Just When You Least Expect It, Mendocino County Goes Business-Friendly

 

Once we make up our minds, many of us are slow to change them. I am certainly included in this, but I have to tell you, it’s time to correct some outdated ideas about our county.

During the last 25 years, many developers in Mendocino County have left town with a sour taste in their mouth. But starting with the populous of our community, working its way through elected officials, management staff, and the front line customer service people, Mendocino County has joined the small percentage of government entities who can honestly say they are business-friendly and interested in encouraging job growth.

This is NOT to say they’ve tossed out the rule book. They are not granting special favors or making bad decisions. What it does mean is this: if you have a development or business project that meets local standards for zoning and fits within established environmental constraints, this county is willing to work diligently to create an atmosphere of success for your project.

Going back three or four years, when local business man Ross Liberty bought the old Masonite property to relocate his manufacturing facility, the county staff and elected officials were not just helpful, but according to Liberty, their encouragement for him to complete the project bordered on harassment.

In fairness, Liberty was in the process of buying what many would have referred to as a sow’s ear—and the county was eager for Liberty to transform it. Now, that property is more like a silk purse. After that initial purchase, Liberty decided to buy most of the rest of the old Masonite property, and the county has continued to be wonderfully supportive. Since Liberty has been through this before, he has relationships with the people who oversee development projects in the county, so you might think that’s why things are going so smoothly.

Sure, it helps to know people, but I just spoke with the project manager at In-N-Out Burger. He didn’t know a soul in Mendocino County before this project, and he described his interactions with people at all levels of the county with words like “professional, helpful, realistic, and accommodating.” To me, this means our community has turned a corner. We now understand that for our children to have an opportunity to live and thrive in their hometown, we need jobs. To get jobs, we need industry. And for industry, we need some level of development.

None of us is willing to sacrifice our way of life for the sake of development, but I believe we have reached a sustainable long-term balance. Our next challenge is to facilitate the development of affordable housing for our children to be able to remain in the area. Be aware, when I use the term “affordable housing,” I mean it in the economic sense, not the political sense. We need market-priced housing that people can afford on salaries generated by businesses in Ukiah.

If we can bring those two things together, and I believe we can, Ukiah will once again be one of the best communities in which to live and work in our nation. Now if we can just get the City of Ukiah and the Sanitation district to come to resolve their disagreement, we can all move forward ….

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

How to Make an Entrance

Once you’ve purchased a new home, it’s time to make it yours. Creating a welcoming entrance is a lovely way to start: it will be something you and all your visitors can enjoy for years to come. Chances are, having just closed escrow, you’re not in the mood to spend a whole bunch of money. Happily, several small, inexpensive changes can add up to a big impression.

First, be sure people can identify your home by adding house numbers to your mailbox and your house. This is convenient for visitors and essential for emergency responders. I like reflective numbers on mailboxes and beautiful, but prominent numbers on the house itself. It’s best if the house numbers are visible at night, so place them under a sconce or get numbers that illuminate.

Next, consider the walkway to your front door. A walkway should be at least three feet wide, and preferably four feet, to allow two people to walk shoulder-to-shoulder as they approach. Trim shrubbery away from the path and fix any tripping hazards (cracked concrete or bricks that have moved out of place).

Once the path is clear, it’s time to light it for guests (and family members) who come and go after dark. Solar landscape lighting not only improves safety, but adds beauty. Mendo Mill and Friedman’s offer lights that cost only a few dollars apiece and are easy to install—simply stick them in the ground along the path. The sun charges them during the day and they add a nice glow at night. While we’re on the subject of light, consider motion lights outside your front door. This will prevent you from fumbling for your keys in the dark, and it dissuades those who prefer to lurk in the dark.

As you arrive at your front door, planter boxes or flower pots on your front porch can add a bit of cheer. Whether you choose a subtle terra cotta or colorful pots that coordinate with your decor, planting flowers says, “I care about my home.”

