Monday, February 29, 2016

Water Worlds: 8 places around the globe where the “streets” are water

1. Venice (Italy)
The best-known example of a city that has waterways for streets is charming and romantic Venice, Italy. Venice’s Grand Canal, or Canałasso as its known to the locals, is perhaps the most famous ‘water world’ on the globe, with millions of tourists visiting. Couples can often be seen floating along in a Gondola while taking in the beauty of the architecture that dates back as far as the 13th century. Until the 19th century, the Rialto Bridge was the only bridge that crossed the canal, due to the fact that most of the city's traffic goes along the canal rather than across it. Today there are four bridges in total, the Ponte degli Scalzi, the Ponte dell’Accademia, the most recent and controversial Ponte dell Constituzione, and of course the Rialto. But visit it soon if it’s on your Bucket List, because Venice is slowly sinking city every year as the city’s infrastructure ages and water levels around the world rise.

2. Giethoorn (Netherlands)
Located in the Dutch province of Overijssel, Giethoorn is known as ‘The Venice of the North’. Fugitives from the Mediterranean founded it around the year 1230 AD and it was a separate municipality until 1973, when it became part of Brederwiede. It became particularly famous to the locals after 1958, when Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra made his big screen comedy ‘Fanfare’ there. In the old part of the village, there were no roads (though a cycling path was eventually added), and all transport was done via canals. While the Grand Canal in Venice only has four bridges, Giethoorn boasts over 180 of them. This village only has 2,620 inhabitants but gets between 150,000 and 200,000 Chinese tourists each year!

3. Taling Chan Floating Market (Thailand)
This is just one of the many floating markets in Thailand and Southeast Asia, and yet Taling Chang is a hidden gem. The entrance of the market is not all that impressive with a tatty green plastic roof but within the entrance is the a floating market that’s one of the most remarkable in the world, with so many varieties of food, cooked dishes, sweets, and fruits and vegetables that they could film 100 episodes for Food Channel shows there (and they often do!)

4. Santa Cruz del Islote (Colombia)
Santa Cruz del Islote is located off the coast of Colombia and can be accessed by ferry from the port of Tolu – a waterway commute. You can barely see a patch of earth on this island from above since it’s so completely covered with houses. In fact, the island measures just 0.0046 square miles yet has an astonishing population of 1,200, making it the most densely populated island on earth. Santa Cruz del Islote is so densely populated that he residents have to use neighboring islands for their cemetery and recreation grounds, while many of the locals work on the mainland and even students cross the water to attend school on the neighboring mainland.

5. Ko Panyi (Thailand)
This beautiful little fishing village is set against the dramatic backdrop of the stunning Phang Nga province in Thailand. For people who love the water and tropical weather, Ko Panyi would seem like a paradise. The village was built on stilts by Indonesian fishermen in the 18th century, and is home to around 1,685 people from 360 families that descended from two seafaring Muslim families from Java. There’s even a fully functional Mosque there, where the predominantly Muslim villagers to worship. The coolest thing about this village is its floating soccer pitch, which was built by local children using old scraps of driftwood and fishing rafts – the subject of a popular short documentary about a decade ago.

6. Mexicáltitan (Mexico)
Mexicáltitan or La Venecia Mexicana (The Mexican Venice), is a tiny man-made island off the coast of the municipality of Santiago Ixcuintla in the state of Nayarit, and only accessible by boat from nearby La Batanza. Legend has it that it was the home city and birthplace of the Aztlan and Aztecs, and where they set out on their pilgrimage in 1091 that led them to the founding of Tencochtitlan. Now promoted as a tourist attraction, Mexicáltitan is 1,300 feet in diameter and home to only 818 people. During the dry season it looks like any other island, but in the rainy season the streets flood completely, forcing locals to get around only on canoes and small floating vessels.

7. Zhujiajiao (China)
This ancient town with rivers for streets is located on the outskirts of Shanghai, and was established some 1,700 years ago. 36 stone bridges and numerous rivers line Zhujiajiao, and many ancient buildings still dot the riverbanks today. Aside from most residents residing on – not by – the river, the town is also famous for its cuisine, particularly green soybeans, lotus roots, pig trotter and other foods. Zhujiajiao still has ancient dwellings built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, and today, old historical buildings such as rice shops, banks, spice stores and even a Qing dynasty post office can still be found among it’s liquid streets.

