Real Estate Gallery
Outdoor Projects Can Boost Home’s Value | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 11:32

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It’s official. July is here, kids are out of school and the summer is officially underway. As temperatures rise and days become longer, people naturally turn their focus outside. Many begin planning outdoor projects to enhance their home for the season.

Thinking of selling your home in the near future? You will want to plan those projects carefully — some improvements provide a better return on your investment than others.

According to Realtytimes.com, topping the list of simple exterior improvements are items such as replacing exterior doors (averaging 101 percent ROI – Return on Investment). New garage doors provide an ROI of 88 percent. A professionally constructed deck can bring an ROI of 73 percent, while a covered patio or sunroom comes in at less, ranging between an ROI of 30-50 percent.

Due to our perfect Bay Area climate, backyard kitchens are becoming all the rage and are actually considered to be an outside room. It’s possible to get returns of between 100-200 percent, depending on the materials used.

Fire pits are also popular and, if constructed professionally and in good taste, can return up to 150 percent of your investment.

Landscaping comes in with the best return, as long as it’s done well. Not only will great landscaping provide a solid ROI, it can also increase the value of your home, boost your curb appeal and shorten the time your home is on the market.

With our current water shortage, think “low maintenance” and “drought resistant.” Many, wanting to retain the look of a green lawn, are replacing real grass with artificial turf.

Speaking of water, the popularity of pools and other water features are diminishing. In fact, many owners of homes which had pools installed in the ’70s and ’80s are now removing them.

Along with the obsolescence of outdated equipment and subsequent costs to modernize, the ongoing expense of routine maintenance and hefty water bills can quickly remove the desirability of having a swimming pool.

Demolition companies can make short work of a pool by punching holes in the bottom, cutting off the top few feet, emptying the debris into the pool cavity, dumping in as much additional fill as required and then compacting everything to make sure that settling will not happen over time and leave a depression in the yard.

Result? A blank slate on which to build the yard of your dreams and, if you plan wisely, gain additional equity as well.

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 www.ccmgtoday.com.


 
Garage Door Shows Signs of Torsion Trouble | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 July 2015 10:26

By Sam Mazzotta • Special to the Times

Q: My garage door has been opening very slowly the past few days. I had already had problems opening and closing it — I have had to mash the remote door button several times to get it to move. Are these problems related? Are they easy or difficult to fix?

A: They’re related in the sense that your garage door probably needs some overall maintenance, but the two issues are otherwise likely not from the same cause.

Having to mash the remote operating button several times could indicate that the garage door’s sensor eye is dirty or misaligned. Or, the battery on the remote may need changing.

Slow opening speed indicates a more serious problem. One of the door’s torsion springs — a pair of large coils straddling the horizontal bar at the top of the door that helps control opening and closing — may be broken or on their way out. The broken spring can’t be repaired; it must be replaced.

Garage door torsion springs are difficult to repair. You’ll probably read plenty of warnings on the internet about attempting to replace them yourself.

Since the coils are under tension, especially when the garage door is closed, removing them can be dangerous. I don’t have enough space in this column to tell you how to do it safely, but if you’re interested in what it takes to change these out, a detailed description can be found at DDMGarageDoors.com. DIYer Richard Kinch provides even more good info in “How I Replaced Deadly Garage Door Torsion Springs and Lived to Tell the Tale,” found here.

If you decide against repairing the door yourself, contact a licensed garage door repair professional to inspect the door and its hardware and estimate the cost of repairs. As with any repair that you need to hire someone for, follow the “rule of three” — contact three different professionals and get a written estimate from each before allowing any work to be done.

While you’re waiting for the repair, do not open or close the door. Park your car in the driveway for now. Operating the door with a broken torsion spring can cause additional damage, including misalignment or derailment.

© 2015 King Features Synd., Inc.


 
Weeds Break Through Landscape Fabric | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 July 2015 10:21

By Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: For weed control, I’ve installed landscape fabric and covered it with a layer of bark. After a month, I was very surprised to find weeds growing right through the barrier. How do I get rid of the weeds and what can I do to prevent this from happening again?

A: There are two primary causes for landscape fabric not doing its job. The first being not overlapping the seams or sections of the fabric sufficiently and second, an inadequate layer of mulch.

To be effective, bark or any other type of mulch should be at least three inches thick for weed control and moisture retention. The combination of the fabric and the mulch prevents light from reaching the soil. Without a light source, the vegetation under the fabric dies and the dormant weed seeds can’t germinate.

Before installing the fabric, the area should be firm or flat so the new layer is not uneven when it settles. You should mow the area, treat it with a herbicide or both. If your mulch is rock or stone, this isn’t necessary.

