Home Improvement

Home Improvement

Tips to sell home fastIf for some reason you find yourself in a very big hurry to get your Silicon Valley home on the market, you may not know where to begin or how to get it done.  Today I’ll give you a quick list of the best things to do, and in order, too!

First, hire a great, full time real estate professional.  This Realtor or other sales person will be your partner from the beginning and can give you insight and advice on the best place to spend your time and money for the best return on investment – and which items are the most important in your house or condo’s particular case, given the time restrictions. Your Realtor can also help you with time lines, managing pre-sale inspections (worst case, they can happen after your home is on the MLS), etc.  Sometimes home owners begin on their own and make less than ideal choices when choosing paint colors and so on.  Since part of the service provided when you sign a listing agreement is good advice, do hire first!

Second, think clean, uncluttered, and “good working order”.  The rest of the tips all fall under the broad umbrella of staging – mostly de-cluttering, cleaning, and making sure that things work as intended.  Perhaps you won’t be able to make everything immaculate and perfect, but in many cases, with even a  few days you can hit the biggest areas fast.

Make a list of everything that needs some kind of minor repair or adjustment. Getting those items fixed will send a message to home buyers that your house or condo is turnkey and not a “fixer”.   It may not be conscious, but if home buyers find doors that squeak loudly, doorbells or lights that don’t work, they begin to wonder if there are any big ticket items that are in need of repair or replacement, too.  Hire a handyman or contractor as needed so that your home gives the right first impression.

Moving at lightening speed, with the listing signed today and the home on the MLS tomorrow? This isn’t fun, but I’ve done it with sellers at times.  In those cases, you may have one frantic 24 hour period. Think of it like you do when entertaining relatives who may go anywhere in your home…

What would you do if you had one hour’s notice before company would be arriving at your doorstep? Here are some quick fixes for the hurry up sale:

  1. Be armed with large boxes or laundry baskets so you can begin to collect things where are where they do not belong and get them at least generally to where they do.
  2. Get the floors, counter tops and surfaces almost completely clear.  If it’s newspapers, throw them out (show no mercy!).  Have a box or basket for each bedroom or room of the house and put the items into the correct basket as you go through the house.  For example, you could have one box for the garage, another for the master bedroom, another for the hall bath, etc.  Bring all boxes into each room that you are “clearing” and take just one room or area on at a time.  You may be moving 6 or 8 boxes or baskets from one room to the next, but it’s a faster way to sort and move things.
  3. If there’s no time to actually put all of these items away, do what most of us did in college: put the basket or box in the closet.  And then close the door.  No, it’s not ideal. It’s a quick fix and it will do the job 90-95% of the way.  If you’re in a rush, it’s got to be good enough.  Ditto that with the garage.  If all else fails, put things into the garage.  Some buyers may chuckle, but yours will most certainly not be the only house where they see this happen.  If you have a truly excessive amount of stuff, get a pod or use a service such as Door to Door, where they bring a container to your driveway, you load it, they then take it away and you get it back when you’re ready to move. Continue reading
Spectacular open living concept kitchen and family room at 1190 Crestline Dr Cupertino

Great room with vaulted ceiling and foam insulation between roof and ceiling.

Do you love vaulted or open beam ceilings? Whether it’s one room (as we find with a lot of the cathedral ceilings and George Day build houses in Saratoga) or the entire house (which we see in many of the mid-century modern or Eichler houses throughout Silicon Valley), the looks of vaulted ceilings just says “home” to many people. I grew up with wood, open beamed living rooms and family rooms and understand the appeal.

For most ranch style houses here in Silicon Valley, there’s an attic between the finished ceiling in any given room of the house and the roof.  In that attic, usually there’s some sort of insulation. With newer construction, it tends to be thicker, making the house below more comfortable in both summer and winter.

Many of the mid-century modern style houses, and some others, find the open beams are pretty much directly below the roof. There’s no attic. Perhaps it was not deemed necessary in our sub-tropical climate when they were built.  Less insulation  means there’s less to protect you from nature’s hot summers and cold winters.

