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.

Homeowners Insurance Covers More and Less Than You Think


When most people think of homeowners insurance, they think of the coverage they’d need if their house burned down. (With the recent fires in Lake County, insurance is a topic of some interest right now.) However, homeowners insurance covers far more than fire damage.

It can also cover structural damage caused by some water issues, a tree falling on your house and any number of other non-maintenance-related disasters. In some cases it will even cover plumbing or wiring, and you can always purchase a home warranty to cover maintenance-related issues for your appliances, heating and air conditioning, and more.

Most renters hear the term “homeowners insurance” and assume it isn’t for them. They’re wrong. While they may not own the structure they’re living in, they have a home where everything except the structure can be covered by a homeowners policy.

Let’s say a pipe bursts and water floods your house and destroys valuable personal property: this is typically covered by homeowners insurance. Should this happen to you, you’ll be really pleased if you’ve already taken the advice I’m about to give: do a walk-through of your home with a video camera and record your belongings with narration that describes each item’s value. If you have receipts for big purchases, capture images of those. Go into the kitchen and open the drawer that holds your grandmother’s silver serving set, and capture a good image of it. If your armoire is solid cherry and 150 years old, mention these details while you’re recording. If you remember details about where you bought expensive items and how much they cost, record it all. Trust me, ten years from now you will not remember those details. If you’re like me, you probably won’t remember them a week from now.

In addition to covering structural damage and damage to your home’s contents, homeowners insurance also includes liability coverage for things like a dog bite or a mailman’s slip and fall. It can even cover you, believe it or not, for things that have nothing to do with your home. For example, if you have a laptop stolen out of your car, the theft is unlikely to be covered by your auto policy, but it may be covered by your homeowners insurance. And if your son decides he’s had enough of the school bully and he knocks out the bully’s front teeth, your homeowners policy may cover that, too. You’ll notice I’m not promising your homeowners insurance covers all these situations—that is because every policy is different, and as painful as it is, you should read the whole policy and ask questions about information you don’t understand before signing the contract.

While I was researching this column, I spoke with Rob McAsey at Mark Davis Insurance. He let me know there’s a new clause in some homeowner policies called the brush warranty. The brush warranty says your insurance company won’t cover your home for wildfire damage if your home is within 100-200 feet of brush vegetation, even if the brush is on someone else’s property. Like I said, read the policy before paying for it.

I’ll share more about homeowners insurance next week. In the meantime, 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.


Good Fences Make Good Neighbors – Part II

Last week, I shared some ideas about how to maintain good relations with your neighbors. Disputes with neighbors can be expensive and stress provoking. In a world that already has plenty of tension, here are some ways to keep everyone civil and neighborly.

When you live in close proximity with other people, you’re bound to bump into one another. If the first time you interact with your neighbor is over a problem, that’s a tough way to start a relationship. If you don’t know your neighbors, I recommend introducing yourself. It’s amazing what a handshake and a smile can do.

The name of the game with good relationships, with neighbors or others, is to try to see things from their perspective and to communicate openly. I once lived in a house with a road that went along the back edge of my property. We parked our pick up truck on that country road for days at a time. Little did I know that by parking there, the neighbor on the other side of the street couldn’t pull her horse trailer out of her driveway. If she had called and told me, I would have apologized and moved the truck within minutes. Unfortunately, two days later when our truck was still there, she was unable to make it to an event with her horses, and by then she was hopping mad. The whole thing was such a bummer. The bad blood was completely unnecessary and hot tempers took a long time to simmer down.

What we do with our property can affect what our neighbors can do with theirs—or what happens to theirs. As fire season approaches, one of the ways to be a good neighbor is to create a defensible fire space. While you’re at it, if you want to be a really good neighbor, pull the dead vegetation out and plant some drought-resistant landscaping. Property values are determined by a home’s amenities, as well as its location and the condition of homes around it. If your neighbors are shade tree mechanics who have three cars with the hoods up and engines pulled out, this probably won’t increase property values in the area.

What you do to keep up the appearance of your home matters, too. Paint color and condition are important. Some neighborhoods fall under the purview of strict local ordinances or CC&Rs that limit paint color and condition. Oddly enough, my understanding is that people who own properties in the township of Mendocino are not allowed to paint their properties because the town loves that worn, coastal look. Of course, this is crazy because people need to be able to take care of their investments, but hey, it’s not my call.

Another big issue that affects neighbors is the height of your property. When you renovate, if you build a second (or third) story, this can affect your neighbor’s view and access to sunshine. I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that litigation over this very issue will increase in the years to come as easements for sunlight which is required for solar power become more prevalent.

As I’ve said, the bottom line basically comes down to the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat people like you want to be treated, and I’ll bet your neighbors will return the favor.

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.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors


You may have heard the old adage, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Well, it’s true. Obvious boundaries can certainly reduce frustration and confusion. But good fences aren’t the only things that help maintain good relations. Trying to understand your neighbor’s point of view—and communicating your point of view clearly—can keep things neighborly and help avoid expensive and time-consuming battles.

