Remodeling

Remodeling Tips

Cambrian Park Home, built by LeepMost homes in Silicon Valley come with some type of parking space for cars beyond street parking.  Home buyers want to know that there will be a place for their vehicles (and often their “stuff” too).   Garages and parking are sometimes under-appreciated aspects of evaluating real estate, and sometimes there are parking surprises after the close of escrow, so it will be the focus of today’s topic.

Parking and resale value

Because a real estate purchase is a big ticket item, it is always important to consider the ability to sell it later.  (Always buy with selling in mind!)  Will the property you have or are considering buying be hard to sell  in the future if it is not a red-hot sellers market?  Parking can greatly impact “resale value and overall desirability to a large portion of consumers, who may look at that space as protection for a beloved vehicle, a safety feature, a future hobby room, or many other possibilities.

If you are evaluating a Common Interest Development (CID) condominium, townhouse, or planned unit development home with private roads and parking, there will be some special concerns that may be a little different than if you were purchasing a single family home. We’ll consider both.

General principle:  In all types of housing in the San Jose area, usually the most highly desired type of parking arrangement is an attached garage with direct access into the home and with side by side parking provided (not tandem).  This is not true in all cases but is generally true.  You would not find home buyers interested in historic homes (Victorian, Spanish, Craftsman) wanting a prominent two car garage at the front of the house, commanding the lion’s share of the view from the street. (So don’t expect to see that in Japantown, Naglee Park, or the the Rose Garden areas of San Jose.) But for the typical buyer of the more common ranch style house, the attached garage is expected and appreciated, and if it’s missing it may be a challenge to sell the property later because the property will be appealing to a smaller pool of buyers.

Regarding direct access: garages are not allowed to have a door entering into a bedroom. This is for safety reasons since bedrooms are where residents are most vulnerable, and garages are an area of increased safety risk.
Continue reading

Younger home with large bedroom window, low to the ground

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.  What is that all about?

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.

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.

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

Ranch style house with original casement windows – impossible for ingress by emergency personnel.

 

Next is a ranch style house in which the windows have been replaced, but they are fairly high off the ground and the openings are not big enough for a firefighter to get in.

 

Bedroom windows have been replaced, but do not have large openings

Bedroom windows have been replaced, but do not have large openings

 

And a ranch style house with newer and enlarged bedroom windows – low to the ground and bigger openings for fire escape or rescue.

 

Bedroom windows have been replaced and enlarged for safety.

Bedroom windows have been replaced and enlarged for safety.

 

I found many related articles on line with the particulars about size.  This one seemed especially good, so I’m including the link here alongside info from Los Gatos and San Jose on replacement windows (each town or city may have slightly different requirements):

Common Building-Code Violations: Emergency-Egress Windows Too Small

Town of Los Gatos required bedroom window sizes

City of San Jose: Window Replacement Requirements

 

 

 

Bathroom 1960s styleKeeping 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!

 

 

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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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