Many people like to make a statement with the color of their front door. While it’s often a good idea to fit in with the neighborhood and keep your exterior house colors neutral, a bright front door color can make you smile each time you come home. Use a high gloss paint and consider popular colors like crimson, royal blue or forest green.

Color isn’t the only way to make your front door stand out. You may consider a fun knocker. You can choose a big, brass knocker, if you’re on the traditional side, or a silly, fun knocker that reflects your personality, if you prefer. The great thing about knockers as opposed to door bells is that knockers never run out of batteries.

If you have clear windows as part of your front door or immediately adjacent to your front door, consider improving privacy and safety with after-market decorative film. The film can create a faux stained glass look or simply a frosted window look. Either way, people won’t be able to look into your home before you invite them in.

Before people accept your invitation to enter your home, they should be able to wipe their feet on a door mat. Here’s another opportunity to share your style. Coir mats (the ones with the firm bristles) are wonderful for removing dirt from shoes of all descriptions. You can choose the classic “Welcome” message or create a custom option; you’re only limited by your imagination. Finally, although your mailbox isn’t necessarily part of your entryway, it is one of the first things people see as they approach your home. You can have a big mailbox or a small one. It can lock or not. And it can be almost any shape or color.

Making your house a home is great fun. Enjoy!

If you have questions about getting into real estate, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

Appraisals: What You Need to Know

An appraisal is a professional assessment of a property’s value, and it is a critical part of the home-buying (and refinancing) process. Before lenders will agree to finance a home loan, they want to be sure they can recoup their money, should the need arise. If you find a cute little house on the Westside of Ukiah worth $250,000, a lender will not finance a loan for $400,000 because if you default on that loan, they need to be able to sell the house and get their money back.

Since most people don’t make a habit of buying and selling houses, here are a few details you should know.

Who Pays For the Appraisal?

Usually the buyer pays for the appraisal; however, in some sales contracts a buyer may ask the seller to reimburse them for the cost of the appraisal at closing. When refinancing your home, you pay for the appraisal upfront, or sometimes it can be part of the closing costs that can be financed back into your loan.

How Do Appraisers Determine the Value?

Appraisers thoroughly inspect your house to review the square footage, how many bedrooms and bathrooms, the kitchen style, and the overall condition of the house. They also review the property’s location and other factors, including the recent sales price of similar homes in the area. Finally, appraisers must provide a “Condition Code” rating that reflects the integrity and condition of the house, based on a formula provided by the appraisal institute.

Who Gets to See the Appraisal?

On a purchase transaction, buyers should receive a copy of the appraisal at least three days before closing; however, it’s usually given to them a few days after the lender receives it. Neither the seller of the property nor the real estate agent typically receives a copy—unless the buyer provides written authorization that it’s okay to share it. If you are a buyer and you do not receive a copy of the appraisal, ask for it! If you paid for the appraisal you are entitled to a copy.

What If the Value is Lower than Expected?

If you are the seller, and the appraised value is lower than the sale price, you can either back out of the contract (depending upon the wording in the contract), or you can renegotiate the price. The buyer also has the right to renegotiate the sale price. If the appraised value is higher than the sale price, then the buyer gets a good deal and the seller must live with the agreement.

If you are refinancing and you think the value is too low, you have the right to appeal the value, provided you have additional information to help increase the appraisal value (i.e., other comparable properties that have sold or mistakes that the appraiser has made such as the wrong square footage or number of rooms). Appraisers are human; they make mistakes. Review the appraisal carefully, especially if the value is significantly higher or lower than you expected.

What Can You Do Before the Home is Appraised?

