Remodeling

Remodeling

Bathroom 1960s style (or earlier)Keeping up with the latest trends in home decor and remodeling is a bit like painting the Golden Gate Bridge: by the time you’re done, you need to do it all over again. Styles change, tastes change. How often do you really want to remodel and update your hardware, light fixtures, floor coverings – to say nothing of kitchens and bathrooms? If these items are functional and you like them, there’s no reason to change. Then again, if you’re going to sell your home and want to maximize the return, it might be worth it to do some updating.

The average American kitchen is remodeled about every 17 years – that’s long enough to jump from one trend to the next, one set of materials or colors to the next. If you wait long enough, certain themes actually come “full circle,” not unlike clothes!

To make a point: in the mid 70s, brushed brass was in, and many if not most homes built then in the San Jose, Silicon Valley area were made with brushed brass doorknobs, hinges, drawer pulls, doorbells, you name it. That trend moved to gold, brushed stainless steel and now – full circle – back to brass! Ditto that with colors. “Earth tones” were all the rage in the 70s (olive green, deep brown, tan) and as things moved through the cycles (with a whole lot of white in between), the earth tones have come back again.

Some colors make more infrequent appearances, such as lemon yellow, lime green, bubble gum pink, baby blue….

Let’s just take a look at bathrooms and kitchens for this discussion about colors, materials and being in style. Continue reading

Severe inventory shortage

Why is it so hard to buy a home in Silicon Valley?  Most of it has to do with our ongoing and severe inventory shortage.

I initially wrote the article below on Feb 9, 2012.  I thought it was bad then – and I suppose that relatively speaking, it was. But it’s much worse now!

Today is May 1, 2017, and I ran the numbers of available single family homes in Santa Clara County in a chart comparing since January of 2012.  Have a look, and please note the year over year numbers:

2017-05-01 Santa Clara County Inventory of Single Family Homes

The situation has only intensified since I first wrote this article in early 2012.  There are many reasons for the problem: older people won’t sell for tax reasons (mostly capital gains). move up buyers who elect to stay and add on rather than deal with hugely increased property taxes.  In general, home owners are opting to “buy and hold”.

Is it hard to buy a house in the San Jose area? You bet.  And unfortunately, I don’t see an end in sight anytime soon.

*********************************

Original article: Feb 9, 2012

Right now I’m working with a number of very frustrated home buyers.  Silicon Valley real estate inventory is painfully low, and in the lower price ranges especially, that means multiple offers are fairly common.  FHA home buyers, in particular, are getting out bid and out negotiated by all cash buyers, many of whom are investors.

How low is the inventory?  Let’s have a look at January’s inventory for houses & duet homes (“class 1” or single family homes) over the last ten years in Santa Clara County (San Jose, Los Gatos, Campbell, etc.):

2012  1,382
2011  2,007
2010  2,426
2009  4,759
2008  4,872
2007  2,698
2006  2,202
2005  1,285
2004  1,612
2003  3,119

The average January inventory of available houses over the last 10 years is 2,636.  At 1,382, January 2012’s available inventory of houses for sale in the San Jose area was just 52% of normalContinue reading

If you want to update the look of a kitchen and add pulls, or replace your flat dishwasher with one featuring a protruding handle, check the clearance space before you buy. I have seen issues a few times, but recently toured a home where it was a textbook warning about cutting corners where planning is involved. Have a look.

Kitchen remodel with drawer pulls colliding

Kitchen remodel with drawer pulls colliding

Next – same kitchen, different but related issue – a dishwasher on a collision course with a drawer pull. Most likely, the home was built with a dishwasher that enjoyed a recessed handle and a flat front. The bowed handle is beautiful but cuts into the functionality of the drawer which is perpendicular to it. The drawer could go out no further than shown below without scratching the dishwasher handle.

 

Kitchen remodel and botched clearances

Kitchen remodel and botched clearances – the dishwasher here probably was a “flat” faced model originally

Next – same kitchen, different but related issue – a dishwasher on a collision course with a drawer pull. Most likely, the home was built with a dishwasher that enjoyed a recessed handle and a flat front. The bowed handle is beautiful but cuts into the functionality of the drawer which is perpendicular to it. The drawer could go out no further than shown below without scratching the dishwasher handle.

