Why does it matter if the bedroom windows are small or high?

Younger home with large bedroom window, low to the ground

Younger home with large bedroom window, low to the ground

If you are buying or selling an older ranch style house or historic home in Silicon Valley, there’s a good chance that original bedroom windows may be smaller or higher than your home inspector might like.  What is the big deal with the height or size of the windows?  The inspection report may mention ingress and egress.

On this site and others of ours, we bring up health and safety topics from time to time. For example, we shared info on unsafe electrical panels here. In the case of fire or other emergency, children and adults may need to get out and rescue personnel may need to get in. If bedroom windows are poorly configurated, the room could end up being a death trap.

For fire safety, it’s important that:

  • bedroom windows be an escape route for persons in the home (egress) – for this, they must be low enough to the ground and big enough so that children and adults can both get out in case of an emergency
  • emergency responders such as fire fighters, with their large backpacks on their backs, can get in through the same openings (ingress)

When windows are too high, kids, and perhaps adults, cannot get out through them.  And no matter how low or high, if the windows are too small, emergency personnel cannot enter through them.

Bedroom windows and safety: how big and how low do the windows need to be?

There are varied requirements, and exceptions, depending on whether the home is new construction or a remodel. Additionally, there are different rules for basements and 2nd story bedroom windows. Cities and towns each have their own codes, too.  Your best bet is to check with your particular town or city to see what you must do if remodeling or replacing your windows.

In Los Gatos, ground floor windows must be

  • no more than 44″ off the ground
  • at least 20″ wide
  • at least 24″ tall
  • There are additional requirements, though – please see the link at the bottom of this article to view the details.

San Jose’s requirements are similar.

City of San Jose: Window Replacement Requirements

All sleeping rooms and basements – Must meet these specifications:
– Minimum 5.7 square feet opening*
– Minimum height of 24 inches
– Minimum width of 20 inches
– Maximum height to bottom of clear opening of 44 inches
* In order to meet the required 5.7 square-foot opening, either the width or height or both must
exceed the minimum dimensions shown. If bottom of clear opening is le

When remodeling your home and switching from single pane to dual pane windows, many people will be tempted to use the same sized windows with the new replacement set in order to save money, and in many areas, skip the need for permits and finals by not disturbing the stucco.  But rather than target the least expensive way to upgrade your windows, I’d like to suggest making safety a priority.  Upgrade not just your home’s energy efficiency, but its safety too.

 

Ranch style house with original casement windows

Ranch style house with original casement windows – impossible for ingress by emergency personnel.

 

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Tips for selling your home in an El Niño year

House for sale on a rainy day - Selling your home in an El Nino yearSelling your home in an El Niño year? It’s not impossible, but you may want to do things a little differently!

Home buyers need to buy no matter what the weather is like, and the most serious ones are not put off but inclement weather. The trick is to maximize your sales price and minimize inconvenience and risk to everyone involved.  To that end, here are a few tips from my professional experience.  The rainy season will likely go through March or April, with the spring months being the peak selling season most years.

First, safety tips for selling your home in an El Niño year:

  1. Safety tips for selling your home in an El Niño year: if home buyers come in soaking wet, it’s good to have a non-slip mat (as opposed to a towel on slippery tile) for them to step onto with their wet shoes so they don’t fall and get hurt.  If there’s a back door that they might use to view the yard, have a non-slip mat there too.
    • Also, make sure that there are no obstructions in getting to the house, such as cars in the driveway (if it’s pouring, they want the shortest walk possible), garden hoses where someone may want or need to step over them, toys, or anything that could be a trip hazard or a bad surprise to the face, such as low hanging bushes or trees that reach over the walkway. When it’s raining, sometimes people walk with their heads down and aren’t paying as much attention to their surroundings.
  2. Related to the first point, if you would like them to remove shoes or put on shoe covers / booties, provide a place to sit so that they don’t get injured in the process of respecting your wishes.  Some home buyers will be wearing laced shoes or boots.  Others may be older or have balance problems.  Do not expect them to be able to stand on one foot while trying to get the covers on.  If you have a covered front porch, a bench there is fine – just have the shoe covers available there too.
  3. Please consider adding an umbrella stand, or a place for umbrellas, on the front porch or the entry hall so that your prospective home buyers are not obligated to carry a wet one through your home.

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Doesn’t the listing agent have to show it to me?

