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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors


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

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

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

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

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

I’ll share some more neighborly ideas next week.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

Ukiah’s Becoming More Business-Friendly

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the City of Ukiah and County of Mendocino have been actively promoting economic development lately. Whether these efforts are driven by the desire to make Ukiah a better place to live—with more jobs and more places to shop and dine—or simply a way to increase sales and property tax revenues, I’m thrilled with the noticeable shift in government attitudes toward encouraging business development.

Currently, several new businesses are either under construction or planning to set up shop here. A new Chipotle is being built at Orchard and Perkins, and rumor has it that In & Out Burger will be tearing down the old Fjords to build a new restaurant. I understand a high-end wool processing facility may open on Orchard Avenue, and a lumber mill in Oregon may lease some of the old Masonite property as a holding facility before they ship the lumber north. I’ve even heard Dunkin’ Donuts is coming to town, and it seems we will finally be getting the Costco we’ve heard so much about.

While it is wonderful to provide new shopping and dining opportunities, I am more focused on the new jobs these businesses will bring. When Ross Liberty purchased the 10-acre Masonite property three years ago, he dealt with political and administrative arms of county government, and he found them to be receptive and supportive of his business expansion. To be fair, his company—Factory Pipe—is a poster child for a business any community would welcome. He employs more than 50 people in an industrial capacity with wages commensurate with his industry and a generous benefits package. In addition, he took a prominent eyesore that community members and passers-by could see on Highway 101 and transformed it into an attractive, modern facility.

While it has been fantastic to see local government take strides to encourage economic development, our area still has some significant hurdles to jump, and it’s not going to be easy. We have utility hook-up rates that discourage development and we have infrastructure with significant deferred maintenance (if you don’t believe me, drive down Luce or Observatory—they’re almost down to the dirt in some places). With problems like these, I am puzzled by our city government’s decision to spend money on the walking trail along the railroad tracks. But I digress.

Another impediment to business development is the lack of housing. When business owners think about where to locate, they research a community’s housing situation to determine where they and their employees will live. A community cannot grow if people cannot find or afford a place to live. Right now in Ukiah, the median housing price is about $365,000. Without a down payment, a family would have to earn an annual combined income of about $85,000 to afford a house at that price. Even with a 20 percent down payment, the family would have to earn about $70,000 (that equates to $17.50 per hour for a dual-income household or one person making $35 per hour).

So how do we get more houses here? The cost of new construction is so high that developers tend to avoid Ukiah and Mendocino County. The reason, in a nutshell, is that new building codes requiring expensive additions like sprinkler systems dampen the enthusiasm of those who would create new subdivisions. And when the City of Ukiah built a new sewer plant, they required cutting-edge rather than conventional technology, significantly increasing the price tag. There are only two ways to recoup that money: increase rates and/or increase hook-up fees. Finally, the cost of labor for construction has to compete with the going rate in our underground economy.

These are tough problems, but I encourage local government to keep working on them.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

What Do Buyers Really Want? The Secret Homebuyer Checklist – Part II

Last week I reviewed a list of items to consider when buying a home. As a homebuyer, you typically know how many bedrooms you need, how many bathrooms you’d like and a basic layout that matches your lifestyle. But you may not realize the impact of little things like a lack of adequate storage space or the wear and tear of a commute to work or school (emotionally and financially).

In this column, I’ll continue to list important but sometimes-overlooked attributes that can make a property work for you for the long term. When people decide to call a Realtor and tour properties in their price range, they typically see each house once. If they see it in the morning, they see morning light. If they see it in the afternoon, they see afternoon light. They may not consider whether the house is positioned so nature helps keep the house warm in winter and cool in summer. Are there shade trees that protect the house when the thermometer tops 100 degrees? Are those trees deciduous so winter sun can reach the house? A well-positioned house with well-considered landscaping can lower your utility bills.

Is a view important to you? I recently visited a home in the eastern hills with the most fantastic opportunity for a view. But you’d only know this if you’re outside because the view is not featured from within—not a single window looked out onto this incredible vista. So positioning the house is important, but so are strategically placed windows.

Now we’ll talk about the neighbors? While living next to the future Ringo Star might be interesting 20 years from now, it won’t be the least bit interesting when the pounding of drums prevents you from concentrating on much of anything.