This demonstrates why it is a good idea to open and close drawers and cabinet doors in kitchens and bathrooms, and why agents and home sellers should do the same to make sure that everything works as intended. A couple of years back, I saw an oven with a door that wouldn’t open all the way because a large refrigerator was too close. Luckily, in that case, there was plenty of space to inch the fridge away a tad, restoring the necessary space for the oven door to open fully.

One more example to drive the point home involves refrigerators, tight fitting spaces, and new floor coverings. I have seen kitchen floors get a new layer of vinyl or tile on top of the original one (without tearing out the old floor). The amount of height added may be minimal, but it can make a formerly tight space impossible for the fridge which used to fit in that area.

The photos above show what can happen when someone alters the original design or layout without measuring, or when adding bulk where it didn’t used to be. Home buyers, don’t be afraid to make sure that the appliances, doors, and storage spaces in homes can open and close as they should – with full access available.

Fireplace with Lone Hill Quarry Stone.pngMore likely than not, you either own or have shopped for Silicon Valley homes with fireplaces. In that case, you’ve likely also heard tale about the new law that would force homeowners to replace older fireplaces with new gas only ones or decommission them entirely before selling. Let me quash those rumors now – homeowners with wood-burning fireplaces do not automatically need to replace them at the sale of the property at this time. But what’s behind the rumor anyway?

History

About a year ago, there were proposed regulations in place that were going to make stipulations for home sellers with older fireplace in the San Francisco Bay Area, including San Jose, Los Gatos, and nearby. Amendments have since been made to the ordinance, removing this requirement. These were part of Regulation 6, Rule 3: Wood-Burning Devices, which was adopted in July 2008 to regulate and improve air pollution levels for the health of the Bay Area community (Wood Burning Regulation). Its immediate effect was to enforce Winter Spare the Air Alerts and Mandatory Burn Bans. The regulation also stated numerous rules that would be effective at future dates (mostly beginning November 1, 2015/6), including many that will be passed this year and in the future, up to 2020. So, while you don’t need to worry about replacing your fireplace before you sell, there’s plenty to be aware of when you use, replace, repair, and install your fireplace – and you may still need to replace it.

Pollution

Smokey sky from fire June 2008With 1.4 million woodstoves and fireplaces around the Bay Area, it’s no surprise they make up a major part in the region’s air pollution – approximately one third of winter pollution! That’s greater than the amount of pollution caused by vehicles. Burning solid fuels produces what is known as soot, or more scientifically, PM2.5, which stands for Particulate Matter with diameter of 2.5 microns or less (Ordinance). These particles in the air are a form of pollution which is so fine that when breathed in it can penetrate deep into the lungs and even enter the blood stream. Wood smoke contains a group of compounds that are similar to second-hand cigarette smoke and are likewise hazardous (2012 flier). Studies show that this type of pollution can cause a variety of health conditions which can put undue stress on individuals with weak respiratory or cardiovascular systems. Apparently 1 in 7 Bay Area residents has a respiratory condition, and these folks of course are more vulnerable to problems from pollution. Immediate effects might be watery eyes and coughing, while long-term exposure to polluted air can permanently harm lung function, capacity, and development – possibly instigating diseases like asthma and bronchitis. “Eliminating residential wood burning during a Winter Spare the Air Alert can reduce soot in the Bay Area by 35 tons each day” (Wood Burning Regulations Flier). On top of the particulate pollution, wood smoke also contains a variety of gases, including toxins like dioxin (Wood Burning Regulations Flier).

But why winter? What about summer barbeques? Weather is important in regard to the displacement of these polluters. Spare the Air Alerts are hardly ever called when it’s been raining. Cold, still weather conditions cause the smoky air to become trapped near the ground, allowing pollution to build up to unsafe levels (Flier). When a Spare the Air alert is not called but data indicates worsening conditions there may be an optional compliance health advisory in the form of a Recommended No-Burn Day. And as for summer barbeques – the weather conditions in summer are more prone to heightening levels of ozone than soot, so Summer Spare the Air Alerts are placed based on very different weather and pollution concerns.