Telephone Photo with dialogue between a caller and listing agent - Doesn't the listing agent have to show it to meIf a buyer wants to view a property, does the listing agent have to show it to him or her outside of regular open houses? The answer might surprise you!  Here’s a quick overview:

  • The listing agent and seller decide about showings that the listing agent is expected to do. Does the listing agent have to show it privately, or during open houses, or only on one weekend before offers are reviewed?
  • The listing agent will make showings possible for buyer’s agents with instructions on scheduling in the comments that members of the MLS can read.
  • In many cases, the real estate licensee working with the home seller will hold the property open for the public on the weekend and sometimes mid-week as well. It may or may not be the listing agent holding it open.
    • For safety reasons, many listing agents will not have private showings with buyers whom they don’t know and who aren’t clients of theirs. Realtors are harmed every year in the line of duty.
    • For agency reasons, a listing agent who plans to only represent the seller may not want to have an appointment with a buyer who plans to write the offer with someone else.
    • There are many other reasons why the listing agent will not personally show the home for sale outside of open house times, but may be able to arrange for the buyers to see it with another agent.

When does the listing agent have to show it?

The most important thing for buyers to understand is that the accessibility of the home for viewings depends upon the agreement, verbally or in writing, between the owner of the property and the agent/brokerage hired to market, negotiate, and sell the real estate as to whether or not the seller’s agent is obligated to show it privately.

It’s not an “on demand” situation where an interested buyer can insist on seeing the property as desired. To make an absurd point, no one would say “doesn’t the listing agent have to show it to me at 10 p.m.?” Without any thought, we know that’s unreasonable.
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Exercise caution when viewing or showing homes for sale

Potential Danger sticker with house and keys - exercise caution when showing homesReal estate professionals are becoming increasingly aware of the need to exercise caution in their line of work. This is true for both buyer’s agents and seller’s agents. It is good for our Silicon Valley buyers and sellers to be aware of some of these issues, since they could also be at risk.

Quick tips on how to exercise caution:

  1. Meet people you know, or for whom you are able to validate. (With real estate licensees, you can usually find their phone number and email on their company website.)
  2. Don’t presume that because a house is for sale, it’s empty (don’t peer into the windows or walk into the backyard). View the home through the proper channels, either by appointment or during an open house.
  3. Buyers should not be allowed to enter the home without their agent, who is to follow the instructions on the MLS. Some buyers may knock on the door and ask to see it. The answer should be no. It is not safe to let them in.
  4. When hunting for the home you’re trying to see, please be careful, particularly out in the country or in the mountains, where homes are not always well marked. I had two scary episodes in those types of areas, both involving my being on the wrong driveway.
  5. It’s wise to exercise caution when entering a home, even if you have an appointment and your agent is with you.  Sometimes communication isn’t great between residents, and it’s possible to surprise someone who’s not expecting you.

 

Agent colleagues: don’t have your first meeting with a stranger at a home for sale, especially if it’s vacant. (This doesn’t apply to referrals from your past clients, friends, etc., where that person is already vetted.) It is best for consumers and Realtors to initially meet in a public place, such as the realty office or a coffee house, and for others to know where you are during that meeting. Even better, get a pre-approval letter and speak with the lender to make sure the person is legit.

Buyers – exercise caution for your own sake, and for the residents of the home

For buyers who see signs on properties: do not presume that the house is empty and that you can peer into windows or walk around into the back yard of the house. (I have seen people do this and it is creepy at best.)  You don’t know the situation – the house could be for sale but not viewable, it could be occupied.  Some homes are offered with the instructions that the home can only be seen once an offer is accepted (“write offer subject to inspection”).

The home could be tenant occupied.  A resident could be ill.  Children could be in the house and if they look up and see a stranger at the window it will scare them badly. Don’t do it.  (Most buyers won’t do this, but I have seen it often enough that it warrants saying.)

If you need more information, call your own agent to pull it up on the MLS and give you the info you seek.  If you aren’t working with a Realtor, call the listing agent. In all cases, don’t go onto the property except to grab a flier from the box on the sign post. It’s imperative to exercise caution for not just your sake, but everyone’s.

Sellers – be careful for your own safety

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Mulches and Fire Danger

Tanbark or mulch in front of a San Jose home

Tanbark wood mulch separated by a dry creek bed, cement path, & brick retaining wall in a low-water San Jose yard.

May Day is a celebration of spring, but “April showers” were few and far between and it’s already starting to feel like summer! With another record-breaking hot year and the Bay Area in severe to extreme drought conditions homeowners concerned about water use and fire prevention are turning to gardening and landscaping for the solution. But a word of warning! Since updating my surprisingly popular post on mulch vs tanbark and the risk of termite infestation, I came across another reason to be cautious when applying it to your perimeter: fire.

