Friday, December 28, 2012

Buyer or Seller: Home Prices in Your Local Market Matter

Whether you're interested in buying or selling a home, it's a good idea to watch the home prices in your local market. There are several places you can go to get the statistics on real estate sales in your area, such as If you're a real estate geek, the information is just plain interesting. Otherwise, it can be a good marker by which to base decisions about your own real estate future.

What local housing prices mean for the buyer

If you're looking to buy a new home, there are several ways you can use median home prices to guide you along your real estate Yellow Brick Road:

. Depending on your budget, and what you are looking for, the median home price for your local area can give you a target range for your mortgage pre-qualification letter. Looking for a fixer upper? The median price should be a sufficient target because most homes you'll be considering will be marketed slightly below that price. If you know you are interested in new construction real estate or more luxurious homes, it's probably worth it to get pre-qualified for a significantly larger figure just to see where you are at.

Are you for real? It's hard to put a price on a home you love. This especially true if you're selling a home that was worth $200K (or more!) just a handful of years ago. Some sellers plug their ears to realtors' suggestions and stick a price tag on their home that's just too high. If you fall in love with the house, or are swayed by the homeowners' passion, you might find yourself with an inflated mortgage. Having a solid knowledge of what houses are truly valued at in the current market will make you a firm negotiator if the house you want has an unrealistic price tag.

What local housing prices mean for the seller

Are you for real? Just as the above scenario for the buyer, you might be shocked at how much (or how little) your house is worth, depending on when you purchased it. By familiarizing yourself with the local market, you'll learn which price range will help your house to sell the fastest.
Do we need improvements here? Take a walk though some homes for sale in your area. You will get an idea of what sells for what - in other words, do you find yourself thinking, "wow! This place is pretty nice compared to our house..." or do you smile and say, "our house is awesome compared to these outdated disasters." This can give you an indication of whether or not you should sink some money into minor - or major - upgrades to bring your house up to par - or not. You might find that a few little staging improvements will be all that is necessary.

Keep in touch with the local real estate market and you will find yourself to be a much more savvy member of the local real estate community.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

How To Buy Your First Investment Property

The time has come. You've been a homeowner for years, you have some money tucked away, and you're ready to purchase your first investment property. Now what? Do you buy a turn-key home and aim for higher rents? Are you planning on flipping it? Have you considered the idea of a vacation home? What happens after the purchase? These are all questions that should be answered before you actually purchase a property.

How to Buy Your First Investment Property

Time is of the essence

So the Mayans were wrong, the world is still intact, the earth's axis seems to be functioning, and the economy is holding relatively steady, the median housing prices will probably continue to rise. This means the sooner you are able to get pre-approved for a loan and begin investment house hunting the better. No reason to spend more money next year for the same piece of property, especially if you end up going with a fixer-upper.

What will you do with the house?

There are several options for the home after your purchase it.

Flipping it. You may decide to purchase a home, fix it up, and flip it - banking on the aforementioned median housing price increases - to make a little money. Unless you are particularly construction/real estate savvy, or have a close member of the family who is an experienced real estate flipper, this might not be the best idea for your first investment property. Real estate flipping is a gamble, and if you don't come out on top...well, it can be a deflating experience.

Rent it. The rental market is still pretty hot right now. Do take into consideration that as more home owners are back on the market, the balance could tip and rents could potentially dip over the next couple of years. Keeping that in mind, a rental can be a way to pay your mortgage, and potentially sock away a little extra cash. Things to note:
  • Finding tenants can be a laborious process
  • You are responsible for most of the maintenance issues
  • Older homes (more affordable) come with more inherent maintenance issues (not so affordable)
  • A good reputable property management company could be your best friend
If you have considered all of these statements, and feel good about them, a career as a landlord might be a good fit for you. Make sure you talk to you CPA about how becoming a real estate investor will affect your overall financial picture.

Did you say vacation home?
One of best win-win options might be to select a favorite destination, one which you know you will return to on a regular basis, and begin looking for a vacation home/investment property. This option can provide the best of both worlds. You will have a more affordable annual vacation and you may even turn it into a profitable experience by renting it when you aren't there.

The answers to these questions can help you to create a solid "Investment Property Business Plan". Once you have a solid plan, you'll be on your way towards further financial stability. Considering moving forward on property investments in 2013? Speak with Sequoia Realty for some advice today.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Does It Make Sense to Buy a Vacation Home?

As airfares continue to rise, vacations continue to get more and more expensive. Once you add up the costs of transportation, paying for a space that accommodates your family comfortably, and all of the meals out, your vacation tab can be significantly higher than you budgeted for. Purchasing a vacation home might actually save your family money each year when you consider tax incentives and potential rental income should you choose the rent the home when you're not there.

Does it Make Sense to Buy a Vacation Home?
Everyone's situation is different, but for my husband and I the decision to buy a second home, to use as a vacation home, was one of the best decisions we ever made. Here's why:

A truly comfortable budget. In the good old days, we schlepped young kids hither and yon, crammed into hotel rooms that weren't as "suite" as originally anticipated, and stared at each other with blood-shot eyes over miscellaneous restaurant tables as our kids drove us crazy. Then we wised up and started renting houses and condos. We loved that! They were more affordable in the long-run, we could rent the same ones year after year so they truly felt like home, and one grocery shopping trip meant we didn't have to eat out unless we really wanted to. Heaven!

Extra Income. After a decade of renting the same home on our visits to Sonoma County, we finally woke up and said, "why the heck are we pouring money into someone else's investment when we could be creating our own?". We immediately went house hunting with a local real estate agent. Within three months were were the proud owners of a second home, had a "free" place to stay on our annual summer vacation, and had it listed with a local vacation property management firm. The first check made payable to us came just a little while later. And then, there are the tax incentives.

Tax Incentives. It's a good idea to check in with your CPA to determine it/how you want to structure your second home as a vacation rental for tax purposes. All we can say is that when we add up mortgage interest and property tax deductions, maintenance costs ("losses") and our overall rental income, we are completely satisfied. Not to mention the absolute delight of having a home that is "ours" and truly is a home away from home when we're on our favorite vacation. Keep in mind that your maintenance costs can require diligent paperwork skills but we have managed to spend time in the home as "fix-up" days (never to be called "vacation days") and still have a good deal of time left over to enjoy Sonoma County Wine country...

Keep in mind that your tax bracket may change whether or not you want to purchase a second home. Tax legislation will be changing for real estate investors. Fortunately for us, our second home has been a wonderful addition to our life and we have never looked back.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Local Historic Buildings In Redwood City

Now that fall has settled in, and winter is almost upon us, temperatures have dropped and you might find yourself getting cabin fever on the weekends. This is a great time of year to visit the historical buildings, landmarks, and sites that you think about but never get around to. Plus, many of them are beautifully decorated for the holidays, which means your family can enjoy capturing a little more holiday spirit and the essence of times gone by.

