Open houses are returning to the California real estate scene, and private showings are also becoming more relaxed, but it won’t be a return to pre-pandemic practices just yet. The announcement that open houses would be permitted caught most of us Realtors (and our managers and brokers) by surprise a couple of days ago, and all of the details are not yet published, but I’ll share what I have learned so far.
Required protocol and open house paperwork
First, a home seller must decide whether or not to permit an open house (and a listing agent if he or she wants to do it). Naturally, there’s a form for that – an addendum to the listing agreement, LOHA (LISTING AGREEMENT OPEN HOUSE ADDENDUM OR AMENDMENT). Here’s a bit of a screenshot to give you a sense of what is required if the seller agrees to have an open house at the property:
If the seller wants the home to be held open, and the listing agent is willing to do it, there’s a bit of protocol to follow. Visitors to an open house must sign in for contract tracing purposes. If you’ve been house hunting over the last 14 months, you are probably used to signing the PEAD-V form for visitors. With that document, the listing agent got your name and saw your electronically signed signature, but that is it. Only your buyer’s agent had your contact info.
As open houses are returning in this transitional phase, the new Property Sign-In (PSI) will ask you for your name, phone number, and email address. This is not for marketing purposes, but for contact tracing purposes only. (Some agents may opt to still use the PEAD, but if so, they’ll need a way to contact you should you end up exposed to COVID-19 at the open house.)
You should expect that at an open house there will likely be a table set up before you can enter where you sign in and use hand sanitizer, which is required. The agent will make sure you are wearing a mask. Some sellers and / or listing agents may have additional requirements, such as your wearing shoe covers (usually provided) or gloves (not usually provided).
You should also expect that it’s possible you’ll need to wait to get inside. This is very important to keep in mind if there’s a heat wave. More on that below. (more…)
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!
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.
Some Silicon Valley homeowners spruce up their yards and gardens in spring and summer with tanbark or mulch. While this is a very common practice, and often encouraged as a drought-friendly gardening option, it can be a bad idea if it is too close to the structure, especially the home’s foundation. Tanbark is simply small bits of wood, and most common mulch is often no more than shredded wood. Why is that bad? Wood is food for termites and piles of tanbark or mulch can invite and hide them as well!
Tanbark or Mulch?
Mulch is the more widely used term and it can cover a broad scope of materials, but the most common type you will find in stores (and in Bay Area gardens) is the woodchip mulch. If you ask for mulch at a hardware store, this is most likely what they will show you. In the local vernacular, we often refer to mulch as the fine, thin, or decomposed stuff – we have a different name for the larger bark and wood chips.
I learned only recently that tanbark is something of a local term that people from other parts of the state or country may not be familiar with. Here in the Bay Area we call the stuff you commonly see underfoot at playgrounds or piled thick on the planted berms around a shopping mall parking lot by the name of tanbark. Some people may reserve the name for the large chunky bark chips while others will call just about any wood chip substrate by that name. So tanbark is, in fact, a mulch.
Homeowners and sellers wanting their home to make a good first impression are often tempted to apply mulch or tanbark in otherwise bare patches around their yard, but you can wind up with far bigger (and more costly) problems if it’s too close to the foundation!
What Was That About Termites?
Every region of the country has some unique real estate vocabulary and phrases. Here, in Silicon Valley, when we say “you’re out of contract“, it’s another way of saying “you are not doing what you promised to do in the purchase agreement that you signed” (meaning the real estate contract). In other words, there is a seller or buyer default happening.
“Out of contract” is not a legal term. I remember hearing a local real estate educator say “there’s no such thing”. It’s not an official status. But it is a way of describing behavior that’s not in alignment with the contract’s express promises.
Both sellers and buyers make promises to do certain things and most of these promises are tied to time frames or dates. Here are a few of these time-sensitive promises or contractual obligations:
- sellers agree to leave the utilities on until close of escrow
- sellers promise to maintain the home until close of escrow as it was on the day the property went into contract (so mow the lawn, water it etc.)
