Is your smoke detector ionization or photoelectric? Does it matter?

Most homeowners have a smoke detector, at least one, in their home.  Ideally, everyone has them in each bedroom, too.  But what kind is it, and does it matter?

Smoke Detector There are two main types of smoke detectors: ionization and photoelectric.  Usually we find ionization types in homes, but the photoelectric is superior.  It does cost more, but the photoelectric one will not go off from steam in a laundry room or coming from the bathroom (which makes it tempting to simply remove the battery since it’s an annoyance to get a false alarm!).  Additionally, the ionization type responds faster to smoke.

Some home inspectors suggest that it’s a good idea to replace all of the ionazatation types with the photoelectric types for this reason. Interestingly, not everyone shares that opinion.  The National Fire Prevention Association suggests using both types in the home (see 2nd article below), noting that each type is better in certain areas of smoke detection.  The Allstate insurance blog likewise sees pros and cons in both types, stating that ionization types pick up the smoke from a flaming fire faster (as opposed to a smoldering fire, which apparently is better detected by photoelectric types).

Related reading:




How long does it take to write an offer?

ClockIn the current hot seller’s market here in Silicon Valley, most real estate agents representing the seller set an “offer date” for would be buyers and their Realtors to submit their offer packages, also known as their bids, for the property.

How long does it take to do all of that paperwork so that you can submit an offer?  It varies – I would say you want to give yourself 2 days for a reasonably comfortable amount of time to read and absorb everything and to write your offer.  It is EXTREMELY difficult if you only have 24 hours between when you see and like a home and when the offer is due.  It is possible, but only if you (and your Realtor) drop everything and only focus on this for the next 24 hours.  And let me tell you, that is not fun – in fact, it’s miserable!  Much better is to have several days.

Most of the time, right now offers in the San Jose – Los Gatos – Saratoga – Campbell area are due on Tuesday.  Once in awhile they are due on Monday and rarely on Wednesday.   Seeing a potential target on Sunday is possible but it is still really hard (and about impossible if the due date is Monday).  Much better is seeing it on Saturday, or, if possible, before the weekend even begins.  If you can do that, it will be immensely easier and less stresful!

Why does it take so long to prepare a real estate offer?

Every Silicon Valley home sale is just a little bit different from any other, but I’ll tell you what usually happens, besides having an offer date.

  1. There will be a disclosure packet, which you are expected to read and fully sign off on, and turn in the signed paperwork with your offer.  It includes hundreds of pages of information: the home or property inspection, a pest or termite inspection, and often other inspection reports as well, such as roof, chimney, and sometimes, if applicable, things like a pool or well inspection.   Additionally, there are reports on natural and environmental hazards (about 80 pages) plus all the disclosures that the seller has filled out by hand (c. 20 pagges) plus the boilerplate disclosures (probably another 30 pages).  Reading, understanding, and digesting all of this is important and it does take a few hours for you to do this.  The first time you write an offer, it might take 6 hours.  For subsequent efforts, you will not need to re-read the boilerplate items and it may take you only 2-3 hours or less. Never rush it – it is crucial that you understand what you are accepting. Signing usually is done electronically, using DocuSign.  That may take your buyer’s agent an hour or more to set up for you, but will likely take you less than 10 minutes to sign.
  2. Right now, homes in the San Jose area are selling with few, if any, contingencies.  For that reason, your pre-sale preparation is immensely important and it is wise to give yourself plenty of time to review and investigate before the offer process.
  3. Most offer situations are multiple offers, sometimes with bidding wars, so a lot of extras go into presenting a complete offer package now.  One such item is the buyer letter to the seller, which some call the buyer house love letter.  You may be able to whip out a nice note to the sellers in a few minutes, others might agonize over every syllable and take an hour.  Either way, don’t skip this step with multiples.  (Once again, the first one will be tough to do, but if you end up having to write a few offers before yours is accepted, they’ll come much faster after that.)
  4. You’ll need to get a list of the major offer questions and decide how you want to answer them, which collectively constitute “price and terms”, such as what price you want to put on your contract, whether or not you’ll have contingencies (and if so, how much time for each one), who’s paying for what, how long various things can take, whether you want to sign for arbitration and liqudated damages, etc.  A lot of items may be customary but in a deep seller’s market, some buyers may opt to pay for some costs which are traditionally born by the seller for strategic reasons.   Going through the major questions may be easy or hard, fast or time consuming, depending on how new the concepts are to you and how prepared you are.  A
  5. Related to # 4 is the need to study and go through the contract.  Depending on the client, this can be fairly quick (30 minutes) or it could take an hour or two.
  6. You’ll need to provide the proof of funds for your down payment or all cash offer.  This shouldn’t take too long but the account numbers should be blacked or whited out. DO make sure that you don’t just do a bland screen capture that doesn’t show your name.  Think “proof” when grabbing your documentation.
  7. Meanwhile, your Realtor will need time to do some work too – he or she will need to chat with your lender about timeframes, dates, and particulars for the contract.  He or she will probably also review the disclosures.  And your agent will very likely pull comps (that is, get recently listed, pending and sold properties which are similar in recent weeks and months) to give you an idea of the probable buyer’s value and the likely appraised value (a best guess based on the comps).
  8. Once the offer is drafted and signed, the disclosures signed, the buyer’s letter written, the proof of funds submitted, your Silicon Valley real estate agent will need to double check everything to make sure it’s complete, will draft some sort of cover letter and summary, and then assumble everything to be emailed or presented live.  If live, you’ll need to allow a few extra hours for printing, collating, and driving.

