Happy New Year!

With the last few weeks being significantly impacted by the holidays and New Year’s Eve/Day coming up in a few days, I just wanted to take a few seconds to wish everyone a happy 2016 and a wonderful end to 2015. Huzzah! So with that, HAPPY NEW YEAR! See y’all in 2016!

Project: 24 Richie Drive, Pleasant Hill, CA

I got lucky and was able to purchase a house that was literally a 5-minute drive from my existing project – the one at 2221 Sherman. That made things considerably easier as I managed the two projects since there was about a 6-week overlap where I had crews working on both houses at the same time.  I bought this house from the Son of the owner as he was being moved into assisted living. The house itself had really good bones, but it was quite dated. As you can see from the pictures below we made a lot of changes including bringing the majority of the house down to the studs to reconfigure the layout. There was also an un-permitted addition to the house that we removed which you can see in the before pictures of the backyard. Probably the biggest transformation of the house was opening up the walls to create a large open-concept kitchen/dining/living room. We then created a master suite on the back-half of the house, complete with a 3-piece bathroom, separate bathroom door for the toilet , a huge walk-in closet and added some french doors so you could access the backyard directly from the master. Instead of breaking up the pictures between before and after, I’m going to lump them together by area of the house to give you a better idea of the transformation that happened.

Front of the House

front of house remodel, front yard

front yard after remodel

 


 

Living Room + Kitchen

living room remodel, we buy houses, pleasant hill

open concept, living room, kitchen

kitchen before remodel, fix and flip

living room, open concept remodel

kitchen remodel, samsung appliances

dining room, open concept, remodel

Bedroom #1

sell probate house, bedroom remodel

bedroom, pleasant hill, real estate investing

bedroom remodel, sell my house

Master Suite

master suite before, remodeling

master suite , house flipping

french doors, master suite, walk in closet, sell my house fast

master bathroom, Jacuzzi tub, double vanity, fix and flip

rainhead shower, accent wall, bathroom

Hall Bath

hall bath remodel, sell a house without a realtor

bathroom remodeling, kelly moore paint

Backyard

sell my house, pleasant hill, oakland, backyard, code violation

backyard landscaping, oakland

new patio, backyard, real estate investing

new sod, i buy houses

buy my house, backyard

sell my estate, how to sell an estate property, fire pit

Cost of Selling a House AKA Closing Costs

When it comes time to sell your house, you may be surprised that there are a lot of fees and taxes that are required before you can collect your proceeds. Before any you sign any closing documents to your real estate transaction, you should take a look at the estimated closing statement (provided by your escrow company). This sheet will give you an overview of any loans being paid off, taxes, title/escrow fees and everything in between. My goal is to highlight some of the more common expenses when selling real property so you can have a better idea of what to expect on closing day. In no particular order, here are some common line items you will see on the closing statement:

  • Mortgages – If you have a mortgage on your house, this will be required to be paid off upon the sale. Any and all costs associated with paying back this borrowed money will be reflected here.
  • Other Liens – Any sort of back taxes, mechanic’s liens or anything else that was “attached” to your house will need to be paid off in the sale as well. “Attached” in this case means that someone took the time to go down to the county courthouse to file a lien against you. If you lose a court case where money is owed, this amount could be attached to your house as well. In Oakland, repeatedly missing payments for your garbage collection will result in a lien against your house for the unpaid balance – something I’ve had to deal with on more than one occasion.
  • Escrow Fees – These are fees the escrow company (or lawyer in some states) will charge you to handle the transaction. An escrow company is a neutral 3rd party who handles all of the logistics and money involved in a sale of real estate. Escrow fees are based upon a percentage of the transaction’s value. I did a deep-dive into escrow companies in another post.
  • Title Insurance – Title insurance at it’s most basic is insuring the buyer and seller that the proper chain of title has been followed. This ensures that the buyer will be able to take title to the property free of any encumbrances, liens, etc. While it’s quite rare that a title defect is found, the money is well spent to protect yourself from losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Title insurance costs can vary depending on the certifications that are wanted/needed. These are also a percentage of the overall transaction.
  • Notary – Notaries are a witness to the transaction and preform many fruad-preventing acts. One of the most important is ensuring proper identification of every individual who is part of the transaction. These fees are usually quite small, usually around $50 – $150.
  • Recording – In order to record the new deed of trust with the county, you have to pay to file the paperwork. The escrow company will handle this legwork for you. In Alameda County the cost to record a new deed of trust is $15 for the first page and $3 per additional page.
  • Property Tax – Property taxes in California are due in November and February. Each payment is for a 6-month period. Except on the rare occasion when you close on the first day of the new 6-month cycle, you will either owe or get a credit back for property taxes. This tax can vary depending on the value of the property and any local, special assessments (school improvements, bonds, etc.).
  • County & City Transfer Taxes – These taxes are required when buying/selling real property in the Bay Area and are imposed by the city and county where the property is located. The amount varies between each county and city. You can check out a handy reference sheet here. I also did an overview of transfer taxes in another post with an example.

