The Multiple Listing Service – Then and Now

In 1975 (just like today), real estate brokers in the Ukiah Valley belonged to a local association called the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to share information about properties they were trying to sell. This is back when houses in Oak Manor sold for about $30,000 and today’s Ukiah High School on Low Gap Road wasn’t built yet.

When a Realtor secured a new listing, he or she would type up the pertinent information about the property (location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, etc.) and then share that information with the MLS office. There, the information was reduced to a half-sheet of paper using what would now be considered an antique device—a mimeograph. Those of you who have been around awhile may remember mimeographs from your elementary school days.

Information was carefully typed onto a master copy, of which there was only one. To create the master copy, you punched letter-shaped holes into the paper. Once completed, it was put on a drum saturated with ink. When the drum turned, the ink came through the holes and created copies of the original form. Mimeograph copies of each listing were created for every Realtor. The mimeograph required a whole room of its own in the MLS office. The room was about 15-feet square and everything in it was coated with varying amounts of ink dust.

Each week every Realtor received a packet of all the new listings—typos and all. To keep track of the properties for sale, Realtors filed each mimeograph copy in their 18-ring binders. Then, as now, the housing market changed constantly. Listing agents would have price changes. Sellers would decide to take their properties off the market. Houses would go into escrow and fall out of escrow. All that information was reported to MLS to be distributed the following week. Then Realtors (or their assistants) updated their MLS binders, pulling out sold properties and keeping them in a shoebox to use when determining pricing for future listings. They manually crossed out the old price and wrote the new one on the MLS listing form for that property. They noted any status changes by painstakingly going through the binder, finding the listing form, and handwriting the change.

Believe it or not, as I’m working on this column, I’m looking at my MLS binder from 1975. There was a property for sale on Pomo Drive in Oak Manor—a four-bedroom, two-bath house with a two-car garage—for a whopping $36,000. It would probably go for $375,000-$400,000 today.

In 1976, I was able to convince the MLS finance committee and board of directors to discard the mimeograph in favor of a photocopier. It was incredibly expensive, costing $5,000 at a time when houses were selling for $30,000. In today’s dollars, that photocopier would be about $25,000. Ultimately it paid for itself by requiring far less office space and fewer hours of staff time. It took ten minutes instead of all day to prepare the MLS listing information for all the agents. The binder was replaced by a bound book shortly thereafter.

Fast-forward to the mid-1980s and computers arrived, revolutionizing real estate. We could take “dumb terminals” to a client’s house and upload information about the new listing directly to the MLS database and a printer using a landline telephone hooked up to a coupler as a modem for the lowest-speed connection you can imagine.

In today’s world, we upload detailed information with pictures and sometimes video for listings, and within moments, other Realtors have instant access to it. If I want details about a listing I happen to drive by, I can park my car and pull out my phone—and say “Hey, Google.”

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.

 

Disclosures – What Happens if You Don’t Mention Those Pesky Details

Last week, I shared the importance of disclosing what are called “material facts,” information a seller knows or should have known that could influence a buyer’s decision to buy—or the amount they’d be willing to pay. Disclosures cover everything from natural hazards to underground utilities, storage tanks, septic systems, short sales, mother-in-law units, proximity to agriculture or industry, naturally occurring asbestos, and more.

Disclosures cover such a wide range of topics and can be so detailed and complex that there are whole companies that do nothing but deal with them. They’re called Natural Hazard Disclosure Companies (NHDs), and even they don’t deal with all the disclosures legally required by some real estate transactions. Because there are literally hundreds of potential disclosures, many may seem inconsequential to the seller. After all, you’ve gotten used to the noise that the neighbor’s dog makes. And since you and your neighbor (who happens to own a liquor store) are friends who often enjoy a glass of wine together, you’re not likely to complain about Fido the yappy schnauzer.

Since the prospective buyer is a teetotaler who is unlikely to socialize with the wine-drinking neighbor, he may not find Fido’s quirky but constant yapping so endearing. The point of all this is, as a seller, you need to think of disclosures through the eyes of prospective buyers. It is critical that even seemingly irrelevant issues are disclosed. As I indicated last week, if it changes the buyer’s mind regarding the sale, it was “material.” If it doesn’t affect the buyer’s decision to purchase the property, it doesn’t hurt to make the disclosure.

