Planting Grapes

As the year draws to a close and you begin thinking about adventures for next year, you may be telling yourself, “Gee, I’d like to own a vineyard.” Before you embark on this adventure, there are a few things you should consider.

If what you really want out of a vineyard is the ability to place a bottle of wine on the Thanksgiving table with your label on it to make your brother-in-law jealous, don’t go into farming. There are far easier ways to make your brother-in-law jealous. Farming is not for the faint of heart, and growing wine grapes is particularly challenging given their temperamental nature.

If you’re determined to move ahead with your vineyard project, the first thing you’ll have to do is buy land. You have three choices: buy a producing vineyard, buy an ailing vineyard and work to restore it, or buy land and plant a vineyard. Much of the local orchard land has been converted to vineyards, so that’s an option. In Mendocino County, our appellations have continued to gain the notice of those in the know in the wine world. So from that perspective, planting grapes locally could be an excellent investment.

Many factors combine to determine whether you’ll succeed or fail, but you can get started on the right foot by buying the right piece of land. Vineyard elevation, irrigation, slope of the land, and type of soil will all dramatically affect your farming success, so before you purchase any land, do your homework. For example, did you know that cold air sinks? So, as counterintuitive as it seems, vineyards at higher elevations can actually stay warmer than valley elevations. This is important when it comes to frost protection. If your vineyard isn’t positioned well or if the contours of the land cause cold patches where frost can form, you’ll be up at all hours of the night and you better be sure to have a good water source ( a pond either filled from a high producing well or riparian rights from a river).  In this valley, you’ll get lots of advice about which land to buy and how to manage your vineyard, solicited or not. If you have questions, I’d head to the Farm Bureau and talk to Devon Jones. If she can’t answer your question, she’ll know who can.

Once you’ve found the perfect plot, you’ll probably need a loan. Locally, American Ag Credit and Savings Bank of Mendocino County can help you. If you buy land and plan to develop it, you’ll need to figure out which type of grape to plant. Just so you know, you can’t simply go to the farmer next door and ask for a few cuttings to get you started. Grape varietals have copyrights. You have to purchase vines from a reputable source (one who will provide the patent and copyright certificate) or risk paying fines for stealing someone else’s creation.

If you are as enthusiastic as ever about owning a vineyard, please remember you’ll put in long hours, getting up in the middle of the night when the frost alarm sounds or working until the grapes are in before the rain forecast for the following morning. There will be years when the crop is abundant and the prices are low, and years when the crop is small and the prices are high. And then there will be the year when your crops are good, the prices are high, and your tractor breaks down.

Be prepared for all of it. However, since you can look around Ukiah and see many prospering vineyards (and farmers), it may be worth it. Grape growing is an integral part of life in Mendocino County and our economy. I wish you luck with your vineyard!

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit 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 Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

Home Selling Myths – DeBunked Part II

Last week I debunked the first four myths related to selling your home. Here’s four more myths people often believe, but shouldn’t.

Myth #5: I have to carry the financing. Seller financing occurs when you, the seller, take the position of the bank. While in many cases it’s appropriate, depending on the circumstances, if bank financing is available for the subject property and the buyer is qualified, it will likely be available at better terms than you will want to carry. Most home sellers don’t want to tie up funds for 30 years at less than 4 percent interest. And if you require a higher rate than this, it will likely have a negative impact on the sales price. In addition, if you are motivated by tax concerns, you probably qualify for a tax exemption of $250,000-$500,000 of profit if you lived in the house for two of the past five years.

Myth #6: I can’t carry the financing. If your house won’t qualify for bank financing, it will be difficult or expensive for a buyer to come up with the cash to pay you in full, making the amount they can or will pay for the property lower than might otherwise be the case. It depends on the terms of seller financing. Short-term financing to comply with the buyer’s short-term needs may fit in with your plans. After all, if you’re taking sale proceeds and sticking them in the bank at 0.2 percent, getting a low interest rate from a buyer and facilitating the sale of your property might have some tremendous advantages. If you carry the financing, I highly recommend requiring at the very minimum a 20 percent down payment. In the event that the buyer defaults and you have to foreclose, you’ll be sorry if you carried the financing with less than 20 percent down.

