventories to set your foot in Marin County! 
Sylvia Barry, Realtor, ePRO
Marin Realtor for Marin Luxury Real Estate 
Marin, San Francisco North Bay
Frankk Howard Allen Realtors
MARIN, SONOMA, S.F. BAY AREA REAL ESTATE – Beveldere, Corte Madera, Greenbrae, Kentfield, Larkspur, Marinwood, Mill Valley, Novato, San Anselmo, San Rafael, Sausalito, Tiburon; Cotati, Penngrove, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa.   Starter Home to Luxury Property.  REO (Bank Owned), Short Sale, View Homes, Architecural Distictive Homes. Investment, 1031 Exchange.

Novato Real Estate Market Overview, June 25, 2008

                               Novato Landmark - Old City Hall                                   

Novato Real Estate Market Trend, June 25, 2008

As can see from the list below, the entry level Novato homes are enjoying a high percentage of pending sale than two weeks.  With the starting home price drops in Novato, and the avaiability of Short Sales and Bank Owned (REO) properties on the market, the first time homeowners and investors are out looking and actually buying. 

Several nicely priced mid range and higher end homes ($800K and up) are quickly claimed by ready buyers at the beginning of the summer housing season; a great time to shop and move. 

One reason of seeing increasing inventory, higher DOM (Days on Market) and higher pending rate is houses take longer to get out of pending status due to the much longer time required for lender to approve or disapprove the purchase. 

With proper guidance and patience, a savvy homebuyer will be able to get a fabulous buy. Make sure you do your research and your financing arrangement is ready when a great deal shows up.  With proper guidance from your Realtor and patience, a savvy homebuyer will be able to get a fabulous buy now!    



Total Units/ In Escrow


% Active


% Pending

% +/- since 5/28

All SFD’s and CID’s
























$0 -$500K SFD
















$600,001 – $700K








$700,001 – $800K








$800,001 – $999,999








$1M – $1.25M








$1.25M – $1.5M
















  • Buyer’s Market  < 25%
  • Neutral                25% – 40%
  • Seller’s Market   > 40%

Top 9 Unique Buildings In The World – In Progress

One great thing about being a Realtor is that I get emails about unique properties in the world and I thought I will share a few of those with all.

This is from my sister, who has been an Independent Broker for the past 30+ years in San Francisco.  I guess we won’t see this in the Marin Real Estate Landscape – but here are the top 9 most unique buildings in the world that are being built.  

Author Unknown… 

Top 9 Unique Structures in the World Being Built Now