Local Historic Buildings In Redwood City

Redwood City has a rich history, beginning with the indigenous Ohlone people, continuing with the Spanish settlement period, and then the westward movement of white settlers. Our town has preserved many elements of this rich history.
  1. San Mateo Courthouse. Redwood City was considered the "County Seat" beginning in 1957. This is one of the reasons we have such well preserved buildings and historical data. The San Mateo Courthouse, now the home of the San Mateo County Museum, was built in 1910 and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. This is a perfect one-stop-shop to view fascinating evidence of the past, from Ohlone artifacts, information about native flora and fauna, and extensive historical archives, there are activities for the whole family to enjoy. They are open Tuesdays-Sunday from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
  2. The Sanchez Adobe. Between 1842-46, Don Francisco Sanchez built the Sanchez Adobe as a residence. Over the years it was used as a Roadhouse and an Artichoke packing warehouse. Now the Sanchez Adobe is preserved by the San Mateo County Parks system and is furnished from the original period. You can visit the home and take a tour, or keep yourself updated on a variety of activities you can participate in through the year.
  3. Redwood City Public Library. Our own Redwood City Public Library is also a historic site. Built in 1921, it was originally the Redwood City Fire Station No. 1. Here you can find a an extensive archive of Redwood City's history.
  4. Lathrop House. The Lathrop house was built by Benjamin and Mary Lathrop in the early 1860s. Mr Lathrop was the first County assessor-clerk recorder. He was also one of the founders of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Lathrop's moved in in 1863 and named the house "Lora Mundi". In 1870 it was sold to General Patrick Edward Conner, and had several other owners throughout the ensuing decades. You can visit the Lathrop House and tour this beautiful historic home which paints a picture of the lifestyle of some of our earliest ancestors. Because it is run completely by volunteers, you may want to call and make a reservation to ensure the house will be open.
  5. Union Cemetery. While not exactly a building, the Union Cemetery does have several large monuments, and you can walk the gravestones and markers which indicate the final resting place for some of Redwood City's earliest residents.
Enjoy a trip through time the next time you have a chance to visit some of Redwood City's historical buildings and landmarks.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Parks of Redwood City

Feeling cramped with all the holiday guests and indoor parties and festivities? Then take the time to get outside and visit some of this area's beautiful parks. We are fortunate to have so many open spaces at our disposal, allowing us to get out of the concrete mentality and reconnect with Mother Nature.

Take Time to Visit Redwood City's Local Parks

Redwood city has more than 30 parks. Some are less than an acre, others are 400+ acre multi-use parks. There are parks for dogs and skaters too. Here's an overview of some of the most popular.
  1. Neighborhood parks. Don't forget to take advantage of your neighborhood park. Whether you give the kids a much needed 30-minute play break amidst running errands, or lay on the grass and enjoy a picnic lunch or dinner, neighborhood parks are a place where you can enjoy being outside and meeting some of your other community members. Here is a map of the parks west of 101. Here is a map of parks to the east of 101.
  2. Hoover Park. Although also considered a neighborhood park, Hoover Park is one of the largest at just over 10 acres. It is a multi-use park that provides a dog park, summer swim facilities, and three large picnic areas which don't get reserved as often as some of Redwood City's other public park facilities. It also has basketball courts and ball fields if you want to get a group together for an organized sporting event. This park makes a great place for a family reunion as there is a little something for everyone.
  3. Wunderlich Park. If you have something larger than a neighborhood park in mind, head over to Wunderlich Park. Maintained by the San Mateo County park's system, Wuderlich offers a beautiful trail system which will take you through Redwoods, Oaks, Madrones, and open meadow spaces. It is also the home of this historic Folger Family Ranch.
  4. Huddart Park. Huddart Park is another place to feel "off-the-beaten-path" while it's actually just a short distance from Highway 84. It offers BBQ pits, sheltered group picnic areas, ample playgrounds, and trails for hiking and/or riding. You and/or your family will enjoy the transitions from dense Redwood forests to open grassy meadows.
  5. Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve. If the flower-less winter months get you down, just hold out until spring and clear a full calendar day to visit the Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve. It is famous for its spring wildflower displays, although it's a fantastic place to visit year-round. in fact, the winter months can be some of the best if you want a quiet get away without the presence of a lot of people. There are more than 467 acres of woodlands to hike, explore, and provide a gorgeous feast for your eyes.
Edgewood Park

We're so fortunate to live in an area with so many beautiful well maintained parks and open spaces. Make sure you make the effort and visit at least a few of them with friends and family this next year! Also, don't forget to keep an eye on happenings hosted by the Redwood City Parks department on their website here or on their Facebook page.

Do you have a favorite RWC park or a favorite spot in one you'd like to share with us? Let us know in the comments below!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Redwood City Police Chief a Premier IT Leader

We wanted to take a moment and highlight one of our very own community members' accomplishments.  Every year, Computerworld magazine honors 100 individuals as, "Premier IT Leaders." This year, our own Redwood City Police Chief JR Gamez was named as an honoree. These 100 honorees are designated for their innovative use of technology to solve problems within their business, organization, or community.

Scot Finney, editor-in-chief at Computerworld, states, "the Premier 100 awards program showcases the exceptional work of a dedicated group of senior IT leaders who are driving huge change in their organization." He continued, "every day, these exemplary business leaders make strategic technology decisions that track to their organizations' top priorities. These men and women keep a keen eye on the changing landscape of political, economic, regulatory and technology trends that are driving significant shifts in IT."

We are proud to have a Police Chief and staff who think outside the box and use ever more accessible technology to reach out to community members. This year, the Redwood City Police Department launched Netop's Live Guide communication technology. This revolutionary system allows community members to chat online with police department officers and staff. Citizens can log-in and ask legal questions, get to know their police officers, or make inquiries about tickets or violations they feel were issued erroneously. It is a transformative step in Police Department-Community relations.

Netop's CEO Kurt Bager issued this statement, "The innovative use of Netop's Live Guide communication technology by the Redwood City Police Department shows how committed they are to making their website a place for meaningful, real-time citizen engagement."  He also mentioned that by going live and being willing to chat with community members in real time, the department is, "setting a new standard for online service."

Netop is an organization based in Denmark. They offer the online chat service to public agencies for just $91 per month. The department is using the system on a 3-month basis. Community members can contact the department via live online chats between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Depending on community demand, the department will consider expanding the service into the weekends. The online chat service is run by officers who have been injured in the line of duty and have been removed from field for the time being.

Netop's Live Guide communication technology helps to cut down on service calls, allowing more officers to be out in the field where they can provide the most assistance and protection. Chief Gamez stresses the fact that this program is not a substitution for service calls. Redwood City police officers will always make house calls when the situation calls for it. It should be noted that the online chat service is not a substitution for 911 calls. If there is an emergency, citizens should call 911. The department's Online Reporting Service is still available as well.

