Selling Tips

Tips for Home Sellers

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 is hot

Pent up demand during the tightest quarantine period has thrust the number of sales upward. Multiple offers are common.

As of today (July 5), there are 1007 single family homes available in Santa Clara County.  Over the last 30 days, there are 1,022 that went sales pending. Those are pretty good odds for home sellers!

The odds are better still for houses and duet homes priced at or under $1,200,000, which can often be a first time home buyer purchase price. For that pricing tier, there are just 289 active listings and 413 that went pending in the same 30 day period. In the most affordable pricing tiers, homes are selling faster than they are coming on the market.

Why are the entry level houses such a hot commodity?   We don’t have data on motivation right now, but my best guess is that many of them want to get out of small apartments and into houses with yards since we are likely to be sheltering in place for a long time to come.

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

The landscape for home sales is complicated and restricted, but easier than it was earlier in this pandemic. The market is strange in many ways, but it is possible to buy and sell now, with restrictions.

What’s new:

  • Real estate agents in Santa Clara County may show homes, but this should be only after everything possible has been done virtually and as a “last resort” per the county.
  • Real estate agents may show up to 2 people at a time. (Previous requirement that they be from the same home is dropped.)
  • NEW FORMS: Paperwork must be signed by buyers before they can view a home.  One is the brand new PEAD-V advisory regarding the risks of being in a home at this time and a promise by the buyer that he/she is healthy and asymptomatic. Adults visiting the properties must sign it. If children will be going in, their names must be listed on the form. The paperwork is emailed to the listing agent before the home can be seen.  (A few listing agents will not even schedule the appointment until they receive the form.)
  • Additionally, there is a “best practices” document that buyers must receive.
  • The current Best Practices document states that the home is supposed to be disinfected between showings by the buyer’s agent (this is new as of June 20th). The responsibility for this has bounced around and there is tremendous confusion on this issue. Buyers should not assume that the homes are disinfected between showings.
  • The Best Practices doc says that the listing agent should be on site to make sure that the rules are being followed – but the listing agent does not go inside. That is not happening. Buyers and their agents are coming and going constantly, and it’s impractical for the agent to be at a listing all day. The buyer’s agent is asked to make sure that buyers observe the health order and guidelines.
  • The listing agent is to provide hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and masks in case the buyers or their agent do not have them. (Tricky requirement as they can be difficult to obtain, but most listing agents are providing them in my experience.)
  • Paperwork must be posted outside of the front door with the rules for the showing and the best practices to prevent the spread of the virus. (State law.) In some condos / townhomes, I’m seeing them inside, though.

Continue reading

Insurance Choices Home Buyers Face

Insurance Choices Home Buyers Face

Home buyers & sellers in Silicon Valley hear about various types of real estate related insurance products and they can sometimes be confused with one another: Homeowner’s (or Fire) Insurance, Title Insurance and Home Warranties. We’ll discuss them today and hopefully will clear up the confusion.

Insurance Choices: Homeowner’s Insurance, Title Insurance, and Home Warranties

Homeowner’s Insurance pays you money to cover losses in the event of a fire or other unseen catastrophe (such as a tree falling on your home, a fire caused by lightening or a fence falling down in a windstorm).  Often there’s a deductible but beyond that you have major coverage for losses in most cases. There are some caveats, of course.  If you purchase a home using financing, your lender will require you to buy this type of insurance.  It is sometimes also called Fire Insurance.

Homeowner’s insurance does not cover damage from earthquakes or flooding from creeks, rivers or dam failure.  If you have a fixture that fails and the home floods, though, that is probably covered.

Homeowner’s insurance does not guarantee that if something is destroyed it can be rebuilt.  For instance, in older parts of Santa Clara County (such as downtown Saratoga, San Jose, Los Gatos and Willow Glen) there are detached garages built right up against the property line or very close to it.  In most places there are now setback requirements of about 5 feet or so.  Should that garage burn down (or be destroyed by termites or anything else), it can only be rebuilt, most often, if it’s moved.  Creating a new foundation is expensive – and that may not be covered by your HO insurance.
Continue reading

Lies that sellers want to believe - brightly colored row houses - your paint colors are idealThis week I got a postcard from another real estate agent wanting to list homes in my neighborhood. It featured lies that sellers want to believe.  Often what sellers want to hear is not what they need to hear to make well informed decisions that will benefit them the most in the long run.