While you may not think small cosmetic changes should affect the appraisal, they can. The first impression of a home with good curb appeal can positively influence an appraiser’s (and buyer’s) opinion. Cut overgrown bushes, rake the leaves, pull weeds, and mow the grass. Inside the house, de-clutter the counter tops, cabinets and closets. Vacuum floors, wash tile floors and polish wood floors. If you have made improvements (e.g., new roof, deck, furnace, water heater, etc.), give copies of paid invoices to the appraiser before they make an inspection, especially if the improvements are readily visible.

If you’re wondering whether it’s in your best interest to refinance your home, contact your Realtor. They can help you.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com.

Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

 

Why Buy?

 

If you’ve been looking for a house to rent, then you know how hard it is. Almost nothing’s available in Ukiah, and the houses that are, feel overpriced. Rather than wasting time looking for a rental or spending too much for a house you don’t really want to live in, I have a suggestion: purchase your own home.

If this makes you raise an eyebrow in curiosity, read on. What are the criteria for considering home ownership over renting? Purchasing your first home is a huge decision. Obviously it’s one of the largest financial decisions you’ll ever make, but it’s also one that will change your lifestyle, and it’s not a decision you can easily undo.

Before you hand over tens of thousands of dollars in cash for a down payment and commit yourself to monthly payments of $2,000-$4,000, you need to be certain you want to be a homeowner and that the home you’re considering is, in fact, the home you want to be in. This doesn’t mean you’re committed to this house for life, but you should be committed to staying there for several years.

With that in mind, be sure to find a house that can grow with you, at least initially. If you and your spouse are newlyweds planning on having six children in the next six years, a two-bedroom house that feels roomy today will soon feel crowded.

How do you know if you’re ready to own a home? Let’s start with the basics. First, you must have access to a down payment, whether you find a loan designed for a first-time homebuyer or a more conventional loan requiring a 20 percent down payment. And then, of course, you’ll need enough money to pay the monthly mortgage payments, including tax and insurance.

On the plus side, your rent won’t go up—and if interest rates eventually drop below the rate you secured, you can refinance the loan and reduce your monthly payment a bit. In addition, most of your mortgage payment and property taxes are tax deductible. In today’s world, the after-tax cost of mortgage payments, taxes and insurance on a starter home are very likely less than your rent would be.

Unfortunately, there are some additional expenses that come with home ownership. You’ll need to maintain your new castle. Although the commitment is significant, in my experience, it’s worth it.

When you think about home repairs, your first thought might be, “Hey, I’m pretty handy. I can take care of things myself.” But unless you’re a licensed contractor, roofer, plumber, electrician, and appliance repairman who knows how to lay carpet and install tile, you’re likely to need professional help from time to time. Because while you can repair a broken gutter, eventually your water heater will need replacing, your carpet will wear out, and your roof will leak.

To determine the amount you need to budget to maintain a home, I recommend saving 3 percent of the purchase price for repairs and upkeep. If you don’t spend it this year, set it aside for the future. Obviously this number depends on the age and condition of the property in question, but it’s a good rule of thumb. If you buy a 75-year-old farmhouse in poor condition, 3 percent won’t be enough. If you buy a new home, your maintenance costs for the first several years should be minimal. Regardless of what type of home you buy, you should plan on some maintenance expenses.

To sum it up, if you have sufficient funds for a down payment and enough income to afford mortgage payments, taxes, insurance and maintenance—and you’re in a relatively stable financial position with the ability and desire to stay in one place for the next several years, consider buying a home. Just think, when you want to hang your Great Aunt Mathilda’s portrait, you won’t need to ask permission from anyone except your spouse.

If you have questions about getting into real estate, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

Sometimes Beauty is Only Skin Deep

If you’re in the market to buy a home, it can be hard to resist a place with brand new features: new flooring, new paint, new countertops, new bathroom fixtures, and/or new appliances. While newer can certainly mean better, it’s important to make sure upgrades were done properly and the fresh coat of paint wasn’t added to cover mold, water damage, or other problems.

