by Mary Pope-Handy | Jun 1, 2023 | Selling Tips, Staging
Dark homes, or those which feel dark to potential homebuyers, are much more difficult to sell, and virtually always sell for less money than those which are perceived as “light, bright and airy”.
While a property’s owner might love the cozy feeling of dark paneling, deep overhangs and low lighting, it’s not what most buyers want today. To maximize the amount a house, condo or townhouse in Silicon Valley will sell for, it’s imperative to make it as attractive to the widest audience of buyers as possible.
In many cases, that means the dark home needs to be transformed into a light one.
How to make a dark home a little more light: start with the windows
How can a home owner make a house or home be – or seem – more bright? One of the biggest “offenders” in this area involves windows! Here are a few window-related problems that can make a home feel significantly darker than necessary, together with some potential solutions:
- Tinted windows, such as yellow or other colored glass at the front door or entry way: replace with clear or translucent, colorless glass. If there’s a darkening film (for instance, for privacy), remove it and replace with a clear or translucent but uncolored film instead.
- Curtains/blinds which obstruct part of the window: get tie backs to pull them further back and let more light in (goal is to not obscure windows at all). Easiest of all are those which use magnetic clasps and do not require any hardware be attached to the wall.
- Furniture blocking windows should be moved or swapped out for lower items that do not cover up any of the windows. I see tall headboards often situated right in front of the glass panes – they are counter productive. Perhaps remove the headboard, or place the bed in another location?
- Shrubs and trees covering some of the window: trim back so the window’s glass panes are 100% visible, if at all possible, to let maximum light in.
- And of course, do make sure your windows and tracks are sparkling clean!
by Mary Pope-Handy, Clair Handy | Apr 4, 2023 | Adobe, First time homebuyers, Safety
Many times, homeowners look at the size of their home and assume that all living space is equally valuable on a price per square footage basis. That’s not always the case.
Expansions: Distinguishing Square Footage
In Silicon Valley, we frequently see tract neighborhoods of smaller houses, say 1,000 to 1,500 SF, in which additions have been made. Sometimes it’s an unattractive “pop-up” or “box on the top” which doesn’t match the home’s design or the look of the neighborhood. Other times it’s a tasteful expansion which blends seamlessly into the home. So how differently will these be priced?
by Clair Handy, Mary Pope-Handy | Mar 23, 2023 | Yard and Garden
Lawn mushrooms are the bane of gardeners everywhere; we usually refer to these unwanted pests as toadstools. Toadstools are really the same thing as mushrooms but are often poisonous.
These members of the fungus family pop up when we get a little moisture, so they are a common sight once rain appears, as it has been doing a lot lately. They are not harmful to the lawn if left alone, but people with pets and children may be concerned about these unwanted visitors being ingested, causing sickness or death – so for that reason, it may be advisable to rid your yard of them.
Tips for removing lawn mushrooms
These fungi thrive on decomposing plant matter, whether it’s old roots, sawdust, animal droppings, or a fallen log. They also thrive in dark, wet areas. Some of the suggested treatments involve these steps:
- Remove what they are feeding on, such as pet waste, a buildup of mulch or leaves, etc.
- Wearing gloves, carefully cut or remove the lawn mushrooms and put them into a plastic bag that you seal so that it cannot reproduce.
- Aerate or de-thatch your lawn.
- Add soapy water to the area where you have removed the lawn mushroom.
- Another option, perhaps not the best first choice, is to apply a fungicide.
Do wear gloves when handling them directly. Want more info? Here are a few articles to help:
Bob Villa: mushrooms in the lawn
Mushrooms and Other Nuisance Fungi in Lawns (University of California)
by Mary Pope-Handy, Clair Handy | Feb 15, 2023 | Almaden Valley (SJ), Blossom Valley (SJ), Buying Tips, Cupertino, Environmental Hazards, Foothill Areas, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Neighborhoods, Safety, Santa Clara County (all), Santa Teresa (SJ), Saratoga
High Voltage Power Lines from around the West Valley.
