New Year’s Resolutions and Goals for Silicon Valley Real Estate Purchase, Sale, Remodeling

New Year's Real Estate ResolutionsAs 2021 comes to a close, it’s time to start looking forward to 2022. What are your real estate related goals and resolutions for this new year? Do you plan to buy, sell, or remodel your Silicon Valley home?  If so, this is a great time to sketch out your objectives and start early preparations to get the wheels in motion.

For South Bay home owners who want to make 2022 the year to sell and move, it’s wise to plan ahead so you can maximize your return on investment of time and money. A clean, well-prepared listing gives buyers greater confidence, and confident buyers tend to make higher offers! Take the time to do it right and you will reap the rewards of your effort.

Quick Tips for Planning to Sell a Home in 2022

  • Hire your real estate professional early in the process so that she or he may provide additional guidance from the beginning. It won’t cost more to hire early and you get more help. You may even save money by avoiding costly mistakes. A good agent will help you prepare your listing and determine a timeline to sell, whether you plan on selling this spring, next year, or next month.
  • Decluttering is one of the biggest task for home sellers and it can be where you get the most bang for your buck. Presenting a property to buyers in a way that feels like home, but not your home is a balancing act. Some homeowners choose to move out and stage their home to sell, which has been increasing in popularity and is certainly a successful way to declutter! Sellers occupying a listing should commit to depersonalizing the house and creating a marketable space. Some sellers will discover this is a much bigger undertaking than expected, and requires more time and energy than originally planned. This can be particularly challenging for long-term residents, sellers who are downsizing, and seniors. Talk to your Realtor before embarking, as some items may be helpful for staging and you don’t want to totally empty the house! Completely empty homes do not sell as well as those which are thoughtfully furnished.
  • Fix everything that is broken or in disrepair. No home is perfect, and buyers will not expect it to be (unless it’s brand new, of course), but everything you can repair is one less thing the buyers will worry about when writing an offer. That lightbulb that’s burnt out? Replace it now so that it doesn’t wind up in inspections or worrying buyers about the electrical system! Low cost repairs are often an excellent investment, but so can some more expensive fixes. I have had sellers who willingly go above and beyond preparing their home, from repiping to reroofing, see a clear return on investment for their efforts! However most sellers don’t want or need to do that much work. A bid with a price for the work from a reputable company is usually enough. Speak with your listing agent before tackling any major projects.
  • Clean everything: windows, window tracks, hardware, lamps, mossy patios, etc. A clean home is inviting and feels well cared for. Professional cleaning can make lightly used carpets look new again. Areas that easily show wear, like grout, caulk, and kitchen appliances, can give that “new home” feel when they are looking fresh!
  • Plan to have pre-sale inspections, but hire inspectors with your real estate salesperson.

Tips for Silicon Valley Home Buyers This Year

(more…)

What needs updating in an older home?

Image of stucco chipped away from window before replacement - what needs updating in an older home may include single pane windowsWhat needs updating if you are buying an older house, townhome, or condo? Most of the homes for sale in Silicon Valley are more than 25 years old, and with our already very restricted inventory, that makes the odds of purchasing an older house, townhouse or condo fairly high if you’re in the market to buy real estate here.

  • The older the property (think 100 years versus 60 or 70 years), the more likely it is that the home would benefit from expensive updates.
  • Typical home buyers find that an 18 year old remodel is in need of updating
  • See the list below of components that may need updating in an older home

If you are buying an historic home (more than 50 years of age is technically historic, but most consumers think of houses or units which are 100+ years old), the question of what needs updating will be significantly longer than if we are thinking of homes 25 to 60 or 70 years of age. The older the structure, the more you may need to consider safety improvements, or changes for better comfort or style.

Don’t despair – the older homes do tend to offer good locations, often there are beautifully established neighborhoods with large trees and bigger yards – which you may not see in newer developments.

How recent should that remodel be?

