Real Estate Gallery
Remember: Memory May Fail You | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 31 July 2014 13:55

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Memory is a wonderful thing… when it works. When it comes to buying a home, trusting your memory does not always work. In fact, if you just rely on memory alone, you may be in for some nasty surprises.

In “Unforgettable,” Carrie Wells, a NYPD detective working for the Major Crimes Division, has hyperthymesia, an extremely rare medical condition allowing her to visually remember everything she’s ever experienced. Me? I wish.

I’m trying to remember what I had for breakfast, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I have the same thing every morning (espresso and a soft boiled egg)… I’d be out of luck.

For people without total recall, memory can be tricky. Google “Can memory be trusted?” and numerous articles pop up, including a fascinating TEDTalk by Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus entitled, “Why Your Memories Can’t Be Trusted.”

In fact, study after study has proven that memory is quite fallible. It’s been suggested that you interpret your memories based on your current circumstances. It’s why eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable. Which could mean that the time your wife said you did something that you swear you didn’t… her memory of the event in the past could actually be wrong based on something else that just happened a week ago. But I wouldn’t put any money on that. In the case of my wife, while I remember nothing… she remembers EVERYTHING. Vividly.

This issue with memory can make the home buying process convoluted, especially for couples. Frequently, both will have different memories about the homes they just visited. It’s why I try to never show more than five properties in any given tour — the mind simply cannot process more information without memories of the details getting skewed. Sometimes significantly.

I’ve been fascinated listening to couples recount details of homes they just visited and been amazed at how different their individual recollections can be from what I remember about the same home.

As a result, I recommend that buyers take notes when they visit and take pictures, if allowable. They can also use the photos on the MLS and real estate websites to help keep memories straight. If they get their offer accepted, I recommend they visit the home again before contingencies have been removed. The last thing I want to hear from buyers during the final walkthrough is…

“We don’t remember it this way…”

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

Mortgage Rates Remain Near Year’s Low | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 31 July 2014 13:54

Average fixed mortgage rates were largely flat last week, remaining just above their lows for 2014 and helping to support homebuyer affordability.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.13 percent, unchanged from the previous week.

Fifteen-year mortgages averaged 3.26 percent, up from a week earlier when they averaged 3.23 percent.

Five-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 2.99 percent, up from 2.97 percent, and one-year ARMs averaged 2.39 percent, unchanged from the week before.


Is Your Home’s Assessed Value Accurate? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 31 July 2014 13:52

073114reCalifornia taxpayers who disagree with local assessors’ valuation of their property can contact the local assessor’s office to discuss the assessment or appeal their property tax bills.

In Alameda County, appeals must be filed by Sept. 15. That process is only available to taxpayers who are challenging the assessed value of their property as of Jan. 1.

Different appeal periods apply to taxpayers who are appealing an assessment after a property was sold, underwent new construction, or was damaged in a natural disaster or other calamity.

The California State Board of Equalization (BOE) prescribes property tax rules and instructs local agencies on how to handle property tax appeals, and seeks to make the process easy for taxpayers to navigate. A series of videos explaining the process of appealing a property tax assessment is available on the BOE’s website at

Many California taxpayers know that property tax increases are limited by law, but tax bills can vary greatly under certain situations.

Proposition 13 (1978) limits annual property tax increases to 2 percent. However, many homeowners sought temporary reductions of their tax bills — a process allowed by Proposition 8 (1978) — when housing values plummeted during the housing crash.

The values of many properties in California were temporarily reduced by percentages much larger than 2 percent. The 2-percent limitation under Proposition 13 does not apply to values under Proposition 8. Now that property values are recovering, property taxes may be increased to reflect a new current market value or to restore the prior Proposition 13 value (including the 2-percent increases), whichever is lower.

While increases after a Proposition 8 reduction may exceed 2 percent, a property’s assessed value may never go higher than its value under Proposition 13, even when the current market value increases beyond the Proposition 13 value.

Different rules apply when a property is sold, undergoes new construction, or is damaged in a natural disaster or other calamity. County assessors are required to value properties after those events, and tax bills can vary without regard to any previous assessed value.

Taxpayers who wish to appeal the assessed value of their properties can do so by filing an Application for Changed Assessment, form BOE-305-AH, with their county clerk of the board. Contact information for all 58 county assessors can be found on the BOE’s website at

CAPTION: County assessors are required to value properties after they are sold to establish a new basis for property tax.

Control Squash Bugs with Neem Oil | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 31 July 2014 13:46

073114re2By Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: Is insecticidal soap mixed with canola oil or neem oil recommended to control the squash bugs in my organic garden?

A: Surprisingly, canola oil, along with insecticidal soap and neem oil, are recommended controls for squash bugs on the UC Davis IPM website. While I have no problems with neem oil or insecticidal soap in home gardens, I’m leery of using canola oil as there are no posted dilution or application rates.

With the wrong application rate,  you could very easily burn the plants in warm weather.

Squash bugs, often referred to as stink bugs, are difficult to control in large quantities; hence, you need to be proactive early, much like whiteflies.