Thank you Chief Gamez, and members of the Redwood City police department for working creatively to facilitate communication with our community.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Are You a Real Estate Investor? Consider How Obama Care Will Affect 2013 Taxes

What do real estate and Obama Care have in common? Tax brackets, that's what. Even if your Adjusted Gross Income Tax (AGI) is consistently under the $250,000 threshold, it only takes one small real estate deal to change everything by altering your net investment income tax (NIIT) figures. If you have considerable real estate holdings, you should consult a professional to see if there is anything you can do to avoid the 3.8% Obama Care Tax.

Things to Consider for the 2013 Tax Year

Activity Loss Rules (Code Section 469)

These tax rules were set in place in order to cut down on superfluous tax shelters. Although the regulations were complicated, in most cases they were applicable to real estate losses rather than real estate gains. However, all that has changed. Under the new rules, real estate profit that is a gain will be considered subject to NIIT. An exception would be if it is subject to self-employment taxes. Unless you are a real estate professional, rents will also be considered subject to NIIT.

What Properties are Exempt for Real Estate Professionals?

For this one, we will give the direct tax code lingo so there's no confusion:

Section 469(c)(7) and Sec.  1.469-9 provide special rules for certain individual taxpayers involved in the conduct of real property trades or businesses (real estate professionals). If a taxpayer meets the requirements to be a real estate professional in section 469(c)(7)(B), the taxpayer’s interests in rental real estate are no longer subject to section 469(c)(2), and the rental real estate activities of the taxpayer will not be passive activities if the taxpayer materially participates in each of those activities.

Can I Qualify as a Real Estate Professional to Avoid Obama Care Taxes?

Probably not. There is a 750-hour annual standard, which seems fairly easy to get around except that hourly total comes with the caveat that you have to spend more time on your real estate activities than any other professional activity. That is going to be a hard one to prove if you work full-time in another profession, or even part-time if you work an average of 14-hours or more per week at another job.

It also requires that you keep meticulous records of how you spend your time. We can assume that these new changes will keep IRS Auditors on the look out. If you are not a real estate professional by trade, then make sure your time keeping records are impeccable in case your 2013 Tax Forms have to run the proverbial audit gauntlet.

If you are a property owner with a consistent history of profitable rental properties, and you handle your own property management for the most part, then you should begin keeping records of your time and discuss the idea of stating yourself a "real estate professional" with your CPA. You might find out it is worth it.

Please Note: This blog is for informational purposes only. You should always speak with a professional tax accountant before making any significant changes on tax forms.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Should You Put Your House On The Market During the Holidays?

Contrary to what you might think, the holidays are actually a great time to put your house on the market. Your instincts might say, "but things are so crazy! Who has time to look? Don't more homes sell during the spring and summer?"  While there are some conflicting messages about whether or not the holidays are a good time to buy/sell real estate, we think the pros outweigh the cons.

Why Put Your House on the Market During the Holidays?

The perfect staging opportunity. If you have been looking at homes, or have been considering selling yours for a while, you probably already understand the importance of properly staging a home for sale. Potential buyers want to be able to envision themselves feeling at home if they purchase your house. Nothing says, Home like one that is decorated for the holidays. In fact, holiday decorating is probably one of the most affordable ways to stage a home and show it off at its best. Pack up your clutter and personalized items and use holiday decorations to showcase your home's best features.

Time to house hunt
. Kids are off on winter break, employees are using up the last of this year's vacation and sick time, and people need something to do with their relatives when sitting around the house gets old. Is there a better opportunity for house hunting? You will probably be amazed at the level of foot traffic your home receives during the weeks surrounding the holidays.

Low competition. Because selling real estate over the holidays seems counterintuitive, many people wait for spring or summer. That means your home has less competition for those who are in the market and need - or want - to buy sooner rather than later. Remember, although the bulk of home sales may happen during the spring and summer months, real estate transactions are occurring everyday, 12-months out of the year. By being a bigger fish in a little pond, you have the advantage in terms of a quick sale without a lot of haggling which can happen when things return to more of a buyer's market.

Interest rates. This holiday season provides a unique window of opportunity; interest rates are still low and an inauguration is just around the corner. Real estate experts all agree that hedging on what the market may or may not do can cost you thousands of dollars. The best strategy is to put your house for sale in a market you are sure about. Buyers who are unsure of what interest rates will do next presidential term might be more antsy to purchase a home before January 20th (or the 21st as far as 2013's public ceremony is concerned). If your house is up for sale, it's more likely it will be snatch up by buyers who want to make sure they benefit from the low interest rates.

This holiday season could be your best opportunity for celebrating a quick and painless real estate transaction. Merry House Selling!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Selling A Home: Staging Your Home

Visiting model homes can become addictive. Even when you aren't in the market to buy a house, visiting a model home can be a quiet, peaceful, and fantasy-driven escape from the real world. The homes are always clean, tastefully decorated, and inviting. You may even find yourself fantasizing about ways to hide until the unit's closet just so you can escape there overnight. This is the exact sentiment you want to invoke in potential buyers of your home. Staging a home properly can be a key component in a fast sale at a desirable selling price.

There are simple ways to stage a home for sale without spending a ton of money or hiring a personal designer. Here are five steps to get you started.

Five Steps to Stage a Home Properly
  1. Remove the clutter. If you are like most Americans, the TV show Hoarders is fascinating and horrifying at the same time. There is a stressful, anxious, and unsettling feeling when we spend time in cluttered spaces; there is certainly nothing peaceful about them. So removing your clutter will help to make sure the first impression home buyers have is not the urge to submit your name and address for upcoming Hoarder seasons.
  2. De-Personalize. The idea is that you want to make people feel like the home you are selling has the ability to become their home. It's hard to do that if your pictures and personal items are everywhere. Try to de-personalize your home as much as possible, creating a neutral space where home buyers have the opportunity to imagine themselves living there. Remove the family photos, trophies, and your collection of 10,000 teaspoons. Meanwhile, just think of all the pre-packing you are accomplishing...
  3. Color. It's wonderful that you let the kids choose their own bedroom colors, or that you were able to make peace with the "totally-wrong-shade-of-red" you painted the dining room walls. But now that you are trying to sell the house, it might be worth it to grab some cheap, neutral paint, and start covering them over. Muted and natural paint colors make a better impression, and (see above) create a less-personalized atmosphere.
  4. Create an invitation. Part of feeling at home in someone else's house is looking around and seeing attractive flower arrangements, fruit in a fruit bowl, and other homey touches that enhance a space. Cleanliness, fresh air, and good smells are other ways to make your home feel like a positive space to spend time. Baking cookies before the Open House, or making sure the home has been aired out before it is shown, can help welcome potential buyers in.
  5. Here comes the sun. Natural light is proven to have a positive effect on humans. Open window coverings, blinds and shades. This will also create a feeling of spaciousness and will force you to clean the space thoroughly - another key element to an inviting home.
These five steps can help you to stage your house and sell it to the first people who can easily imagine calling it Home.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Curb Appeal Matters!

