A few years back I attended a property inspection in San Jose and we found an unwanted resident in the garage: a black widow spider. Needless to say, did not stick around after she was found!
In case you haven’t seen one, I thought I’d share the pic here (click to see more below). Sadly she wasn’t my last encounter with these spooky locals. In fact, I’ve been seeing all too much of them over the last three years! At least this time, we always found her outside.
“Red flags” are clues that something is wrong or potentially wrong. They’re the hints that we need to investigate something further, the sign that we should be on alert.
Some parts of San Jose, and Silicon Valley generally, enjoy beautiful older homes with classic styling and beautiful finishing work. These properties and neighborhoods are prized because they are not cookie cutter, not ranch, not too new. They may be Victorian, Craftsman, Spanish, or any number of other interesting architectural styles.
One area of Santa Clara County that is well known for both charming historic homes and unfortunately also some structural issues among those older houses is the Willow Glen district of San Jose.
Back in 2015 I showed some clients about a half dozen homes, all in Willow Glen, and we saw a lot of “red flags” which hinted of foundation problems, among others. I thought I’d share a few pics I snapped at one of them with my old treo camera here. All of these were taken on the front porch of this house – all visible structural “red flags” before we ever set foot into the house.
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.)
Silicon Valley home buyers, sellers, and their real estate agents rely heavily on the professional advice, insights and opinions of home inspectors, whether it’s for the property generally (house, townhouse or condominium inspection) or for some other component, such as the roof, foundation, chimney, pool, heater, etc. One of the most frustrating – and sometimes maddening – experiences for everyone involved happens when inspectors disagree and their inspection reports provide conflicting advice.
Either extreme is bad, either “calling” something when it’s fine or missing something if it’s not. Often resolution is accomplished by having yet another inspector come out OR by having the two who disagree meet at the property to sort it out.
Here are some real examples I’ve experienced first hand over the years while selling residential real estate in Santa Clara County:
- Over-called: General property inspector called for “further inspection” of heater, roof, or chimney because he said something’s wrong. Further inspection ordered by buyer or seller, and paid for by consumer – but the professional for that aspect of the home says it was just fine. Is it fine or not? The home buyer or seller is out some money and one of the two reports says there’s a problem with it but the other says it’s OK. (This happened a few times where the general inspector “called” things that experts said were in good working order. For that reason, I had to stop recommending him to my clients and began working with another inspector who wasn’t so over-eager that he called things which were not bad. When inspectors disagree with one particular inspector often, it’s time to find someone else.)
- Crawl space nightmare: many homes have crawl spaces and if yours does, it’s important to either go down there yourself or have someone else do it for you periodically to check conditions there. My buyers were purchasing a home near Carlton Elementary in Cambrian (Los Gatos border) and the pre-sale pest or termite inspection (the only one available) was from a company with the absolute worst reputation in the valley, and that report said that there was not one thing wrong in a 50 year old house (highly unlikely!). We ordered new inspections, both home & pest. Both my inspectors found a lot of damage in the crawl space, amounting to about $10,000 in damage not reported by first inspector. The seller’s inspector had claimed to go into the crawl but it was evident that either he didn’t go or he didn’t do it thoroughly. The seller wanted his inspector’s company to do the repairs but we negotiated for a more reputable provider and got it.
- My pre-sale chimney inspection, from a reputable inspector, said my listing’s fireplace and chimney were fine (Los Gatos border area, Alta Vista neighborhood). We got the home sold and the buyers ordered a new chimney inspection, and that mason said it was broken. My first inspector apologized for his error (after coming back out and looking at it again, verifying that it was, in fact, in need of fixing) and said he would do the repair at a reduced rate, but he couldn’t get to it prior to close of escrow. We could not use him because this had to be done prior to close of escrow. Since I had referred this man, I felt partly responsible for his error and offered to split the cost of the expensive chimney rebuilding with my clients. My sellers felt that was fair. I never, ever hired that chimney guy again.