Most common types of lies that sellers want to believe

PRICE – Lies that sellers want to believe can relate to the probable buyer’s value of the property. If you interview a few agents and all of them but one tell you that the house is likely to sell for $1 million, but one agent says it’s worth $1,150,000, that agent may be telling you an inflated value in the hopes of “buying the listing”. Will the home sell for more because it is listed high? That’s not how it works.

The importance of pricing your Silicon Valley home competitively cannot be overemphasized. If you do everything else right but get the pricing wrong, the odds are strongly against getting the highest price possible.

CONDITION – Other lies that sellers want to hear may involve the pre-sale prep work. “You don’t have to change your home at all – you can still get top dollar” is usually not true unless the home is a tear down, and it is counter productive if you want to net the most from your home sale. You can, of course, sell a home in any condition, but buyers pay more when the home shows better. Continue reading

Interested in moving your property tax basis when you sell your current home and buy the next one? For those over 55 in California, this is a great one time option.

There are actually two propositions involved.  Prop 60 applies to moves within your own county, and Prop 90 relates to moves between counties which are participating in the transfer arrangement. Unfortunately, of California’s 58 counties, only 10 have the cooperative agreement to accept a property tax basis transfer from other participating counties.

Cooperating Property Tax Basis Transfer Counties (Prop 90)

The counties cooperating in the property tax basis transfer are only these, as of the date of this posting: Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Tuolumne, and Ventura.

Some of the basics for the property tax basis transfer:

  • Homeowners must be 55 and older at the time of sale of the original property.
  • Homeowner must be on record both for the home that’s sold and the replacement property.
  • The replacement residence must be equal to or lesser in value than the original residence.
  • There are special rules for multi-family (duplex, triplex, fourplex) properties and for mobile homes.

In the most typical scenario, a senior homeowner would sell a house (or townhome or condo) and “downsize” to another, less expensive, smaller house or condo.  If the homeowner had been in the first property for a very long time, then the low tax rate would be hard to give up, but Props 60 and 90 enable that homeowner to go to another, less expensive home and carry the old tax rate along – one time, and either in the home county or in one of the participating counties.

I have known seniors to sell a house in Los Gatos, Saratoga or San Jose and move to The Villages or to gated senior communities out of the area but closer to their grown kids and make use of these two propositions.

It should be noted that while the price of the replacement home must be less than the home being sold, that doesn’t mean that the new home must be smaller. I’ve known people to move out of area and get a larger, newer, nicer home – at a lower price tag. So it’s really an economic downsizing (or “right sizing” as some like to say now).

For more information and to get all the details, please click on the California state page for these two propositions.

celebratory image with words "some good news!"UPDATE ON APRIL 29: We just learned that the Shelter in Place order for Santa Clara County and San Mateo County will now permit showings of occupied homes as long as the residents are not present during the showing.

This new permission will kick in beginning on May 4th.




It is a challenging task for those selling an occupied home right now. Only vacant properties may be shown to buyers in person. If you are living in the home you want to sell,  what can you do to improve your odds of getting the property sold and closed? Here are some tips.

# 1 – Selling an occupied home? Help it to be knowable & virtually shown!

First, buyers cannot purchase it, as in close escrow, if they and their agent cannot see it. Or at least they shouldn’t since many things cannot be known until you go there in person, such as whether or not there are any odors, if the floors are level, if the rooms have enough natural light, and so on. The buyer’s agent has a legal obligation to perform a reasonably diligent visual inspection, which is pretty close to impossible if he or she cannot be on the property.

The best thing you could do would be to move out to sell, but for many that isn’t practical. The second best thing is to provide photos, video, and a floor plan so that buyers have a much clearer sense of the home, yard, view of the street, neighbors, etc.


Selling an occupied home - photo of a street view - show the street view, side yards, and areas often skipped - photo of street view in The Villages


Photos to help get your home under contract

Whether you take the photos or a professional photographer does, tidy the home as if it were going to be shown in person. Make the beds. Windows need to be clean. Virtually everything should be off of the kitchen and bathroom counters. The toilet lids should be closed. The fireplace should be neat and emptied of ashes. Floors ought to be clear of toys, shoes, and so on.  Garden hoses and outdoor items need to be away. Cars should not be seen. (You can find a really good list of preparing your home for real estate photos here.)

