Real Estate Gallery
In Today’s Market, Cash Is Still King PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 14:03

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Although slowing in many quarters due to increased inventory, the market remains hot enough for many properties to garner multiple offers.

Consequently, some buyers are still having difficulties landing a home. Tired of continual rejection notices, they’re looking for meaningful solutions to write winning offers.

Since I’m always on the lookout for articles to help clients, one that crossed my desk a few days ago peaked my interest — titled, “How To Win A Bidding War.” It promised solutions to buyers’ woes. I dug in with anticipation, but was immediately dismayed after reading “Strategy No. 1.”

It was, “Pay with cash.”

Touted as “the best way to get a seller’s attention,” I thought, “Dang, why didn’t I think of that?” Oh, wait… I did. Years ago. Right in the middle of writing my very first offer.

I pressed deeper, thinking, “Maybe they are going to provide a solution as to how to get that much cash.” After all, that’s what buyers really need. No such luck.

Therein lies the dilemma. While we’re not seeing as many cash offers as we used to, they still exist; and, because they don’t have to go through a bank’s financing department and are not dependent on an appraisal, they’re more enticing to sellers — especially if the price is comparable to financed offers.

Truth be known, there already are effective ways to compete, but they depend on strategies including “as-is” conditions, escalation clauses, willingness to write higher-than-list price offers and removal of most or all of the contingencies — risky business, to be sure.

Some lenders, however, are insisting they have a new tool to help beleaguered buyers — Pre-underwriting.

Instead of a basic preapproval based on a borrower’s credit history, they review all documentation required for a formal approval upfront and run it though Fannie Mae’s automated underwriting system. Once approved, this loan is supposed to be “as good as cash.” All that remains to close the deal is a satisfactory appraisal.

And there again is the rub: Cash offers require no appraisal while pre-underwritten loans DO. As one lender recently told me, “It is rarely the borrower that is at fault for any hiccups — more likely the home is the culprit.”

Read: “Less than satisfactory appraisal.”

Which really means that, while a pre-underwritten loan is a much better option than a pre-approval, it’s still not quite as good as… you guessed it… cash.

Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Prudential California Realty in Castro Valley and a licensed general contractor.

Keep Cool on a Small Budget PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 14:01

072414reBy Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

An evaporative cooler can be a cost-effective alternative to an air conditioner, but it’s not always the best choice.

Also known as swamp coolers, evaporative coolers add humidity to the air in your house. They bring in air from the outside, pass it over water-soaked pads, and blow that humidified air inside.

If you live in a hot, dry climate, a swamp cooler can be a very efficient way to cool the house. In hot, humid weather, not so much, because the air in the house is already humid.

Air conditioners work well in humid climates because they help remove some of that humidity from the air. While they’re not dehumidifiers, per se, the unit recirculates air in the room. As that air passes over the air conditioner’s evaporator coil, the moisture in the air condenses and is drained from the unit, while the air is blown back into the room. That process helps cool the air and reduce mugginess.

Both units need regular maintenance: An evaporative cooler’s pads need to be changed every few weeks while in use, and an air conditioner’s filter needs to be cleaned or replaced each month in the warm season.

If you hate lugging window units in and out of the window each year, look into buying a portable air conditioner. These typically cost more than window units (sometimes twice as much for the same BTU level) but can be rolled from room to room as needed and stored out of the way when not needed.

Just remember that the portable unit’s ventilation hose must vent outside, meaning the unit needs to stay near a window. And you probably will need to empty the condensation tray regularly, in cheaper units.

A final alternative is natural ventilation. If you get cool nights or steady breezes, open windows in the early morning and late evening, and invest in heavy curtains to cover windows in which the sun shines during the afternoon. Add an electric fan to keep fresh air circulating constantly. In certain climates, this can give you a comfortable home except for the hottest, most humid days of the year.

©2014 King Features Synd., Inc.

CAPTION: Portable air conditioners typically cost more than window units but can be rolled from room to room as needed.

Watermelon Wonders; Plant Impatiens for Color PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 13:57

072414re2By Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: My Sugar Baby watermelons are getting large and I’m not sure how to tell when to pick them. Can you give me any advice? I don’t want to pick them too soon.

A: Unlike other fruits such as tomatoes, watermelons do not ripen after harvesting; so there has always been a debate as to when to pick them.

