Real Estate Gallery
Slowing Market Gives Hope to Move-up Buyers PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 30 October 2014 14:41

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

In blazing-hot markets, sellers dictate terms at will and anything deemed less-than-optimum is off the table. Like contingencies.

As markets cool, however, as ours is currently, rules change, opening the door for new possibilities. One group taking advantage of the evolving procedures?

Move-up buyers.

Currently living in a home they own, move-ups hope to replace their existing digs for any number of reasons. Their current home may be too small, in a poor location, too far from work and the like.

To relocate, they need to sell their existing property before purchasing a replacement home more aligned with their needs. And there’s the rub: Although the chances of them selling their existing homes have been high, the odds of landing a replacement dwelling have been extremely low due to market volatility.

Ideally, potential move-ups would ready their existing home for sale, then go out looking for a replacement property. Once they found one, they’d write an offer on the new home “contingent on” them selling their existing home. The second their offer was accepted, they’d head home and plant the “For Sale” sign on their own lawn. Hopefully, they’d have an offer on their existing property within a few weeks and all would be well. If no offer was forthcoming, they’d have to cancel the offer on their replacement home and try all over again.

This scenario depends on a couple of factors to make it work: First, they need to find a seller who either isn’t in a hurry or is willing to cooperate for any number of other reasons. Second, they have to hope no other offers come in: Multiple offers are the kiss of death for hopefuls writing offers contingent on the sale of their existing home.

In a steamy hot market, move-up buyers hoping to score a contingent offer are as welcome as a porcupine at a nudist colony. Once the market softens, however, and sellers don’t see offers materialize 10 minutes after their home hits the market, move-ups begin to have a chance.

Although it’s outside the comfort zone for many, the best scenario is to get your existing home into escrow, then go find a replacement. Closing times can be adjusted or rentback provided to make it work.

As we head deeper into fall, move-ups are heading out in increasing numbers, hoping the gift they’ll get this holiday season… is a replacement 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 Association at

Invest in Our Street Trees PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 30 October 2014 14:39

103014reBy Dan Lambe • Special to the Times

Autumn is upon us. This time of year, we experience the arrival of fall, and we take comfort in the crisp evenings and enjoy the splendor of autumn color.

Walking or driving through town is a delight for the senses. This benefit of trees — this experience — provides warm feelings and emotions, and creates fond memories that are priceless.

We all have fond memories of traveling along a boulevard lined with grand street trees that formed a welcoming natural archway of tree canopy above.

Are we investing enough time and money in our street trees — those trees planted between the sidewalk and the road? These are perhaps the most valuable city trees, and it is vitally important that local communities manage them well.

Street trees are a valuable community asset. The most visible swath of any community forest is its street trees. The positive benefits they provide include higher property values, decreased energy costs, cleaner air and water, reduced stormwater runoff, and a more beautiful environment.

Forward-looking communities are taking notice and continuing to make needed investments in tree planting and care.

“Given a limited budget, the most effective expenditure of funds to improve a street would probably be on trees,” wrote Allan Jacobs, a professor of city and regional planning at U.C. Berkeley, in his book “Great Streets.”

Indeed, the value of a dollar invested in street trees is far-reaching. U.S. Forest Service scientists have found that for every dollar spent on planting and caring for a street tree, the benefits that it provides are as much as five times that investment.

The need for effective community tree care and management is more important today than ever due to greater threats of drought, storms and insects. In this increasingly challenging time, proper pruning, careful selection, and proactive planting, replacement and maintenance of our street trees is paramount to the continued success of our nation’s urban and community trees.

Investments in our urban and community forest are worthy of the strong support of our elected and appointed officials, of the community at large, and of each and every one of us. It is to our benefit to encourage our elected and appointed officials across the nation to continue to give high priority to critical investments in our urban and community forests on behalf of our local municipalities.