In some cases, though, there is foam insulation between the roof and the ceiling. That isn’t visible. You may get a hint that it’s there if you look from the outside and do not see vents in this area under the roof. It’s an upgrade over standard insulation, and one you’ll be thankful to have.

Many mid-century modern home owners have opted to install foam roofing when it’s time to re-roof. These foam roofs also offer insulation that helps keep the house comfortable year round.

If you are a home owner, it’s a good idea to get inspections done periodically (even if you aren’t planning to sell) so that you can learn what needs attention before a situation worsens. Roofs tend to need “tune up” work  every few years to keep it leak free and prevent future problems. Termites come back. Safety codes change over time. If your house or townhouse features a vaulted or open beam ceiling, talk to your inspectors to learn about the insulation present and discuss if any changes are needed to keep your power bills lower and your comfort higher.

 

Related reading

Asbestos in homes

Need to Sell Your Silicon Valley Home?

Almaden Meadows neighborhood

 

First Alert carbon monoxide detectorFor several years now in California, having a carbon monoxide detector has been required in virtually all homes in The Golden State. This is not a point of sale requirement. It is a requirement for all residential dwellings which burn gas in any capacity (stove, furnace, etc.), or have a fireplace, or an attached garage as a matter of public safety.  They are exempt in all electric homes that do not have an attached garage or fireplace.

Where are the carbon monoxide detectors to be placed? The carbon monoxide detectors should be on every level of the home, including the basement.  If you live in a multi story home with the garage at the bottom, you do need one at that level also (just inside the door, once you are in the habitable area) as well as on the main floor, bedroom floor, and any other level you may have. In a single story home, just one carbon monoxide detector is sufficient.

Additionally, carbon monoxide detectors need to be in the bedroom area of the home. If a bedroom has a gas fireplace or wood burning stove (or any other fossel fuel source of heat), there must be a CO detector in the room. Otherwise, in the hall is fine. If bedrooms are not all in one part of the home, there needs to be a detector near each bedroom.

The cost of the device ranges considerably – from less than $10 each to more than $200 each. Some are plug in, some battery only, some feature LCD displays. Some are combination smoke detector & carbon monoxide detectors. Nest makes a CO alert, too.  We put a First Alert detector in our house, and the cost was around $20 – $30, but there are many brands from which to choose. (You can also buy portable CO detectors.)

Once installed, it should be checked periodically (along with your smoke detectors) to make sure that it is functioning properly.

Remodeling your home? When you apply for permits, be aware that the city or county inspector who visits your property will be looking for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If you don’t have them where needed, your remodel will not pass inspection. Your inspector will need to return, and normally that results in an extra cost to you.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be very dangerous, to the point of death. If you don’t have a detector, go get one immediately.

Read more:

From the CalFire site (pdf):
http://osfm.fire.ca.gov/strucfireengineer/pdf/bml/frequently%20asked%20questions%20on%20carbon%20monoxide.pdf

From the City of San Jose: http://www.sanjoseca.gov/index.aspx?NID=5344

Is there a radon risk in Silicon Valley homes?

 

Original image courtesy of mcatalena of Flikr

California is famous for its oranges and other citrus crops.

This is not your seasonal Flu shot advisory. Nor is this a post about home wrecking pests. There is a citrus quarantine in the San Francisco Bay Area, as those pesky bugs mean business.

Do you like citrus?

Maybe you’ve heard stories about the disappearance of oranges in Florida. The cause is orchard destruction due to citrus greening – a disease which destroys fruit and eventually kills trees. Since it was first discovered in Florida, it has now infected 90% of groves in the state. No tree is naturally resistant and, while scientists and farmers race to find a solution, there is no treatment for the disease. (source)

California may have strict agricultural transportation rules, but citrus greening has spread to many areas of our state as well. Including the Bay Area.

Continue reading

House icon - asbestos in homesSilicon Valley has many properties built before 1978, so asbestos in homes is common, often in the HVAC systems, ceilings, or floors. Very few people test their for asbestos in homes. Seeing that a seller has “no reports” on items like asbestos on their home is not uncommon, but it does not mean it is not there, particularly in older properties.

