Real Estate Gallery
Purchasing a Home Can Be Scary Affair | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 13:28

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

With Halloween upon us, scares are in the air. While it’s “frightful” at the time, we all know its temporary entertainment.

Not so fun, however, if the chills are real and they show up, unexpected, in the home you’ve just purchased. Here are the Top 5 Home Buying scares guaranteed to keep you up at night:

1. Cracked foundations.

Since the foundation is what the home rests upon, issues here can spell disaster in many areas. Floors that tilt, cracks in walls/ceilings and doors/windows that stick are clues something is wrong down below. Get a foundation inspection if you suspect issues.

2. Water damage.

While water is critical to life, it causes serious issues in homes. Water can undermine foundations. Excessive moisture leads to warping floors, crumbling sheetrock and stucco, mildew and mold. Leaky pipes and plumbing fixtures can cause dry rot. In addition to expensive fixes, water damage can lead to higher insurance costs.

3. Leaky roofs.

The roof should be able to protect from all that nature throws at you. From pouring rain to blistering sun, blustering wind and hail, roofs are designed to keep you comfortable inside. Once a roof is penetrated, all manner of nasty things can occur. Get a roof inspection prior to purchasing.

4. Bad neighbors.

Unfortunately, you sometimes never know there’s a problem neighbor until it’s too late. We recommend talking to neighbors before finalizing a purchase. Frank conversations may save you grief down the road.

5. Deaths on the property

While some don’t mind if a previous occupant died in the home, for others, this is the kiss of death for a potential purchase. Sellers must disclose whether or not an occupant has died in the home in recent years. Additional talks with neighbors can also reveal whether or not any trauma occurred in the home in question. Death is one thing: murder or suicide is something else altogether.

To prevent nasty surprises upon moving in, thoroughly inspect any home you’re considering purchasing (typically property, termite and roof inspections). Order additional inspections if the primary reports indicate potential problems: these include geological, foundation, mold, etc.

Obtain a CLUE Report so you can see the insurance claim history on the property. Carefully read seller disclosures and consider banging on neighbor’s doors to get information about the overall neighborhood.

Buy carefully: once you move in, you’ll want your scares confined… to your TV.

Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Prudential California Realty in Castro Valley and a licensed general contractor. This article is sponsored by the Central County Marketing Association at

Properly Store Tools for the Winter | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 13:25

102314re2By Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

Linseed oil is considered a good medium to protect wooden-handled tools, but there also are wood-conditioning blends available — some of them contain linseed oil among the ingredients, others do not.

The oil protects the handles from cracking as the wood expands and contracts from cold and hot temperature changes, dryness or humidity.

The metal surfaces of your hand tools should not be coated with linseed oil. Instead, clean them well, removing debris and any spot rust. Some people even sharpen trimming tools one last time for the season. Then, put a light coat of protective oil on the metal portions, including the blades and any hinge points. (Some people wipe motor oil onto the blades, but oils developed for lawn tools are available at hardware stores.)

How you store the tools is up to you. The most important thing is to keep them out of direct weather — in a storage shed, basement or garage — and off the floor.

The next priority is to store them so that the metal blades don’t touch each other. If your only option is to place them on a storage shelf, lay them in a line, in opposite directions, to minimize metal-to-metal contact.

DIYers with a garage or storage shed often designate a section of the wall for hanging tools. A classic, fast and inexpensive way to get a lot of tools into one section is to put up a piece of pegboard with metal hooks. This can be quickly configured and reconfigured since the hooks simply can be lifted up and repositioned into another peg. Hang tools by their handles.

Long tools like shovels can be suspended by placing the shovel head on two hooks with the handle pointing downward.

Home Tip: For garden tools that have a lot of rust, brew up some strong black tea and soak the blades in it for a couple of hours. The surface rust should wipe right off!

© 2014 King Features Synd., Inc.

CAPTION: A pegboard can be easily reconfigured to accommodate a variety of tools by repositioning the hooks.