This is meant to be a general overview of common expenses you will have when selling a house in the Bay Area. For 96% of transactions, this will be all you need to know, but there are always the outliers that make things a bit more complicated. If you have thought about selling your house, but were afraid of all the costs/fees associated with doing so, I hope I could shed some light on what to expect. Except the transfer taxes, these fees will generally add up to less than $5,000 which isn’t too bad considering the cost of real estate in our area. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to me directly.

Project: 2221 Sherman Drive, Pleasant Hill, CA

I’m a little late on posting this one as it was sold in late summer. Our project here was relatively straight-forward after we replaced the foundation. That’s right. We ended up lifting the entire house up in the air a foot or so while we jack-hammered out the existing, horribly cracked foundation. While we were doing that we replaced all the doors, plumbing and electrical throughout the house. Finally, we spruced up the landscaping by making the large front yard completely drought tolerant while adding a bit of fresh, green grass for Fido and Joey so they could play outside. All-in-all this house turned out great and I hope the new owners love it for many years to come! Here are some of the before and after photos from the project:

Before Photos

The front of the house the day construction started.

The front of the house the day construction started.

View standing by the kitchen looking towards the living room.

View standing by the kitchen looking towards the living room.

The bathroom wasn't too bad, but it had a mix or new and old. We decided to fully upgrade everything in it.

The bathroom wasn’t too bad, but it had a mix of new and old. We decided to fully upgrade everything in it.

The backyard had a rotting pergola and the trees/bushes/grass had not been properly maintained for some time.

The backyard had a rotting pergola and the trees/bushes/grass had not been properly maintained for some time.

After Photos

We completely re-did the front yard by taking out the grass and adding drought tolerant plants/landscaping throughout.

We completely re-did the front yard by taking out the grass and adding drought tolerant plants/landscaping throughout.

Brand new fireplace surround, paint and flooring in the living room. Feels really cozy and warm now!

Brand new fireplace surround, paint and flooring in the living room. Feels really cozy and warm now!

We had to keep the layout the same in the kitchen, but it got upgraded with new cabinets, granite countertops and we ran the same flooring in here as well.

We had to keep the layout the same in the kitchen, but it got upgraded with new cabinets, granite counter tops and we ran the same flooring in here as well.

This house had 3-bedrooms that were all about the same size. Plenty of room for a king bed and a good-sized closet too.

This house had 3-bedrooms that were all about the same size. Plenty of room for a king bed and a good-sized closet too.

The backyard received one of the biggest transformation. We poured new concrete for a patio, removed the pergola and added new sod and sprinklers throughout. I love the backyard of this house!

The backyard received one of the biggest transformations. We poured new concrete for a patio, removed the pergola and added new sod and sprinklers throughout. I love the backyard and wish I could BBQ back here!