High voltage power lines are a “location issue” that impacts real estate values, and it sometimes elicits worry regarding safety.
High voltage power lines: how far is far enough?
Something we have spoken about recently with our clients is being far enough away so that if the tower and high voltage power lines were to fall, they’d miss your home and property. In our recent series of atmospheric rivers in January 2023, in San Jose one of these large transmission towers did fall down. It’s rare, but not impossible.
I have not seen a website that can tell us how tall any given tower is, but from what I have read online, it seems that most of them are under 200 feet tall, but some could be higher than that. In most cases, that puts the lines about 4 houses away if the lots are a typical 6,000 SF lot of 60′ across the front and 100′ deep.
We cannot speak to the concerns around potential increased risk of cancer or other problems. Each consumer should research that issue on his or her own.
Where are the high voltage power lines?
Years ago, I painstakingly mapped out the transmission lines from what I knew on the ground and what I could tell from tracing the Google satellite view. (You can find that link near the bottom of this article.)
Today, though, there’s something better than my map available online. The California Energy Commission has a map of the transmission lines that you can view using THIS LINK. Or click on the image at the left.
From the landing page you can zoom in or out. It covers the entire state of California – you might find it interesting to navigate around a little.
Also, a few years ago, PG&E published an interactive map where you can view the location of electric lines (I’ve filtered the imbedded map below to show Electric Transmission Lines in the South Bay), and another map of natural gas pipelines, searchable by address. This doesn’t cover the entire state, but it does cover all of the Bay Area / Silicon Valley.
The PG&E map:
On the map I hand-drew at the bottom of this article I did also include the location of schools. Quite a lot of schools do have transmission lines present.
What other location issues are there to factor in?
by Mary Pope-Handy | Dec 27, 2022 | Buying Tips, Home Improvement, Remodeling, Safety, Selling Tips
Younger home with large bedroom window, low to the ground
If you are buying or selling an older ranch style house or historic home 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.
On this site and others of ours, we bring up health and safety topics from time to time. For example, we shared info on unsafe electrical panels here. In the case of fire or other emergency, children and adults may need to get out and rescue personnel may need to get in. If bedroom windows are poorly configurated, the room could end up being a death trap.
For fire safety, it’s important that:
- bedroom windows be an escape route for persons in the home (egress) – for this, they must be low enough to the ground and big enough so that children and adults can both get out in case of an emergency
- emergency responders such as 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.
Bedroom windows and safety: how big and how low do the windows need to be?
There are varied requirements, and exceptions, depending on whether the home is new construction or a remodel. Additionally, there are different rules for basements and 2nd story bedroom windows. Cities and towns each have their own codes, too. Your best bet is to check with your particular town or city to see what you must do if remodeling or replacing your windows.
In Los Gatos, ground floor windows must be
- no more than 44″ off the ground
- at least 20″ wide
- at least 24″ tall
- There are additional requirements, though – please see the link at the bottom of this article to view the details.
San Jose’s requirements are similar.
City of San Jose: Window Replacement Requirements
All sleeping rooms and basements – Must meet these specifications:
– Minimum 5.7 square feet opening*
– Minimum height of 24 inches
– Minimum width of 20 inches
– Maximum height to bottom of clear opening of 44 inches
* In order to meet the required 5.7 square-foot opening, either the width or height or both must
exceed the minimum dimensions shown. If bottom of clear opening is le
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.
Ranch style house with original casement windows – impossible for ingress by emergency personnel.
by Mary Pope-Handy | Nov 17, 2022 | Home Improvement, Safety
Soft story construction may be a concern for anyone living in earthquake country. After the Loma Prieta and Northridge temblors, some apartments, condos, and another buildings got pancaked due to lack of structural strength on the first floor. What is it?
What is soft story construction?
This type of building is when the ground floor is largely pane glass windows, garage doors, carports, or other large openings and there’s living space above. Rather than being mostly a wall, it’s largely openings in the wall.
