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Take the Stress Out of Home Improvement PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 13:52

032615re1If you’re ready to hire someone for your first-ever home renovation, you’re likely focused more on the result of the project, not the process.

If you could just get from Point A (your underwhelming kitchen, bath or living room) to Point B (a new, luxurious and useful new space), life will be so much better.

It’s true that home renovation can deliver many benefits, including improved home value and livability. However, it’s also one of the most stressful events you’ll ever experience.

Seasoned renovators will tell you that even the most carefully chosen and brilliantly orchestrated renovation will require some major life adjustments. For first-timers, it’s important to be prepared – financially, logistically and mentally.

If you’re considering a major renovation, here are five pieces of advice home renovation veterans would likely give to first-timers:

1. Prior planning prevents poor performance. Some things in life can be over-planned, but renovation isn’t one of them. Don’t skimp on the planning process. You need to use patience and care when choosing a project that will increase your home’s value and your enjoyment of the space.

You’ll also need to decide how you will finance the project, select a contractor and deal with potentially major issues such as managing construction dust.

Homeowners also need to define what they want to accomplish. For example, do you just need an updated look or do you want an entirely new living space? You can glean ideas from publications, websites and other resources and also seek out professional assistance, such as from an interior decorator.

2. Your contractor is going to become your new roommate. Most homeowners continue to live in their homes during a major renovation, so you’ll be spending a lot of time with your contractor. For that reason, eight in 10 homeowners say that livability is one of the most important factors during a remodeling project, according to a study by MMR Research Associates.

Your first step is to hire a professional contractor who is licensed, insured and certified. Look for a firm that is conscientious about everything it does, has an experienced team and is used to handling large projects.

To find an ideal firm, get referrals from friends and from the firm itself and look at company websites. During the interview process, talk to prospective firms about timeline, logistics, realistic expectations and budget management. It’s important to understand the scope of the project and how your contractor proposes to handle any challenges that arise.

3. There will be dust. Dust will happen, guaranteed. Every phase of remodeling creates dust, and it’s the top threat to livability during a renovation.

More than 80 percent of homeowners are concerned that dust will be an annoyance and inconvenience during a remodeling project, according to the MMR study. In addition to the nuisance of dust migrating throughout your home, demolition and remodeling dust can cause difficulty for people with existing respiratory problems such as asthma and it can damage your belongings.

Before you sign a contract, make sure the remodeler has a dust control plan for your project. Top contractors follow dust control best practices and use the latest technology, such as the BuildClean Dust Control System, to virtually eliminate worksite dust because they realize more than 90 percent of homeowners will have a higher satisfaction rate if dust is controlled.

4. It’s the little things that get you. While your contractor is tearing down walls and re-creating your living space, life will still go on in your home. Piano lessons will continue, deliveries will take place, bedtimes will remain and meal prep will go on.

Meanwhile, your contractor’s crews need somewhere to park their work vehicles and might not remember to put every tool away (and out of reach of your kids) at the end of a day. It’s important to communicate with your contractor about these logistics and how you can work together to make the renovation go smoothly with as little disruption to your lives as possible.

5. It will be worth it. Your first priority in a remodeling project is to improve or enhance your living environment. You’ll also get an added bonus, because most home renovations improve value.

For example, a major kitchen remodeling project recoups more than 74 percent of its cost at the time of resale, and adding an attic bedroom returns more than 84 percent, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report. In addition to financial considerations, completed renovations can improve curb appeal and livability.


CAPTION: As with many other stressful life events, getting through a major home remodel or renovation can be its own reward, especially if the construction is under control and your livability is preserved.

Spruce Up Your Home for Spring PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 13:50

032615re4East Bay weather has already turned summerlike and many homeowners are itching to begin home improvement projects.

If you are one of them, consider these areas of your home when prepping for spring.

Windows and doors

From a full window replacement to a simple coat of paint, updating your windows and doors can have a big impact on your home.

If your windows felt drafty during the winter, it may be time for replacements. Replace your old single-pane windows with energy-efficient double-pane windows.

Double-pane windows can help you save on heating and cooling bills; they help keep the temperature in your home consistent year-round and help protect your furniture, carpet and window treatments from the sun’s fading rays.

