Real Estate Gallery
Ombudsman Hotline Settles Disputes | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 11:46


In a perfect world, everyone would get along, there would be no disagreements, quarreling or disputes. Unfortunately, the last time I checked, it just ain’t so.

Confusion, misunderstandings, strife and frustration seem to present almost every day in some way or another. If the issue at hand is small, it’s usually not a very big deal.

When it involves a real estate transaction, however, the stakes are much higher and the potential for financial damage is very real.

Enter the California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.) Ombudsman Hotline.

The first time I heard the word “ombudsman” I had no idea what it meant. The word actually has Scandinavian roots, flowing from the Old Norse word umboðsmaðr, meaning “someone authorized to act on another’s behalf.”

Historically, an ombudsman was appointed to protect or safeguard the rights of citizens and to ensure that civil servants and/or judges acted fairly and in accordance with the law.

Currently, “An ombudsman or public advocate is usually appointed by the government or by parliament, but with a significant degree of independence, who is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of maladministration or a violation of rights.”*

According to the C.A.R. website, “The Ombudsman’s role is primarily one of communication and conciliation, not adjudication. Ombudsmen do not determine whether ethics violations have occurred, rather they anticipate, identify, and resolve misunderstandings and disagreements before matters ripen into more significant disputes.”

Further, ombudsmen are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice or answer legal questions.

Initially set up to handle disputes between Realtors, buyers and sellers have discovered that the Ombudsman Hotline can be a resource for them as well in areas where they may have a disagreement with a Realtor.

A seller, trying to cancel a listing, discovered that the Realtor was acting in a seemingly inappropriate manner. A call to the Ombudsman Hotline resulted in a call to the Realtor’s broker, who quickly sorted out the issue in the seller’s favor. A buyer, confused by multiple offer procedures and a seller’s apparent unwillingness to accept offers, called in to get clarification. He was given a strategy of working with his Realtor to come to a resolution.

Got problems? Who you gonna call? The C.A.R. Ombudsman Hotline is a free service. If you wish the assistance of a C.A.R. Ombudsman, you may call 213-739-7227 or email the Ombudsman Hotline at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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

Can Home Improvements Be Deducted? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 May 2015 13:34

The cost of certain home improvements can be deducted on your tax returns, but not all of them. And the rules for such deductions can change, so the deduction you are eligible for one year may not be available the next year.

Some of the more compelling deductions are energy tax credits. For example, if you install solar panels or a solar water heater, geothermal heat pumps, a small wind turbine, or fuel cells in your existing or new home, you may be able to get a one-time, 30-percent tax credit on the cost of such systems (including labor and installation costs).

If you install energy-efficient windows and doors, you may be able to take a one-time credit of 10 percent. Installing new insulation or putting on a new roof can also qualify you for the credit, if the materials meet specific energy efficiency guidelines. These are detailed by the IRS, and you can find out more by visiting their website or talking with a tax preparer.

If you make home improvements for medical reasons — such as installing wheelchair ramps and handrails, lowering cabinets, etc. — you may be able to deduct those improvements as medical expenses. Be careful about what you claim, however. “Making a residence wheelchair accessible qualifies, but adding a sculpture garden does not,” says a TurboTax guide.

Other deductions may be available, but read the tax guidelines carefully and fill out forms properly. Tax software or a professional tax preparer can help you figure out which credits or deductions you can take.

Interested in installing an energy-efficient system like solar panels? Get an installation estimate from a certified, licensed installer and ask about tax credits.


Rates Run Higher for Third Consecutive Week | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 May 2015 13:33

Average fixed mortgage rates rose last week for the third consecutive week.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.85 percent, up from 3.80 percent a week earlier. A year ago at this time, it averaged 4.20 percent.

Fifteen-year fixed rates averaged 3.07 percent, up from 3.02 percent. 

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) were mixed again last week. The five-year hybrid ARM averaged 2.89 percent, down from 2.90 percent, and the one-year ARM averaged 2.48 percent, up from 2.46 percent.