Soft story construction is not limited to homes. It can also relate to office buildings or store fronts on the first floor with large windows or doors rather than solid walls and more floors above it. Think of an automobile showroom as an example.
The danger arises from the lack of sheer wall in case of a quake. The all glass windows on the first floor, or big carports or garages, are simply not as strong as a wall, and may give way in the case of shaking. For that reason, many are bolstered or reinforced. I wrote about it earlier this week in my Move Move2SiliconValley blog, please read more there: Is your home safe in an earthquake?
Soft story construction – condominium units
The less obvious housing includes houses with living space over a garage. It’s very common. And it can be retrofitted by strengthening the sides of the garage door opening.
by Mary Pope-Handy, Clair Handy | Nov 1, 2022 | Buying Tips, Natural Hazards, Safety
The Silicon Valley liquefaction zones cover much of the Bay Area and Santa Clara County, but the risks are often not well understood or investigated. We know that this is earthquake country and tremblers are to be expected. But what difference does it make where you live or work – won’t the whole valley be shaking equally?
Well, we’re Realtors, not geologists or geotechnical engineers, but we can share some resources that may help answer these questions and provide avenues for further research on this topic.
What is liquefaction?
Liquefaction refers to the ground becoming liquified, or fluid. It takes 3 ingredients to liquefy land: loose sediment, water, and strong shaking. This loose, saturated soils when shaken to a certain point no longer behave like a solid and can slide, open, and swallow anything above it.
In 2010 and 2011, New Zealand experienced this and it made worldwide news. The Science Learning Hub website states that “During the Canterbury earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011, liquefaction caused silt and fine sand to boil up and bury streets and gardens and caused buildings and vehicles to sink.”
But I never heard about that happening during the 1906 quake, or the 1989 quake – that means it’s not a risk here, right? Wrong. The USGS Liquefaction and Sea Level Rise explains that a relatively dry rainy season in 1906 lowered the liquefaction risk, and the 1989 quake happened near the end of the dry season when groundwater levels were at their low point. There was liquefaction from both of these events, but it could’ve been much worse.
Silty, sandy soil will respond very differently to bedrock and clay in the case of extreme shaking. So no, the valley won’t all be shaking equally in the case of a large tremor. Liquefaction hazard zones will likely get the worst of it. That’s why this designation matters so much.
What is a liquefaction zone?
After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, the Department of Conservation, California Geological Survey created maps to make residents aware of areas in which there are increased risks from earthquake shaking due to landslides or liquefaction and to make sure that construction in those zones have extra investigational requirements to build safely. The liquefaction zones are noted by the state to be more susceptible to dangerous liquefaction in the event of an earthquake. You can learn more about these and related issues at the California Department of Conservation’s website. (more…)
by Mary Pope-Handy | Sep 13, 2022 | Buying Tips, Home Improvement, Safety
Sometimes things seem to come in waves, and awhile back the waves that found me seemed to all be about unsafe electrical panels in homes which are either risky or potentially risky.
Recalled and unsafe electrical panels
I read a home inspection report for a house with a Federal Pacific Electric Company (FPE) stab-lok panel that encouraged home owners to replace that type because of the risk of fire.
Then I met with a potential seller client who was aware of a fire on his block due to a panel failure and was experiencing issues with his Zinsco electrical panel which seemed dangerous. Having two of these red flags thrown down at once did get my attention. Some Sylvania panels may also use these risky parts.
Later still, I read that there are two more to be added to the list of recalled electric panels:
- Challenger panels made by Challenger Electrical Equipment Corp or Eaton/Cutler Hammer
I did some research on these electric panels to see what I could glean, and happened to find a website which discussed both the Zinsco and FPE panels. This site includes photos of what happens if an electrical panel fails. I found it exceedingly helpful, and think it’s worth sharing widely.
Is my panel safe – FPE
Is my panel safe – Zinsco
For safety’s sake, please go check the type of electrical panel you have, and sub panel too, if there is one. DO NOT attempt to pull off the dead front (the part which is gray in the image to the right) – only a licensed, qualified electrician should do that.
