Buying a townhome

Buying a townhome - consider the grounds! Photo of townhomes in west San Jose - Cabernet Vineyards Circle, San Jose CA 95117 Front of home & walkwayBuying a townhome in the next year? Here are some pointers to help you get up to speed more quickly.

There are a number of things to ask about and learn to make sure that you are happy with the end result of your townhouse or townhome purchase. There’s tremendous variation in townhomes across Silicon Valley, how well the property is managed, how well the finances are managed, how happy the residents are, and so on.

I’ll put my tips into 3 categories: (1) before you go, (2) things to consider while there, and (3) research if you are serious about a particular property.

  1. Before you go – there may be things that will take the property off of your short list, such as the property condition, HOA finances or rules. There may be natural or environmental hazards that cause you to skip it. Usually these can be learned before you ever visit the property, and they can save you a lot of time.
  2. Things to note or consider while there – some tips on what to perceive while in and near the property.
  3. Deeper research if you are serious about buying a townhome or townhouse

Buying a townhome: a little pre-visit recon

Your real estate agent may help you with this – I do with my buyers and we can sometimes eliminate non-starters with a little research. Most people interested in buying a townhome or condo will check these out upfront:

  • Maps: Take a look at Google maps and see what can be learned from Google street view and the satellite image, if possible. Street view may provide info on how crowded a complex is and if there’s a parking problem if the townhomes are directly on public streets.
    • Sometimes there are undesirable buildings or structures right next to the complex you’re planning to visit which may be visible from either the satellite or street view. The negatives usually don’t make their way into the MLS photos, so look at these other views to get a more complete sense of the area. Recently I saw a power sub-station directly next to a unit my client wanted to see. We did visit it anyway, but many home buyers would have skipped it. You can often identify high voltage power lines from the maps, too.
    • The Google Satellite View will alert you to undesirable neighbors. Recently we saw a unit that backed up to something odd looking – turned out to be a gas station.
  • Odors: If you are buying a townhome in South County or in an area where farming takes place, be sure to zoom out on the map view to see if the property might be impacted by farm smells. In Gilroy, San Martin, and Morgan Hill, mushroom farms can be smelly if you are downwind. And…garlic happens. In Milpitas and North Valley, there are a number of odors, particularly as you get closer to the bay.
  • Natural and environmental hazards: you can find out upfront if the property is in a 100 year floodplain, liquefaction zone, near gas transmission lines or near a Superfund site. There are links to maps for almost every kind of hazard out there.  For example, the Cal OES My Cal Hazards Awareness site can provide info on liquefaction, flood, quake, and fire zones.
  • Disclosures: you may be able to get them upfront and skim for the local hazards, expensive repairs needed, etc. Most of the time we can provide these before you see the home. Keep in mind that no condo, townhouse, or house is perfect, and most do need thousands of dollars in repairs, replacements, and upgrades. A good rule of thumb is to budget 1% for a condominium or townhouse.

In person visit – when you visit the townhome

Again, your Realtor should help you to see what’s amiss or what’s a big plus as you go through the grounds and the home. No home is ever perfect (not even new construction), but it’s imperative that buying a townhome you have as full knowledge as possible about it upfront.

Once in awhile, a buyer will not get the value of this input. The majority of buyers, though, appreciate it if their buyer’s agent makes sure they see things upfront, while there together. (more…)

What Should You Expect When House-Hunting?

Door knockerThe weekend has rolled around and you are scheduled to see a few homes with your Realtor. What should you expect when house-hunting?

Hopefully, the home will be clean, pleasant, and viewing it will be relatively stress-free.   Most of the time, the sellers will not be home and you’ll be free to walk through the property and mentally “try out” the space. How does it feel? Will your furniture fit? Does it work with the way you live?

Sometimes, though, sellers either can’t be gone or don’t understand that it’s best if they can be absent for the viewing. If they sit outside or otherwise give you some space, it should be fine.  If they hover, you may get the creeps and want to rush through the house or condo and make a quick exit.

Realtors who’ve been in the business awhile all have stories of what they’ve seen or experienced in a home for sale: stepping in dog droppings, naked homeowners, people in bed, pets who are scary or smelly (a little boy once shoved a baby snake in my face!), residents who are hostile, crazy decor, strange messes, intimates lying around, boudoir photography or other embarrassing decor, bad smells, a huge amount of religious imagery or items for worship, hoarding, or any number of strange and possibly unnerving things.

Luckily, these events are the minority. Most of the time, when a home is for sale in Silicon Valley, it’s clean and well presented.  Just be aware that almost anything can happen. So be sure that your agent rings the doorbell, knocks, and pauses before rushing in – even if there’s an appointment.  Better to take your time then see more than you bargained for!  And pay close attention when walking through homes!

Related Reading:
House hunting online





What To Consider When Buying a Hillside Home in Silicon Valley

Artistic sketch of the terrain for a hillside homeHave you always dreamed of buying a hillside home, one close to, or in, the western foothills in Santa Clara County, such as Almaden, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and Saratoga? Some of the prettiest parts of Silicon Valley are snuggled into the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains. With views of downtown San Jose and the southern San Francisco Bay Area on one side, and rolling, grassy and redwood & oak filled hills on the other, its certainly scenic. Additionally, these areas all tend to have lower crime and good schools.