When it comes to fences, it’s important to put them in the right spot and that’s not always easy to do. Some old, perhaps antiquated laws require property lines to be adjusted to coincide with existing fences, even if the fences were originally put in the wrong place. Property line adjustments have to do with whether the neighbors originally agreed upon erecting a fence somewhere other than the true boundary line or whether somebody made a mistake. So, make sure fences go up where you intend them to.

Figuring out the location is only the first step in putting up a good fence. Next, you must figure out what type of fence you (and your neighbor) need. Clearly, if you live next door to a cattle ranch, the fence you need is far different than if you live near someone in Ukiah’s Westside. If the fence separates two residential properties, it’s a good neighbor fence; in which case, it’s preferable to find fencing—wood or other material—that looks good on both sides. Typically things go best if both property owners sharing the fence agree on the material and split the cost of the fence. That way, everyone is invested in the success of the project. Unfortunately, agreement on what type of fence gets tricky when you want the same type of fence on all three property boundaries but your neighbors all have different types of fences. At this point, all I can say is: good luck! In the event that your fence needs repair, the law requires that both parties contribute to the cost. Of course, there will always be extenuating circumstances.

In choosing a fence, needs may differ. You have a Chihuahua and your neighbor has a Mastiff (a little bigger than a small pony), for example. You’re concerned about gaps between and under the boards, and your neighbor worries that eight feet may not be tall enough. The bottom line for fence building is the same as for almost all other matters concerning your neighbors: be considerate and talk to your neighbors and most problems can be solved without too much heartache. While you’re talking about your fence, you might also bring up the fact that their beloved Fido likes to bark at 3:00 a.m., and would he perhaps be happier spending nights in their garage rather than in the side yard adjacent to your master bedroom? It’s worth a try.

Once the fencing situation is resolved, and your neighbors’ dog is sleeping in their garage, it’s only fair that you remind your teenage son that his band, The Racket Makers, must call it quits at 10:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights (earlier on weeknights). Any music your neighbors can hear from your garage while they are inside their house should end at a reasonable hour—unless you’re throwing a party and everyone on the block is invited.

I’ll share some more neighborly ideas next week.

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.

Keeping Your Home Safe and Healthy

Most of us vacuum our carpets and dust our shelves fairly regularly to make sure our home is a comfortable place to live. We also take care of obvious safety hazards like poorly functioning appliances or broken plumbing. But sometimes, dangers are invisible. They lurk in mattresses, walls or in the air. Here are some tips to bring those problems into the light, and what to do to take care of them.

Houses have always been built according to the standards of their time. As we learn new construction techniques or gain awareness of what’s safe and healthy, standards change. Many houses built before 1978, for example, were built using asbestos and lead paint. Both materials have since been outlawed, but those houses still stand and people still live in them.

If your house was built before 1978, chances are you are perfectly safe unless you decide to remodel. Asbestos is not a health threat unless it becomes airborne (friable), so although you may have asbestos floor tiles, roof shingles, pipe insulation or popcorn ceilings, as long as they are in good repair, the asbestos remains encapsulated (sealed and safe). If asbestos is friable, it can lead to mesothelioma, a kind of cancer people talk about in hushed tones because it is so deadly. The moral of the story is this: if your house was built prior to 1978, hire a professional contractor to remodel. This way, you’ll live long enough to enjoy your new features.

The other health threat still present in homes built before 1978 is lead paint. Once again, as long as it is encapsulated (painted over so none of it can turn to dust or be inhaled or touched), it is safe. While exposure to lead is dangerous for adults, it is catastrophic for children because it causes permanent brain damage. In older homes, the paint around windows can get worn and old layers can become exposed. Even if your home was built after 1978, if your kids spend significant time in an old school building or church or other facility built before 1978, please do a little research to make sure it is safe.

While newer homes and buildings constructed to meet higher safety standards shouldn’t have any asbestos or lead, they may have another health threat: mold. In the Ukiah Valley, we are lucky not to deal with humid weather, because humidity is mold’s best buddy. However, most of us create humid environments in our home every day (in the bathroom when we shower and in the kitchen when we boil water). Mold is particularly hard on those with asthma and other respiratory problems.

To combat mold, open bathroom and kitchen windows if you have them, and use the exhaust fans. Also, be sure to replace your heating and air conditioning filters every few months and have your ducting cleaned once in a while. Doing this will reduce dust and mold, and make your heating and air conditioning systems run more efficiently.

As you head outside, you can make your home safer by creating a fire perimeter (knock down vegetation and limb trees six feet off the ground. If you use pesticides, rat poison, paint, or any other hazardous materials, be sure to keep the materials in their original, well-labeled containers that seal properly and are out of reach of children (locked cabinets are best). Children are curious and capable. They did a study with M&Ms in “childproof” medicine bottles. Want to guess how quickly those kids were enjoying the candy?

These are just some of the ways you can keep your house safe and healthy. As I think of more tips, I’ll be sure to pass them on.

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.



How to Reduce Inheritance Tax


Last week, I mentioned a few tips about how to hold title (own real estate) in ways that help your heirs avoid the hassle and expense of probate after you pass away. In case you were not aware, without good planning, a significant portion of your estate can end up in state coffers instead of being handed to your surviving spouse and/or children.

