Real Estate Gallery
Say So Long to the Yule Log PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 December 2014 13:45

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Growing up in Canada, winters were characterized by skating on frozen lakes and hot chocolate sipped by blazing fireplaces. I fondly remember evenings driving down neighborhood streets, snow blanketing everything, smoke drifting from chimneys and the resultant smell of romance lingering in the air.

Here, in California, the allure has been removed by talk of soot particulates, air pollution and asthma. “No-burn” days have all but removed the possibility of using your fireplace on cool winter evenings and it seems the last few Christmases have all shared a common characteristic — wood-burning not allowed. So much for the Yule log.

It seems that if I want to relive youthful memories, I have to visit Tahoe. There, the pungent smell of verdant evergreens still blends with smoky mountain air, invoking memories of Christmas past.

Although the picture of a log cabin on a crisp winter evening with snow-laden trees and a smoky haze hanging in the air looks great on a wall, it would be disastrous if everyone in the Bay Area wanted to emulate the picture at the same time. We have enough air-quality issues without thousands of fireplaces fueling the problem.

Which brings up a question: What do we do with the hundreds of thousands of fireplaces built into Bay Area homes?

Although some still love using fireplaces for ambiance, many only use them as a repository for candles. Others have converted wood-burning fireplaces to natural gas, allowing a roaring fire with no smoke.

Newer Bay Area homes are not even allowed wood-burning fireplaces; current building regulations limit new fireplaces to gas-burning inserts, and some recent builds don’t have fireplaces at all. As a result, wall-hanging ethanol or gel-burning eco-friendly fireplaces have started appearing. You can see some examples at

As for existing fireplaces, make sure the damper is closed during non-use so heated air doesn’t go up the flue. If you’re buying a home with a fireplace, we recommend a chimney inspection so you know the condition of the firebox and chimney. Even if you don’t plan on using it, owners that come after you might, so it’s best to know what you are dealing with.

Older masonry fireplaces can also be a safety risk if they’ve been damaged by a seismic event.

Want a fire? Use firelog-type products to keep emissions at a minimum and honor no-burn days. For more information, visit

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

Misting Mitigates Frost Damage PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 December 2014 13:43

121814re2Freezing nighttime temperatures have already hit most parts of the East Bay. The coldest time of the day is from 4 a.m. to sun-up. If you haven’t already done so, here’s what to do right away:

Move tender container plants under the eaves of a roof, on the porch, or even in the house if necessary.

Cover anything you can’t move with an old sheet, a tarp or cardboard boxes. The protective covering should be anchored by stakes above the plant so there is an air gap between the plant and the covering.

Cloth gives more protection than plastic. Also, remember to remove the covering in the morning.

Mist garden plant foliage at night and again in the morning. The thin layer of water on the foliage helps to insulate the leaves. The morning sprinkling washes away the frost before the sun hits it when most of the actual damage is done.

Keep garden soil moist. Dry plants are easy victims of frost.

If a plant is damaged by frost, don’t prune away the damage. Wait until the plant begins its spring growing cycle, then prune off any dead parts.

Temperatures have to drop below 26°F to damage hardy, mature plants.

CAPTION: Cloth blankets provide better frost protection for your plants than plastic.

Mortgage Rates Inch Up Slightly PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 December 2014 13:41

Fixed mortgage rates rose slightly last week, according to Freddie Mac’s nationwide survey.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.93 percent, up from the previous week when it averaged 3.89 percent. A year ago at this time, it averaged 4.42 percent.

Fifteen-year mortgages averaged 3.20 percent, up from 3.10 percent a week earlier.

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) were mixed.

Five-year hybrid ARMs averaged 2.98 percent last week, up from 2.94 percent, and one-year ARMs averaged 2.40 percent, down from 2.41 percent.


Water Bromeliad’s Well; Winter Vegetables PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 December 2014 13:36

121814reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: I received a wonderful large-leaf pink-flowering bromeliad. I’ve never had one before so I need some care tips. Also, how is it watered?

A: You are the proud owner of an Aechmea fasciata. This stately plant has broad, silver-green leaves that are very stiff with some short spines. The flower spike is in the center of the leaf whorl, sometimes referred to as a well or tank.