If you are putting your home on the market, one of the most important things you can do is to put yourself in the buyer's shoes. If your home has seen better days, it may be more difficult to sell than you would think - even with a reduced price tag. Unless the prospective buyer is an investor, he or she might have a challenging time seeing the house "as it could be." This is why curb appeal is so important.

Why does curb appeal matter?

Forget for a moment that you are selling a house. Instead, imagine you are selling a product. There is a reason why corporate America spends billions of dollars every year on advertising and packaging. Heck! Pepsi spent a cool million on their newest logo re-design. That's because humans are visual creatures and we have a much easier time buying "what is", rather than buying "potential". Most people these days are too busy to buy fixer uppers. They want a property that is relatively, "turn key," meaning they can move in and don't have a whole lot of work to do in order to be comfortable and feel like they can call their new structure home.

Your job as the seller is to package your home in the most attractive way possible so that prospective buyers pull up and have a sense of, "ah..." or at least, "hmmmm...," and not, "Eeeeew!" You want their first impression to be as positive as possible. There are a few things you can do to make your home present itself as an inviting place to live.

It doesn't matter what it looks like on the inside if the outside looks like this!

Simple Steps to Create Curb Appeal
  • Yard. Remove weeds, patch the lawn, and trim/prune plants and shrubs to make them as neat as possible. If the lawn is dead, and you don't want to plant a new one, consider rototilling to give it a more neat appearance. You can use potted plants around the porch and walkways. They will look attractive and you can take them with you when you go.

  • Front Porch. A good cleaning can work wonders for a dingy or cobweb infested porch. Hang a wreath on the front door, polish the door fixtures, and use affordable fabric to cover dingy patio furniture.

  • The little things. There are other things you can do to improve curb appeal:
    • Pressure wash the outside - touch up or repaint trim/doors/or smaller items if they really need it.
    • Re-paint/replace the mailbox and/or exterior light fixtures
    • Repair or replace the house numbers if they are missing, faded, or askew
    • Clean the windows both outside and in
    • Remove any clutter and keep leaves raked up
Many of these items take very little to no money at all. Even if you have to spend a few hundred dollars, it will be well worth your time and money. The way your house is packaged can mean the difference a long drawn out wait for the right buyer to come along or a brief real estate transaction at a higher price.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Dealing with Neighbor Disputes

"Who are the people in your neighborhood...they're the people that you meet each day!" Mr. Rogers' neighborhood contained a Neighborhood of Make-Believe where a dozen or so regular characters carried out their lives in cooperation - or not - while eager children around the world learned valuable lessons about communication, tolerance, and learning to deal with conflict. These neighborhood disputes were always neatly packaged into a 30-minute or less time frame. In real life, disputes between neighbors are not always concluded with the beginning of a sound track. Sometimes they are surprisingly simple and sometimes they require costly legal processes to resolve.

Dealing with Neighbor Disputes

The most common neighbor disputes have to do with boundary lines, noise, pets, and lifestyle differences. Perhaps a remodel is encroaching on your property. Maybe a dog barks incessantly while your neighbors are at work and your baby can't nap. Are the teenagers next door throwing wild parties when their parents are out for the night? These are the things that can take the feeling of "Home Sweet Home" and make them feel more like "Let's put our house for sale..."

Get to know your neighbors. We all get busy, but getting to know your neighbors before a problem begins is one of the best pro-active measures you can take to smooth things out later on. If someone new moved in next door, make as much of an effort as you can to get to know them. If you just moved in, get yourself - and your family - outside to meet the neighbors. People in relationship are much more likely to work cooperatively towards solutions than perfect strangers.

Communicate immediately. Just like in a romantic relationship, early communication can be the key. If you sit there night after night, fantasizing about poisoning the neighbor's dog(s) even though you're an animal lover, you have waited too long. From the moment you get the "red flag" that something is a problem, it's a good idea to voice your thoughts. For one thing, you are much more apt to speak calmly and rationally, and you will be able to suss out what kind of person you are dealing with: humble, defensive, apologetic, accusing, etc. which can help you to formulate a plan.

Communicate in writing. If verbal communication is going nowhere, you should write a professional letter which outlines the things you have done, i.e. calm communication, expressing your concern, etc. and reiterate your desire to resolve the conflict without external help. Not only can a letter serve as a formal intention, it can provide evidence later on should you need to pursue further measures.

Legal help. You can often seek mediation, before actually taking a neighbor to court. There are laws that govern almost every possible conflict, from legal boundaries and trespassing, to noise pollution and privacy violation. In worst case scenarios, it might require legal intervention before your situation is resolved.

Hopefully a visit or two with honest communication will be enough to return your feelings back to neighborly once again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Median House Prices Rising

Median Real estate prices are up. Real estate prices are down. Investors help fuel the housing market. Investors destroy the market. The news is all over the map. So what is the real scoop when it comes to the varying statistics you read - or hear - regarding rising real estate values? For example, Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), has reported that the median sales price for real estate is up by a little more than seven percent (7%) from last year. He also projects that those prices will continue to go up to as much as fifteen percent (15%) next year. Whoa! Really?

Median Housing Prices - It All Depends on Investor Math

While Yun stated the median price to be up by 7+ percent, other analysts quoted percentages significantly lower. According to MSN Real Estate, S&P Chase Schiller reports a more modest two percent (2%) increase each year and other sources quote between three and five percent (3-5%). So why all the variance? Part of it has to do with how each statistical entity determines the "median". In the case of the NAR, the median is considered to be the mid-dollar amount between the half of the houses which sold for lower and the half of the houses which sold for higher. In years with more investor activity, where more low-end homes are sold, the median price will be driven down. Currently, the crawling foreclosure market has actually helped the median real estate prices by keeping investors away.

Foreclosures are usually significantly lower priced properties but they can be incredibly frustrating to buy. Instead of the typically smooth real estate transaction which happens between two real estate agents, lenders are usually involved in foreclosure transactions. This can make things more complicated. As a result, investors are starting to balk, which has helped to keep lower-end properties from moving. Thus - due to "investor-based real estate math - median prices continue to rise.

There are other factors which are keeping the median housing price on the literal up-and-up.
  • Loan Modifications. Creative loan modifications have enabled home owners who might have lost their homes in previous years to refinance and adjust their monthly mortgage to a more manageable amount. This is keeping some potentially lower-priced homes off the market.
  • Decrease in Foreclosure Completions. Bank delays, among other things, have had such a dramatic impact that foreclosure rates are down by as much as thirty percent. That keeps the bulk of the real estate transactions in the higher-end, which allows the median prices to rise.
  • New Construction. Now that new construction is beginning to pick back up, first time home buyers are moving into houses at market price which are considered to be higher-end. This scores another point in the increasing median home price column.
If the above factors stay in place for a little while, there is a good chance that median home prices will continue to go up as long as your house is not located in a low-foreclosure area.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Jerry Rice's Atherton Home On The Market Again

Former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver, Jerry Rice, is arguably one of  the best American professional football players in history. Children - and adults - who grew up and lived in the Bay Area during the late 80s and 90s boasted Jerry Rice jerseys, t-shirts, and trading cards. Three Super Bowl Rings, and an Oakland Raiders AFC Championship, have made him a local hero. While all the childhood fantasies in the world can't make us become someone else, those who worshiped Rice throughout his decorated professional football career have a chance at moving into his recently re-listed luxury home - for the price of $10.5 million dollars.

