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Category Archive: ‘Tips, Advice & Links’

Income Needed


Wondering where to go next?

Above are some ideas, based on income – and let’s add that the median-priced home is probably the least-desirable option for someone coming from the NSDCC (you’d probably spend more).  When qualifying, they didn’t account for other bills either, so it’s all relative.

Hat tip to reader ‘just some guy’!

Posted by on Oct 23, 2016 in Jim's Take on the Market, Tips, Advice & Links | 0 comments

Higher Prices = Harder to Sell


As home prices increase, buyers get more picky – and it makes sense.

If they have to pay more, then they want more for their money.

This should have some lasting effects on the market:

  1.  The sellers who upgrade their home to sell will be rewarded.
  2.  The gap between the turn-key homes vs. fixers should widen.
  3.  The home-selling failure rate will increase.

The stats show that we’ve had more listings this year, but fewer sales:

NSDCC Detached Homes between Jan-Sept.

Total Sales
Total Listings
Sales/Listings Ratio

Yes, the ‘re-freshing’ of listings does pad the Total Listings count, but it’s been a constant problem and helps to make the point – it’s getting harder to sell.

For sellers who don’t want to lower their price, there is an easy answer.

Do more to upgrade your home!

This is why financed buyers should consider a fixer – there is less competition, especially from cash buyers who have a better shot at the hot buys.

Posted by on Oct 18, 2016 in Jim's Take on the Market, Thinking of Selling?, Tips, Advice & Links, Why You Should List With Jim | 1 comment

Leased Solar Panels

Solar power is a great idea, but do you buy or lease the system?

If you purchase your solar panels, then when you go to sell the house, it should provide some extra value to the buyer.  Exactly how much is tough to estimate, but it wouldn’t be more than 50 cents on the dollar – it is a feel-good feature.

If you lease your system, there are pitfalls when selling:

  1.  The buyers have to assume the lease.  I don’t think the actual assuming of the lease is that big of a deal.  Buyers already have their financials handy to get their loan, and mortgage underwriters are tougher than solar-lease underwriters.  It is the additional hassle that can irk a buyer.
  2.  The seller and listing agent have to initiate the lease-assumption process.  The solar-lease company won’t talk to the buyers until the lease application has been submitted, which means the seller and listing agent need to request it. The leasing company has 10 days to respond, but the listing agent expects the buyer to release all contingencies within 17 days – which is only going to happen if the listing agent knows to request the lease application promptly.
  3.  There is a buyout.  This is where the fun begins.  On one hand, the buyer gets the benefit so the seller expects you to take the full package as-is. But the lease goes for 20 years, and the lease payments total around $34,000. Plus, there is a buyout on top of that?  Buyers don’t expect that additional buyout cost, and would like some negotiation.

Here is a typical buyout schedule:


4. The solar-lease company records a UCC-filing against the property, which prevents the seller from selling or refinancing without permission from the solar-lease company.

Do sellers fully understand what they are signing when they lease solar panels?  Probably not, and if they try to sell their house over the next 20 years, they will get a not-so-friendly reminder.

Below is a link to a general discussion about solar panels:

Solar Panels: Are They Worth the Cost?

Posted by on Oct 7, 2016 in Jim's Take on the Market, Listing Agent Practices, Thinking of Selling?, Tips, Advice & Links, Why You Should List With Jim | 1 comment

More on Real Estate Disrupters


The gave free publicity to a couple of real estate start-ups here:

Let’s examine piece by piece:

Real estate agents used to be privy to a lot of information that home buyers couldn’t obtain on their own.

But now property listings, photo galleries, historic sales prices, school ratings and neighborhood crime rates are freely accessible to anyone with just a few clicks. For some assertive buyers, that’s an invitation to bypass an agent and, in the process, cut out the pesky 5% to 6% commission that is traditionally split between the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent.

