Real Estate Gallery
Overbidding Practices Prompt Questions of Corruption | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 11:46


I received a call recently from someone concerned about the legality of current multiple offer practices. An offer had been made over asking price and been accepted by the seller. As a part of the offer, the buyer had to declare that if the appraisal came in lower than the offered price, they would make up the difference.

I was asked, “Is this not corruption and bribery? And, is it legal?”

In a market polarized to one extreme or the other, practices adjust to benefit the group presently favored. Since we’re currently in a rabid seller’s market, homeowners can dictate almost anything they want since they have a commodity in high demand yet with limited inventory.

If a buyer offers a high price to win a bidding war, the seller wants assurance that they will actually receive the full amount being offered. If a purchaser offers $500,000 and has an 80 percent loan, then the bank will lend $400,000 and the buyer brings in the remaining balance of $100,000.

If, however, the property appraises low — let’s say $480,000, then the bank will only lend 80 percent of the appraised value -— $384,000. When the buyer brings in their $100,000, they are suddenly short $16,000 of the accepted contract price. What happens to this difference?

In a slower market, a seller might be willing to renegotiate the price down to the appraised value of $480,000. In the current superheated maelstrom, however, sellers are insisting that the buyer not only make up the difference, they’re demanding that the purchaser wannabes write this into their offer.

This means, in our example, that the buyer needs to bring $116,000 to the transaction to make it work.

“Is this not corruption or bribery?”

Not at all. It’s a free market system adapting to benefit the group with the upper hand — in this case, the sellers.

“Is it legal?”

Absolutely — as long as everything is done aboveboard and in writing.

Some buyers in the past have offered extremely high prices to beat out competition knowing that the property will not appraise and that the price will have to be lowered. Current sellers are savvy to that game and are nipping it in the bud.

Want a home and are willing to offer way over “asking price” to get it? Just be prepared to pay the difference if the appraiser’s opinion of value is not as enthusiastic as yours.

Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Keller Williams Realty and a licensed general contractor. This article is sponsored by the Central County Marketing Association at

Manage Your Home from Your Phone | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 April 2015 14:03

By Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

Home automation is becoming all the rage, but many homeowners balk at rigging up remotely controlled thermostats or security systems because they’re concerned about the cost or about locking into contracts.

And some DIYers don’t want automation, but they do want to bring a little order into the chaos of home maintenance and improvement.

Fortunately, the explosion of mobile apps is making life a bit easier… and at an affordable price.

Here are some of the latest connected devices that aim to make home management, automation and security easier:

• BrightNest: This home maintenance app for iOS (think iPhones and iPads) and Android platforms helps you set up a maintenance schedule and offers helpful tips on cleaning and maintenance. Free. (, App Store or Google Play)

• Cozi Family: Need to assign chores to the kids or split up home-maintenance tasks? This app can do that. It also syncs with everyone’s device from a single account and has a simple interface. Free. (, App Store or Google Play)

• HomeZada: This desktop software allows you to make an inventory of all your home’s systems for free. And, for $59 a year, it gives you maintenance reminders and instructions, a calendar, a remodeling budget tool and more (

• Nest: While this startup company’s physical products include a “learning thermostat” and a smoke/CO detector, both of which can be controlled remotely, it’s also partnering with other tech firms to connect systems in and outside your home — from your car to your fitness wristband and more. Products can be found online or at home-improvement stores, and start at $99 for the smoke/CO detector (

• Notion: This home-sensor system goes beyond the standard security system. It senses pretty much anything you want it to, whether it’s an open garage door, an almost-empty propane tank or a window being lifted. The system sends a message to your smartphone. Sensors along with a necessary Wi-Fi bridge are available online and start at $129 (

© 2015 King Features Synd., Inc.

Redwoods Require More Water | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 April 2015 13:59

041615reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: I have a group of established redwood trees planted on a slope. I thought they were being watered by a natural spring but I’ve come to find out it was from a neighbor’s leaking water line that now has been repaired. Since then, four trees have died. How do I go about saving the rest?

A: Redwoods are not a drought-tolerant tree like a pine, cedar, deodar and other conifers. They’re also shallow-rooted and suffer from water stress with the hot afternoon sun beating on the soil.

In their natural habitat, the needles catch moisture from the marine influence. The moisture then drips slowly down to cool and moisten the roots under the canopy of the trees. Hence, they need to be irrigated frequently once the rainy season concludes.

Stand-alone trees, those with no vegetation growing under them, often struggle while those planted in a vegetative ground cover thrive. Established trees on drip irrigation suffer more than those watered by conventional sprinklers.

The whole idea behind watering is to get the entire root system wet. The root system of a redwood is found under the canopy of the tree. A common mistake made when watering redwoods is that the volume of water is insufficient, infrequent and not uniformly distributed around the tree.

When using a drip system, there is a lack of understanding on how to make it work efficiently. First off, a drip system distributes water at a gallon per hour while a conventional system provides water at a gallon per minute.

