Landscaping with tanbark or mulch? Use caution!

Some Silicon Valley homeowners spruce up their yards and gardens in spring and summer with tanbark or mulch. While this is a very common practice, and often encouraged as a drought-friendly gardening option, it can be a bad idea if it is too close to the structure, especially the home’s foundation.

Tanbark is simply small bits of wood, and most common mulch is often no more than shredded wood. Why is that bad? Wood is food for termites and piles of tanbark or mulch can invite and hide them as well!

 

Tanbark or Mulch?

Beware Tanbark or Mulch by the foundation!Mulch is the more widely used term and it can cover a broad scope of materials, but the most common type you will find in stores (and in Bay Area gardens) is the woodchip mulch. If you ask for mulch at a hardware store, this is most likely what they will show you. In the local vernacular, we often refer to mulch as the fine, thin, or decomposed stuff – we have a different name for the larger bark and wood chips.

I learned only recently that tanbark is something of a local term that people from other parts of the state or country may not be familiar with. Here in the Bay Area we call the stuff you commonly see underfoot at playgrounds or piled thick on the planted berms around a shopping mall parking lot by the name of tanbark. Some people may reserve the name for the large chunky bark chips while others will call just about any wood chip substrate by that name. So tanbark is, in fact, a mulch.

Homeowners and sellers wanting their home to make a good first impression are often tempted to apply mulch or tanbark in otherwise bare patches around their yard, but you can wind up with far bigger (and more costly) problems if it’s too close to the foundation!

What Was That About Termites & tanbark or mulch?

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Creating a cheerful, sunny, welcoming environment for selling a Silicon Valley home

House with landscaping lights - Creating a cheerful, sunny, welcoming environment.Silicon Valley home buyers often state that they want to purchase a house, townhouse or condo which provides a welcoming environment and includes these elements:

  • uncluttered and clean
  • plenty of natural light, plenty of interior lamps and landscaping lights
  • spacious, not cramped
  • light, bright & airy – lots of natural sunlight inside
  • has a good floor plan, including open elements
  • includes enough storage space
  • well cared for (ideally, unless buying distressed)

In a nutshell, buyers want sunny, open, clean, spacious feeling spaces – those make up a welcoming environment.

Rarely do they request cozy (implies small) or private (suggests flag lot or large hedges in the front, blocking view of the street), though most love a private back yard and some buyers really do want privacy in front as well as back (hence the great appeal to those who prefer an Eichler or other mid-century modern style house).  To get you the most money for your real estate sale, though, we don’t want to appeal to the few buyers who want one style; instead, to maximize your return we need to aim the staging at what the majority of buyers (or the most probable buyer for your property) will want.

Creating the welcoming environment

How can you transform the home you live in to the house or condo you’re selling so that it appeals to these majority of buyers who want “sunny, open, and uncluttered” interiors and un-scary houses or homes?  Here are a few quick tips:
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Should You Buy or Sell Your Silicon Valley Home “As Is”?

For Sale As-IsWhat is an As Is Sale?

Many Silicon Valley home sellers want to sell their homes “as is” (or “as-is”). And most homes in today’s market are. But what does that mean, exactly?

Does it mean that the seller has made no repairs or renovations before listing the home? Or that they do not have to disclose if something is broken to a potential buyer? No.

As is means that the home will be conveyed to the buyer at the end of the transaction in the same general condition it was in on the day that the buyers wrote the offer. If the roof has leaks, the crawl space is full of termites, and the appliances do not work, that is how it will be on the day escrow closes.

What it means is that the seller cannot let the property condition deteriorate during the course of the escrow.

The seller must continue to maintain the home and land in the same general condition. So if the lawn was green and well trimmed, the seller cannot suddenly let the grass die and neglect to mow it. If a baseball breaks a window after the buyer and seller have entered into contract, the seller must repair it. The condition will not have to be better, but it should not be worse than it was on the day the buyer and seller agreed on the price and terms of the sale.

While the contracts most agents use in Santa Clara County and nearby today have “as is” as the default sales agreement, that doesn’t mean all sales are as is.

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Should You Move Out Before You Sell?

Should You Move Out or Vacate Before You Sell?A decade ago, it was the norm for Silicon Valley homeowners to occupy the home they were selling – today a majority of homes are being sold unoccupied or vacant. Why is that? And should you move out before you sell?

A few years ago, around the mid- to late-2010s, we began to see an increasing number of vacant and professionally staged properties for sale. Last year, most sellers simply felt safer moving out before selling due to the pandemic. Today that continues to be the case.

Over time, the reasons for homeowners to move out before marketing a primary residence have increased. While sellers can certainly still occupy a home on the market and sell it successfully, it’s not our recommendation for most people and here’s why.

