Real Estate Gallery
HOA Policies Reveal Disturbing Trend PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 February 2015 14:44

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Showing homes recently, I was startled to discover that two townhouses in completely separate developments had different policies concerning external maintenance than I expected.

It was a revelation that may be an indication of actions beleaguered Homeowner’s Associations might be taking to keep finances under control.

It’s no surprise that Homeowner Associations (HOAs) have had tough going over the past few years. The recent market meltdown caused rampant foreclosures and/or short sales in Bay Area multi-unit developments.

This was marked by the inability of owners to make their monthly HOA payments. Consequently, there was a staggering shortfall in revenue, bringing many local HOAs close to financial collapse and actually pushing others over the edge into bankruptcy. The financial hardships had an additional negative impact: scheduled maintenance was frequently halted due to lack of funds.

Making the way back from the brink has been difficult for HOAs. Not only do they need consistent revenue to maintain minimum state-legislated liquidity standards, they need additional funds to return their coffers to workable levels, all the while trying to catch up with deferred maintenance.

Some have dramatically raised monthly HOA fees while others have levied one-time assessments and, in worst case situations, both.

A benefit of buying into an HOA-governed development is the fact that external maintenance is normally covered by the association. This is particularly true of fungus- and termite-related issues, classified as “Section 1” damage.

However, in an effort to regain financial control, it appears some HOAs are choosing to shift responsibility for external maintenance to the owners.

While a troubling trend, it’s also a dangerous practice for HOAs to embrace.

Damage left unrepaired on one unit can lessen overall values and jeopardize adjacent units. It’s also making it difficult on buyers. Most purchase condos or townhouses because they cannot afford to snag a detached single-family home. This often means they have less available cash for the purchase. Discovering that they have to make expensive repairs after they buy can scuttle the deal.

It’s a classic case of “Buyer Beware” — make sure you know the status of the HOA before you ink your final contract. You don’t want to get too far into the transaction and discover that the cost of ownership is higher than you are willing to pay.

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

Alameda County Home Sales Slowest in Years PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 February 2015 14:40

January home sales throughout the nine-county Bay Area dropped sharply month over month, which is normal for the season, and dipped year over year to the lowest level for a January in seven years.

In Alameda County, a total of 849 new and resale houses and condos sold last month, down 11.40 percent from January 2014, according to CoreLogic DataQuick data.

The median price paid for a home in Alameda County last month was $520,000, up from $489,500 a year ago.

The typical monthly mortgage payment for Bay Area home buyers last month was $2,099.


Open Homes • 02-26-15 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 February 2015 14:40
Home Sales • 02-26-15 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 February 2015 14:34
Trulia-Zillow Merger Makes Little Difference PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:12

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

It’s official. The FTC will not block Zillow and Trulia’s merger, paving the way for the two major real estate web portals to unite. What does this mean for consumers? To understand, follow the money.

Zillow started with a basic premise: Remove the mystique about real estate so consumers have as much information as possible to make informed decisions.

From the beginning, they delivered access to active local listings, tax data and their “Zestimate,” an algorithmic property valuation tool providing approximate home values. Over the years, they’ve added loan calculators, rentals and more, but the basic premise remains. Zillow has always made money by drawing consumers to its data, then selling access to those same consumers to Realtors.

In contrast, Trulia was designed to provide information about the home-buying/selling process.

Flowing from founder Pete Flint’s personal frustrations when buying a home, his Trulia profile states: “A resulting commitment was made to build intuitive tools to help fellow homebuyers locate and make sense of the vast amount of real estate info on the web. Combine that with a business model that made sense for brokers and agents, and Trulia was born.”

To survive online, you need revenue. Zillow never made any bones about this. From the beginning, they’ve provided information to consumers on the front side of the portal while peddling income-producing leads to agents on the back side. They’re lead-centric.

Trulia, however, was information-centric, providing Trulia Voices, a portal for consumers to ask questions and get answers from agents. While Zillow also had Q&A, Trulia made it the centerpiece of their website. Additionally, Realtors could host personal blogs on Trulia, providing consumers with additional information.

Unfortunately, this model did not produce income and, therefore, the moment Trulia went public, it switched from being info-centric to lead-centric, just like Zillow.

Whereas access to Trulia Voices used to be on the home page, it’s now hidden behind layers of pull-down menus. Agent blogs were discontinued mid-January as Trulia now relies solely on “professional” writers for content.

Bottom line, for consumers: The Trulia/Zillow merger means… absolutely nothing.

Whether you prefer blue or green, each site now does the same thing — provides access to active listings, rentals, mortgage calculators and more. Like to see a property? Free access can be provided by clicking on a Realtor’s profile (who has paid for the privilege of having their picture on that page).

