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New Year’s Resolutions and Goals for Silicon Valley Real Estate Purchase, Sale, Remodeling

New Year's Real Estate ResolutionsAs 2021 comes to a close, it’s time to start looking forward to 2022. What are your real estate related goals and resolutions for this new year? Do you plan to buy, sell, or remodel your Silicon Valley home?  If so, this is a great time to sketch out your objectives and start early preparations to get the wheels in motion.

For South Bay home owners who want to make 2022 the year to sell and move, it’s wise to plan ahead so you can maximize your return on investment of time and money. A clean, well-prepared listing gives buyers greater confidence, and confident buyers tend to make higher offers! Take the time to do it right and you will reap the rewards of your effort.

Quick Tips for Planning to Sell a Home in 2022

  • Hire your real estate professional early in the process so that she or he may provide additional guidance from the beginning. It won’t cost more to hire early and you get more help. You may even save money by avoiding costly mistakes. A good agent will help you prepare your listing and determine a timeline to sell, whether you plan on selling this spring, next year, or next month.
  • Decluttering is one of the biggest task for home sellers and it can be where you get the most bang for your buck. Presenting a property to buyers in a way that feels like home, but not your home is a balancing act. Some homeowners choose to move out and stage their home to sell, which has been increasing in popularity and is certainly a successful way to declutter! Sellers occupying a listing should commit to depersonalizing the house and creating a marketable space. Some sellers will discover this is a much bigger undertaking than expected, and requires more time and energy than originally planned. This can be particularly challenging for long-term residents, sellers who are downsizing, and seniors. Talk to your Realtor before embarking, as some items may be helpful for staging and you don’t want to totally empty the house! Completely empty homes do not sell as well as those which are thoughtfully furnished.
  • Fix everything that is broken or in disrepair. No home is perfect, and buyers will not expect it to be (unless it’s brand new, of course), but everything you can repair is one less thing the buyers will worry about when writing an offer. That lightbulb that’s burnt out? Replace it now so that it doesn’t wind up in inspections or worrying buyers about the electrical system! Low cost repairs are often an excellent investment, but so can some more expensive fixes. I have had sellers who willingly go above and beyond preparing their home, from repiping to reroofing, see a clear return on investment for their efforts! However most sellers don’t want or need to do that much work. A bid with a price for the work from a reputable company is usually enough. Speak with your listing agent before tackling any major projects.
  • Clean everything: windows, window tracks, hardware, lamps, mossy patios, etc. A clean home is inviting and feels well cared for. Professional cleaning can make lightly used carpets look new again. Areas that easily show wear, like grout, caulk, and kitchen appliances, can give that “new home” feel when they are looking fresh!
  • Plan to have pre-sale inspections, but hire inspectors with your real estate salesperson.

Tips for Silicon Valley Home Buyers This Year

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Should You Move Out Before You Sell?

Should You Move Out or Vacate Before You Sell?A decade ago, it was the norm for Silicon Valley homeowners to occupy the home they were selling – today a majority of homes are being sold unoccupied or vacant. Why is that? And should you move out before you sell?

A few years ago, around the mid- to late-2010s, we began to see an increasing number of vacant and professionally staged properties for sale. Last year, most sellers simply felt safer moving out before selling due to the pandemic. Today that continues to be the case.

Over time, the reasons for homeowners to move out before marketing a primary residence have increased. While sellers can certainly still occupy a home on the market and sell it successfully, it’s not our recommendation for most people and here’s why.

Seller Stress

First things first, if you are able to move out before you sell it can reduce a lot of stress. And this has almost always been the case.

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Coronavirus impact on real estate sales

Graphic of a house under quarantineThis post on the coronavirus impact on real estate sales here in Silicon Valley is updated periodically, depending on unfolding events, so please check back often.

The market for houses is hot (still)

The coronavirus pandemic caused a worldwide surge of buyers rushing to purchase homes with more square footage, more rooms (home office, room for elderly parents to move in), and more outside space.

Locally, single family home prices rose about 20% over one year, despite the initial lockdown and restrictions on showings. Pools had not been so desirable pre-Covid, but now they are more sought after as buyers want to vacation at home.

