Friday, April 29, 2016

Placer County wisely adopts changes easing the way for Granny Flats and other multi-generational living

If you have aging parents who are in their Golden Years, you may be facing a dilemma. With advancing age comes medical issues, special care needs, and lifestyle considerations, but putting them in a senior living facility often can feel isolating – not to mention expensive. You’d love to have them at home where you can still spend lots of time, feel close, and help supervise their needs are met, but having them live with you would be a total compromise of privacy. Of course the best part is that everyone in the family can remain close and enjoy creating cherished memories with elder family members. 

Luckily, there is another option that checks all the boxes for seniors as well as their families: Granny Flats, and Placer County just adopted new changes that makes it much easier to have them on your existing property.

Despite their quaint name, Granny Flats – sometimes also called Elder Cottages or ECHO Housing – they’re a smart solution to a huge need: housing elders or loved ones on the same property but not necessarily in the same home. Some Granny Flats are custom built just like a small house or cottage, while others opt for the increasing number of pre-built and modular Granny Flat options. These small homes are perfectly self-contained with a bedroom, living area, kitchen, and bathroom (so pool houses and guesthouses don’t qualify) and are equipped with complete utilities, but at a fraction of the cost of buying a new home or even paying for some sort of senior housing.

And the best part is that grandma (or grandpa, mom, dad, etc.) are close enough to walk across the back yard and come into the main family house for dinner – after knocking, of course.

While Granny Flats are common in areas of the country with a high senior concentration, Placer County just adopted changes that makes it much more feasibly for an existing homeowner, or builder, to construct a second housing unit on their single lot, whether that be a Granny Flat to house a family member or as part of specialized new housing developments.

Placer County now will allow a secondary unit on lots of only 5,000 square feet, a 50% reduction from the old rule that mandated a lot was at least 10,000 square feet for a homeowner to add a livable out-building. Deed restrictions that require dwellings to be affordable housing will now have their development fees waived under Placer’s new mandates, as long as the second unit is sized 250-1,200 square feet.

Chris Schmidt, a senior Placer County planner, said of the loosening of restrictions around secondary housing units, “It’s recognizing the demographics are changing. We see it happening in other communities.”

Finding a comfortable, economical, and convenient alternative to nursing homes, retirement communities, or seniors attempting to extend years living solo longer than they should, is no small problem. In fact, by 2029 there will be 71.4 million Americans 65 years and older, comprising about 20% of the population.

Under the increasingly population arrangement of aging parents or seniors with care needs living on the same property as family members – but not at the same address, it’s far easier to supervise care, incorporate daily tasks like grocery shopping, trips to the doctor, etc., and generally care for the elder, as well as include them in day-to-day family activities.

But Elder Cottages aren’t just for seniors these days, as multi-generational family living is such an increasingly popular trend that new homebuilders are specially constructing developments with them in mind. Aside from elders, secondary structures on the same lot may also accommodate live-in nannies and child care givers, young adult children who moved back home after college, space for office or cottage industry, out of town visitors, and temporary housing for young families, maybe to help them save money while they amass money to buy a house or to be close to family if they have a new baby.

No matter what the reason, Elder Cottages are ideally adapted to the needs to the person who will be living there. Modular or pre-built structures come at a fraction of the cost of stick-built small homes, with amenities that keep seniors in mind like:

• Easy navigation created with physical challenges in mind.
• Wheelchair access through all doorways
• Kitchen and bath may be tailored for wheelchair access
• Elevated toilets
• Reinforcing behind bathroom and other walls for optional grab bars

Likewise, for counties that have restrict secondary structures all together, these pre-built cottages are designed to be easily attached to an existing house, becoming an addition for grandma or family. They are also easy to dis-assemble and move if the family every changed residences or there was a change of plans. Of course homeowners need to arrange for a foundation to be set, and electric, water, and sewer hookups to be in place, either separately or usually tied into the main house. But most general contractors could do that with ease.

The prevalence of Granny Flats is sure to grow like wildfire around the country as our population ages in greater numbers, but now Placer County has opened the door to accommodating those seniors while creating an ideal living situation for the entire family.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Defining luxury; what you should look for in a high-end home (Part 2)

How might we define 'luxury?' 

Instead of offering a host of superlatives, let me tell you a story about Rolls Royce. Perhaps the most notable luxury brand in the world, Rolls Royce is known for their art-in-motion automobiles, distinguishable not only be their performance and details but a unique emblem gracing each and every hood – a statue of a woman who appears to be launching into flight. 

