Real Estate Gallery
Home Improvement Boom Boosts Market | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 March 2015 14:39

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Soaring business at both Home Depot and Lowes indicates that the nation’s economy is definitely headed up. This is good news for the real estate market — it’s one more indicator that overall consumer confidence is rising and that we can look forward to continued advances in the housing market.

According to Matt Townsend of Bloomberg, sales at both home improvement companies advanced more than 7 percent, resulting in profits in excess of market analysis’ estimates. Both companies topped their own revenue expectations as well.

Most interesting, however, is not the percentage of gains but the fact that a boost in expensive projects propelled the increases. Townsend states, “Purchases above $900 spiked 10 percent at Home Depot. At Lowe’s, receipts greater than $500 surged 13 percent.”

In a phone interview with Bloomberg, Lowe’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Niblock reiterated that increasing consumer confidence is driving the gains.

“Consumers are feeling better about their jobs, their wages and certainly feeling better about the value of their home.” Niblock further informed, “They are re-engaging in projects that they have put off.”

Contractors are also seeing increases in work. While a few short years ago they were slashing rates to keep busy, now the trades are back in demand. Many construction companies are booked out months in advance and some I’ve talked to are already scheduling jobs into 2016. Chief Financial Officer Carol Tome of Home Depot confirms.

“Sales to professionals rose more than they did for the company as a whole,” she explained to Townsend after their gains were posted. “If they are putting more items in their basket, it means they have work coming at them. That’s a sign of health.”

While some are finally able to pay for deferred maintenance they couldn’t afford during the lean years, others are upgrading their homes to improve their standard of living. Some are preparing their homes for sale, understanding that key improvements will reap substantial rewards at the closing table.

This is a boon to the residential real estate market – as increasing numbers of homeowners are spending money on their homes, the enhancements are increasing property values across the board. We recommend that you consult with a real estate professional to ensure that your renovations will in fact boost your property’s value.

While some are concerned that projected interest rate increases may put a damper on market enthusiasm, for now, it’s full speed ahead.

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

Start Seeds Successfully | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 March 2015 14:37

030515re2By Melinda Myers • Special to the Times

Get a jump on the growing season by starting your favorite or hard-to-find plants indoors from seeds. Starting rare plants, like many of the heirloom or newly introduced varieties, from seed may be the only way you will be able to add these to your garden. Plus, you’ll be extending the growing season and bringing the fun of gardening indoors.

All you need is a little space, a few supplies and, of course, seeds to get started. Check the back of your seed packets for planting directions. Most recommend when and how to start seeds indoors as well as any other special care the seedlings will need.

Purchase, recycle or make your own containers from newspaper. Sanitize used pots by dipping them in a one-part-bleach-and-nine-parts-water solution and then rinse them with clean water.

Fill the containers with a sterile well-drained potting mix or seed starting mix. Once the containers are filled, plant the seeds according to the seed packet directions.

For most seeds, plant them twice their diameter deep and gently water. Continue to water often enough to keep the soil slightly moist. Extend the time between watering and increase your seed-starting success by covering the container with plastic. Or, purchase a seed-starting kit, like the self-watering Growease seed-starter kits.

Move your containers to a sunny window as soon as the seedlings emerge from the soil. Turn plants often to encourage even growth. Or, increase your success by growing seedlings under artificial lights. You can make your own light system or purchase tabletop, shelf units or easy-to-assemble light systems, like Stack-N-Grow (

Keep the lights four to six inches above the top of the seedlings for best results. As the seedlings grow, be sure to maintain this distance by simply raising the lights or lowering the containers.

Move overcrowded seedlings to larger containers once they have two sets of true leaves. The first leaves that appear are rather indistinct and are called seed leaves. The next set of leaves look more like the mature plant’s leaves and are called true leaves. Once the next set of true leaves form, it’s time to transplant overcrowded seedlings.

Use a fork or spoon to carefully lift out the seedling. Clusters of seedlings can be dug and carefully teased apart before planting in individual pots. Be careful not to pinch and damage the young, tender stems.