Why People Sell Inherited Properties

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how people inherit properties. If you missed that post, get caught up by clicking here. After the inheritance is finalized there are many factors to consider, one of them being: should I sell the house or keep it? Much like any other piece of real estate, people sell for all types of reasons. However, when it comes to inheriting properties there are specific reasons why the new owners would rather sell the house than  own it. When people inherit a property they do not want to sell they usually move into the house themselves or set it up as a rental. Here are some of the more common reasons why folks will sell their inherited house:

  • Can’t Afford the House – This can take a couple of different forms. Sometimes there is a mortgage still on the property that costs thousands of dollars per month. Other times, the property can be saddled with high property taxes. Either way, lots of people sell an inherited property for this reason.
  • Need the Money – You have bills to pay or want to pay off your own place. Or maybe you want to save for a down payment for your first house. Either way, needing the money doesn’t mean you’re broke. Instead, it means that the money from selling the house could change your life for the better.
  • Out of the Area – I moved far away from home when I went to college and have stayed out here on the West Coast since then. If I inherited a property in Missouri, I would not be able to manage the property 2,000 miles away. Location can be a large driver for selling decisions when it comes to inherited homes.
  • Not Equipped to Handle Tenants – If there are currently tenants in the property, this can pose a challenge for some. If there is no property management set up, you are now the responsible for fixing leaking toilets, collecting rent and all the other tasks associated with owning a rental. If you aren’t ready and willing to accept this challenge, selling could be a great option for you.
  • Emotional Connection – A lot of memories and connections can be formed with a house over the years. This could be fond memories of the actual property or the previous owner. Either way, for some it’s just too much emotion for them. In these cases the best scenario could be to sell the house in order to help with closure.
  • Required Repairs – Many properties that are inherited were owned by parents or older relatives who may not have kept up with routine/required maintenance. Or they could be dated houses with lots of wood paneling, popcorn ceilings and shag carpet. Regardless, if there is a lot of work to be done to the place, it can make a lot of sense to sell it versus spending the money to fix it up.

While this is not a comprehensive list, it represents the most common reasons I’ve heard for people selling an inherited property. You could be facing similar circumstances or ones entirely different. It’s important to ensure you are approaching this rationally as real estate is the largest asset for many families. As always, if you need help exploring your options I’m available by phone or email 7 days a week. Finally, be sure to stay tuned for my next post on some of the common costs associated with selling a house.

 

Inheriting a House: Everything You Need to Know

If you have inherited a house, there can be many unknowns. Especially if you haven’t been in the house for years or you live out of the area. In some cases your judgement gets clouded due to emotional connections you have with either the house or the loved one. I’m going to try and help you piece together the puzzle and make sure you are asking yourself the right questions. I definitely understand that this can bring up painful memories or maybe the wounds are still fresh. Either way, the first step is putting as much emotion aside as possible and thinking logically about the house, your situation and your options. This post is going to center on the ways that you can inherit a house to serve as the foundation about what you need to know about owning an inherited property.

There are two main ways people inherit properties. They are either willed the property or ownership is transferred via a living trust. While I’m most definitely not an attorney, there are a few things you should know about each method of inheritance.

Wills & Probate

A common method for inheriting a property is via a will. This means a loved one leaves a provision in their will for the property to transfer into your name upon their passing. Usually the person who is inheriting the property will also be put in charge of administering the estate. This administrator (called an executor) is responsible for filing all the necessary paperwork and working through the probate process. This is usually done through the county courthouse’s probate court. The process can get a bit convoluted, but the biggest thing to know is that the probate court will verify the validity of the will, notify any creditors who are owed money by the deceased and go through an accounting of assets owned. The role of an executor of an estate is an important one that has multiple responsibilities. Once the probate process is complete, you will then assume full ownership of the property.

Living Trusts

Another common method for inheriting real property is through a living trust. While trusts take a bit of money, time and attorneys to set up, it makes the process of transferring the assets much easier and less time consuming than the probate process. After the owner of the trust has passed away, the instructions left within the trust documents are followed to disburse any and all assets of the trust, with no court confirmation. Technically speaking, the original owner, the one who created the trust is called a “trustee” while the person who will inherit the assets is called a “beneficiary”. In many cases it can take as little as three weeks for the beneficiaries to become legally recognized owners of the trustee’s real property.

Those are the main ways people inherit property here in California and the US. It is vital to understand that while you may have been named as a beneficiary in a trust or been willed property, there is nothing you can do with the house until you are the full, legal owner. For trusts, it means waiting until the ownership change has been recorded with the county. For wills, it means that you need to complete the probate process within your county. Until that time happens, you must realize that you are technically not the owner of the property yet and you will not be able to sell it, make improvements, remove tenants, etc.