Harvesting Sugar Baby watermelons generally begins 80 days after planting. This is not an exact date but instead a benchmark to work around. It is more exact if you planted your melons from seed and less accurate from transplants.

The other big variable is temperature. Watermelons like warm days and nights to mature on time; however, our temperatures tend to vary, thus we need to use a little educated guesswork in determining when to pick them.

As the maturity day approaches, check your plants daily. Every watermelon has a curly tendril immediately below where it is attached to the vine. When this tendril is green, the melon is not ready for harvesting. When it is brown and shriveled, you have a 90 percent probability that the melon is ready to be picked.

In addition, Sugar Baby watermelons should be about 10 inches in diameter with a dark-green rind.

Another test you can use to tell when a watermelon is ripe is if your fingernail cannot indent the skin. Also, the outer skin of the watermelon tends to feel a little rough when ripe.

The old-school method of thumping the melon is not very precise or accurate.

If your melon(s) passes the Sugar Baby watermelon maturity test(s), they can be picked by snipping them off at the stem with a pair shears or scissors.

Like so many home-grown fruits and vegetables, the flavor and sweetness of a chilled home-grown watermelon is fabulous.

Q: My problem is a planter box that faces north and receives lots of shade, although it’s not dark. The planter is 10 feet long and is faced with native rock. What type of flowers should I plant in it?

A: I’d consider planting New Guinea impatiens along with Torrenia.

New Guinea impatiens are the best option for color in shady areas. Their flower is about three times the size of regular impatiens and the foliage is dark-green with deep-red stems and midribs.

Midribs are those leaf veins that separate or segment a leaf into sections.

With some plants like New Guinea impaients, their colors are very bold. White, pink, red, orange and bicolor are the typical colors.

Torrenia is known as the Wishbone Flower and is available in blue or pink with white.

Another option is Coleus. Coleus comes in a wide variety of leaf shapes and colors.

Depending on the depth of the planter, you could mix these varieties together and they should continue to bloom into early November; however, it is very unlikely that any of these varieties will survive the winter cold. They’ll collapse and shrivel up with the first cold spell or frosty night.

If this occurs, I’d then replace them with Cyclamen. This will give you color year round.

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 • 07-24-14 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 13:57
Home Sales • 07-24-14 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 13:56
Patterns Change for First-time Buyers PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 15:21

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

In what amounts to a fundamental rethinking about the purpose of home ownership, buying patterns are changing in the post-recession recovery.

Prior to the bust and meltdown, many buyers purchased their primary homes with the specific intent of holding for a short period of time, selling as soon as it made sense, making a quick profit and… lather, rinse, repeat.

That is no longer the case. Leslie Parker, a consumer housing specialist with, informs, “People are buying homes they are going to stay in 15, 20, 30 years.” She adds, “Before (the recession) you saw more of a chess game, where people would buy a home and then they would move a couple years later, and then they would move again.”

It’s a critical readjustment in the way homeowners view their homes and a shift in a healthy direction. Prior to the meltdown, many purchased homes with the idea of using them as ATM machines. As market values climbed and equity increased, they’d either refinance or get a line of credit. In either case, they’d pull cash out for any number of uses, some utilizing their windfall as down payments on investment properties, hoping they would also begin to increase in value.

A second group, once they had a specific percentage of equity, were selling their homes and, using the equity bonanza as a new down payment, were leveraging larger and larger homes.

Loans available at that time were allowing minimal down payments, and, with adjustable ARM loans making initial monthly mortgage payments extremely low, they were able to move up dramatically in a short period of time.

Both groups got caught when the market collapsed and home values quickly plummeted below the amounts owed on loans.

And now none other than economist Karl “Chip” Case (a name synonymous with home prices as the co-creator of the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index) is weighing in. His advice to first-time homebuyers? “Be sure you can afford the house and don’t expect a quick profit,” he insists. “If you’re not buying it for the long haul, don’t buy because there’s a good chance you’ll have to sit through some down cycles.”

Our advice? Never forget the fundamental objective for buying a home. While it may be a good investment, a way to lower taxes or any other good reason, the most important purpose of all… is to have a home.

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 Group at

Replace Shingles for Short-term Solution PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 15:18

071714re2By Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

If you’ve noticed a couple of areas where the asphalt shingles on your roof were chipped or lifted a little, but mostly intact, you can get away with patching it.