Initially, it was challenging to sell a condo or townhouse, particularly if there was no patio, balcony, yard, etc. Those homes did start appreciating, but have not performed nearly as well as detached housing has.

Now, in September 2021, many of the requirements have been lifted. Buyers are still interested, but the steep appreciation has priced some buyers out of the market.

Quick overview of what is and isn’t allowed with real estate listings and sales

The landscape for home sales is complicated and more restricted than pre-pandemic times, but easier than it was in March – May 2020. The market is strange in many ways, but it is possible to buy and sell now and actually is not so hard at this point.

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What needs updating in an older home?

Image of stucco chipped away from window before replacement - what needs updating in an older home may include single pane windowsWhat needs updating if you are buying an older house, townhome, or condo? Most of the homes for sale in Silicon Valley are more than 25 years old, and with our already very restricted inventory, that makes the odds of purchasing an older house, townhouse or condo fairly high if you’re in the market to buy real estate here.

  • The older the property (think 100 years versus 60 or 70 years), the more likely it is that the home would benefit from expensive updates.
  • Typical home buyers find that an 18 year old remodel is in need of updating
  • See the list below of components that may need updating in an older home

If you are buying an historic home (more than 50 years of age is technically historic, but most consumers think of houses or units which are 100+ years old), the question of what needs updating will be significantly longer than if we are thinking of homes 25 to 60 or 70 years of age. The older the structure, the more you may need to consider safety improvements, or changes for better comfort or style.

Don’t despair – the older homes do tend to offer good locations, often there are beautifully established neighborhoods with large trees and bigger yards – which you may not see in newer developments.

How recent should that remodel be?

Something to note is that how often rooms or homes need to be refreshed is a matter of personal taste. If a kitchen is built well and done in a more timeless fashion, perhaps only the appliances or countertop or lighting may need a redo from time to time. But some home buyers will find that if a house was last remodeled 18 years ago, it’s time to do it again. If you’re selling, it’s important to appreciate that the 18 year old whole house remodel you had done may feel like yesterday to you, but it won’t to a large number of buyers.

Buyers, once you purchase a home, if you are like most home owners you won’t be doing a total remodel every 15 – 20 years. It’s too much expense, work, and inconvenience. My usual advice is to try to pick timeless elements that won’t go out of style (and put a more personal touch into things like paint or floor coverings, which are relatively inexpensive to change in many cases).

What needs updating in an “all original” home?

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Where are the high voltage power lines in Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Gatos, and Almaden Valley?

High Voltage Power Lines Collage

High Voltage Power Lines from around the West Valley.

“Location, Location, Location!” The most important element when buying or selling a home is the one thing you can’t change – it’s location. Because of that, you’ll need to know some location-specific things, naturally occurring and man-made. Like high voltage power lines.

What about this location?

If you own or are thinking of buying a home in Silicon Valley, here are a few location-specific things you want to know upfront so that you can make informed decisions:

  • where are the earthquake fault lines?
  • where are the geologic hazard zones, such as liquefaction areas?
  • where are the flood plains?
  • where are man-made things that will negatively or positively impact a home’s value? Things such as
    • train lines
    • freeways
    • electrical transmission
    • school district boundaries
    • zip code boundaries
    • proximity to entertainment venues

When looking at maps, sometimes these items show up and sometimes they don’t. Realtors and other real estate professionals in the San Jose area often use a Barclay’s Locaide and various online resources to locate the natural hazard areas. There are other tools to help locate school districts and zoning restrictions.

Google maps can help uncover some other areas, like distance to shops and freeways, but sometimes it raises more questions than it answers. For instance, a years ago a Realtor who didn’t know the Belwood of Los Gatos area too well phoned me to ask what a large object showing up on satellite view in the hills of Belgatos Park was. It is just a covered reservoir, but since it was not identified on the map it concerned some buyers. Local knowledge is still extremely helpful.

Mapping the Grid: High Voltage Power Lines

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Is Your Refrigerator Flooding?

