Spring Cleaning

Spring Cleaning and Home Maintenance

As flowers bloom and the weather warms, it’s time to think about spring cleaning and annual home maintenance. Whether you gather family members for a long work weekend or chip away a little at a time, maintaining your property protects your investment.

One of the smartest things you can do each spring is to plan ahead. For example, if you use wood to heat your home, you can have it delivered now, so by fall it is both stacked and seasoned when temperatures begin to drop. You can also test your air conditioner before the full heat of summer is upon us. If your air conditioner doesn’t work in April, I’m confident you’ll get a speedier response from the repairman than you will during the first blazing hot day when everyone is testing their air conditioners.

Next, take a walk around your property. Make sure you have 100 feet of defensible space; note any brush that needs clearing and identify any tree limbs that need removing, growing over your roof or fences. Remember, putting off tree trimming only makes matters worse—those limbs won’t get any smaller as time goes by.

Do a visual inspection of your roof to make sure you don’t have missing or worn shingles or other damage, especially around roof penetrations like vents or skylights.

If you have a propane tank and you want to check for leaks, you can mix up water with a little dish soap in a spray bottle. Spray the mixture on gas line couplings. If you see bubbles emerge, call the gas company immediately.

As you walk around, check concrete walkways and patios for cracks, especially if it makes for uneven footing. Smooth concrete can prevent everything from stubbed toes to broken hips. Rather than simply grinding down the rough spot, see if you can take care of the root of the problem, literally or figuratively. I’m not sure why people always plant trees with shallow roots wherever there’s concrete, but they seem to.

To prevent shallow roots from ruining concrete, I just learned you can line the hole where you plant the shallow-root tree with special mesh to force roots to go a little deeper. Obviously, this is not useful if you have a 10-foot maple that’s already well established. But if you’re about to plant something, it could be helpful.

Once your walkways are smooth, take a look at the exterior paneling of your house. Is the paint in good condition? If not, don’t wait. Like those limbs hanging over your roof, peeling paint is a problem that only gets worse with time.

If you’re planning outdoor work (like roof repairs or exterior painting), don’t get lulled into a false sense of security if it hasn’t rained for a few weeks. As my mother and mothers everywhere have said since time immemorial, “April showers bring May flowers.” Be sure your project can be buttoned up to prevent water damage if need be.

Once you’ve taken care of outdoor maintenance, head inside and check the washing machine connection, continue to replace heating/air conditioning filters monthly, and consider getting your carpets cleaned.

Tim Cabral of Cabral Carpet Care recommends cleaning carpets once a year, unless you have a lot of traffic (kids, dogs, etc.); then every six months is a good idea. Tim said you can just get the high traffic paths cleaned, if need be.

Vacuum cleaners are great for top-level dust, but they cannot pull all the debris out of the bottom of the carpet fibers, debris from doggy paws, shoes, and those moments when you’re watching TV and your team scores and the salsa goes flying onto the carpet. So, while vacuuming is good, getting your carpet cleaned professionally will get rid of that deep dirt and revitalize the carpet.

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.


A Science-based Approach to Water, Wildlife and Our Economy

I recently attended a presentation by Janet Pauli, Ph.D., the preeminent expert on our local water supply. She made a compelling argument about why all of us should understand a little more about where our water comes from, so we can avoid running out in the future.

This is a complex issue to tackle in a column, but I want to share some key points and encourage folks to visit www.pottervalleywater.org to learn more.

Brief History

We have two main rivers in Mendocino County: the Eel and the Russian. In 1908, a mile-long, underground tunnel was built to connect them and divert less than 2 percent of the Eel River through what was named the Potter Valley Project.

We also have two dams in Mendocino County: Scott Dam, which was built in 1922 to form Lake Pillsbury, and Coyote Dam, which built in 1959 to form Lake Mendocino. Scott Dam was created primarily to provide hydroelectric power and Coyote Dam was created for flood control. Today, the value of the water supply they provide far outweighs the value of their original purposes.