Myth #7: I’m selling my property as-is. There are two considerations here. First, as-is doesn’t mean you don’t have to tell the buyer everything you know about the condition of the house. In today’s world, it is an absolute requirement and the courts will hold the seller responsible for disclosing anything and everything the seller knew or should have known. Second, “as-is” actually means what it says: selling the house in its current condition except for government-mandated fixes. You may want to reconsider this take-it-or-leave-it stance. Many times, buyers have limited cash but can afford larger monthly payments. The repairs can be negotiated as part of the entire purchase agreement. You may be able to meet their requirements without negatively impacting yours. Look to your Realtor for advice on these issues.

Myth #8: I’ll be offended if I receive a low-ball offer. Before you reject an offer, be careful. Don’t let your emotions control your business decisions. Any offer is better than no offer at all. Sometimes buyers start low but with guidance and negotiation the buyer and seller may be able to come to an agreement that meets both of their needs.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit 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 Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

Home Selling Myths – DeBunked Part I


Most of us don’t buy and sell homes very often, so when we hear a myth that sounds plausible, we believe it. Last week I shared home buying myths and debunked them. This week, I thought I’d jump to the seller’s side and debunk common myths people have about how best to sell their property.

Myth #1: I don’t need a Realtor. Yes, you do. I am a real estate broker and I’ve hired Realtors to represent me when I buy or sell property. A typical, run-of-the-mill real estate contract requires a 10-page purchase agreement, 6-8 disclosures of one to twelve pages each, and 3-5 inspections, all of which need to be reviewed and understood. Real estate law and practices are updated frequently, so knowing the latest information requires constant education.

Myth #2: I looked online and I know what my house is worth. No, you don’t. If you read the disclaimers on those websites, they admit that the prices they list are only estimates and that you should talk to a real estate professional to determine your property’s value.

Myth #3: I can negotiate my home’s purchase price better than a Realtor. This simply isn’t true. One of the biggest benefits to having a Realtor is his or her ability to serve as a third party negotiator. When a prospect has looked at your house and not made an offer, how can you find out if an offer is coming? If you call for a status report, you are breaking the first rule of negotiating by making first move. It is seen as weakness and it communicates a sense of urgency you may or may not care to admit. When a Realtor calls, he or she is just following up in the process of looking for a commission—not putting you at a disadvantage.

Myth #4: I don’t need inspections; the buyer will get them. My recommendation to every home seller is to get as many inspections up front as you can, from wells and septic systems to sewer laterals, roof, pest and fungus, home inspections, preliminary title reports and more. These inspections provide value for lots of reasons. First and foremost, inspections tell you what’s wrong with your house, giving you the opportunity to take care of minor issues before they come to a buyer’s attention. Fixing little issues will also make your house show better. Finally, it will make your sales transaction go more smoothly, because you’ll have no last minute surprises for the lender or buyer to resolve prior to the close of escrow. Having inspections up front takes all the wind out of a buyer’s sails in the event that he or she wanted to renegotiate price because of some newly discovered issue.

Next week, I’ll debunk four more myths about selling your house.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit 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 Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.



Home Buying Myths — DeBunked

Most of us will only buy a home a few times in our lives, so it’s hard to know fact from fiction when it comes to making good decisions. Here are some common myths debunked.

Myth #1: When buying a home, the first thing to do is look for a house. Nope! The first thing you should do is find a Realtor. Then his or her first job will be to help you find a loan officer so you can get pre-approved (not pre-qualified) for a home loan. Once you’ve done this, your Realtor will sift through all the houses on the market and show you those that fit your lifestyle and your budget.

Myth #2: A 30-year fixed mortgage is ALWAYS best. While I tend to believe 30-year fixed rate mortgages are almost always best, some circumstances call for shorter terms or adjustable rates, which can save you money.

Myth #3: You must have a 20 percent down payment to get a home loan. This simply isn’t true. In today’s world, there are many programs with low or no down payment options. Government programs through the USDA and FHA offer loans to people who cannot afford a 20 percent down payment. If you are a military veteran, you may qualify for VA no-down payment loans. Work with a loan broker to review your financial resources, income and credit history to find the loan best suited to your needs and circumstances.

Myth #4: The only cash you need to buy a house is the down payment. Unless you are buying a house from your mom and dad and they are also paying for your loan fees, mortgage insurance, title insurance, escrow fees, and all the inspections and repairs needed before you move in, you’ll definitely need more cash than simply your down payment.