Something to note is that how often rooms or homes need to be refreshed is a matter of personal taste. If a kitchen is built well and done in a more timeless fashion, perhaps only the appliances or countertop or lighting may need a redo from time to time. But some home buyers will find that if a house was last remodeled 18 years ago, it’s time to do it again. If you’re selling, it’s important to appreciate that the 18 year old whole house remodel you had done may feel like yesterday to you, but it won’t to a large number of buyers.

Buyers, once you purchase a home, if you are like most home owners you won’t be doing a total remodel every 15 – 20 years. It’s too much expense, work, and inconvenience. My usual advice is to try to pick timeless elements that won’t go out of style (and put a more personal touch into things like paint or floor coverings, which are relatively inexpensive to change in many cases).

What needs updating in an “all original” home?

(more…)

Is Your Refrigerator Flooding?

Refrigerator with water dispenserRefrigerator floods are no laughing matter! Last month, my sister in-law’s fridge leaked causing the hardwood floors to pucker and swell, pushing cabinets and even lifting countertops! They’ve had to move out while their kitchen undergoes a massive overhaul. When my refrigerator line broke back in 2012, it was a similar story. The damage was extensive, and repairs were time consuming and expensive! So what can cause leaks and flooding and how can homeowners prevent it?

Causes for Refrigerator Floods and Leaks

Does your refrigerator have an automatic icemaker or a cold-water dispenser? If so, that plumbing is all capable of breaking. What if you don’t have a water line to your fridge? You can still have a leak. Humidity from the air and produce becomes ice or water when cooled. Modern refrigerators have been designed to automatically defrost: ice is melted, flows down a drain, and collects in a drip pan where it is heated (usually via waste heat from the refrigeration system) to evaporate the moisture. If the condensate is not taken care of properly it can become water damage!

Looking a little more closely, here are a few common causes:

(more…)

Over improving a house for the neighborhood

Beware over improving a house or yard for the neighborhoodOver improving a house for the neighborhood is not a terribly uncommon happening. If you’re going to live somewhere for 30 years, you may not be worried about return on investment or overspending for the neighborhood so much as enjoyment of your property.

How do you know if you’re spending too much on your house, condo or townhouse?  How much is too much?

Over improving a house – some basic concepts

There are no hard and fast rules, but overall, it is best to not have the most expensive home on the street or in the area, either from added square footage, extreme remodeling or  using materials that are too expensive for the neighborhood. It is even worse if yours is the most expensive real estate by a wide margin – the wider it is, the worse!

There are two real estate principles which are helpful to know about and understand. The smaller, less improved or generally lower priced homes will pull down the value of a better home (that is the principle of regression).  Conversely, if your house or condo is less expensive than nearby homes, those more prices properties will raise your home’s value (the principle of progression).  In terms of getting the most back on your improvements, then, it’s best to make sure you can catch the tail wind of better properties and get pulled up by them, rather than have your improvements’ value pulled down by lesser properties.

(more…)

What remodeling or replacing work requires permits and finals?

CAR seller disclosure: Seller Property QuestionairreIn this highly overheated seller’s real estate market in Silicon Valley, I’m suddenly seeing many more houses being sold with extensive remodeling and no permits and finalsnone!

Sellers can get away with this in a hot market, meaning that buyers have limited power to walk away from such a home because the inventory is scarce.  But what happens when things cool down to, say, a balanced market?  Suddenly those houses and condos with massive, non-permitted remodeling may lose a lot of their appeal, and  home sellers needing to move just then may pay the price in what pickier buyers will pony up for it.

Some home owners meekly claim to believe that they only need permits if they expand the original footprint of the house.  That’s just plain wrong, and most likely know better, too.

How can you learn about a home’s remodeling history?

First, then, how do you as a home buyer know the situation with the remodeling? Most of the time, San Jose area home sellers provide upfront disclosures and inspection reports, and the answer may be revealed there.