To help buyers go it alone, or close to it, several real estate start-ups have emerged that promise an easier solution to a notoriously stressful and expensive purchase. By eliminating or limiting an agent’s role, customers save money and streamline the process.

Jim: New real estate companies have emerged every year, yet the landscape hasn’t changed.  Buzz words like ‘save money’ and ‘streamline the process’ sound sexy, but every agent can offer those.


It’s also leading to tensions with the hundreds of thousands of real estate agents around the country, who say the companies are shortsighted and overlook the skills that a professional agent can offer.

Jim: Tensions?  Hardly – you aren’t even a blip on the radar yet.

We only get tense when a start-up is spending $100 million per year on advertising (like Zillow). It would take a huge investment in people and marketing to really disrupt the business – when you get to that point, let me know and we will revisit. Until then, you can nibble around the edges like Aunt Bea and most other small enterprises.


When Wes and Laurel Duquette set out to purchase a home for the first time, the couple chose not to work with a real estate agent.

“We didn’t find an agent to be much of an advantage, yet they’re so heavily compensated for what they do,” Wes said.

Instead, they turned to Open Listings, a Y Combinator-backed start-up that replaces most of what agents do with an online platform. The Los Angeles company helps customers find a home on their own by creating a personalized feed of available properties that meet their requirements, and sending them emails of open houses.

It’s free for customers to use the service. Once a home has been purchased, Open Listings refunds customers half of the commission it receives from a successful transaction.

In April, the Duquettes purchased a three-bedroom, one-bathroom Manhattan Beach home for $1.34 million. Their refund from Open Listings was $16,000, which the couple put toward closing costs and bringing down their mortgage rate.

Jim: After this home was on the market for 28 days, Wes and Laurel paid $12,500 over list price for it.  When you aren’t willing to find a buyer’s agent who provides a real advantage, this is what happens – the listing agent will have his way with you.


Real estate start-up founders say the industry is ripe for change.

Jim: Agreed, and with half of the realtor population near retirement age (median age is 58), the home-selling business could be completely redefined by anyone who is willing to spend $100 million or more on advertising every year.


“Millennials expect things to be easy and transparent. They’re also used to making high-purchase transactions online,” said Shelley Janes, founder of SideDoor, an app that hopes to become the Ebay of real estate, where sellers can list their homes and connect directly with buyers.

Jim: More sexy talk that would work great as long as the buyer pays the seller’s price, there are no other competing buyers, and the house doesn’t have any issues with condition, financing, or appraisal.  P.S. Shelley Janes does not have a California real estate license.


The recent wave of new real estate start-ups isn’t the first time the agent-assisted model has been challenged.

But shaking up the industry has been difficult. For one, the National Assn. of Realtors is an influential obstacle when it comes to change in the industry.

“It’s a powerful trade association, and its cohorts are brokerages, multiple listing services, real estate associations and individual agents. They all work diligently to keep a buyer and seller apart,” said Joshua Hunt, chief executive of Trelora, a full-service, commission-free real estate agency. He said those who are part of the outdated system fight to keep things as they are to preserve current commission rates.

Jim: The idea that N.A.R. and its ‘cohorts’ have any influence on commission rates is an illusion.  Not only is nobody within the industry fighting to ‘keep things as they are’ (I wish they would), no one within the industry is fighting for anything.  Ten years after Zillow began, we are just getting around to having meetings to discuss what we might want to do about it some day.


Commissions in the U.S. are especially high. In Britain, Singapore and the Netherlands, they usually fall between 1% and 2%, according to a report by the International Real Estate Review.

Jim: Those agents are paid by the seller to process the paperwork – they are transactional agents who don’t provide advice, and aren’t obligated to disclose anything.  It is a model that could catch on here, but buyers and sellers don’t mind paying for advice.  It would be more likely that real-estate consulting companies would evolve.  It’s where these disrupters miss the boat – good help is needed to get deals closed.


