Post-tension slab foundations are found in newer homes. Here in the Bay Area, a structure’s foundation needs to withstand not only the load of the building, but expansive soils, and the ubiquitous earthquake. Certain foundations are better at handling these conditions, and are seen more frequently here. One of these which is gaining popularity in new construction is the post-tension slab foundation.
What is a Post Tension Foundation?
Post-tensioning is a technique that was developed and first put to regular use in the 1970s, and approved methods have been published by the Post-Tensioning Institute (PTI), a nonprofit organization, since 1976. Sometimes called post tensioning, or simply PT, this is a type of slab foundation with added reinforcement.
In essence, a slab foundation, aka a slab on grade foundation, is a concrete base only a few inches deep, sitting directly on earth. You might see this for a small shed or playhouse, but larger structures are almost always reinforced, usually with rebar, and a fabric water barrier is lain out before the concrete is poured.
A post-tension slab is reinforced with grids of steel cables cased in plastic sheathes instead of rebar. After the concrete has hardened around them, the cables are pulled taut with hydraulic stressing jacks. This pre-stressing of the concrete creates added compressive strength to the foundation.
If you are tired of paying $3,000 per month in rent for a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment and have decided that you want to buy a Silicon Valley home, you may find that it’s complicated and scary as the San Jose area is in a very deep seller’s market. Let’s take a quick look at the major challenges and decisions you’ll face as a potential Silicon Valley home buyer.
Major obstacles include:
- lack of affordability
- saving the down payment (and other costs)
- wanting what you can afford
- market conditions (homes selling with few or no contingencies & well over list price)
We’ll take these one at a time.
Want to buy a Silicon Valley home? Challenges in getting it done
Affordability – or the lack of it
Challenge # 1: the cost of housing is staggering, whether you are renting or buying, whether you are a first time home buyer or you’ve just relocated from somewhere else less expensive (meaning almost anywhere). Homes under a million dollars are few and far between, as the newspapers and media have recently announced, and the median price of houses in Santa Clara County is about $1.665 million, with the average price more than $2 million.
Of course, condos and townhomes are less pricey, but they will have Home Owner Association or HOA dues to factor in.
Recently a friend asked me about the way in which vendors are selected when people buy and sell homes. In some cases, Silicon Valley home buyers or home sellers know which title company, home inspector, home warranty provider or other vendor to hire. Most of the time, though, they don’t. They are hoping that we real estate professionals can put them into contact with good providers to ease the task of choosing vendors.
When working with my clients, for most vendors I provide a trusted list of sorts. For the various inspections (roof, chimney, home, pest, etc.) or other service (lender, home warranty, title company) there might be as few as two or as many as six resources listed. Most often, my clients ask me if I have one or more which I prefer, and most of the time it is one company for each category (I have a favorite termite company, favorite home warranty company, etc.).
The home buyer or seller in Santa Clara can pick or hire anyone or any company he or she pleases for these various jobs. We agents can and will assist with sharing the names and numbers of those whom we know, like and trust, but at the end of the day, it’s the client who chooses. So really it’s up to the client – he or she can do some research or not. But if they tell me (as they most often do) to go with my preferred vendor, there’s one in each category and I don’t tend to “spread the business around”. Over the years, agents tend to build relationships with people in these companies and get a sense of whom they can trust and want to work with. (We agents would hate it if a client with six homes to sell picked six different Realtors to rotate through, too. We tend to want and also to give loyalty.)
Just a quick post to warn prospective home buyers that in many cases, the sale price is going to be far above the list price right now, and that’s what I call a price mirage. It’s not really available to many of the home buyers who are excited about it.
What is a price mirage?
Sometimes the listing agent and sellers very intentionally deeply under-price a property by 10-15% or more (to see how far the market will bid it up). I can think of a few local Realtors who are well aware that most of the buyers they attract with artificially low prices cannot truly afford their listings. But those buyers will crowd the open house and make offers which are low (a waste of many people’s time).
Other times, the home is priced a hair low, but so many buyers pounce that the price gets driven up and out of reach, and that can surprise everyone. In these cases, let’s say a house looks like it should be worth $1,035,000, but the home goes on the market at $1 mil even, but buyers are so desperate that it gets many offers and sells for a little over $1.1 mil. That is happening a lot right now.
What should home buyers do about cheap looking homes that might be a price mirage?