- Another house, another chimney: my pre-sale general inspection cleared the chimney in this lovely Cambrian Park home. Buyers ordered a chimney inspection to be sure and a young kid (maybe 18 years old?) came out and said the chimney was broken and needed repairing. My sellers paid for another chimney inspection, and a seasoned mason looked at it and said it was fine. The other agent and I arranged to have our seasoned mason and the boss of the young kid come out and both inspect it with everyone present. They did and said it was, in fact, fine. The young kid was there and I asked him why he “called” it. He responded, “I wasn’t sure so thought it was safer to have it rebuilt”. (At a cost of about $2000 as I recall!) My sellers were out about $100 for their inspection but did not have to rebuild the chimney. Sometimes, when inspectors disagree, it’s because one of them may be inexperienced.
If you live in Santa Clara County, once known as The Valley of Hearts Delight, you no doubt appreciate our mild, sub-tropical climate. Unfortunately, so do the termites. With that in mind, the question often arises about how often to get a termite inspection.
Types of termites in Silicon Valley and nearby
We have two main types of termites here (and other wood-destroying pests too), drywood termites and subterranean termites.
The subterranean termites, or subs as they are called, can be identified by the mud tubes they build from the ground or floor up the side of a wall. As their name implies, they live underground, and build the tubes as they go. Pest Control operators will remove the tubes and treat the area, injecting chemicals underground at spaced intervals, to exterminate them. See my post on identifying subs here.
Drywood termites, or drywoods, may live anywhere in the the home where there’s wood to eat. If they are found only in one or two areas, a licensed pest control company may do a local treatment. The difficulty with local treatments is that drywood termites may also be lurking in places that cannot be seen, such as between the walls. For that reason, the standard recommendation is to fumigate (also called to tent or to fume) the structure.
If you live in the Santa Cruz Mountains, or close to them, you may also have dampwood termites to contend with. I have seen them in Los Gatos, Cambrian, and Almaden.
A few yaars back, my husband and I went to the Monterey Peninsula for a couple of days to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We had a wonderful time there, but would not return to the hotel where we stayed this time. The worst issue was the mold in the bedroom along the wall and baseboard. I brought it to the hotel’s attention and it was “cleaned”, but I think the issue is far from solved.
Mold collage, before and after cleaning with bleach
Since we sometimes run into issues with mold in our real estate transactions, I wanted to take the opportunity of having these before & after photos to discuss what to do about it when buying or selling homes. Luckily, here in Silicon Valley it is not so humid as it is along the coast, so we are helped on that count. But it is still very possible that you will run into mold or mildew when trying to buy or sell property.
First, I should state that mold is naturally occurring and it is not possible to completely eliminate mold spores from your home. The question is whether or not the mold inside the house is the same kind and density as the mold outdoors, or whether something unusual is harbored indoors.
Mildew and mold need moisture and the right, mild temperatures to thrive – eliminate the source of water and the mold will go dormant. Please note that it will not die when the moisture is eliminated – it just goes into a sleepy state. If water is later reintroduced, the mold spores will spring back to life.
In my experience, the most common place to find mold in the San Jose area tends to be in bathrooms, particularly around older aluminium windows (which tend to be very cold and collect condensation). Mold on these window frames is easily cleaned by using a solution of water and bleach, and it can be prevented by better ventillation and heat, which allows the window frames to dry out. Likewise it’s very easy for mold to grow in showers and tub areas due to the high amount of water present. That water needs to be able to evaporate, otherwise you’re inviting mold to take hold.
Find mold on sheetrock, wood or carpeting? First you must discover the source of the moisture. Most likely, there’s a leak somewhere, either a plumbing leak or around a door, window, roof or flashing.
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?
If you are preparing your Silicon Valley to sell, you may have concerns about both time and money. You probably don’t want to spend a year getting ready, but you do want to make the appropriate changes which will bring a good return on investment. Some home owners don’t understand the connection between the home’s condition and ultimate sale price – their expectations may be a little off.
Sometimes when I meet prospective clients who are thinking of selling their home, I hear immediately, “we only want to sell As Is” and “we don’t want to have to re-carpet, re-paint, etc.”. In the next breath, they tell me, “and we want top dollar for our house”. Those two are often mutually exclusive desires – that is, getting one usually means you won’t get the other. But not always, and I’ll show you how to increase the odds of doing both.