Open Listings still uses real estate agents in the process, but in a limited way. No more driving prospective buyers around town, or keeping a lookout for the perfect house for clients. Those tasks all fall on the home buyer’s shoulders.

Jim: They are, in effect, transactional agents.  They employ eight agents in two offices – Los Angeles and San Francisco – and most are brand new agents (how much advice could they offer?).  The broker lives in Santa Barbara.


“More resources and online tools are good for consumers —  they provide a good picture of current market conditions, but employing a Realtor to help find just the right home to purchase and to negotiate on your behalf is key to a successful buying experience,” DeSanctis said.

Open Listings understands this, which is why co-founder Judd Schoenholtz says the company hasn’t totally removed agents from the picture.

Jim:  I agree that it is difficult for consumers to appreciate the value of good help until after 1) they need it, and 2) they experience it.  P.S. Co-founder Judd has had a California real estate license for 19 months.


The company is building tools to minimize the mind-numbing amount of labor that comes with home buying: viewings, forms and contracts, inspections. By saving agents time in the paperwork weeds, Open Listings allows its agents to concentrate on the piece where they can make a difference: getting an offer accepted.

“We’re able to refund that much of our commission because our agents only focus on the small but critical piece of the purchase cycle,” Schoenholtz said.

Jim: Just getting around to building tools?  You must mean robots and drones full of artificial intelligence, right?  In the meantime, who does the real work – providing advice each step along the way?


He said the network answers a real need for some agents.

“We’re offering [agents] the perfect arrangement — buyers that will really buy and less of the paperwork,” he said.

Open Listings, which launched last year and became profitable last month, says it has saved California home buyers more than $1 million since its launch. Its revenue has also doubled every quarter, according to Schoenholtz.

Its independent agents work for $25 an hour, plus bonuses and a commission split between Open Listings. There are currently 12 independent agents in the start-up’s network.

Jim: Agents who can’t keep up will love this idea – and the hourly pay.


But there have been hurdles. According to Hunt, agents and brokerages will go out of their way not to show a Trelora home, or have lied about the condition or availability of Trelora homes.

Jim: It is a very competitive business – it can get nasty.


Christian Redfearn, a real estate professor at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy, said another issue is the high stakes involved in home buying.

“I have access to all kinds of data, but I’ve still got to talk to a human. I don’t want to overpay for property. Given how large the investment is, if I’m off by 5%, that’s a huge amount of money,” he said. “A good broker would know the market well, and it’s hard to put that kind of quality on a website.”

That kind of personalized hand-holding is one that Daisha Versaw, 38, missed when she used Trelora to sell her five-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Arvada, a suburb of Denver. The company saved her family more than $16,000, but it was hard on her nerves in some key moments.

Though Trelora agents were responsive when she had reached out, it was still up to her to ask for updates and to stay on top of things. When the resolution deadline drew near for inspections, for example, it was Versaw who informed her Trelora agent of its expiration. “I hated that I was the one reminding him of the deadline.”

Her advice to would-be buyers wanting to skip an agent: “Be prepared to take more initiative and advocate for yourself.”

Jim:  Get Good Help!









Posted by on Oct 1, 2016 in Jim's Take on the Market, Realtor, Realtors Talking Shop, Thinking of Buying?, Thinking of Selling?, Tips, Advice & Links | 0 comments

Smart Selling Tips


When you’ve decided to sell your home, the last thing you want to do is spend money to spruce the place up. After all, whoever buys it is going to replace those outdated kitchen cabinets and grungy bathroom tiles anyway, right?

“We’re often asked why any money should be spent freshening,” said Mickey Conlon, an associate broker with Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “The answer has to do with the psychological effect of assessing a renovation on a prospective purchase. Buyers assign dollar values to repairs that typically exceed the actual cost of remediation.”

To get the best return on your investment — and avoid turning off potential buyers — you need to ensure your home looks its best when it hits the market. At the same time, you don’t want to waste effort or money on improvements that won’t pay off.