Organic Mulches and Fire Hazard

Mulch can work wonders in a garden – it helps soil retain moisture, protects roots, reduces weeds, insulates the ground, can add nutrients and enrich the earth, adds visual appeal, and it’s affordable. It’s on every guide for landscaping water conservation (including Valley Water’s recommendations and San Jose Water’s tips)! Do a search and you’ll find it comes in a broad variety of materials. These can be divided into two groups: organic and inorganic. And organic matter can burn.

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension has published their (easy to read) findings from a study comparing the combustibility of various organic landscape mulches. I recommend reading the booklet, but here are some of the key points I found most interesting: (more…)

Stairs, balusters, and guard rails

Buying or selling a Silicon Valley home with stairs? The building code has a lot to say about what is and what isn’t legal or ideal. Older homes may have staircases or rails which don’t match today’s code, but were acceptable when they were constructed (they are legal!).  Newer homes are built to a higher standard, and are safer for that reason. Sometimes, the issue isn’t how they were built, but rather that home owners personalize their stairs or guard rails in a way which is unsafe (and that’s not legal).

What are some of the things you want to look for in a staircase?

Contemporary staircase with narrower baluster spacing

Contemporary staircase with narrower baluster spacing on the guard rail

There are many elements that the code addresses, such as

  • when you can have just one hand rail and when you need one on both sides of the stairs
  • what the riser height needs to be (whether it is a tall or shallow step)
  • the width of the hand rail, where it’s placed, how much clearance it has (so you can wrap your hand around it)
  • how the hand rail should terminate
  • how long or deep the step should be
  • the amount of head room needed
  • different requirements for exit routes, indoor and outdoor stairs
  • and many more – you can check out the list here on the Inspectapedia website

Guard rails and balusters

Today I want to focus on the staircase railing and guard rail, specifically the distance between the balusters (the balusters are the vertical rails under the hand rail).

The guard rail is what keeps you from falling off the staircase on the open side, if there is one. The hand rail is the part you hold onto as you ascend or descend the stairs.

This first photo shows a newer staircase with a wooden hand rail and wrought iron balusters which include decorative adornments. Notice how close they are, and how impossible it would be for the little dog in the image to somehow fall through the gaps between the balusters. It is a very effective guard rail, even for the smallest member of the family!

The building code today, for new construction and staircase remodels, insists that the gap between the balusters be no more than 4 inches to create a safe guard rail. This particular home’s staircase lines up with that standard perfectly.

Older properties, built in the 60s or 70s, may have stair cases with larger gaps between the balusters, such as this:

 

Stair rail wide spacing

Stair rail wide spacing

 

The image above represents the spacing sometimes seen in older properties. It is an effective guard rail for adults and larger children, but may not be safe for babies, toddlers, and small children. Parents of toddlers may want to get some sort of safety mesh or other barrier to make sure their kids are safe on stairs with such a big distance (more like 6″ rather than 4″). There are many child safety products available to address this issue.

And not too long ago, I saw a staircase that was modified in a scary way – nearly all of the balusters had been removed!

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Getting a fumigation? You may want security with that.

Security guards used to be required on site when a home was fumigated in California, but that has not been the case since the 90s.  Seems that some clever bad guys have decided, in Southern California, that this makes a home “easy pickings” (apparently gas masks are not that hard to come by).  Sadly, crime often comes in waves and ideas catch on, so it would be wise for us to be prepared to have this happen here.  The solution is simple: bring back paid security, or stay on site yourself (rent or borrow a motor home, camper etc.)

Check out the news video from Los Angeles’ KABC TV station and see if you don’t agree that having someone there with watchful eyes isn’t a good idea.

 

 

 

 

Safely Showing Your Home

Selling your home? Make sure you do it as safely as possible!

If you have listed your Silicon Valley home for sale with a real estate agent or broker, most likely you will have an electronic lockbox on your property and there also will be clear “showing instructions” on the multiple listing service or MLS.  Between these two, it should be plain how and when your home may be shown (whatever you and your Realtor agree upon). The instructions, which include how to schedule the showing, will be known only to the real estate salespeople who are members of the MLS.

You should never, ever, have people simply showing up at your front door and asking to be let in without an appointment.  You can, and probably should, say no to anyone who does this, because it’s an undue risk to just allow them access to your house.  (more…)

Water Heater Strapping for Earthquake Safety

Today I was showing homes in Santa Clara to my buyers and saw one home with very “funky” (non compliant) strapping around the hot water heater. It was weird enough that I took a photo!

 

Unusual here – and confused – is the slanted lower strap that is in the top half as well as the bottom half of the water heater and goes around the ducting. Really bizarre!

What water heater strapping DOES require is a hefty strap in the top third and another in the bottom third of the water heater. Blocking may be required too. To see all of the requirements per the State of California, see the online directions for strapping water heaters (a how-to).

Water Heater Strapping Collage