Most of Silicon Valley has older homes, as you know, so most contain some amount of asbestos, commonly on the HVAC ducts and, more visibly, in some popcorn or acoustic ceilings. Asbestos in homes built prior to 1978 is very common. Homes built after 1978 are far less likely to be effected. Asbestos can be found in almost any product, especially in older parts of the home where fire retardancy would be beneficial.

But that doesn’t mean homes with asbestos are bad homes or a major risk to you and your family. I know for a fact that my home has asbestos on the boots, where the ducts come up to the heat register. Since it is on the external part of the ducting, not the inside, the air in our house should be clean and free from asbestos.

What is it?

Asbestos is the common name for a group of silicate minerals made of thin, strong fibers, best known for their use as excellent fire retardants. Not many realize that it occurs naturally in certain areas, including California. The most common naturally occurring Asbestos is Chrysotile, often found in serpentine, common to the Sierra foothills and the Coast Ranges.

What does that mean? Since Asbestos are minerals, that means they are generally stable and will not evaporate. However, the mineral can be crushed into a fine dust which will float in air – this is referred to as friable asbestos. Friable asbestos, suspended in air and breathed by humans is a carcinogen linked to the development of lung cancer.

What are the risks of asbestos in homes?

It’s usually contractors that must be careful of the risks, since asbestos is mainly dangerous when airborne, which can occur when workers break, open, or move the walls, ceilings, or ducting that contain it. Good contractors know the risks and can identify where it is important for them and the workers to wear protective covering, such as masks and goggles. In California, contractors must be certified to work with asbestos.

I cannot tell you the exact risks. Each house, the amount of asbestos, where it is, and the condition it is in will be different for each case. That being said, it is common wisdom that so long as the asbestos is not disturbed and does not become airborne it should not cause harm. So don’t stick pins in that popcorn ceiling!

How to get rid of it?

There are companies that can eradicate and remove asbestos safely. In some situations, the asbestos can be encapsulated instead of removed (which is much less costly in many cases). On ducting, for instance, the asbestos can be sealed by professionals with a tape, which is cheaper and quicker than removing and disposing of the asbestos. You have probably seen a very shiny, silver looking tape near a furnace – that’s likely what you are looking at.

What about getting rid of it? I have personal experience with this. A few years back, our refrigerator broke, completely flooding our kitchen. The floor had to be removed, and what did they find? The glue beneath had asbestos in it! Since it was beneath the floor, we never came in contact with it before then, but the professionals knew what to do. A special asbestos cleanup crew came in, sealed off the kitchen in plastic, donned hazmat suits and removed all of the asbestos filled glue safely. The room was sealed off for only 2-3 days, making it a relatively short part of the process compared to the other repairs necessary to fix our flooded kitchen floors.

If you are worried that a home you are buying has asbestos and you’d like to get work done or remove the asbestos, talk to an architect and consider having the work done before you move in. For instance, if you intend to remove popcorn ceilings and paint, both are easier done before you move in. Just give yourself a couple of days extra for the safe removal of the popcorn ceilings.

It is important to note that removing asbestos is homes is not a “do it yourself” type job. It’s not worth your health to save a few bucks. Depending on what you need done, there are professionals who can safely remove asbestos in homes, and they are not difficult to find. Please reach out to me if you need contact info for one of these professionals.

Related reading:

Is there a radon risk in Silicon Valley homes?

Information on Lead Paint on the ValleyOfHeartsDelight.com site of mine.

For the California government page on asbestos: https://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/acru/acruinfo.htm

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

Creek behind a houseSilicon Valley has a bad case of “urban sprawl”, unfortunately, but there are places in San Jose and nearby where creeks meander through neighborhoods, offering a little extra space between back neighbors.  This extra breathing room is valued by homeowners with a creekside location.  They often cite the pleasantly rural sounds of frogs and birds as an added bonus.

But some home buyers are a little spooked.  Are there risks with buying real estate next to a waterway?  Would the home flood in heavy rains?  Is there an excess of unpleasant wildlife to worry about?  One of my buyer clients was concerned that burglers would use the creek’s access path to steal things and get away unseen.   Another was afraid of cougars or bobcats or other unwelcome visitors coming in from a creek or tributary.

