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Carol And Nicole's Blog

By Carol and Nicole | Agent in Palo Alto, CA
  • Top 10 Seller Mistakes

    Posted Under: Home Selling in Palo Alto  |  November 13, 2012 1:37 PM  |  128 views  |  No comments
    We recently responded in an on-line forum regarding the top mistakes made by home sellers.  Here is the list that we suggested.  We thought you might be interested as well.
    1. Overpricing the home.  A well-counseled seller will interview several real estate professionals who are familiar with their neighborhood. Sometimes a seller may already have a relationship with a local Realtor with whom they wish to work.  In this instance, you may ask your Realtor to enlist the help of other real estate professionals who are happy to help recommend a list price range as a courtesy to you and the agent you have chosen.
    2. Listing with the agent who says they can get the highest price.  Agents do not control the market.  They do manage the presentation and marketing of a  home which can certainly influence the outcome.  The seller always sets the list price, so when interviewing agents, focus on their recommendations for presenting and marketing your home.Be sure to separate “marketing” from “publicity”.  Some agents use their listings as platforms for self-promotion, rather than considering what is needed to effectively promote your home to the right audience.
    3. Listing with an agent who may be too busy to give the home the priority it needs and the seller deserves.
    4. Listing with an agent who discounts their commission, if that is the only reason to choose the agent.  The best qualified agent with the most polished marketing plan and the greatest attention to the details of your sale will more than make up any discount offered.
    5. Listing with an agent who is not familiar with the local market area.  Strong local market knowledge is essential to pricing the home and representing the seller. In some markets, like the one where we work in Silicon Valley, many sales occur “quietly”, i.e., they are not exposed to the Multiple Listing Service.  Well-informed local agents are better positioned to know about these properties and to access the agents and prospective buyers for selected, unique opportunities.
    6. Not exposing the home to the broadest segment of buyers.  Normally this is accomplished through the Multiple Listing Service.  In certain price ranges or for personal privacy, sellers may not want this type of exposure, but a well-counseled seller should insist on some element of exposure.  In our local area which covers Palo Alto, Menlo Park and surrounding communities this is done through networking among the agents in person, telephone and electronically.
    7. Sellers should not show their homes until the home is in showing condition.  A cluttered environment and relaxed housekeeping and home maintenance are not powerful visuals! Few of us live in our homes in the way they need to look for a positive showing appointment. It is the rare buyer who can overlook these details!
    8. Improperly or incompletely disclosing underlying conditions and defects.  Complete and proper disclosure is not only required, but essential for avoiding or minimizing future problems with a dissatisfied buyer.
    9. Sellers should understand that in most markets the buyers are in charge.  (Sorry to be the bearers of bad news!).  When inventory is abundant, buyers can be selective and if they cannot negotiate successfully with one seller, they will move on to the next opportunity.  When a market has low inventory, buyers will compete with each other for homes.  Sellers will benefit from high prices and aggressive terms.  When a home does not sell right away, it is important that sellers understand this, and that they react quickly by reducing their list price.  The rhythm of the luxury home market and for unique homes is different.  A talented Realtor will know the difference and can guide you appropriately
    10. Not asking the agent for references.  Some agents may “look good” until you talk with some of the people who have worked with them.  There are on-line sources such as Yelp.com which are helpful.  When choosing an agent, use your company wiki, or ask your circle of friends and colleagues for a recommendation.  

    As we approach the end of 2012 underlying market conditions are very favorable for home sellers in our market area.  We continue to need more homes to sell in order to satisfy buyer demand.
    It would be our pleasure to connect with you concerning your real estate plans.  Please do not hesitate to contact us.
  • It’s that time again! Fall back & do some seasonal household maintenance too!

