Real Estate Gallery
Home Renovation Starts with Good Planning and Insurance | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 September 2014 21:14

092514re4We’re a country of renovators and remodelers, judging from the steady growth of home improvement projects across the nation in recent years.

People are remodeling their homes at historically high rates, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. Many of these projects are complex and expensive, and too often people neglect to fully protect their assets and bank accounts because they fail to properly assess the risks of major home renovations.

There are a few basic things homeowners need to think about before, during and after renovation that will go a long way toward protecting their little piece of the American Dream. One of the most important tasks comes well before even the first nail is hammered.

“It always goes back to choosing the right contractor,” says Mark McCormick, technical director of personal risk services at Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. “Embarking on these kinds of projects is an emotional experience, but it’s important to objectively vet your contractors before making a decision about who will be working in your home.”

You can’t just pick your contractor at random out of the Yellow Pages or hire them simply because they might have a nice website.

Make sure they’ve been in business for a while. While not a guarantee of trustworthiness, business longevity shows at least a certain level of stability. Also, companies that have been around longer tend to have connections in the wider community and established reputations that can be checked out.

Ask neighbors and friends for their thoughts and get recommendations from people who have been through a remodel.

Many times fly-by-night contractors will only give out cellphone numbers, which is a big red flag, so make sure they have a physical address. Also, ask for proof that they are properly licensed and carry the right insurance for themselves and their subcontractors.

“It’s always good to get three to five contractors into the vetting process,” McCormick says. “There may be some who have been around for only a year, or you may not be happy with their subs, the price, the scope of work or how they approach your home. You want them to do the work in your castle as if they owned it themselves.”

An often-neglected item on the pre-project checklist is making sure your insurance is up to the task. Before work begins, contact your agent and ask if you need to adjust your liability limits or if there is anything you can do to minimize your risk.

Larger, more complex projects are inherently more risky, so the insurance company might suggest things like security fencing, cameras or — if the project is really big — a security guard.

“If homeowners neglect to tell their insurance agent about a renovation, it puts them at risk from a liability standpoint,” McCormick says. “People might be walking around on roofs, putting in swimming pools, using open flame, putting up siding, all kinds of things. If the policy holder talks to an agent about the scope of project, the agent can advise an increase in liability coverage if it’s needed.”

Throughout the entire process, be sure to keep good records, including all receipts, plans, invoices, canceled checks, and all agreements and correspondence with your contractors and subs.

Once the remodel is complete, contact your insurance agent for a replacement cost calculation, adjusted to mirror the final project and accounting for the increased replacement value.

“Finally — and it’s very common that people forget about this — don’t give out home security system codes or house keys unless you know specifically who is getting those things,” McCormick said. “Change the codes and the locks after the project is done.”


Home Maintenance Checklist | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 September 2014 21:09

Now that fall is here, it’s important to take time to prepare your home for the changing of the seasons by making sure now that everything is in working order. If you start now to accomplish just a few tasks each week, you’ll have most of them finished well before the holiday season.

Indoor Maintenance

• Test smoke and fire alarms, replacing batteries and clean dust.

• Clean/vacuum refrigerator coils and area behind refrigerator.

• Check your fireplace damper for soot buildup, and have certified chimney sweep inspect flues of your chimney.

• Check and/or replace your fire extinguishers.

• Clean and vacuum heating ducts, grills and ceiling fans

• Check all window and door locks for proper operation.

• All exterior doors should have deadbolt locks.

• Perform seasonal pest control to protect your home from critters that want to come into the warmth.

Outdoor Maintenance

• Clean and cover all of your patio furniture.

• Pack your patio furniture cushions and pillows plus your decorative items into your deck box or your garden shed.

• Pressure wash your deck, patio and/or outdoor recreation area.

• Check door weather-stripping and replace if necessary.

• Trim and treat your houseplants or exotic plants with insecticidal soap to ensure you don’t bring any unwanted pests into your home. Be sure you bring them inside before overnight temperatures hit 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

• Clean gutters and inspect your roof’s surface for any needed repairs. For safety reasons, you may want to consider hiring a qualified professional to take care of any repair work that needs to be done.