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

Sow Easy: Grow Food and Flowers from Seed PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:08

021915re2Many vegetables and flowers, especially annuals, can be sown as seeds directly into the garden. Not only can “growing your own” save gardeners money on tasty produce and colorful flowers, it can be a great way to introduce children to gardening.

Chelsey Fields, horticulturalist for the Burpee Seed Co., says the best seeds to sow directly are large ones such as beans, cucumbers and zucchini, which are tough enough to survive in outdoor conditions.

Most root crops such as turnips, beets and radishes, leaf lettuce and other leafy greens such as spinach, Swiss chard and arugula are also easy to grow outdoors from seed.

Numerous annual flowers can also be direct sown — from sunflowers, sweet peas, marigolds, impatiens and foxgloves to cleome, cosmos and forget-me-nots.

Seed Meals

Adventurous gardeners can toss a salad even before it’s planted.

“To grow a carpet of ‘ready-to-snip’ salad greens, just mix three to five types of seeds, toss them into prepared soil and use scissors to harvest the freshest, tastiest leaves you need for each meal,” says Fields.

King Crimson, Fan Dance, Green Frills lettuces, Wildfire Arugula and Baby Leaf Spinach are excellent and will grow back at least a second time for a repeat harvest. Radishes take just three to four weeks from seed to maturity to eating size.

Fields advises that direct-sown plants will require water; full sun (six to eight hours a day); well-drained soil mixed with organic matter such as compost; appropriate amounts of nutrients from compost; and, possibly, fertilizer.

Direct-Sowing Tips

To plant, follow the directions on the seed packet. Direct-sown vegetables will take a week or two to sprout (“germinate”), depending on the weather.

“Sow seeds in straight rows to make it easier to identify anything that sprouts outside the row as a weed,” advises Fields. “Many seeds can be sown throughout the summer for harvesting into the fall. The days-to-maturity message on the seed packet will help determine the likely harvest date.

Sunflowers are among the easiest and most spectacular of tall flowers and their edible seeds make a tasty snack.”

For more information, gardening ideas and “how-to” videos, visit or call 800-888-1447.

CAPTION: Many seeds can be sown directly into the garden.

Check Seed’s Viability Prior to Planting PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:05

021915reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: I’ve saved some of the seeds from some wonderful tomatoes I had last year. When would be a good time to germinate the seeds, so I can transplant them in May?

A: You should allow six to eight weeks between sowing the seed and planting in the open ground. So, I’d plan on sowing the seeds in March.

However, be aware that if you saved the seed from a hybrid variety, you’re going to be disappointed with the results.

Hybrid seed varieties are unpredictable in the next generation. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Big Boy and Beefsteak are all examples of hybrid tomatoes. The next year’s plants and tomatoes will be dissimilar to their parents. Genetics is the culprit.

On the other hand, the seed saved from open-pollinated or heirloom varieties will mirror the parent plant in the next generation.

If you’re not sure what you have, search the internet for “heirloom or hybrid tomato varieties” and see if you can locate your variety from that list.

If you don’t know the name, then lower your expectations and plant a few named varieties so the season isn’t a total loss.

Before sowing the seeds, check to see if they are viable. Viable seed means that it is capable of germinating. This is easily accomplished by pouring the seeds into a glass of water or larger receptacle. Discard the seeds that float on the surface and plant those that sink.

Dry out the viable seeds by spreading them over a paper towel and covering it with a second sheet. Then sow the seeds into a flat of pre-moistened potting soil, moist like a wrung-out sponge.

With a pen or pencil, make furrows in the soil, sow the seeds in the rows and then cover them with soil. The flat is then covered with plastic to trap moisture and heat.

Once the seedlings start to emerge from the soil, remove the sheeting and place the flat in an area that gets morning sun. The seedlings are transferred to individual pots when they get two sets of true leaves. Some gardeners prefer to sow seed directly into individual pots, and there is nothing wrong with that. But I prefer the other method as it allows me to select and cultivate the most vigorous seedlings to grow.

May is an excellent time to plant tomatoes. They’re a warm-season fruit/vegetable that requires even temperatures; and, for fruit to set, the nighttime temperatures need to be over 55°F. If you plant too early, the cool, damp weather will cause them to struggle. Avoid this by planting late. In most years, they produce just as soon as the early ones… without the seasonal risk.

Buzz Bertolero is Executive Vice President of Navlet’s Garden Centers and a California Certified Nursery Professional. Send questions by email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or to 360 Civic Drive, Ste. “D,” Pleasant Hill, CA 94523, and on Facebook at

CAPTION: You should only germinate seeds from heirloom or open-pollinated tomato varieties. Hybrid seed varieties are too unpredictable in the next generation.

Open Homes • 02-19-15 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:00
Home Sales • 02-19-15 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:00
Light Up Your Open Homes PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 12 February 2015 14:43

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Growing up on the Canadian Prairies, everything was flat, farms were massive and towns were infrequent. In practical terms, there were typically no visible obstructions or light sources in any direction.