As we experience the arrival of fall, as the leaves change and we celebrate the joy of bright autumn colors, let’s commit ourselves to appreciating the trees for all they give us and to recognizing their importance.

Dan Lambe is president of the Arbor Day Foundation.

Forcing Bulbs — A Gardening Project for All Ages PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 30 October 2014 14:36

103014re2By Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: I would like some instructions on how to force bulbs in containers. What type of bulbs and soil do I use? Should this be attempted by a novice gardener?

A: Forcing bulbs in containers is a gardening project for people and kids of all ages and skills. It’s simple to do with a high degree of success.

For the home gardener, Paperwhite Narcissus and Hyacinth are the best bulbs for forcing, while tulips and other bulbs are best left for a commercial grower.

Water, not soil, is the primary growing medium while a commercial grower will use sand.

You’ll need a shallow, three- to four-inch-deep container without a drainage hole. Plant saucers work really well. It could be clay, ceramic or you could use a plastic insert. Polished rocks, decorative  pebbles or just plain old gravel is added to fill three quarters of the space.

The bulbs are then placed on the rock layer, close to one another. You may have to add some additional rock to stabilize the grouping. Although the bulbs are loose to begin with, roots form quickly and anchor the bulbs in the container.

Water is then added, but don’t submerge the bulbs; otherwise, they’ll rot. The water level should be just below the base of the bulb to avoid problems. Check the water level daily to keep it at the proper level.

Until you see roots, the containers don’t require any light and should be kept in a cool place such as a garage or a covered area outside.

They’re then moved to a bright location such as a sunny or bright window. You should see shoots developing in four to six weeks and flowers after that.

Extend the blooming season by staggering your planting schedule every three weeks.

And, finally, after they finish blooming, discard the bulbs as they are spent and have no value next year.

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

Mortgage Rates Decline Further PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 30 October 2014 14:36

Average fixed mortgage rates hit fresh new lows for the year last week for the second consecutive week amid declining bond yields, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly survey.

The average 30-year fixed rate, dropped from 3.97 percent to 3.92 percent, its lowest level since the week of June 6, 2013.

Fifteen-year fixed rates averaged 3.08 percent last week, down from 3.18 percent. 

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) were mixed. The five-year hybrid ARM averaged 2.91 percent,  down from 2.92, and the one-year ARM averaged 2.41 percent, up from 2.38 percent.

Protect Young Plants from Winter Frost PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 30 October 2014 14:33

By Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

Many shrub varieties are hardy, and can put up with a lot of weather. Some do very well despite a heavy frost. But sudden weather changes can test even the toughest of these plants.

You should take extra protective measures with new plants regardless of how mild or rough the winter is. Go ahead and place burlap covering (available at home and garden stores by the yard) over or around the shrubs, ideally before the first hard frost, but definitely ahead of any multi-day periods with temperatures below freezing.

Drape or wrap the burlap around the shrubs, not too tightly — enough to keep it from flapping loosely in the wind, but not so tight that it constricts the plant. Secure the wrap at the base of the plant with twine, again being careful not to damage the bark.

For larger outdoor plants with extended branches, carefully tie up the branches by loosely wrapping twine around the bottommost branches, then sliding the twine circle upward a few inches to gather in the plant. Repeat with another length of twine to secure the branches higher up, and repeat again higher up if necessary. Then wrap burlap around the plant and secure.

If you’re worried about a plant being pushed over by wind, place wooden stakes around the plant and wrap burlap around the stakes and plant to secure them.

Protect the roots of new and old shrubs during the winter, by placing fresh mulch around their base as an insulator. First, rake back existing mulch to expose the base of the tree or shrub trunk to the air for a few days. Next, cover the exposed area with new mulch.

Straw, pine needles or wood chips, or a combination of these, work well as winter mulch, insulating without compacting, so that water can get to the roots.

Home Tip: Mulch around tree and shrub bases should be kept just 2 or 3 inches deep, to insulate while allowing air and water to get to the roots.

© 2014 King Features Synd., Inc.