Continue reading

Rose Garden Homes Tour in San Jose

St Martin of Tours 20th Annual Home Tour

Each autumn, the St. Martin of Tours School puts on a fabulous tour of lovely homes in San Jose’s Rose Garden neighborhood.  While anyone driving through this central San Jose area can appreciate the diverse and beautiful architecture, often the best  features of these homes are found inside.

This year is the tour’s 2oth Anniversary! The homes tour is a large scale fundraising effort for the school. Tours are self-guided with hosts in each home ready to answer questions and share interesting historical facts and stories about the homes. On display will also be floral designs, artwork, and perhaps some treasures. The garden segment of the tour includes the Tea Garden, a spot to sit and enjoy complementary refreshments or a gourmet lunchbox (available to preorder until October 9th with your tickets). The tour also features a boutique, where 100% of the proceeds will benefit St Martin of Tours School (credit cards accepted!) and a donation drawing.

Tour dates are Saturday, October 17th and Sunday, October 18th from 10am-4pm both days. No children under 12 are allowed on the tour. Come any time within the tour hours to begin, but note that it is recommended that visitors allot about 2 hours to view every home and the tour ends promptly at 4pm.

Tickets are available at the door, online, or through families in the school. There is currently an early bird special available to those who pre-order.

To read about the homes from last year’s tour, and to learn more about this year’s tour, and to purchase tickets visit the official Rose Garden Homes Tour website.

Get Tickets!Katherine Sullivan is selling tickets (full disclosure: she is a cousin of mine) and she can be reached at

Realtors are for informed guidance, not order taking

May take your order pleaeIf you go to a fast food restaurant, you probably don’t need an advisor to help you to decide what you may want to eat.  In many cases, it would be wise if you’d consult the nutrition information chart – if it’s readily available – but aside from that, how much help do you need?

Similarly with plane reservations, you most liley don’t need a lot of help in figuring out what flight to book.  There are some nuances, though – perhaps one airline has all kinds of hidden fees for luggage, food, and hey, maybe they even want to charge you to use the restroom! Perhaps some have much better “ontime arrival” statistics or fewer lost luggage complaints. Overall, though, you don’t need an advisor most of the time.

Real estate, though, is a complicated process. It’s not like buying a seat on a plane or an ready-made meal at a fast food joint.

The mistake that some consumers make, and that I see once in awhile, is in assuming that they know as much as a seasoned real estate professional, and that input from a Realtor is of little or no value.  This happens with both home sellers and home buyers at times.  Luckily it’s not too common.

Most of the time, Silicon Valley Realtors have a great desire to help buyers and sellers by sharing their experience, insight, and wisdom.  We don’t just “take orders” and fill out listing agreements or contracts if we are full time and full service.  We are able to offer you guidance.  That’s what an agent is – a fiduciary, someone who cares for you and your interests and puts them ahead of the real estate licensee’s own position or interest (i.e., paycheck). Continue reading

City of Santa Clara real estate market

The Santa Clara Women's Club

The Santa Clara Women’s Club (old adobe house)

The real estate market in the city of Santa Clara, like the rest of Silicon Valley, is a strong sellers market still. Prices are up strongly from a year ago, and inventory is low.  How low? Below there are charts for the activities in July and June – and if you consider both months, you can see how skimpy the inventory really is compared to “normal”. (The question is begged, “is this the new normal?”)  Further in the article, we’ll check in on the condo market, too.

