Real Estate Gallery
Softer Market Spurs Deceptive Tactics | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 September 2014 13:44

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Results are in: the hyper-hot Seller’s Market is cooling and we’re headed into a Transitional Period.

Inventory is up, sales are down, multiple offers are diminishing and average sale prices have dipped slightly. Just a few months ago listings appeared with offer deadlines, now most sellers are accepting offers as they come.

In the middle of this, some sellers are employing a tactic that is not only ill-advised; it’s deceptive and is angering buyers. Further, it can backfire, causing financial harm to the property owner.

Normally, sellers set listing prices low enough to attract attention yet high enough that they’ll be satisfied if offers only come in at list price. I was therefore surprised, recently, to see homes come on the market, receive full-price offers, only to have the sellers come back and ask for more money.

One listing agent told me that the seller had actually asked them to misrepresent that multiple offers had come in to “justify” the higher price, even though the full price offer was the only one on the table.

Multiple offers have been happening for so long now that some have apparently forgotten the rules of engagement.

When more than one offer is submitted, agents can cull them for the best terms from each. They can take the highest price, lowest contingency timeframes, best conditions (eg. “as-is”) and then produce a multiple counter offer designed to pull everyone up to the same bar. They should not introduce new terms that are higher or better than those found in any given offer.

As an example, if the list price is $400,000 and the highest price in any offer is $400,000, they cannot counter everyone back at a higher price.

As for single offers, it’s accepted practice for sellers to counter to tweak terms, but they cannot (and should not) enhance terms beyond what is being offered as long as the offered price is list price or higher. They can always counter back up to list price if an offer is lower.

Unfortunately, some sellers have been bumping-up terms, violating the integrity of the offer/counter-offer process. This practice adds a deceptive overlay to the market. It’s no wonder buyers get angry when encountering sellers and/or agents who don’t play by the rules.

As the market softens, sellers tempted to try this tactic best beware: buyers might walk and take their offers with them. No offers… no sale.

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


 
Alameda County Home Prices Continue to Surge | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 September 2014 13:43

Alameda County home sales slowed last month, but prices increased more than 19 percent over August 2013, according to a real estate information service.

While sales were down nearly 14 percent from a year ago, the median price paid for a home in the county last month was $610,000, up 19.1 percent from $512,000 in August 2013, and the biggest median-price increase in the entire nine-county Bay Area.

The median is the point at which half of the buyers paid more for their homes and half paid less.

An estimated 1,572 new and resale houses and condos sold in the county last month, down from 1,825 a year ago, a drop which CoreLogic DataQuick attributes to a constrained housing supply, tricky mortgage availability and affordability issues.

 The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area buyers committed to paying last month was $2,352.

 

 
Little Movement in Loan Rates | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 September 2014 13:41

Average fixed mortgage rates showed only slightly upward movement last week compared to the previous week and following the increase in bond yields.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.12 percent, up from 4.10 the week before. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.57 percent.

Fifteen-year fixed rates averaged 3.26 percent, up from 3.24 percent.

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) were also up a little. The five-year hybrid ARM averaged 2.99 percent, up from 2.97 percent, and the one-year ARM averaged 2.45 percent, up from 2.40 percent.

 

 
What Does ‘Full Sun’ Really Mean; Stop Watering Fruit? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 September 2014 13:38

091814re2By Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: This may be a silly question but when a plant label or gardening book says “full sun,” does this mean that the plant needs direct sun for the whole day or will it be okay if it gets shade in the late afternoon?

A: This is a very legitimate question that’s not asked very often. Full sun is defined as any plant that requires six hours or more of direct, unfiltered sunlight per day.

The sun exposure is not a year-round measurement but from mid March through October. Another way of thinking of this is when Day Light Saving Time is in effect.

It’s also important to realize that the information on plant labels and gardening books are not tailored to your specific neighborhood. Instead, they’re designed for a region that may include several states. The USDA Hardy Map or the Sunset Western Garden Book Climate Zones are the primary resources.

Shade in the late afternoon should not be a problem for sun-loving plants. A “shade-loving” plant is any plant that requires filtered sun with less than three hour of direct sunlight per day.

Full shade does not mean no sunlight. There aren’t many plants, except mushrooms, that can survive in the dark.

In addition, there is a another, very broad group of plants that are listed for “sun or part shade.” These plants will need some relief from the intense late-afternoon sun, either from shade provided by a nearby tree, other plantings, a building or other means.

You should keep in mind that the hottest temperature of the day occurs in mid to late afternoon.

There are a wide variety of microclimates in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Identical plants can tolerate afternoon sun in one location and burn up in another.

For example, azaleas require morning sun and afternoon shade in Livermore but will grow in the full day sun in Alameda. Thus, measuring the sun exposure for plants is not an exact science.

This has led to a plethora of “sun to part shade” labels that seems to dominate gardening books and plant tags.

I’m surprised to see coleus, Japanese maples, fibrous begonias, impatiens and other so-called “shade-loving” plants thriving in the afternoon sun on the hottest days.