When you are shopping, please be aware that sometimes the house may be listed just below a price point (such as $1 million, with a list price of $998,000) even when the home is clearly worth much more (such as the $1 mil house being worth $1.3 mil). I frequently see homes placed at or a little under major price points such as $1 or $2 million, even if the property is worth a couple of hundred thousand – or more – higher than that. So first, pay attention to price breaks!
Secondly, have your buyer’s agent help you with the comparable solds and market activity to determine the probable buyer’s value. This is one place where you really want your own agent in your corner (rather than just working with whoever the listing agent happens to be).
Often, the ultimate sale price (and terms) will be influenced in large part by the number of offers presented. Your buyer’s agent can assist you in trying to decipher that type of info so you can get a better idea of the likely competition.
It is frustrating, it’s a tease, and it’s a mirage. It is not the likely sales price – it’s a teaser to get you in the door.
It’s best to remember that old adage: “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is”. That is precisely what happens with a price mirage.
If you read a termite or pest report, you may bump into the phrase “cellulose debris.” What does it mean?
Usually cellulose debris means that there are scraps of wood, sawdust, or bits of wood (possibly paper). It’s any kind of material made of wood. It could be old form board left in when the foundation was made. Most often, cellulose debris is mentioned as found in the crawl space of a home. Sometimes it’s infected (meaning there is a wood destroying organism such as termites present), other times it’s simply an invitation for “wood borers” such as termites to come and feast on the wood members that are laid out as a buffet for them. Wait long enough and it might get infected.
Where do you see cellulose debris in a pest inspection?
In our Silicon Valley area, pest reports are normally “separated” into Section 1 and Section 2 findings. If the cellulose debris is called out as Section 1, that means that there’s an infestation of termites or other wood-destroying organisms present. If it’s Section 2, that means that it’s not yet infected but is an invitation to trouble and you should get rid of it to prevent future problems.
Pest control operators will suggest that cellulose debris be removed so that termites and other wood eating organisms aren’t attracted to the crawl space or other areas of the home. It’s possibly a nuisance to get rid of it, but much better to dodge a problem upfront than to wait and have to solve it later.
How Often Should You Get A Termite Inspection?
How to prepare for a home inspection in Silicon Valley
What do you want from your home inspections?
Watch for Dampwood Termites in Silicon Valley!
How is buying a home in Silicon Valley different from in other parts of the country? (Move2SiliconValley relocation site)
As data becomes more available to consumers online, and new real estate brokerage models present themselves, the question is arising in the industry: will buyer’s agents will become obsolete? After all, the thinking goes, travel agents are mostly gone and journalists are being replaced by bloggers. It’s possible that this will be the case for buyer’s agents in the future, as there is a trend in thinking that there are no real experts if everyone has access to information.
Recently I heard about a book that takes on this concept regarding expertise and it really resonated with me. The title is “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters“. Confession: I have not yet read it, but want to do so. I did hear it discussed on KGO Radio by Pat Thurston, one of the radio personalities there, and her take on it was that it presents the concept that everyone’s opinion is as good as everyone else’s opinion.
That certainly does happen in real estate, along with the persistent idea among some consumers that buyer’s agents don’t really add any value other than unlocking doors. (I wrote about this idea that “it’s all on the web” so buyer’s agents aren’t perceived to be needed back in 2013.) Even this morning I had someone email to ask me if I would split my commission if they bought a home with me and would “do all the research”. The answer, by the way, is no.
You can have a 20 or 30 year veteran Realtor with oodles of transactions, but a home buyer armed with a real estate app may not always know what he or she doesn’t know. And that’s dangerous. Information does not equal knowledge or skill.
A good buyer’s agent will be able to help with these items (and many more, depending): (more…)
In Santa Clara County, as in much of California, we have adobe clay soil and it’s expansive. That is, when the dirt gets wet, it expands, and when it dries out, it contracts. Hence it’s sometimes referred to as “shrink-swell” soils. (Every state in the union has areas with this problem – a color-coded map on geology.com shows areas with more and less expansive soils.)
Why is expansive soil an issue for homeowners and would-be homeowners in Silicon Valley?
The trouble is that the expanding and contracting soil is far stronger than concrete and the foundations upon which a home sits. A well written and illustrated six page paper can be found online explaining the mechanics involved for those interested in more detail on the hows and whys of expansive soils. (It states that the ground can life as much as 5,500 pounds per square inch!)