Read full article here – good tips:

Posted by on Sep 18, 2016 in Jim's Take on the Market, Thinking of Selling?, Tips, Advice & Links | 3 comments

Real Estate ADD


The iPhone 7 is out!  Smart phones and other mobile devices now dominate the landscape, and are practically part of the family.  Thankfully, they don’t need their own bedroom and bath!

Most people scroll so quickly that they only take split-seconds to decide which homes to consider.  Having limited inventory might be a good thing!

The first impression of the home needs to be incredible just to capture their attention for a few seconds.

Home Selling in the Mobile-Device Era

  1.  Staging – The photos are already small enough on these phones – they become much more appealing with the right decor.  Once the buyers arrive for their minutes-long tour, it’s easier for them to visualize too.
  2.  Pro Photos Only – Buyers are frustrated enough, and they won’t tolerate poor-quality photos. It’s too easy for them to keep swiping.
  3.  Colors need to be current.  In the minds of fast-moving buyers, out-of-style colors = fixer.
  4.  Powerful Remarks – Listings with the usual mumbo-jumbo in the remarks won’t get read.
  5.  Responding to Inquires – Zillow recommends that agents respond to inquiries within five minutes – otherwise, consumers will forget the property!
  6.  Comps – Buyers are moving (too) fast, and there aren’t as many sales so it’s tougher to track the values easily.  Give them a hand – list the comps in the remarks!
  7.  Sell with Less – Don’t include 25 photos of beddings and local attractions.
  8.  Old Listings are Toast – Buyers ignore old listings – they want new meat.

This is the era of sensory overload.  There are so many advertising images coming at us every second that our go-to is to ignore first.  But those clear, clean, sleek, easy-to-read listings with great photos and an attractive price still have a good chance of selling!


Posted by on Sep 17, 2016 in Jim's Take on the Market, Listing Agent Practices, Tips, Advice & Links, Why You Should List With Jim | 0 comments

Feng Shui Tips for Selling


A compilation of the best ideas:

Make the Front Door Welcoming

Energy enters your home at the front door, so invite it in! Make your door stand out by painting it a color that contrasts with your home, adding a new welcome mat and flanking the door with plants. Choose plants with rounded leaves as sharp leaves can appear aggressive to buyers.

Remove the Clutter

An orderly space with no clutter is the best feng shui foundation for your home. And don’t drag your clutter from your old home to your new home – deal with it before moving into the new home.

Create a “Room of First Impression”

Buyers generally decide whether they will buy a home in the first eight seconds they spend there, so you want them to see the best room first. Create a clear path to this room with a runner rug or with eye-catching art and accessories.

Don’t Let Energy Go Down the Drain

If the first thing buyers see when they enter your home is a bathroom, keep the bathroom door closed. Toilets and drains take energy from a room, so keep the toilet lid down and cover drains while not in use.  You can also place a small tabletop water fountain either at the entrance or in the back left corner of the home, which is the wealth corner.  Moving water circulates prosperity energy throughout the home.

Rearrange Furniture to Improve Chi

A furniture arrangement can make or break the flow of energy in the room. If the back of a sofa faces the room’s entrance, energy bounces right out. Facing a comfortable sofa or love seat toward the entrance of the room will improve energy flow and make buyers feel welcome.

Invigorate the Senses

Stimulate your home’s energy with sound by adding a wind chime to the front right corner of your house. This is the buyer’s area of the home, so this accessory might call in your home’s future owner.

Pack Up the Family Photos and Religious Items

You want to make your home as welcoming as possible to potential buyers … don’t distract them with personal effects.  Nature scenes are soothing and will relax the buyers.

Have you let go of the house?