Myth #5: You can’t buy a house if you have bad credit. You can, but it’s more expensive. If you have good credit, you will get a vastly superior loan with a smaller required down payment and lower interest rates. However, I have a source for home loans for people with bad credit. It does require a lower loan-to-value ratio, which equates to a higher down payment or a guarantor on the loan, but it is available. Regardless of your credit score, you’ll be required to prove you can make the loan payments each month before anyone will lend you money.

Myth #6: Home inspections are unnecessary. Not true unless you plan to raze the house and rebuild from the ground up. Especially if you are tight on cash, a home inspection is important so you know what you’re getting into. The last thing you want to discover after you move in is that the roof should be replaced in two years and the furnace needs to be replaced next month.

Myth #7: The seller will be offended if you come in with an offer under the asking price. Most sellers would prefer an offer below their asking price as compared to no offer at all, as long as the offer isn’t frivolous.

Myth #8: Realtors aren’t really necessary. Okay, I’m a little biased here, but Realtors are necessary. They have access to all the local properties for sale (not just those listed online). They know which professionals are good and which ones aren’t when it comes to home inspectors, insurance agents, loan officers, pest and fungus inspectors, contractors, and others. Realtors will negotiate on your behalf, make sure you have all the necessary disclosures, saving you time and money. Choosing a For Sale By Owner property and not using a Realtor yourself can lead to expensive legal mistakes. Your Realtor is your advocate. I wouldn’t buy a house without one.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit 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 Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.


Now’s a Great Time to Consider a Career in Real Estate

Last year appears to be the best year in real estate in a decade, and probably longer. If you’ve ever considered a career in real estate, this could be a great time to jump in. Not only has the housing market heated up, but the average age of real estate agents in California is 58. Given the fact that most people stay in their homes for 5-7 years, many of the agents currently in business will be retired by the time last year’s homebuyers are in the market again.

A job as a real estate salesperson (or any salesperson, for that matter) can be the easiest low paying job or the hardest high paying job. If your career goal is to sit around, read the paper, and drink coffee while talking with friends, you’d become a Realtor in the first category. If, on the other hand, you’re will to be organized, show up early and occasionally work late with a clear goal of helping others, then you could fall into category two.

I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years and I cannot imagine doing anything else. Although it absolutely requires hard work and long hours, it also affords me the flexibility to schedule vacations when I like, attend my children’s sporting events, and be in control of my own financial future.

Most licensed agents can find a job within a day or two in almost any city in the nation. There are some requirements, however, before you can call yourself an agent. First and foremost, you must pass the state exam to earn your real estate license. Then, you must have the wherewithal to run your own business, even if you’re working for a broker.

As with any startup, a new real estate business requires some capital. If you’re like me, you enjoy food with your meals. Not only that, you prefer a roof over your head and clothes on your back. So, when you venture out into your new career as a real estate agent, you need to have the funds to pay for business expenses and living expenses until your commission checks start rolling in.

If this career path is of interest to you, talk to some people. Talk to Nash Gonzales, the real estate instructor at Mendocino College. Talk to Don Strickland at Redwood Empire Title. Talk to a real estate broker or two here in Ukiah. Each one will give you a slightly different perspective on the business, but I guarantee all of them have been involved for many years and can’t think of a more satisfying career.

As I mentioned, this is a great time to get into real estate. During the next five years or so, you can learn from people who’ve been selling properties and land for years (some of them, decades); then they’ll retire. Not only will you benefit from their years of institutional knowledge, they can provide you with a book of business in return for referral fees. In most cases, this will be well worth the investment.

As you get further into the business, you may choose to specialize in a certain area: residential, commercial, industrial, ranches/land, agricultural properties, or new development. Each area has laws and practices associated with it, from zoning to water rights. If you’re selling ranches, plan on owning a four-wheel drive vehicle and a pair of hiking boots. If you want to sell agricultural property in Mendocino County, understanding how soil and terrain affect different types of grapes comes in handy. If you want to work with a developer to subdivide land and build spec houses to sell, you better be good at details and willing to work with bureaucracy at all levels. Whatever you choose, I welcome you to the wonderful world of real estate.

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

20 Questions – Don’t Make Your Realtor Guess What You Want


Did you ever play the game 20 Questions as a kid? If you could identify what your opponent was thinking within 20 questions, you won; otherwise your opponent won.

Well, in real estate sometimes Realtors feel like they are playing 20 Questions with their clients. They really want to meet or exceed their clients’ expectations, but their clients either forget to mention critical information or they leave out details. Sometimes clients believe the details are irrelevant; other times, they believe the information is too private or embarrassing to share.