How about schools? Do you have school-aged children? If not now do you plan to in the future, or are you an empty nester? If you are raising your family, it’s great to have schools within walking distance. If you’re done raising your family, you may not find it charming to have hundreds of teens walking past your house every day or having new drivers negotiating their route to school.

Do you want a yard or not? Do you want a garden or would you rather not deal with landscaping and upkeep? Is there enough outdoor room for your four-legged children (Fido and Rover)? Is there a fence to keep them safe? Do you have a little cowgirl who is sure to want a horse someday? Is there room for Silver so she can play Lone Ranger?

As you contemplate all the details you’d love about your dream home, be sure to choose a location you love, too. Some people make the mistake of selecting a less expensive house even though it requires a commute. I debunked the financial myth in last week’s column (a 30-mile commute can cost more than $600 per month in gas alone—the house may not actually be less expensive if you add in commute costs). Here are a few other commute costs to consider if, for example, you live in Brooktrails and work in Ukiah: an hour on the road each day that could be spent with loved ones (or working or pursuing a hobby or exercising), lost productivity on snow days, wear and tear on your car, and the stress of driving. If you love Brooktrails, move there, but don’t move there simply to save money.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, I hope it provides a starting point for your own checklist of the frequently overlook items that matter most to you.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.



What Do Buyers Really Want? The Secret Homebuyer Checklist – Part I


When considering which house to buy, something that seems unimportant at first blush can become a nagging pain in the back (or lower) over time. Since spring is here, many people are thinking about either remodeling or buying a new home. This being the case, let’s consider how important some of these items can be.

Consider closet space. Although I may never have met you or been in your house, I can confidently say you don’t think you have enough closet space. The other thing you suffer from is a lack of kitchen counter and cabinet space. Do I expect you to remodel to add an extra five square feet of closet or two square feet of counter space? No, but if you’re remodeling anyway or thinking of buying a new home, keep the following items in mind.

Closet space: how much is enough? Of course, it depends. If you are a family who heads for the slopes each winter, you’ll need space to store skis, snowboards, and lots of winter clothing when you’re not using them. Do you go hunting and need a place for your gun collection? Is your wife unwilling to part with any of her vast collection of shoes? Is your husband a pack rat who can’t throw anything away? Do your children play sports that require equipment that must be stored somewhere?

Moving to the kitchen, how much counter space will work for you? Do you need room for a microwave? Coffee pot? Mixer? Food processor? With all this on the counter, you’ll still need room to work—you know, to prepare meals. And where will you store kitchen tools or dishes you only use once in a while? Do your cabinets have enough room for every day dishes and the antique set you got from Great Aunt Mathilda? How about all those wedding gifts you received years ago that you can’t quite part with? Finally, you’ll need space for those once-a-year party items: your Super Bowl chip dispenser and your green St. Patrick’s Day beer stein. For food, do you need a walk-in pantry or do you use part of your garage to store extra food? A couple without children can probably put all their food in a couple cabinets, but if you have children (especially teens), a walk-in pantry and part of the garage barely suffice.

Once you finish cooking and decide to do a load of laundry, where do you go? Do you need a dedicated laundry room or can you put your washer and dryer in the garage? Do you want a laundry room with space for an ironing board and somewhere to fold clean clothes (or allow a week’s worth of dirty ones to accumulate)? If you use the garage, consider this: if it is at a different level than the rest of the house and requires a few stairs, you may regret it. While at 25 years old, bouncing up the stairs with a load of laundry is good exercise, at 65, it may be something else entirely.

And while you may be able to find a less expensive house a little further from your job, a 30-mile commute can wear on your nerves and your pocketbook over time. Be aware that the 60-mile roundtrip drive repeated each work day during a month adds up to 1320 miles. At $0.50 per mile, you’re paying $660 per month on a car expense that isn’t tax deductible instead of on a house payment that is (mostly).

I’ll share more subtle but important things to look for next week.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.



Spring Cleaning

With the end of the rain and the blooming of wildflowers comes that undeniable itch to put your home in order—it’s time for spring-cleaning.