    Posted Under: Home Selling in Palo Alto, Property Q&A in Palo Alto, Home Ownership in Palo Alto  |  November 2, 2012 9:28 PM  |  157 views  |  1 comment

    November 4, 2012 marks the end of Daylight Saving Time for 2012.  Changing our clocks to “Spring Forward in the Spring & Fall Back in the Fall” has become part of the fabric of our lives.  Did you know that this concept of capitalizing on daylight is credited to Benjamin Franklin who suggested it in 1784?  During World War I it was implemented in the U.S. but abandoned in 1919 due to its unpopularity.  While some local areas continued to observe it, its observation did not return nationwide until World War II.  After the war cities and states were allowed to observe Daylight Saving Time as they wished.  However, this presented a burden for national commerce and ultimately in 1966 Congress passed the Uniform Time Act which stipulated that Daylight Saving Time would begin on the last Sunday of April and extend through the last Sunday of October.  Congress amended this law in 2007 to start Daylight Saving Time on the second Sunday in March and end on the first Sunday in November.
    While you adjust your clock to fit the season, we suggest you also consider synchronizing your household maintenance calendar so that you remember routine tasks that are often overlooked until a problem is evident.  Based on years of selling houses and counseling our clients about attentive care for their homes here are our suggestions:
    1.    Clean your rain gutters to make sure that water can drain freely.  If your downspouts are not connected to a below-grade drainage system, this is a good time to install temporary extensions for the season being careful to avoid trip hazards.  Fluctuations of moisture to the soil create pressure on the foundation, so controlling drainage is an important part of good home maintenance.
    2.    Clean or change your furnace filter so that your furnace is able to operate at maximum efficiency.  Vacuum the registers and cold air returns to minimize dust particles in your home.
    3.    Walk around your home and check to make sure your attic and foundation vents are secure and that any openings around hoses/cords are properly sealed.  (See earlier post on rats, and you’ll know why this is important!)
    4.    Check your smoke detector batteries.  There are two types of smoke detectors.  The ionization models appear to be preferred for rooms where a fire may occur due to flames, while photoelectric models appear to be better for rooms where a fire may occur due to smoldering materials that burn more slowly.  As you are changing your batteries you may wish to consider the type of smoke detector that is best suited for the particular location.  
    The location of smoke detectors is an important consideration.  California’s Health and Safety Code requires that there be a centrally located smoke detector outside of each sleeping area.  Additionally for homes that have been remodeled since August 14, 1992, where the cost of the remodeling exceeds $1,000 and for which a permit is required, a smoke detector is required in each bedroom and centrally located in a hallway outside the bedroom.
    5.    Have you installed a carbon monoxide detector?  Effective July 1, 2011 the      California Health and Safety Code required that a carbon monoxide detector be installed in all single family residences that have fossil fuel burning furnaces, appliances or a fireplace, or homes that have an attached garage.
    6.    Don’t forget to pay your property taxes!  The first installment is due on November 1st, and becomes delinquent on December 10th.  A stiff penalty of 10% of the payment is imposed for late payment!  Some new homeowners may not have received a bill, but the County does not consider this an excuse for non-payment.  The amount due is posted on their website.

    Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to be referred to our trusted vendors who can help you with your home maintenance items.  We love hearing from you!
  • Oh R A T S ! ! ! ! !

    Posted Under: Home Selling, Property Q&A, Home Ownership  |  October 28, 2012 12:53 PM  |  159 views  |  3 comments

    ….that’s right, oh, rats!

    Over the years we have had some interesting experiences in dealing with rodents. Rodents are very destructive to homes and are the carriers of disease. Unfortunately they seem to be everywhere in the communities where we work!

    Often evidence of rodent infestation is noted in inspection reports relating to the sale of a home and well-counseled sellers are advised to attend to the situation right away.

    House With a Rodent Infestation

    We have many disgusting stories we could tell, but one in particular comes to mind.
    We were once contacted about a property in Portola Valley, one of the hillside communities we serve. The executor of the deceased owner’s estate told us that the elderly owner had been placed in an assisted living environment prior to her death. During this time the home was unoccupied and a toilet had overflowed resulting in the floor rotting to the point that there was an open hole.