Refrigerator with water dispenserRefrigerator floods are no laughing matter! Last month, my sister in-law’s fridge leaked causing the hardwood floors to pucker and swell, pushing cabinets and even lifting countertops! They’ve had to move out while their kitchen undergoes a massive overhaul. When my refrigerator line broke back in 2012, it was a similar story. The damage was extensive, and repairs were time consuming and expensive! So what can cause leaks and flooding and how can homeowners prevent it?

Causes for Refrigerator Floods and Leaks

Does your refrigerator have an automatic icemaker or a cold-water dispenser? If so, that plumbing is all capable of breaking. What if you don’t have a water line to your fridge? You can still have a leak. Humidity from the air and produce becomes ice or water when cooled. Modern refrigerators have been designed to automatically defrost: ice is melted, flows down a drain, and collects in a drip pan where it is heated (usually via waste heat from the refrigeration system) to evaporate the moisture. If the condensate is not taken care of properly it can become water damage!

Looking a little more closely, here are a few common causes:

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NEW California Disclosure – Home Fire Hardening Disclosure and Advisory

Fire Hardening and Defensible Space Advisory Disclosure and AddendumJust about every year California amends what sellers are required to disclose, and one change that I think we’ll be seeing a lot of is about home fire hardening. Many agents, including myself, will begin to use the fire hardening disclosure / document (which has already changed once in six months). The current one, as of June 2021, is the C.A.R. Form FHDS, 5/21 Fire Hardening and Defensible Space Advisory, Disclosure, and Addendum.

So what is in this document, who will have to use it, and how can it help buyers and current home owners?

The CAR Fire Hardening and Defensible Space form is a two page document completed by the seller of a residential non-commercial property to notify the buyer of fire hazard zoning, code compliance, and possible vulnerabilities and/or defensible features. Both the buyer(s) and seller(s) sign to acknowledge receipt and consent to comply with the appropriate terms in paragraph 4B.

Who Will Use This Form? Paragraphs 1 and 2: Prerequisites

This disclosure is required for homes (1-4 unit residential properties) in high or very high fire hazard severity zones when the seller must complete a Transfer Disclosure Statement (TDS form). Sellers for California real estate transactions falling within those criteria are obligated to provide specific information contained in this form to the buyer. If these properties were improved or were built before January 1, 2010 there are additional stipulations. However, use is not restricted to properties in these zones.

Owners of residences where the zone is unknown, or those outside of the designated fire hazard zones which are “in, upon, or adjoining a mountainous area, forest-covered land, brush-covered land, grass-covered land, or land that is covered with flammable material,” (Gov’t Code 51182 and 1C in CAR FHDS 5/21 – basically, homes in or near ample kindling) should also make these disclosures if they might be considered materially important. Even when it’s not legally necessary, any homeowner might voluntarily disclose using sections of this form. To show that a home is not in a designated high or very high fire hazard severity zone, sellers simply check the box indicating so in paragraph 2B.

Is the address in a high or very high fire hazard severity zone?

Not all homeowners know if their property is in one of these zones, but it’s the seller’s responsibility to find out! In paragraph 1B the form suggests that a natural hazard zone disclosure company could determine this information (and if you’re selling you may have already ordered a report that would contain those details), but it certainly isn’t the only resource.

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Did you take take care of needed repairs when you bought you home?

Photo of drywood termite pellets - Home in need of termite repairsDid you do the repairs outlined when you bought your home?

Recently I showed a home where the owners had been there 7 or 8 years but never did any of the suggested repairs from their pre-sale inspections when they purchased the home “As Is“. The As Is part means that no repairs were provided by the sellers, with the idea that buyers would do whatever was needed later.  Desperate to get in when prices were appreciating fast, it seemed that most home buyers said “we’ll take care of it after we own it“.

But many of them forgot.

Today, with the whitest hot market I’ve ever seen in my career, most sellers fix the major items because they understand that it will net them a higher sale price. They fix the foundation, electrical, plumbing, waste lines, roof leaks, pest items, safety issues, and do whatever other repairs would make a buyer pause.

