Crawlspace access: What is it? Where is it? Why does it matter?

crawlspace access outside First time home buyers may have heard the word crawlspace (or crawl space) but not had a good idea of what it refers to – especially if they have only lived in houses built on slab foundations. So let’s touch on it today.

What and the Where?

When homes are built on a raised foundation, also called a perimeter foundation, rather than slab foundation, there’s space between the dirt under the house and the house itself – often 3′ (but not always), sometimes more.  Unless the structure is built on a hillside, there won’t be enough height to walk around in that space, hence the need to crawl in the crawlspace.

Most of the time, access to this space is indoors and specifically on the floor of a closet, where there appears to be a flat opening of about 3′ by 3′, sometimes smaller.  This can make entry tight.  At other times. the access is via the outside, as with the photo at the left (more likely the case in properties built before 1950 in Silicon Valley than in newer properties.)

Here it’s a lot easier for homeowners, inspectors and repair people to enter – but also easier for animals and pests, such as rats, to make their way in.  Care must be taken, as with the vent screens, to keep unwanted visitors out!

Crawlspace Video

Auditory learner? Or TLDR, and just want a quick-take? Watch this 1min 46 second video to get the summary:

Monitoring the crawlspace

If your home has a crawlspace, you will want to monitor it. (more…)

Questions from home buyers before writing an offer

Business woman on the phone - Questions from home buyers - sizing them up Listing agents sometimes receive emails or calls from buyers’ agents with questions from home buyers before writing an offer. (This isn’t usually done by text.) Depending on how it’s handed or worded, this could help the buyers or hurt them.

A few years ago, I wrote an article on this blog about the real estate questions that consumers ask and the relationship between them and the ultimate outcome.  Today we’ll again consider questions, but instead those which are posed to the listing agent by home buyers or their Realtor before an offer is drafted.

One way to think of it is this: when the questions are submitted, the listing agent will be sizing up those buyers and their agents. What kind of impression should a buyer try to make?

Getting noticed in a good way helps: questions from home buyers can be good

In the days or week prior to offer submission, the better Silicon Valley buyer’s agents will make sure that they show up on the listing agent’s radar (surprises are not usually appreciated, so getting a contract out of the blue without a phone call or email prior is a mistake which is likely to make that offer a little less likely to be the winning one if there are multiple bids).

This is a chance to ask some questions and also to let the seller’s agent know that there is progress on the buyers’ side.

Even if there aren’t any questions per se, it’s a good idea for serious buyers to have their real estate agent “check in” and express interest early on. This is helpful in cases where there’s a pre-emptive offer (you might still get a chance) but also with multiple offers since that agent who’s said hello will look more professional and better to work with. It can be a good first impression.

Some agents consider this contact “massaging the relationship” to establish that the buyer’s agent is knowledgeable, professional, pleasant, and would behave well in escrow.

There are many questions to ask when buying a house, but many of them will be answered by reviewing the disclosure package, so proceed carefully and try to avoid asking questions that are answered in the package.

Good questions from home buyers before writing an offer

Helpful questions from home buyers include these:

Historic Homes, Willow Glen, Foundations and Red Flags

“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.

Willow Glen Crumbling Foundation Red FlagsBack 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.

Silicon Valley home sellers: are your disclosures as complete as they should be?

Questions that the disclosures raiseWhen in doubt, disclose” is the advice that real estate and legal professionals use as a guiding principal in home sales.  And yet many sellers forget or miss things that should be told to the buyer, and some listing agents are a bit sloppy in reviewing their clients’ disclosure paperwork.  It is not uncommon to see questions unanswered or only partially answered.  The home owner may presume that if the disclosure paperwork was done wrong, the Realtor hired to help market and sell the home will catch it.  Would that it were so, but too often, that is not the case.

To avoid problems later, whether small or big, it is best to be thorough and careful while making your disclosure.

Small problems are created by seller (and listing broker) omissions when the paperwork gets kicked back for clarification or to complete the needed response.  Bigger problems are forged when a sale is nearly closed and a new disclosure is made – introducing a brand new 3 day “right of rescission” for the home buyer.  Worse yet is something substantial which is only brought to light after the close of escrow.  At that point, it’s not an inconvenience, it risks being costly and time consuming to resolve it.