In future installments of this series, I’ll take a deeper look into why people sell inherited properties, provide a checklist of things you need to do when inheriting a property and give some helpful resources. Stay tuned!

Latest Project: 3321 Kansas Street, Oakland, CA

After a lot of construction and updating every single facet of this house, I’m proud to say my latest project is now on the market for sale. I bought this house after the original owner’s children had inherited the place. I was able to work with them to quickly give them cash for the house and the entire transaction/escrow process went relatively smooth. The original house was a 3-bed, 1-bathroom house that was built in 1929. Due to it’s age, a lot of updating needed to be done. From updating all the electrical and plumbing to creating a new master suite, the entire house was transformed into a sparkling gem that will delight the new owners for years.

Before Photos

we buy houses oakland, curb appeal

A cute house from the start, but it still needed a bit of work to make the curb appeal shine

fireplace, hardwood floors, cash for house

I loved the fireplace detail from the start and made sure to keep it’s architectural charm in the final product.

cash for house, bathroom, remodel, oakland

Hall Bathroom Before

kitchen remodel, we buy houses

The kitchen was somewhat small and separated from the rest of the house

selling a house without a realtor, backyard

The backyard needed a lot of work to clear out the debris before we were able to assess what could be done.

After Photos

we buy houses oakland

Due to the massive drought going on here in California, I wanted to put in low maintenance & drought-tolerant plants that highlighted the Mediterranean feel of the house.

LED lights, oakland, real estate for sale

Continuing with the theme of opening up walls and creating an open concept, here is the living area.

kitchen, selling a house without a realtor

The open concept kitchen turned out to be one of my favorite features of the house

master bathroom, remodel, fix and flip

I ended up turning the 3rd bedroom into a master bathroom instead. The new owners will love their master suite!

backyard, oakland house for sale

The backyard really transformed after clearing everything out and adding some sod and plants.

If you want to check out the rest of the listing photos and get the full rundown on the house, please visit www.3321kansas.com. If you are looking to sell your house for cash, click that link or give me a call at (510)343-9199. All the after photos were taken by the fine folks at Open Homes Photography.

What is Curb Appeal and Why Should You Care?

Curb Appeal is a hot topic for buyers, sellers, Realtors and everyone else involved in housing. Like a lot of terms, not everyone knows exactly what goes into “curb appeal” or how to improve it. Well, my goal today is to shed some light on curb appeal, why it’s critical in any real estate market and to give you some examples of good and bad curb appeal.

First things first, let’s define curb appeal. At it’s most basic, curb appeal is what you see the first time you lay eyes on a property. This means the landscaping, paint job, roof, driveway, garage door and everything else. Furthermore, curb appeal can extend a bit more to include things just beyond your property. Things like how your neighbors house looks to power lines overhead can be included.  Basically, anything you notice from the street looking at a house is considered curb appeal. Hopefully, I’m not telling you anything new here, but curb appeal is absolutely critical when it comes time to buy or sell a house. Houses with amazing curb appeal can fly off the market and sometimes for over the asking price! However, a house with an overgrown lawn, trees blocking windows and peeling paint will typically sit and sit…and sit on the market. This is what makes nailing curb appeal so important. Heck, it’s so important HGTV has a show dedicated to this one aspect of houses appropriately titled “Curb Appeal“.

Examples of Bad Curb Appeal

fix and flip, curb appeal, real estate

This house had numerous curb appeal issues. You can see the chain link fencing that went across most of the property. In addition, there are two different sets of windows – some vinyl, some aluminum. The plants hadn’t been trimmed in quite some time and were growing a bit haphazard. The lack of grass and a cheaper screen door didn’t help matters either.

duplex, I buy houses Oakland

This duplex was in need of a lot of work. As you can see, the yard was used as a driveway so most of the grass had been killed. It also very much needed a paint job and new garage doors. With some new grass, new garage doors and a fresh coat of paint the house would’ve seen a drastic improvement.

Concord, I Buy Houses, Sell House Now

This house has nice siding, a new garage door and driveway, but as you can tell, the trees are dominating the view of the house. There was also no landscaping which would’ve gone a long way to improving the curb appeal of this house.