Other than pollution, there are still plenty of reasons to not burn. Fires are not a very efficient form of heating, and many fireplaces actually rob your home of heat, sending hot air up the chimney and out of your home. Prevent heat loss (and the need to burn more fuel or crank the thermostat) by keeping your home well insulated and weatherized. Get more efficient heating with an EPA certified device or alternative natural gas or electric heater. Continue reading

Warm weather means construction season for both commercial and residential home owners. Whether you’re upgrading, repairing, or trying to reduce your water use (don’t forget to look for rebates), you will probably consider getting a permit for your project. Getting permits for projects may seem like a pain, but it really helps out when you are selling and it may not be as hard as you think.

Many towns and cities now make building permit files available online and at no cost. That doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be able to understand everything in the file or that what’s online is complete. But it is a help!

Here’s the link for the city of San Jose’s site:

https://www.sjpermits.org/permits/permits/general/generalquery.asp

Online permits may be viewed in many other Silicon Valley areas too. Just do a web search for your city or town!

  1. 2 beds, 1 bath
    Home size: 798 sq ft
    Lot size: 6,825 sqft
  2. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,442 sq ft
    Lot size: 2,204 sqft
  3. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,679 sq ft
    Lot size: 2,134 sqft
  4. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 946 sq ft
    Lot size: 6,494 sqft
  5. 4 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 4,170 sq ft
    Lot size: 1.10 ac
  6. 5 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 2,217 sq ft
    Lot size: 8,171 sqft
  7. 3 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 1,704 sq ft
    Lot size: 5,301 sqft
  8. 4 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 3,032 sq ft
    Lot size: 11,878 sqft
  9. 2 beds, 1 bath
    Home size: 880 sq ft
    Lot size: 5,384 sqft
  10. 3 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 1,471 sq ft
    Lot size: 1,768 sqft

See all Real estate in the city of San Jose.
(all data current as of 10/23/2017)

Listing information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. Read full disclaimer.

 

Don't over improve when repairing or replacingOver improving a home or yard is not a terribly uncommon happening. If you’re going to live somewhere for 30 years, you may not be worried about return on investment or overspending for the neighborhood so much as enjoyment of your property.

How do you know if you’re spending too much on your house, condo or townhouse?  How much is too much?

There are no hard and fast rules, but overall, it is best to not have the most expensive home on the street or in the area, either from added square footage, extreme remodeling or  using materials that are too expensive for the neighborhood. It is even worse if yours is the most expensive real estate by a wide margin – the wider it is, the worse!

There are two real estate principles which are helpful to know about and understand. The smaller, less improved or generally lower priced homes will pull down the value of a better home (that is the principle of regression).  Conversely, if your house or condo is less expensive than nearby homes, those more prices properties will raise your home’s value (the principle of progression).  In terms of getting the most back on your improvments, then, it’s best to make sure you can catch the tail wind of better properties and get pulled up by them, rather than have your improvements’ value pulled down by lesser properties.

Continue reading

Cool air returnWhat is a “cool air return“? Silicon Valley home hunters are very likely to encounter both heating vents (also called heat registers) and cool air returns in houses, townhouses and condos across the South Bay Area. They are found wherever a home enjoys central forced air heat with ducts and vents. (Some Victorian houses have forced air heat but it is only brought to perhaps one main room or area in the house!)

The purpose of a cool air return is to feed the furnace with a supply of cooler air to be heated ad then circulated back into the rest of the dwelling via the heat registers or vents. Often the cool air return is found near the floor. This makes sense when you consider that the hottest air will rise, leaving cooler air nearer the ground. Heat registers are often near the floor (and near a window), but if the home is on a slab foundation and has forced air heat, the vent will be on the ceiling.

How can I tell the difference between the cool air return and a heat register or vent?