  • Walk room by room through the house and mentally say “thank you” for the good — and bad — times you had there.
  • Picture yourself holding the house, presenting it as a gift to the next owner.
  • Start packing. “It starts getting the energy moving” and releases “your hold on the house,” Kennedy says. Plus, packing away your personal items is a good way to lose the “It’s my house, not yours” vibe.
  • Your basic sense of security is facing one of the biggest challenges in life – you are moving everything about you down the road. Don’t take it lightly.

Making Way for Auspicious Feng Shui Chi

Now, it is time to ensure the new incoming chi is auspicious. Open the windows, turn on the fans, and let the sunlight in. You want fresh air and positivity coming into your home. Be in good spirits.

Go for Good Energy

Most importantly, be aware of the very important feng shui energy triangle when getting ready to sell your house. The energy in the kitchen, the bathroom, and the bedroom is either making or breaking the house sale. Buyers need to know they will sleep well, eat well, and well, unwind well if they choose to buy your home.

If you really want feng shui on your side when selling your home, read this:


Posted by on Sep 16, 2016 in Jim's Take on the Market, Tips, Advice & Links | 0 comments

Home Maintenance


Another rule-of-thumb on how much to spend on your house:

Maintaining a home, especially an older one, can be expensive—in fact, experts say homeowners should be prepared to spend roughly 1 percent of their home’s value every year on maintenance.

The good news is, you can save on maintenance by completing simple tasks yourself. According to the experts at Underwriters, Inc. these include:

  • Cleaning the Gutters – To prevent costly damage to your home’s foundation, landscaping and siding, remove debris and leaves from the gutters at least twice a year. Don’t forget gloves and eye protection!
  • Open Garage Doors Manually – Don’t call a garage technician the next time your power’s out—simply locate the (usually red) cord, suspended from the ceiling-mounted operator, in your garage, and pull it to disconnect the cord from the motor.
  • Removing Stripped Screws – Avoid causing more damage when screws slip from a screwdriver. Place a rubber band or piece of steel wool over the screw and then try to remove it—if that method fails, use a screw extractor.
  • Repairing a Leaky Faucet – Leaks can cost hundreds in wasted water. Before you call a plumber, try DIY-ing by shutting off the main water supply, removing the faucet’s knobs, and checking the washers, stems and O-rings for signs of damage. Take these pieces to the hardware store to find exact replacements.
  • Stop a Running Toilet – Another plumber job you can do yourself! Remove the lid to the tank behind the toilet, and check the flush lever, rubber flapper, lift chain, float ball, pump and overflow tube. A running toilet usually requires just a simple adjustment or replacement to fix.

If you can master these essential homeowner skills, you’ll not only save money on maintenance, but also the expense of more costly fixes in the future.

Posted by on Sep 14, 2016 in Jim's Take on the Market, Repairs/Improvements, Tips, Advice & Links | 1 comment

Home Maintenance Costs


Back in 2009, we ran the first post entitled, Home Maintenance Costs:

After discussing the need for home maintenance with several clients  recently, I thought it would be a great time to review.

Every condo association in California is required to complete a Reserve Study so they are socking away enough money every month to repair and replace every item needed over time.  Homeowners should do the same!

Examples of things that need regular repair/replacement:  Air conditioning, appliances, BBQ, ducting, faucets, flooring, furnace, lighting, painting, roof, siding, sinks, toilets, windows, etc.

These are pure home repairs and replacements – they don’t include exterior maintenance or home improvements/upgrades/updating, which all matter too.

I came up with my own formula to estimate how much money homeowners should spend each year just on maintenance – try it out:

Age of home X square footage/15 = Annual spend

The 15 was derived from a reasonable number of years it will take to catch up on everything if you start today.  You may want to re-start again in year 16!

My formula is unscientific, but it is close enough.  Spend something!

Doing regular repairs will help you avoid multiple major expenses, and save you from needing a complete redo when it comes time to sell.

The joys of homeownership!

Posted by on Aug 9, 2016 in Jim's Take on the Market, Remodel Projects, Repairs/Improvements, Thinking of Buying?, Tips, Advice & Links | 0 comments