But most people don’t know that the women is actually someone named Eleanor Thornton who was the love of Lord Montagu of England’s life.

But when they were sailing on a steam ship from Marseille on Christmas 1916, a torpedo shot from a German U-boat struck the boat. In the chaos that ensued, Lord Montagu tried to hold on to Eleanor, but she was swept away by the sea as the ship sank. Montagu survived only be clinging to a broken lifeboat in the cold seas for 32 hours without food or water. Even though his beloved Eleanor was surely perished, he spent his days and then years looking for her, frail and infirm from the ordeal but unable to let go one more time.

Years earlier, Montagu had taken his Rolls Royce out for drives along with Eleanor and his good friend, who was the managing director for the fine automobile company. So it was Eleanor Thornton who became the inspiration and model for the Rolls Royce hood ornament and logo we still see today, called the “Spirit of Ecstasy.”

Thus, Rolls Royce has become the icon for luxury, not just because if the performance of its cars but because of the unwavering passion, dedication, and timelessness the brand conveys, telling a story about the person driving it that goes far past bravado over a price tag.

Luxury brands always convey a legacy, and that is true for luxury homes as well. But how can we tell if a house holds those same spirited qualities as Rolls Royce, aside from just sharing a sizable price tag and some fancy amenities?

In part one of this blog, we covered the first four ways we can define authentic luxury when buying a home, and here are the next six:

5. Natural light
Homes that can be truly considered luxury are built by accomplished architects that consider every detail – including the dispersion of natural light. There is a big difference between standing in your kitchen in the morning while you sip your first cup of coffee and the soft glow of morning light gently bathes your kitchen, compared to being sun-blinded in a kitchen that’s ten degrees warmer than the rest of the house by 730 am. A home correctly equipped to accept natural light at certain angles and times of day not only looks bigger, but more open, inviting, and is proven to be perceived as more “homey” and boost the mood of the owner. But that’s a more intricate science that it may seem, with varying seasons and the need for shelter from direct sun in hot summer months. The discussion of natural light also brings us to windows in high-end homes, which should always be of the highest quality double-paned low UV glass, which protects against weather, noise, lowers energy bills and maintains safety.

6. Reputation
This may sound like something subjective and inconsequential, but a community, builder, architect, or even whole city that enjoys a sterling reputation will always be desirable, and therefore hold its value. When investing in a luxury or high-end home, it’s equally important to do your due diligence on the architect and the builder as well as survey the actual home. But don’t stop there, as news stories, crime rates, school systems, nearby housing subdivision, and planned commercial projects all factor in to your neighborhood’s reputation.

7. Ceiling height
One thing to check for when you’re touring luxury homes is the ceiling height. In fact, a survey of high-priced homes across the country reveals that ceilings in luxury homes are almost never standard height, and there is a correlation between high ceilings the higher the home’s intrinsic value. It’s interesting to note that this virtue extends only up to about 14 foot high ceilings, after which the price tag sees only diminishing returns.

8. Layout
Distinguished dwellings are always functional AND aesthetically pleasing, and the layout of a home’s floor plan is a huge testament to that. Long gone are the days of calling McMansions “luxury” just because they occupied gaudy amounts of square footage. But true architectural refinement allows you to always FEEL like you’re in a bigger space, specifically designed for its intended purpose but within the flow of the entire blueprint. Some areas like dine-in kitchens and great room living spaces will be purposely open and unobstructed, while offices, dens, master suites, media rooms, and guest rooms are typically segregated and feel cozy, yet still spacious.  

9. Amenities that matter
An immense built-in fish tank, faux balconies with ornate ironwork, and a hexagonal shaped swimming pool with a three-story water slide? Those bells and whistles may seem enticing if you just hit the lottery, but true connoisseurs of the finer things in life are able to discern which amenities really matters in a home. Research shows that luxury homes should focus on fully functional fitness rooms, a distinguished office, fireplaces, innovative and practical use of storage, indoor/outdoor living areas, spa-like master bathrooms (those never go out of vogue!) and green and smart tech.

10. Land
Speaking of McMansions, homes that aspire to be luxury often check the box on square footage but fall comically short on land. Gardens, outdoor living areas, sports amenities like basketball and tennis courts, horse stables and pens, and even acreage reserved for wildlife, streams, lakes and ponds, and unbridled nature are often hallmarks of luxury estates. Even if you live in an area where acreage is at a premium (like many parts of California!), higher-quality homes separate themselves from the pack with relatively ample land.