Generally speaking, the vents for warm air are long and narrow, and the cool air return is much larger and boxier in shape.  Below please find an image of heating vents.

Heating ventsThe first example of a heating vent is probably the most typical you’ll find in Silicon Valley: it’s metal, kind of a dark gray color.  Older ones (homes from the 50s) have an even narrower shape but still tend to be metal, sometimes painted dark brown.

The next example is usually found where the property has hardwood floors.  The idea is to make the vent blend in and be less noticeable. Naturally, the wooden vents come in a variety of colors to match the many types of woods that might be found in a residence.

By and large, cool air returns and heat registers are pretty ugly. The wooden vents are a nice step above the usual offerings.  Several companies sell nicer cool air returns and heat registers or vents, though. So if you are remodeling and want to get away from that “tract housing feel”, a few custom touches might be just the ticket for a more unique feeling home. Continue reading

Small bedroom windowsIf you are buying or selling an older ranch style house in Silicon Valley, there’s a good chance that original bedroom windows may be smaller or higher than your home inspector might like.  What is the big deal with the height or size of the windows?  The inspection report may mention ingress and egress.  What is that all about?

For fire safety, it’s important that bedroom windows be an escape route for persons in the home (egress).  It’s just as important that fire fighters, with their large backpacks on their backs, can get in through the same openings (ingress).  When windows are too high, kids, and perhaps adults, cannot get out through them.  And no matter how low or high, if the windows are too small, emergency personnel cannot enter through them.

When remodeling your home and switching from single pane to dual pane windows, many people will be tempted to use the same sized windows with the new replacement set in order to save money, and in many areas, skip the need for permits and finals by not disturbing the stucco.  But rather than target the least expensive way to upgrade your windows, I’d like to suggest making safety a priority.  Upgrade not just your home’s energy efficiency, but its safety too.

I found many related articles on line with the particulars about size.  This one seemed especially good, so I’m including the link here:

http://www.finehomebuilding.com/how-to/articles/code-violations-emergency-egress-windows.aspx

  1. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 946 sq ft
    Lot size: 6,494 sqft
  2. 4 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 1,950 sq ft
    Lot size: 8,280 sqft
  3. 4 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 2,457 sq ft
    Lot size: 7,858 sqft
  4. 3 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,400 sq ft
    Lot size: 5,449 sqft
  5. 4 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 2,233 sq ft
    Lot size: 15,115 sqft
  6. 4 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 2,565 sq ft
    Lot size: 4,138 sqft
  7. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,171 sq ft
    Lot size: 1,402 sqft
  8. 5 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 2,479 sq ft
    Lot size: 12,166 sqft
  9. 5 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 2,654 sq ft
    Lot size: 3,667 sqft
  10. 5 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 2,417 sq ft
    Lot size: 8,001 sqft

See all Real estate in the Willow Glen community.
(all data current as of 10/23/2017)

Listing information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. Read full disclaimer.

Foil bamboo wallpaper sample found in a bathroomFew things evoke so emotional a response as the suggestion that wallpaper ought to be removed when staging a home to sell for top dollar.

Early in my career, I worked with a nice older couple where this became a huge fight (very uncomfortable to witness).  In that case, the wife had wanted the big brown floral kitchen wallpaper gone for years, but the husband refused to pay to have it done. When I suggested that it would boost their sales price, he was willing to commit to the work, and she was furious and hurt that he would do it at my suggestion – but not her ardent wish.

Most of the time, though, it’s almost the opposite.  One or both sellers desperately love their chosen wallpaper (at the risk of sounding sexist, it’s almost always a female with the wallpaper attachment).  The wall covering, be it grasscloth, baby roses or bunches of flowers, seems to be a particular thumbprint on the the house – to the point where it’s almost a hallmark of what makes the house, condo or townhouse “home”.  When I or other real estate licensees suggest that the best practice is to remove it, the sellers are very often defensive, angry and hurt at there mere idea of taking it down.  It is very difficult for a professional real estate salesperson to tell you what  you need to hear if you don’t want to hear it and staging recommendations become a battleground of wills.   Of course, it is your house and your money – but if you hire a Realtor to give professional guidance it’s good to take it seriously.