Need to bring some fresh color into your home but don’t want to paint? Try updating your blinds or shades. From different styles to colorful fabrics, blinds and shades can add a pop of color to your room. Motorized blinds and shades come in hundreds of style and color options so you can find the right fit for your home’s decor.

Your front door is a major focal point of your home, enhancing your home’s curb appeal. Make a bold statement and improve your home’s energy efficiency with a new ENERGY STAR-certified front door.

Consider options with decorative glass accents, and sidelights to add more natural light while maintaining a sense of style and privacy.

Looking for something even easier? A new coat of paint to your existing door is a quick and easy way to give your home a fresh, new look. Give Pantone’s Color of the Year “Marsala” a try, or get inspired by your favorite Pinterest collection of favorite front doors.

Gutters and downspouts

Excess water near your foundation can cause thousands of dollars in damages. Luckily gutter cleaning and downspout repair is fairly low-cost.

You’ll want to make sure to clean your gutters and clean out any debris that may keep spring rains from flowing freely through your downspouts.

Along with replacing damaged gutter or downspout sections, you’ll also want to make sure you have added downspout extenders to ensure water is draining far away from your home’s foundation. Extenders should reach at least five feet into your yard.

Gutter covers can also be added to minimize debris from gathering in gutters throughout the year.

Air conditioning

Spring is a great time to start getting your cooling system ready. Often you have to call in the pros for air conditioning work, but things like spraying off any overgrowth or debris, cleaning coils and changing filters are fixes you can easily do on your own.

Also, trim back any shrubs that are near by. Keeping the outdoor unit clean from debris will boost your A/C system’s efficiency.

You can keep part of your indoor duct work clean by removing register covers and wiping clean any of the visible parts. You’ll need to contact a professional for a full duct cleaning.

For more home tips and design inspiration, visit for product information.

— BrandPoint

CAPTION: A new coat of paint on the front door is an easy way to give your home a fresh, new look


Tips for Adding Design Appeal to Your Home PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 13:47

032615re2Want to set your home apart? You can add character and beauty to your home by learning more about your house’s architectural style and adding design elements to complement the look.

• Proportions matter. If you’re going to be adding shutters to your exterior, do a bit of math. The width of shutters used in pairs on a window should be half the width of the window, and should be the same height as the window.

• The higher the ceiling, the taller the baseboard should be. Additionally, the height of your baseboard moulding should always be larger than the casing, which is the frame around a door or window.

• Make a room feel taller by placing a chair rail — the moulding used to prevent the backs of chairs from rubbing against the wall — one-third of the way up from the floor. Chair rails should be 1/2 or one inch narrower than casings.

• If you have a classic Georgian style home, characterized by strict symmetry and a centered and paneled front door, cap the front door panel with an elaborate crown supported by decorative pillars.

• Enhance your Victorian style home with ornamental spindlework on the porches and patterned shingles on the roof. Offset the complexity with simple surrounds for windows.

• For country style cottages, consider clapboard shingles for siding, or wood shake for siding and roofing, and wide white trim or shutters around windows.

• Complete the look and feel of your Mediterranean-style home, rich with such decorative accents as round columns, tile and stone, by planting lush gardens and installing an ornate fountain.

To learn more about enhancing your home’s architectural style, download a free Style Guide at:

— StatePoint

CAPTION: Don’t just update your house haphazardly. Do a bit of research so you can complement your home’s architectural style authentically and with sophisticated flair.

Time To Cut the Clutter PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 13:44

032615re3You’ve reached your breaking point. You’ve tripped over the same thing in the living room too many times. Now you’ve picked it up to finally put it away and you realize… you have nowhere to put it. You have too much clutter in your home.

So what do you do? How do you decide where to start so you can reduce the clutter in your home and make your walkways safe once more?

Getting started is easier than you think. If you want to take control of clutter, get a few boxes. Start with one for each room in your home and begin organizing one room at a time.

Begin this initiative by removing everything on top of your cabinets, tables and in bookcases, and then place it all in a box, says Keith McCleary, Interior Design Director at The Art Institute of York - Pennsylvania.