8. Ganvie (Benin)
Located on Lake Nokoué in the African nation of Benin, you can find the largest lake village on the continent. Established by the Tofinu people around the 16th century, Ganvie is a “neighborhood” of 3,000 buildings on stilts rising above the lake, housing a population of 20,000. Residents of Ganvie, which is often referred to as ‘The Venice of Africa’ subsist mostly on fishing with a little tourism, and use pirogues (canoes) to get around. The village of Ganvie was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List on October 31, 1996 in the ‘Cultural’ category, awaiting approval as one of the world's most important heritage sites.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Do you own rental homes? The city is coming to inspect your property, and here is everything you need to know to be prepared.

Dear Property Owner;

Pursuant to section 16.20.900 of the City of Sacramento Housing Code, rental housing property shall be subject to inspection…

If you’re a landlord or investment property owner in Sacramento city, county, or even surrounding counties, you very well might have received a letter starting like this recently. In fact, rental housing programs are a vital tool to ensure that landlords maintain safe, clean, and livable standards for tenants who pay good money to occupy these properties. Conversely, the rental housing inspection is valuable for landlords and owners, who get to make sure the tenants are keeping their property in good condition and following all housing and community regulations.

From the Rental Housing Inspection Program web page for the City of Sacramento:

“The purpose of the Rental Housing Inspection Program is to address the issue of substandard rental properties, promote greater compliance with health and safety standards and preserve the quality of Sacramento’s neighborhoods and available housing. The program achieves compliance of health, safety and welfare code violations in/on residential rental properties that are a threat to the occupant's safety, structural integrity of the building, and a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.”

While there is some expense and effort required of the landlord, the inconvenience should be minimal.

I’ll base this on Sacramento city’s program and then give links for Sacramento County and surrounding areas, too.

1) Property owner registers their rental unit with the city program.
This is done with a quick rental housing registration form that confirms the mailing address, how many units are on the property, etc. Registration packets will be mailed to property owners but it’s up to the property owner to proactively register in case they did not get one.

2) Pay the program fee.
To register with the Rental Housing Inspection Program there is a $16 fee. For the actual unit inspection, there is a $127 fee for each unit ($254 for a duplex, etc.)

3) An inspection will be scheduled.
Notices of scheduled inspections are sent to the owner with at least two weeks notice until the appointed times, but usually more. The appointment will have a date and time of the inspection. A separate appointment letter will be sent to the tenant, along with a consent form for them to allow entry if they cannot be present at that time.

4) The unit will be inspected.

5) Inspection findings will be reported.

6) Based on the findings, the tenant and landlord need to bring the property in compliance.
If the inspector finds items that need to be addressed or fixed, the owner will have 30 days from the initial inspection. Failure to do so will result in additional fees, as well as missed appointments or appointments rescheduled outside of a 7-day window. The city will come out to re-inspect the property to make sure the necessary items were fixed/addressed properly.

7) Enrollment in the Self-Certification Program for future inspections.
If no violations were found on the property at the time of the inspection, or they were subsequently corrected, the inspector will issue an approval and the property will “graduate” to the Self-Certification Program.

8)  Going forward.
The Self-Certification Program allows owners to perform their own inspections each calendar year (or upon change of tenant), instead of scheduling a city inspector. Property will fill out the same inspection checklist and submit it to the city, and retain for their records.

The city will randomly inspect units enrolled in the Self-Certification Program (about 10% of those units are still inspected) to make sure property owners are actually in compliance and doing the work.

As long as no violations or issues are found, the property can remain in the Self-Certification program.

Some common questions about Sacramento’s Rental Housing Inspection Program:

Is it mandatory for property owners to register in the Rental Housing Inspection Program and pay the fees?
Yes. Failure to do so is a violation of city statutes and code enforcement will be notified.

Are there any exemptions to the program?
If rental properties are regularly inspected by another agency or the housing unit is less than five years old, property owners may file for an exemption.

What if property owners live out of the area or out of state?
If it is not feasible for a non-local property owner to attend the scheduled rental inspection, they can assign a Local Contact Representative to let the inspector in and be present the day and time it is scheduled. This can be a friend, real estate agent, property manager, or relative. As long as they are listed on the registration form and their contact information and signature are valid

What are the most common violations?
According to the City of Sacramento Code Enforcement Department, the ten most common violations are:

1)   Lack of working smoke detectors
2)   Faulty electrical service or panel
3)   Not having GFCIs in the bathroom
4)   Lack of weather protection on the roof
5)   Front door that does not have door viewer (peephole)
6)   Water heater installed improperly
7)   Improper roof venting
8)   Unapproved plumbing
9)   Hazardous wiring
10) Inadequate permanent heating

Where do I get more information about the Rental Housing Inspection Program or contact the city?