Aechmea fasciata is one of the most popular flowering bromeliad used as a houseplant today. Much like orchids, the bloom can last several months.

They have a wide range of light tolerances. In the winter, a south-facing window is ideal, while lots of indirect sunlight is recommended for the balance of the year.

Exposure to direct sunlight for an extended period of time can cause damage to the leaves. In addition, they have few needs and very few pest problems.

Aechmea and other similar bromeliads are epiphytes in the tropical rain forests. Epiphyte means that they grow on the exterior of other plants; however, they’re not a parasite. They only use the tree for support as the roots have little ability to absorb nutrients and water. Nutrients and water are absorbed by the well formed in the center of the leaves.

This well is relatively watertight and it’s recommended to keep some water in it at all times. It’s also recommended to change the water frequently by dumping it out and replacing it with clean water to prevent odor and bacteria.

It is okay to water the media in which the plants are potted but only occasionally; otherwise, the main stem may rot.

After the flower turns brown, cut the flower spike off with a pair of shears or scissors.

Bromeliad are fertilized after flowering. You’ll want to use a water-soluble fertilizer and never place the fertilizer in the well. Instead, fertilize around the base of the plant.

A bromeliad grows by adding new leaves to the center of the plant. Eventually, the center becomes crowded and new leaves will no longer have room to form. At this point, the bromeliad will focus its energy on producing pups, also known as offsets. At this point, you may wish to discard the plant.

The main plant only flowers once in it’s life cycle and then dies. Repotting the pups is the only way to continue its legacy.

Q: Can you recommend any vegetables that will grow in the winter shade? We’re stuck with a new garden that all of a sudden has lost all the wonderful sun it had all summer.

A: I’d plant cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, spinach and chard. Also, try beets, carrots, onions, oriental vegetables and parsley. But I wouldn’t be thinking of planting until mid January or the first of February.

Exposure, that is sun or shade, is not a consideration until April when the temperature is above 75°F.

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: The popular Aachmea fasciata bromeliad only blossoms once in its life cycle.

Open Homes • 12-18-14 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 December 2014 13:35
Home Sales • 12-18-14 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 December 2014 13:35
HOA Fees: Worth Every Penny PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 December 2014 14:56

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Local property prices are continuing their upward creep, further eroding the abilities of many first-time homebuyer hopefuls. This is especially true of those insisting that they’ll only buy a single-family detached home.

While condos and townhouses are usually more affordable, buyers tend to resist them for one primary reason:

HOA fees.*

It’s understandable on the surface — who wants to pay a few extra hundred dollars a month? While some Central County developments have HOA fees as low as $125/month, those are the exception, as are those on the high end at $500/month.

Currently, Central County HOA fees are averaging $297/month, with the median at $300/month.

There’s no doubt that $300/month is a lot of money. However, those hoping to escape monthly HOA fees by buying a single-family home typically forget one critical factor: the ongoing costs of home ownership.

In a condo or townhouse development, many live in the same building and share equally in the costs of running and maintaining the facility. The resulting HOA fees typically cover exterior maintenance, roofs, property insurance, landscaping, parking, elevators, any common amenities such as swimming pools, spas, clubhouses, exercise/fitness facilities, security gates, common areas, playgrounds and more.

Some also cover water and/or trash removal fees. By sharing the costs equally amongst all the residents, HOAs help lower costs, maintain the quality of life and protect property values.

While it’s true most new single-family home developments also have HOA fees, older neighborhoods typically do not. Therefore, ongoing costs of ownership are borne by the homeowner alone.

Problem: Most homeowners do not factor in ongoing ownership costs when buying single-family homes. As an example, property insurance for a 1,200-sq.-ft single-family home is approximately $840/year ($70/month).

Since HOAs usually cover property insurance, all that’s required for condos is interior insurance, running approximately $25/month — a savings of $45/month.

But wait… there’s more.

Need a new roof? At approximately $12,000, the cost of ownership is $40/month.** Landscaping can easily be $50/month. Pools can cost $125/month to service, and an additional $100/month to operate.*** Water? Trash? Ongoing exterior maintenance? Paint? Gas and electrical utility fees cost more per month as well.