Get Your Meyer Lemon Back in Shape | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 May 2015 13:28

052115reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: We have a Meyer Lemon that needs pruning badly but it has an abundance of fruit and flowers on it right now. When is the proper time of the year to shape the tree without the danger of killing it?

A: Lemons, oranges, and another type of citrus are pruned anytime after the danger of frost has past. The time not to prune is during the winter months, November through mid March. In addition, it’s a misconception or myth that incorrect pruning kills plants. Unless of course, you’re cutting the plant(s) off below the soil level.

Poor pruning techniques produce unattractive or ugly plants. Many will respond and grow back quickly such as a Meyer Lemon, while others are permanently scarred.

There is never a perfect time to prune an overgrown Meyer Lemon because they always seem to be in flower and/or fruiting.

In order to get it back in shape, some of the current crop, the next crop or both will have to be sacrificed.

Before you begin pruning, harvest all the mature lemons. Then, you should remove any dead, diseased, injured or broken branches.

Next, reduce the length of the long shoots and shape the plant. It may be also necessary to reduce the sides, besides the top, to get the plant back into its designated area. I’d also raise the skirt of the canopy so it’s 18 to 24 inches off the ground. You don’t want the fruit contaminated from touching or being in close proximity to the soil. This will also allow you easier access to rake up the debris under the plant which is very common during the growing season.

The area under lemons and other citrus is a perfect area for snails to hide, so I would bait it regularly with the organic snail bait, Sluggo.

And, finally, feed the plant with citrus food to encourage the new growth.

Each spring, you should prune to prevent the lemon from getting out of control. When it’s done regularly, you get the best of all worlds: flowers, fruit and an attractive plant.

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 • 05-21-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 May 2015 13:28
Home Sales • 05-21-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 May 2015 13:27
Conventional Loans Make a Comeback | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 11:46


With Alameda County buyers jockeying to emerge to the head of the pack in multiple offer situations, you’d assume cash offers would still be king and thus frequently end up in the winner’s circle.

While it’s true that sellers love cash transactions because they are cleaner and quicker, the actual percentage of cash closings has been steadily dropping since their peak in 2012.

The real news here is not just the reduction in cash, it’s the move back to conventional financing.

In 2006, conventional loans accounted for 92.354 percent of purchases. As the market began sliding into recession, slumping prices triggered a flood of investors and offshore purchasers who poured record amounts of cash into the market. This, coupled with the dramatic tightening of lender standards, triggered a decline in conventional loan popularity.

The bottom was reached in 2011 with only 57.97 percent of all closings using standard loan products. The Fed, sensing that many were losing out, loosened the guidelines for FHA loans, resulting in a rush of FHA loans to fill the void.

However, with prices pounding upwards, we’ve seen conventional loans rebound. And, cash deals are dropping as well: Investors are now looking in other places. The result is a drop in 2014 to only 16.97 percent.

This trend continues in the beginning months of 2015. It’s good news for average buyers, meaning they are facing fewer prospects of competing cash offers.

Unfortunately, there’s a dark side as well: FHA transactions are also dropping, mostly because they do not fare well in multiple offer scenarios.

There are a number of reasons. First, FHA borrowers usually bring less cash to the table than conventional borrowers. This means they do not have as much headroom as other borrowers if the home appraises for less than the sale price.

Second, FHA transactions must meet basic property conditions: peeling paint can scuttle a deal so sellers, wishing to sell “AS-IS”, will frequently avoid FHA buyers. Third, since many FHA buyers are using the Government-secured loans due to lower credit scores or other issues, there are more things that could go wrong, resulting in failed transactions.

Expect more of the same as prices continue to climb, cash becomes even less frequent and FHA buyers continue to struggle to gain a toehold in this exceedingly difficult market.

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

Recoup Your Remodeling Dollars | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 May 2015 15:07

051415re2By Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

Many people think that remodeling the kitchen is an expense they can fully recoup, but that is not necessarily the case.

According to Remodeling Magazine, a major kitchen remodel averaging $56,768 will recoup 67.8 percent of that cost, or just $38,485.