A drip system needs to run 45 minutes to an hour to provide the necessary volume to get the roots wet. In addition, you’ll need a dedicated water line for drip irrigation.

A huge conflict develops when a drip system and conventional sprinklers share the same line. The volume of water plants receive is either too much or not enough.

The second issue has to do with the number of emitters around the trees. Keep in mind that the originally installed emitters will need to be repositioned every couple of years and additional emitters need to be added so water is available throughout the root zone of each tree.

There is a misconception that if you puddle water in one spot, all the roots will benefit. The water absorbing roots are not located at the tree trunk but out toward the drip line of each tree.

Redwoods produce a lot of natural litter or mulch to help with the moisture retention. It also insulates the roots from the hot sun, especially those trees where the lower branches have been removed. A two- to three-inch mulch layer under the canopy and beyond is recommended. It’s not necessary to mulch the base of the trees.

In addition, your gardening service should be discouraged from removing this valuable covering. When the temperatures are over 80°F, I would be watering weekly.

In summary, water and mulch are the keys to keeping your trees healthy.

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 • 04-16-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 April 2015 13:58
Home Sales • 04-16-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 April 2015 13:57
Home Warranties Rise to the Rescue | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 11:46


It’s a typical scenario — homebuyers, plunking down substantial amounts of hard-earned shekels to buy a home, are usually unprepared for unwelcome surprises that may arise after the deal has closed.

Whether it’s a dishwasher that suddenly quits, pipes that spring a leak or a heater that turns cold, nothing makes the “new-home” glow burn off faster than having a substantive issue strike soon after closing.

As reality sets in and buyers are confronted with problems they didn’t plan on and don’t have the money to cover, excitement can turn to despair.

Enter the Home Warranty.

Designed to be the first line of defense after a transaction has closed, savvy sellers have discovered that it’s in their best interest to provide buyers with a Home Warranty. After all, sellers want to sell their home and leave — they don’t want to field calls about issues that may erupt after the sale.

Home warranties provide sellers with peace of mind, knowing that it will cover a large number of issues should they arise.

Ranging in cost from approximately $400-$500, a basic home warranty will cover many potential issues that could show up during the first year of ownership. Many companies offer the option of renewing the warranty for continuing years at the buyer’s expense.

If an issue arises, call the warranty company to discuss whether or not your issue is covered. If the item is included in your policy, a certified technician will be sent out to do a field assessment.

Most companies charge a visit fee of approximately $60, payable whether or not the issue is actually covered. If the tech agrees that the offending item is included in the policy, any additional fees to rectify the problem are paid by the warranty company. There is usually no limit to the number of visits in one year.

Problems arise when new home owners discover that a specific problem they may have discovered is not included in their warranty. Normal policies deal with the basic operating systems of a home (plumbing, electrical, heating, built-in appliances, etc.) but do not cover aesthetic or structural issues. Some also cover pest control. Optional coverage can be purchased to cover air conditioning, pools, refrigerators and more.

Read the fine print: It’s very important that buyers carefully read the warranty that is provided; and, if they want additional coverage, they can purchase it themselves.

Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Keller Williams Realty and a licensed general contractor. This article is sponsored by the Central County Marketing Association at

Sharpen Your Mower Blades | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 09 April 2015 13:07

040915re2By Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

Dull mower blades are pretty rough on your lawn, tearing grass rather than cutting it, which can turn the tips brown, weaken the grass and promote the growth of fungus.

Sharpening mower blades is something not everyone does routinely, but you should commit to sharpening them at the beginning or end of the mowing season.

Do you need to sharpen them mid-season? Professional landscapers sharpen or change their mower blades every 12-15 hours of mowing time (yes, that’s every day or two), so it would depend on the size of your yard and length of the growing season.

Here’s how to change a blade:

1. Lay down a plastic sheet or dropcloth to prevent oil drips and grass cuttings from staining the work area.

2. Disconnect the spark plug from the starter wire, remove the spark plug itself, and make sure the fuel cap is tightly closed.

3. Turn the mower on its side. Using a socket wrench, unscrew the center nut that secures the blade to the mower deck and any other connecting bolts or nuts. If the blade keeps turning as you try to loosen the nut, wedge a piece of wood between a blade and the deck. Remove the blade and brush off any dried grass clippings.

4. To sharpen the blade, check the angle of the existing edge. You’ll want to sharpen in the same direction as that angle. Run a metal file down the blade at about a 45-degree angle. Or, use a drill with a blade-sharpener attachment.

5. Once sharpened, check the blade’s balance by hanging it from a nail (or buy a blade balancer at the hardware store). If one end of the blade tilts down much farther than the other, file away more metal on that side until the blade stays horizontal.

6. Reattach the blade to the mower, making sure the blades angle downward. Tighten as much as possible, bracing the blade with the block of wood.

7. Attach the spark plug and wire, and turn the mower upright.

A great overview of this process can be found at

Home Tip: Worried that you’ll forget which way to reattach a lawnmower blade? Snap a picture of the underside with your smartphone before starting the task.

© 2015 King Features Synd., Inc.