• Cut back any trees or shrubs that may be touching the roof or exterior of your home. This should be done regularly during the growing season as well.

Is Your Home Ready for Winter? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 September 2014 21:02

092514re5It’s time to start preparing your home to make sure it can efficiently handle winter weather.

“There are many small, low-hassle items you can complete to ‘winterize’ your home,” says David Andreozzi, spokesman for the American Institute of Architects. “Prepping your home for the season ensures you aren’t dealing with major issues when they are harder to tackle, and can prevent costly repairs come springtime.”

To help homeowners prepare, Andreozzi offers the following advice.

Check Chimneys and Gutters

Regular checks of your chimneys and gutters are both safety-smart and wallet-friendly. Fireplace dampers should be closed and functioning properly to protect against drafts and keep heating costs down.

Leaving a damper open or using a broken one is the equivalent to leaving a window open when the air conditioner is running.

While sometimes not as noticeable as a chimney draft, ice is another danger. It can build up in gutters quickly if there is debris there from previous seasons. In order for ice to melt and drain properly, drains must be clear. Clean your gutters when it’s warm to prevent clogs and costly replacements.

Remember Watering Systems

This is especially important for recent home buyers who may not think to look for this. Water trapped in an outdoor faucet, spigot or irrigation system can cause a pipe to burst if ice settles inside. Make it part of your winterizing routine to ensure that outdoor plumbing and pipes are clear before temperatures drop.

Designing for Weather

In the design process of your home, it is important that your home is sealed correctly to account for local weather. An architect can advise on how to prevent unwanted drafts. If you have an older home or apartment, use self-adhesive weather stripping to seal cracks in windows and doors, too.

Create a Timetable

The change of seasons means maintenance. Create a checklist of tasks with a timetable so you are never scrambling at the last minute. Small items that often slip between the cracks can be taken care of in a timely fashion — like changing batteries in smoke detectors or cleaning the pilots of the heating system.

Andreozzi recommends using a professional twice a year to help tick off some of the trickier items, such as sealing windows. To ensure that you’re hitting all of the main points, an architect can help you formulate a full checklist to make the most out of your prep work.

To find an architect in your area, visit

— StatePoint

CAPTION: Clean your gutters when it’s warm to prevent clogs and costly replacements.

What to Know About Automating Your Home | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 September 2014 20:57

092514re2The “connected home” is one of the biggest areas of technical innovation today, with smart appliances, learning thermostats, app-driven lights, and intelligent door locks taking center stage in home improvement stores and magazines.

In fact, by 2017, an estimated 36 million homes throughout North America and Europe will be smart.

For some consumers, the concept of a “smart home” can be overwhelming. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

The Basics

Home automation gives you remote and automatic control of a wide array of devices in your home — it’s ideal for convenience and control, and some devices can help with money savings. Home automation can also alert you to events that you might want to know about while you’re gone, like leaks,kids arriving home or security breaches.

For your furry family member, your smart home can distribute pre-determined amounts of food on a schedule so you don’t have to worry about your pet missing dinner while you’re stuck in traffic.

Is it Right for Your Home?

Not everyone is in a place to install a full home automation system — literally and financially, as apartment living, renting, low cash flow, expensive installation fees and advanced technical set-up can all be limitations.

However, with stand-alone home automation devices and apps, you can make your home smart without integrating a whole-home automation network.

For example, smart locks, lighting, irons, coffee makers, security cameras and refrigerators can all be controlled by smartphones without the need for a fully integrated system.

First Things First

In a recent analyst report from NextMarket, the smart lock market will grow to $3.6 billion worldwide by 2019. With security and access control leading smart home product adoption, a logical place to start is at your front door.

The Kwikset Kevo was the first “smart lock” on the market, which made it possible to open the door by simply touching the deadbolt without removing your smartphone from your purse or pocket.