The State of California requires that the Transfer Disclosure Statement or TDS be filled out in most realty transactions.  The intention of the form is to help you, the property owner, to disclose anything materially impacting value or desirability.  That’s a tall order to fill, so other forms have been created to supplement the TDS, which has pretty much become Step #1 for disclosing defects and other issues to buyers.

What kind of things are often skipped in the real estate disclosure paperwork?

On the TDS, a very common error involves the question as to whether the property has any shared features with other properties.  Almost always, this answer is “yes” because there’s a fence sitting on a property line (or in the case of a condo, a common wall or at least common HOA facilities).  Some sellers think that if they respond yes to anything, it’s a problem, so just check no, no, no.  And many of the agents working with them don’t catch it.

Another common mistake is to answer “yes” but not explain further.  Often a question will broach a broad subject.  In the question about shared features, the question specifies walls, fences, and driveways – so if the owner marks yes, it needs to be clear which of these applies, or if it’s something else.

There are two other disclosures that sellers complete, the Seller Property Questionnaire (SPQ on the CAR forms, used in most of the San Jose area) and the Supplemental Seller’s Checklist (SSC on the PRDS set of forms, which is commonly used in Silicon Valley between Los Gatos and San Bruno).  Both ask about modifications to the property (PRDS is far more thorough on that subject).  Recently I showed a home that was almost completely remodeled in recent years, but when asked if the home had been modified in any way, the seller answered “no”.  And the listing agent did not catch it.

Why an incomplete TDS is bad for seller

If a Transfer Disclosure Dtatement or TDS isn’t completed, the buyer gets an automated 3 day right of rescission when it is completed and delivered. Miss a box or an explanation? You’re at risk, Mr. or Ms. Seller, of giving the buyer(s) a new 3 day contingency.
Beware of under-disclosing.  If you have had 6 repairs on a leaking deck over 6 years and it seems to leak after each repair, you don’t want to say simply that “the deck was leaking but repaired”.  The new owners will find out, eventually, that you had what appeared to be an unfixable problem.  It will not go down well.

It’s important for the home owner to really take time in thoroughly filling out this paperwork.  Non-disclosure, or under-disclosure, by sellers to buyers is the #1 reason for real estate lawsuits.

It is also extremely important for home buyers to thoroughly review the disclosure paperwork and to look for any hints of further issues or red flags.  Often the seller makes mistakes quite unintentionally due to rushing or sloppiness.  But you do want to catch it if that happens.  Ask questions.  Look at the property carefully – you may see something that the listing agent and home seller missed completely.  Investigate.


For more information, please also read:

What Do You Need to Know About Disclosures when Buying or Selling a Home in California?

Why do real estate agents do a visual inspection of the properties they sell?

What remodeling or replacing work requires permits and finals?

Why Is There So Much Paperwork When Buying or Selling a Home in Silicon Valley?




Why are the hardwood floors cupping?

Cupped Hardwood Floors

Cupped Hardwood Floors

In Almaden, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga and anywhere near hills in Silicon Valley, there are homes with cupped hardwood floors.  Cupping is when the sides of the plants curl upward a little.  If you view cupped floors in lighting at an angle, the “lines” between the pieces of wood are more prominent, as shown in the photo to the right. Should you walk across them barefoot, you will feel the elevated sides.  When it is severe, there are very distinct ridges.

What causes cupping?  It can be caused by installing hardwood that hasn’t cured or sat in the home for a few days first.  But often that’s not the issue.  Most of the time, it seems to result from water in the crawl space below. As the moisture evaporates, it moves up through the home and through the hardwood flooring.

This doesn’t happen everywhere, but is most common in hillside locations, places that are flat but have hills nearby (as water can travel underground and then pop up, potentially under your house), locations with high water tables (such as Willow Glen, many areas of Almaden such as Almaden Springs, or Los Gatos), or properties where the grading is wrong and water gets pulled toward the home instead of away from it. Although in many parts of the U.S. the soil is sandy and the water drains through, in most of Santa Clara County, we have expansive clay soils.  With clay it’s harder for the water to soak through, but also when the soil gets wet it, it expands and pushes on the foundation and anything else in its way.