Seller Stress

First things first, if you are able to move out before you sell it can reduce a lot of stress. And this has almost always been the case.

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How Important are Parking Spaces and Garages in Silicon Valley?

Cambrian Park Home, built by LeepMost homes in Silicon Valley come with some type of parking space for cars beyond street parking.  Home buyers want to know that there will be a place for their vehicles (and often their “stuff” too).   Garages and parking are sometimes under-appreciated aspects of evaluating real estate, and sometimes there are parking surprises after the close of escrow, so it will be the focus of today’s topic.

Parking and resale value

Because a real estate purchase is a big ticket item, it is always important to consider the ability to sell it later.  (Always buy with selling in mind!)  Will the property you have or are considering buying be hard to sell  in the future if it is not a red-hot sellers market?  Parking can greatly impact “resale value and overall desirability to a large portion of consumers, who may look at that space as protection for a beloved vehicle, a safety feature, a future hobby room, or many other possibilities.

If you are evaluating a Common Interest Development (CID) condominium, townhouse, or planned unit development home with private roads and parking, there will be some special concerns that may be a little different than if you were purchasing a single family home. We’ll consider both.

General principle:  In all types of housing in the San Jose area, usually the most highly desired type of parking arrangement is an attached garage with direct access into the home and with side by side parking provided (not tandem).  This is not true in all cases but is generally true.  You would not find home buyers interested in historic homes (Victorian, Spanish, Craftsman) wanting a prominent two car garage at the front of the house, commanding the lion’s share of the view from the street. (So don’t expect to see that in Japantown, Naglee Park, or the the Rose Garden areas of San Jose.) But for the typical buyer of the more common ranch style house, the attached garage is expected and appreciated, and if it’s missing it may be a challenge to sell the property later because the property will be appealing to a smaller pool of buyers.

Regarding direct access: garages are not allowed to have a door entering into a bedroom. This is for safety reasons since bedrooms are where residents are most vulnerable, and garages are an area of increased safety risk.
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Preparing Your Silicon Valley Home to Sell and Return on Investment

If you are preparing your Silicon Valley to sell, you may have concerns about both time and money. You probably don’t want to spend a year getting ready, but you do want to make the appropriate changes which will bring a good return on investment. Some home owners don’t understand the connection between the home’s condition and ultimate sale price – their expectations may be a little off.

Sometimes when I meet prospective clients who are thinking of selling their home, I hear immediately, “we only want to sell As Is” and “we don’t want to have to re-carpet, re-paint, etc.”.  In the next breath, they tell me, “and we want top dollar for our house”.  Those two are often mutually exclusive desires – that is, getting one usually means you won’t get the other.  But not always, and I’ll show you how to increase the odds of doing both.

Preparing your Silicon Valley home to sell and return on investmentTo get top dollar, a Silicon Valley home for sale must appear to be the best value for the money and attract the most qualified buyers who step forward with a strong offer.  Buyers will pay more IF they feel that your home is a better value.

There are a number of things which need to be done for that to occur, but one of the most important has to do with the condition and appearance of the property. Confident buyers write stronger offers than buyers who are concerned about the house or condominium and potentially unknown risks. (Buyers are thinking “risk, risk, risk” and “beware of hidden costs”!) Home buying is both a business decision as well as an emotional decision.  To get top dollar, your home has to make sense and appeal to buyers on both levels, and we’ll discuss both in this post.

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How to quickly get your Silicon Valley home ready to sell

Tips to Sell FastIf for some reason you find yourself in a very big hurry to get your Silicon Valley home on the market, you may not know where to begin or how to get it done.  Today I’ll give you a quick list of the best things to do, and in order, too!

First, hire a great, full time real estate professional.  This Realtor or other sales person will be your partner from the beginning and can give you insight and advice on the best place to spend your time and money for the best return on investment – and which items are the most important in your house or condo’s particular case, given the time restrictions. Your Realtor can also help you with time lines, managing pre-sale inspections (worst case, they can happen after your home is on the MLS), etc.  Sometimes home owners begin on their own and make less than ideal choices when choosing paint colors and so on.  Since part of the service provided when you sign a listing agreement is good advice, do hire first!

Second, think clean, uncluttered, and “good working order”.  The rest of the tips all fall under the broad umbrella of staging – mostly de-cluttering, cleaning, and making sure that things work as intended.  Perhaps you won’t be able to make everything immaculate and perfect, but in many cases, with even a  few days you can hit the biggest areas fast.

Make a list of everything that needs some kind of minor repair or adjustment. Getting those items fixed will send a message to home buyers that your house or condo is turnkey and not a “fixer”.   It may not be conscious, but if home buyers find doors that squeak loudly, doorbells or lights that don’t work, they begin to wonder if there are any big ticket items that are in need of repair or replacement, too.  Hire a handyman or contractor as needed so that your home gives the right first impression.