Friday, April 22, 2016

15 Home-selling mistakes that could cost you a lot of money.

If you’re thinking about putting your home up for sale, there is a lot that can go right in this market, as buyers are out in droves and red-hot demand pushing prices upwards for those smart enough to list their homes. But before you get a big closing check in your bank account, you should consider that there are some things that can go wrong – and how to protect yourself from making those errors. Here are the 15 biggest mistakes you can make when selling your home. After reading this, you’ll be ready for a smooth, efficient transaction that gets you top dollar for your home!

Mistake 1: Trying to sell your home by yourself
Without fail, there will be some homeowners who try to sell their homes, thinking it will save them money by not paying a Realtor. However, statistics prove this doesn’t work out in their favor, as the average For Sale By Owner home sold for $210,000, but the average home sold by a Realtor goes for $249,000 – a difference of $39,000, or 15.6% of the sale price! What’s more, FSBOs sit on market at least 19 days on market longer IF they sell at all, as 20% of FSBOs are taken off the market and relisted. With those facts in mind it’s no wonder 87% of homeowners choose to use a real estate agent to represent them, while the others keep making this costly mistake.

Mistake 2: Pricing your home unreasonably high
This is probably the most common selling mistake, though it’s perfectly understandable that everyone wants to get as much money for their home as possible. But homeowners would be wise to carefully consider the facts and statistics about the market and values of similar properties, not speculation or feelings. Remember that if a home doesn’t sell at all – or sits on market an unusually long time – it will cost the homeowner far more than they ever stood to make with an unreasonable price bump. The good news is that you can start with a listing price on the higher end of a reasonable spectrum to test the market, and lower it incrementally at designated points if it doesn’t sell or there aren’t enough showings.

Mistake 3: Fixing up a property too much before listing
Of course you should make necessary repairs before listing your home, but sometimes, over-conscientious homeowners go too far and start undertaking extensive remodeling projects. Unless they are cosmetic fixes, these won’t even come close to paying for themselves when the house sells, costing you time and a lot of money. In fact, even the repairs that offer the best return on investment – exterior siding, a new front door, a new garage door, or a mid-range kitchen remodel – only yield about 70 cents for every dollar you spend. And many of repairs will only get you back 30 0r 40 cents for every dollar out of your pocket! It may seem like a fine line between sprucing up and fixing certain things compared to what repairs aren’t cost effective, but we can walk you through it and offer recommendations.

Mistake 4: Making it to hard for realtors to show your home
How easy will it be for other real estate agents to show their eager buyers your home? If you decide it’s only accessible between 5:45 and 6:30 PM on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and every second Saturday morning, you have a vicious barking dog roaming about, or the buyer’s agent needs to call three times to set a special appointment to see it, chances are they’ll move on to the other twenty houses on their list – which are simple and easy to see! Help the people who are working hard to get your house sold (and yourself!) by putting a lockbox on the property with standard and reasonable showing instructions.

Mistake 5: Not cleaning and de-cluttering your property
The very first thing you should do BEFORE you even have a Realtor over to sign the listing paperwork is go through your home and remove clutter, excess items, and a good deal of personal effects. It’s ok to leave some things, but the less you have in any room (absent of it being completely empty), the bigger and more airy it will look. Likewise, shelves, countertops, and even closets look much bigger and open when they only have a few essential items on them. With a warm but minimal presence, it will be easy for potential buyers to project their own personal things on the space – and actually envision their family living there. Once you’ve gone through and put about half or more of your items in storage (off site – not in the garage or crammed in closets!) then go through and give it a meticulous cleaning, or even better, hire a professional cleaning company that will scrub corners, whiten grout, and make your home look like new.

Mistake 6: Not getting professional listing photos taken
If an image is better than 1,000 words, then having the clear, stunning, and high-quality photographs of your home can boost your online viewings, potential buyers, offers, and even your sale price immeasurably. Therefore, I highly recommend that we arrange a professional real estate photographer to come in and present your home in the best light, and for higher-end or luxury listings, even employ a video tour and possibly aerial drone photos. 

Mistake 7: Not disclosing everything
Possibly the biggest mistake a home seller can make is not properly and honestly filling out their disclosures. Seller knowledge (or even suspicion!) of any material defects, problems, and issues with the property – or the neighborhood – WILL come back to bite you in a big way, jeopardizing any transaction and possibly even landing you in court. It’s always best to be 100% forthright and up front with your disclosures, and we can usually solve many of these concerns before they become problems by ordering the appropriate reports, making repairs, and providing in-depth research to the potential buyers. 

Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog, with the final 8 home selling mistakes!

How to handle the 10 most common home emergencies

Imagine coming home after a nice dinner at your favorite restaurant and movie only to find three inches of water covering the whole first floor of your house; or on the coldest winter night, strange noises coming from beneath the floor before the pipes burst; or even a short circuit behind the walls starting to smoke and eventually causing a fire. These are all nightmares for homeowners, but the simple truth is that the potential exists for a whole lot to go wrong no matter where you live, what kind of home you own, or even if you rent.

You’ll notice that most of these involve water (which causes flooding and MAJOR damage that requires walls, flooring, and ceilings to be torn out), and electricity (which can cause a home fire or even electrocute someone).

But the good news is that homeowners can be prepared for any home emergency by knowing what they are, why they happen, and most importantly – how to react if disaster strikes. Knowing these can literally help you prevent catastrophes, keep your family safe, and save tens of thousands of dollars in damages. Afraid that you’re not up to speed on the technical aspects of home maintenance and engineering? Don’t worry, because insurance adjusters estimate that at least 30 percent of their service calls could have been prevented or handled with a simple flip of a switch or push of a button.

1. Clogged dryer vents are fire hazards
Did you know that outside of the kitchen, most home fires start in or around the dryer? Hopefully by now you know to clean out the lint trip inside the dryer after each and every use, but homeowners often neglect to properly clean the dryer vents and inside the unit as well. Twice a year, unplug the dryer, pry off the access panel and vacuum out the inside of the dryer mechanism itself (you’ll notice a lot of lint in there!). Next, unscrew or disassemble the ducting that comes off the dryer vent and stick a vacuum in there, clean by hand, or use a vent brush. You should also find out where that vent exits the house and clean it from the outside in.

2. A toilet that won’t stop running
Ok so running toilets may not always wreak havoc on a home, but they sure are annoying – and can cost you a lot in wasted water. But it is possible for running toilets to overflow, and since water damage is so devastating, we’ll include it on the list. Running toilets are usually caused by a worn flapper that isn’t sealing properly anymore, which lets water seep into the bowl, never allowing the tank to fill up.

To remedy this, press the flapper lightly with a yardstick. If the sound of running water ceases, you know that the flapper is indeed the culprit. You could easily replace it (without calling a plumber) but first, also try running your finger along the rim of the hole where the flapper rests. Sometimes mineral deposits or debris build up there, preventing the flapper from sealing.

3. Mold in the home
Mold is one of the most dangerous health hazards around the house, with certain types of mold spores causing major medical issues or even hospitalization or death if left untreated. Unlike flooding or fires where the issue is immediately apparent, mold can fester and grow in unseen places like below carpets and floorboards or behind walls and ceilings. To check for mold, look for any browning or discoloration in the sheet rock and keep an eye out for steady leaks or areas that never seem to dry. You can usually smell a wet or overly humid room that may be a good host for mold, but you can also buy detection kits at your neighborhood hardware store. If a room is particularly damp, use a dehumidifier or set up an additional venting system to make sure mold doesn’t grow.

4. Kitchen grease fire
Kitchen fires are a fairly common occurrence, yet homeowners sometimes panic or do the absolutely wrong thing in the heat of the moment, making the situation much worse and even causing injury.

If an appliance is on fire, make sure to pull its plug out of the outlet first. Instead of pouring water on it, take out the box of baking soda from the freezer and pour it on/into the appliance.

If you notice a grease fire or blaze inside the over DON’T open the oven door! That can cause the fire to spread or even explode as it’s fed renewed oxygen. Calmly turn off the over and keep the door closed and the fire will soon burn out safely.

For grease fires on the stove, DON’T pour water on them or even blow foam on them with a fire extinguisher, as that will spread the dangerous flames. If the fire is in a pot or pan, turn off the stove or the heat source then carefully put the lid or pan on top using an oven mitt, which will extinguish the source of oxygen and quickly extinguish the flames. Never try to carry the fiery pot to the sink or outdoors.

You should have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen or a nearby supply closet. It’s a good idea to buy a few extra and practice using them in the backyard or a safe place with your entire family so they’ll feel comfortable and confident using them in case of a live fire.

Look for part 2 of this blog where we cover the remainder of the 10 home emergencies