When Jim and I were newlyweds, we lived in a townhouse on Neary’s Lagoon in Santa Cruz (a bird sanctuary) and I have sold several homes along creeks or ponds, so will make some comments based on my experience.

Creeks: scenic or not?

In general, I would say that being next to or near a creek most often will improve the value of the home because creeks are scenic and also provide a space buffer between rear neighbors.  They frequently have beautiful old trees framing their banks and are slightly curved, too, so these are usually quite pretty.   I won’t say that living next to a waterway which looks like a Los Angeles flood control channel would be beautiful or enhance a home’s value much, though the space between neighbors would still be appreciated.  Each case must be judged on its own merits.

Wildlife at the water’s edge

It is true that there will be more wildlife near water, whether it’s a creek, river, reservoir, pond, or percolation pond.  Birds, reptiles and animals need water and will seek it out.  If you love nature, you may welcome the sound of frogs and geese, and perhaps secretly hope to see a wayward deer!  If you decide to live near water, it is very important to make sure that wildlife cannot enter your home (chimney, attic and crawlspace included) and it will require some ongoing dillengence to keep them out because they will be drawn to the water over and over again.  I’ve known people adjacent to water to have some challenges with birds, bats, mice, rats, and other creatures trying to make their way in.  But that can happen anywhere.  At our current home, which is not next to or near a creek, we had a squirrel try to claw its way through flashing on our roof to get into the attic. Another time we had a possum or racoon get into the attic. Be clear that being away from the water doesn’t mean “no wildlife issues” – but if you are next to water, you will probably face them a little more often.

Floods and flood plains

Creekside locations do not all flood; this is perhaps the biggest misconception.  When buying a home, you can check the flood plain status via the Natural Hazards Disclosure Report, which the seller provides.  And please know that there are different types and levels of flood plains – they are not all the same!  The one which requires flood insurance is called a 100 Year Flood Plain and in those locations, water of up to 1 foot may be expecte d once every 100 years (so not that often).  There are 500 year flood plains and areas which are “dam failure inundation” zones (if a dam were to break, water downhill would flood, of course).

Protected species that depend on the waterways

We have a number of protected species in California, including certain frogs and salamanders.  If your home (or the one you want to buy) is in the habitat area of those animals, birds, or reptiles, you may have some constraints on landscaping near the creek or water.  Most of the time it involves not placing a fence within so many feet of the creek and using only native landscaping in that area close to the creek too.

Crime?

As for crime, I would have to say that you want to always check a site like CrimeReports.com or similar sources to know what’s happening.  We do have crime everywhere, and all kinds, to varying degrees.  Most creeks do not have easy access to people’s homes or yards, and often the service road along the creek is a rough gravel, so I have a hard time picturing burglers trying to get in and walk their stolen loot a ways down that path.  But check the reports.  Realtors are not crime experts and we cannot make promises about any area or location.

Check out market activity in Santa Clara County:

  1. 3 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,494 sq ft
    Lot size: 6,072 sqft
  2. 3 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 1,659 sq ft
    Lot size: 7,670 sqft
  3. 3 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,137 sq ft
    Lot size: 5,000 sqft
  4. 4 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,236 sq ft
    Lot size: 5,357 sqft
  5. 3 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 1,643 sq ft
    Lot size: 1,241 sqft

See all Real estate matching your search.
(all data current as of 10/18/2018)

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

And in Santa Cruz County:

  1. 3 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,582 sq ft
    Lot size: 11,891 sqft
  2. 3 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,618 sq ft
    Lot size: 5.74 ac
  3. 3 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 3,133 sq ft
    Lot size: 2.43 ac
  4. $1,333,000 : 333 Loyola DR, APTOS
    3 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 2,483 sq ft
    Lot size: 7,187 sqft
  5. 2 beds, 1 bath
    Home size: 1,000 sq ft
    Lot size: 3,659 sqft

See all Real estate matching your search.
(all data current as of 10/18/2018)

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

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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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