If there are other random accessories in the room, remove those, too. Keep just the basic furnishings. Now sit with the room in its simplest form for a short time.

“In room design, make good decisions about what you choose to put in the room and, often more importantly, in what you choose to leave out,” McCleary says. “Simplicity and clean lines make a room feel livable, and that’s what it’s really all about: comfortable living.”

Think about the kind of focal point you’re trying to create. How should you orchestrate this space and show off your special pieces in terms of size, scale, color and texture?

After a day or two has passed, go back to the box and look for items that define your personality, or will be noticed by guests visiting your home. “Ask yourself: When is enough, enough?” says McCleary. “Each piece of furniture in the room can function to complement. Accessories and works of art should contrast.”

When you look at your well-designed room, you should see positive elements, as well as appreciate the possibility for negative space by removing unnecessary pieces that don’t add to the design composition.

Interior design students are taught to help their clients step back and ask themselves: Is it finished now? You can err when you go shopping and purchase nice pieces for your home, because before long you may have accumulated too many of those nice things.

Take a hard look at some of those things you don’t really want or need; it might be time to share that stuff with your local Goodwill.

Sometimes, you might think you have to keep memorabilia or outdated gifts from Aunt Ethel in your home all the time. “Not so,” says McCleary. “It’s perfectly acceptable to remove those items when you do your box exercise.”

If you get a call from Auntie when she plans her next visit, head to the attic and put those old Beanie Babies she gave you when you were a fanatical collector decades ago on a shelf in your den — temporarily. She’ll be happy for the gesture. When she leaves, feel free to put them back in the box of memories until her next visit.

After you complete this exercise in each room in your home, you’ll notice that the clutter has disappeared. Now you can recognize how attractive the remaining items are in that same space. This initiative takes determination and focus, but when you’ve completed the exercise, your focus can be on the lovely space you’ve recreated.

To learn more about The Art Institutes schools, visit

— BrandPoint

Recreate Your Basement and Add Space PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 13:41

032615re5Have you ever wished you had more space in your home? Maybe you’d use the space to pursue a hobby, host out-of-town guests or just spread out and have some quiet time.

The space you desire could already be in your home in your basement. If your cellar is nothing but a series of unfinished areas used for storage, you’re not getting all the benefits you could be from the space.

Making the most of your basement doesn’t have to mean costly contractors and expensive remodeling scenarios. Several easy DIY projects that you can take on alone, with the aid of the right tools, can help you gain that extra space you wish for.

Ready to get started? Give these projects a try:

Build walls. Adding drywall to your basement has a big impact on the space immediately. Use 2-by-4s to mark where the walls will stand and place studs 16 inches apart. Then nail the panels to the wall where the edges meet the studs and cover the seams with drywall tape.

Once the walls are up, mud the seams and areas where nail pops appear. A drywall saw or power saw will help you shape your drywall perfectly, but if you don’t own one, you don’t have to buy one. It’s more cost efficient to simply rent it instead for this one-time project.

A touch of paint. A fresh coat of paint means you won’t have to stare at those drab walls in your new space. You can paint the space by hand, but if you have a large basement and you want to give every room that professional look, rent a paint sprayer instead. The cost is worth the time saved.

Freshen up your floor. If your basement is completely unfinished, you probably have cold, concrete floors. How you improve them is up to you. If you want the polished, marbled look, consider renting concrete floor finishing equipment for a look that’s sure to amaze. And, if the appearance of hardwood is more your style, laminate flooring panels are inexpensive and easy to install.

Lastly, if you want the feel of carpet beneath your feet, don’t forget to add the pad first to make those future steps a pleasure.

Eliminate the odor. Your new basement is coming together, now what can you do about that musty basement smell? A dehumidifier can help. You can purchase one at your local home goods store. When you get it home, try to place it near the washtub sink if your basement has one. This will allow you to drain right into the sink and save you from having to empty the dehumidifier regularly.

Install a sump pump. Now that you’ve refinished your basement, don’t let water damage ruin all your hard work. A sump pump can protect against flooding issues and installing one is easy. Most new homes have a location marked for a sump pump; it will look like a small well. Follow the water pipes in your home and you can find it. Once you do, purchase a sump pump from your local home goods store and follow the easy instructions.