So what happens if the sellers do not disclose a material fact (in writing!) they should have? Nothing good, I can assure you. You may wonder why it is so essential to note every pesky detail. After all, the prospective buyer tours the property and hears the schnauzer for himself. Let’s fast-forward eight months. Your buyer just found out he has been transferred to New Mexico and it’s mid-2007. The property value just dropped 10 percent and the buyer is now looking for a way to undo the sale. He’s looking for a plausible way out. For example, he wouldn’t have purchased the property if he had known that the neighbor had an obnoxious dog who barks incessantly.

Will you, the seller, win this lawsuit? Maybe yes, maybe no. Will you spend some sleepless nights and help fund your attorney’s child’s college education? Almost certainly, yes. Just the letter from your attorney telling the buyer he has no case (which may or may not be true) will probably cost $300-$500. If a lawsuit is filed and the case never even gets to court, add at least one zero ($3,000-$5,000). If the case goes to court, add another zero. And that is assuming you win. Losing may mean damages or a rescission. You get the house back and the buyer gets the purchase price back plus and money he spent on taxes, improvements, and interest minus the fair market rental value while he lived there. The buyer may also be entitled to damages for the pain and suffering of listening to Fido’s yapping.

So, the rule is this: when it comes to making disclosures, mention every pesky detail, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.

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.

 

Disclosures – Might as Well Tell the Truth

In the dictionary, “disclosure” is defined as the action of making new or secret information known. Having recently written a column about selling properties as-is, I thought I’d elaborate on the disclosures sellers are required to make in Mendocino County. Selling a property in its current condition isn’t the same as hiding information about its faults.

The state requires sellers to disclose any “material facts” that would affect a buyer’s decision to purchase the property or the price they would pay. It’s a bit vague, but since any material facts the seller doesn’t mention prior to the close of escrow can become the basis of lawsuits after the escrow closes, I always tell sellers to disclose anything they think might possibly be of interest to the buyers. If the information changes the price the buyers agree to pay, or if the buyers back out of the sale completely, the information was material. If not, no harm was done in disclosing the information.

To help define the information sellers should disclose, Mendocino County Realtors have collaborated with our state professional association to create an 11-page document outlining everything from whether the property is within 300 feet of an industrial or agricultural site, to whether a property is in foreclosure (and therefore a huge pain to deal with). If you’re thinking of buying or selling a house, here are a few issues to consider. For a comprehensive list, talk to your Realtor.

The Mendocino County disclosure starts with an acknowledgement that buyers receive booklets about toxic mold, lead, earthquake safety, and energy ratings. And it only gets more exciting after that. As dull as some of this information may seem, it is essential to carefully review it.

Be sure to pay attention to the disclosure about proximity to industrial or agricultural properties. Be aware that your dream of a quiet, peaceful homestead could be shattered by the clanking of a harvester at 6:00 am or bright lights flooding your bedroom in the middle of the night from a factory’s 24-hour work cycle. If your property is near an agricultural site, the standard disclosure says you may be “subject to inconvenience or discomfort arising from use of agricultural chemicals, and from the pursuit of agricultural operations including, but not limited to, cultivation, plowing, spraying, pruning, harvesting, crop protection, which occasionally generate dust, smoke, noise and odor, and protecting animal husbandry from depredation.”

Being close to an industrial site has similar downsides. The disclosure says you may be “subject to inconvenience or discomfort arising from the use of machinery, and from the pursuit of industrial operations including, but not limited to, assembly, manufacturing, cutting, drilling, machining, metalworking, milling, punching, “tapping”, soldering, transportation of materials and goods, and welding. All of these activities, and others not mentioned in the non-exclusive preceding list, may generate light, glare, dust, smoke, noise and odor, all of which may occur 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

If your property is in the middle of nowhere, far from farming or industry, it may be harboring endangered species or include dead or diseased trees, both of which can lead to significant costs. The disclosure says, “The presence of a listed [endangered] plant or animal on the property can have serious consequences…including but not limited to prohibition or limitations on building, remodeling, grading, landscaping, and agricultural, livestock, and equestrian activities, and costs relating to governmental requirements for environmental mitigation of the effects of buyer’s plans or activities.”