While I don’t recommend sharing information that feels overly personal, I definitely recommend sharing information relevant to a real estate transaction such as being behind on child support payments or having significant credit card debt. While embarrassing, it is far better for your Realtor to know where you stand financially than for him or her to set up a transaction that is doomed to fail.

Good Realtors do their best to come up with creative ways to make sure every important issue is revealed early in the home buying or selling process. (If they don’t, find a new Realtor.) They often ask these 20 questions (or ones that are very similar):

  1. What is your main objective when buying a home? Are you moving to accommodate grandma?
  2. What game plan do you have in mind?
  3. What is the biggest problem you currently face? Baby on the way?
  4. What are you doing now to help solve the problem?
  5. What other ideas do you have about the home you want to buy? Is a view important?
  6. Who else is involved in the decision? Is down payment coming from mom and dad?
  7. What do you like most about the idea of owning a home?
  8. What is your biggest fear when it comes to owning a home?
  9. If you could have any house that you wanted, what would it look like? Don’t worry about color. Paint is cheap.
  10. Why are you motivated to buy a home now?
  11. What has been your previous experience?
  12. How would you feel if you did not buy a home?
  13. What is your budget? What is the max you can afford? What is the max you are comfortable with? What is your future income and expense probability? Child on the way? Promotion?
  14. What financing alternatives have you considered?
  15. How would buying a home benefit you personally?
  16. How can I help you with the home buying process?
  17. Is there anything that is keeping you from buying a home? Down payment, credit, job stability.
  18. What do you see as the next step? Get pre-approved!
  19. Are you working with a deadline? In before school starts?
  20. In a perfect world, what would you like me to take care of for you?

Not all questions will apply, but this list is a great place to start. Unlike the childhood game of 20 Questions, your Realtor’s game of 20 Questions may lead to several additional questions. Your Realtor is not being nosy; he or she simply wants to provide the best possible service. For example, if you’re a buyer and you say you’d like to be near a school because your children play sports, the Realtor doesn’t know if you want your children to walk home (so you need to be within walking distance), or you plan to pick them up (so you need to be within a 5-minute driving distance). When they start asking clarifying questions, it’s usually in your best interest to answer them. Remember, your Realtor only wins if you successfully sell your house or find a home you love. Your Realtor only wins when you win.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit 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 Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.




Do’s and Don’ts of Setting Up a Home Office

If you’re thinking of setting up a home office, it’s important to do it right. If you don’t, it can cost you money and decrease your productivity rather than enhance it. Here are some tips to get you started.

Select the right spot: Make sure it is well lit and has enough room for furniture, your computer, file cabinets and other items you use on a regular basis. Windows are great for natural light but can cause glare on a computer screen, so plan accordingly.

Get connected: Equip the space with enough electrical outlets to support your computer, printer, Internet router, fax machine, desk lamps, and any other equipment that requires electricity (future appliances that have yet to be invented will likely need more electricity, not less). Any costs incurred to add outlets or even heating and air conditioning to your office space are tax deductible.

Furniture: Measure the space you have before buying furniture. Once you’ve determined the furniture you’ll need—desk, office chair, file cabinet, printer stand, storage shelves, and any other furniture essential to your business—layout the locations of each piece of furniture on paper. Try several floor plans before asking your friend to help you move furniture. This will save you time and help you maintain your friendship.

Avoid mission creep: Keep business files in your home office; do not bring them with you into the rest of the house. It can be tempting to take them with you to another room, but it’s a bad idea for two reasons. First, it’s important to draw boundaries between personal and professional spaces so work doesn’t overwhelm you. Second, on the practical side, if you never take files out of your office, they are harder to lose. Keeping files in the office (and keeping the office as neat and clean as possible) will help you be more productive. This is one of those “do as I say, not as I do” moments.

Tax deductions: The IRS allows you to deduct expenses as long as they are related to the part of your home that you use exclusively for your regular business. This includes mortgage payment taxes, insurance, depreciation, utilities, furniture, computer equipment and supplies. Be sure to keep records on exactly what you purchase for your business. I use a separate credit card to make it easier to track business expenses.

Once your home office is set up and you have become a master of productivity, you can extend the benefits of working from home to your business travel. Many real estate agents have home offices, but few are as meticulous as they should be when it comes to recording mileage related to business travel. I suspect this is true for others as well. Business-related mileage is tax deductible and can really add up at the end of the year. You can use an app on your smart phone to record miles, or go old school and keep a little paper journal in your car where you simply write the date, starting mileage, ending mileage and purpose of your journey each time the trip is business-related.