Maintaining a home requires time, effort, and a little planning. While many chores must be done daily, weekly, or monthly, some only need to be done seasonally or annually—so they’re easier to forget. Let’s look at some of the important ones.

First, prepare your property for fire season. Be sure your tree limbs start at least eight feet above the ground and if you have a field or meadow with tall grasses, schedule time to cut them down before the end of May. If you only want to mow the field once, wait until the tall grasses start to turn a little brown. (If you cut them in late April, you may end up cutting them again in late May.) Whether you’re dealing with meadows or a little lawn, insurance companies recommend a 100-foot defensible fire space. They suggest removing dead or dying vegetation, breaking up continuous vegetation, and eliminating the fire ladder that allows fire to move from the ground to your home (so make sure you don’t have tall grass right next to shrubs right next to trees right next to your house).

While we’re on the subject of fire safety, do not store propane or gasoline in the garage or leaning against the house. Many people underestimate the power of gasoline. A quart of gasoline evaporated into an enclosed space (like a garage) has the blast power of a stick of dynamite! As for propane, it is heavier than the air we breathe, so it accumulates in low spots in the yard. If you’re concerned about gas leaks and you want to check for leaks yourself, Mendo Mill sells a great little tool for about $30 called a gas detector. It’s a wand-like device that lets you know if propane or natural gas levels are higher than they should be. If they are, call the gas company immediately.

As you head inside, consider checking your insulation. If it’s been in place for several years, it may need to be supplemented. Wearing a glove, touch the insulation. If it doesn’t have any give and it crumbles in your hand, replace it. In the attic, make sure critters haven’t taken up residence and look for signs of water damage from a leaky roof or a water line.

Carpet cleaning is another good spring activity. It’s nice to get carpets cleaned when the weather is warm. Carpets dry faster when people aren’t tracking in mud from the outside. Tim Cabral of Cabral Carpet Care recommends cleaning carpets once a year, unless you have a lot of traffic (kids, dogs, etc.). Newer carpets—called sixth generation carpets—are chemically treated at the mill so that hot water will put the twist back in the carpet (like scissors to curling ribbon). So while vacuuming is good, getting your carpet cleaned professionally will get rid of dirt and revitalize the carpet and extend its life.

Finally, check your smoke alarm batteries—unless you have one of the new 10-year models. The newest smoke alarms have tamper-proof cases and sealed lithium batteries. This makes them safer because no one is tempted to steal the smoke alarm batteries for other uses like the TV remote or game controller. It also means you won’t have that annoying chirping that announces your battery is getting low (always at 2:00 am). Be aware that if you happen to burn a roast and your fancy 10-year smoke alarm goes off, you will permanently disable it if you turn it off. Better to take it down and run outside with it, unless you want to buy a new one.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.


Building a Custom Deck

We are at the tail end of the rainy season, and as the weather warms we’ll want to spend more time outdoors. If you’re thinking about building a deck, here are a few ideas.

In Mendocino County, most people build decks out of redwood or composite material. A third option, one most folks don’t know about, is an extremely hard wood called Ipe (pronounced “ee-pay”). It’s also referred to as Brazilian redwood.

I have a composite deck, and although I wish I’d chosen a natural wood, I have to admit that the composite is extremely low maintenance. I chose it because I am still recovering from the summers spent staining my father’s pride and joy: 6,000 square feet of redwood decking around our home. My whole family hand-brushed linseed oil on that deck year after year. If you don’t stain or seal a redwood deck, it will still last a long time, but it will eventually start to deteriorate—and it is really hard to get those redwood splinters out of your feet. Although I don’t have to maintain my composite deck, I have had to replace a couple boards because they didn’t wear well, and frustratingly, the color of the new boards does not precisely match my original decking.

Ipe, on the other hand, is the densest wood I have ever encountered. Trust me when I say, you do not want to try to pound a nail in this wood. If you use it to build your deck, you’ll drill every hole beforehand. Although it is more expensive (per board foot) than redwood, it is so strong that you can use 1×6 boards instead of 2×6 boards (like you would with redwood). And you only need to seal the cut ends. You’d only stain it for color preference, not because it needs protection like redwood.