Jerry Rice's Atherton Home For Sale

Rice's home has been on and off the real estate market a few times since 2009. Located in Atherton, California, this incredible luxury home was originally listed at closer to $22 million, and then again at $15 million, so the current pricing is actually a steal.

Notable features include:
  • 13,908 square foot home
  • 1.2 acres of pristine landscaped grounds
  • Large pool area with spa and cabana
  • Covered outdoor living space with a fireplace and built-in BBQ pit
  • Six bedroom suites
  • Seven full baths and three half-baths
  • Home theater room
  • Full bar and wine room
  • Game room
  • Library
  • State-of-the-art workout facility (more on that later!)
  • Detached guest house
His three-story home was built in 2001 and boasts French chateau-style architecture and design elements. It is a luxury property which manages to incorporate impressive design features, without sacrificing comfort and homeyness, which is an unusual and desirable combination.

A Home Gym Worth Envying
One of the most striking of the above features is Rice's home gym. Famous for his unfailing dedication to a grueling workout regimen throughout his professional career, Rice's dedication to physical fitness hasn't stopped. The gym is worth approximately half a million dollars. Not only does it include the latest and greatest workout machinery - often multiple versions of the same genre of equipment - Rice's Gym also includes a sauna, a steam-room, and a cold plunge. The football star has commented that outside of working out, it has provided a private space for him to unwind or work off excess energy on a sleepless night, without having to expose himself to the public.

Amazing Outdoor Living Space

For those who aren't as dedicated to working out as Mr. Rice, or who are a bit shy of the multi-million dollar price tag, you may want to see if you can make a deal on his backyard. It is stunning. The large covered eating, lounging, and cooking area is draped with exquisite wisteria vines and surrounded by a pool, hot-tub, and lush lawns. It adds additional living space which is in direct competition with the luxurious interior space.

While we can't all live in the lap of ultra-luxury, it's fun to fantasize every once in a while. In the meantime, the improving real estate market means you are only days away from finding a dream home that's meant for you, which could be the accessible luxury that is Pacific Place!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Is Earthquake Insurance Worth It?

To Buy - or not to buy - that is the question when it comes to earthquake insurance. According to a recent LA times article, Rethinking Your Stance on Earthquake Insurance, only 15% of Californian's own an earthquake specific insurance policy - that leaves 4 out of 5 homeowner's without it. Let's take a look at what the article states as the most common reasons why people avoid purchasing earthquake insurance and how those reasons stack up to the facts.

Is Buying Earthquake Insurance Worth It? Top Reasons People Don't Buy Insurance
  1. Denial. One of the #1 reasons people don't buy earthquake insurance is because they feel The Big One will never happen to them. For many, who are raised in California, this rationale is even more common because unless you lived in the Bay Area in 1989, or Northridge during the 1990s, your life has been "major earthquake free." But in recent years, adding up the earthquake, tsunami, and hurricane victims around the planet, there is more reason to assume that indeed, something disastrous could happen in your lifetime. So how prepared do you want to be?
  2. Extra Money. A good amount of people wouldn't buy auto insurance or home owner's insurance if it weren't required by lenders. Plus, it's an added expense for an event which may not happen; why waste the extra money? This reasoning isn't too far off. Take the example of MSN money partner, Len Penzo. He looked into earthquake insurance for his Southern California home, worth a little over $300,000. He was quoted an annual premium of about $500 (his homeowner's insurance is already around $800/year). The deductible would be 15% of the total structure's cost - meaning Len would have to have around $45,600 worth of damages to pay before the policy kicked in. When he reviewed previous claims from recent tumblers, he found the average claims amounts - after inflation adjustment - were less than his deductible. So his family is choosing to roll the dice. They live in a newer home, which is bolted to the foundation and built to current earthquake codes.
  3. FEMA Will Help Us. Ah, yes. FEMA. Well, you may not want to gamble on that one. FEMA has its own set of operational issues to date. Plus, as the aforementioned LA Times article sites, increasing numbers of natural disasters creating catastrophic results will eventually cause law makers to put a halt to the amount of federal funds which can be used to rebuild and repay. Law makers are becoming especially impatient at sending relief funds to those who don't have the proper insurance for their geographical location. So this reasoning scores a point in the "consider earthquake insurance" column.
When it comes right down to it, you need to do the math. If you live in an older home, without proper retrofits, an earthquake insurance policy might be worth it. If you own a newer home, and have less equity on the table, you may want to consult your accountant about whether or not it really makes sense.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

6 Months Mortgage Free?

Hinted at on our Facebook page yesterday, Pacific Place of Redwood City is pleased to announce an incredible promotion that's will sweeten the already fantastic deal for those considering moving into our new community.

What we're offering is an incentive for 6 months of your mortgage paid*. Sound too good to be true? This isn't a dream, but you could be living in your dream home if you act quickly and grab one of these brand new homes eligible for the offer. This is a limited time offer!

So how do you get in on this? Just phone our sales office at 650-568-6214 or better yet, visit our models at 1613 Kentfield Avenue.

Here's the not so small print:

Six (6) Months Free Mortgage is subject to the following eligibility requirements, limitations and restrictions: (1) Eligibility – Offer is valid only on the purchase of a Lot 14 (20 Ludina Way, Redwood City, California 94061.) and Lot 16 (1607 Kentfield Avenue, Redwood City, California 94061). Escrow must close on or before 12/31/2012 to qualify for Six (6) Months Free Mortgage. (2) A qualifying purchase will entitle Buyer to the following: Seller will reimburse Buyer for six (6) consecutive monthly mortgage payments in an amount equal to Buyer’s monthly mortgage payment (excluding any impounds, if applicable) for a qualifying property, up to a maximum amount of $3,500.00/month. Only a qualified Buyer is entitled to Six (6) Months Free Mortgage; no assignment, transfer or substitution is allowed, including any transfers by reason of law, or upon death.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Moving to a New City

Moving to a new city can conjure one of two feelings - pure excitement at the prospect of new sights, sounds, and people OR utter devastation at leaving the people and places you love in order to begin anew. Either way, the best way to adjust you a new city is to get out and about, meet people, and begin to cultivate your new "favorite" spots. But how does one go about finding all those places?