Moving at lightening speed, with the listing signed today and the home on the MLS tomorrow? This isn’t fun, but I’ve done it with sellers at times.  In those cases, you may have one frantic 24 hour period. Think of it like you do when entertaining relatives who may go anywhere in your home…

What would you do if you had one hour’s notice before company would be arriving at your doorstep? Here are some quick fixes for the hurry up sale:

  1. Be armed with large boxes or laundry baskets so you can begin to collect things where are where they do not belong and get them at least generally to where they do.
  2. Get the floors, counter tops and surfaces almost completely clear.  If it’s newspapers, throw them out (show no mercy!).  Have a box or basket for each bedroom or room of the house and put the items into the correct basket as you go through the house.  For example, you could have one box for the garage, another for the master bedroom, another for the hall bath, etc.  Bring all boxes into each room that you are “clearing” and take just one room or area on at a time.  You may be moving 6 or 8 boxes or baskets from one room to the next, but it’s a faster way to sort and move things.
  3. If there’s no time to actually put all of these items away, do what most of us did in college: put the basket or box in the closet.  And then close the door.  No, it’s not ideal. It’s a quick fix and it will do the job 90-95% of the way.  If you’re in a rush, it’s got to be good enough.  Ditto that with the garage.  If all else fails, put things into the garage.  Some buyers may chuckle, but yours will most certainly not be the only house where they see this happen.  If you have a truly excessive amount of stuff, get a pod or use a service such as Door to Door, where they bring a container to your driveway, you load it, they then take it away and you get it back when you’re ready to move. (more…)

The three greatest temptations for sellers in a raging hot market

House for saleIn a raging hot seller’s market such as we are experiencing today in Silicon Valley, home owners may be subject to some very costly temptations.

Home seller temptation # 1: overconfidence on the market

Because folks read about the dozens of offers on some homes, by extension, it’s easy to believe that every home sells, for top dollar, with no effort or planning on the part of the seller. This is a huge mistake. Perhaps we should even call it a myth since it may be commonly believed.

In today’s wildly hot market, there are still some homes that DO NOT SELL. 

What are the odds that your home won’t sell?

I just pulled some numbers from the MLS today, July 23, 2018. You may find them surprising!

  • In Santa Clara County, there are currently 1274 single family homes on the market
    • 490 of them have been on the market at least 30 days – 38% are not moving quickly & likely need a price reduction, if it hasn’t already been done
    • 211 of the 1274 have been for sale for at least 60 days – 17% have had 2 months worth of open houses, keeping the home spotless, etc.
    • 107 of the 1274 have a “days on market” of 90 days or more – 8% have serious market rejection
  • These are not all luxury homes!
    • 9 are listed at under $1 million
    •  13 are offered between $1 million and $1,499,999 (“normal” houses in our area)
    •  9 are on the market between $1.5 mil and $1,999,999
    • 14 are listed at $2 million to $2,499,999 (these are still not luxury homes in most cases)
    • 11 are priced between $2.5 mil and $2,999,999
    • That’s 56 homes of 107 that are under $3 million. The balance are “high end homes”, which usually are more challenging to sell

The best homes, those which are well priced, well marketed, and are easily shown, sell within 2-3 weeks. After that, home buyers view them as stale listings and assume something terrible is wrong with them. After three weeks, unless the home gets a deep price reduction, it’s unlikely to get multiple offers.

This first temptation is the greatest one, and it often leads to mistakes in areas #2 and #3, listed below. (more…)

Selling a home? Watch the hidden messages you give out!

Is your showing prep sending out hidden messages?Home buyers and their Realtors don’t have many properties to view in Silicon Valley due to the critically low inventory. So it may be easy to get showings if you are selling a home. But are there any hidden messages once they get there? The best real estate agents are looking for the “red flags” and will be sure to alert their clients to potential issues.

Hidden messages about home odors

Perhaps the most common property issue that some home owners want to mask is a bad odor of some kind. Frequently it’s pet odor, but it could be cooking smells, mildew, cigarette or other smoke, incense, or any number of things that may not appeal to home buyers.

To try to freshen up the place, windows and even doors may be left open – even while the heat is running full blast. This may be a signal of an odor challenge. Sometimes scented candles may be lit, or air fresheners utilized. One old piece of advice had been to bake cookies or bread, which is supposed to give the buyers a homey feel – and may send them running for a snack instead.

Of course, the opposite could be true, too, if there are fumes coming from  outside (mushroom farms, sewage processing plant, farms, some food processing plants) and the house or condo is totally closed up on a beautiful, mild day.

While these  actions may mean nothing at all, they could be a red flag for odors.

