Getting Ready for a Successful Open House

 Every weekend, Realtors hold open houses so prospective buyers can walk through properties and imagine themselves in a new space. Some open houses are more successful than others, because the sellers plan ahead. If you’d like to get the most out of your open house, consider these recommendations.

4 WEEKS BEFORE

Several weeks before your open house, make plans for all family members, including pets, to be away during the open house. If you have young children, ask the grandparents to take the kids that day. If you have dogs, call a kennel—or friends with a fenced yard—so the dogs can remain offsite while visitors check out your property.

This is also a good time to schedule repairs and carpet cleaning. Although the sagging gutters, loose railings, leaky faucets, and minor pet odors may not bother you; they can certainly bother others.

3 WEEKS BEFORE

With three weeks to go, de-clutter your house. Create clean surfaces and remove half of whatever is in your drawers and closets. When drawers and closets are full (or overfull), people assume the house doesn’t have enough storage. Take your clutter offsite: do not put it your garage. People who visit your open house will look in every available space.

In anticipation of visitors, consider buying fluffy white towels for the bathrooms and a new welcome mat for your front door. You should also purchase a box for each bathroom big enough for shampoo, soap, razors, toothpaste, and other personal bathroom items you’ll want to remove the day of the open house. The only thing on the bathroom counters that day should be a new decorative soap and some fresh flowers.

2 WEEKS BEFORE

With only two weeks left before your open house, it’s time for a deep clean. Remove dead bugs from light fixtures, clean the fingerprints off the sliding glass door, clean the doorknobs and light switches—and the dirt around them; and if you’re up for it, power-wash your house, deck, and driveway. If you’ve never used a power washer, find someone who has. This is not a good time to blow holes in your driveway, and believe me, it happens.

1 WEEK BEFORE

A week before the open house, clean the inside of appliances like your oven and refrigerator, declutter your pantry, and put out the new doormat so it isn’t so obviously new for the open house visitors.

THE WEEK OF

The week of the open house is the time to attend to final details. Purchase fresh apples or lemons to place in a pretty bowl in the kitchen. Clean the windows. Mow the lawn a few days before the open house, so the allergens settle down before visitors come. Make sure you have vanilla extract in the pantry. If you have a fireplace, make sure you have fresh logs.

THE DAY OF

First thing in the morning, take your children to their grandparents’ house and your dogs to the kennel. Put yard clutter away, including toys, hoses, and Fido’s water bowl. Walk around the house and collect any valuables, and put them in the trunk of your car or in a locked safe. (It is really rare, but occasionally people who attend open houses steal.) Put personal bathroom items in the boxes you’ve prepared, and put those boxes under the sink. Stow all kitchen appliances away so countertops are clear (which allows people to imagine their own appliances there). Put fresh logs in the fireplace. Prepare a fresh pot of coffee.

RIGHT BEFORE YOU LEAVE (AND YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY LEAVE)

Open all the blinds. Turn on all the lights and put a drop of vanilla extract on a light bulb in each room. If it’s cold and you have a fireplace, light a fire.

Then leave and allow your Realtor to do what they do best.

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.

 

Do We Have a Water Shortage or a Shortage of Water Storage? 

I debated about tackling this issue because water rights are a little like politics or religion around here: if you want to remain on good terms with friends and family, don’t discuss them. However, I’m not one to shrink away from an important topic, so while I expect many knowledgeable people to hold differing opinions, I hope we can agree to disagree.

When it comes to water, most folks immediately think of California’s drought and our local water shortage. I agree we’re in a drought, but I’d argue we have plenty of water—if only we’d hold onto it. Our real problem is that we have a severe water storage shortage, a problem not easily solved.

There are significant challenges in locating a potential storage site, from property ownership to geography to the watershed. Even if all those issues were easy to resolve, you’d have to overcome the enormous cost of constructing a storage facility (and complying with the state and federal regulations that accompany such construction). Let’s say you had infinite financial resources, those still wouldn’t resolve the legal, ethical, political, and environmental issues of rerouting or damming the water.