Moving to a New City - There's No Place Like Home

The internet has made is easy for newbies to find the best places to go but don't forget about some of the more old-fashioned methods either. Here are some tips on how to make friends, find favorite haunts, and make your new city feel like home.
  1. Meet the Neighbors. It's so easy to hole up in your new home. You mean to say hello to the immediate neighbors but, by the time the boxes are unpacked, you've already acclimated to the daily work/gym/home routine and time just keeps slipping by. However, if you make a batch of good old fashioned cookies - or gluten-free-dairy-free-sugar-free muffins - and visit a few neighbors, you will be the hero of the block!
  2. Chamber of Commerce. Almost every city, town and village, has a website for their chamber of commerce. A wealth of information can be found there regarding businesses, things-to-do, hiking trails, historical data, schools, local attractions, etc. Using that as a base can help you take notes on things that interest you for further research later. Better yet, when you have some free time, visit your Chamber of Commerce in person. Most Chambers have racks of brochures and pamphlets on everything pertaining to your new local community. Most of the time, new visitors and residents end up learning more, and visiting more places, than long-time residents ever have.
  3. Bing! Google! Yelp! Search engines and are testament to our population's interest in sharing their opinion. Due to the relative anonymity - people aren't afraid to tell you how they really feel. You can use key search phrases such as "best coffee shop _____" or "gourmet restaurants ______" (fill in the city name) and you'll have a variety of ratings to read and evaluate to give you an idea of where to start eating, drinking, and shopping.
  4. Get Lost! One of the best ways to learn about your new city and/or community is to start walking. This is where you learn about the things no tourist bureau or website can write about: the guy who sits on his porch three blocks down and loves to shoot the breeze, or a local ethnic market that has the best produce selection but will never have a website. Taking the time to walk and learn local ins and outs is one of the best ways to make a community yours.
Once you've found your favorite coffee shop, jogging route, and the best place to eat a delicious breakfast on your day off, you will begin to feel right at home.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

3 Advantages to Buying a New Construction Home

Older real estate definitely has its appeal. Historic homes present the allure of architectural designs and craftsmanship long since past. Less-older homes may offer a reduced sticker price in exchange for their "fixer-upper" status. What's a little work here and there to make the home your own, right? Well - unless you are 100% set on purchasing an older home, you may want to consider the advantages of buying a new construction home. Even if the sticker price is a little higher, you will most likely end up ahead at the end of the fiscal year - here's why.

3 Advantages to Buying a New Construction Home
  1. Warranties. Unless you are Mr. and/or Mrs. DIY, fixer-uppers are a lot more romantic in theory than in practice. The problem is, DIY projects in fixer-uppers usually open a can of two, three, or five more fixer-upper projects - and then you move on to Item 2 on your list. Can you see the dollar signs swimming in your head? While you can purchase home warranty policies, which might help with some of the replacement or repair costs, the brunt of the repair bills will be on you. Again, if this is something that you are good at or you enjoy, that might not be a problem. Otherwise, you may find you are in over your head, and spending thousands of dollars more than you originally anticipated. For the most part, new construction homes are "turn-key" and require no additional work. The earlier you get in on the buying side of things, the more say you will have in selecting your options and upgrades which will make your move-in process that much easier.
  2. New Things. Just like the scent of a "new car," the scent of a "new house" can be heady. There is just something satisfying about moving into a brand new home where nobody else has lived. Nobody else's dingy old paint to get rid of or decades worth of carpet stains to ignore. New appliances are less inclined to break, new tiles are less inclined to pop up, and new carpet looks, well, new! Each of these "new" products also has their own warranty attached, which means you have the support of both the builder warranties and the vendor warranties behind you.
  3. Resale Value. The statistics show that many Americans won't be in their new home for more than 5 years. So what does that mean for home buyers? It means that whether you have your heart set on a specific home, or particular price range, you also have to be thinking about resale value. Turn-key properties have higher resale values than their fixer-upper counterparts for obvious reasons. Should you opt not to purchase a new construction home, with the idea that you will be fixing your house up over time, make sure the improvements you make are adding equivalently valued equity and are done in a timely fashion.
New construction homes combine the best of the real estate world: aesthetic value, full warranties, and optimal resale value.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Don't Underestimate the Value of a Realtor

When it comes to buying and selling a home, people often consider forgoing the use of a realtor in an effort to save money. Do not underestimate the value of realtors when it comes to buying or selling a home. A good realtor is an insurance policy that you will make the best decisions financially, legally, and professionally throughout your real estate transaction.

A Good Realtor is an Insurance Policy

While you may feel like you can just do it all yourself - and maybe you can - chances are you will eventually throw up your hands and start calling local real estate agents. This is because from the legal realm to the myriad of hidden costs and/or unexpected situations that arise, a good realtor has the experience and wisdom to help you make the best decisions regarding your transaction. Here are some examples.
  1. Legalities. Real estate law is not simple and straight forward. Not only that, it also changes. If you aren't thoroughly educated regarding real estate laws in your state, or you aren't an expert at reading "legalese" it's not going to take you very long to realize the documents you need to understand and execute are beyond the abilities of the average adult professional. Plus, should you make any mistakes along the way, you can either be liable in court later on (if you are the seller) or you can be severely taken advantage of if you are the buyer. A real estate agent will be able to navigate potentially choppy waters, and s/he will be on the line if things go awry.
  2. Neighborhood Knowledge. If you've been living in an area for a while, you may know the ins and outs of every neighborhood. Otherwise, an experienced realtor will be able to steer you in the right direction. You may have found the house of your dreams only to learn, thanks to your realtor, that there is a fire station one block away that has noisy engines coming and going at all hours. Or that the neighbor to your left is notorious for having late night parties and get-togethers. This kind of knowledge is crucial when you are making the important decision to buy a home.
  3. Hidden Costs. Buying a home is more than just qualifying for a loan that matches the purchase price. There are closing costs, taxes, and insurance fees. There may be things that come up during the inspection which require repair work or remodeling to bring the house up to code. These costs add up quickly. Without a realtor on your side, you may be left paying thousands of dollars more than if your trusty realtor negotiates with the buyer/seller's agent to get the best possible deal.
If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, do yourself a favor and find the best realtor in your area. Not only will know  your real estate transaction will move as smoothly as possible, you will also be doing your part to keep our economy moving forward.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Responsibilites of an HOA

How would you like it if  your front yard landscaping and exterior maintenance were taken care of regularly by someone else? How would you feel if your exterior paint color or the number of cars parked in your driveway were dictated by a governing board? These are things homeowners need to consider when purchasing a home, condominium, or townhouse which is run by a homeowner's association - or HOA. HOAs have their pros and cons but before you determine whether or not to be part of one, it's important to understand the parameters of where their responsibilities begin and end.

The Responsibilities of an HOA

Homeowner's Associations got their start towards the middle of the 19th century, however it wasn't until the 1960s that they became a common institution. Booming residential development, a societal trend towards a more uniform look amongst houses/structures in particular housing developments, and shrinking land supplies in urban areas have allowed HOAs to prosper. In their most basic form, HOAs are really all about preserving the aesthetic value of a common community. These "values" are determined originally by the developer, and can be amended over time by the HOA board and members.