Phone: (916) 808-7368
Fax: (916) 288-9955
For appointment changes, rescheduling, etc. or for urgent matters please contact us by phone as e-mail replies are subject to delay.

We’ve also attached some common forms that you will need if you’d like to get started. Or even if you are not in the city or a county that requires these inspections, you might want to proactively inspect your own units with this checklist.

Sacramento County has its own program, pursuant to Sacramento County Code 16.20.900. While the basis is the same, there are some fundamental differences to registration, fees, the self-certification program, and inspections.

You can find out more here:

or contact the appropriate county office at:
916-876-9020 phone / 916-874-8409 fax

9700 Goethe Rd. Suite A, Sacramento, CA 95827 

Email us if you'd like a copy of all the relevant forms you need to go through the rental property inspection process.

20 Things That Will Drop Your Home's Value

1. Undesirable location
You’ve heard that the three most important factors in any home’s value are location, location, and location, right? Unfortunately, the flip side of that is true; if you live in a declining neighborhood, or even in a house too close to a busy street, a noisy business, railroad tracks, an airport, etc. your value will surely suffer.

2. Fire or flood inside the home.
Natural disasters are one thing, but if your property has suffered flooding or a fire that originated inside the house because of human error or faulty systems, future buyers will surely take not – and the price will drop. It’s hard to overcome the stigma of past flooding, especially because of the potential for rot, mold, and damage behind the walls or under the floors. 

3. Natural disasters
Damage from hurricanes, earthquakes, and flooding all need to be disclosed when you sell your home – and could raise doubts about the present condition, therefore affecting the value. If your home was in or damaged by a natural disaster, be sure to keep detailed records from insurance adjusters, contractors, appraisers, etc. to satiate future buyers.

4. No garage or inadequate parking
If every house in your neighborhood has a two-car garage and you only have a one-car garage, or just an outdoor carport, your home’s value could drop significantly. Of course there are some neighborhoods where everyone parks on the street, but generally your home needs to be consistent with what is standard in that community for the price to remain intact.

5. Noisy neighbors (and their pets)
Does your neighbor blast country western music at ear-splitting volumes until 2 am every night? Do you live next to a breeder who is raising 20 very vocal Chihuahua puppies? Or did a U-Haul truck just pull up and a college fraternity start unpacking? Even though it’s own out of your control, reports show that having noisy neighbors can drag your home value down by 5 or even 10%.

6. Bad roof
There are many components of a house that may “turn off” buyers if damaged or outdated – electrical, plumbing, and heat and air among the big ones. But a roof that’s past its prime or already leaking can really scare off buyers – even more than the cost to fix the roof would dictate if they looked at it rationally.

7. Unnatural deaths or homicide
Did your home belong to Dexter before you bought it? A homicide, suicide, or any unnatural deaths or violent events on the property absolutely have to be disclosed by the seller, and can really drop the value. In fact, studies show that a non-natural death in a home can drop the value 10-25%, and even being too close to that house or on the same street can sink neighboring home values by up to 3%.

8. A subpar school system
Who buys homes in most middle class suburban neighborhoods? The majority of homes are bought by young couples that hope to start families, or young families who already have children, and that means the quality of the local schools is paramount. A great local school system can boost demand and increase your home’s value accordingly, while a middle-of-the-road school system will neither hurt nor help your value. But a notoriously bad school system in your area can definitely collectively sink your neighborhood’s values.

9. Huge (or cheesy) billboards
Of course businesses need to advertise to stay competitive, but if a local car dealership or casino just constructed a billboard in or near your neighborhood that dominates the skyline, you may experience a sinking feeling. And if that billboard happens to be advertising a strip club, political candidate, laxative brand, or a PSA for drug addiction, that sinking feeling will apply to your wallet as your home price sinks like a stone.

Don’t believe me? A study in Philadelphia found that homes within 500 feet of a billboard were worth $30,826 less on average at the time of sale than others farther away.

10. Low ceilings
You don’t need to necessarily need to have soaring vaulted ceilings in your home, but even if your ceilings are just a couple of inches below average, potential buyers could perceive your home as cramped, claustrophobic, or smaller than its actual square footage.

By the way, most standard ceilings in the U.S. are right about 8’ high, but some communities adhere to the national IRC building codes that allow for minimum 7 foot ceilings in living spaces. But the newer the construction and the bigger the living area, the higher the ceiling should be to maintain proportions.