In reality, owning a single family home costs more to operate per month than a condo or townhouse in an HOA. In most cases, significantly more. Which at the end of the month means: monthly HOA fees really aren’t so bad after all.

*Home Owners Association fees.

**Based on 25-30 year asphalt shingle roof.

***Electricity, water and insurance.

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

City to Hold Homebuyer Education Workshop PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 December 2014 14:55

The City of San Leandro and the Bay Area HomeBuyer Agency are offering a free homebuyer seminar this Saturday, Dec. 13, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Marina Community Center, 15301 Wicks Blvd., in San Leandro.

The seminar is part of the city’s efforts to promote home ownership in San Leandro and to assist first-time homebuyers. It will focus on how to prepare to become a homeowner, strategies and protocols to finance and purchase your home in the current competitive real estate market, and special homebuyer assistance programs that are now available to first-time homebuyers.

Upon completing the seminar, eligible San Leandro residents may make an appointment to receive free homebuyer counseling.

There are still a number of helpful homebuyer assistance programs available through public and private sources that could significantly reduce the amount of down payment and monthly costs for eligible homebuyers. The seminar will discuss how a homebuyer may be able to take advantage of one or more of these programs.

To sign up for the seminar, visit Make certain to provide your full name and email address when registering.

The Bay Area HomeBuyer Agency is a not-for-profit municipal agency that is contracted by the City of San Leandro to administer the homebuyer program. For more information on the agency or the seminar, visit the website above or call 1-888-572-1222.


Mortgage Rates Lower Across the Board PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 December 2014 14:53

Average fixed mortgage rates were down last week, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly nationwide survey.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.89 percent, down from the previous week when it averaged 3.97 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year rate averaged 4.46 percent.

Fifteen-year rates averaged 3.10 percent, down from 3.17 percent.

Five-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 2.94 percent, down from 3.01 percent, and one-year ARMs averaged 2.41 percent, down from 2.44 percent.


Prune Roses in January; Discard Forced Bulbs PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 December 2014 14:48

121114reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: I have several tree roses that are fairly old that have not been pruned recently. When is the proper time to cut them back and how far?

A: All types of roses are pruned during the winter months and, depending on where you live, that can be from November through March.

The early-season pruning is usually ignored because the bushes are still blooming and then the holidays sort of get in the way. So, January and February become the de facto pruning period.

I like to shorten the tree rose canes to 18 to 24 inches at this time, especially with the Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora varieties. Typically, these are the biggest or tallest growing varieties reaching a height of six feet.

Keep in mind that the growing point is not from the ground like a bush rose but from the elevated bud unions that are located 30 to 36 inches off the ground. Hence, reducing the cane length is used to control the overall height. Actually, this is continued throughout the growing season by reducing the stem length when removing the spent flowers.

Next, remove all of the crossing branches, spindly growth and dead canes. Roses can take a lot of abuse from a pair of pruning shears, so do not be too concerned about making a mistake.

This is also an ideal time to check the tree stakes as they will rot over time. While the stake isn’t important today, it will be during the growing season as it is critical in preventing breakage.

Many of the rose and pruning books have more specific information that you can use as a reference. In addition, many garden centers have pruning demonstrations upcoming in January.

Q: I was very successful in growing Paper White Narcissus in a shallow dish of water. They were very fragrant for Thanksgiving Day. What should I now do with the bulbs? Do I let them dry out and then store them for next year or are they goners?

A: Paper White Narcissus, Hyacinth, Tulips, Daffodils and any other flowering bulb that are forced into bloom should be discarded when the flowers fade.

Unlike bulbs planted in soil, forced bulbs have no capability of rejuvenating themselves for the following year.

A bulb is a storage chamber. Besides the food manufactured by the leaves, bulbs will store nutrients found in the soil. Once this is completed, the foliage turns yellow/brown and easily separates from the bulb at ground level. They then can be let to naturalize in the soil depending on the bulb type, or dig them up and store them for the following year.

Although the foliage turns brown on those grown in water, there isn’t sufficient nutrients in the bulbs for the following year; hence, you use new ones 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

Open Homes • 12-11-14 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 December 2014 14:47
Home Sales • 12-11-14 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 December 2014 14:46


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