Some, though, don’t do any repairs at all – none! Often they are the same sellers who won’t stage their homes, or for whom scheduling a showing is a big effort, and maybe the disclosures aren’t so thoughtfully done. (In recent weeks I saw a disclosure package in which the sellers wrote on every page, “AS IS SALE” and refused to answer each question.) It’s a giant red flag that these may be difficult sellers.

If you want to maximize your profits, don’t let that seller be you. As Is certainly is the norm, but it’s As Disclosed. Wouldn’t buyers pay more if they weren’t worried about needing to do a lot of expensive and time consuming repairs? You bet. Confident buyers pay more. Let that be your mantra, home sellers.

Pull out your old file, find your inspection reports and review them, especially if you are preparing to sell your home

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Mulches and Fire Danger

Tanbark or mulch in front of a San Jose home

Tanbark wood mulch separated by a dry creek bed, cement path, & brick retaining wall in a low-water San Jose yard.

May Day is a celebration of spring, but “April showers” were few and far between and it’s already starting to feel like summer! With another record-breaking hot year and the Bay Area in severe to extreme drought conditions homeowners concerned about water use and fire prevention are turning to gardening and landscaping for the solution. But a word of warning! Since updating my surprisingly popular post on mulch vs tanbark and the risk of termite infestation, I came across another reason to be cautious when applying it to your perimeter: fire.

Organic Mulches and Fire Hazard

Mulch can work wonders in a garden – it helps soil retain moisture, protects roots, reduces weeds, insulates the ground, can add nutrients and enrich the earth, adds visual appeal, and it’s affordable. It’s on every guide for landscaping water conservation (including Valley Water’s recommendations and San Jose Water’s tips)! Do a search and you’ll find it comes in a broad variety of materials. These can be divided into two groups: organic and inorganic. And organic matter can burn.

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension has published their (easy to read) findings from a study comparing the combustibility of various organic landscape mulches. I recommend reading the booklet, but here are some of the key points I found most interesting: (more…)

Selling Your Silicon Valley Home? Make Sure Your Front Door Gives a Great First Impression!

Twelve Silicon Valley Doors, shown as black & white (photos by Mary Pope-Handy)

Thinking of selling your Silicon Valley home?  When your house or condo is for sale, curb appeal is crucial because if buyers don’t like what they see on the outside, they will not bother to see what’s on the inside!

It’s hackneyed but true:  “You never get a second chance to make a first impression“.

This is no where more true than with front doors! Staging begins on the front porch.

In my real estate practice, I usually see at least 10 or 15 San Jose, Los Gatos or Saratoga area homes per week – usually many more than that too.  A good, clean front door with nice paint or varnish, no dust, clear glass and sparkling hardware gives a good welcome to your home’s visitors, whether they are coming as prospective buyers or simply as guests.  Amazingly, though, not every home seller gets this basic principle quite right. Very often, front doors are dusty, dirty, in need of paint or perhaps even in need of replacement.

And we’re just scratching the surface!

Exterior home doors found all over Silicon Valley

A home’s front door sends a message. What message does yours give off? Photos by Mary Pope-Handy

Here (to the right) are some doors I’ve encountered in my work as a Silicon Valley Realtor. What do you think of each of these?

Some homes have a “security screen door” in front of the regular front door, which is mostly obscured.  What message does this kind of strong grill give?  If it’s the only one on the street, it might imply that one person nearby has concerns about safety. But if there are several doors like this on the same street or nearby, it can give buyers concerns about the safety of the area.

The black door with the white trim in the center is a typical or average San Jose or Santa Clara County door.  It has a painted exterior and a fan light window on top, which allows some light into the home.  It’s a little more inviting than something without any windows, but there’s no cover for rain or an inviting front porch, either.  This type of door is not super expensive, but it does come across as at least fine, if not “good”.

Some of these doors are not the front door. I once viewed a listing which had access through a scratched up door facing the backyard, and when I shared the photo several people asked if it was a short sale or bank owned property. To everyone’s amazement, no, it’s a “regular sale!”  This kind of introduction to the property, is anything but regular and left far from a good first impression!  It is a discredit to the agent and the seller to put a home on the market with such a terrible first exposure to a property.
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