When Coyote Dam was originally built, it was supposed to be a three-phase project: 1. Build the Coyote Dam north of Ukiah, 2. Build the Warm Springs Dam in Sonoma County, and 3. Increase the height of Coyote Dam by 36 vertical feet. Because this was the original plan, easements were put in place, the bridge on Highway 20 was elevated, and the dam was engineered to support the new height. However, the third and final phase was never implemented because the existing height of the dam protected the Ukiah Valley in subsequent floods.

Current Issues

Our biggest worries now are not related to floods or power, but to water supply and how to balance environmental concerns with economic ones. During recent droughts, Lake Mendocino hit dangerously low levels.

When the dams were originally built, people focused on economic progress and largely ignored the environmental impacts of their actions. Today, some people argue for removing all dams and allowing rivers to take their natural courses in hopes of returning to a bygone era, but this is impractical and unrealistic. We need to find a balance between protecting wildlife and addressing the needs of people who live in Mendocino County.

There is no turning back time. Removing existing dams doesn’t undo the decades of evolution caused by logging, commercial and recreational fishing, past droughts and floods, cannabis cultivation and the changing ocean currents of the Northern Pacific Ocean.

Removing existing dams would, however, require hundreds of thousands of people to find a new water source for drinking water, fire suppression, recreation, agriculture, and many commercial and industrial uses. A recent study by Dr. Robert Eyler calculated that $740 million of Mendocino County’s business revenue is directly dependent on irrigation water diverted from the Eel River through the Potter Valley Project and stored in Lake Mendocino. And the flow of water doesn’t stop at the county line. In the Alexander Valley where they use 11,000 acre-feet of water from the Russian River, the economic benefits have been estimated at $145 million.

More than 600,000 people in Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin Counties depend on water from the Potter Valley Project’s Eel River diversion for their domestic and agricultural water supplies. This water also helps meet the instream flow requirements necessary for protection of the ecology and recreational value of the Russian River.

The lakes created by Scott Dam and Coyote Dam provide a haven for bald eagles, migrating waterfowl, elk, deer and many other species. Also, although the dams hurt the salmon migration when they were built; since then, the fish hatchery, fish ladders and strategic releases of water have helped migrating fish.

To protect the people and wildlife in our area against future droughts, we need to raise Coyote Dam.

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.

PowerPoint Presentation

Buying a Home After the Fires 

Wildfires and subsequent winter rains have affected thousands of Northern California homes since October. If you are considering purchasing a property affected by the fires, be sure you know how to protect yourself from unanticipated costs related to the clean-up or rebuilding process.

Recently, the North Bay Association of Realtors released a fire disclosure form to assist Realtors in their work with clients, and it brought up some interesting issues.

In a regular real estate transaction, it is common for buyers to sign a purchase agreement with certain contingencies. That is to say, buyers typically agree to purchase a property once various inspections confirm that the property is in good condition and the title is clear. Inspections often include pest and fungus, well or septic, roof, HVAC, and others.

In a real estate transaction involving a property affected by the fires, a whole new set of contingencies should be considered. Soil and water may be contaminated from the fire debris or clean-up efforts and the earth under the building site may no longer be stable (especially if the trees that used to secure things are no longer standing). Even if the property in question was not burned, if it is in the same neighborhood as those that did, it may be contaminated or affected by other issues.

Buyers should hire an environmental consultant and/or engineer to test the soil and water—both drinking water and water for agricultural use—and to determine whether the land is safe to rebuild on. They should also review the pamphlet on environmental hazards published by the state of California, which goes into detail about the dangers of hazardous waste.

Hazardous waste is anything left over from a manufacturing process, chemical laboratory, or a commercial product that is dangerous and could hurt people, animals, or the environment. Sellers are required to disclose whether they are aware of any environmental hazards such as asbestos, formaldehyde, radon, lead-based paint, fuel or chemical storage tanks, or contaminated soil or water on their property. The thing is, they obligated only tell you what they know (or should reasonably know).

Even if the property has been cleaned and appears ready for a new home to be built, buyers should check with a lawyer to make sure they can use the seller’s architectural plans and that there are no debris removal liens.