They prefer crookneck or yellow straight-neck squash but not zucchini. You can also find them on pumpkins, cucumbers, along with the winter squash varieties.

Squash bugs cause the vines to turn black and die while the insect feeds on the foliage and the maturing fruits.

In organic gardens, there are several strategies you can use that don’t require spraying. If only a few plants are affected, the most effective control method is to manually remove and destroy the adults and eggs.

The adults are about five-eighths of an inch long and a quarter of an inch wide. They’re a grey or black color with orange and or brown stripes on the edges of their abdomen.

The eggs are a shiny, yellowish-brown to reddish color. You’ll find them on the undersides of leaves, lined up in neat rows near the base of the main vein. The eggs are clearly visible to the naked eye, so you should be on the look out for them starting in May through mid summer.

They’re easily destroyed by gently rubbing them back and forth with your fingers, but make sure you don’t damage the leaf.

Between the adult and egg, the white to greenish-gray-colored nymph is present. Nymphs have no wings, although they do have legs and mature into adults in four to six weeks.

The adult and nymph cluster together near the base of plants beneath the foliage. They may also be found along the vines and unripe fruit.

Another option is to place cardboard strips or shingles on the ground next to the plants. The squash bugs will gather in the morning under the boards, making it easier to eliminate them.

Catnip, radishes, nasturtiums and marigolds are plants that are purported to repel squash bugs, to some degree; so, companion planting could be considered.

At the end of the season, remove all the leftover debris. Good sanitation practices eliminate hiding places for the bugs to overwinter.

And, finally, you can spray with neem oil, insecticidal soap or spinosad. My preference would be neem oil or spinosad.

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: Be on the look out for squash bug eggs starting in May through mid summer.

Open Homes • 07-31-14 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 31 July 2014 13:46
Home Sales • 07-31-14 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 31 July 2014 13:44
In Today’s Market, Cash Is Still King | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 14:03

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Although slowing in many quarters due to increased inventory, the market remains hot enough for many properties to garner multiple offers.

Consequently, some buyers are still having difficulties landing a home. Tired of continual rejection notices, they’re looking for meaningful solutions to write winning offers.

Since I’m always on the lookout for articles to help clients, one that crossed my desk a few days ago peaked my interest — titled, “How To Win A Bidding War.” It promised solutions to buyers’ woes. I dug in with anticipation, but was immediately dismayed after reading “Strategy No. 1.”

It was, “Pay with cash.”

Touted as “the best way to get a seller’s attention,” I thought, “Dang, why didn’t I think of that?” Oh, wait… I did. Years ago. Right in the middle of writing my very first offer.

I pressed deeper, thinking, “Maybe they are going to provide a solution as to how to get that much cash.” After all, that’s what buyers really need. No such luck.

Therein lies the dilemma. While we’re not seeing as many cash offers as we used to, they still exist; and, because they don’t have to go through a bank’s financing department and are not dependent on an appraisal, they’re more enticing to sellers — especially if the price is comparable to financed offers.

Truth be known, there already are effective ways to compete, but they depend on strategies including “as-is” conditions, escalation clauses, willingness to write higher-than-list price offers and removal of most or all of the contingencies — risky business, to be sure.

Some lenders, however, are insisting they have a new tool to help beleaguered buyers — Pre-underwriting.

Instead of a basic preapproval based on a borrower’s credit history, they review all documentation required for a formal approval upfront and run it though Fannie Mae’s automated underwriting system. Once approved, this loan is supposed to be “as good as cash.” All that remains to close the deal is a satisfactory appraisal.

And there again is the rub: Cash offers require no appraisal while pre-underwritten loans DO. As one lender recently told me, “It is rarely the borrower that is at fault for any hiccups — more likely the home is the culprit.”

Read: “Less than satisfactory appraisal.”

Which really means that, while a pre-underwritten loan is a much better option than a pre-approval, it’s still not quite as good as… you guessed it… cash.

Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Prudential California Realty in Castro Valley and a licensed general contractor.

Keep Cool on a Small Budget | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 14:01

072414reBy Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

An evaporative cooler can be a cost-effective alternative to an air conditioner, but it’s not always the best choice.

Also known as swamp coolers, evaporative coolers add humidity to the air in your house. They bring in air from the outside, pass it over water-soaked pads, and blow that humidified air inside.

If you live in a hot, dry climate, a swamp cooler can be a very efficient way to cool the house. In hot, humid weather, not so much, because the air in the house is already humid.

Air conditioners work well in humid climates because they help remove some of that humidity from the air. While they’re not dehumidifiers, per se, the unit recirculates air in the room. As that air passes over the air conditioner’s evaporator coil, the moisture in the air condenses and is drained from the unit, while the air is blown back into the room. That process helps cool the air and reduce mugginess.

Both units need regular maintenance: An evaporative cooler’s pads need to be changed every few weeks while in use, and an air conditioner’s filter needs to be cleaned or replaced each month in the warm season.

If you hate lugging window units in and out of the window each year, look into buying a portable air conditioner. These typically cost more than window units (sometimes twice as much for the same BTU level) but can be rolled from room to room as needed and stored out of the way when not needed.