When laying out the fabric, be sure to overlap each section by a foot; otherwise the weeds will creep through where the sections meet.

In the past, black plastic was used; however, it’s not a recommended solution today. Black plastic doesn’t allow the soil to breathe along with trapping moisture under the barrier. The excess moisture, over time, causes plants to suffer from root rot.

To correct the current situation, spray the unwanted vegetation with Round Up or similar product and then add additional mulch. You could manually remove the weeds with a hoe but be careful not to gouge or rip the fabric.

Landscape fabric should not be thought of as a permanent weed control solution as it’s only good for five to ten years. In addition, it will only prevent those weeds from regrowing that are under the fabric. It’s ineffective in controlling any weed seeds that germinate above the barrier.

When the hills turn brown, the annual grasses and other plants die, producing seeds that blow everywhere. It’s a forgone conclusion that the wind will bring you a new crop of weed seeds.

Monterey Weed Stopper is a pre-emergent herbicide that sets up a chemical barrier that kills the weed seeds above the fabric before they germinate. It’s applied in the late fall to kill the dormant weed seeds before they germinate.

To keep the area weed free, be sure to follow the instructions and don’t cultivate the area. If you do, you’ll have to reapply the material, as the barrier is broken.

Buzz Bertolero is Executive Vice President of Navlet’s Garden Centers and a California Certified Nursery Professional. His web address is www.dirtgardener.com and you can send questions by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or to 360 Civic Drive, Suite D, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523 and on Facebook at Facebook.com/Buzz.Bertolero.


 
Open Homes • 07-02-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 July 2015 10:21
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Home Sales • 07-02-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 July 2015 10:20
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The Ultimate Father’s Day Gift | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 11:46

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Just before last weekend, I was bombarded with ads for Father’s Day gifts. Along with the stereotypical barbecue and golf accessories, some have been a bit comical or weird: ties made of wood, a triple-beverage backpack dispenser, a Darth Vader onesie, a mug shaped like a camera lens, a FitBand girdle, sunglasses with a built-in bottle opener, zombie socks... and it’s downhill from there.

A recent survey amongst dads with young children revealed more pressing desires. Things like, “one good night’s sleep” or, “one day without diapers or potty accidents.”

One father of three asked for breakfast and then the rest of the day to recuperate from the previous year.

My favorite: “One day when the children act like angels all day long.” Good luck with that one.

While some listed a new motorcycle, others wanted a new gadget, like an iPad. Golf memberships made the list, along with European vacations (without the kids), season tickets for a sports team and back massages.

The most poignant requests, however, centered on family activities at home. Backyard events including barbecues, throwing balls and chasing kids. A nice dinner and a movie with popcorn.

Which brings up the most important request of all – a home in which to house these things.

To be honest, many fathers are hard to give gifts to because they put their own desires and preferences on the back burner making sure the rest of the family is cared for. They divert resources towards ensuring their family has a proper environment in which to grow and prosper.

Top of many dads’ lists is the ability to buy a home that will provide a safe and nurturing place to put down roots. All of which has become increasingly difficult as a result of short inventory and soaring prices.

While the gift of a seat at a Warriors Championship Game would be awesome, most young dads really want something a bit more tangible. They want a property with their name on the deed. A place to come home to after a long day at work. A place where their kids can run to meet them at the front door. A place to watch movies and roll around on the floor, eat ice cream and watch one more episode of Clifford The Big Red Dog on a big screen TV hanging on a wall ... they can call their very own.

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 www.ccmgtoday.com.


 
Can Home Improvements Be Deducted from Taxes? | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 29 June 2015 08:06

The cost of certain home improvements can be deducted on your tax returns, but not all of them. And the rules for such deductions can change, so the deduction you are eligible for one year may not be available the next year.

Some of the more compelling deductions are energy tax credits. For example, if you install solar panels or a solar water heater, geothermal heat pumps, a small wind turbine, or fuel cells in your existing or new home, you may be able to get a one-time, 30 percent tax credit on the cost of such systems (including labor and installation costs).

If you install energy-efficient windows and doors, you may be able to take a one-time credit of 10 percent. Installing new insulation or putting on a new roof can also qualify you for the credit, if the materials meet specific energy efficiency guidelines. These are detailed by the IRS, and you can find out more by visiting their website or talking with a tax preparer.

If you make home improvements for medical reasons—such as installing wheelchair ramps and handrails, lowering cabinets, etc., you may be able to deduct those improvements as medical expenses. Be careful about what you claim, however. “(M)aking a residence wheelchair accessible qualifies, but adding a sculpture garden does not,” says a TurboTax guide.