You can see, there’s a lot to think about and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I haven’t even begun to talk about issues related to sewer laterals, underground utilities, storage tanks, septic systems, short sales, mother-in-law units or naturally occurring asbestos. As I said, talk to your Realtor for details.

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.

 

Sonoma Clean Power Comes to Town

 

If you live in an unincorporated part of Mendocino County, or in the cities of Fort Bragg, Willits or Point Arena, you should have received a letter from Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) in June, letting you know they’re taking over for PG&E as the region’s electricity supplier. PG&E will continue to maintain the wires and manage the grid, but thanks to California Assembly Bill 117 back in 2002, local governments can choose to purchase electricity on behalf of their communities.

If you compare rates, you’ll see that SCP’s electricity is slightly less expensive than PG&E’s for both their standard electricity and their extra environmentally friendly option, and that more of SCP’s standard electricity comes from renewable sources.

PG&E offers a standard program and a program called Solar Choice, which produces 100 percent of its electricity via solar energy. The standard option costs $0.24138/kWh, while the Solar Choice program costs $0.26748/kWh.

SCP’s standard offering is called CleanStart, and it costs $0.23925. Its extra environmentally friendly program is called EverGreen, and it produces 100 percent of its electricity from geothermal power. EverGreen costs $0.26425/kWh. For the average customer, the premium for EverGreen is 2.5 cents more per kWh, or about $13 more per month than the standard CleanStart. option

With SCP you will save $0.00213 per kWh or about $1.10 per month on a $120.00 bill. If you opt for SCP’s EverGreen over PG&E’s Solar Choice, you’ll save almost $2.00 per month on a $130.00 bill.

Like most people, I’m happy to pay less for electricity, but I was not happy about the fact that I received a letter from SCP in June—the same month the change to SCP occurred (the change-over happened on customers’ June meter-read date). To stay with PG&E, I would have had to opt out of the SCP service. Otherwise, along with everyone else in the region, I was automatically moved over. If you want to go back to PG&E, you needed to do so within 30 days of your switch over or pay a fee.

SCP touts its strengths as providing cleaner energy, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and offering more local control (with public meetings for rate setting and customer program design, among others). SCP is a not-for-profit public agency “independently run by the participating cities of Cloverdale, Cotati, Fort Bragg, Petaluma, Point Arena, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Sonoma, Willits, Windsor, and the counties of Sonoma and Mendocino,” serving Sonoma County customers since May 2014. The fact that it is a not-for-profit organization means it reinvests revenues into the company rather than paying shareholders in an effort “to keep rates stable, build reserves, and to fund local customer programs,” according to company literature.

Because PG&E is still delivering the electricity via its poles and wires, our bills will continue to be from PG&E. Apparently, PG&E will then pay SCP their share of the money. If you have questions about SCP, you can check out their website at sonomoacleanpower.org or call them at (855) 202-2139.

I think this is probably a net gain: cheaper energy from more renewable resources. As long as that remains the case, we may all be in good shape.

However, here’s a thought to consider: how much do PG&E and their stock holders pay in taxes, be they federal income taxes, state income taxes, or local property taxes? As a not-or-profit, SCP pays fewer, if any, taxes. Is SCP actually cheaper or is it just transferring costs from your utility bill to your tax bill? If a government agency sees reduced revenue in one area, do you really think the agency won’t collect the revenue from you somewhere else?

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.

 

Springtime Maintenance

As April showers make way for May flowers, it’s time to start tackling annual upkeep to keep your home in prime condition.

You can start by grabbing a pad and pencil, and walking around your house to note all the miscellaneous maintenance needed in the coming months: the board in your deck that’s begun to lift out of place (the toe-stubber), gutters that need cleaning, debris on the roof that needs removing, a tree with roots encroaching on your home’s foundation, and anything else that grabs your attention.