Little Change in Mortgage Rates | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 09 April 2015 13:06

Average fixed mortgage rates were largely calm last week amid mixed economic and housing data, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly nationwide survey.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.70 percent, up from the previous week when it averaged 3.69 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.41 percent.

Fifteen-year mortgage rates averaged 2.98 percent, up from 2.97 percent.

The five-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.92 percent, and the one-year ARM averaged 2.46 percent, both unchanged from a week earlier.


Christmas Cactus Needs New Cuttings | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 09 April 2015 12:58

040915reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: My Christmas Cactus are not very full and have gotten leggy. If possible, how would I go about taking a few cuttings and then planting them in the same pot to fill the bare spots?

A: This is a workable solution as cuttings can be taken and rooted off the existing Christmas or Zygocactus plant(s). The ideal time to take your cuttings is after they finish blooming. The cuttings should be about five inches long and broken off where the stem is segmented.

Next, allow the cuttings to air dry for a day before starting the rooting process. The ends of the cuttings are dipped in a rooting hormone to help with the new root formation. You’ll find a rooting hormone at your favorite garden center.

With a pencil or screwdriver, punch a hole in the existing soil and insert the cutting about half an inch deep.

Alternatively, I prefer to root my cuttings in a separate container instead of the existing pots. I’d also take many more cuttings than I needed.

The cuttings are then placed in a single pot of pre-moistened potting soil. The pot of cuttings is then placed in an area with bright, indirect light and the soil is kept moist.

Once rooted, the most vigorous cuttings are selected and planted in the gaps or bare spots in each container. The rest of the cuttings are discarded or given away.

Another option is to divide the mother plant; and this is the perfect time to do so.

Christmas Cactus should be divided once every three to four years, depending on the pot size.

To do this, remove the plant(s) from the existing pot and divide it into sections using a sharp knife. Once segmented, decide which sections of the mother plant you like the best and discard the rest. You could also plant two sections in the same or larger container.

When transplanting plants into a larger container, the general rule of thumb is to move them up one to two pot sizes; however, with Christmas Cactus, I would only go up one size. They like to be pot bound. They’ll skip a blooming cycle until the roots fill the soil area in the pot, if they are in too large of a container.

Finally, fertilize to encourage the new growth. While there are lots of correct answers as to what to use, I prefer the time-release fertilizer Osmocote. A little bit of nutrients are released over a four-month period.

Q: My poinsettia plants are still blooming. I’d love to plant them outside, but need some good helpful hints.

A: Poinsettia plants are best grown as a container plant in a sunny location. They’re sensitive to cold temperatures and usually don’t survive the winter when planted directly in the ground.

On a deck or patio, you would water and feed them like any other container plant.

Also, I’d prune or pinch the growth several times during the growing season to keep them compact. This is best done just before fertilizing.

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 • 04-09-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 09 April 2015 12:57
Home Sales • 04-09-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 09 April 2015 12:56
Homebuying — A Family Affair | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 11:46


While current market growth continues to be good news for home-owners, burgeoning prices are creating an increasingly distressing environment for buyers.

Many first-time hopefuls are close to being priced out of any chance to buy a local home, while others have already thrown in the towel.  It’s a brutal reality: According to RealtyTrac, home prices are climbing significantly faster than wage increases.

Nationwide, median home prices soared 17 percent between 2012-2014 while wages across the nation averaged increases of only 1.3 percent.*

Think that’s bad? Anyone living here in Central Alameda County knows our numbers are worse. Much worse. RealtyTrak reports that during the same period, San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont wages rose 7.1 percent, while home prices appreciated 38.6 percent. While local wage increase percentages are wonderful, the cost of living is skyrocketing much faster.

While there are any number of factors causing soaring prices, primary is the continued run of low interest rates. Buyer wannabes, realizing that percentages will more than likely increase in the fall, are queuing up at open houses looking to buy before it’s too late.

Factor number-two is the apparent refusal of many homeowners to put their homes on the market. With virtually no inventory, the ratio of potential buyers to any given active listing is huge, giving sellers extreme leverage when it comes to pricing and contract terms. Multiple offers and soaring prices are the inevitable result.

For buyers with limited resources for a down payment, low credit scores or an inability to qualify for larger mortgages, prospects seem dim.

I met with two such groups of buyers this past weekend. “Is there any hope?” they asked. “Is there anything we can do to qualify for more?” My answer was “Yes” and “Yes,” but it’s not necessarily going to be easy.

In reality, it may be time to bring in the parents. Or other relatives, for that matter. It was the only way my wife and I obtained our first digs — we were fresh from college, newly married, totally in love and totally broke. We turned to the First Bank of Mom & Dad when buying our first home.

Whereas our parents helped with the down payment, others I know had the parents co-sign the loan. While some buyers I’ve talked to “don’t want anyone up in their business,” it might actually be the only way they end up with a house that their relatives… can actually visit.

*See the RealtyTrak article at

Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Keller Williams Realty and a licensed general contractor. This article is sponsored by the Central County Marketing Association at



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