— BrandPoint

Get Pre-approved Before Looking PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 13:39

Current loan process is more difficult than advertised

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Call me a skeptic, but I don’t believe every ad I hear. Let’s be real — we’ve all received emails telling us we’ve won the Zimbabwean lotto, seen infomercials declaring our acne can disappear in one easy treatment and ads boasting we can look 35 years old when we’re 86.

Call me old fashioned, but I believe in truth in advertising. Consequently, I’m amazed when reputable organizations infer that you can automatically qualify for a loan if you have decent incomes or because an online credit rating system gives you a high FICO score.

If only it were that simple. Truth be told, the current loan process is like getting a financial colonoscopy. It’s not for the faint of heart and, contrary to many ads I hear, not something you start thinking about after you find a property you like.

Listening to the radio while driving, I hear tons of these commercials. The irony here is that many are from financial institutions I respect. Which brings up questions.

First, “On what part of the planet do these copywriters live?” It certainly isn’t the Bay Area. Second, “Do these people know anything about getting loans?” And question three, “Who exactly approves these ads?”

One has a guy trimming the hedges of a home he wants to buy. When confronted by his agent, he infers he’ll have no problem getting a loan because he has great credit scores. Another has a buyer describing a wonderful loft he’s found — and he needs to get on down to his bank to get a pre-approval.

News flash… by the time they’re approved, the properties in question will be gone. In our current super-heated market, the time to get approved is before you start looking. In fact, if you don’t have a pre-approval, most Realtors will not put you in their car.

No pre-approval means you don’t know what you can or cannot afford. It means your credit hasn’t been examined to see if there are potential landmines waiting to blow up a purchase. It means you may be looking at homes you don’t qualify to purchase, getting hopes up unnecessarily. It means you can’t act right away if an offer deadline is looming because sellers will not accept offers without a pre-approval.

Get pre-approved first. There’s nothing worse than getting your hopes up only to have them dashed by your lack of preparation.

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

Take Stock Prior to Spring Action PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 13:28

By Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

Signs of spring are already appearing and it’s time to start preparing for this busy season. Here are a few things to add to your to-do list this week:

• Take stock: Check your garage or storage shed to make sure you have the tools and supplies you need to prep the lawn and garden.

• Prepare your lawnmower and power tools: Make sure the mower is assembled, that blades are sharp and that you have fresh fuel on hand. Check that power tools like edgers, blowers, string trimmers and hedge trimmers are in good shape.

• Turn your compost pile: Or, if you don’t have one, start one. It won’t be ready for early spring but could be usable in the summer to help along your vegetable garden.

• Get outdoor furniture ready: Whether your patio furniture is stored or sturdy enough to sit outside all winter, check it for damage and clean off dirt.

• Check window and door screens: Replacing a torn or ratty screen is one of the easiest and most affordable DIY jobs.

•Make a budget: List the supplies and tools you need, plus repairs. Also budget how much time you can dedicate to home and garden work this year.

© 2015 King Features Synd., Inc.

Rates Move Down Heading into Spring PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 13:27

Average fixed mortgage rates moved down across the board last week with the average 30-year-fixed mortgage rate continuing a run below 4 percent — a good sign for the spring homebuying season.

The 30-year fixed-rate averaged 3.78 percent last week, down from 3.86 percent a week earlier. A year ago at this time, it averaged 4.32 percent.

Fifteen-year fixed rates averaged 3.06 percent, down from 3.10 percent.

Five-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 2.97 percent, down from 3.01 percent, and one-year ARMs averaged 2.46 percent, unchanged from the previous week.


Ficus Benjamina Sees Better Days; Lettuce Leaves Turn Brown Again PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 13:21

032615reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: After 25-plus years, the Ficus Benjamina in our office is so badly misshapen that I think it has to go. It has grown a heavy canopy and filled the skylight above it, while the rest of the tree has become pretty weak and ugly. Should we attempt emergency surgery and see if we can squeeze another few years out of it, or replace it? Do you have any recommendations on other “trees” that might do well indoors?