Sadly, I just had to remove an oak tree that was growing up through my deck. The tree died, so it was a fire hazard, a visual blight, and its branches could’ve dropped on unsuspecting family members at any time. While it can be expensive to take care of some maintenance, the cost of not doing so can be far more costly.

As you walk around, be sure to check the eaves for birds’ nests or hornets’ nests. To eliminate hornets’ nests, there’s a nifty product on the market with a directional nozzle that allows you to spray a nest from 20 feet away—giving you an excellent head start before a swarm of angry buzzing comes your way.

If you have a wood-burning stove, spring is the perfect time to buy wood. Buying it now gives the wood all summer to dry out, and plenty of time for your teenagers to stack it. Do not stack the wood against the house—that’s a recipe for a termite or powder post beetle disaster.

Many of us don’t think about termites or other pests after we purchase our homes unless we see clear evidence of their work. However, pests do a lot of damage before you know they’re there. Each spring, you should put on your overalls and grubby shoes and crawl under your house to look for anything out of the ordinary—moisture, a loose or broken heating/air conditioning duct, and any evidence of pests.

I once had to crawl under a house to re-route a dryer vent. The space was so tight I had to slide on my back, pulling myself along using the joists. As I pulled myself deep into the space, I came nose-to-nose with a black widow nest teeming with baby spiders. It’s amazing how quickly you can move in a tight space with proper motivation. Hopefully your crawl space experience will be less exciting than mine.

As you inspect your crawl space, pay special attention to moisture, either standing water or damp earth, because hot weather will cause that moisture to evaporate and condense on the subfloor, which can lead to dry rot and termite infestations, according to Matt Miller of Mendo-Lake Termite. If you find termite mud tubes (Google this if you don’t know what they look like), black widow spiders, or other unwelcome creepy crawlies, my advice is to call Matt Miller immediately.

The solution to moisture under the house is almost always more ventilation. It may not solve the problem completely, but it will help. Matt says, “I’ve never seen a house with too much ventilation in the crawl space.” Just make sure you cover the vents with screens to keep out the unfriendlies: raccoons, squirrels, skunks, and the neighbor’s cat.

Once your crawl space under the house has been attended to, head up to the attic to make sure nothing is amiss there—no leaks causing fungus or dry rot, and no critters. If you don’t have an attic fan, consider getting one. In Ukiah, attics can get up to 160 degrees, taking years off the life of your roof and wasting electricity because your air conditioner is working harder than it has to.

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.

 

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst — Prevent Wildfire Damage

With summer right around the corner, now is a good time to prepare your property for the threat of wildfires. Most fires start small. If you are ready, you may be able to stop a fire from spreading. Be sure you know where the closest fire hydrant is, as well as your garden hoses and hose bibs. If you have a well that produces at least two gallons per minute, consider filling a 2000-gallon storage tank so it’s ready if you need it.

Clear flammable brush 100 feet from your home and trim trees 10 feet off the ground. Make sure tree limbs do not hang over your roof and clear any debris off your roof. If you have aboveground utilities in your neighborhood, keep an eye on electrical lines that go through trees—make sure there’s plenty of clearance. A good tip from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Department is to locate woodpiles and other fuel sources at least 30 feet from all structures and maintain a 10-foot clear area around them.

Unfortunately, even with all this preparation, your home can go up in flames. Just ask the families who returned to find ash where their houses used to be in Lake County in recent years. For insurance purposes, you should create a photo or video log of all your possessions. While tedious, it’ll be time well spent if you need an insurance company to pay a claim.

It’s important to know what your homeowners insurance covers, especially in light of a new clause included in some 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 or 200 feet (depending on policy) of brush vegetation, even if the brush is on someone else’s property. With the Valley Fire in 2015 and the Clayton Fire in 2016, insurance companies are doing their best to reduce the risk of huge payouts. If your policy is up for renewal, be sure to read the whole thing before signing it. As I’ve said before, “The big print giveth and the small print taketh away.”

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. Much to some people’s surprise, homeowners insurance can cover everything from fire damage to the mailman slipping on your driveway.