Other deductions may be available, but read the tax guidelines carefully and fill out forms properly. Tax software or a professional tax preparer can help you figure out which credits or deductions you can take.

©2015 King Features, Inc.


 
Allergy-Free Gardens; Trim Those Tomatoes | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 29 June 2015 08:02

062515reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: I’m curious as to when a liquidambar starts to produce pollen? I’m trying to figure out if it could be the source of our daughter’s severe  spring allergies.

A: Liquidambar trees bloom in March. It produces both male and female flowers  as separate structures about the same time as the leaves are emerging from dormancy.

Plant pollen moves around by insects and the wind.

Wind pollination requires light pollen and lots of it that can travel great distances.

This is the troublesome kind because it is abundant, easily inhaled and likely to cause allergic reactions.

Flowers that depend on bees, wasps, butterflies, moths and beetles for pollination, tend to produce heavy, sticky grains that are somewhat airborne.

My gut feeling is that your Liquidambar is not the culprit. Instead, there may be multiple sources based on the plants in your yard.

Foundation plants especially next to windows and entry and doorways can be an immediate source of problems to those predisposed to pollen allergies.

Birch, oaks, cedars, walnuts and  olives while junipers, privets, podocarpus and even lilacs are problematical trees and shrubs.

My suggestion would be to purchase a copy of Tom Ogren’s book Allergy Free Gardening.

It’s available  online or maybe at a local bookstore.

Tom has develop a system of rating plants as to their allergy level.

The Ogren Plant Allergy Scale (OPALS) assigns plants including edibles a rating from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best for allergies and 10 being worst. You’re now able to identify the problem plant(s).

Of course, this assume you know the plant names in your yard.  If not, take samples or pictures to favorite garden center and have the nursery professional help with the names.

Q: I have two tomato plants growing in large pots. They’re doing really well, but, I’m concerned because they are so very bushy.  Should I strip some of the growth off or just let them continue on?

A: It’s important for tomatoes to be bushy with lots of leaves.

The foliage cover is a type of natural sun block protecting the ripening tomatoes from sunburn.

Sunburn is a tan/beige spot that forms on the south and southwest side of the fruits.

But, you can have too much of a good thing; so, I’d selectively thin out the inside of the plant, or the secondary shoot(s) that forms were a leaf connects to a stem.

The center of the plant(s) become very crowed and dense as the plant(s) mature especially when you’re using a tomato cage.

Thinning lets in more light, increases the air circulation throughout the plant and helps keeps the inside foliage from turning brown.

Thinning is repeated as necessary.

In addition, you should also be on the lookout for the  Tomato Hornworm.

They like to hide out in the center of the plant and munch on the leaves.

When caught early  you can just pick them off or for more serious infestation spray with BT or Captain Jack Dead Bug Brew.

 
Seven Dangerous DIY Projects | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 29 June 2015 07:53

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Trees don’t always fall in a predictable manner, creating a hazard for yourself and your property.

One in five Do-It-Yourselfers tackling home renovations ends up hurt each year due to accidents, according to the Home Safety Council. Don’t become a statistic.

Here are the seven most dangerous DIY home renovations you should leave to the experts.

Tree Trimming & Removal

Trees don’t always fall in a predictable manner, creating a hazard for yourself and your property. It’s best to consult a certified arborist, no matter how handy you are with power tools.

“If a tree falls during a storm, a DIY mishap, or a careless neighbor’s landscaping project, take photos and contact your claims adjuster as soon as possible,” says Erie Insurance Vice President Joe Vahey. “Your adjuster can help evaluate the damage and explain how your homeowners insurance can help.”

Asbestos Removal

Many homes built before 1980 contain asbestos. Before renovating, it’s a smart idea to have your home inspected for asbestos-containing materials by accredited professionals. Leave clean-up to experts, and limit your exposure to the area. Inhaling airborne fibers may cause harmful respiratory problems.

Roof Repair

When faced with roof damage, homeowners often look for a quick fix. Rather than running the risk of falling or injuring yourself, have your homeowners insurance claims adjuster verify damage and schedule repair work with an experienced company. In the long run, this will save you time, money and help you avoid injuries.

Electrical Repairs

While it’s easy to change a light switch or install a ceiling fan (make sure your power is turned off before you start), replacing circuits and other larger projects should be done by professionals. This will prevent shocks, injuries and potential fires, while ensuring your home is up to building codes if you eventually plan to sell.