One of the key ideas with staging is to depersonalize the home, that is, to make it more neutral – less your taste and more generic.  We do this for many reasons, one of them so that buyers can “see themselves” there and mentally move in.  A vegetarian who looks at wallpaper full of hunting scenes will have trouble with that.  A professional ball player may have just as much difficulty with wallpaper full of rainbows and unicorns.  An article in the New York Times puts it bluntly:  “If the color scheme in the house isn’t neutral — blue walls in the boy’s room, pink walls for the girls and foil and bamboo wallpaper in the bathroom — it may be necessary to repaint with neutral colors.” Continue reading

Opportunity vs Risk - Higher Risk = Much Lower Prices!

A few years ago, I wrote an article on my Live in Los Gatos blog on the question of whether a Silicon Valley home seller should sell the home in its current condition, or improve it with the hopes of selling for more.  You can find it here: Should You Repair & Update Your Home to Sell? Or Sell “As Is”?

Today I was doing a comparative (competitive) market analysis for a client in the Blossom Valley area of San Jose and was struck by two tract houses which sold at about the same time, same market conditions, on the same street, with the same floor plan, but for very different prices.   We’ll refer to them as Home 1 and Home 2.

Home 1 was nicely remodeled – at least the kitchen and baths were obviously nicely upgraded.  The house was furnished when the photos were taken and it looked very inviting. It was listed for about $630,000 and sold for $670,000 in under 2 weeks.

House 2 appeared to be in original condition – in other words, a “fixer” in the eyes of most Silicon Valley home buyers. A vacant home, it was not staged to sell but instead was starkly empty – and frankly, it was not at all inviting.  This house was offered at around $550,000 and sold for $490,000 after almost 2 months on the market.

There was more than a 10% difference in the list prices of these two homes.  Was that enough? Apparently not.  One got bid up 5% more while the other one got bid down more than 10%.  The difference in their ultimate sales price is a whopping $180,000, or 37% more for the home in better condition.   Did the fixed up home have that much in improvements done to it?  That’s unlikely!  But buyers worry about having to do remodeling and repairs, and the more buyers worry, the less they pay.  It’s a risk-reward ratio.  If they risk more by buying a fixer, there needs to be a monetary reward.  And they almost always get it.

Perhaps as a busy San Jose area home owner, you don’t have a ton of time or money to put into fixes, especially if it’s a rental or investment property which is now vacant.  How can you maximize the return on investment?   I hope that it is clear that it’s in your best interest to tweak the condition of appearance of your property to net more.  If you’d like some insights on this, please continue reading on this subject at another article on this blog: Preparing Your Silicon Valley Home to Sell and Return on Investment. Or call me for a confidential home selling appointment today!

  1. 3 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 1,394 sq ft
    Lot size: 1,785 sqft
  2. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,440 sq ft
  3. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,276 sq ft
  4. 1 bed, 1 bath
    Home size: 532 sq ft
    Lot size: 696 sqft
  5. 2 beds, 1 bath
    Home size: 630 sq ft
    Lot size: 2,439 sqft
  6. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 708 sq ft
    Lot size: 653 sqft
  7. 3 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 2,934 sq ft
    Lot size: 5,880 sqft
  8. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,031 sq ft
    Lot size: 3,571 sqft
  9. 0 beds, 0 bath
    Home size: 1,266 sq ft
    Lot size: 4,007 sqft
  10. 3 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,449 sq ft
    Lot size: 8,145 sqft

See all Real estate in the city of Capitola.
(all data current as of 10/23/2017)

Listing information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. Read full disclaimer.

Translation

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Mary Pope-Handy
Realtor
ABR, CIPS, CRS, SRES
Sereno Group Real Estate
214 Los Gatos-Saratoga Rd
Los Gatos, CA 95030
408 204-7673
Mary (at) PopeHandy.com
License# 01153805


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