Debris removal liens can come in the form of a mechanic’s lien. If work is done on a property without a lien-free endorsement and a contractor or subcontractor isn’t paid, that contractor can file a mechanic’s lien. When a buyer purchases the property without confirming that the title is clean (has no liens), the buyer can end up being responsible for paying those unpaid contractors.

Once the buyer confirms the property is safe and lien-free, he or she should check with an insurance agent to see if homeowner’s insurance is available in the area. Insurance companies are becoming more restrictive about which properties they’ll insure. The replacement cost of October’s wildfires in Mendocino, Lake, Napa, and Sonoma Counties was upwards of $9 billion, so it’s understandable that insurance companies are feeling a little nervous about fire-prone areas.

Finally, because the fires made our housing shortage worse, buyers should get pre-approved for a loan before they start shopping for a new home. When sellers have to choose among multiple offers, they often choose the safe bet—the buyer with pre-approval. To learn more about getting pre-approved (first choice) or pre-qualified (second choice) for a loan, visit my blog on the subject at richardselzer.com/2013/04/15/qualifying-for-a-loan.

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.



Smart Homes Keep You Connected 24/7 – Part II


Last week, I shared some of the smart-home innovations made possible by modern technology, things like thermostats you can adjust with your cell phone regardless of your location, and smart doors and doorbells that allow you to unlock your door automatically or respond to a visitor at your door without being home.

These are just a few of the conveniences modern families can enjoy. Here are more you may not have heard about yet.


Don’t you hate it when you get home from a long day at work and realize you forgot to pick up cat food (again)? Amazon.com knows we’re busy, so they’ve made it incredibly easy to purchase household items with their Dash buttons. At home, I have a Dash button affixed to the wall in the garage directly above the place where I store my cat food. When we’re running low, I hit the button and it flashes green. Two days later a 25lb bag of cat food is delivered to my front door.

It’s really quite brilliant. You simply affix an Amazon Dash button on the wall or on the inside of a cabinet door (near the place your store the item in question), and when you run low on whatever it is—pet food, dishwasher detergent, soap, toilet paper, or any other essentials—you simply press the button and your wi-fi sends a signal to Amazon.com to put your item in the mail to you. Each Dash Button costs about $5, but since Amazon discounts your first order by that amount, the button is, in essence, free.


At this January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, LG featured a new refrigerator that did everything except make dinner. You can look into the fridge without opening the doors, create notes and reminders, scroll through recipes, peer into your fridge remotely, and monitor the freshness of your groceries. Right now you have to manually enter expiration dates to get alerts as those dates approach. Eventually, you’ll be able to scan those expiration dates, removing the need for manual entry. Gone are the days when you have to call home to find out whether you have enough butter.


Probably one of my favorite inventions is the Roomba, in our house we call it “Robby the Robot.” Granted, this is not a smart-home innovation as far as its connection to the internet, but it sure is convenient. Our version just vacuums hard surfaces, but the newest robot vacuums can also mop the kitchen floor and clean windows.


Smart glass is another cool invention. With an electrical charge, clear glass becomes opaque. I can imagine installing this in the bathroom. When someone’s in the shower or on the commode, you make the glass opaque; otherwise, you allow the clear glass to make the bathroom feel more expansive.


Voice-activated television is sure handy. You can surf the net, watch YouTube, enjoy a show on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and you never have to get off the couch. I can say, “Hey Google, I’d like to watch Scandal.” Google responds, “Would you like it on YouTube or Netflix?” If I choose Netflix, Google remembers and sets it up that way next time, too.

You do have to be a little careful because advertisers have discovered that if they include “Hey Google” or “Alexa” in their commercials, they can cause your smart-gadgets to order their product for you.


If all this smart gadgetry seems a little too much, you may consider starting with an atomic clock. These battery-powered clocks connect to an atomic clock so they are always on the right time. When Daylight Savings begins or ends, the clocks automatically make the adjustment. Maybe that’s enough convenience for now.

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.



Smart Homes Keep You Connected 24/7 – Part I

In 1898, the commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, Charles Holland Duell, reportedly said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Wouldn’t he be surprised if he attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas each January to see all the latest tech creations?