- buyers assert that they will get their initial deposit to title within a set number of days (the California Association of Realtor’s form states 3 business days or provides a blank to fill in an alternate number – it’s often 1 business day here)
- buyers promise to remove contingencies within the times they stipulated in the offer
- sellers will move out in according to the date set out in the contract
- indecision over material facts or between buyers may make it hard to decide whether or not to remove any contingencies
- buyers agree to take possession (move in) per the time/day agreed to in the purchase agreement (not before)
- sellers bind themselves to having repairs done in a certain manner (depends on contract and clauses, if promised)
At one time or another, I have seen all of these items not adhered to by the parties who were supposed to make good on their word, and stranger violations that I don’t want to write about here lest I give someone a bad idea. I have seen sellers not move out on time (in some cases, elderly sellers who grossly misjudged the effort required to vacate.) The failure to do so causes stress and anxiety, and sometimes worse: fear and anger. (more…)
“Why isn’t my Silicon Valley townhouse selling?” wonders the home owner. Even in a seller’s market some properties struggle. Real estate agents know why the home (or townhome, or condo) isn’t getting any offers, or worse yet, any traffic at all. In fact, local Realtors who’ve seen it might wonder if the owner of the property has seen the MLS printout at all!
Why isn’t it selling?
Whether your home has been on the market for a while or you’re just about to list it, here are some of the most common culprits to look out for:
- Terrible photos (or not enough of them): in our San Jose area MLS we are allowed 9 photos. How many are in your listing?
- More on photos: Would it be so hard to turn the lights on in the home when photographing the property? Real estate looks much better when well lit than when dark. Even beautifully remodeled kitchens can look so-so if the lights are not all on! A bright room will make you money…a dark room will cost you!
- Is there a video or virtual tour? **
- Is the listing syndicated so that buyers can find it on multiple websites?
- How is the pricing? Did you price a 2 bedroom townhouse as if it’s a 3 bedroom? That’s a very common but huge mistake! Compare apples to apples – the buyers are doing that, and when you bought your home, you did too! Did you price the home using comps from 6 months ago, or comps from 3 miles away, or a different school district? Huge mistake!
- What’s your competition? Luxury homes will almost always take longer than a mid-priced home nearby – they’re in entirely different markets with entirely different demands. You’ve got to know what market you’re in and what buyers will be comparing your home against! If you’re a short sale, you need to be competitive against other short sales. Don’t be satisfied that your home is less expensive than a “regular sale”. They are two entirely different things!
- MLS description and comments: Don’t waste this valuable space! What kind of comments are in the precious few words allowed to describe your home in the multiple listing service? I have seen inane things use up that space. It is imperative that the descriptions be strong. For example, not “nice kitchen” (that could mean almost anything), but instead “slab granite countertops” – specifics that buyers want to hear about!
- Commission rate: if your townhome is a “regular sale” and everything in your area is selling with a buyer’s agent commission rate offered at 2.5% or 3% but you’re offering 2%, guess what happens? Little or no traffic, that’s what! Remember that agents are selling homes as their livelihood, and while many will overlook a low commission, many others will not. (When I list homes I run the CR of similar homes so that my sellers can make an informed decision on this point.)
**This is more important than ever right now with restrictions on showings and open homes during the pandemic. Read more about how covid-19 is impacting the real estate market in Silicon Valley and how to sell a home during the quarantine in my articles on this blog.
There are many reasons why a Silicon Valley townhouse might not sell, but marketing correctly will give you the best odds for success and, in a sellers market as we are in, may bring you a higher sales price. If yours isn’t selling, have a look at the price, the photos, and the description and see if anything is amiss, and check what’s happening with comparable properties in the market. These are the most important areas to consider. Other issues may be at play, but if these are correct your home should sell despite other challenges.
Between Los Gatos-Almaden Road and Ross Creek sits an eclectic east Los Gatos neighborhood, a county pocket, featuring a view of the hills where you can find a little bit of everything.
The homes built on Loma Vista Avenue, Linda Avenue, El Gato Lane and part of Escobar Avenue were first constructed in the 1940s, with many more filling out the neighborhood in the mid 50s.