Place seedlings in their own clean container filled with moist, sterile potting mix. Plant the young plants at the same depth they were growing in the original container.

Thin seedlings started in individual containers as needed. If you planted several seeds in each small container remove all but the healthiest one. Prune the weaker seedlings to ground level, so the remaining seedling can develop into a strong transplant for the garden.

Continue to grow your plants in a sunny window or under artificial lights and water thoroughly and often enough to keep the soil slightly moist.

Soon it will be time to move your homegrown transplants into the garden.

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. She is also a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. For more information, visit

CAPTION: Artificial light systems help start seedlings indoors.

Orange Tree Drops Fruit | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 March 2015 14:33

By Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: I have a large orange tree that sits in a brick patio where it gets full sun. Last spring, I had lots of blossoms and little oranges but a significant number fell off. Now, the remaining oranges are dropping off. So, what’s happening?

A: During the winter months, citrus fruit drop is not a common occurrrence, while it’s quite common after the rainy season concludes.

The winter drop of the mature fruits is usually related to changes in temperature, warm days and cold nights.

After a wet December, January was very dry, and it was unseasonably warm — especially the last two weeks of the month. With the abnormal warm afternoons, the brick patio is acting like a thermal blanket which heats up the soil and roots during the day and then the temperature drops 30 degrees or more overnight.

In addition, the dry conditions created water-stress problems, as strange as it might seem, so an application of water would have been advisable. This also would have reduced the soil temperature.

Fortunately, we didn’t have freezing temperatures during this period; otherwise, your orange tree might have suffered some severe damage.

Citrus fruit drop during the growing season is from irregular watering. This is typically a problem with established citrus in containers. The maturing fruits get to be about the size of a marble then drop off. This usually corresponds to the longer days and warmer temperatures in April, May and June.

Windy conditions can also contribute to the moisture loss in plants.

The longer a citrus remains in the same container, the more frequently it needs to be watered. With established citrus, you have more and more roots and less and less soil. Depending on the temperature, three to four times per week is the norm, while a weekly application is sufficient for in-ground plantings. (You would water more frequently when the temperatures are above 90°F.)

In your case, I’d water more frequently as the brick is increasing the soil temperature and causing moisture loss. When water stress happens, the plant is going to drop its fruit before the leaves show any signs of a problem.

A variable that I don’t know is the diameter of the cutout in the brick for the orange tree. I’m going to assume its large as the fruit drop problem is just now starting to happen.

I’d also- suggest mulching the soil area later to help with the moisture loss.

Q: I have an 8-year-old grafted almond tree with a soft-shell and a hard-shell variety. Each year, it’s full of blooms; however, we may get just a small handful of almonds. I was wondering if the birds in my tree were the cause of the lack of almonds?

A: Your lack of almonds is not caused by the birds. The chief pollinator for fruit and nut trees, like almonds, are honey bees.

When the tree is in bloom, dry weather is critical, as the bees don’t work during cool, damp and rainy weather.

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.

Open Homes • 03-05-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 March 2015 14:32
Home Sales • 03-05-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 March 2015 14:32
HOA Policies Reveal Disturbing Trend | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 February 2015 14:44

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

Showing homes recently, I was startled to discover that two townhouses in completely separate developments had different policies concerning external maintenance than I expected.

It was a revelation that may be an indication of actions beleaguered Homeowner’s Associations might be taking to keep finances under control.

It’s no surprise that Homeowner Associations (HOAs) have had tough going over the past few years. The recent market meltdown caused rampant foreclosures and/or short sales in Bay Area multi-unit developments.

This was marked by the inability of owners to make their monthly HOA payments. Consequently, there was a staggering shortfall in revenue, bringing many local HOAs close to financial collapse and actually pushing others over the edge into bankruptcy. The financial hardships had an additional negative impact: scheduled maintenance was frequently halted due to lack of funds.

Making the way back from the brink has been difficult for HOAs. Not only do they need consistent revenue to maintain minimum state-legislated liquidity standards, they need additional funds to return their coffers to workable levels, all the while trying to catch up with deferred maintenance.

Some have dramatically raised monthly HOA fees while others have levied one-time assessments and, in worst case situations, both.