Here’s a glance at the single family home statistics and trends for closings and listings for last month – updated each month on about the 5th – 10th on my RE Report site for realty stats & trends in Santa Clara:

Where are the mercury mines near Los Gatos, Cambrian and Almaden?

San Jose’s New Almaden Quicksilver Mine is well known and needs no introduction.  But did you know that there are many other mercury or quicksilver mines in the area? Several are nearby, just south of the Guadalupe Creek, but others are surprisingly far flung, both in Santa Clara County and throughout California.  My home buyer clients are sometimes concerned about purchasing real estate close to a natural or environmental hazard, so a few times this issue has come up: where are the mercury mines?

Quicksilver Legend for Santa Clara CountyFirst, a disclaimer that there are oodles of unmapped mines of all kinds dotting the San Francisco Bay Area, the delta, and beyond.  Approximately 31% of all mines in California are on private land.  So it may not be possible to know where each and every mine is.  However, mercury mines were big business during the gold rush and the civil war, so they may not have been so secretly guarded as a gold mine.

Today I went hunting for information on the location of mercury mines and found an online map of Santa Clara County with incredible details on not only quicksilver, but many other fascinating things: types of rock, miderals (copper), soil types, earthquake faults and so on.  This map is not all that easy to read as it requires blowing it up to well past 100% to actually decipher the numbers and geographical markers, but for the patient, it’s a gold mine – so to speak!

To see the WHOLE MAP, please click on the following link, which is a bid pdf file:

Geologic Map of Santa Clara County, California, Showing Mines and Mineral Deposits

I blew up part of it, saved it, and annotated it with just the names of the mercury mines closest to Los Gatos and Cambrian.  This is not comprehensive, of course – but I often get the question of “how close are the mines” to either Los Gatos or Cambrian, hence this focus.

Mercury mines near Los Gatos and Cambrian

Related reading on mercury

Mercury Contamination from Historic Gold Mining in Califoria (pdf from USGS)

The Legacy of Mercury Pollution in California’s Bay Area


Related reading for real estate in Almaden, Cambrian, and Los Gatos:

Hacienda Cemetery and Memorial Park in New Almaden

Almaden Valley area of San Jose (on

What Are the Advantages of Buying a Home in Almaden Valley?

Where are the high voltage power lines in Los Gatos? (Live in Los Gatos blog)

Selling a home in one of San Jose’s Almaden Valley neighborhoods? Understand home buyer concerns in 95120

List of Los Gatos neighborhoods (Live in Los Gatos blog)

San Jose – Cambrian Park (an introduction with market stats and homes for sale also, on

Italian Family Festa San Jose

Italian family festaThis weekend is the 35th Italian Family Festa, which will be held at Guadalupe River Park in San Jose, hosted by the Italian American Heritage Foundation.  It’s open to all and offers food, wine, entertainment, a grape stomp, and more.  (Part of the “more” is an arts & crafts section, but it appears to be sold out already.)  There’s bocce ball and “bambino” bocce too!

The festival will begin with the blowing of the “Il Corno Delle Alpi” or Swiss Alphorn, in honor of the rededicated Italian Cultural Village in Guadalupe River Park. A group will perform there, doing Swiss-Italian songs and dances.  Read more about this element on the San Jose Mercury News:

A few words to know:

festa = party
mangia = eat
bocce = a sport somewhat like lawn bowling, but played on gravel or a hard surface, not on grass

(Hope to see you there – I’ve never been, but spent a year of college in Florence, Italy, and traveled around that bel paese, so really feel like I’m an adopted daughter of Italia…. )

Please visit the festival’s website to get ALL the details!

Italian Family Festa San Jose
August 29, 2015 – 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
August 30, 2015 – 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Guadalupe River Park – 350 W. Julian Street, San Jose – adjacent to SAP Center – between Santa Clara and Julian Streets

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Mary Pope-Handy

Sereno Group Real Estate
214 Los Gatos-Saratoga Rd
Los Gatos, CA 95030
408 204-7673
Mary (at)
License# 01153805

Selling homes in
Silicon Valley:
Santa Clara County,
San Mateo County, and
Santa Cruz County.
Special focus on:
San Jose, Los Gatos,
Saratoga, Campbell,
Almaden Valley,
Cambrian Park.

Mary’s Other Sites

ValleyOfHeartsDelight website
Santa Clara County Real Estate,
and a focus on the past (in process)
Silicon Valley relocation info
Silicon Valley real estate,
focus on home selling

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