If you have a home office, you can deduct miles between your home office and your downtown office: it’s considered travel between offices. If you do not have a home office, you cannot deduct commuting miles to work. If you live on Dora Street and commute to School Street, this is not a big deal. However, if you live in Potter Valley and commute to Ukiah, it’s significant. Forty miles a day (roundtrip) multiplied by $0.50 per mile adds up to about $2,000 of tax savings a year. If you don’t keep good records but estimate mileage, you better hope you never get audited. Auditors always check mileage records.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit 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 Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 Time For Some Seasonal Maintenance

With autumn comes cooler weather and the need to do home maintenance if you want to be safe and warm this winter. Here are a few items to put on your list.

Have your furnace inspected. Ideally, you should have your furnace serviced and cleaned before you need to fire it up for the first time each fall. This keeps your heating costs down and the air in your home clean and healthy. If you just moved into a new living space and your heater seems faulty, may I suggest making sure the propane tank is full and the valve to the house is open, or that access to your natural gas/diesel is turned on. I can’t tell you the number of times we receive calls at the office from irate homebuyers or new renters because the heater doesn’t work when in fact, they didn’t turn the gas on.

If you have a fireplace, be sure to have it cleaned and inspected. Although there are do-it-yourself kits to clean your chimney, I hire a professional. Having had two of them, I can tell you a chimney fire is a miserable experience.

If you plan to paint, do it now. A fresh coat of paint can do wonders for a home. If your walls need a little sprucing up, I recommend painting while you can open the windows and air out the house so you’re not stuck smelling paint fumes.

Have your roof inspected. Contact your Realtor for a referral to a roofing contractor, especially if you have cracked or missing roof shingles or moss and lichen on your roof. Even if your roof does not appear to need any maintenance, it’s a good idea to check the interior of your home after the first hard rain—do you see any wet spots on the ceilings? Did you check your closets? The best time to catch a leak is when it starts, not after it causes significant damage.

Inspect your gutters. If you have clogged gutters and/or downspouts, water will find the path of least resistance and that can cause trouble for homeowners. Best-case scenario, the water does not cause property damage, but simply wakes you up in the middle of the night as a stream of water continually hits an empty metal container directly outside your bedroom window. If you use a ladder or plan to go on the roof to inspect the gutters, be sure to use the buddy system. While your companion may not be able to prevent your fall, he or she can certainly dial 911 to request an ambulance.

Check for mold and fungus-damaged wood. Examine areas around leaky pipes or those that don’t get good ventilation. If you find any mold, hire a professional to remove it immediately. If you have a sump pump, be sure it is in good working order and that the space under your house is dry so no mold or fungus develops.

Replace weather stripping around doors. Swing by Friedman’s or Mendo Mill for do-it-yourself weather stripping supplies. This quick, easy process can help keep energy bills down.

Replace your air filter. This should be done at least every few months. Clean filters make for better indoor air quality and lower operating costs for your heater (or air conditioner).

Add attic insulation. Adding insulation to the attic is probably one of the most cost-effective ways to improve energy efficiency in your home. I’m willing to bet you’ll make back the money of adding insulation with the energy savings you’ll get in one year.

Replace batteries for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. This can save your life; it can also save your nerves from the piercing beep indicating a low battery that invariably occurs between 3:00 – 4:00 AM.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit 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 Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.



Avoid Scams

Most of us think we won’t be duped by a scammer, but these people are good at what they do and desperation sometimes causes us to bypass our common sense. With the rental market in Ukiah as tight as it is, people are frantic to find a place to live, which can cause them to take risks they usually wouldn’t consider.

While I’m reluctant to write an article about this—because it will educate scammers as well as potential victims—this is so common now that anyone of a criminal nature already knows about it.

Here’s how the scam works. Let’s say you need to find a place to rent. The last four rentals you called about were rented yesterday, and then you see an ad on Craigslist and it sounds perfect. You call the number and a sweet-sounding lady answers the phone. She explains that the house was listed for sale, but the listing expired. She gives you the address but insists that you NOT talk to the real estate company. She says she’s not happy with her agent and does not plan to re-list.

She apologizes that she can’t meet with you because she’s on the East Coast with a dying relative, but suggests that you go by the property and peer in the windows. If you like it, send a check for the security deposit and first month’s rent.