Just remember that the portable unit’s ventilation hose must vent outside, meaning the unit needs to stay near a window. And you probably will need to empty the condensation tray regularly, in cheaper units.

A final alternative is natural ventilation. If you get cool nights or steady breezes, open windows in the early morning and late evening, and invest in heavy curtains to cover windows in which the sun shines during the afternoon. Add an electric fan to keep fresh air circulating constantly. In certain climates, this can give you a comfortable home except for the hottest, most humid days of the year.

©2014 King Features Synd., Inc.

CAPTION: Portable air conditioners typically cost more than window units but can be rolled from room to room as needed.

Watermelon Wonders; Plant Impatiens for Color | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 13:57

072414re2By Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: My Sugar Baby watermelons are getting large and I’m not sure how to tell when to pick them. Can you give me any advice? I don’t want to pick them too soon.

A: Unlike other fruits such as tomatoes, watermelons do not ripen after harvesting; so there has always been a debate as to when to pick them.

Harvesting Sugar Baby watermelons generally begins 80 days after planting. This is not an exact date but instead a benchmark to work around. It is more exact if you planted your melons from seed and less accurate from transplants.

The other big variable is temperature. Watermelons like warm days and nights to mature on time; however, our temperatures tend to vary, thus we need to use a little educated guesswork in determining when to pick them.

As the maturity day approaches, check your plants daily. Every watermelon has a curly tendril immediately below where it is attached to the vine. When this tendril is green, the melon is not ready for harvesting. When it is brown and shriveled, you have a 90 percent probability that the melon is ready to be picked.

In addition, Sugar Baby watermelons should be about 10 inches in diameter with a dark-green rind.

Another test you can use to tell when a watermelon is ripe is if your fingernail cannot indent the skin. Also, the outer skin of the watermelon tends to feel a little rough when ripe.

The old-school method of thumping the melon is not very precise or accurate.

If your melon(s) passes the Sugar Baby watermelon maturity test(s), they can be picked by snipping them off at the stem with a pair shears or scissors.

Like so many home-grown fruits and vegetables, the flavor and sweetness of a chilled home-grown watermelon is fabulous.

Q: My problem is a planter box that faces north and receives lots of shade, although it’s not dark. The planter is 10 feet long and is faced with native rock. What type of flowers should I plant in it?

A: I’d consider planting New Guinea impatiens along with Torrenia.

New Guinea impatiens are the best option for color in shady areas. Their flower is about three times the size of regular impatiens and the foliage is dark-green with deep-red stems and midribs.

Midribs are those leaf veins that separate or segment a leaf into sections.

With some plants like New Guinea impaients, their colors are very bold. White, pink, red, orange and bicolor are the typical colors.

Torrenia is known as the Wishbone Flower and is available in blue or pink with white.

Another option is Coleus. Coleus comes in a wide variety of leaf shapes and colors.

Depending on the depth of the planter, you could mix these varieties together and they should continue to bloom into early November; however, it is very unlikely that any of these varieties will survive the winter cold. They’ll collapse and shrivel up with the first cold spell or frosty night.

If this occurs, I’d then replace them with Cyclamen. This will give you color year round.

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

Open Homes • 07-24-14 | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 13:57
Home Sales • 07-24-14 | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 13:56
Patterns Change for First-time Buyers | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 15:21

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

In what amounts to a fundamental rethinking about the purpose of home ownership, buying patterns are changing in the post-recession recovery.

Prior to the bust and meltdown, many buyers purchased their primary homes with the specific intent of holding for a short period of time, selling as soon as it made sense, making a quick profit and… lather, rinse, repeat.

That is no longer the case. Leslie Parker, a consumer housing specialist with, informs, “People are buying homes they are going to stay in 15, 20, 30 years.” She adds, “Before (the recession) you saw more of a chess game, where people would buy a home and then they would move a couple years later, and then they would move again.”

It’s a critical readjustment in the way homeowners view their homes and a shift in a healthy direction. Prior to the meltdown, many purchased homes with the idea of using them as ATM machines. As market values climbed and equity increased, they’d either refinance or get a line of credit. In either case, they’d pull cash out for any number of uses, some utilizing their windfall as down payments on investment properties, hoping they would also begin to increase in value.

A second group, once they had a specific percentage of equity, were selling their homes and, using the equity bonanza as a new down payment, were leveraging larger and larger homes.

Loans available at that time were allowing minimal down payments, and, with adjustable ARM loans making initial monthly mortgage payments extremely low, they were able to move up dramatically in a short period of time.

Both groups got caught when the market collapsed and home values quickly plummeted below the amounts owed on loans.

And now none other than economist Karl “Chip” Case (a name synonymous with home prices as the co-creator of the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index) is weighing in. His advice to first-time homebuyers? “Be sure you can afford the house and don’t expect a quick profit,” he insists. “If you’re not buying it for the long haul, don’t buy because there’s a good chance you’ll have to sit through some down cycles.”

Our advice? Never forget the fundamental objective for buying a home. While it may be a good investment, a way to lower taxes or any other good reason, the most important purpose of all… is to have a home.

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 Group at



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