Privet Provides Privacy; Mexican Fan Palm Will Not Stop Growing | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 13:21

By Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: Last spring, I purchased four huge, 24-inch, Rubbermaid pots and planted them with wax leaf privet. I needed to camouflage an unsightly neighbor’s yard. I was told that the privets could take the hot sun, and would grow rapidly to 8-10 feet. None of these things have proven to be true. In the past seven months, the plants have barely grown and the leaves are burned from the sun. Is there any way to remedy this problem or can you recommend other plants that are more suitable?

A: Wax leaf privet is an excellent choice but it’s unrealistic to think that they would grow to eight feet in the first growing season. Two to three seasons is more likely.

The poor performance issue is from water stress. Although you watered regularly, it may not have penetrated the original root ball. A primary indicator of this is yellow and burnt leaves. In addition, if you fertilized while they were on the dry side, you  may also have had fertilizer burn.

The norm for watering container plants would be three to four times per week and more often when the temperatures are over 90°F; otherwise, the plants suffer.

This also means you must fill the container to the brim with each watering.

It is almost impossible to overwater container plants, as long as there is no saucer and the bottom of the pots are raised off the ground so the water can flow out the bottom.

With large containers, you have a lot of excess soil. Until the new growth is generated, the roots are contained in the original rootball.

At the time of planting, the rootball should be wet; otherwise, the water will roll around the rootball and never penetrate. This may have been the issue you had.

As the plants mature, you have less and less soil and a predominance of roots; so the water schedule is maintained.

Privets are hardy, so these plants are not a lost cause. However, with the growing season near an end, you’re not going to see any changes until next year.

In February, I’d feed them Osmocote. Osmocote releases nutrients with every watering and it should be reapplied every four months.

If you decide that the plants need to be replaced, I’d suggest you consider, Eleagnus Maculata or Marginata, or Viburnum tinus Robustum.

102314reQ: I have several Mexican fan palms that have almost reached the point I’d like to keep them at. What can I do to maintain the desired height? I really don’t want them to grow too tall.

A: With most plants, you can control their size by pruning. However, that is not the case with palms.

Palms grow from a central point at the top of their trunk. The older fronds die naturally to form their distinctive shape.

Palms will die if you remove the central growing point, so there is little one can do to curb or stop their growth. At some point, they’ll  have to be removed.

Buzz Bertolero is Executive Vice President of Navlet’s Garden Centers and a California Certified Nursery Professional. Send questions by email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or to 360 Civic Drive, Ste. “D,” Pleasant Hill, CA 94523, and on Facebook at

CAPTION: Palms will die if you remove its central growing point.

Mortgage Rates Hit New 2014 Lows | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 13:21

Average fixed mortgage rates hit new lows for the year last week as 10-year bond yields briefly dipped below 2 percent.

At 3.97 percent, the average 30-year fixed rate is at its lowest level since the week of June 20, 2013 when it averaged 3.93 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year rate averaged 4.28 percent.

Fifteen-year mortgages averaged 3.18 percent last week, down from 3.30 percent a week earlier.

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) were also down. The five-year hybrid ARM averaged 2.92 percent, down from 3.05 percent, and the one-year ARM averaged 2.38 percent, down from 2.42 percent.

Alameda County Home Prices Up Nearly 10% | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 13:14

The number of homes sold in the Bay Area last month edged up to its highest level for a September since 2009 — the result of some spillover summer activity and sustained demand in a strong regional economy.

In Alameda County, a total of 1,613 new and used homes were sold in September, an increase of 9.9 percent over a year ago, according to CoreLogic DataQuick, a real estate information company.

The median price paid for an Alameda County home last month was $560,000, compared to $510,500 in September of 2013, an increase of 9.7 percent.

The Bay Area’s median sale price peaked at $665,000 in June and July of 2007, then dropped to a low of $290,000 in March 2009.