The nursery professional at your favorite garden center is an excellent resource to help sort things out.

Q: Now that I’ve harvested all the fruit off my peach, apricot, plum and nectarine trees, how should I go about watering them this fall?

A: You should scale back the water on fruit trees once Labor Day has past. A single application in September and October is sufficient.

I’d stop watering all established fruit trees in November.

The two exceptions are those varieties with maturing fruit and those growing in containers. Citrus is also an exemption.

Although they do not show it yet, they’re in the early stages of dormancy and do not require the moisture.

You should resume watering next spring after the rainy season has ended.

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.


 
Leave Chimney Cleaning to the Pros | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 September 2014 13:35

091814reBy Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

The chimney-cleaning industry, like other contractor services, has suffered in recent years from scams.

Unscrupulous scammers often target new homeowners or seniors, advertising unbelievably low prices for a chimney cleaning. They then sock the homeowner, after a cursory (or even no) inspection of their chimney, with a huge cleaning and repair bill.

Still, if you want to safely use your fireplace, an annual cleaning and inspection is extremely important. Contact more than one chimney cleaning service (three or more if possible) and get a price quote. Don’t agree to any work until you’ve seen estimates from a few services. Don’t be pressured into a sale you’re not ready for.

Your home’s furnace is another item that should get a checkup from a heating professional. Again, if the contractor inspecting your furnace says repair work needs to be done, get multiple estimates before agreeing to anything.

Those concerns aside, you can do some basic inspection and maintenance tasks yourself. These don’t replace the contractor, but help you get familiar with your house’s heating systems.

You can visually inspect the firebox and damper, and check the bottom part of the chimney flue. Open the damper and use a flashlight to look up the flue, checking for debris like leaves or nests, as well as creosote buildup. This black, sticky gunk is extremely flammable and is one of the things professional sweeps take care of. It’s also difficult to remove without the right equipment.

Clean the damper and firebox by removing ashes and unburnt wood (when they’re fully cooled) and brushing ashes and residue from the visible parts of the fireplace.

Get ready to turn on the heating system now, as well. Buy replacement filters and schedule the furnace’s annual inspection. Also, clean dust and debris from the registers and the air intake cover.

Home Tip: To improve a furnace’s heating efficiency, consider adding insulation to the heating ducts.

© 2014 King Features Synd., Inc.


 
Open Homes • 09-18-14 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 September 2014 13:34
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Home Sales • 09-18-14 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 September 2014 13:33
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Market Transitioning; Sellers Beware | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 September 2014 11:11

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

All good things come to an end, and there is every indication that the hot Central County housing market that dominated the beginning of 2014 is finally cooling.

Inventory of available homes has doubled since March, while sales have dipped 20 percent from July highs. While partly a normal seasonal adjustment, it’s a more dramatic shift than last year at this time. In fact, housing inventory has not been this high since March, 2012, the actual beginning of the current seller’s market.

While still not a buyer’s market, we’re definitely entering a transitional period and everyone looking to buy or sell over the next few months is going to have to learn the new rules. Especially sellers.

In an escalating market, sellers are able to take previous sale prices for comparable homes and hit the market priced a bit higher. If multiple offers ensue, prices get pushed upward even more.

It’s different, however, in a transitional market such as the one we’re entering. Sellers should put homes on the market no higher than previous sales, in fact, with increasing inventory, it’s better to go on the market a hair under previous prices. With more homes to choose from, properties perceived as being priced too high will be ignored and consequently languish.

Transitions like this are difficult for sellers to understand. Over the next few months, count on many new sellers pricing their homes too high, anticipating a market that has already packed its bags for the winter.

Consequently, average Days on the Market (DOM) will likely increase in coming months. Properties that get the most attention will be those that are well prepared, marketed excellently and priced competitively. Read “BELOW” previous sales.

As with any transition, some will get it right away and others will never get the memo. Everett M. Rogers in his landmark work, “Diffusion of Innovations,” proposed categories for every transition: Innovators (2.5 percent), Early Adopters (13.5 percent), Early Majority (34 percent), Late Majority (34 percent) and Laggards (16 percent).*

In this new market, Innovators are already pricing their homes lower, while Early Adopters will read this and immediately understand what to do. Look for the Early Majority to begin pricing lower in the coming months, while the rest will set their prices too high… and never understand why they don’t sell.

Whether you like it or not, the new reality is here. Those that comprehend will be the ones that sell.

*en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everett_Rogers

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


 
Minimize Damage from Apartment Water Leak | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 September 2014 11:10

By Samantha Mazzotta • Special to the Times

What do you do if a pipe in your apartment springs a leak and the maintenance crew cannot get there right away?

You can minimize damage from an uncontrolled water leak in your apartment, even before the maintenance person arrives. Here are steps to follow:

• Review your apartment’s lease and information packet today. These papers include instructions on contacting leasing management or maintenance in an emergency.

• In emergencies such as water leaks, apartment communities normally specify that maintenance will be on site within 24 hours, and often much sooner. Take note of their exact time frames.