The variances of HOA responsibilities are as numerous as the number of housing developments that have been constructed since the post-WWII era. There are a few general areas for which HOAs are known to take responsibility:
  • Membership/Dues. Each homeowner in the development is a mandatory HOA member and will be required to pay "dues." These are usually monthly payments and are often incorporated into the mortgage payments until the property is paid off. Members are encouraged to be active in their HOAs, participate in meetings, and express their desires regarding the laws that govern their community.
  • Meetings. As mentioned above, the board and HOA members hold regular meetings to discuss current issues, upcoming prospective changes or amendments to the rules/regulations, and to organize the election of future officers/board members. The meetings also provide a forum for homeowners to discuss or air concerns over less-desirable happenings in the community. HOAs can also plan fun events such as holiday parties or decorating contests.
  • Uphold the Bylaws/regulations. Depending on your community, the HOA may be in charge of each and every repair that happens in common areas, exterior structures, and possible interior structures as well. They usually take responsibility for some portion of the maintenance for landscaping, exterior lighting, playgrounds/equipment, etc. It's imperative that owners have a clear understanding of exactly what their HOA takes responsibility for so owners know where their responsibility begins. Failure to do so can result in grave misunderstandings down the road.
  • Property Management. While the HOA is responsible for repairs/upkeep/monitoring of land and property as set out by the bylaws and regulations, they often hire a property management company to take care of business. This management company is ultimately hired/fired as per the HOA board members' decisions.
Most homeowners feel the pros of an HOA outweigh the cons which is why HOAs continue to prosper in US residential developments.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Is Real Estate Flipping Profitable or Risky?

Question: Is real estate flipping profitable or risky?

Answer: Yes and Yes.

Real estate flipping is not for the feint of heart. That being said, with the right attitude, patience, and a little DIY know-how, buying and selling properties for investment purposes can be something the whole family can get into. If you are adverse to taking risks, don't have much of a nest egg saved up, and/or aren't interested in being a landlord, it's probably not for you. Otherwise, here are the things to think about before you buy real estate with the aim to flip it and make some money.

Things to Consider Before Buying and Flipping Real Estate
How Much Money Will be Involved?

How are you paying for your investment? Are you wanting to tie up some cash as a tax write-off? Are you planning on getting a mortgage? Does the property need work before you can make a profit? If so, how much work and who will be doing it? Are you content to hold the property for a while if need be?

These are important questions to ask if you are just starting out in the Buying & Flipping business. At the end of the day, you are gambling on the real estate market. If you are getting a loan, you are betting on the Feds and their interest rates (although right now, with interest rates holding at a steady low, that's a good bet). If you have the money to fix the house up, that's great. Even better is if you, family members, and or close friends have enough knowledge to fix up the house sans labor costs.

How Much Time do You Have?

Right now, real estate prices are low but due to the economy, they are probably going to stay that way for several years. Are you prepared to wait? Unless you're buying a serious fixer-upper, and plan to do the work yourself, you are probably not going to see much of a return on your investment for a while. Buying a home with good resale value can help you to wait for a more dramatic upward turn from the real estate market and can help you get some higher-paying tenants in the meantime. Which brings us to the next point...

How do You Feel About Being a Landlord?

Remember the glory days of 1996, when you could buy a home and then resell it the next month and make $50,000? While that's a bit of an exaggeration, quick flips of houses aren't that profitable right now so you may want to enjoy the high rental market and wait out the lull. If you don't mind searching for tenants and dealing with some occasional repair issues, there is a good chance you'll be able to make more than your mortgage on an investment home and spin it later when home values go up more dramatically.

Nobody can say that buying and flipping real estate doesn't carry some risk, but when it's done right real estate investment is almost always profitable.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Will National Real Estate Recovery Be Affected by Sandy?

As if there wasn't enough devastation brought by Hurricane Sandy, now analysts are saying we have to worry about the recently recovering real estate market. Just when all the real estate news was looking up, Hurricane Sandy came along and threatened approximately $88 billion worth of homes and additional commercial space. So what does this mean for us here on the West Coast? Hopefully not much. While the news may continue to spin negative real estate stories, and real estate statistics in the near future may appear less positive (which we'll discuss below), California's real estate market should remain relatively unaffected.

Here are some of the ways Hurricane Sandy will impact real estate sales across the north east.

Mark C. Olsen/Reuters
Property Damage

Damaged real estate can't be sold. Whether homes were currently on the market or are in the middle of foreclosure deals, the damage done by Sandy has to be addressed before any real estate deals can proceed. This will entail homes being pulled off the market and buyers backing out of contracts with homes that have since been damaged. According to Core Logic, Inc., a mortgage software and date firm in Irvine, here is a state-by-state breakdown of the potential property values that were in the path of the storm:
  • New York - $35.1 billion
  • New Jersey - $22.6 billion
  • Virginia - $11.3 billion
  • Massachusetts - $7.8 billion
  • Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania: $11 billion
Only time will tell how much of this "potential" storm damage was actualized. In the meantime, damaged properties have to be inspected, evaluated, and decisions have to be made regarding how owners will move forward. It will be months before the final statistics are in.

The World According to Fannie and Freddie

In the meantime, many of the damaged homes have mortgages which need to be paid. Freddie Mac issued a statement yesterday which authorized loan servicers to suspend foreclosure procedures for as many as 12-months for states/properties which suffered storm damage. Freddie also stated that upon review, it will allow some on-time borrowers to defer their mortgage payments for up to a year - this will include waiving their late fees - while owners recover and address storm-related property damages.

Fannie was also generous, urging servicers to issue extensions, deferments, and other helpful allowances for home owners whose properties were affected. Fannie Mae's borrower guidelines include disaster-relief allowances which include a 90-day window for deferred and/or reduced payments, depending on the situation.


This is where it gets especially ugly. Hurricane Sandy took an already dismal foreclosure situation and made it worse. In fact, using the current pace of foreclosures in New York and New Jersey, combining current foreclosure lists and prospected storm-related foreclosures, it will take as long as 425 months - or a whopping 41 years - for the foreclosure situation to be ironed out. Hopefully this situation will create solutions to make the process of buying and selling foreclosed properties more efficient.

And in California?

Just a week before Hurricane Sandy, California was helping to lead the nation out of the real estate crisis. Hopefully, that real estate trend will continue.

Monday, October 29, 2012

5 Easy DIY Upgrades

The standard amenities and options at Pacific Place will help you personalize your new home, but there's always little things you can do here and there all on your own to make your home special, and don't forget that feeling of accomplishment once you've finished a task.

There are several advantages to do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. Not only are they more cost effective than hiring someone else, there is an amazing satisfaction that comes from a job well done. Sometimes, the only thing holding people back from DIY projects is a fear of not knowing how to do things. Well - we say phooey on that excuse! Not only are there a ton of easy and affordable DIY upgrades you can make to your very own home, the internet provides a wealth of information and step-by-step instructions.

5 Easy DIY Upgrades

Not all DIY projects require a construction background to be successful. Most first-time DIYers find the projects get easier as you go along because you learn (and build your tool collection!) as you go.