Before I go on, in columns like these I always feel the need to remind folks to seek the advice of their legal and tax advisor when making estate-planning decisions. While I know something about real estate and investing, I know nothing about your financial and legal situations. My columns are intended to be food for thought, not a blueprint for what to go out and do.

Okay, that said, the only downside to estate planning is that you’ll have to spend time, effort, money and emotional expense to prepare for something you want to postpone and for which you will not be present to enjoy the benefits. It’s tough to spend money to save money you’ll be too dead to take advantage of. However, it is important and most of us want to see the fruits of our efforts go to people we love rather than the tax collector.

With that in mind, here are several actions to consider (in addition to holding title on your real estate in a way that automatically transfers ownership to your heirs).

  1. Create a detailed will that names your loved ones as the beneficiaries of your estate.
  2. Give your money away to loved ones before you die. Tax law allows you to give $14,000 per individual untaxed each year. So if you have two grown children and they are married and have two children each, here’s how you can pass on a significant sum without paying any inheritance tax. You can give $14,000 to each child and another $14,000 to each son- or daughter-in-law, and another $14,000 to each of their children. Your spouse can do the same. So, in a single year, you and your spouse can provide $112,000 to each family tax-free. Clearly, you should only give what you can afford, but as they say, “You can’t take it with you.”
  3. If you have no family to whom you care to pass on your wealth, you should still create a will. Simply choose your favorite charities and bequeath your estate to them. I guarantee they’ll appreciate it, and if you choose well, they can put that money to good use and provide you with a legacy long after you’re gone.
  4. You can also give assets other than money. For example, if you give stocks to your grandchildren to help them pay for college, they can sell the stocks (once they turn 24 years old) and pay capital gains tax at their tax rate instead of you selling the stock and paying capital gains tax at your higher tax rate. They could then use the proceeds to pay off their student loans. Or, if you own real estate free and clear, you could sell the property to your son or daughter for $200,000. Then you could forgive $14,000 of the note each year or more depending on how many people are involved in this transfer. This allows you to transfer the whole property without having to deal with the inheritance tax issue.

Basically, I recommend you do not ignore estate planning. Schedule an appointment today with your attorney or accountant and let them know you want to aggressively avoid unnecessary taxes. I’m confident you’ll be glad you did.

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.



How to Avoid Giving Your Estate to the State

For the vast majority of American homeowners, their home is the single largest asset they will ever own; and like the rest of their financial assets, upon their death, that asset will need to be dealt with. Most likely, if your spouse survives you, ownership of your property will be transferred to your spouse. Depending on how you hold title, this will either happen automatically or your poor spouse will have to deal with the hassle of probate (going through the court system to prove his or her right to your assets).

Before I go further, let me remind you that making decisions about how to hold title or make any decisions about estate planning should be done with the advice of your legal and tax advisor. While I have some experience in real estate, I know nothing about your financial or legal situation and that information is critical to making good decisions.

Now, if you and your spouse hold title as community property with the right of survivorship, then upon your death your spouse will automatically acquire your interest in the property. (If you do not have the right of survivorship clause, the transfer of ownership is not automatic.) If you hold title with anyone in a joint tenancy, then upon your death your interest in the property will be automatically vested with the surviving joint tenants without probate. A new form of ownership made possible by AB-139 is called a revocable transfer on death deed. It allows you to deed your single-family residence (with one to four units) to anyone and have that transfer take place the moment you die. It supersedes other legal documents including a will or trust, and while it shares some characteristics with joint tenancy and community property with right of survivorship, it is unique because the beneficiaries do not have any equity (ownership) in the property until the death of the grantor.

In today’s world, many homeowners have ex-spouses, children, stepchildren, and children who are half-siblings to one another. You need to give considerable thought to how you structure your estate when blended families are involved. For example, you may have significant assets and children, and then get remarried to someone with few assets and no children. Upon your death, do you want your surviving spouse thrown out on the street? Probably not. Generally, folks would like their spouses to be able to live out their days in the home they shared. The monkey wrench gets thrown in when your children resent the fact that your biggest asset does not benefit them until the spouse dies (especially if the spouse is significantly younger than you).

While I won’t recommend specific courses of action with regard to your estate planning, I will recommend that you don’t ignore the need to take care of it. It’s easy to postpone uncomfortable family discussions and spending significant sums on legal advice to make potentially difficult and unpopular decisions, but do you really want to leave such an important financial outcome affecting your entire family left unresolved? This can tear a family apart.

If you don’t have any children or relatives you care to bequeath your estate to, you can still name beneficiaries rather than allowing the state to end up with your hard-earned dollars. Choose your favorite charity, whether it’s a health care organization, the Humane Society, or an institution of higher learning, there’s no lack of options. Ukiah has many worthy causes to choose from. I just can’t see having the fruits of your labor go to the state coffers and that’s what can happen if you choose to skip the estate planning process.

Next week, I’ll share some information what to do before you die to avoid paying unnecessary inheritance tax.

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.