Are you beginning to see the incredible dilemma we have here?

In the United States in the past decade, more dams have been decommissioned than built, even though the demand for water for residential, industrial, and agricultural uses continues to increase. Like most environmental issues, it’s a trade-off. No one likes to see a wild river “tamed,” but without more water storage capacity we suffer the effects of drought.

This is an issue which, right or wrong, gets decided at a political level. While water rights are similar to property rights in many ways, they are also profoundly different. The obvious major difference is this: water that flows through your property, either above ground in a year-round stream or below ground in an aquifer, doesn’t originate on your property and it doesn’t end there, either. Add to that the potential for a single property owner to contaminate the water with commercial or industrial pollutants (or a malfunctioning septic system), and the topic of who owns the water and who’s responsible for its quality and/or cleanup becomes almost impossible to solve without the cooperation of all parties.

Locally, a partial solution may be to combine multiple water districts into one. In the past, disagreements among water districts have been counterproductive for our valley as a whole. On the bright side, those agencies currently appear to be working together for the most part. I still believe consolidation would have significant benefits for most people living in the Ukiah Valley.

Since there is no overlap among districts, and therefore no competition, we have several small monopolies: Willow County Water District, Millview County Water District, Russian River Flood Control District, and the City of Ukiah. If they blended into fewer districts or just one big district, they would at least benefit from economies of scale. And right now when one agency has a surplus and another has a shortage, they have to negotiate. With a single agency, the problem would not come up; the large agency would move water from the surplus area to the shortage area.

If we wanted to gain additional efficiencies, we could blend the water districts with the sanitation district, reducing duplication of equipment, services and leadership. Several executive directors are reaching retirement age. Maybe now is the time to take a closer look at consolidation. If you agree and you happen to know any of the decision makers in these organizations, consider sharing your opinion.

If we really want to tackle water shortages in California, we have to talk about agriculture, since 80 percent of human water usage goes toward ag, but if you think I’m willing to tackle that issue in this valley, you’re crazy.

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.

 

California Laws That Took Effect in January

As awareness increases about building safety, environmental concerns, and equality for people with disabilities, construction regulations evolve. Initially, new rules only apply to new construction or major renovations, but eventually existing structures must come up to code. Such is the case with water-conserving plumbing. As of January 1, 2017, we must all have replaced high flow with low flow.

In 1994, new dwellings were required to use low-flow toilets and interior faucets. In 2014, retrofits and renovations to kitchens and bathrooms in existing homes were expected to use the new appliances and fixtures. And now, legislators have decided to spread the love to everyone in single-family homes. In 2019, multi-family dwellings (i.e., apartments and duplexes) and commercial structures will be required to retrofit toilets and interior faucets, too.

If you can find a plumber to certify that it is impossible for you to upgrade to the water-saving devices because of the way your house is built, then you can forego the expense. Good luck with this. Otherwise, you’re in it with the rest of us.

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to run out and purchase new toilets and faucets right this minute, but if you plan to sell your house in 2017, you’ll have to disclose the fact that you haven’t upgraded. If you don’t, and the buyer relies on the non-disclosure but later discovers you violated the ordinance, you may be required to pay for the retrofits down the road.

What are the retrofits, exactly? You must replace any toilets with a flush volume of greater than 1.6 gallons, showerheads that emit more than 2.5 gallons per minute, and interior faucets that run more than 2.2 gallons per minute. As silly as it sounds, I don’t see any exclusions for bathtub faucets, so it appears you must replace those faucets, too—even though doing so makes no sense.

While we’re on the subject of retrofits, here’s a government mandate that does make sense: smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in all dwellings. While alarms have been required for some time, recent changes to the law require smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to be present in every bedroom as well as hallways. In multi-story dwellings, alarms must be present on every floor. “Dwellings” are basically anywhere you’d sleep: single-family homes, apartments, duplexes, time-shares, dorms, hotels, etc. Mendocino County augments State requirements for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, so be sure to ask your Realtor for the details if you plan to buy or sell a house and you want to know whether the property complies with local ordinances.