What I’d like to focus on here is mitigating the risks and preventing the problems associated with expansive soils.
The trouble is not so much that the soil is wet or dry. The problem is in the back and forth, the movement. When the soil is kept at an even amount of moisture, it does not expand and contract.
Obviously, rain is seasonal and we cannot control all moisture on or near the house. We can, though, work to move water away from the house and away from the foundation.
Keep rain away from foundations on adobe clay soil!
Winter storms can bring an enormous amount of water onto a home’s roof, and when it channels down gutters and downspouts, there can be a large amount of water exiting in just a few places. Where does that water go?
Sometimes I meet people who work hard but aren’t saving anything – and they want to buy a a home.
Let me tell you: It doesn’t work that way. Few truly important things in life are that easy, actually.
If you want to buy a home in Silicon Valley, you have to embrace the “new frugality” and start saving your money for the down payment, the closing costs (estimate 1% of the purchase price, but more if you also pay points on your loan), and improvements you’ll want to do to the property. (Many homes have $10,000 to $20,000 worth of needed repairs when sold. Not to mention curtains, paint or floor coverings that you like, etc.) Real estate isn’t cheap, and the taxes, insurance and upkeep will require that you have a reserve account to pay these things after you purchase the townhouse, condo or house.
How much should you be saving? As much as humanly possible. Yes, that means probably giving up a lot of ski trips in winter, lavish nights out on the weekends, dinners and maybe even coffees out. When you do buy a house, you will probably be spending 33% or more of your gross income (total, pre-tax) on the property (mortgage, interest, taxes and insurance). Try living on what’s left now – see how you do. If you can’t live on just 67% of your gross income, you might reconsider whether you can or want to sacrifice that much to purchase a home here in Santa Clara County.
Yes, there are lower down payment options like FHA backed financing, but with a tiny down payment (6% or so) you will have very high payments and to top that off, your interest rate will be higher.
If you really want to buy a house, you need to sacrifice and save. Aim at 25% down so you can afford to fix it once you’re in and pay lower interest rates. Or if FHA is the way you want to go, more like 8%. Save, save, save.
The percentage of all cash sales in Santa Clara County
Buying a townhome
Are sellers spying on buyers?
Selling and buying homes can be exhausting and emotional, even overwhelming. This level of stress can rise when children are involved as parents also “run interference” to a degree to help make the transition smooth for their kids. Another added stresser is relocation to a new community far away.
What can parents and their real estate agents do to help the youngest members of the family to move as peacefully and contentedly as possible?
Communication about the moving process is key
Few of us like surprises that come on a big scale and change the way our lives are lived on a day-to-day basis. This is also true for our offspring, for whom routine can be a comfort. Just as you wouldn’t begin a vacation without explaining to your three year old that it’s only a trip and that you will later return home, so too it helps to explain to your child that the family is staying together, the toys, furniture and pets are coming along, but that the house or condo will be “new”. Providing a sense of security and reassurance first can enable the process to be possibly even fun. (Young kids will think that the furniture and toys go with the house so will likely vocalize their preference for a new place with the most fun stuff unless they understand that their toys will move with them.) (more…)
When trying to figure out what market value or a fair price is for a property, Silicon Valley consumers will often look at recent sales nearby which they find online, extract an average price per square foot, and then decide that this is likely to be what a house or condo is worth based on those “comps”.
First factor: the unique real estate itself (how similar are the comps, really?)
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple to figure out that home’s likely sale price or the probable buyer’s value. Homes are much more nuanced than just the average price per square foot. Unless the comparable sold property is truly comparable in every way – similar quality of updating or remodeling, similar location, similarly expensive landscaping – and the timeframe recent, too, you’ll have to try to adjust based on varying factors. (And that’s not easy – it’s an appraiser’s area of expertise. But you may say “those comps had remodeled kitchens, so that may be worth X amount of money”. You would not ignore that big of a difference.) Look at the list of homes below – how much can you tell about remodeling, landscaping, or upgrades from a simple list? Not enough.
Second factor: speed of sale, number of offers
The situation surrounding each sale is likewise quite varied. A property that gets 4 or more offers on day 7 on the market is a different situation than 1 offer on day 43. If you are writing a real estate contract on a home that is getting multiple offers, it’s not going to help you to compare it to a stale listing that sold with just one offer. It’s not just comps: it can be the current competition that largely determines the final sale price of that house or condo.