A benefit of buying into an HOA-governed development is the fact that external maintenance is normally covered by the association. This is particularly true of fungus- and termite-related issues, classified as “Section 1” damage.

However, in an effort to regain financial control, it appears some HOAs are choosing to shift responsibility for external maintenance to the owners.

While a troubling trend, it’s also a dangerous practice for HOAs to embrace.

Damage left unrepaired on one unit can lessen overall values and jeopardize adjacent units. It’s also making it difficult on buyers. Most purchase condos or townhouses because they cannot afford to snag a detached single-family home. This often means they have less available cash for the purchase. Discovering that they have to make expensive repairs after they buy can scuttle the deal.

It’s a classic case of “Buyer Beware” — make sure you know the status of the HOA before you ink your final contract. You don’t want to get too far into the transaction and discover that the cost of ownership is higher than you are willing to pay.

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

Alameda County Home Sales Slowest in Years | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 February 2015 14:40

January home sales throughout the nine-county Bay Area dropped sharply month over month, which is normal for the season, and dipped year over year to the lowest level for a January in seven years.

In Alameda County, a total of 849 new and resale houses and condos sold last month, down 11.40 percent from January 2014, according to CoreLogic DataQuick data.

The median price paid for a home in Alameda County last month was $520,000, up from $489,500 a year ago.

The typical monthly mortgage payment for Bay Area home buyers last month was $2,099.


Open Homes • 02-26-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 February 2015 14:40
Home Sales • 02-26-15 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 February 2015 14:34
Trulia-Zillow Merger Makes Little Difference | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:12

By Carl Medford, CRS • Special to the Times

It’s official. The FTC will not block Zillow and Trulia’s merger, paving the way for the two major real estate web portals to unite. What does this mean for consumers? To understand, follow the money.

Zillow started with a basic premise: Remove the mystique about real estate so consumers have as much information as possible to make informed decisions.

From the beginning, they delivered access to active local listings, tax data and their “Zestimate,” an algorithmic property valuation tool providing approximate home values. Over the years, they’ve added loan calculators, rentals and more, but the basic premise remains. Zillow has always made money by drawing consumers to its data, then selling access to those same consumers to Realtors.

In contrast, Trulia was designed to provide information about the home-buying/selling process.

Flowing from founder Pete Flint’s personal frustrations when buying a home, his Trulia profile states: “A resulting commitment was made to build intuitive tools to help fellow homebuyers locate and make sense of the vast amount of real estate info on the web. Combine that with a business model that made sense for brokers and agents, and Trulia was born.”

To survive online, you need revenue. Zillow never made any bones about this. From the beginning, they’ve provided information to consumers on the front side of the portal while peddling income-producing leads to agents on the back side. They’re lead-centric.

Trulia, however, was information-centric, providing Trulia Voices, a portal for consumers to ask questions and get answers from agents. While Zillow also had Q&A, Trulia made it the centerpiece of their website. Additionally, Realtors could host personal blogs on Trulia, providing consumers with additional information.

Unfortunately, this model did not produce income and, therefore, the moment Trulia went public, it switched from being info-centric to lead-centric, just like Zillow.

Whereas access to Trulia Voices used to be on the home page, it’s now hidden behind layers of pull-down menus. Agent blogs were discontinued mid-January as Trulia now relies solely on “professional” writers for content.

Bottom line, for consumers: The Trulia/Zillow merger means… absolutely nothing.

Whether you prefer blue or green, each site now does the same thing — provides access to active listings, rentals, mortgage calculators and more. Like to see a property? Free access can be provided by clicking on a Realtor’s profile (who has paid for the privilege of having their picture on that page).

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

Sow Easy: Grow Food and Flowers from Seed | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:08

021915re2Many vegetables and flowers, especially annuals, can be sown as seeds directly into the garden. Not only can “growing your own” save gardeners money on tasty produce and colorful flowers, it can be a great way to introduce children to gardening.

Chelsey Fields, horticulturalist for the Burpee Seed Co., says the best seeds to sow directly are large ones such as beans, cucumbers and zucchini, which are tough enough to survive in outdoor conditions.