Open Homes • 10-30-14 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 30 October 2014 14:33
Home Sales • 10-30-14 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 30 October 2014 14:30
Purchasing a Home Can Be Scary Affair PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 13:28

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

With Halloween upon us, scares are in the air. While it’s “frightful” at the time, we all know its temporary entertainment.

Not so fun, however, if the chills are real and they show up, unexpected, in the home you’ve just purchased. Here are the Top 5 Home Buying scares guaranteed to keep you up at night:

1. Cracked foundations.

Since the foundation is what the home rests upon, issues here can spell disaster in many areas. Floors that tilt, cracks in walls/ceilings and doors/windows that stick are clues something is wrong down below. Get a foundation inspection if you suspect issues.

2. Water damage.

While water is critical to life, it causes serious issues in homes. Water can undermine foundations. Excessive moisture leads to warping floors, crumbling sheetrock and stucco, mildew and mold. Leaky pipes and plumbing fixtures can cause dry rot. In addition to expensive fixes, water damage can lead to higher insurance costs.

3. Leaky roofs.

The roof should be able to protect from all that nature throws at you. From pouring rain to blistering sun, blustering wind and hail, roofs are designed to keep you comfortable inside. Once a roof is penetrated, all manner of nasty things can occur. Get a roof inspection prior to purchasing.

4. Bad neighbors.

Unfortunately, you sometimes never know there’s a problem neighbor until it’s too late. We recommend talking to neighbors before finalizing a purchase. Frank conversations may save you grief down the road.

5. Deaths on the property

While some don’t mind if a previous occupant died in the home, for others, this is the kiss of death for a potential purchase. Sellers must disclose whether or not an occupant has died in the home in recent years. Additional talks with neighbors can also reveal whether or not any trauma occurred in the home in question. Death is one thing: murder or suicide is something else altogether.

To prevent nasty surprises upon moving in, thoroughly inspect any home you’re considering purchasing (typically property, termite and roof inspections). Order additional inspections if the primary reports indicate potential problems: these include geological, foundation, mold, etc.

Obtain a CLUE Report so you can see the insurance claim history on the property. Carefully read seller disclosures and consider banging on neighbor’s doors to get information about the overall neighborhood.

Buy carefully: once you move in, you’ll want your scares confined… to your 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

Properly Store Tools for the Winter PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 13:25

102314re2By Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

Linseed oil is considered a good medium to protect wooden-handled tools, but there also are wood-conditioning blends available — some of them contain linseed oil among the ingredients, others do not.

The oil protects the handles from cracking as the wood expands and contracts from cold and hot temperature changes, dryness or humidity.

The metal surfaces of your hand tools should not be coated with linseed oil. Instead, clean them well, removing debris and any spot rust. Some people even sharpen trimming tools one last time for the season. Then, put a light coat of protective oil on the metal portions, including the blades and any hinge points. (Some people wipe motor oil onto the blades, but oils developed for lawn tools are available at hardware stores.)

How you store the tools is up to you. The most important thing is to keep them out of direct weather — in a storage shed, basement or garage — and off the floor.

The next priority is to store them so that the metal blades don’t touch each other. If your only option is to place them on a storage shelf, lay them in a line, in opposite directions, to minimize metal-to-metal contact.

DIYers with a garage or storage shed often designate a section of the wall for hanging tools. A classic, fast and inexpensive way to get a lot of tools into one section is to put up a piece of pegboard with metal hooks. This can be quickly configured and reconfigured since the hooks simply can be lifted up and repositioned into another peg. Hang tools by their handles.

Long tools like shovels can be suspended by placing the shovel head on two hooks with the handle pointing downward.

Home Tip: For garden tools that have a lot of rust, brew up some strong black tea and soak the blades in it for a couple of hours. The surface rust should wipe right off!

© 2014 King Features Synd., Inc.

CAPTION: A pegboard can be easily reconfigured to accommodate a variety of tools by repositioning the hooks.