    Unfortunately, this opening allowed for a rodent infestation, actually a rodent invasion! Their “evidence” was everywhere; the floors, the furniture, the counters were covered by urine and feces!

    Health Danger Associated with Rodent Infestation

    Unaware of the significant health hazard this posed, we politely walked through the property and recommended that a rodent abatement company be contacted to seal openings and clean the home. At a subsequent appointment, the rodent abatement company quickly pointed out the dangers of the hantavirus, a life-threatening disease carried by rodents, and recommended that no one be provided access to the property until it had been properly sanitized including removal and disposal of furnishings and wall to wall carpeting, and the access openings sealed. This was not a mere “industrial cleaning” due to the extent of the infestation! Given the overall condition of the home and the likelihood that the future owner would build a new home, the cost to complete this process was not warranted.

    We wrapped the home in caution tape, did not allow access to the structure and provided lots of disclaimers and disclosures about the hazards of the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome! The property sold to someone who demolished the structure and built new.

    Rarely is an infestation this extreme, but no matter the extent, the presence of rodents in a home is always a nasty problem! Based on our Portola Valley experience we are sensitive to the health hazards and the destruction that can occur in a home.

    Signs of a Rodent Infestation

    There is a saying, “I smell a rat!”, and certainly when a rat dies at your house you will notice! The odor is intense and unforgettable! Rats and mice are nocturnal so you may not see them but here are some common signs associated with a rodent infestation:

    • Droppings
    • Urine pools or streaks
    • Squeaking and other noises – they will rustle around in the attic and wall cavities
    • “Grease” marks around access openings to the house, such as foundation or attic vents
    • Nibbling or gnawing marks on wires and wood. Their teeth are very strong!

    Rodents have very poor vision they are known to urinate and defecate to create trails that they can follow. Rodent droppings may be the source of disease and when the droppings break apart they may release dangerous airborne particles that can be ingested and cause infection. Saliva and urine can also transmit disease.

    When a homeowner becomes aware of the presence of rats or mice in their home it is a good idea to call on a licensed professional abatement company equipped to trap and remove the rodents and to properly sanitize your home to eliminate the odors to prevent a recurring infestation. In addition it is essential to find the openings through which the rodents gain access to your home.

    Preventing a Rodent Infestation

    Here are a few tips for preventing a rodent infestation:

    • Check your home for unsealed openings. If any are found, caulk securely. Remember rodents have very strong teeth.
    • Check your attic and foundation vents to make sure they are tight and secure.
    • Check window screens for holes
    • Make sure your trash and recycling bins are covered tightly
    • Do not leave pet food outside
    • Secure pet doors and keep other doors closed
    We hope that you will never have to deal with a rodent infestation, but if you do, don’t hesitate to contact us for a referral to our favorite rodent abatement resource!

    For more information about Real Estate in the Silicon Valley communities of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley and Woodside, go to our website at  

  • If I’m pre-approved for my loan, do I need a financing contingency?

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Palo Alto, Home Selling in Palo Alto, Financing in Palo Alto  |  October 24, 2012 10:48 AM  |  153 views  |  No comments
    Over the summer our local real estate market which includes the cities of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Los Altos and even communities further north like San Carlos has continued to move at an exhilarating pace.  Well-priced and presented homes are selling quickly, and often, in fact, almost always in multiple offers.  As we work with our buyer clients preparing offers for these competitive situations, we are always asked:  “If I’m pre-approved for my loan, do I need a financing contingency?”

    Buyers should be pre-approved for their financing.

