Real Estate Gallery
Wire Transfer Fraud Hits Alameda County | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 11:32

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A real estate-related fraud gaining momentum across the country has now arrived in the Bay Area. With a growing number of instances reported in Alameda County alone, it’s yet another reason for extreme vigilance during every aspect of a real estate transaction.

The scam starts with homebuyers receiving an email providing wiring instructions for the deposit or down payment they need to wire into escrow.

Since wire transfers are common in real estate transactions, buyers think nothing of following the detailed instructions provided. Only when the title company follows up to find out when the funds will be wired do alarm bells start going off. Unfortunately, by this time the funds are long gone and any hope of retrieving them has vanished as well.

While cybercrime is an unfortunate reality in our age, what makes this scam especially insidious is that the email appears to come from a trusted person in the transaction — the Realtor. In reality, the agent’s account has been hacked and monitored.

Once transaction details are observed by the scammer, they then use the agent’s email account to request the wire transfer. Problem is, the link, while appearing to be legitimate, immediately transfers the funds offshore and out of the reach of local law enforcement. Once wired, there is no way of getting the funds back.

This has become such a problem that Realtor associations across the state are issuing Cyber Fraud Alerts. Many real estate brokerages are also warning their agents and clients to be on guard.

One helpful step is for Realtors to change their email passwords on a frequent basis to reduce the possibility of being hacked. Additionally, anyone needing to wire funds for a real estate transaction should never automatically wire funds to a link provided in an email, regardless of how authentic the email looks.

If you need to wire funds to escrow, follow these steps:

1. Once you have received wiring instructions, call the title company and speak directly with the escrow officer handling your transaction.

2. Confirm the wiring instructions with them by verbally repeating the correct account numbers.

3. Once you are assured that the information you have is correct, then you can instruct your bank to proceed with the wire transfer.

For those who have worked long and hard to save the funds required to buy a home, beware! The transaction you save… will be your own.

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


 
Regular Termite Inspections Can Save Big Bucks | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 31 July 2015 10:38

By Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

Inspecting your home for termite infestation on a regular basis can make a big difference in the amount you’d have to pay to eradicate them, should there be a problem.

Most homeowners aren’t able to decisively confirm that a termite infestation exists, but there are telltale signs to watch for:

• Dirt tunnels on the house’s masonry foundation and on pipes traveling through the foundation.

• Crumbly areas inside masonry cracks or holes.

• Small dirt-like formations inside cracks or holes. These could be termite nests.

• In wooden areas of the house, especially those close to the ground, look for rotten or decayed spots. Use a pocketknife to poke into the spot; if it penetrates a half-inch or more, you might have a termite problem.

If you notice any of these suspicious signs, contact an exterminator to do a more thorough inspection of your house and start treating for termites. Be sure to get a written estimate of the work to be done before allowing the exterminator to start treatment.

So, how do you prevent termites in the first place?

In addition to scheduling a professional inspection and preventive treatment once a year, keep moisture from affecting the house — particularly at the foundation.

Don’t allow standing water near the foundation. If that’s a problem after rains, improve drainage away from the area. Trim back hedges and plants to about 1 foot from the foundation so pests can’t work their way into the house from them. Fill and seal cracks in outside masonry.

Home Tip: If termites are a big problem in your area, talk to a contractor about installing a sand barrier around your home’s foundation — a method that will discourage the pests from getting into your house.

© 2015 King Features Synd., Inc.


 
Root Honeysuckle for Ground Cover; Rats Steal Succulents | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 31 July 2015 10:36

073015reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: My honeysuckle ground cover has several large and smaller bare spots. So, I’d like to root some cuttings before purchasing new plants. How would I go about doing that?

A: Honeysuckle is a rapidly spreading ground cover that’s being rediscovered by a new generation of gardeners as an evergreen, flowering, water-wise plant. The soft texture of the lush green foliage makes it a perfect alternative to the rigid or stiff look of rosemary, creeping manzanita or junipers.

That being said, there are two methods of rooting honeysuckle. First, take six- to eight-inch-long cuttings off the existing plants.

Next, strip off the lower third of the foliage, dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone and stick them in a pot of pre-moistened potting soil. Cover the pot with a plastic baggie that is propped up by three sticks. The baggie is tied around the pot to trap the heat and moisture — creating a mini-greenhouse.

You should root many more cuttings than you need, transplanting the most vigorous ones.

They should be rooted in six to eight weeks.

The cuttings are then transplanted into four-inch pots for an additional month or so.