My suggestion is to try to remove or neutralize the odors, and to disclose the past presence of them, rather than to try to mask them.  Neutralizing bad smells can be a bit of work, especially if you’ve had a smoker in the house. In some cases, it may not be possible to eliminate the unpleasantness, and the next buyer may have to do extensive renovations, such as removing sheetrock.  Simply disclose it. There are buyers looking to renovate.

If the buyers find out about a problem after the close of escrow, there will be a much bigger problem on your hands. It’s never worth it to skirt or minimize disclosures. They are “disclosure obligations”.

Hidden messages about noise

In urban and suburban Silicon Valley alike, it is difficult (if not impossible) to get completely away from vehicular noise. In some communities, it’s freeway or road sounds, worsened by heavy buses or trucks – where allowed. In others it could be a train. And others still may be in the flight path to San Jose’s international airport. Or multiple problems.

To mitigate  unpleasant sounds, some home owners or their listing agents will play music or perhaps add a fountain or other water feature. These may create a better ambiance, but it’s best to be upfront about every potential issue so that buyers are not fooled – and angry later. Buyers’ agents may perceive white noise added to the mix as a red flag.

Things don’t stay hidden when you move out

Whatever was hidden will eventually be noticed – the big stain in the hardwood floor that was concealed by a large area rug won’t be a secret when the place is empty. Nor will the plate sized hole in the sheetrock which was unseen due to the careful placement of a tall trash can remain a secret. So, too, with smells and sounds. Once the buyers move in, whatever a seller might be tempted to hide will no longer be hidden.

At the end of a sale, the sellers have the money and the buyers have the house – and any issues. If the new owners buy knowing all the problems upfront, they will be far more likely to be happy than if they have a bad surprise later.

In other words, the best “hidden messages” you and your home can give is this: we’re giving full disclosure, we’re transparent. What you see (and smell) is what you get.

 

More reading:

 

Shield your eyes!

 

 

 

Home selling? Small fixes that make a big, positive difference.

Drawer and cabinet pulls or hardwareIf you are thinking of selling your home, it can be tempting to tell yourself that it will make no difference whether or not you fix it up prior to marketing it – after all, it’s a seller’s market, right?  This is a costly mistake to make, and it’s far from the truth.

Often, cluttered, tired homes sell for far less than they could with just a little touch up.   Homes with a few inexpensive fix ups can a fantstic return on investment. I’ll name a few today.

Recently I saw the little cabinet handle photographed here.  I remember it from my childhood and if I had to guess, would say it was from the late 1960s to early 1970s.  I’m pretty sure we had the same exact hardware on my parents’ first Saratoga house (a lovely, big, George Day tract home sitting on an acre near West Valley college). I’ve seen these same pulls in Almaden and all over Silicon Valley.

But home buyers in the San Jose area don’t want these relics from 50 years ago.  They want something sleek.  And they don’t want to have to install it themselves after they move in if it can be helped.  Seeing loads of little projects can feel overwhelming.  “It’s too much work”, I’ll hear them say – and that’s before even looking at the disclosures or the inspection reports!  When they think “Silicon Valley real estate”, they want to see something attractive and in today’s styles.

There are many small things that home sellers can do to make a home visually appealling and to give buyers confidence that the home is move-in ready.  In addition to decluttering (it cannot be stressed enough how important this is), providing pre-sale inspections and a complete disclosure package that’s been filled out very thoroughly, there are some simple, fairly inexpensive things that will bring a strong return for your expense and hard work:

  • Fresh paint (get rid of wallpaper in most cases) is almost always needed in every room and at least on the trim outside. Think neutral shades.
  • New carpeting in a neutral shade.
  • If you have hardwood, refinish it or at least get it buffed and cleaned – home buyers love hardwood floors and will pay a premium for them (but don’t install if you do not already have them).
  • Make sure that the entire home is clean, including the windows and the window tracks, the fireplace, the outside spaces, garage, etc.
  • If the cabinets in the bathrooms and kitchen do not look good, consider painting or refacing them, and add new, contemporary looking pulls.
  • If the countertops are old and tired, see about installing slab granite or something more contemporary looking.
  • Got old light fixtures? replace them – the new ones do not have to be expensive, but they lights should not be thirty or more years old
  • Curb appeal matters: buyers do sometimes see a house from the street and decide not to go in. Don’t let that happen to you!
  • The front door, mailbox, and front porch areas need to be clean and inviting – it helps to have colorful flowers near the door, if possible.

Every property will have slightly different needs, but these are the basics.  Staging is a must if the home is vacant!

Want to sell your Silicon Valley home? Please call or email me and we can set up a time to talk (no obligation, of course).

 

Please also read:
Preparing Your Silicon Valley Home to Sell and Return on Investment

Digging deeper with disclosures (4 minute video of me talking –  a discussion about researching red flags and avoiding problems later)