All of that said, SOME home inspectors will flag that there’s a FPE or Zinsco panel at the property, but will not directly say that it should be removed, but will instead suggest that sellers or buyers contact a licensed electrician about it. Most home inspectors, though, now go farther and do recommend changing these out. Some won’t comment at all, though, so it helps to be an informed consumer.
As mentioned above, one more area to investigate is Sylvania or GTE-Sylvania panels. Some of them are designed similarly to Zinsco and have the same parts, and may consequently have the same risks. Not all of them, though, are in this category. A licensed electrician will need to inspect and inform you on this issue.
This list is not exhaustive, so it’s a good idea to periodically do a web search to see if your particular electrical panel has been recalled or not. I was very surprised to learn that in 2022 some Square D panels – the QO series – were recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission:
QO™ Plug-On-Neutral Load Center. These panels were manufactured between February 1, 2020, and January 12, 2022, at Schneider Electric Plant 15.
Square D is one of the most common electrical panels around today, and when we removed our FPE panels, that’s what we put in. It was several years before the recalled ones were recalled, thankfully.
If you have an older panel, or one of these panels, you may want to investigate replacing it. Please do some research on this topic if you have one of these panels in your home, especially. It may not be universally believed that they should be replaced but this is something to check out, at the very least, if you have one of these in your home. Buying a home? Ask your property inspector about the reputation of the panel. Sometimes home inspectors won’t mention it one way or the other unless they see symptoms of overheating or something similar. Perhaps it’s fine now, but should be on your list of things to replace over time for an added measure of peace of mind.
by Mary Pope-Handy | Jul 27, 2022 | Home Improvement, Selling Tips
Home sellers know that certain fixes will give a good return on investment when selling. The risk, though, is in over improving your property.
Reasonable home sale prep will not over improve the home, but will include:
- decluttering so that the home, garage, and yard all appear to offer enough comfortable space
- deep cleaning, including the windows and tracks
- repairs to whatever is broken or not working properly, such as windows that don’t open and close smoothly, doorbells on the fritz, faucets that drip
- often fresh paint and carpet are a good idea – case by case basis
- frequently new light fixtures are helpful
- sometimes removing window coverings to let more natural light in can be a good idea
- sprucing up the yard, trimming bushes, planting something colorful near the front door
Strategic upgrades such as these prior to putting the home on the market will result in a faster sale at a better price in most markets. Some sellers don’t want to do enough, whether it’s as basic as cleaning and decluttering or if it’s repairs that are imperative due to health or safety conditions.
Sometimes, though, we meet property owners with a bent toward the other extreme. When possible, we’ll do our best to get them to minimize their to do list since deep remodeling may cause a diminishing return, particularly when the market is soften and prices may be falling.
Over improving your property: how much is too much?
When the market is appreciating sharply, it may be possible to do a tremendous amount of work and get a fantastic return on it.
by Mary Pope-Handy | Jun 20, 2022 | Home Improvement
Have you noticed that there now seems to be a porta potty on every block? It’s a proliferation of porta potties! One might be tempted to call it a pandemic of bottomless proportions.
This panoply of modern day outhouses appeared en masse over the last couple of years. Of course, their appearance is the hallmark of home improvement or updating, at least most of the time.
Once in awhile it’s instead the hallmark of a stalled project. It can be a real challenge to get contractors to work on our homes and yards right now. The demand is tremendous and the waits can be long. Sometimes the lengthy stay of the temporary structure isn’t anyone’s fault.
That said, there do seem to be better and worse porta potty placement, and some really do overstay their welcome and become a problem – a neighborhood eyesore or blight. It might be said that like houseguests, portable toilets have a limited shelf life for desirability as far as the neighbors are concerned.
In this post we’ll touch on half bathrooms (created to serve a similar purpose), CCRs, and regulations regarding these portable toilets and where and how long they can adorn front yards.