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 200-foot brush warranty, for example. As I said, insurance companies are taking a hard look at rural Northern California. Certain areas in Mendocino County 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.

While homeowners insurance is helpful after a disaster, it’s best to be prepared, because some items cannot be replaced. In addition to food, water, and medications for you and your pets, you’ll need clothing and, depending on the situation, you may need your own shelter for a while. You may also need fuel for your vehicle.

If you have time to pack more than the essentials, I recommend grabbing the irreplaceables: photo albums, family heirlooms and keepsakes, important documents, and if you can, your computer. For more information about disaster preparedness, go to www.ready.gov.  They have a wildfire safety toolkit, as well as many other resources.

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.

 

All Properties are Sold “As-Is” Unless You’re Paying Attention – Part II

As I said last week, when you buy a property in California, you’re buying it “as-is” unless you negotiate an agreement pertaining to a specific item. Without that special agreement, you’re accepting the property in its current condition.

This is why it’s worth investing in several inspections. Once you’ve had the inspections pertaining to structures, land, and features (reviewed in last week’s column), it’s time to get the inspections pertaining to ownership, property definition, and natural hazards.

Title insurance takes care of ownership and property definition issues. Without title insurance, you cannot be sure that your claim on the property has priority over someone else’s. With title insurance you’re really paying for the research—which is why I’m including it with other inspections. With most insurance, your premium is based problems happening in the future. With title insurance, you’re paying to see if a problem has already occurred.

In addition, title insurance provides a legal definition of the property, including its shape and location. I know this sounds crazy, but people have actually purchased the wrong property before. I know a contractor who built a house to sell on the lot he thought was his. Sadly, it wasn’t. (Surveys aren’t included with the title insurance, so if you want precise location measurements, talk to your Realtor about hiring a surveyor.)

Long story short, you definitely want title insurance so you can be sure of what you’re buying, and so you don’t buy a property only to discover there are back taxes or recorded liens which weren’t paid; or worse yet, that the deed you were given was not signed by the true owner of the property and therefore worthless to you.

Moving on to natural hazard disclosures (NHDs), the inspection for NHDs includes a review of public records to see whether your property is in a flood zone, on an earthquake fault line, near an old dump site, or any number of other hazards. Depending on the findings and your intended use of the property, you may decide to do an environmental inspection.

A Phase I environmental inspection is a public records search for suspected contamination: did there used to be a gas station at this location? A Phase II environmental inspection is an on-site inspection to see whether any concerns from Phase I appear grounded in fact. A Phase III environmental inspection basically requires the world to come to a screeching halt. You dig big holes to remove toxic material. It’s called “remediation.” It’s not fun, it’s not cheap, and it’s not quick, but hopefully it will make the property usable.

As important as inspections are, they are no replacement for walking the property yourself. And, regardless of what the inspections uncover, the seller and Realtors involved in the transaction must disclose anything they know (or should reasonably be expected to know) about the property.

Any inspection is limited to what can be seen without destructive testing. In other words, if an inspector has to cut a hole in the wall to see a problem, that problem won’t be included in the findings.

Remember, it’s always better to check things before you close escrow, when fixing the problem may be a joint effort of the buyer and seller, rather than afterwards when the responsibility is yours alone.

As an aside, property boundaries are based on surveyors’ monument points. In Mendocino County, we use the Mt. Diablo base meridian to the south and a landmark in Humboldt County to the north. Surveyors have put “pins” in the ground between those two landmarks to precisely identify distances from those landmarks so people can more easily determine boundary lines. This works well unless someone makes a mistake, which they did years ago. A surveyor’s point near Boonville Road has caused many of those properties to be misidentified by about three feet.

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.

 

What’s the Difference Between a Comparative Market Analysis and an Appraisal?

Before you buy or sell a house, it’s important to know its market value. As a buyer, you want to pay as little as possible, while still putting in a winning offer. As a seller, you want to maximize the sales price. So how do these two parties ever come to an agreement? Through the use of comparative market analyses (CMAs) and appraisals.