CAR vs PRDS paperwork

We have 2 sets of contracts, disclosure forms, etc. in use here: the Peninsula Regional Data Service, or PRDS, and the California Association of Realtors, or CAR.  Here’s one place where the PRDS forms are far better than the CAR forms.  The CAR seller disclosure, the Seller Property Questionairre, simply asks if the seller is aware of any alterations, modifications, remodeling, replacements or material repairs on the property.  Many sellers are not careful and just mark “no” to every answer, but this is an extremely important question! So buyers, ask yourselves, does everything in this home look unaltered from the time it was built?  Probably not.

The PRDS Supplemental Seller’s Checklist asked for detailed information on what was done, when, and whether permits and finals were obtained.  The first set of questions is for the time the current seller has owned the property, but then it’s asked again regarding prior ownership.  This is so much more thorough!

 

PRDS SCC alterations and permits

 

Many municipalities (towns, cities, counties) have online permit history.  It may not always be accurate, which I why I strongly advise home owners to keep a copy of everything, but more often than not it is correct – so it’s a good place for consumers to check.  In San Jose it’s a breeze with SJPermits.org.  These are things which buyers and sellers investigate, not real estate agents (nor do real estate licensees check the Megan’s Law Database, but consumers should). (more…)

What is a “cool air return”? What are “heat registers”?

Cool air returnWhat is a “cool air return“? Silicon Valley home hunters are very likely to encounter both heating vents (also called heat registers) and cool air returns in houses, townhouses and condos across the South Bay Area. They are found wherever a home enjoys central forced air heat with ducts and vents. (Some Victorian houses have forced air heat but it is only brought to perhaps one main room or area in the house!)

The purpose of a cool air return is to feed the furnace with a supply of cooler air to be heated ad then circulated back into the rest of the dwelling via the heat registers or vents. Often the cool air return is found near the floor. This makes sense when you consider that the hottest air will rise, leaving cooler air nearer the ground. Heat registers are often near the floor (and near a window), but if the home is on a slab foundation and has forced air heat, the vent will be on the ceiling.

How can I tell the difference between the cool air return and a heat register or vent?

Generally speaking, the vents for warm air are long and narrow, and the cool air return is much larger and boxier in shape.  Below please find an image of heating vents.

Heating ventsThe first example of a heating vent is probably the most typical you’ll find in Silicon Valley: it’s metal, kind of a dark gray color.  Older ones (homes from the 50s) have an even narrower shape but still tend to be metal, sometimes painted dark brown.

The next example is usually found where the property has hardwood floors.  The idea is to make the vent blend in and be less noticeable. Naturally, the wooden vents come in a variety of colors to match the many types of woods that might be found in a residence.

By and large, cool air returns and heat registers are pretty ugly. The wooden vents are a nice step above the usual offerings.  Several companies sell nicer cool air returns and heat registers or vents, though. So if you are remodeling and want to get away from that “tract housing feel”, a few custom touches might be just the ticket for a more unique feeling home. (more…)

Preparing Your Silicon Valley Home to Sell: What Will It Cost?

Planning and Budgeting to Sell Your Silicon Valley Home

monopoly housePreparing your San Jose area home to sell should be done enough in advance of when you want to have your home go on the market that any unplanned repairs can be completed first (without a lot of time pressures) so that you net the most money possible from the sale. It’s hard to know how much time to allow for the unknown, but my suggestion is to provide yourself a month or two, if possible. Three is even better.  If you want to sell this upcoming spring, it’s smart to get started on your plan now.

In Santa Clara County, we have very mild winters and it’s not usually difficult to get most repairs & remodeling done even in winter (unless they are “outside” repairs and we’re in the middle of a rare El Nino year).  If you start now, you should have no trouble finding inspectors (presale inspections are more than just a good idea!)  and contractors. If you wait ’til March, you may not be on the schedule of your own choosing.

So where to start? What to budget?

dollar-billIn my experience, most Silicon Valley homes that have been lived in for many years often have 1 – 2 % of the value of the home needed in repairs, landscape freshening and staging prior to going on the market. The longer you’ve been in the home without doing periodic inspections for termites and other pests, on the roof or structure of the home, the more likely that number will creep upwards. If your home is young and you’ve been there a short while, chances are good that this doesn’t apply to you. (more…)