However, a number of indoor and outdoor projects will increase the value of your home. Here are five projects on the midrange cost scale that will provide the biggest return for your remodeling investment:

1. Entry door: Replacing your entry door with a steel door will recoup 101.8 percent of the cost. (Replacing it with a fiberglass door will return 72 percent.)

2. Veneer: Replacing the bottom third of your home’s exterior siding with manufactured stone veneer will recoup 92.2 percent of the cost.

3. Garage door: Replacing your garage door will recoup 88.4 percent of the cost.

4. Siding replacement: Adding vinyl siding to your home’s exterior will recoup 80.7 percent of the cost.

5. Wooden deck: Adding or expanding a wooden deck will recoup 80.5 percent of the cost.

Other projects that have a higher chance of recouping their cost include a minor (below $20,000) kitchen remodel (79.3 percent), wood window replacement (78.8 percent) or converting part of your attic to a bedroom (77.2 percent). Remodeling your bathroom will recoup 70 percent of its cost.

So, when putting together a remodeling project list, take their lasting value into account. You may decide to downscale that ambitious kitchen or bathroom remodel and shift some of the budget to your home’s exterior elements.

© 2015 King Features Synd., Inc.

Mortgage Rates Move Higher | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 May 2015 15:07

Average fixed mortgage rates rose last week, following 10-year Treasury yields, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly nationwide survey.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.80 percent, up from 3.68 percent the week before. A year ago at this time, the 30-year rate averaged 4.21 percent.

Fifteen-year rates averaged 3.02 percent, up from 2.94 percent.

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) were mixed last week.

The five-year hybrid ARM averaged 2.90 percent, up from 2.85 percent, and the one-year ARM averaged 2.46 percent, down from 2.49 percent.


Protect Japanese Maple from Sunburn | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 May 2015 14:58

051415reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: I have a five-foot-tall Bloodgood Japanese Maple in a large container. Last summer, the hot sun burned the leaves and the tree looked terrible the rest of the year. What can I do now to avoid the brown leaves?

A: You can protect the foliage of Japanese Maples from tip burn and leaf scorch by applying Bonide Wilt Stop or Cloud Cover to the foliage. I like to refer to them as “Chap Stick” for plants as they provide a clear protective layer that protects the leaves from excessive moisture loss.

Wilt Stop or Cloud Cover are primarily thought of for cold-weather protection but they’re just as effective against hot, drying winds.

Make two applications about eight weeks apart.

Water stress is another contributing factor to burnt leaves that also curl up. I’d suspect that the plant was going dry in-between waterings. Maples, citrus, roses as well as other container plants, suffer when the temperature warms up; hence, they require more frequent watering.

Many plants that wilt from water stress recover; however, when the leaves turn brown, they never turn green again. Also, older plants suffer sooner than those more recently planted.

As container plants grow, they displace the soil with roots. The longer a plant stays in the same container, the more susceptible it is to water stress early on.

To help water container plants more efficiently, I’d apply EZ Wet from Gro More or a similar product to help with water penetration. EZ Wet is a soil surfactant that breaks down the surface tension around soil particles allowing water to flow through the root ball instead of rolling down and out the sides of a container.

Next, use a long screw driver and create a half a dozen or more spaces in the rootball and insert polymer crystals such as Soil Moist. When water is applied the crystals hydrate into a clear gel. The hair roots of plants will then cling to the gel and use it as a back up or secondary water supply.

With new plantings, the Soil Moist crystals are mixed into the potting soil and then you plant.

With Soil Moist, EZ Wet and Bonide Wilt Stop, you have the flexibility to vary your watering pattern and keep the foliage pristine all summer long.

Q: I bought a pear tree online but it came broken in two pieces at the root. Upset, I just stuck it into a bucket of mud I had sitting next to me. Can this part of the tree be saved?

A: While it is always possible, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Although there are no roots, the internal moisture will keep the plant  going for a limited amount of time. When the moisture is used up, the tissue will shrivel  and collapse.

A cut Christmas tree is a good example of this.

So, I’d just wait and see what happens.

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 • 05-14-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 May 2015 14:58
Home Sales • 05-14-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 May 2015 14:57


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