Before 2007, the housing market was hot—prices were through the roof. Then the market crashed and home values plummeted. Many people faced foreclosure and they stopped maintaining their homes. By the time the housing market picked up again, many homes were in disrepair. This allowed enterprising contractors and do-it-yourselfers to buy fixer-uppers, renovate them, and resell them for a nice profit. This is called a flip, and it is a perfectly legitimate business practice. It only becomes a problem when the contractor or D-I-Yer isn’t ethical, cutting corners to increase profits or not disclosing information to prospective buyers at the time of the sale.

This is why it’s always a good idea to learn about the history of a property. Before closing escrow on a house, do your homework. When were renovations done and by whom? Check to see whether licensed contractors did the work. Confirm that appropriate permits were issued and finalized. What may appear to be a sparkly new bathroom floor could be fungus-damaged wood covered by new tile. Don’t assume that because the house has a new electrical panel that is also has new wiring. Just like you wouldn’t assume new bathroom fixtures meant the whole house was recently retrofitted with new pipes.

If the house is vacant, it’s also a good idea to find out how long it’s been since someone lived there. Even a couple months can cause issues with water, gas and electric. Water heaters leak. Furnaces fail, and air conditioners have issues. If the appliances are brand new, they may work perfectly—or they may not. Because they are untested, there’s no way to know whether they can handle the volume your family requires.

I recommend ordering plenty of inspections before you start planning where to put Great Aunt Mathilda’s piano or your favorite recliner. A home inspection, a pest and fungus inspection and a title report are essential. On the title report, I’d spend the extra money to get a lien-free endorsement from the title company. That means everyone who worked on the house has been paid. Mechanics’ liens are not part of the public record, but can crop up after a sale. Then you’re responsible for taking care of them. I’d also consider hiring a plumber to check the sewer lateral, or obtain a septic inspection if the house has a septic system.

I share this information to make you cautious, not to scare you away. Most of the contractors I know are reputable, hard-working people. In a town as small as Ukiah, it’s hard to be a charlatan and stay in business very long. Those who renovate houses in poor condition can take a house that wouldn’t qualify for conventional loans and make it affordable for a first-time homebuyer with a low down payment. Everyone wins.

If you’re nervous about a newly renovated house, talk to your Realtor. Realtors can suggest which inspections to order and they’re often good at sniffing out subtle cues that may indicate trouble. Realtors see hundreds, sometimes thousands of houses during their careers. They tend to have a sense if something doesn’t feel right.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

 

How to Price Your House without Adding an Emotional Surcharge

When you decide to sell your house, it can be hard to let go emotionally, because many of us associate our house with the memories we created there: the birthday parties, the holiday celebrations, and all the firsts—from your child’s first steps to your first day as empty nesters. This can be problematic when it comes to determining your property’s market value because your memories are priceless, while your house is not.

As you contemplate a listing price, remember that you get to take your memories with you to your new home. The memories don’t stay with the old house, so their value shouldn’t either. Determining a listing price is one of the many things a good Realtor can help you with. Your Realtor will review comparable properties in the neighborhood and assess the local housing market trends to come up with a suggested listing price. This is often the moment when sellers see a flash before their eyes of all the improvements they made, and wonder why the house isn’t worth more.

The cost of some improvements can be recouped, usually those that involve updating kitchens and bathrooms. However, converting a garage to a family room or installing built-in shelves may not increase the value of the home by the amount of money (and sweat and tears) you invested. Work with your Realtor to understand the reasons for his or her suggested listing price.

In addition to square footage and location, your Realtor may consider issues such as how quickly you’ve said you want to sell. Keep in mind, the Realtor does not establish the value of the home: the market does. The Realtor is simply trying to interpret market data to reflect an accurate value so potential buyers will come knocking.