The repair may last only a couple of seasons, but it can protect your roof in the short term.

To patch a shingle, take a spare shingle of the same material and cut it to the size of the damaged area. Remove any dangling or jutting pieces from the damaged section. Tack the new piece of shingle into place using roofing cement.

Shingles that are torn or buckled, missing, or areas with several damaged shingles will benefit more from replacement than patching. Purchase replacement shingles at the home-improvement store, along with repair tools and supplies, including roofing cement, tack hammer or roofing-nail gun, pry bar and spare roofing nails.

Check out the YouTube video titled “Replacing a Damaged Roof Shingle” for a quick-and-dirty primer on replacing shingles.

As you can see, the shingles above the damaged area need to be lifted slightly (be careful not to break them) so the roofing nails holding the damaged shingle in place can be removed. Once the nails are removed, loosen and slide the damaged shingle downward and out.

Slide the replacement shingle into the same spot. If holding the shingle in place is difficult, put a couple dots of roofing cement on the underside just to hold it in place while you secure it.

Work your way back up, putting new roofing nails near the same spots that you removed the old ones from. Re-secure the loosened shingles above with new nails.

As always, remember that safety comes first when working up on the roof. Always have a partner helping to steady the ladder, and use a safety line. Move along the roof in a crouch, rather than standing up, which could cause you to lose your balance.

If you don’t feel confident in working at that height, contact a professional roofer to handle the repair. The National Roofing Contractors Association can provide advice and guidance in finding a contractor.

Home Tip: In the spring or fall, check the weather forecast before starting roofing repairs: The materials need several days of dry, warm weather to cure completely.

© 2014 King Features Synd., Inc.

Budworms Spoil Green Gardener’s Geraniums PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 15:16

071714reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: I don’t really have a green thumb so I planted geraniums because I was told they were easy to grow and pest free. Well, that’s a bunch of bunk! My geraniums have green worms on them. They go right to the buds and feast on them. In addition, they’re destroying the future flowers by tunnelling into the buds. What should I do?

A: Geraniums are a perfect choice for new gardeners. They provide lots of color all summer and are mostly trouble free; however, they are susceptible to a worm or caterpillar called budworm.

They’re not a problem every year and it’s unfortunate that your gardening experience has been spoiled. Besides geraniums, you will find budworms on petunias, pelargoniums and flowering tobacco plants.

The worm is the larva stage of a moth. The adult budworm moth lays eggs on the leaves and flowers of a geranium, generally in the late evening. Upon hatching, the larvae or worms tunnel their way through the plant, damaging the flower(s). Most of their activity takes place at dusk and stops at sunrise. The worms are small, around a quarter of an inch, but can grow to be half an inch or more before pupating.

The pupa stage is the hibernation stage they go into before turning into a moth. It takes about a month for them to mature and there can be two to three infestations per season.

Because of their small size and ability to “match” the color of their host plant, budworms can be hard to find. The early warning signs are that the plants stop flowering, or the flowers are riddled with holes. In addition, you may notice small holes in the stems and/or black droppings.

The color of the larvae can differ from brown to green with yellow stripes.  The coloration is determined by the type of plant the larvae are feeding on, but usually they are green.

Budworms are not that difficult to control as there are several organic solutions to the problem.

During the day, budworms cluster around the base of the plant for shelter. They emerge to feast on the plant during the early evening hours, making this the best time to remove them manually.

Organic sprays include Spinosad and Baccillus Thuringiensis. Spinosad will give you immediate control. Baccillus Thuringiensis, also know as BT, is often recommended but it takes several days of feeding before a fatal case of the stomach flu kills the worms.

Going forward, you need to be diligent in checking your plants when watering for any signs of a new infestation. If budworms are found, you can then apply a repeat application of your control. This is also an excellant time to prune and shape the plants.

I would then follow up with a feeding to force more lateral growth, making your plants fuller.

Your gernaniums should be back in bloom in mid August to early September.

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: Holes in flowers and/or leaves is a sign of budworms.

Open Homes • 07-17-14 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 15:10
Home Sales • 07-17-14 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 15:09
Hopeful Renters Try Desperate Tactics PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 10 July 2014 14:16

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Finding a rental in Central Alameda County has been rough for a while now, and, if anything, it’s getting tougher.