Now is a good time to start this as the new plants should be ready to set out in the open ground in October.

The other method is to pin a growing stem to the ground. Fan the existing stems of the existing plants over the bare areas. Next, use an irrigation clip or vine staple to secure the stem. Cover this point with soil and moisten it.

When you water, be sure this area gets wet.

In four to six weeks, new roots should have formed, and you then remove the pins.

In your case, both methods could be used to fill in the bare spots.

Q: Why are my New Guinea impatiens disappearing overnight? Something is cutting them off at the base and carrying them away, as I find no evidence of the plant(s) or any part of them anywhere around.

A: I’d strongly suspect roof rats. Roof rats obtain much of their water requirement from their food or from free water such as sprinklers. Hence, they’re very fond of fruit, especially oranges and tomatoes as they mature.

Water restrictions have curbed their water supply so they’re foraging on other plants such as New Guinea impatiens.

New Guinea’s are a herbaceous and succulent plant so they’re a perfect target.

Roof rats generally begin searching for food shortly after sunset. These rats may cache or hoard considerable amounts of solid food, which they will eat later. These food caches may be located in a variety of other hiding places, generally near their nests.

Rats are very mobile so they’re a tough problem to control outdoors. Traps would work but not baits as there are too many household pets that could be harmed.

My suggestion is to move on and replant with something else.

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 Facebook.com/Buzz-Bertolero.

CAPTION: Honeysuckle ground cover is being rediscovered by a new breed of gardeners as a water-wise solution.


 
Mortgage Rates Dip Down a Bit | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 31 July 2015 10:34

Fixed mortgage rates reversed course once again and moved lower last week amid mixed economic and housing data.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.04 percent, down from 4.09 percent the previous week. A year ago at this time, the 30-year rate averaged 4.13 percent.

The 15-year rate last week averaged 3.21 percent, down from 3.25 percent.

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) rose last week. The 5-year hybrid ARM averaged 2.97 percent, up from 2.96 percent, and the one-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.54 percent, up from 2.50 percent.

 

 
Open Homes • 07-30-15 | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 31 July 2015 10:34
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Home Sales • 07-30-15 | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 31 July 2015 10:33
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Not All Realtors Are Created Equal | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 11:32

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Rummaging through listings, I encountered a property that had been on the market a while. With only one picture, little information provided and no open houses, I was curious.

I tried calling the owner for a showing, but the phone number provided belonged to the listing agent who never answered their phone or returned calls. After a period of trying, I gained access and, while viewing the home, couldn’t help asking the seller a burning question: “How did you select your listing agent?” I queried. “It’s my cousin,” she replied.

I’ve often been puzzled with how sellers select listing agents. Some listings sparkle with beautiful staging, gorgeous pictures, virtual tours, open houses, fully prepared disclosure packages (including reports), stunning flyers and a significant online presence. Others… not so much.

Since it’s a proven fact that the better a home is prepared and marketed, the higher the possibility of multiple offers and the best possible price and terms, why then do some sellers chose agents who don’t do any of these things?

While it’s a given that some sellers simply want their homes on the market as fast as possible and cannot be bothered with property prep, staging and the like, I’ve concluded some sellers really don’t understand their options.

Some go with longtime family friends — not because they are the best agent available, but simply because they know them. Others go with relatives out of obligation.

My opinion? When selling your primary asset, you need to take the time to interview a range of full-time professionals to see what options are available.

Although it may be difficult telling a friend or relative who happens to be a Realtor that you’ve chosen someone else, you may be the better for it in the end. Because an agent sold you the home 20 years ago does not make them the best option to sell it now.

Not all Realtors are created equal, and you need to interview a decent number to find the one offering top-notch services and who is a match for your personality. Plus, if it’s not going well, it is difficult to fire a relative or friend.

At the end of the day, selling a home is a business decision. Take time to search for the best Realtor you can find. You only get one chance to do this right… make it count.

Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Keller Williams Realty and licensed general contractor. This article is sponsored by the Central County Marketing Association at www.ccmgtoday.com.


 
Mortgage Rates Seesaw Higher | Print |  E-mail
Tuesday, 28 July 2015 08:35

Fixed mortgage rates reversed course last week and moved to their highest level this year amid ongoing volatility in bond markets.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.09 percent, up from 4.04 percent a week earlier.

Fifteen-year mortgages averaged 3.25 percent, up from 3.20 percent.

The five-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.96 percent last week, up from 2.93 percent, and the one-year Treasury-indexed ARM remained unchanged at 2.50 percent.