Before you build, talk to a contractor or at the very least, a well-informed building supply person. Mike Mayfield at Mendo Mill doesn’t keep Ipe in stock, but he can get it for you. Late last year when I checked prices, Ipe was about $12 per board foot, while composite was $6 per board foot, and redwood was $2 per board foot. This means the cost per square foot is really $6 for Ipe since you use 1X6s not 2X6s.

As with any building project, you should review the permit requirements. Most decks require a permit, especially if your deck is a certain distance off the ground. (If it’s at least 30 inches off the ground, you’ll also need a railing or banister to prevent accidents. If a handicapped person could access the deck then it will need a handrail, period.)

I did come across an interesting deck kit where the finished deck doesn’t show any nails. It is installed with pre-made clips with a little lip, and you screw a cleat into the bottom of a board and then nail the cleat to the stringers underneath. But here’s a helpful hint, be sure to install this properly the first time because you cannot simply pull out the nails once they’re in. The great thing about this system is that nails never poke up and cause you to stub your toe, nor do they conduct the sun’s heat and burn your foot. These are foot-friendly decks all the way around. They’re more expensive, but may be worth it to you.

If you do go with a natural wood deck, be sure to install flashing between the deck and your house; it prevents rot around the boards of your deck and prevents termites from moving from the ground to your deck to your house if there was earth to wood contact anywhere.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

Real Estate Investing in Your 20’s and 30’s

Each week I ask for recommendations for column topics, and this week I received an excellent suggestion from Realty World agent and Ukiah’s rookie agent of the year Tanya Gilmore, who wants to help people of her generation think ahead and make wise investments. She rightly pointed out that many people are waiting until their mid-30’s to have children. This means hard-working people in their 20’s and early 30’s have an opportunity to save some money and invest. Depending on their financial goals, real estate could be a great option.

Before I go any further, I need to point out that all investing comes with a tradeoff between risk and return: the higher the potential return, the more risky the investment (“return” refers to the money you make). Also, real estate investing is a long-term endeavor. It can lead to significant financial benefits, but it is by no means the get-rich-quick option. A word of advice: be suspicious of anyone who offers you a get-rich-quick option.

For a first-time investor who is young and willing to live in a multi-unit housing situation, I’d recommend buying a duplex, triplex or four-plex. Loans for owner-occupied residences generally come with better terms (lower down payments and interest rates, for example), and a four-plex is more likely to provide positive cash flow than a single-family home.

Investing in real estate provides several benefits. Virtually all the money you spend repairing an investment property is tax deductible. That means the IRS reduces your overall income by the amount you spend repairing your investment property, then calculates the taxes you owe on that number. Translation? You pay less in taxes. In addition, depreciation is deducted from your earnings, which means even more money in your pocket.

If you’ve chosen the right investment property, you are also building equity (ownership) over time, and your tenants are helping you do that because their rent payments help you cover upkeep, management, and mortgage payments.

So how much do you need? Let’s say a four-plex sells for $500,000. With an FHA loan, you could qualify for a low down payment if you live in one of the units. Your down payment would be approximately $17,500 for a 30-year, fixed-rate loan. You’ll need a good credit rating (a FICO score of 680 or higher) and proof of income, so the bank knows you can cover the mortgage and other costs. Your monthly payments will be under $3,000.

If we’re talking about 2-bedroom, 1.5-bath units, you can charge $1050 per month for each of the three units you’re not living in: that’s $3150 per month in income. When calculating expenses, I add 40 percent of the income to the monthly payment figure because, having owned investment properties for decades, I know I will need that much to cover management fees, as well as expected (and unexpected) maintenance and repairs. So you’ll need approximately $4500 per month including expenses, which means your monthly “rent” would be $1400.

If you have cash for the down payment and a 3-month cushion for mortgage payments, insurance and expenses, you have enough to buy this property. As rents increase over time, your payments will decrease. And you don’t have to occupy the unit forever. If you live there for a few years and then move, you will have met the owner-occupied terms of most loans.

Because transaction costs are high, you typically want to buy a property and keep it for at least 3-5 years, depending on the housing market. Do not buy a property if you need its value to rise quickly. Instead, build equity in the property you buy, and then down the road consider refinancing and pulling some of your equity out to put a down payment on another investment property.

If you have questions, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.