Gas Appliance Repairs

Properly cutting off or hooking up gas lines can be tricky, so leave gas appliance repairs to the professionals to protect against potential gas leaks and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Knocking Down Walls

If you’re looking for an open floor plan, think before tearing down walls yourself. Do you know which walls are load-bearing and where plumbing or electrical lines are located? Professionals will know how to best navigate the project so you stay safe, and your home stays intact.

Pest Control

Not all pest-control products should be handled by the average consumer. Keep family safe by hiring a pest control company to handle toxic substances properly.

StatePoint


 
Projects to Tackle During the Summer | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 29 June 2015 07:50

For many Americans the warmer weather of summer means it’s time to focus on all those home improvement projects that would be inconvenient during the cooler months.

Adding an extension, sanding wooden floors or replacing a roof are a lot easier when you’re not worried about the weather and diminished day light. Also, contractors are less likely to have weather-related delays that blow timelines, making summer renovations run more smoothly.

Here are some home improvement projects you may want to start this season:

• Replace the Roof: If your roof is starting to leak or you notice dramatic increases in heating or cooling bills, it may be time to replace it. The best time to do so is when the weather is warm and dry. Keep in mind the U.S. Department of Energy recommends light roofing colors, which will keep down cooling costs and help reduce global warming. For more energy-saving home improvement tips, visit www.energy.gov.

• Check the Perimeter: Inspect your home’s exterior, making sure to check your siding for mold or cracks. Mold and cracks can be a sign you need to re-paint or replace boards. Also, now may be a good time to repave your driveway. Asphalt needs the right factors of temperature and moisture to set properly. Better weather leads to better driveways.

• Tinker with Plumbing: Because bathroom and kitchen renovations often require plumbing changes, the warmer months are the best for these projects. Now’s the ideal time to expand that half-bathroom with a shower stall, or to upgrade your master bathroom with a whirlpool tub. And there are many choices of eco-friendly fixtures from such brands as Delta, Kohler, American Standard and others.

• Install Skylights: With longer days and clear, starry nights, it’s the season for gazing at the sky. But allergens can make sky gazing difficult for some. Consider installing skylights in your home this season.

• Sand the Floor: Most people think of floor maintenance as a cool weather activity, but floor sanding kicks up incredible amounts of dust. In warmer weather, you can throw open doors and windows and set up fans to suck the dust outward.

The better weather makes almost all home improvement projects more enjoyable. So take advantage of the season to upgrade your home!

— StatePoint


 
Don’t Put Off Important Summer Repairs! | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 29 June 2015 07:47

062515shi2It’s essential that certain home repairs (and maintenance items) be tackled right away before they develop into much bigger messes — even if the repair needs to be done by a professional.

Below are five tasks that should never be put off, provided courtesy of Angie’s List (www.angieslist.com).

1. Change your air filters. HVAC experts estimate that 60 percent of all service calls are the result of dirty filters. Changing air filters regularly (every month or so) can save you up to $100 each year in energy costs.

2. Repair leaky faucets and running toilets. Doing so could save hundreds of dollars per year on your water bill.

3. Check the caulking around your tub and shower for moisture penetration, which can lead to mold. Bath fixtures can avoid premature replacement if the tile surface is kept watertight, and the subsurface, usually drywall, remains dry.

4. Inspect electrical cords and outlets for signs of distortion, discoloration or cracks in the insulation, and hire an electrician to replace tired outlets that no longer hold a plug. A defective receptacle, light switch or fixture replaced during a scheduled visit will save you hundreds of dollars over an emergency repair.

5. Weatherproof windows and doors. These are the two areas with the largest amount of air transfer in both cold and hot weather. Use a digital thermometer to check the seal quality and inspect the caulking for areas that have cracked or shrunk, which will allow water to damage siding and floors. Once sealed, use a programmable thermostat to help regulate air temperature, which could save you up to 10 percent on your monthly energy bill. Consider getting a home energy audit.

Home Tip: When hiring a contractor, always insist on a written estimate before any work begins.

© 2015 King Features Synd., Inc.


 
A More Appealing Home | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 29 June 2015 07:45

Your house can be more comfortable with a few minor home improvements. Here are tips that can help:

• Your front door is one of the first things people see when arriving at your house and what greets you when you come home. Keep it welcoming with fresh paint and new hardware.

• Keep things clear. Don’t let your front walkway or the front of your home look overgrown. Cut back on the shrubbery, and consider plants in pots instead.

• Improve the lighting. Consider motion-sensing lights on walkways and the driveway and lanterns on posts near the door.

— North American Precis Synd., Inc.


 

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