Hillside homes may be subject to insurance difficulties if they are deemed to be in a high fire risk zone, and property owners need to plan for how to escape in case of emergency. Trees may fall and block ingress or egress, so many mountain residents carry chainsaws. There can be wildlife living nearby, munching on carefully installed landscaping, or threatening household pets or small children in some cases (mountain lions – never leave your children unattended in hillside areas!). In terms of the structure of the hillside home, or the home near the base of the foothills, water is perhaps the risk that is least appreciated but impacts many more homes than most people realize.

Hillside home and water challenges

As a savvy foothill-area buyer, you will want to understand some of the unique issues that this geography may present. The most important of these hillside issues may well be that of water control and drainage.

The Santa Clara Valley, and most of the neighboring Silicon Valley areas, is composed of mostly expansive clay soil. This is an extremely strong substance – so much so that settlers used it, mixed only with a little straw and water, to form adobe bricks for building.

The caveat with clay soil is that when it becomes wet, it expands, and when dry, it contracts. (Hence “expansive clay soil”.) The amazing thing is that the clay is more powerful than concrete. And that is the problem for houses and other buildings if the ground is expanding, contracting, or alternating between the two.


Foundation crack efflorescense


What can a homeowner do? Its imperative to try to control the amount of water near (or under) the home as much as possible.


How much should I bid on that house?

Mary I should ask MaryThis week I had two readers email me to say that they read and appreciate my blogs, and then added that they wondered how much they should offer on a particular home for sale.

They didn’t say “I’m looking for a Realtor, wondering if you have any openings” or anything like that. They simply wanted me to provide an opinion on what a home in Santa Clara County should sell for…. So they could write it up with another real estate professional.


It’s not the first time this has happened, so I’m realizing that perhaps it would be helpful for me to address that.  People don’t understand how Realtors make a living, or what’s risky for them, or just not appropriate.

What I do includes the following:

  • I’m a Realtor, and I earn a living by helping nice folks to buy and sell homes.
  • I have a business based on referrals, repeat clients, and meeting new people from my websites, newsletter, and social media interactions.
  • I do populate my sites / blogs with articles about market conditions and trends in the areas where I sell homes. These articles and my monthly newsletter are part of my business marketing. You can read them for free.  And I love hearing from my readers.
  • When working with buyers (or sellers), I will spend a lot of time crunching numbers for them, doing research,  and then advising on what the probable buyer’s value will be. We strategize together. It is too important to shoot from the hip.
  • I love meeting new people and am open to taking on new clients at any given time.
  • I am very happy to answer general questions, especially when people are relocating, aren’t working with another Realtor, and trying to get their bearings. Sometimes people who are thinking of buying or selling in a year or two want to talk with me by phone or in person to go over the basics. I’m delighted to do that, and will offer anyone a free, no-obligation 1 hour consultation.

What I do not do (not an exhaustive list):

  • I do not tell people I don’t know, and am not working with, how much they should bid on a house or provide offer input.
  • I do not know every house on the market automatically. I have to research them and their local market conditions 99% of the time.
  • I do not meddle in other agents’ relationships with their buyers or sellers. If someone is about to offer on a house with Randy the Realtor, I am not supposed to be butting in with my opinion of value, their contract terms, or anything else. That’s against our National Association of Realtors’ code of ethics.
  • I do not want to get into the bad practice of advising people on specific real estate matters when they aren’t my clients. For me, that is risky, as it is “implied agency“. With implied agency, I get all of the risk and none of the pay.

If you are looking to find a Realtor who will take the time to crunch the numbers for you, whether you are buying or selling, I hope you will consider me on your short list of possible candidates. I do not work with everyone, but most of the time, if someone finds me from this site or any of my others, we’re already off to a good start.  Want more info on me? Check out the “about” section here. And have a look at my clients’ reviews of me on Zillow.




Silicon Valley Real Estate Tip: Pinpoint the Pricing, Beware Common Buyer Mistakes and Fears

Multiple offers have returned to many segments of the Silicon Valley real estate market, so it is more important than ever for motivated home buyers to pinpoint the pricing.

Most of the time, when there are multiple offers, the sales price goes higher than the list price.  Does that mean you would be over paying for the property? Possibly.  Or it could simply mean that the listing agent and home seller listed it strategically low – under its true market value.  In that case, the list price was never the expected sales price.  Unless you and your Realtor carefully analyze the comps (comparable listings, pendings and sales), you won’t have a sense of the probable buyer’s value for that house, townhouse or condo.

Common home buyer mistake

A very common mistake for new home buyers is to get as far as to analyze the comps and find what they think is market value…and then start subtracting for everything wrong with the house.  This is because they assume that the house is supposed to be perfect, or that they should not have to pay for any improvements or repairs after close of escrow.

The difficulty here is that most of the time, the house or townhome or condominium is not brand new.  The comparable sales were not new, either. A 40 or 50 year old property is not going to be in perfect condition.  Had you or any buyer seen all of the comps’ presale inspections and disclosures, you’d have learned that they also had a myriad of things wrong with them – mostly small but items to be repaired, replaced or improved nonetheless. (more…)