    In an earlier post in October, 2010 Successful Buyer Strategies (http://www.carolandnicole.com/blog/page/11/), we discussed the importance of connecting with a lender early in the process of buying a home. In our competitive market place, it is essential for buyers to be pre-approved for their financing.  A pre-approval letter from a local, reputable lender is based on verification  of the buyers’ credit history, income/employment history and assets to confirm the sufficiency and availability of the down payment and closing costs.  A seller in our market area will expect that their buyer be financially qualified before entering into a purchase contract because it effectively results in “taking the home off the market” until the close of escrow.

    When writing an offer, buyers should carefully consider the value of having both appraisal and financing contingencies as part of the purchase contract, and prior to releasing these contingencies buyers and the agent representing them should work closely with the lender to understand all of the “pre-funding” conditions to ensure that they can be met.  It’s equally important for sellers to understand that even after buyers have removed conditions occasionally underwriters raise concerns over which buyers may not have any control.

    “Pre-Qualification” vs. “Pre-Approval”

    There can be confusion over the terms “pre-qualification” and “pre-approval”.  Rarely is a pre-qualification letter sufficient to satisfy a seller because a lender has not yet verified any of the information submitted by the buyer.  To add further complication to the terminology, occasionally – and more often than you’d think – a lender issues a letter or certificate boldly labeled: PREAPPROVAL.  However, in reading the fine print, the exceptions to the “pre-approval” are verifications of the buyers’ income, employment, assets and credit!

    Financing & Appraisal Contingencies

    In our local area the purchase contract provides two related but different contingencies concerning financing:  Financing and Appraisal.  When a pre-approval letter is issued by the lender there are a few conditions relating to the final approval and typically these are the lender’s receipt of a ratified purchase contract, a preliminary title report and a satisfactory appraisal report.  The appraisal report is completed by a certified appraiser, and is an “arm’s length” transaction.  The lender orders the appraisal from an appraisal management company that assigns a qualified appraiser to the purchase.  The appraiser determines the “Current Market Value” based on comparing the purchased property to recent properties sold and some that have “pending” sales.  The lender calculates the loan amount on the lower of the purchase price or the appraised value. If the purchase contract contains an appraisal contingency, and the property does not appraise at or above value then the buyer may withdraw from the purchase contract without penalty.

    Current Market Value & Overall Property Condition

    In addition to analyzing recent market activity and calculating the “Current Market Value” of the property, the appraiser makes notes about the overall condition of the property, documents this with photographs, and comments on overall market conditions for the area.   Of particular note is what might be considered health and safety issues. There are situations, albeit rare ones, when a property appraises at value, but based on input by the appraiser actually obtaining the loan requested has been problematic.

    In the past two years, we have been involved in 3 situations where the lack of hand railings on a deck and the spacing of balcony rails in condominium complexes became concerns of the lender.  In the first situation the buyers’ lender would not fund the loan until a hand railing was installed on a deck that was built over a hillside and did not have adequate railings that would prevent someone from falling. Fortunately, the seller was willing to allow the buyer access to the property prior to the close of escrow to install this railing.  Photographs were taken and sent to the underwriter who eventually authorized funding of the loan.  In two other instances, resolution was more complicated due to the fact that the railings were “owned” by the association consequently the individual unit owner could not modify the “common area”.  In both instances the lenders’ concerns were about the spacing of the balcony rails.  In one situation we were able to “reason” with the lender who eventually funded the loan after a two-week delay.  In the second instance the association allowed a temporary protective net to be installed and the loan funded based on a re-inspection of the rails.

    While we were not personally involved in this situation, we recently learned of a transaction where the appraisal report supported the purchase price, but the appraiser determined that the neighborhood where the home was located was considered “declining”.  On this basis the lender indicated their willingness to lend, but required that the buyer put more than 20% down.  The buyer was not able or unwilling to do this and cancelled the purchase contract based on the inability to obtain the loan amount stipulated in the purchase contract.

    Contingencies can be tricky business.

    With experience on more than 1,000 transactions, Carol & Nicole know what it takes to work collaboratively to help ensure that all parties, including the lender, are satisfied.
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