Photograph all of the rooms in the home, and include the hallways, laundry area, any pantry, etc. The exterior of the home and the yard(s) are to be included too. De-clutter and organize them just as  you would the more interesting parts of the home or yard.  Please make sure to snap these non-intuitive elements: Continue reading

How to sell a home during Covid-19 quarantine - move out so that it can be shownMost of the world seems to be in lock down during this novel coronavirus pandemic.  Despite that, some people do need to buy, sell, or move now or within the next few months. So how to sell a home during Covid 19 and the quarantine? Some cannot wait until this is over to move!

In Silicon Valley, right now it is virtually impossible to sell a home during Covid-19 isolation orders. There’s one exception. (See also Coronavirus impact on real estate sales.)

Sell a home during Covid-19: move out!

The main thing is this: to sell a home during Covid-19 quarantine rules, you must move out of your house, condo, or townhouse.

I don’t mean going to a hotel for a few days while leaving all of your furniture and personal effects in the property. No. You and your personal property must leave fully.

If you cannot move out, you may want to wait. Otherwise, most buyers will either pass or – if they write an offer on your home – will write a blind offer, “subject to inspection”. That means they’ll have a contingency to see your home and approve it.

Accept an offer like that at your own risk. It is VERY easy for a buyer to back out of a contract with such a big, open ended contingency. The buyer has very little risk, but the seller risks having the home tied up only to have it fall through, and then possibly or likely selling for less later.

When exactly do you need to move?

You’ll have to be gone before home buyers come to check out your property. You may be able to get home inspectors there for the normal pre-sale inspections (home, pest, roof, and others – depending). Not every provider may be willing to be there if you are still living in the home. Under normal circumstances, to minimize disruption, we’d have all of the inspectors there at once. Today, though, we are limiting contact, and may have to space those appointments out.  The photographer also may be willing to come when you are living at the house. The odds are stronger that they’ll come if you are gone, though.

Many changes if you sell a home during Covid-19 in Santa Clara County

Many things will be different from the usual situation.

  • no open houses
  • no physical broker tour (virtual only)
  • no physical staging
  • no paper fliers
  • no business cards

There will be more emphasis on distance, on not touching anything. Listing agents may be there before or after to open everything up and possibly to disinfect doorknobs after showings. (You can check the Santa Clara County Health Department’s website to see the current status of cases and deaths from Covid-19 to know it’s serious.)

This may well last until there’s a vaccine, so the “new normal” may take some getting used to.

As always, cash sales with a fast close of escrow and few or no contingencies will be prized, especially when sellers have moved out for the sale.


Forbidden symbol over a large camera and a house to represent homes with no or few photographsListings with few photographs or none at all typically are skipped by most home buyers. The reason is simple: if it’s not showing, the room (or yard, or whole house) is assumed to be in terrible condition.

The seller’s loss, though, is a buyer’s gain.  The poorly marketed house can be an opportunity for home buyers who are having trouble in multiple offer situations. With few or no images, the odds of having multiple offers go way down.

Why would there be few photographs, or none at all, in an active listing?

The home may have no or few photographs for other reasons: the seller is extremely private, the home is occupied by tenants, the seller has not yet decluttered or made the home show ready, etc.

It’s also possible that a photographer will be at the home at some point, but has not yet been available.

The bottom line is that a property with no or few photographs online presents a possible opportunity for the home buyer who would like to purchase a home that not so many others are vying for. The home may not show as well as one that is properly staged and marketed, but it could be the thing that gets you into your next home sooner rather than later.


Related reading:

Why didn’t my San Jose home sell?

Selling your home in a declining market

What do you need to know when selling your Silicon Valley home?



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Mary Pope-Handy
Sereno Group Real Estate
214 Los Gatos-Saratoga Rd
Los Gatos, CA 95030
408 204-7673
Mary (at)
License# 01153805

Selling homes in
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Almaden Valley,
Cambrian Park.
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