Subscribe to this blog or follow us on social media and look for part two of this blog, where we cover the next ten things that will drop your home's value! 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Super wealthy homeowners are parking more money and attention into their garages - and the results are stunning

Luxury homeowners are parking big bucks, 5-star amenities, and hi-tech innovations into one area of the house like never before.

It might include 3,800 square feet of marble floors, bay windows, a full bar, bathrooms that would be the envy of even the most grand hotel and even an elevator. But we’re not talking about some palatial mansion for the rich and famous – that’s just the garage.

Never mind the level of opulence in the rest of the home, the wealthiest people in America and around the world are sprucing up a long-neglected and typically Spartan area of their homes: the carport. It’s no coincidence that some of these multi-millionaire and billionaire homeowners are automobile aficionados, as their taste for the finer things – and the space to showcase them – now extends to the garage.

Some of the nicest garages in America feature unbelievable amenities like wet bars, wine cellars, cigar humidors, gambling and card rooms, movie theaters, mahogany pillars, libraries, basketball courts, sports memorabilia rooms, oriental rugs, immense exotic fish tanks, and more flat screen TVs that you can count. The ultra rich are even putting their own brand of personality and hometown pizzazz into their garages, as one homeowner imported bricks from his native New Orleans to build accent walls, another recreated a whole old fashioned functioning diner, and yet another features its own replica “Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas” sign.

While garages and adequate parking space do add value to any home, in once you get to the level of super-luxury and high-end custom homes, the use and “wow factor” afforded its owners by far outpaces any added value to the property. In fact, upscale garage additions don’t often pencil out financially, recouping only 52% of their cost, according to the Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report. But still, wealthy homeowners love to showcase and pamper their 4-wheeled “babies” with all the trappings fit for a king or queen.

So let’s roll up the door and take a look at ten of the most stunning celebrity luxury garages you’ll ever see!

Jerry Seinfeld’s garage
Famed television funnyman Jerry Seinfeld is such a lover of fine vintage automobiles that he has a comedic series, Coffee With Comedians in Cars, in which he features a new car every week. In his down time, Seinfeld parks one of his favorite Porsches in his Manhattan subterranean garage, accessible by an elevator platform. In all, Seinfeld’s garage is three stories with an 844 square foot chill-out space with a clubroom, billiard table, kitchenette, bathroom, and office - plenty of room to admire his 46 Porches. While this is impressive by any standards, it’s even more incredible that Seinfeld lives just three blocks from Central Park on the crowded Manhattan streets.

Jay Leno’s Big Dog garage
Never one to be outdone by his East Coast comedic counterpart, Jay Leno takes the idea of home parking in luxury to a whole new level. Living in Southern California, Leno actually houses his many priceless automobiles and motorcycles in two buildings. They’re EACH about 17,000 square feet and feature a machine shop, fabrication shop, and plenty of living space like recreation areas, kitchens and bathrooms. Leno even spent big bucks recently to turn his luxury garages green, installing solar panels that power the whole operation.

John Travolta’s garage
But iconic actor and celebrity John Travolta might take the cake when it comes to the nicest garages you’ll ever see, as the car lover is also an airplane enthusiast and amateur pilot. Reportedly, Travolta has not only room for 15 luxury automobiles, but also two airplane hangars where he garages his private Gulfstream jet and Boeing 707 airplane. Of course any airplane owners needs support vehicles to fuel and taxi his or her aircraft - pretty impressive considering that Travolta has not only driveways for his cars, but a 1.4-mile private runway leading up to his garage!

Mitt Romney’s garage
Another run for President may not be in Romney’s immediate future, but that means he can spend even more time in his La Jolla, California beachfront $12 million estate. Once Romney moved there in 2008, one of the first things he did was do a complete remodel of the 11,000 square-foot mansion, including a showcase garage that includes split-levels accessible by elevators.

Ralph Lauren’s D.A.D. garage

World-renowned designer Ralph Lauren likes to drive in style, and with his enviable collection of at least 60 fine automobiles, he doesn’t need a fashion runway but a world-class garage. But when it proved impossible to build a whole underground complex beneath his New York country home in Westchester, he bought a nearby vacant car dealership and converted it into his own personal car mecca. Once completed, the D.A.D. Garage (named after his children David, Andrew and Dylan) shows like a multi-level museum where cars sit among white stainless steel counters, ceiling, and walls, and pillars on jet-black floors, with ultra-bright halogens lighting every glorious detail.