If you’re a seller, you will invariably ask the question, “What’s my house worth?” To which your Realtor should reply, “Let’s look at the CMA I’ve done for your property.” Realtors depend on a database of properties for their market research. The database includes properties of all descriptions that have recently been put up for sale and either sold, remained on the market, or been removed from the market without selling. Your Realtor uses that database to search for properties similar to yours in terms of age, condition, size, style, and location.

In preparing a CMA, your Realtor will review properties that sold, and see how long they were on the market; properties that still haven’t sold, but have remained on the market and may have had price reductions; and properties that never sold and eventually were pulled off the market. Each of these situations provides valuable information about how your property fits into the housing market. The houses that remain on the market are the most interesting to your Realtor, since those are the properties with which your house will compete for the ready, willing, and able buyers. Realtors create CMAs as one of the many services they provide to clients, or even as a way to demonstrate their value to prospective clients. There’s no specific fee for a CMA.

An appraisal, on the other hand, includes similar data but is usually done by a certified or licensed appraiser with hundreds of hours of training and expertise, and most importantly, with no financial stake in the transaction at hand. Lenders depend on this expertise and objectivity to determine the fair market value of a property upon which they make lending decisions. An appraisal is the highest price at which a property is likely to be sold from a willing seller to a willing buyer who both have all the material facts. The cost of an appraisal varies widely from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars (or even tens of thousands of dollars).

Depending on the type of loan and type of property, a lender usually chooses to loan between 50 percent and 100 percent of the appraised value. If you are buying raw land, you can expect closer to 50 percent. If you are buying a commercial property with the first deed of trust, you can expect about 60 percent. If you are buying an owner-occupied, single-family house, you can expect between 75 and 100 percent.

Lenders are not the only ones to use the appraised value. Buyers can use it to negotiate the sales price. In fact, I have a Realtor in my office right now involved in a transaction where the property value is highly subject to opinion. We have sent the seller a letter of intent noting that the buyer is willing to enter into a purchase agreement for whatever the appraised value turns out to be. This particular property will be extremely difficult to appraise and the appraisal will therefore probably cost tens of thousands of dollars. However, with a buyer ready to commit to purchasing the property, the seller may decide the cost of the appraisal is worthwhile.

Neither CMAs nor appraisals are based on exact science. They are both opinions of value, albeit from well-educated sources. Usually, the final sales price falls within 3-5 percent of the appraised value. Now and then a unique property breaks that rule.

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.

 

What NOT To Do When Putting Your House on the Market

I’ve written several columns reviewing what to do when you decide to sell your house, but it occurred to me that I might not have shared what NOT to do. Here are four recommendations to help you avoid expensive mistakes.

  1. Don’t Over-improve

As you contemplate putting your house on the market, think carefully before you take on major renovations. Some improvements are cost-effective and will yield a decent return (you’ll be able to increase the sale price to cover your construction costs and hopefully make a profit); others will not. Be mindful of what potential buyers would be willing to pay for if the house belonged to them. Let that guide your decisions about which improvements to undertake. You should complete needed repairs—if something’s broken, fix it. Go ahead and take care of deferred maintenance—if you need a new roof, now’s a good time. Definitely address pest and/or fungus problems—if you don’t take care of the termites, the new owner will have to.

A mistake I sometimes see occurs when a seller renovates to the point where his or her house no longer fits with its surroundings. In a neighborhood of 2000 square foot homes, don’t add 1500 square feet to make yours a 3500 square foot monstrosity. People looking for big homes want to live in neighborhoods where everyone has big homes. Would your house be as valuable if it were moved to an inner city neighborhood full of housing projects? Nope. While that’s a more dramatic example, the same principle applies to overbuilding in a middle class neighborhood.

Another mistake I see is the choice to convert a garage into a family room. Most Realtors will tell you, the increased value from the additional square footage in the new family room is almost exactly offset by the loss of the garage. It’s a wash. And when you add in the cost of the renovation, it’s a loser.