Privet Provides Privacy; Mexican Fan Palm Will Not Stop Growing PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 13:21

By Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: Last spring, I purchased four huge, 24-inch, Rubbermaid pots and planted them with wax leaf privet. I needed to camouflage an unsightly neighbor’s yard. I was told that the privets could take the hot sun, and would grow rapidly to 8-10 feet. None of these things have proven to be true. In the past seven months, the plants have barely grown and the leaves are burned from the sun. Is there any way to remedy this problem or can you recommend other plants that are more suitable?

A: Wax leaf privet is an excellent choice but it’s unrealistic to think that they would grow to eight feet in the first growing season. Two to three seasons is more likely.

The poor performance issue is from water stress. Although you watered regularly, it may not have penetrated the original root ball. A primary indicator of this is yellow and burnt leaves. In addition, if you fertilized while they were on the dry side, you  may also have had fertilizer burn.

The norm for watering container plants would be three to four times per week and more often when the temperatures are over 90°F; otherwise, the plants suffer.

This also means you must fill the container to the brim with each watering.

It is almost impossible to overwater container plants, as long as there is no saucer and the bottom of the pots are raised off the ground so the water can flow out the bottom.

With large containers, you have a lot of excess soil. Until the new growth is generated, the roots are contained in the original rootball.

At the time of planting, the rootball should be wet; otherwise, the water will roll around the rootball and never penetrate. This may have been the issue you had.

As the plants mature, you have less and less soil and a predominance of roots; so the water schedule is maintained.

Privets are hardy, so these plants are not a lost cause. However, with the growing season near an end, you’re not going to see any changes until next year.

In February, I’d feed them Osmocote. Osmocote releases nutrients with every watering and it should be reapplied every four months.

If you decide that the plants need to be replaced, I’d suggest you consider, Eleagnus Maculata or Marginata, or Viburnum tinus Robustum.

102314reQ: I have several Mexican fan palms that have almost reached the point I’d like to keep them at. What can I do to maintain the desired height? I really don’t want them to grow too tall.

A: With most plants, you can control their size by pruning. However, that is not the case with palms.

Palms grow from a central point at the top of their trunk. The older fronds die naturally to form their distinctive shape.

Palms will die if you remove the central growing point, so there is little one can do to curb or stop their growth. At some point, they’ll  have to be removed.

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: Palms will die if you remove its central growing point.

Mortgage Rates Hit New 2014 Lows PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 13:21

Average fixed mortgage rates hit new lows for the year last week as 10-year bond yields briefly dipped below 2 percent.

At 3.97 percent, the average 30-year fixed rate is at its lowest level since the week of June 20, 2013 when it averaged 3.93 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year rate averaged 4.28 percent.

Fifteen-year mortgages averaged 3.18 percent last week, down from 3.30 percent a week earlier.

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) were also down. The five-year hybrid ARM averaged 2.92 percent, down from 3.05 percent, and the one-year ARM averaged 2.38 percent, down from 2.42 percent.

Alameda County Home Prices Up Nearly 10% PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 13:14

The number of homes sold in the Bay Area last month edged up to its highest level for a September since 2009 — the result of some spillover summer activity and sustained demand in a strong regional economy.

In Alameda County, a total of 1,613 new and used homes were sold in September, an increase of 9.9 percent over a year ago, according to CoreLogic DataQuick, a real estate information company.

The median price paid for an Alameda County home last month was $560,000, compared to $510,500 in September of 2013, an increase of 9.7 percent.

The Bay Area’s median sale price peaked at $665,000 in June and July of 2007, then dropped to a low of $290,000 in March 2009.

“The mortgage market is still dysfunctional. There are categories of buying and selling that are still inactive, and nobody really has any idea just how much pent-up demand there is out there,” said John Karevoll, CoreLogic DataQuick analyst.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area homebuyers committed themselves to paying last month was $2,340.



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