  1. Painting. Painting has to be one of the easiest ways to transform your interior space all by yourself. While it is time consuming (if you are doing anything larger than a bathroom) it is affordable and the results of your labors appear right before your very eyes. A fresh coat of paint literally makes a room look like new. Here is a great link with simple instructions on painting a room using best painting practices. DIY painting jobs can save you thousands on labor costs.
  2. Bathrooms. Plumbing can be one of the scariest places for newbie DIYers but once you turn off the water supply, there's (almost) nothing to worry about. Changing bathroom fixtures updates a bathroom instantly. Here are instructions to replace a bathroom vanity, but toilets are just as easy. Then you just need a fresh coat of paint (see #1) and you're set!
  3. Kitchens. Don't have the money for a full kitchen remodel but want something different? A DIY backsplash project can be as easy or complex as you want and will change your kitchen's look - especially when paired with a new paint job (see why it's #1?). You can use wall paper, recycled wine corks, prefabricated tile sheets, etc. and get a new kitchen look without having to replace your countertops. Of course replacing your countertops is another DIY idea...
  4. Add a Window Insert to an Entry Door. An old entry door might work well enough but not really provide much aesthetic value. However, there are a plethora of window inserts available that will upgrade the door's look and add natural light into your adjoining interior space. It's actually a fairly easy DIY project for a nice weather day. Here's one set of instructions for how you can add a window to an existing entry door. Voila - your house just got a face lift.
  5. Landscaping. Speaking of face lifts for your home, landscaping has to be one of the most enjoyable and simple ways to change the exterior look of your house. From hanging plants and container gardens, to rock gardens and water features, landscaping on your own is immensely satisfying.
These 5 DIY projects can all be done in the span of a weekend or less and the results will be just what the home doctor ordered.

A Beginners Guide to Home Theater Displays

There are two main focuses in establishing an ideal home theater: the sounds and the views. Things have gotten complicated in the world of TV watching. Not long ago, you had three choices when it came to televisions - small, medium, or large. Now, you not only have a plethora of size options, you also have the choice between LCD/LED or Plasma, HDTV or regular, 3-D or 2-D, etc. So here is a guide to choosing the right theater display for your home.

If you haven't already done so, you may want to check out our Beginner's Guide to Home Theater Audio to get started.

A Beginner's Guide to Home Theater Displays

First off, we are going to assume you want an HDTV and as for 3-D or not, you can choose that down the road. First, there are a few questions you should ask yourself about your TV-watching habits before you hit the stores. The more details you have narrowed down before you get there, the quicker the salesperson will be able to find the perfect TV for your home.

What size is the room?

Depending on the proportions of your room, and the location of your furniture, there are "ideal viewing distances" according to the size of your screen. Yep - it gets that technical. Here is a Recommended TV Viewing Distance Chart, compliments of the kind folks at Toshiba, which can help you decide. You may want to work backwards - meaning, measure the approximate distance from the couch/chairs to where the new screen will be - in order to determine the best size screen. It's easier to purchase the right screen size than to knock out a wall to expand the room...

What kind of TV do you ultimately want?

In order to answer this question, you need to know the basics about TVs.
  • Liquid Crystal Display or Light Emitting Diode - (LCD & LED)
    • come in a wider range of sizes
    • thinner, lighter, and more energy efficient than their counterparts
    • the picture is "brighter," which can be advantageous if you are more of a daytime viewer
  • Plasma Screens
    • these have the smoothest action (although technology in LCD screens is catching up) so plasma screens are often recommended for big time sports enthusiasts
    • they will make a difference in your utility bill if you're switching from an LCD screen
    • provide a wider "viewing angle" than LCDs so the so-called "sweet spot" is larger
When You're at the Store

You want to make sure you are happy with your final purchase so other things to consider:
  • Choose a store that demos TVs in a low-lit room
  • Bring your own DVD with a dark action scene. When this is shown on different TVs you will be shocked at the variance in clarity. It can be the "make or break" moment for you.
  • Sit or stand at the same difference you'll be at home - and then move off-center to see how/if the picture changes.
  • Play with the viewing modes: Standard, Vivid, Dynamic, Movie, etc. for comparison
Never let a salesperson pressure you into a purchase you're not confident about. Only you know the best TV for your home theater needs.

Friday, October 26, 2012

5 Tips for Setting up a Spooky Home for Trick-or-Treaters

Trick-or-Treating is fun no matter what, but the best homes are the ones that go the extra mile to create a spooky Halloween atmosphere. It's easy to create your own outdoor-version of a Haunted Yard. If you have kids, they'll love to be in on the fun. All it takes is one trip to a hardware store - and thinking "outside the Jack-o-Lantern" - in order to create a spooky trick-or-treat experience.

5 Tips for Setting up a Spooky Home for Trick-or-Treaters
  1. A Startling Ghost. One of the simplest ways to scare someone is to startle them. You can create your own flying ghost (or mummy, vampire, zombie, etc.) from materials you already have. The ghost idea is the simplest because you only need a white sheet and a ball for the "head," tied off at the neck with a rope. Rig it in a tree or rafter near the front door via a rope long enough to stretch inside. You need a volunteer to sit inside the front door with a view of the front walk-way. Whenever a trick-or-treater is about to approach the ghost's path, simply ease up on the rope and let it swing down towards them. Even adults get pretty shocked by this one. Once the ghost has worked its magic, pull the rope tight sending it out of sight again, in wait for it's next victim.
  2. Disgusting Witch Cauldrons. You can buy black plastic cauldrons at a dollar store or a local Halloween outlet. Buy some spray-foam insulation and fill the cauldrons with it. Make sure some of them are on their side so you can have the "disgusting brew" spilling out of them. Once the insulation has dried, you can spray paint it any color - or a glow-in-the-dark motif is good too - and affix all kinds of nasty ingredients: bloody eyeballs, snakes, spiders, brains, rats, and whatever else you can find to repulse viewers.
  3. Silhouetted Lawn Figures. There are a plethora of online patterns you can find to create silhouetted lawn figures of all types, witches stirring brew, cats, skeletons, you name it. You can use cardboard but you risk it falling apart if it's not properly supported. Once you've cut them out, paint them solidly black and stake them in your yard. You can add extra special effects like masks, blood, gore, or whatever helps to promote your theme.
  4. Dry Ice. A little dry ice can go a long way. By setting up some dry ice areas around your yard, you will enhance the spooky theme and also mask any imperfections in your decor. Make sure to observe dry ice handling precautions to avoid burns.
  5. Scary Sound Tracks. From haunted house sound tracks to the screams of a torture chamber, you can find all types of scary Halloween sound effects online to help creep out your neighborhood trick-or-treaters. Any haunted scene is scarier with an appropriate soundtrack.
Have fun creating a spooky home for your trick-or-treaters. With the right attention to detail, your house will be favorite Halloween Haunt on the block.