Via an app, users can grant and revoke access to the house electronically, view a lock history and get notified when someone locks or unlocks the door without connecting to the home network or a power source. It installs easily, within a few minutes, with just a Phillips head screwdriver, making it an excellent example of how one product can usher your home into the era of automation.

From there, it’s easy to move on to take smarter control of your home appliances and lighting, and you can make as many or as few changes as your budget and imagination allow. Smart home solutions are granting home-owners access to information and features that were previously unavailable.

Bottom line: You don’t have to be rich or have a fully connected home to enjoy the benefits. If you’re considering getting on board the trend, do your research and find the best technology and products for you.

— StatePoint

CAPTION: The Kwikset Kevo was the first “smart lock” on the market, which made it possible to open the door by simply touching the deadbolt.

Weatherproof Your House | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 September 2014 20:54

092514re3You may be trying to forget about the harsh winter of a few months ago, but you probably remember your high heating bills. Well, now’s the time to insulate yourself from a similar fate — with next winter not all that far away.

“Exterior caulk and insulation can provide a formidable defense against the cold,” says Debbie Zimmer, spokesperson for the Paint Quality Institute.

“By using these products to seal cracks and openings in the home exterior, you can save a small fortune on heating costs, and on the cost of air-conditioning as well.”

Caulk and insulation work in two ways to add comfort to a home: First, they stop outside air from seeping in (or literally blowing in on windy days); second, they keep costly heat and air-conditioning from escaping.  This one-two punch is a powerful way to knock down home energy bills.  

If you’re in the mood to fight spiraling energy costs, begin by doing a walk-around inspection of your home exterior.  

Keep an eye out for cracks, gaps, or holes — especially where different surfaces meet, or where pipes, vents, or wiring penetrate the walls.  Also look for areas where your old caulk may have cracked, or pulled away from the surface.  Every one of these areas is a potential energy sieve. . .and prime real estate for your caulk or insulation!    

If the old caulk is damaged or deficient, remove it with a scraper or sturdy putty knife.  In these areas, and in areas that are totally devoid of caulk, clean the adjacent surfaces, sand them smooth, and spot-prime if any bare wood shows.   This will help your caulk adhere properly to create a weather-tight seal.

When applying your new caulk, be sure to use a quality water-based all-acrylic or siliconized acrylic caulk. (Similarly named “silicone” caulks cannot be painted, so they’ll be more visible on your home exterior.)  

With a loaded caulk gun in hand, work your way around your house, filling every gap or seam with a generous bead of caulk (this is not the time to be “penny-wise”, or you’ll look foolish when your heating bills arrive).    

Immediately after applying the caulk, “tool” it by running a wet finger over the full length of the bead, using a slight amount of pressure.  This will ensure that the caulk fills the entire gap and makes good contact with the adjacent surfaces.     

Openings that are too large to caulk – typically, spaces more than 1⁄4” wide – should be filled with a polyurethane foam insulation product.  Unlike caulk, which shrinks slightly as it dries, some types of polyurethane foam actually expand after being applied.  So, this type of insulation is ideal when filling large openings and cavities.

After sealing every opening you see, take a break.  Then, do one last walk-around to make sure you haven’t missed anything.  Often, you’ll spot a few areas that still need attention.

Put the finishing touches on your work and put your tools away.  When winter comes, you’ll be happy you put in the time to weatherproof your home!
For more information on caulking, paints, and coatings visit or


Smile… You’re on ‘Reality’ TV | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 September 2014 20:49

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Internet technology is advancing, and, while it’s making it easier for prospective home buyers to view properties online, it may also be preventing them from getting the one thing they want the most when actually visiting any given home.


Advances in internet monitoring and alarm services are making it easier than ever for homeowners to view happenings in their homes while they are gone. It’s becoming very common to visit properties with cameras in many parts of the home.

While I understand the desire for security and the need for parents to monitor children while at work or away, it brings up another question: Are the sellers using the cameras to monitor buyers while they go through the home?

It’s no secret that buyers want privacy while checking out a prospective home. For this reason, listing agents coach sellers to leave the home when buyers show up.