Most root crops such as turnips, beets and radishes, leaf lettuce and other leafy greens such as spinach, Swiss chard and arugula are also easy to grow outdoors from seed.

Numerous annual flowers can also be direct sown — from sunflowers, sweet peas, marigolds, impatiens and foxgloves to cleome, cosmos and forget-me-nots.

Seed Meals

Adventurous gardeners can toss a salad even before it’s planted.

“To grow a carpet of ‘ready-to-snip’ salad greens, just mix three to five types of seeds, toss them into prepared soil and use scissors to harvest the freshest, tastiest leaves you need for each meal,” says Fields.

King Crimson, Fan Dance, Green Frills lettuces, Wildfire Arugula and Baby Leaf Spinach are excellent and will grow back at least a second time for a repeat harvest. Radishes take just three to four weeks from seed to maturity to eating size.

Fields advises that direct-sown plants will require water; full sun (six to eight hours a day); well-drained soil mixed with organic matter such as compost; appropriate amounts of nutrients from compost; and, possibly, fertilizer.

Direct-Sowing Tips

To plant, follow the directions on the seed packet. Direct-sown vegetables will take a week or two to sprout (“germinate”), depending on the weather.

“Sow seeds in straight rows to make it easier to identify anything that sprouts outside the row as a weed,” advises Fields. “Many seeds can be sown throughout the summer for harvesting into the fall. The days-to-maturity message on the seed packet will help determine the likely harvest date.

Sunflowers are among the easiest and most spectacular of tall flowers and their edible seeds make a tasty snack.”

For more information, gardening ideas and “how-to” videos, visit or call 800-888-1447.

CAPTION: Many seeds can be sown directly into the garden.

Check Seed’s Viability Prior to Planting | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:05

021915reBy Buzz Bertolero • The Dirt Gardener

Q: I’ve saved some of the seeds from some wonderful tomatoes I had last year. When would be a good time to germinate the seeds, so I can transplant them in May?

A: You should allow six to eight weeks between sowing the seed and planting in the open ground. So, I’d plan on sowing the seeds in March.

However, be aware that if you saved the seed from a hybrid variety, you’re going to be disappointed with the results.

Hybrid seed varieties are unpredictable in the next generation. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Big Boy and Beefsteak are all examples of hybrid tomatoes. The next year’s plants and tomatoes will be dissimilar to their parents. Genetics is the culprit.

On the other hand, the seed saved from open-pollinated or heirloom varieties will mirror the parent plant in the next generation.

If you’re not sure what you have, search the internet for “heirloom or hybrid tomato varieties” and see if you can locate your variety from that list.

If you don’t know the name, then lower your expectations and plant a few named varieties so the season isn’t a total loss.

Before sowing the seeds, check to see if they are viable. Viable seed means that it is capable of germinating. This is easily accomplished by pouring the seeds into a glass of water or larger receptacle. Discard the seeds that float on the surface and plant those that sink.

Dry out the viable seeds by spreading them over a paper towel and covering it with a second sheet. Then sow the seeds into a flat of pre-moistened potting soil, moist like a wrung-out sponge.

With a pen or pencil, make furrows in the soil, sow the seeds in the rows and then cover them with soil. The flat is then covered with plastic to trap moisture and heat.

Once the seedlings start to emerge from the soil, remove the sheeting and place the flat in an area that gets morning sun. The seedlings are transferred to individual pots when they get two sets of true leaves. Some gardeners prefer to sow seed directly into individual pots, and there is nothing wrong with that. But I prefer the other method as it allows me to select and cultivate the most vigorous seedlings to grow.

May is an excellent time to plant tomatoes. They’re a warm-season fruit/vegetable that requires even temperatures; and, for fruit to set, the nighttime temperatures need to be over 55°F. If you plant too early, the cool, damp weather will cause them to struggle. Avoid this by planting late. In most years, they produce just as soon as the early ones… without the seasonal risk.

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: You should only germinate seeds from heirloom or open-pollinated tomato varieties. Hybrid seed varieties are too unpredictable in the next generation.



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