Can Realtors make mistakes? Yes, of course. But are they typically trying to sell your property at a price below market value? No, that doesn’t benefit them or you. You should definitely feel free to ask how your Realtor came up with his or her suggested list price, and where wiggle room may exist, but just because you don’t like the price doesn’t mean it isn’t the right one. Sellers have an especially tough time with this concept when they paid too much for the house and are now “upside down” (owe more than the house is worth). Sadly for those folks, when the appraiser comes to examine the property, there is no line item for how much you paid for the house—this has no impact on the value of the property.

If you want to know how much money you’ll walk away with at the end of a sale, ask your Realtor to create a seller’s net sheet, which includes the sale price minus the expenses related to the sale (e.g., brokerage fees, loan, title and escrow fees and any credit to the buyer for repairs).

Here are some signs that you may be overly emotionally invested in your house when it comes to selling it:

  1. You argue with the Realtor that the list price is way too low
  2. You ignore the Realtor’s advice about making improvements, repairs, or updates to the house
  3. You refuse to respond to requests to show the house in a timely manner
  4. You become irrational during negotiations after buyers make an offer or counter offer

It’s understandable to have an emotional attachment to your house, just be sure to recognize it so your emotions do not take precedence over judgment.

One final piece of advice: before you sell your house, be sure you can qualify for a new one. It’s best to get preapproved for a loan to buy another house before you let go of the one you’re in.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

Avoid Remodeling Mistakes

Have you ever walked into a house and wondered, “What were they thinking when they designed this place?” Most of us have. If you plan to remodel, here are some tips to prevent your house from becoming that house.

Color
Colors evoke moods, so be aware of the message you’re sending or the mood you’re fostering. Colors can be divided into several categories: warm and cool, bright and muted, dark and light—and they all have different impacts.

  • A light, muted yellow is considered cheerful and inviting, a nice way to boost people’s moods. Yellow works well in almost any room, and light colors make rooms feel bigger.
  • Pastels like lavender and pink are great for children’s rooms, but not much else.
  • Light blue promotes tranquility, and is therefore often used in bedrooms.
  • Dark blues (like other dark colors) often make a space feel smaller, so use sparingly.
  • Light green is the color of nature, and as a cool color is quite soothing.
  • Dark green complements dark woods, and can be offset with white trim.
  • Intense warm colors like orange and red are great if you want to make a room seem smaller and more intimate, or if you want to stimulate lively discussions and activities. These colors are popular in dining rooms to promote lively conversation and warm, family moments.
  • Neutrals and browns are safe, conservative options. If you don’t know what you want, or if you are planning to sell in a few years and want future owners to pick their color scheme, neutrals are a good choice. You can always add more color via art, area rugs, or adding a colorful accent wall later.

Once you’ve got your color scheme figured out, here are a few more things to consider.

Be sure you have a vision of what you want your home to look like: the floor plan and the style (modern, traditional, eclectic). Clarity about style, especially, will help you make many of the other decisions coming your way. Be honest about the space you need. It is easy to over-build. While you should plan for the space you’ll need during the next decade or so, the truth is, a well-designed 3,000 sq. ft. home may work better than an ill-designed 5,000 sq. ft. home (and there will be less to clean and maintain).

Find the right people: the architect, builder, sub-contractors, and suppliers. Do not be afraid to ask them if they are licensed, bonded and insured. If they act offended when you ask the question, find someone else because in addition to the right credentials, you also want people with the right personality—people you can get along with. If they are difficult to deal with at this point, the whole process can go south in a hurry. Once construction is underway, visit the site every few days to be sure everything is being built to your expectations. Ask questions if you have them.

If you’re working within a fixed budget, there may be work you can do. Ask the builder if he or she will allow you to put in sweat equity to help reduce costs. Maybe you can paint the walls or stain the trim. Think about the upgrades ahead of time. Builders generally provide estimates based on “medium grade” materials. Some upgrades don’t cost too much, but make a nice difference. When you’re budgeting, think about future mortgage payments, too. If you’ve been pre-approved for a specific mortgage amount, consider what the interest rate will be when the home is completed and how much extra upgrades will add to your monthly payment. Also consider how much money you will need after escrow closes (window coverings, furniture, landscaping).