For decades, technology has developed at an astonishing pace, changing how we interact with each other and the world around us. One area of development has been “smart home” technology—the creation of devices and software that allow us to have remote access to our homes and keep us more comfortable when we’re at home.

In the 1980s, we thought it was high tech to use timers for lights, thermostats and coffee pots. It was revolutionary when we began recording TV programs on VCRs, so we could watch our favorite shows whenever we felt like it and fast-forward past commercials.

These days, we have computers that can teach themselves how to make us more comfortable. For my birthday, my children got me the new Nest thermostat, which not only allows me to program temperature settings, but also to access the system with my cell phone. When I was feeling under the weather recently, I used my phone to tell Nest to increase the temperature in my house because I planned to go home early. By the time I got home, it was nice and warm.

Nest also predicts my needs. I’d been turning down the heat when I headed off to bed about the same time each night. Then I went to bed early a few nights in a row, and the Nest system noticed the new behavior and turned the heat down at my new bedtime automatically.

If I’m at home and I don’t happen to have my cell phone in my hand, I can simply say, “Hey, Google. Please turn up the temperature to 70 degrees.” And just like that, my house starts warming up.

During the holidays, we had a Christmas tree with lights that plugged into a wall outlet behind the tree. Turning the lights on and off required gymnast-like dexterity and flexibility, neither of which I possess. So, we made that outlet a smart plug, and all I had to do to turn the lights on was to say, “Hey, Google. Turn the Christmas tree lights on.” Voila, beautiful lights.

Another bit of smart-home convenience comes in the form of the smart door. How many times have you approached your locked front door with arms full of groceries, fumbled for your keys, dropped your keys, then as you attempted to pick up your keys, dropped your groceries (usually the bag with the eggs)? With a smart door, this never has to happen.

You can convert your old front door into a smart door with a new lock and knob that detects your phone and automatically unlocks the door. You can also program the door to open for your cleaning lady’s digital key on Tuesdays between 1-3 PM when she’s scheduled to arrive, or provide a one-time entry key to the dishwasher repairman so he can stop the water from leaking all over your kitchen floor.

In addition to convenience, smart homes can increase safety. The smart doorbell allows you to see who is at your door and to talk to them. This is not a huge improvement over the peephole and yelling through the door, until you realize that you can respond to the person at the door from your lounge chair in Cancun. The person at the door has no idea you’re not home.

If someone does decide to break into your home, motion sensors trigger the auto-record feature of your video surveillance cameras, allowing police to get a good look at the intruder.

These are just a few of the smart-home innovations available. Who knows what’s next?

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.


For Sale by Owner Leads to Lower Sales Price

It’s no secret that home sellers want to sell their property for the highest possible price, while homebuyers want to buy for the lowest possible price. One of the ways people try to save money is to avoid paying the commission typically charged by Realtors by choosing to sell the property themselves. This is called a For Sale By Owner (FSBO). Unfortunately for those sellers, studies show that residential sales that involve Realtors often sell for higher prices than those sold by owners directly.

Here’s why: Realtors know what they’re doing. You wouldn’t hop on an operating room table and say, “Hand me that scalpel. I got this.” While I admit that real estate isn’t a life or death situation, real estate law is complex and one wrong move can haunt a seller for years.

Most buyers seem to understand this. They find a Realtor to represent them, to save them time by identifying all the properties that match their criteria, to make sure appropriate disclosures are completed, and to negotiate on their behalf. The only reason a buyer would look at a FSBO is to save money. And while a buyer’s Realtor will certainly be fair and honest with the seller, that Realtor’s job is to look out for their client’s (the buyer’s) interests.

As a FSBO seller, you must do all the work you’d pay a Realtor to do. You must figure out a sales price that attracts buyers but doesn’t leave too much on the table. You must look at your house with an objective eye and make only those improvements that are likely to influence a sale. Once the house is ready, you must figure out how much to spend on what type of advertising. You must go to the online housing search engines that accept FSBOs and enter your information there. You must try to figure out who would like to buy a house like yours and how to entice them to look at your house.

You must also be available to show the property to any and all comers (without the benefit of a Realtor’s screening). An unscreened prospect may or may not be a looky-loo who is just curious and has time to kill, or a sketchy person casing your home to rob it.