On move-in day, she says she’ll have a friend meet you at the residence with the keys. You give notice at your current residence and prepare to move. You pack up everything you own and call your five best friends with pick-ups to bring your belongings to your new home, only to discover the house is already occupied by the people who bought it and closed escrow two days ago.

Bottom line: your $3500 is gone and everything you own is in the back of friends’ pick-ups. I would like to tell you what to do in this situation to recoup your money. Unfortunately, I can’t because there is no way to know where to find the scammers who took your money and ran.

The best advice I can give you is to be skeptical. If someone is not available to meet you at a property and provide you with access to the interior, that should raise a red flag. Even then, things can go wrong. The current tenant can pose as the homeowner and run the scam. When your Spidey sense (think Spiderman) starts tingling, pay attention. If someone asks for cash rather than a check, be skeptical. If the rent seems too low, be skeptical. If you’re told to peer in the windows instead of getting a tour, be skeptical.

If you want to know who owns the property, ask your Realtor—he or she can check county records and find out. Talk to the neighbors to see what they know.

Realty World Property Management manages about 800 residential units. Right now, as soon as a rental unit is vacated, it is leased to a new tenant almost instantly. This is partly because we keep properties in excellent condition, but the truth is, landlords who do not keep their properties in great condition are also able to rent their properties quickly.

The moral of the story is: if a rental situation seems too good to be true, it probably is.

As a side note on the scam issue, if you’re wiring money when buying a house, be sure you’re sending it to the right account. Realtors’ and escrow company emails have been hacked and the hackers are sending false wire instructions for clients to wire money to. Be aware, get independent verification of wire instructions before you send money. To the best of my knowledge this has not happened in Ukiah…yet.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit 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 Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

Read Your Homeowners Insurance Policy So You’re Not Left Out in the Cold

Last week, I shared information about some of the important coverage homeowners insurance provides, from structural damage to personal property replacement to liability insurance. I also mentioned why it is critical to read your policy’s fine print: so you understand what’s covered and what isn’t.

Most of us don’t think a disaster will befall us, and most of us are correct (that’s how insurance companies make their money); however, just ask the folks who’ve lived through recent fires in Lake County and they’ll tell you, it’s best to be prepared.

If your home is damaged to the point that it is no longer habitable, your insurance company will usually pay for temporary lodging, whether in a hotel or a rental. Be aware that flood and earthquake insurance are almost always separate from the general homeowners policy and damage from these events may not be covered unless you pay for additional coverage. If you live in a flood zone (in a low lying area near a river or large creek), your lender will require flood insurance. If you live on the sole hill in a flood zone and can prove your house is no more likely to be flooded than homes outside the flood zone, you may be able to get the requirement for additional insurance waived.

Earthquake insurance has always been hard for me to recommend. It’s expensive and typically comes with a 15 percent deductible, making it rather useless unless your home sustains major earthquake damage. If your house is directly above a fault line, Speaking of not being able to get insurance, with the recent fires in Lake County, insurance companies are taking a hard look at rural Northern California. According to Rob McAsey at Mark Davis Insurance, certain areas in Ukiah and the surrounding areas have “brush hazard scores” above 80 (on a 100-point scale). Anyone with property with a score in the mid-80s or higher is going to have a hard time finding affordable insurance. The scores are a bit arbitrary and unfair, according to some local insurance agents. For example, houses on one side of the street in Vichy Springs have lower brush scores than houses on the other side of the street, even though fires are rarely polite enough to stay on their side of the street.

Talk to your Realtor about what coverage you may need and whether there’s a process to acquire reasonably priced insurance. Be aware that the number of claims you’ve reported can impact the cost and availability of insurance, as can factors such as whether you own an aggressive dog or a trampoline. In some cases, it is virtually impossible to get homeowners insurance. For example, if you’re a mile from a raging wildfire, chances are the insurance company will wait to see which way the winds blow before offering coverage.

When it comes time to buy insurance, I strongly urge you to go with a local agent who can walk you through the various options. When you buy an online policy, no one explains the details. The “deal” you think you’re getting may include a recent exception called a brush warranty, which means your house is not covered in the event of a wildfire if there is brush within 100 or 200 feet of your house (regardless of where the property line is).

If its time to renew your policy, please read it carefully because policies change and you don’t want to be in the middle of a disaster when you discover you aren’t covered the way you thought you were. Remember, the large print giveth and the small print taketh away.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit 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 Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.