They were three subdivisions initially:
- El Gato Terrace
- the Loma Vista Tract
- Rancho Padre (Rancho Padre is the one closest to the creek).
Loma Vista Avenue, Linda Avenue, and El Gato Lane
(Please note: these are not part of Blossom Hill Manor, which begins on the adjacent Longwood Drive.)
Are you thinking that you might want to sell your home in 2021? If so, you may be wondering how Covid-19 will impact the marketing and sale of your property. It’s stressful to sell in normal times, but during a pandemic it’s a whole new level of concern.
How hard will it be to sell your home in 2021?
The short answer is that it’s a lot easier to sell a home for top dollar right now because there’s a dire shortage of inventory. I know, we’ve been saying that for years, but it has only gotten worse since 2013 when it started feeling scant. The odds are that it will stay that way for at least the next six months or so, and perhaps longer. The months of inventory is a rock solid statistic that displays how quickly the inventory of available homes is absorbed. (If no new inventory were to come on the market, but sales continued at the same pace, how long would it take for the available inventory to all be bought? That’s the question being answered.)
The flip side of this, of course, is that if you are planning to sell one home and buy another, it’s no slam dunk since there are many multiple offers. But for the selling half, it’s amazing.
Here are the numbers from 2014 to now:
I did spot check pre-2014. Our numbers go back to 2003 on the MLS. Except for November 2017, no other Novembers were below 1 month. November 2007 was the worst at 9.8 months of inventory.
In other words, it doesn’t get any better than this in terms of the odds of selling.
This is going to sound a little harsh, but it is true. Sellers: some, perhaps many of the things which you think are huge selling points are not important at all to today’s home buyers. Most Silicon Valley house hunters do not care about your wet bar. They care even less about your expensive wallpaper, or your pricey and heavy 1970s era curtains, which they probably hate. In fact, many of the improvements you made when personalizing the home for yourself may have cost you a lot of money, but many California home buyers either won’t like them at all or even find them to be a negative. That is often the case with wet bars!
If you’re thinking you’d like to sell your home in 2021, keep reading!
If wet bars and wallpaper aren’t important, what is?
Buyers DO care about your foundation (please, no cracks), your roof (hopefully newer with many years left on it), your plumbing (tell us it’s 100% copper). They care a great deal about updating and remodeling of things seen – bathrooms, kitchen, popcorn ceiling removed – and unseen. Is the electrical really as old as the house? Is the sewer line on its last leg? Did your disclosures mention that rats are a problem? Do you have an issue with water in the crawl space which will eventually wreck the foundation? Does your house back up to a train line, school, freeway, high voltage line or something else undesirable which cannot be fixed? Buyers do care about these types of things. Above all, Silicon Valley home buyers want security. They want a solid house without problems. They don’t want to worry. It is scary enough to buy at all! (more…)
In 2012 and 2013, Santa Clara County saw many single family homes selling for all cash, no loans. The peak may have been in March 2012, when the percentage of all cash sales was a whopping 25%. That was the beginning of a long housing boom, and today the percentage of all cash sales in Santa Clara County has settled down significantly, though it is still in double digits in most months.
Today I crunched the numbers on MLSListings.com (first pulling the number of sales per month, then the number of cash sales, and after exporting the data to excel, did the math to get the percentages). The chart below reflects the sales of homes sold with all cash, no loans in Santa Clara County among houses and duet homes, which combined are known as single family homes. (Duet homes are not the same as duplexes.)
All cash sales, month by month, in Santa Clara County (single family homes)
The data from one month alone does not make a trend. Please note that in the percentage of all cash sales, above, we had under 9% in April 2020, but then it did bounce back up into double digits until October. It may well do that in November, too, once we have cleared the election jitters period.
What does the lower percentage of cash sales mean? In Santa Clara County, we saw a declining number of pending sales in October. I believe that together, these point to less buyer confidence, or perhaps more buyer fatigue.
Here’s that chart (posted recently in my newsletter and also in the Santa Clara County market post on this site):
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.