And there are some things you simply cannot do without a real estate license, like uploading your property information to the Multiple Listing Service, which feeds third-party online databases used by real estate offices across the country.

Speaking of third party, one of the most important services Realtors provide is assistance in negotiations. As a FSBO seller, you need to follow up with potential buyers to see if they are interested, thereby tipping your hand as to how eager you are to sell. Realtors who follow up are simply doing their job.

Let’s say everything went your way: you found a buyer and are ready to sit down and sign a contract. Here’s where things can really get challenging. Do you know which inspections to get and who should pay for them? Do you know how to write contingencies into the sales agreement? When I began in real estate more than 40 years ago, a transaction file had about 30 pages, 28 of which came from the escrow company. Now, the Mendocino County Disclosure form alone is 11 pages long. And the ramifications of not making the required disclosures, whether standard forms or disclosures to address a specific issue, can be financially devastating.

Not surprisingly, many FSBO sellers eventually decide to list with a Realtor. Sadly, by that time, the listing is old news rather than an exciting new prospect, so it can be harder to sell. However, a good Realtor can often highlight the property’s best features and find buyers who are just the right fit.

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.



Mendocino County Construction Corps

As long as there have been schools, there have been students who knew sitting in a classroom all day wasn’t for them. This feeling doesn’t necessarily go away when it comes to the workplace; not everyone is meant to sit behind a desk. But because kids often hear that they have to go to college to amount to anything, they don’t consider other avenues.

Well, I’m here to present another avenue: getting into the trades. In Mendocino County, many tradespeople are approaching retirement age and they cannot find enough people to replace them. I just attended a meeting of the Mendocino County Construction Corps (MCCC) program, a pilot program that encourages high school seniors to pursue a career in construction, and I enthusiastically support it.

MCCC is made up of tradespeople and business people, educators, and community benefit organizations. It’s a great example of community members recognizing a need and working together to address it.

As a real estate broker, my business depends on having enough housing for the people who live in our valley. Right now, we have a shortage—one that just got worse because of last October’s fires. I love the idea of local people supporting themselves financially by becoming carpenters, plumbers, electricians and general contractors. I also love the idea of having enough plumbers in town so if my washing machine breaks and water is flowing all over my house, there’s someone I can call who can help me immediately.

In recent years, there’s been more school funding for what they call “career technical education” (CTE), programs that help students get the skills they need to pursue careers that do not necessarily include going to a four-year university. CTE programs remind students that there are plenty of people who make a good living fixing cars, growing food, and building houses, among other pursuits.

While there is some money for CTE programs, it’s limited, so when Ukiah Unified School District CTE Coordinator Eric Crawford was inspired to start the MCCC, he knew he’d have to figure out how to fund it with grants and donations. He pulled together a steering committee and since then, he has been able to raise more than 75 percent of the funding needed to provide 14 weeks of education for the 21 students who were chosen through a rigorous selection process.

The program includes weekly evening classes and four all-day Saturday classes on subjects like power tools, reading blueprints, construction safety, first aid/CPR, framing, roofing, solar, plumbing, concrete, electrical, construction math and more. Students also learn to drive a forklift and other heavy machinery.

Once they complete the coursework, which is mostly hands-on practice, the students participate in a two-week boot camp where they help build houses for Rural Communities Housing Development Corporation and the Hope Crisis Response Network. At the end of all this, they’ll receive a $750 stipend for their work and a tool belt with tools to get them started.

Local tradespeople who believe in the importance of supporting our community and who like the idea of creating a pool of well-trained people have volunteered to teach the classes. John Boies of Granite Construction said Granite encourages employees to give back to the community, which made it easy for those who like to teach to sign up.

In addition to teaching, several local businesses signed up to be major donors (donating $1,000 or more) include Christensen Construction, Friedman’s Home Improvement, the General Contractors Association, Granite Construction, Guillon Inc. Construction, John McCowen, the Mendocino County Office of Education, Mendo Mill, Menton Builders, Jim and Arlene Moorehead, Realty World Selzer Realty, and the Ted and Wilma Westman Fund of the Community Foundation of Mendocino County.