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

Good Credit: Myths and Facts

When it comes to offering home loans to prospective homebuyers, lenders often provide more favorable terms to borrowers with good credit—because for them, good credit means less risk. Your credit score helps lenders determine the likelihood of whether you will pay your mortgage payments, and pay them on time. The most common credit score is the Fair Isaac and Company score (FICO). A FICO score considers a huge amount of credit history, including how many real estate loans and car loans a person has. It reviews credit card information: outstanding balances, whether you pay your cards off each month, and how close they are to the maximum credit limit. The score also reviews how recently and frequently your credit check has been run, and whether closed accounts were closed based on customer requests or vendor requests.

There are decisions you can make that have the potential to affect your credit score. Here are a few to be aware of.

Oddly enough, just having your credit score checked by a potential lender will affect the score. If you inquire about your own credit, this is called a “soft pull” and it does not affect your score; however, if others check your credit, it may cause a little damage. According to myfico.com, when you apply for credit, you authorize those lenders to ask for a copy of your credit report from a credit bureau. When you later check your credit, those credit inquiries are listed (sometimes along with others). The only inquiries that count toward your FICO scores are the ones that result from your applications for new credit.

Closing old or inactive accounts to help your score could shorten the measured duration of your credit history. This is a bad move. As long as you’ve paid in a timely manner and do not have an outstanding balance, old accounts simply show you have a history of taking care of business. This is good for your credit score. If at some point you got behind and were sent to collections, make sure you clean up those negative accounts. Unfortunately, paying off a negative account doesn’t erase it from your record (it usually remains on file for seven years), but it is far better than allowing it to continue to harm your financial reputation.

If you have a grown son or daughter (or any friend or relative) who may have had some credit trouble, be aware that if you co-sign on a loan for them, you are responsible for that account. If they default on the loan, the bank will come to you for payment. I realize this may sound obvious, but some folks are under the misimpression that co-signing is like a vote of confidence that makes the lender feel good about lending to this high-risk borrower. It is far more:  it is a financial guarantee that you may actually have to make good on in the future. And if your friend doesn’t pay on time it may impact your credit score.

As you consider how to build a strong credit score, making on-time rental, utility and cell phone payments isn’t actually all that helpful. It’s a good idea, anyway, but what really helps your credit score is not getting sent to collections for missed payments. While your score will incorporate your financial history, it is only a snapshot. It is like a home appraisal – its value is only good for that point in time. The good news about this is: if your credit score is not as high as you’d like, you can change it. The bad news is: if it is as high as you’d like, it may not remain there.

 

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

 

 

Waiting for Spring to Sell Your House Probably Isn’t Worthwhile

Most people believe that spring is the best time to put their house on the market. Flowers are blooming, weather is warm, and people seem to be more optimistic. When the weather is cold and wet, people prefer to stay indoors and curl up in front of a fire with a good book (or Kindle)—not plan a big move.

Although it’s counter-intuitive, it is precisely because so few people list their homes during winter that you should consider it. While your competitors wait for good weather to show off their homes’ most appealing features, you can work with the serious buyers who are looking for a place to live in December, January or February. Looky-loos wait for a sunny afternoon in April to walk through open houses. People ready to hand over a down payment attend open houses when it’s 36 degrees and raining.

When I compare housing statistics from last winter (December 2015-February 2016) to spring (March-May 2016), I see the average time on the market didn’t change much. In winter, the average residential property in inland Mendocino County was on the market for 91 days. In spring, the average time on the market was 89 days. Not a big difference.

When I compare home sales during the first part of the year (January through May 2016) to home sales for the whole year so far (January through November), it appears the market is heating up. Homes are selling faster now than they were in spring. During the first five months of the year, 96 homes sold. Through November, 277 homes sold; that’s an average of 19 homes per month for the first five months compared to 25 homes per month through November, or put another way: a 32 percent increase in the number of homes selling per month. Seems to me, this is a perfectly good time to put your house on the market.