Buyers really need to be able to examine the property without someone peering over their shoulder. They want to be able to discuss the home with their agent without being overheard by the sellers. If there is more than one in the buying party, they want to be able to have confidential discussions amongst themselves as well. The No. 1 thing buyers hate? Clingy sellers that insist on giving them a tour of the home and won’t leave them alone.

Buyer’s agents also coach their clients to not “give away the farm” when touring homes when the seller and/or the listing agent is present. If the listing side gets the idea that any given buyer cannot live without the house, then that buyer has suddenly lost a lot of bargaining power.

I’ll never forget a couple who toured a home with me, then walked straight up to the sellers and said, “We don’t care what it takes, we want to get this house.” Any negotiating ability we may have had suddenly went up the chimney in a puff of smoke.

If sellers can see and overhear buyers converse while they are viewing a home, the net effect is exactly the same. Consequently, many buyers are starting to get very cautious when entering homes with cameras, and rightly so.

Where will this all go? In many cases, the cameras are visible. In some cases, however, they are not. It’s “Buyer Beware” revisited. Smile… you never know when you might be on “Reality 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

Prepare Your Landscape for Fall | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 September 2014 20:44

092514reBy Melinda Myers • Special to the Forum

You can see and feel the change of seasons. Fall color is starting to appear, pansies, mums and asters are in the garden center and your thoughts are turning to preparing your landscape for winter.

No matter where you live, invest some time in preparing your landscape for the change in seasons. Dedicating some time now will pay off with healthier more beautiful plants next spring.

• Continue to mow the lawn high as long as it continues to grow. There’s no need to cut it short unless that is what you prefer.

• Fertilize the grass with a low-nitrogen slow-release fertilizer. Fall fertilization provides the greatest benefit to your lawn and gives you the best value.
Make a final application between Halloween and Thanksgiving before the first hard freeze.

• Shred leaves as they fall. Leave some on the lawn to add organic matter and nutrients to the soil. As long as you can see the grass blades through the shredded leaves your lawn will be fine.

• Use the rest of the shredded leaves in your compost pile, as mulch on top of the soil or as a soil amendment. Just dig a two- to three-inch layer into the top 12 inches of planting beds. The leaves will break down and add organic matter. By spring, the leaves will decompose and the garden bed will be ready to cultivate and plant.

• Plant a few bulbs now for a colorful early spring display. Incorporate compost, aged manure or other organic matter into the planting area. Add a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer at the time of planting. In general, plant bulbs two to three times their vertical diameter deep. Follow specific planting and spacing directions on the package or tag.

• Select animal-resistant bulbs to avoid squirrels digging up the bulbs and deer and rabbits eating the blooms. Daffodils, hyacinths, grape hyacinths and squills are a few to consider.

• Allow disease- and insect-free perennials to stand for winter. This will increase their winter hardiness and your enjoyment. The dried leaves, stems and seedheads provide beauty for you to enjoy, seeds for the birds and overwintering homes for many butterflies and beneficial insects.

• Plant trees, shrubs and perennials. The soil is warm and the air is cool – perfect conditions for planting and establishing trees, shrubs and perennials.

No matter where you live or the size of your garden, get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of fall.  And be sure to invest a bit of energy now to insure your landscape is ready for the season ahead.

Gardening TV host and newspaper columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience. Her website,, offers gardening videos and tips.

CAPTION: Shred leaves as they fall, leaving some on the grass, putting the rest in the compost bin.

Leaves on ‘Naked Ladies’ Go Dormant in Early Summer | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 September 2014 20:39

092514re1By Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

My Amaryllis Belladonnas have finished blooming. When should the flower stalks be removed? I know that with other bulbs the green leaves are left to feed the bulb for the following year but what about the flower stalks? Also, when is the best time to transplant them?

Amaryllis Belladonna is a summer-blooming bulb. The only purpose of the flower stalk(s) is to support the blooms. It provides no nutrients to the bulb(s) for the following year; hence, they’re removed anytime after flowering.