After the boot camp, local contractors will have the opportunity to hire MCCC graduates. If you’re interested in learning more about this program, visit https://sites.google.com/uusd.net/mcccwebsite.

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.



Crazy Tenants

Our Property Management division has seen some crazy things in their day, from tenants (residents) parking motorcycles indoors to ankle-deep water after botched faucet repairs.

Happily, most of our residents are reasonable, responsible people, but a few of them—or sometimes their children—get themselves into some wild situations.

While I was still in college, I bought my first rental property. I knew almost nothing about property management, but I was thrilled when my mom found someone to rent my place. Unfortunately, he was not an ideal resident. Not only did he park his motorcycle indoors “to keep it out of the rain,” he thought it was just fine to change the oil in the living room. By way of explanation, he said, “I put carpet remnants down.” Ugh.

These days, before we rent a property, we put potential residents through an extensive screening process. We check their credit, their rental history and their references, and we pay attention to how they treat our staff. We adhere to fair housing practices and never discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status or national origin. We do, however, refuse to rent to people with terrible credit, with a history of late payments, or those who are belligerent with our employees. If they can’t be reasonable with our staff now, that tells us a lot.

Sometimes, no matter how carefully we screen our residents, their children will do the darndest things. Whether they are trying to hide something to avoid punishment or spite their sibling, kids find creative ways to be hard on houses. Property manager Kathy Hair recently recalled a time when a potty-training toddler had an accident in his pants. Rather than admit it to his parents, he tried to flush the dirty underpants down the toilet. Needless to say, things got a bit clogged up. Toddler tantrums can also get expensive. When one little boy threw his Tonka truck against the mirrored closet doors in his bedroom, the glass shattered and made a huge mess.

Sibling rivalry has also cost more than one tenant a fair chunk of change. When siblings are angry with each other, they tend to find their brother or sister’s favorite toy and flush it down the toilet. We’ve found Barbie doll heads, Matchbox cars and many other interesting items.

Even without children, residents sometimes surprise us. At times, they surprise us because of their lack of initiative (seriously, you can change your own light bulb); and sometimes they surprise us because of the repair projects they take on, even when they clearly know nothing about a given situation (based on this flooding, you probably shouldn’t have tried to replace the leaky faucet).

When people move into a new place, it’s normal to have some questions, but before calling us, we expect folks to spend a moment or two trying to solve their own problems. For example, before calling about a broken refrigerator or faulty thermostat, they should check to make sure appliances are plugged in and turned on. Once we tell people there’s a service charge for us to come out—one we will pay if there’s a legitimate problem and one they will pay if the appliance simply needed plugging in—they tend to reach for the phone a little less quickly.

If you have an investment property and prefer to manage it yourself rather than hire a professional property manager, the best advice we can give you is to use a robust screening process. Although you’ll still get the folks who think it’s okay to tear down the carport, so their truck will fit better from time to time (true story), well-screened residents will usually work out just fine.

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.

warning signs_pexels

Warning Signs of Underlying Problems

When you fall in love with a house, it’s easy to get swept away in the emotion of it all, imagining summer barbecues in the backyard and holiday celebrations around the hearth.

However, before you begin arranging the furniture, be sure to look for these warning signs that things may not be as perfect as they appear.

  1. Overpowering Scent
    When your Realtor opens the front door to show you a house for sale and your nostrils are immediately accosted by strong smells, from candles to air freshener, be suspicious. It’s one thing to notice a pleasant aroma; it’s another when the smell is strong enough to mask a problem. Pets, mold, smoking and other issues can cause long-term odors.
  2. Gaps in Tile Work
    Poorly executed do-it-yourself remodeling can be problematic for a few reasons. At best, it’s unappealing. At worst, it may indicate this and other work on the house doesn’t meet professional standards. For example, is the tile the only problem, or did the previous owners neglect to remove the dry rot underneath, opting to patch over it instead?
  3. Major Cracks and/or Sticky Doors and Windows
    Most homes have hairline cracks in walls in ceilings, but if you see major cracks, take a closer look. Is the house settling on its foundation, or is the foundation crumbling? Also, pay attention to any doors or windows that are hard to open and close. If you’re concerned, consider hiring a contractor, home inspector or engineer to check things out.