The fact is, some buyers prefer to look for new properties in winter because a property’s flaws may be more apparent. Savvy buyers know it’s easier to miss problems when everything is warm and dry. In addition, if a property requires work on the septic system (i.e., installation, expansion or repairs), the buyer may be required to submit a wet weather soil analysis, which is tough to come by in August around here.

The bottom line is this: although spring is a slightly better time to put your house on the market, if you have any inclination toward moving during winter, don’t be scared off by the doom and gloomers.

Talk to your Realtor about how to stage your house during this time of year. Think roaring fire, the smell of hot cocoa and warm, fluffy throw blankets strategically placed on your couch. Serious buyers who need to move during this time of year will take one look at your house and picture themselves happily settled rather than trudging through inclement weather to see yet another house.

I think I’ve mentioned that I once had an agent who consistently had his highest sales volume during the month of December. While other agents believed the market would slow down during the holidays and planned accordingly, this guy figured he’d be the go-getter who jumped on every opportunity. Consequently, he was very successful, and you can be, too. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t sell your house in winter. You can.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

Abandoned Personal Property

As a landlord of residential properties, can you throw away whatever tenants leave behind when they vacate the premises? The quick answer is no, you cannot simply discard someone else’s belongings, tempting as it may be. California Civil Code provides both forms and a procedure to clarify the rights of tenants and landlords. The law is quite specific about steps to take and the timeline to follow.

First, you must send a notice in writing to the last known address of your tenants, letting them know they left personal property behind and that you will either sell it, dispose of it, or store it, depending on the value of the property and your personal preferences. The notice must clearly describe the property and how the tenants can retrieve it.

If the property is worth more than $700, you cannot dispose of it. It must be sold at public auction or stored, and revenues are not yours to keep if you sell the property. Revenues go to the tenant or to the county treasury (minus the costs you incurred storing or selling the items).

When sending a notice to the prior tenants, I recommend delivering the letter in a way that allows you to verify delivery, via certified mail or with a return receipt. In addition to sending a hard copy, I’d send an email, too, if you have that information. If you do not have a forwarding address, consider sending the notice to the tenants’ last known employer or to a relative, if you have those addresses. This is one of those times you’ll be glad you took the time to create a good filing system, so you can, in fact, find your tenants’ original application with all sorts of helpful contact information.

It’s worth putting in some effort to reach the tenants, because otherwise you’ll have to go through the hassle and expense of selling their stuff at public auction, and even though you can deduct your expenses from the sale proceeds, it’s still a time-consuming pain in the neck. If you’d like help with the details of how to write the notice to the tenant, ask your Realtor. They can provide you with a copy of the Abandoned Personal Property Letter template referred to in Civil Code 1984.

While you’re waiting for the tenants to respond to your notice, what should you do with their personal belongings? After a couple days, most landlords want to get their property ready for the next tenants, so storing a bunch of junk isn’t too appealing. You can move the prior tenants’ belongings into the garage (if you have one) or into a secure storage unit. When you itemize the cost of storing those belongings, you cannot charge the opportunity cost of lost rent. That is to say, just because you cannot rent your property (because it’s full of the prior tenants’ belongings) does not mean you can charge the previous tenants the extra rent.
If the tenants do not claim their property quickly, and you decide to sell the belongings, you must first publish a notice of public sale in the newspaper, listing the time, place and a description of all items to be sold. The notice must run once a week for two weeks, with the last notice running five days prior to the sale.

If the tenants do claim their property, they cannot pick and choose what to retrieve. You can require them to take all their belongings. It is their responsibility to dispose of any unwanted items. If you have reason to believe that the items left behind do not belong to the tenant, but instead are lost or stolen property, you can always contact the police department.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.