I prefer to remove them soon after the flower fades; otherwise, they look unsightly as they turn brown and dry up. In addition, the flowers should be removed before they go to seed, as the bulbs may not bloom the next year.

Amaryllis Belladonna’s leaves emerge in the spring and go dormant in early summer. Shortly thereafter the flower stalk emerges; hence, they’re referred to as the “Naked Ladies.”
In the United Kingdom, they’re known as the Jersey Lily, the March Lily in South Africa (southern hemisphere) and the Madonna or Belladonna Lily in Italy.

Typically, you’ll find several large, pink, trumpet-shaped flowers on a single 24- to 36-inch flower stalk in July or August.

The bulbs can be transplanted in the fall while they are dormant or in early summer before they flower.

By losing its leaves and becoming dormant at the height of the summer watering season, Amaryllis Belladonna is an ideal addition to water-wise gardens. The bulbs require almost no care, and blooms beautifully almost anywhere.

Naked Ladies bloom for decades and are almost trouble-free; but you can kill them with kindness — excess summer water and fertilizer or from burying them in mulch.

Along with other types of amaryllis, Amaryllis Belladonna are now available at many garden centers. And, you don’t have to be in a hurry to plant them as they can go into the ground as late as February.

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 • 09-25-14 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 September 2014 20:38
Home Sales • 09-25-14 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 September 2014 20:36
Softer Market Spurs Deceptive Tactics | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 September 2014 13:44

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Results are in: the hyper-hot Seller’s Market is cooling and we’re headed into a Transitional Period.

Inventory is up, sales are down, multiple offers are diminishing and average sale prices have dipped slightly. Just a few months ago listings appeared with offer deadlines, now most sellers are accepting offers as they come.

In the middle of this, some sellers are employing a tactic that is not only ill-advised; it’s deceptive and is angering buyers. Further, it can backfire, causing financial harm to the property owner.

Normally, sellers set listing prices low enough to attract attention yet high enough that they’ll be satisfied if offers only come in at list price. I was therefore surprised, recently, to see homes come on the market, receive full-price offers, only to have the sellers come back and ask for more money.

One listing agent told me that the seller had actually asked them to misrepresent that multiple offers had come in to “justify” the higher price, even though the full price offer was the only one on the table.

Multiple offers have been happening for so long now that some have apparently forgotten the rules of engagement.

When more than one offer is submitted, agents can cull them for the best terms from each. They can take the highest price, lowest contingency timeframes, best conditions (eg. “as-is”) and then produce a multiple counter offer designed to pull everyone up to the same bar. They should not introduce new terms that are higher or better than those found in any given offer.

As an example, if the list price is $400,000 and the highest price in any offer is $400,000, they cannot counter everyone back at a higher price.

As for single offers, it’s accepted practice for sellers to counter to tweak terms, but they cannot (and should not) enhance terms beyond what is being offered as long as the offered price is list price or higher. They can always counter back up to list price if an offer is lower.

Unfortunately, some sellers have been bumping-up terms, violating the integrity of the offer/counter-offer process. This practice adds a deceptive overlay to the market. It’s no wonder buyers get angry when encountering sellers and/or agents who don’t play by the rules.

As the market softens, sellers tempted to try this tactic best beware: buyers might walk and take their offers with them. No offers… no sale.

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

Alameda County Home Prices Continue to Surge | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 September 2014 13:43

Alameda County home sales slowed last month, but prices increased more than 19 percent over August 2013, according to a real estate information service.

While sales were down nearly 14 percent from a year ago, the median price paid for a home in the county last month was $610,000, up 19.1 percent from $512,000 in August 2013, and the biggest median-price increase in the entire nine-county Bay Area.

The median is the point at which half of the buyers paid more for their homes and half paid less.

An estimated 1,572 new and resale houses and condos sold in the county last month, down from 1,825 a year ago, a drop which CoreLogic DataQuick attributes to a constrained housing supply, tricky mortgage availability and affordability issues.

 The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area buyers committed to paying last month was $2,352.




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