Visiting the farms illuminated a common theme: a farmhouse and barn connected by an overhead power cable that included a single 100W light bulb suspended over the yard. Flying at night changed my perception of these solitary bulbs. From 35,000 feet I could pinpoint every farm’s location by those 100W lightbulbs twinkling like diamonds on a black velvet blanket.

Light is amazing. It lifts the spirits, provides hope and a feeling of spaciousness. Buyers entering dark rooms feel oppressed and want to leave immediately. Since it’s important homes feel open and inviting, sellers must understand the importance of light.

Historically, homes had heavy curtains and limited lighting. Newer decorating styles have abandoned curtains, opting for slim blinds or shutters and a swag or slim panels for color.

Some sellers have safety concerns — they don’t want anyone outside seeing in. Unfortunately, this means they can’t see out either — a huge problem when showing a home. Buyers want to be able to walk through the rooms, feel light pouring in and see what’s outside each window. It’s why savvy Realtors open every blind while hosting open houses.

After showing buyers thousands of homes, I’ve concluded the following:

1. Keep the rooms light and airy. Remove clutter and excess belongings so light can hit the walls.

2. Paint appropriately. While it’s okay to have color, only one wall should be a dark color, if at all. The remaining surfaces should be warm neutral tones, not stark white. Kelly Moore Swiss Coffee is a great color for trim, doors and ceilings.

3. Remove heavy window coverings. The less on the windows, the better — homes we stage typically have mini-blinds that can be pulled up with a swag for color.

4. Bring in the lights! Corner and table lamps will bring light into a room. And, for the best effect, use warm-white bulbs, not fluorescents or LEDs. Once a home has sold, the new owners can bring in whatever energy-efficient lights they want.

While it’s okay to live with curtains closed and lights off, when a buyer is headed your way, it’s Show Time! Light it up, open it up… and watch the interest go up 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

Check Stopper Before Using Drain Cleaner PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 12 February 2015 14:30

021215re2By Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

If your bathroom sink drains slowly, and fills up with the water running, try a couple of other things before taking the drain-cleaner route.

A slow-flowing drain’s problem may be sitting right in front of you, at the bottom of the sink, with the stopper.

Most of today’s standard bathroom sinks use a pop-up sink stopper, controlled by a push-pull rod behind and below the sink. The bottom of the stopper is typically attached to a control rod; this ensures that the stopper pops up far enough to allow a good, steady drain of water, and that it seals tightly when you want to fill the sink.

A couple of things can happen to the stopper over time: Hair and soap can get stuck at the bottom of the stopper, where the pivot rod attaches to it, causing a clog or slowdown. Or, the attachment to the pivot rod can break. Even if the stopper still pops up or closes, it may not be doing either very well.

So, check your stopper first: Grab it from the top with your index finger and thumb and pull gently upward. If it comes out easily, its attachment is likely broken. There’s a great step-by-step guide at on replacing a pop-up stopper.

If the stopper is attached to the pivot rod, you can go ahead and check for a clog at the base. Dive under the sink and locate the pivot rod. This is a round metal rod jutting horizontally into the back of the drain pipe. It’s held in place by a nut; loosen this nut and ease out the pivot rod. You may want to have a helper hold onto the stopper from above so that it doesn’t fall flush into place, making it harder to get out. Once the rod is pulled back, lift out the stopper.

Clean the gunk from the bottom of the stopper; if you see more gunk in the area around where the pivot rod sits, try fishing out the clog using a wire hanger bent into a hook, or an old bottle brush, or feed a pipe snake to the spot and swirl it a couple of times.

Using a helper to position the stopper, move the pivot rod back into place and hand-tighten the nut. Run the water to see if the slow drain problem is fixed, making sure water doesn’t leak from the pivot nut.

Home Tip: To de-gunk a slow-flowing drain without drain cleaner, pour a tablespoon of baking soda into the drain followed by two tablespoons of white vingar; let sit for a few minutes, then flush with hot water.

© 2015 King Features Synd., Inc.

CAPTION: First remove sink stopper to clear gunk from drain.

Fixed Rates Resume Downward Trend PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 12 February 2015 14:29

Average fixed mortgage rates, after ticking-up slightly, reversed course last week and fell amid weaker-than-expected housing and economic data, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly nationwide survey.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.59 percent, down from 3.66 a week earlier. A year ago at this time, it averaged 4.32 percent.

Fifteen-year rates averaged 2.92 percent last week, down from 2.98 percent.

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) were mixed last week. The five-year hybrid ARM averaged 2.82 percent, down from l2.86 percent, and the one-year ARM averaged 2.39 percent, up 2.38 percent.



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