A: There is no easy answer to this question. Ultimately, it will be a judgment call on your part.

There certainly are other trees that would grow in this environment such as, the Fiddle Leaf Fig, Norfork Island Pine and the Rubber Tree. Of this group, I like the Fiddle Leaf Fig. It’s one of the trendiest indoor trees today, due to it’s big leaves and beautiful shape. It will grow up to 15 feet tall with a 5-foot spread.

However, my first choice would be either a Schefflera or another variety of ficus.

The Schefflera is commonly called the Umbrella Tree because of the whorls of large glossy leaves. It creates a beautiful tropical display, growing 8 to 10 feet tall with a 6-foot spread.

Ficus and Schefflera tolerate being severely pruned when they get out of hand, which is important in this case. It’s recommended to thin out the canopy frequently to allow the light from the skylight to reach the lower section of the plant.

The biggest problem with a new tree is finding one big enough to fill the space. There is also the additional problem of getting it acclimated to the new location as well as the overall cost.

If you’re willing  to wait, you could start with a much smaller plant and allow it to mature.

Hence, pruning back the existing Ficus Benjamina would be my first option but again I don’t have to look at the current tree everyday.

Q: My lettuce, Swiss chard and spinach leaves are turning brown. This also occurred last year and it is now spreading to my cucumbers. There are no bugs that I can see. I’ve amended the soil with lots of horse manure, plus I sprinkled 16-16-16 over the area. The soil drains well even when it pours. What is the problem, and how do I correct things?

A: Your problem is simply a case of having too much of a good thing.

The discoloration on the leaves is a fertilizer burn from excess nitrogen. Horse manure should be used sparingly — one to two cubic feet per 100 square feet is the norm. In addition, it should be aged for a minimum of six months as fresh manure burns.

To avoid this problem, I’d switch to homemade or commercial compost to amend the soil. In addition, I wouldn’t be adding 16-16-16 because of the high nitrogen. Instead, I’d use a slow-release, organic vegetable food like Dr Earth Organic #5 Tomato, Vegetable and Herb Food.

This should correct the leaf burn problem with future plantings.

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 • 03-26-15 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 13:21
Home Sales • 03-26-15 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 13:20
Conflicted Buyers Miss Opportunities PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 March 2015 14:49

By Carl Medford, CRS Special to the Times

I get conflicted this time of year. Guarding the exit of almost every supermarket is a troupe of eager faces tempting me with the best cookies on the planet. Problem is… I’m on a low-carb, sugar-free diet and so are most of my friends.

It’s not just about cookies — I appreciate the cause. The Girl Scout’s webpage states, “Did you know that Girl Scout Cookies are SO much more than just delicious treats? Every time you buy a box, you help girls learn 5 essential skills: goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics — all while helping them better themselves and their communities.

How cool is that? They learn, earn and have tons of fun — and they couldn’t do it without you!”

If only. As it happens, cookies are the least of our worries — some homebuyer wannabes are also conflicted, but on a far more serious scale. We’d all hoped the market would’ve slowed by now, allowing buyers to catch their collective breaths and increasing their chances of scoring a home.

No such luck. With the dearth of inventory, the relentless pattern of multiple offers grinds ever onward, posing real problems for buyers with limited budgets. As market prices continue ramping upward, their chances of finding properties that meet their criteria grows ever smaller.

If we knew with certainty that the market would slow at a certain point and home values would either stabilize or decrease, we could advise buyers to hang on until then. Problem is, the Bay Area housing market and economy as a whole does not seem to be letting up.

Even if prices dip, they will more than likely have moved well beyond many buyer’s capabilities.

Whereas I can walk past the cookie table, homebuyers cannot adopt that mindset. With limited choices, the goal is not to get a home that meets all of their criteria, but to be able to buy a place at all.

Enter conflicted buyers. Some seemingly cannot wrap their minds around the dilemma and keep passing opportunities by because the properties don’t fully meet their ideals. They are hoping that this market will pass and they will finally get their opportunity. To be very honest, I’m not sure that will happen. Unless they shift their thinking, they will end up renting for a very, very long time.

As for the cookies? Maybe a couple won’t hurt…

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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