Here’s a fun fact about smoke and carbon monoxide alarms: you are safe in California unless you are in a dwelling owned or leased by the State or by local government agencies. Yes, that’s correct—our legislators have once again exempted themselves from requirements they impose on the rest of us. Ugh. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

If you want to know whether a property complies with existing laws, consider having a home inspection. With construction standards continually changing, it can be hard to keep up, whether it’s insulation, dual pane windows, fire sprinklers, ADA-compliant door knobs or other details. It’ll cost you about $500 and there are half a dozen inspectors in Ukiah to choose from. Ask your Realtor for a list.

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.

 

Can I Get My Deposit Back?

 

When buyers and sellers sign a purchase agreement to transfer a piece of property, they typically do so in good faith. But what happens when buyers get cold feet? What happens if there’s a misunderstanding and the parties cannot come to an agreement?

Before I continue, here’s my disclaimer: I’m about to cover a topic that requires far more than 700 words. I’m going to talk about things like liquidated damages, mediation, and arbitration. If you need to embark on any of these, please ask your Realtor for a copy of the California Association of Realtors Q&A on these subjects. After you’ve read it, if you have questions, consider scheduling an appointment with your attorney.

With that said, let us proceed.

Liquidated Damages

In California, courts don’t like it when buyers and sellers negotiate a non-refundable deposit. Realistically, they won’t enforce such an agreement, so when a buyer makes a deposit on the purchase of a house and backs out for no reason, the sellers are likely to be forced to return the deposit unless they can specifically prove how they were damaged—a time consuming and expensive process.

What the courts will enforce is a liquidated damages clause in your purchase agreement. This clause basically says, “Because it would be difficult to determine the damages if the buyers cancel this transaction without due cause, both parties agree that a good approximation of the damages is equal to the amount of the deposit (up to a maximum of 3 percent of the purchase price on residential properties).”

If a buyer withdraws based on contingencies outlined in the offer (e.g., the loan falls through, inspections find unexpected problems, or his house doesn’t sell), he gets the full deposit back. That’s the whole point of contingencies. If, however, he withdraws his offer for reasons not outlined in the purchase agreement or he has already removed the contingencies, he would not be entitled to the liquidated damages portion of the deposit.

Before you agree to a liquidated damages clause in your purchase agreement, consider it carefully. It also limits the money a seller can get back if a buyer walks away from the agreement. Discuss it with your Realtor. Review the California Association of Realtors Q&A. Talk to an attorney. A liquidated damages clause may be an excellent idea, or it could be an expensive mistake.

Mediation

Just because a buyer doesn’t back out of a purchase agreement doesn’t mean the buyer and seller will become best friends. Once an escrow closes, the buyer and seller can find themselves at odds with one another. If the disagreement is significant enough to warrant the cost, I strongly recommend pursuing mediation, a process whereby a professional mediator listens to both sides and tries to help the parties come to an agreement to settle the dispute. It typically leads to a far easier, cheaper, faster, and better outcome. The standard California Association of Realtors property purchase agreement requires mediation before court action, so if after signing the contract you refuse mediation, you will be forced to forego attorney’s fees you may have otherwise been entitled to.

If mediation doesn’t work, another option is arbitration.

Arbitration

You will find many real estate and legal professionals reluctant to recommend arbitration. It is usually cheaper and faster than going to court, but has different legal rules than court action. Typically, the results of arbitration are legally binding on both parties, not subject to court appeals—even if legal mistakes are made during arbitration. However, a process that could take years to resolve in court could be resolved in months or even weeks in arbitration. Before you sign an arbitration clause, be careful because the consequences are significant.

Be aware, there are exceptions to the rules regarding liquidated damages, mediation and arbitration. Please read the California Association of Realtors Q&A for details.

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.

 

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.