  1. Don’t Over-decorate

Décor is a personal thing, and it’s highly unlikely that you and the future owner of your property will agree on every style choice. (Most of us can’t even agree with our spouses on paint color.) So when it comes to the décor of a house you plan to sell, neutrals are best. While you may love your daughter’s pink walls and the green shag carpet that looks like the grassy meadow from a storybook, the prospective buyer with three sons is unlikely to be thrilled with these choices. Less is more. If you want to add a splash of color, buy fresh flowers and put them in vases around the house.

 

  1. Don’t Hang Around

Whether your Realtor is hosting an open house or bringing an interested buyer for a tour, your job is to be somewhere else (and take Fido with you). I know it’s tempting to stick around and answer questions about your house and the neighborhood. After all, who knows this information better than you? But trust me, you should leave and let your Realtor do their job. Buyers rarely feel comfortable expressing concerns about the house with the owner present. Instead, they will keep quiet and simply move on to the next house.

 

  1. Don’t Take Things Personally

When your Realtor relays questions from potential buyers, try to keep your emotions in check. When buyers ask for a credit so they can redecorate the princess room you spent years perfecting, try not to be offended. When they come in at a price that seems ridiculously low, recognize that they are simply doing their job: trying to get the lowest price possible. You have three potential responses to an offer: accept it, counter it, or reject it. An outright rejection is foolish. Counter the parts of the offer you don’t like and see where it goes from there.

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.

 

Prepayment Penalties – The Double Whammy

You may have heard you can save a bundle of money by paying off your mortgage early. Have you ever asked yourself, “If I’m saving money, who is losing money?” Well, the answer is: your lender. Sometimes, especially with big commercial properties, lenders protect themselves against early payoffs by including pre-payment penalty clauses in their loan agreements.

Many lenders insist on pre-payment penalties to ensure their continued yield over a period of time. This allows them to cover their expenses, since their up-front fees to arrange the loan do not always cover the cost of doing the work. I’m sure you’ve seen the ads promising, “Refinance with us and we’ll pick up all the costs!” In some cases, that means lenders not only pay the title and escrow fees (and related transaction costs), they also pay the loan origination fees, which can add up to 1-2 percent or more of the loan amount.

If that loan is paid off in the first year (instead of over the course of 15 years), the lender will have suffered a significant loss. A friend of mine who does private party, owner occupied loans argues vehemently that his cost to put one new loan on the books is about $7500; and that doesn’t include the escrow costs, title insurance, or the drawing and recording of documents. In those situations, he’s not allowed to charge a pre-payment penalty. Consequently, he either charges an up-front fee to cover his costs or he assesses the situation carefully so he can be confident the loan will stay on the books long enough for him to recoup his costs.

Pre-payment penalties can take many forms. Typically, they are calculated based on some time frame for which the buyer is required to pay interest. If the loan is paid down or paid off early, the lender charges the penalties. In many cases, the lender will only accept a full pay off the loan if the payment includes the remaining principal plus 4-6 months’ worth of interest.

Most lenders hide pre-payment penalty details in plain sight. All pre-payment penalties must be clearly outlined in the loan agreement, but reading through the verbiage and understanding it might require a law degree and a finance background, especially if you want to negotiate on this point.

Although I said “plain sight,” many of the people who read the pre-payment penalty clause don’t know what they’re looking for. It may be referred to as a “yield maintenance provision” or similar title. And like I said, even if you know you should be paying attention, this stuff is dry; I call it bedtime reading (that is, if you’re trying to fall asleep).

The short story of yield maintenance provisions is this: the lender wants to be sure their investment is protected and their long-term yields will be realized. So if your 30-year loan was written at 8 percent ten years ago and you want to refinance it today at 5 percent, the lender will require a penalty of 3 percent of the loan amount times 20 years. Most of us will never experience a yield maintenance provision pre-payment penalty as they are fairly exclusive to very large commercial loans. However, this is the prime example of why it is so important to READ YOUR LOAN DOCUMENTS.

Pre-payment penalties are a negotiable item and many times a lender will be willing to forego (or reduce) a pre-payment penalty in return for a higher interest rate, a lower loan-to-value ratio, or a higher up-front fee. But if you don’t read your loan documents, you won’t know about the penalties. If you don’t know about the penalties, you won’t know you need to negotiate.

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.