• Familiarize yourself with the apartment’s water shutoff valves. You will at least have shutoffs under the sink (for the hot and cold water) and behind/beside the toilet. There also should be a shutoff for the water heater (if it’s inside your apartment).

• If a water leak occurs, locate the source of the leak as quickly as possible. Close the nearest shutoff valve, if possible. Put a bucket underneath the leak and use towels to sop up any spilled water.

• Contact the leasing office or the maintenance number immediately. Describe the problem, its location and the time that the leak occurred.

• If it’s after hours (and these emergencies always seem to happen after hours), the on-call maintenance person should call you back, usually within an hour, to provide further instructions.

What if there’s no shutoff for the pipe that’s leaking? The most important thing is to try and minimize the water damage until the water can be shut off (sometimes the shutoff is located elsewhere in the apartment building and can only be accessed by maintenance). Keep a bucket under the area and empty it before it gets too full.

What if maintenance takes days to address the leak? Keep a record of dates and times of the calls you made, and when the repair was made. Meantime, if maintenance can’t get to the building for some reason –such as a snowstorm – ask the on-call person if the shutoff is accessible so that you can stop the water from flowing in.

© 2014 King Features Synd., Inc.


 
Mortgage Rates Hold Steady | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 September 2014 11:09

Average fixed mortgage rates held largely steady for the third straight week amid light economic reports, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly survey.

Thirty-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.10 percent, unchanged from a week earlier.

The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.24 percent last week, down from 3.25 percent the week before.

Five-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 2.97 percent, unchanged from the prior week.

 

 
Preserve the Harvest for Winter Meals and Holiday Gifts | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 September 2014 11:06

091114reBy Melinda Myers • Special to the Times

The cucumbers have filled the vegetable drawer, you’ve run out of cabbage recipes and your family is refusing to eat one more BLT. Or maybe you just couldn’t resist that special deal on a bushel of tomatoes, potatoes or apples at the farmer’s market. So what is a gardener or shopper to do with all that produce?

Since properly stored vegetables will hold their flavor and nutritional value longer than those left in a plastic bag or set on the sunny kitchen counter, consider preserving some for the long winter ahead using one of several methods.

Storage orchard racks and slatted crates placed in a cool, dark location have long been used to store squash, onions and potatoes. The stackable nature or drawers provide ample storage space, so fruits and vegetables do not touch.  Keeping stored fruit separated prevents rot from spreading from one fruit to the next. Plus, the slatted sides allow airflow to extend storage longevity.

Those in colder climates can store their carrots and parsnips right in the garden. Once the soil gets a bit crunchy, cover them with straw or evergreen boughs for easier digging in winter. Then dig as needed or harvest during the first winter thaw. If this isn’t possible or not your style, try out a root vegetable storage bin. The root crops are layered in sand or sawdust and placed in a cool, dark location. Just remove and use as needed.

Drying is one of the oldest food preservation techniques. Most of us have grabbed a few bundles of herbs to hang and dry. Expand your drying endeavors to include fruits and vegetables. The goal is to quickly remove moisture without cooking the food. You can make your own dehydrator or purchase one. Research has shown that blanching vegetables and fruit before drying helps destroy harmful bacteria. Blanching involves a steam or boiling water bath followed by a cold water bath. Timing varies with the fruit or vegetable you are preparing.

Another ancient food preservation technique, fermentation, is experiencing a comeback. Cultures around the world have fermented fruits and vegetables for thousands of years. Unique flavors, storage options and health benefits have many gardeners revisiting this tradition. Fermenting cucumbers into pickles, cabbage into sauerkraut, and berries into preserves are just a few options. The ingredients can be as simple as water, salt, and spices. All you need is a vessel, vegetables and fermenting culture. You can jump-start your efforts with a fermentation crock kit (gardeners.com) which includes the crock, cover and weights to make sure your veggies stay safely submerged in water.

Or quickly lock in the flavor and nutrition of your fruits and vegetables with freezing. You’ll need airtight containers or bags that are durable, don’t leak and won’t become brittle in cold temperatures. Some produce does not freeze well and others may need to be blanched before they are packed in the freezer bag or container. But frozen items can easily be retrieved from the freezer and included in your winter meals.

Canning is a bit more involved, but can be lots of fun. This process preserves the food and keeps it safe by preventing the growth of undesirable bacteria, yeast and mold. The sealed jars keep the flavor in and bad microorganisms out. So gather your produce, jars, pressure cooker, canner and friends to create tomato sauce, salsa, jams and jellies to enjoy or give as gifts.

Whatever method you choose, do a bit of research before you start. You’ll have greater success and a lot more fun. The National Center for Home Food Preservation website, http://nchfp.uga.edu, provides all the basic information for storage and food preservation.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author and columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books. Visit her website at www.melindamyers.com.

CAPTION: Fermentation is an ancient food preservation technique that is making a comeback.

PHOTO COURTESY OF GARDENER'S SUPPLY COMPANY


 
Open Homes • 09-11-14 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 September 2014 11:05
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