Examples of Great Curb Appeal

we buy houses Oakland, Oakland real estate

This is the same picture up top after Shapero Homes and I completed the renovations. As you can see there was a drastic improvement by replacing the chain link fencing with wood fences. The addition of a nicely landscaped yard with appropriate plants goes a long way as well. All the windows are now the same style and the sliding door leading out to the backyard has been moved to produce a cleaner, more modern look.

great curb appeal, curb appeal ideas

This is a well done house with a great, inviting walkway that leads up to the front door. The immaculately landscaped yard and clean looks is sure to please any buyer and make the sales process that much easier.

buy house now, probate estate

Another gorgeous home that looks amazing from the curb. Everything works so well here together.

 

If your house is lacking in the curb appeal department, it can make a lot of sense to get that fixed up before selling. However, if you don’t have the time, energy or money to devote to fixing up the exterior you should consider giving me a call to see how I can help you out.

 

Electrical Wiring and You: Why You Must Absolutely Understand the Wiring in Your House

It should come as no big surprise to you that electrical wiring plays a big role in the function of your house. If you have an outdated power supply, you’ll find yourself tripping breakers or fuses when you try to turn on the TV and blow dry your hair at the same time. Same thing for running a dishwasher and a clothes dryer. Without ample power supply for your house, you’ll be constantly resetting breakers or worrying about how much power you are using at any one point. Safety is an even bigger concern than inconvenience.  Outdated, improperly installed or neglected wiring can lead to fires or other electricity concerns. Needless to say, the wiring behind your walls is important!! When it comes to updating old systems, you are looking at an expensive bid as there is a lot of work involved in re-wiring the house. Starting with knocking holes in the walls, switching out the old system, installing a new breaker box, working with your local utility company and the cost for materials this job can easily run to $5,000 – $10,000+ depending on the size and configuration of your property. As always, being  informed is key when you go to buy or sell a house, and knowledge of the electrical system is no different. Let’s dig into the different types of electrical systems you’ll find in houses.

Knob & Tube:

knob and tube, k&t

Example of Knob and Tube Wiring

Knob and tube systems are some of the oldest wiring systems in the world. They started becoming prevalent in the 1880s and were a popular system until post-WWII. Sometimes abbreviated K&T, this was the original standard when it came to electrical wiring. As with many things invented in the 19th Century, we’ve come up with replacements for the old technology, but you will be surprised how often you find knob and tube wiring in homes today. I’m currently working on a project where the house was built in 1921. Guess what I found? Yup! Good ol’ knob and tube wiring throughout the entire house. Once I saw that, I knew I’d be spending a few thousand dollars bringing that system up to modern code compliance. If you are doing substantial work on a house with knob and tube wiring, be prepared for the city to tell you that you need to replace the wiring due to fire concerns. Additionally, knob and tube wiring does not provide a grounding wire for safe discharge of electricity. I won’t get into the details here, but having a ground wire is essential for safety. Besides all the safety hazards, these systems can’t handle the power requirements from modern appliances and electronics. Be prepared to upgrade this system anytime you see it!

Aluminum:

Aluminum wiring was popular in the US during the 60s and 70s when copper prices rose to extremely high levels. While you won’t come across aluminum wiring in residential construction too much, you’ll still find it’s used today by utility companies for power transmission. Aluminum wiring, even more so than knob and tube systems, poses a big safety risk to the residents. The crux of the problem lies with improper installations of the wiring. There are two ways you can fix this problem. The simple solution is to complete switch out all the aluminum wiring for modern copper. Another option is “pigtailing” the aluminum wire to new copper wires. This decision is best left up to a licensed electrician and is definitely not recommended for the weekend handyman. I’ve also heard of certain cases where insurance companies either charge a higher premium for houses with aluminum wiring or deny coverage all together. Any way you slice it, leaving aluminum wiring alone is just asking for trouble.

Non-Metallic Sheathed Cable (AKA Romex)

romex wiring, residential wiring, electrical

Example of Romex Wiring

Now we finally come to the most modern and safest electrical system for your house. You’ll rarely hear an electrician talk about non-metallic sheathed cables. Instead you’ll hear it referred to by it’s trademarked name: Romex. Much like Kleenex or Frisbee, Romex is actually a brand of electrical wiring developed by the Southwire Company. Romex is what you’ll find in all new construction homes as well as any home that I renovate. It’s the safest, easiest to install and all wires are color coded depending on their use. This is the stuff you want in your house, no bones about it. If it’s not in yours, the value of your property could suffer.