    While foundation problems may be more common on hillsides, flat lots can be unstable, too. I once owned a building on a flat lot. It was a concrete building on a slab floor. What I didn’t know when I bought it was that one corner of the building had been built on an old dumpsite. The landfill underneath began to settle and that corner of the building settled with it. After extensive and expensive testing and renovation, the problem was finally solved, but it was a huge bummer.

  1. Mold
    A few small, black or gray mold spots may seem like no big deal but think again. Mold can cause major health problems, and it may indicate more extensive water damage that isn’t visible during a casual inspection. Look carefully at walls, inside cabinets, under sinks and behind furniture in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, around water heaters, and anywhere else water is commonly used. Keep in mind that problems resulting from mold can be so bad that some insurance companies exclude them from homeowner policies.
  2. Cosmetic Enhancements
    Paint can hide a multitude of problems. While many people put a new coat of paint on the interior and exterior of the house to spruce things up before they sell, others use paint to cover flaws. It’s perfectly okay to ask your Realtor, “Is that new paint covering anything I should know about?”

It’s always better to find problems before escrow closes. Of course, sellers are legally required to disclose problems, but they can only disclose what they know or should reasonably have been expected to know. This is why inspections are so important: home, roof, pest and fungus, heat and air, well, pool and more! Can they get expensive? Sure, but not getting them can be even more expensive. Consider the cost of inspections a down payment on your peace of mind.

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.

pain in the pocketbook

Uninsured Deeds Can Be a Real Pain in the Pocketbook

Sometimes cutting corners to save a buck can be really expensive.

Let’s say you have great neighbors. You’ve known them for years. You have dinner at each other’s homes from time to time and you often chat over the fence. They’re quite a bit older than you, and eventually one of the spouses passes away. The other decides to sell and move to be closer to family, and you decide to purchase the property and make it a rental for a little extra income. This helps your neighbor and your pocketbook.

Because you have years of trust built with this neighbor, you decide to save a little money on all those “unnecessary” expenses like title insurance, escrow fees, and Realtor commissions.

Fast forward five years and you’re in a situation where you need cash quickly. You glance out the window and see your investment property, an asset worth $300,000 that you own outright, and think, “I’ll use my rental as collateral for a loan!”

You make a beeline for your local bank and explain to the loan officer that you need $100,000. You tell him you have a rental property that will certainly support the loan. You have good credit, adequate income, and even the rent on the investment property will cover the loan payment. Slam dunk, right? Should be.

The unreasonably picky loan officer says, “That’s wonderful, but we need title insurance.” So you open an escrow and get a preliminary title report. Shortly thereafter, you’re scratching your head wondering why you didn’t get title insurance when you bought the property from your neighbor.

This is when you discover that the original neighbor purchased the property with seller financing. While not normally a problem, especially because your neighbor did, in fact, pay off the loan, you realize no one thought to get a reconveyance of the loan that was paid off 20 years ago. The sellers who carried the financing have long since passed away. Just to make matters a bit more difficult, two of sellers’ the three children have also passed away. So, before you can get title insurance, you have to do two things: 1. Prove the neighbor’s loan was paid off and 2. Get a signed reconveyance from the original seller’s surviving child and the six surviving grandchildren.

After a couple valiums, you learn that all the heirs still live in town and know this loan was paid off and none of them is the greedy, shady sort who would try to extort money from you. They all sign the reconveyance. Ah, all is right with the world.

That is, until you find out that when the neighbor died, no probate was done. His old ownership must now be cleaned up, which will take additional time and like everything in life, cost a little money. At this point, I hope your need for that cash was not truly urgent because you’re going to spend at least several weeks (and maybe several months) cleaning up this issue.

The moral of the story is this: get title insurance. Have an escrow officer handle the transaction. Retain the services of a Realtor who can help you negotiate a fair purchase price and advise you about how to handle disclosures needed to protect all parties.

Don’t try to save money when cutting corners can cost you so much in the end.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re 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 in Ukiah for more than 40 years.