“The mortgage market is still dysfunctional. There are categories of buying and selling that are still inactive, and nobody really has any idea just how much pent-up demand there is out there,” said John Karevoll, CoreLogic DataQuick analyst.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area homebuyers committed themselves to paying last month was $2,340.

Open Homes • 10-23-14 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 13:12
Home Sales • 10-23-14 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 13:11
Central County Enters a Transitional Market | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 October 2014 14:49

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Recently visiting a local friend, he commented, “I’m not seeing as many open house signs as we did in the summer — they used to be everywhere, now they’re appearing few and far between.”

He’s right — the market is “transitioning.”

Although we’d typically expect to see a slowdown at this time of year, we’re also seeing a transition from a red-hot seller’s market to a slower transitional market.

Real estate markets go through cycles and, while they may be hot or cold for a while, they eventually turn and head the other direction. The time period where a market shifts from one type to another is called a transitional market.

When a market is either a “sellers” or “buyers” market, everyone understands the rules. In a seller’s market, prices are increasing, competition to buy any given home is tight and sellers can expect to receive multiple offers with few contingencies and other beneficial terms. A buyer’s market is the opposite: Buyers are in control and can make offers on any number of houses and can therefore dictate terms and prices to the sellers.

Transitional markets are different: Whether it’s transitioning from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market or vice versa, the rules are all in flux and vary from one property to another.

Hallmarks of a transitional market are:

(1)Power Shifts. As the market transitions, power shifts dramatically from one side to the other. While sellers have been in control for the last couple of years, expect this to begin to change.

(2)Negotiation Ability Increases. When a market is either a buyer’s or seller’s market, negotiation is almost non-existent. That changes, however, as market transitions, and negotiations reach their greatest potential in the MIDDLE of a market transition.

(3)Uncertainty and Anxiety Increase. No one knows what is really going on, and they typically react in fear and/or uncertainty.

(4)Rules of Engagement Change. Everything changes — pricing strategies, contingency time periods, terms (eg. “AS-IS”, Requests for Repairs, who pays HOA fees, etc.) and more. Negotiation strategies also shift: “Take it or leave it” goes away and is replaced with real dialogue.

(5)“Fair Market Values” Emerge. Prices more closely reflect real or “fair” market values — gaps between previous sales prices decrease dramatically.

While still very strong, expect market changes as we head towards 2015. One thing is certain: This year, we’re cooling off for winter.

Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Prudential California Realty in Castro Valley and a licensed general contractor. This article is sponsored by the Central County Marketing Association at

Wood Floors and Water Do Not Mix | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 October 2014 14:47

By Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

Q: While I was away on a business trip, my roommate decided to buy a couple of floor plants and put the containers directly onto the hardwood floor with nothing under them. By the time I got back, a couple of waterings later, water had run out of the pots and across the floor. Now there are two big water rings where the base of each vase was, and water stains along the path that the leaking water flowed. Can these be fixed, or does my roommate need to pay for repairs?

A: If the standing water around the vases hasn’t buckled the wood, you should be able to deal with the stains without too much effort.

Make sure the entire floor is dry, particularly where the vases stood. You may want to borrow a dehumidifier from a friend for a few days to encourage the drying process. In some cases where water damage is minor, the water marks may disappear or diminish dramatically once the wood has dried completely.

If once the wood has dried, a white water stain is still evident, then water likely stained the floor’s finish. This is easier to deal with. Heat up a clothes iron (use a “no steam” setting and empty out all the water from the holding tank). Place a dry, lint-free white cloth over the stained area. Rub the iron over the cloth for two or three seconds, then lift the cloth away to check the spot.

Another method for white stains is to drench a super-fine steel wool pad with lemon oil, then gently rub the white marks with the pad to buff out the stain without scratching the finish.

However, if the stains are dark, then water likely penetrated through the finish and into the hardwood itself. This is more complex, particularly if your floor was installed in the past few years.

Older hardwood floors seem to handle water staining and refinishing better. Newer floors not only don’t handle water so well, but also have to be cleaned or repaired more carefully. Contact a flooring professional if you’re not sure.