 

 
Lower Your Monthly Mortgage Payments | Print |  E-mail
Tuesday, 28 July 2015 08:33

If you are a homeowner who is current on your mortgage and looking to lower your interest rate, you may be able to take advantage of a long standing federal program to save hundreds of dollars on your monthly  payments or shorten your mortgage term and save money in the long run.

The Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) is a unique program that helps certain homeowners refinance their mortgage to a more affordable monthly payment and at better terms.

With HARP now extended through December 2016, home-owners across the country have more time to take advantage of this program to save money every month.

If you purchased a home before June 2009, have little or no equity in your home but are current on your mortgage payment (meaning no 30-day-plus late payments in the last six months and no more than one in the past 12 months), and the loan is owned by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, you may be eligible to refinance your mortgage through HARP.

More than 3.3 million Americans have taken advantage of HARP since 2009, saving them $200 on average per month. Here’s how you can take advantage of this program:

• Gather your basic financial information before you contact your mortgage company. You’ll need: Your latest mortgage statements, including information on a second mortgage (if applicable); and your current income details (paystub or income tax return).

• Find out if Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac owns your loan. In order to qualify for HARP, your loan must be owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Contact your mortgage company or visit www.knowyouroptions.com/loanlookup or https://ww3.freddiemac.com/loanlookup/.

If your loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, ask your lender if it is an approved HARP lender. Be prepared to provide the information necessary to verify your current source of income. If your lender is not an approved HARP lender, find out who is near you on the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac websites.

• Go through the application, approval and closing process. If your lender determines you qualify for HARP, they will guide you through the process.

HARP has no appraisal requirements or loan-to-value limits, so you can apply regardless of how far your home may have fallen in value. Without this program, qualifying for refinancing can be virtually impossible for homeowners who are underwater.

Remember, the opportunity to get a HARP refinance expires December 31, 2016 and there is still time to take advantage of low mortgage rates.

Make 2015 the year you take the step to save money on your home loan. Call your lender to apply now and begin to save.

For more information, visit www.HARP.gov

— StatePoint


 
Peaches Look Pekid; Roses Ruined? | Print |  E-mail
Tuesday, 28 July 2015 08:28

072315reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: We have a 30-year-old dwarf peach tree that usually produces good  peaches, but it looks like we’ll harvest less than a dozen this year. In addition, a lot of sap has been leaking out from the trunk.  Is this due to the drought conditions, or is the tree dying?

A: One can build a case that a 30-year-old fruit tree is getting toward the end of its life cycle; but, with the proper care, it’s not finished yet.

Nutrients and watching the watering are the key components of a longer life.

The sap from the trunk on any fruit tree is not a good thing. It usually indicates borers. Borers are a secondary insect that attacks trees under stress — eventually killing them.

The larval stage of the insect bores into the crown and trunk of the tree and mines the cambial layer. An annual feeding with Dr Earth All-Purpose Fertilizer or a similar product in the spring helps fight them off by promoting tree vigor.

In May and mid June, spray the trunk and crown area with an insecticide as this is when the adults emerge and lay eggs. I’d ask the nursery professional at your favorite garden center for a recommendation.

The insecticide is not likely to kill the larvae within the tree, instead it protects against any new infestation.

Mature peach trees are not to be watered frequently during the summer months. Once every three to four weeks is sufficient as long as there is a large watering basin around them.

The basin should be six to eight inches tall, extend from the trunk to beyond the drip line and filled up several times when watering. After Labor Day, water them one more time during the fall as they’re in the beginning stages of dormancy.

The poor crop this year could be due to the unseasonably warm January and February. Peaches take a varying amount of hours of winter chill to set fruit. It varies depending on the variety.

So, why was this an issue this year?

Without any foliage, the ground under the tree on the south, southwest side warmed up much faster than normal. This forced the tree out of dormancy early and interfered with the fruit set.

With the return to a normal winter, the problem should not reoccur next year.

Q: My rose bush was flattened when my neighbor’s tree fell on it. I now have shoots coming up from the root area. Will they continue to produce beautiful flowers as in the past?

A: Most roses are budded on to another rose or rootstock so they’re not growing on their own root. These shoots from the rootstock will produce a cherry red color flower with seven to nine petals.

However, there is a small chance that part of the desirable rose survived but you’re going to have to wait and see.

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 Facebook.com/Buzz-Bertolero.


 
Open Homes • 07-23-15 | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 24 July 2015 21:39
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Home Sales • 07-23-15 | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 24 July 2015 21:27
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