To get top dollar, a Silicon Valley home for sale must appear to be the best value for the money and attract the most qualified buyers who step forward with a strong offer. Buyers will pay more IF they feel that your home is a better value.
There are a number of things which need to be done for that to occur, but one of the most important has to do with the condition and appearance of the property. Confident buyers write stronger offers than buyers who are concerned about the house or condominium and potentially unknown risks. (Buyers are thinking “risk, risk, risk” and “beware of hidden costs”!) Home buying is both a business decision as well as an emotional decision. To get top dollar, your home has to make sense and appeal to buyers on both levels, and we’ll discuss both in this post.
Several times in recent years I have represented buyers in transactions where the seller’s side of the escrow seems to be a little messed up. In most of those cases, the problem was a result (directly or indirectly) of the home seller doing too much prep work before hiring an agent. That is really putting the cart before the horse, is a waste of money and it can cause harm to you, the seller, down the road.
In a couple of instances, the sellers ordered pre-sale inspections first and hired a real estate licensee later. What could be wrong with that? Like all professionals, there are better and worse inspectors (and better and worse companies). There are firms with fantastic reputations for honesty, thoroughness, and reliability. And then there are the duds.
Most of my real estate colleagues have a preferred vendor or two, but also have a long list of professionals whom they would trust to inspect a property and do a good job of it. Most home sellers, though, do not have much experience with inspectors and do not know these companies by reputation. More than once, I’ve heard sellers picking a national brand due to name recognition. That may be OK some of the time, but it’s sure not how most real estate agents would suggest hiring anyone!
When you hire a Realtor or other real estate licensee in a full service capacity (which is what happens most of the time), you are paying not for just the MLS entry, the negotiations, the fliers etc., but the whole transaction package, from start to finish. You’re paying for advice and guidance and that can begin long, long before there’s a sign in the yard. Why not take advantage of that guidance from the very beginning, with basic input on decluttering and staging and then which inspections to order – and for those, get a list of trusted sources from the real estate professional you hire.
As for the sales in which the seller made a poor inspection choice, in one case it cost that home owner about $10,000 and in another a lost sale.
There are many decisions you’ll need to make when selling your home. You don’t have to go it alone! Hire a great agent or broker to work with you and take advantage of your trusted resource from the very beginning. That will save you time, money and stress in the long run!
If you found this informative, there’s plenty more to read. Try one of these related posts:
Hiring an Agent to Help You Sell or Buy a Home in Silicon Valley
How to get a great buyer’s agent in a seller’s market (when most Realtors would rather assist home sellers)
How do you choose a real estate agent whom you trust?
Thinking of Selling Your Silicon Valley Home? Get It Right The First Time if You Go On The Market!
What is the purpose of a home inspection? Many real estate professionals would say that it is to uncover defects. While that is certainly true, I’d like to suggest that property inspections can be of much broader use than merely learning what’s wrong. For new home owners, or soon to be home owners, it’s a great chance to learn about all the components of your house, condominium or townhome, and how to maintain it well going forward.
Whether you are in escrow to purchase the property or you are a new home owner who purchased without inspections (or contingencies), it is wise to take a half day off from work so that you can be present for the inspections and learn about your home and how to maintain it for the long haul. A good property inspector will not mind your accompanying him or her throughout the property and will explain to you what you’re seeing. Many times, you will get helpful tips that will not make it into the written report, so bring along a notepad and pen. You may hear your inspector say “this is fine now, but you’ll need to replace it in about 5 years” or “if you do such and such, this will last a lot longer”. These are helpful things to know! Your inspector may also reveal that some items are functioning now but should be watched carefully. “Check the crawl space when it rains to see….” or “this is probably not an active leak, but no one has lived here for a year, so recheck this in 6 months” or…. you get the idea.
Home inspectors can only see what’s visible, and some bad conditions may be hidden. In general, though, you want to have a qualified home inspector out every 7 years (and a pest inspector every 3-5) so that if your home is developing any problems, they can be caught and addressed while more manageable.
Further reading on home inspections:
How to prepare for a home inspection in Silicon Valley
Preparing Your Silicon Valley Home to Sell and Return on Investment