To get to this type of stain, you will need to sand away the finish — being careful not to sand the wood itself — and then try to lighten the stain.

The most common recommendation is to carefully apply a 50-50 solution of water and bleach, or a professional wood bleach, directly to the stain using an old toothbrush. Use only a small amount (you may want to test it on one of the less-conspicuous stains), blot up any excess and let dry. Repeat until the color matches the rest of the wood again, then let it dry for a couple of days before gently sanding, applying wood stain (if necessary) to finish matching the surrounding floor, and refinishing the damaged spots.

As to who should pay for the repair, I’ll leave that to you and the roommate to figure out. At the very least, this should be a lesson that water and wood floors don’t mix.

© 2014 King Features Synd., Inc.

Fixed Mortgage Rates Back Near 2014 Lows | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 October 2014 14:46

Average fixed mortgage rates fell back last week to near their lows for 2014, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly survey.

Thirty-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.12 percent, down from the previous week when they averaged 4.19 percent.

The 15-year rate averaged 3.30 percent, down from 3.36 percent.

Five-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 3.05 percent this week, edging down from 3.06 percent, and one-year  ARMs averaged 2.42 percent, unchanged from the week before.


The Lost Art of Budding, Grafting; Ready for Rhubarb? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 October 2014 14:42

101614reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: I have a dwarf mandarin orange tree that is seven years old and has never produced any fruit. Instead of destroying the tree outright, I would like to experiment by budding or grafting it from my Eureka lemon. What method would you recommend and when is the most appropriate time to do so?

A: Budding and grafting is a lost art today but it is a viable solution.

Citrus can be both budded and grafted but budding is preferred. Citrus is budded in the spring, March–April, and in October using a side shield bud.

In October, you gather the bud or scion wood from the Eureka lemon several days before the budding and store it in your refrigerator.

In the spring, wait until the bark easily separates from the rest of the tissue and the scion wood is gathered in February and stored in a refrigerator in plastic bags. To avoid condensation on scion wood, leave the plastic bag open.

Citrus is best grafted in March–April using a bark, whip or side graft. The best graft is determined by the caliper stock/branches you’re grafting to. You’d use a whip graft for an eighth- to a quarter-of-an-inch caliper stock, a side graft for a quarter-inch to one-and-a-half-inch caliper branch and bark graft on one-and-a-half-inch and larger caliper branches.

Here are a couple of links that go into more detail: and

Q: When is the best time of the year to plant rhubarb? Does it grow best in the sun or the shade, and will it need to be supported with a stake or trellis?

A: Rhubarb could be planted year round but you have a difficult time finding it after Memorial Day.

Rhubarb grows in a clump so it doesn’t need any type of support. It’s planted as a root division as those started from seeds are disappointing. It’s widely available either from bare root division or already growing in gallon cans, January through May.

Dig a good size hole for each plant, 12 to 18 inches wide and 10 to 12 inches deep with the native soil being amended generously with organic matter.

For the average family of four, three to four plants will be plenty.

You should pick a sunny location; however, the leaves may burn when the temperatures are over 90°F when planted in the afternoon sun. The plants are spaced three feet apart or they can be grown in containers.

In the first year after planting, allow the stalks to grow and do not harvest; pick a small crop the second year.

Rhubarb is fed monthly with Dr.  Earth Azalea, Camellia, and Rhododendron Food to encourage the new growth. The clumps are divided every four years or when the diameter of the stalks start to thin, usually during the winter months.

Also, only the stems are edible as the leaves are poisonous to consume but okay to handle.

Buzz Bertolero is Executive Vice President of Navlet’s Garden Centers and a California Certified Nursery Professional. Send questions by email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or to 360 Civic Drive, Ste. “D,” Pleasant Hill, CA 94523, and on Facebook at

CAPTION: Remember, only the stems of rhubarb are edible; the leaves are poisonous to consume but okay to handle.

Open Homes • 10-16-14 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 October 2014 14:42


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