 

I hope after reading this short primer, you have a better understanding of the types of wiring found in houses. It’s not just a “nice to know” item, this is something that is absolutely mandatory for every homeowner, seller or prospective buyer. Not only is it a matter of costly upgrades and inconveniences, it can also be the difference between having a safe home or one that is prone to fire. As always, feel free to reach out via email or a phone call if you have any questions about electrical systems in your house or if you need a good contractor to evaluate your wiring.

How Foundations Can Affect Property Value

The foundation is a critical component of your house as it supports the entire structure from the roof down. If there is something off or wrong with the foundation, you will see issues spring up everywhere else. From doors and windows that won’t close/open to uneven floors and cracks in the walls and ceilings. Once things start going wrong, foundation problems can get expensive to fix and they certainly scare away a lot of potential buyers due to so many unknowns. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars fixing sinking or cracked foundations and have seen quotes up to $100,000 to remedy larger problems in hilly areas. So, suffice to say, the condition of your foundation goes a long way in determining the value of your house. Before we go too much further, let’s take a look at the two main types of foundations you will see in the Bay.

Types of Foundations

The two main types of foundations that you will see in the Bay Area are pier and beam systems or a slab foundation.

Slab foundations are the simplest foundation you will find and it’s exactly what it sounds like. A concrete slab is poured covering the footprint of the house and then the framing goes directly on top of that. In this scenario, there is no space between the structure and the ground. The benefits of a slab foundation are that it is relatively cheap and sturdy while also less vulnerable to termites which are quite prevalent here in the Bay. The biggest drawback to slab foundations are that plumbing and other mechanical elements of the house are encased in concrete making repairs or future upgrades prohibitive and expensive.

Foundations that use a pier and beam system provide a crawlspace underneath the house where HVAC, plumbing, electrical and other systems for the house can be accessed easily. As the name suggest, the house sits on top of long, horizontal beams. These beams are then placed on top of concrete piers (aka columns) that extend below the soil grade. Most homeowners prefer this foundation over a slab for the reasons stated above; however, this isn’t to say that there aren’t downsides to this type of foundation. The biggest problem stems from inadequate ventilation which allows moisture to stick around long enough to cause mold, mildew and/or other issues.

How to Tell Which Foundation You Have

The easiest way to tell what kind of foundation you have is to go outside your house. For houses built on slabs, 99.9% of the time, there will be no steps up to the front door – it will be only a few inches off the ground. If you walk up one, two or many steps there is a good chance you have a house with a pier and beam system. Any sort of screens near the ground around the perimeter of your house will also clue you in that you have a pier and beam system (these screens allow for ventilation of the crawl space).

How Foundations Affect Property Value

By this point you know how important foundations are to a house. Without them a house would have no platform on which to be built! As I mentioned before, foundation repairs can be costly for a variety of reasons. Anytime there is a foundation issue you will need to hire an engineer to assess the issue and provide architectural/technical drawings to solve the issue. Then you’ll want to hire a reputable contractor to handle any foundation repairs and pull permits. Finally, most foundation work is done in the dark, small crawlspace under your house so the amount of man hours required for the job can be enormous.  All these factors add up to an expensive repair bill.

Many homeowners and prospective homeowners have been scared away from foundation issues due to horror stories they’ve heard in the news or from friends and family. For the most part, anytime there is a foundation issue, John and Sally Homebuyer will choose not to deal with that headache and buy a house with a solid foundation. You’ll find that unless you can find some brave home buyers, you will be better served selling your house to an investor with the knowledge and experience of fixing foundation issues. Maybe somebody like me! Either way, be prepared for some sticker shock when looking at bids for foundation repairs.

Hopefully this short explanation of foundations gave you some insight on the types of foundations, their cost and why home buyers are leery of buying houses with foundation problems. As always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns about foundations, don’t hesitate to reach out.

More Resources:

Slab Foundation Overview

Foundation Basics

Pier and Beam Foundation Overview