Are your floors beginning to cup?  If so, it’s a red flag to pay attention and find the cause of the cupping before the damage is permanent, or much harder to fix.  Check your crawl space for dampness and efflorescence (this requires going all the way into the crawl space).  If you aren’t able or don’t want to go into the crawl, make sure to hire someone competent to evaluate the situation.  Having a damp crawl space is not good (and if you find it in summer after a 3 year drought you do have an issue!).  I would suggest getting an ASHI or CREIA certified home inspector to check it out and advise you on the cause of the cupping and what to do to remediate it.  It may be that a hardwood flooring professional would also address this very well – I cannot speak to that but it may also be worth considering.




Closed curtains or blinds in an open house? What is the seller trying to hide?

Window with plantation shuttersRecently I showed a Silicon Valley home during a regular weekend open house.  Almost every single one of the plantation shutter blinds were closed tightly.  That made the house appear dark on a bright, sunny, summer day.  What was the point?

It was a “red flag” that there was something to hide.  In fact, there were several somethings to hide.

  • Walking outside, I noticed that while there were a few newer, dual pane windows, many more appeared to be decades old.
  • Next I noticed that some of the older windows appeared unclear or foggy.  Many seemed to have seal failure.
  • Finally, from inside the house, my client and I opened several of the blinds and discovered that the view from a number of windows was pretty unattractive.

Something seem wrong?  That’s a clue that you might want to investigate further.

One of the reasons that home buyers in the San Jose area will want to hire a buyer’s agent (and not simply work with the listing agent of a property they like) is to help you to identify any red flags, any potential issues, problems or risks.  Because we full time Realtors are in and out of homes, attend inspections, office meetings (where we share information) and do classes to keep up our knowledge and skills, we’re in a better position to help both sellers and buyers avoid risky problems.

Related reading:
Creating pleasant window views

What to Expect in a Cambrian Starter Home?

If you are a first time home buyer and you’ve zeroed in on the Cambrian or Cambrian Park area of San Jose as where you’d like to live, what should you expect?  Assuming that you are purchasing a house (not a condo or townhome), there are some basics you’ll want to know.

Cambrian & Cambrian Park and Zip Codes

First, it’s helpful to understand that most of Cambrian is in the 95124 area, which in general is a little older & more expensive than 95118.  You may be wondering if that’s good or bad.  It’s mixed.  In general, for the same money you’ll get a little more home in 95118 (a larger house, more square footage) but because of the age, you’re also more likely to have the “popcorn ceilings” which were more in style in the early 1970s.   Most of 95118 is also in the San Jose Unified School District, as opposed to most of 95124’s Union School District or Cambrian School District.  All are good but do your research: you may prefer one area over another.  Some of it may depend upon which way you’re commuting, too. Overall,  95118 is closer to downtown San Jose (and Almaden Expressway) and 95124 is closer to 85 going north to destinations such as Cupertino and Sunnyvale and Mountain View.

Both 95118 and 95124 are home to some really upscale neighborhoods that don’t fit the cookie cutter description that follows for the generic sold numbers.  The 95124 area includes both the beautiful “Vista Loop” area which enjoys views and feels like either Los Gatos or Almaden as well as the Alta Vista and original Cambrian Village areas which are bigger homes or lots or both.  The 95118 area offers the Almaden Vineyard neighborhood with beautiful newer homes built around a 5 acre, historic park (and adjacent to the fabulous new San Jose Vineland Library.)  Both areas have some of the same builders too, such as Garcia and Ponderosa, so in some cases you can find the same house but for a different price due to the exact location within Cambrian.

Recent Solds and Numbers by Zip Code

Just now I ran the solds over the last 3 months for “Area 14” (our MLS designated area for Cambrian) by zip code 95124 and by 95118. (There is a very tiny sliver of 95008 but too small to be helpful for our purposes.)  Here’s a quick look at what you can get for your money in Cambrian as of the summer of 2010:

95124 – 81 homes sold/closed, 68 “regular sales”, 8 short sales, 5 bank owned homes (total “distressed sales” accounted for 16% of the closed escrows).  Average sales price was about $660,000 (av list price appx $655,000), average home size 1594 square feet and average lot size 6909 SF.  Average price per square foot $419.

95118 – 60 homes sold/closed, 45 “regular sales”, 10 short sales, 5 bank owned home sales (total “distressed sales” were 25% of the closed sales).  Average sales price was approximately $573,000 and average list price was about $572,000.  Average home size 1494 square feet and average lot size 6620 SF.  Average price per square foot $393.