You might even say things are moving to the level of desperation. Many hoping to score a rental are being jolted by the level of competition they’re encountering and the ends they need to go to nail down an address to call home.

With many losing their homes during the foreclosure crisis and thousands more moving here to capitalize on our booming economy, rental needs have soared.

It’s been shocking to some landlords as well. Friends of ours, after rehabbing a home previously occupied by a long-time tenant, posted it on craigslist and were amazed to receive many replies in the first 20 minutes. A short time later, they were sifting through approximately 20 applications. Needless to say, they didn’t see that coming.

Sorting through the numerous submissions, they were surprised by a second fact: many applicants were offering more per month than the advertised price.

Historically, landlords have posted rental amounts only to have prospective tenants bargain them down. Currently, the opposite is happening as rental wannabes are doing whatever they can to move themselves to the top of the pack. This includes offering more per month, increasing the damage deposit and so on. It’s a scenario identical to the multiple offers sellers have been getting in the resale market.

I was recently amazed at the level of competition as I helped an out-of-state couple relocate. They perused online ads, talked to property managers and then texted open house addresses and times for me to visit and take videos. These were typically two-hour windows on a weekday afternoon or evening.

Every home I visited featured the same characteristics: (1) difficulty finding parking, (2) hordes of people going through and (3) everyone trying to convince the onsite property manager they were the tenants of choice. We scored a home, but it wasn’t easy.

Needless to say, rents are jumping as competition increases. Rates in some areas have more than doubled in the past few years. Have dogs or want to smoke? Good luck. One property manager told me, “If they have dogs, we won’t consider them.”

With this amount of competition, make sure your application is as clean and complete as possible. Landlords are in a position to be very picky, and many are currently exercising that right to the max.

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

Water-damaged Carpet Needs Quick Attention PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 10 July 2014 14:13

071014re2By Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

Q: My apartment’s window air-conditioning unit dripped water from the front left corner for several days before I realized it, and the carpet underneath is soaking wet. How can I dry it quickly?

A: First off, since you live in an apartment, contact the landlord or management office right away. They should be informed of any damage that has occurred, as soon as it happens.

If the leaky air-conditioning unit belongs to the landlord or management company, then responsibility for the cost of the repair may belong to them. Many communities will send out a maintenance person or repair contractor to fix or replace both the leaky A/C unit and the damaged section of carpet.

If the A/C unit belongs to you, then you may be responsible for some or all of the repair cost. Some communities will make the repair anyway, so that the apartment meets their standards, and you’ll have to negotiate with them about the cost or forfeit some of your security deposit.

You also can offer to do the repair yourself or hire a repair contractor yourself, at your cost. The landlord or management will want to check on the final result.

So, what needs to be repaired? You’ll need to stop the A/C unit from leaking immediately. Shut it off, take it out of the window if possible (have a helper assist you with the lift) and set it in a plastic tub to let the condensed water drain out.

Remove and clean the air filter and look for an external drain hose, if the unit has one, that might have come loose. Check the window for any swelling or damage to the wood, which can occur if a leak continues for some time.

If the unit cools well, the problem may simply be that it is tilted too far forward, so that condensation runs inside along the bottom of the unit rather than dripping outside. Try placing the unit back into the window so that it has a slight tilt — about 5 degrees — up and out. Put a catch bucket underneath the leak area and turn the unit on for an hour or so, checking to see if condensation still comes inside. If this doesn’t fix it, you may need to repair or replace the unit.

Next, the carpet. Blot the area with towels as soon as possible to remove excess water.

Since it’s been soaking for several days, you (or the repair person) need to dry the area all the way down to the underlayment and flooring.

Remove furniture from the area — clear that half of the room completely, or the whole room if possible.

Starting at the nearest corner, pull back the carpet, followed by the padding. Note where the water stains have reached. If the flooring underneath is wet, you need to dry that immediately.

The repair or maintenance person will determine if the carpet is salvageable. Cost-conscious apartments will try to dry the carpet and flooring and at most replace the padding. If this is the direction taken, check the carpet frequently after the repair and make sure you don’t smell mildew or mold. If mold sets in, the entire carpet will probably need to be replaced.

Home Tip: Water spills on carpet should be blotted up with paper or cloth towels as soon as possible to keep them from reaching the padding underneath.

© 2014 King Features Synd., Inc.



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