Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Let's play Sacramento Real Estate Monopoly!

When the game of Monopoly was invented in 1903 as a way to demonstrate the dynamic of wealth creation in the new industrial United States, no one anticipated it would become America's iconic board game, still popular more than a century later. 

In fact, Monopoly has gone through countless revisions, reiterations and translations to different languages, but it's still essentially a contest in amassing wealth through real estate investment. 

So what better way to revisit Monopoly than sync it with our modern Sacramento real estate market. We took the liberty of converting the well-known Boardwalk, Park Place, railroads, utilities, etc. to actual Sacramento neighborhoods based on current real estate values.

Please note that this is just an illustration for fun, and shouldn't be construed as accurate data or a proper characterization of any of these communities, good or bad. We used current home sale values for the last couple months, but these numbers could easily change and create a new order in the coming months. All neighborhoods have pros and cons and no matter if you're starting out buying your first home in modest "Mediterranean Avenue" or work your way up to Boardwalk, real estate ownership is one of the only games you win just by playing. 

Without further adieu, here is your list of Sacramento Monopoly properties:

Mediterranean Avenue
Del Paso Heights

Baltic Avenue

Income Tax
PG & E

Reading Railroad
Sacramento Railyards

Oriental Avenue
North Sacramento

Vermont Avenue
South Oak Park

Connecticut Avenue

St. Charles Place
Tallac Village

Electric Company

States Avenue
Colonial Heights

Virginia Avenue
South Natomas

Pennsylvania Railroad
Sac State

St. James Place
North Oak Park

Tennessee Avenue
North Oak Park

New York Avenue
College Glen

Kentucky Avenue
Tahoe Park

Indiana Avenue
Hollywood Park

Illinois Avenue
Natomas Park

B&O Railroad
Old Sacramento

Atlantic Avenue
South Land Park

Ventor Avenue
The Pocket

Water Works
CA American Water

Marvin Gardens
Sierra Oaks

Pacific Avenue

North Carolina Avenue
Curtis park

Pennsylvania Avenue
Land Park

Short Line Railroad
Downtown arena

Park Place
East Sacramento

Luxury Tax
State Capitol


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The 15 most common problems reported in home inspections

When you’re buying or selling a home and the purchase agreement is freshly signed and you’re officially in escrow, things move fast. But it all comes to a head for one seminal event that could make or break a real estate transaction - the home inspection. In fact, home inspections (along with the appraisal and seller disclosures) are like a big flashing yellow right in every deal, with the buyer not feeling comfortable to move forward (by removing contingencies) until a full home inspection report is on hand – and usually the seller addressing any major fixes that need to be done.

Just how important are home inspections to buyers? An annual American Society of Home Inspectors reveals that 88 percent of respondents say home inspections increase their confidence about the condition of the property, 72 percent of U.S. homeowners said that a home inspection helped them avoid potential problems when they bought their home, and 64 percent of homeowners said they saved a lot of money as a result of their home inspection.

But home inspections don’t have to be nerve-wracking or a stumbling block to a home sale closing as planned. To avoid any unwanted surprises, pricy renegotiations, or even deals falling through, home sellers would be wise to do their own pre-inspection, by themselves, with the help of their handyman, or even by hiring a home inspectors themselves before listing the home, especially for luxury and high-end homes.

With a little planning and diligence, a clean home inspection report will encourage the happy buyer to proceed with a smooth transaction. In order for sellers to know just what to look for and proactively fix, here are the top maintenance issues found in home inspections:

1.    Electrical
Home inspectors make sure all outlets, GFCIs, and switches work properly, as well as check electrical breakers and fuse boxes. Some common problems include old wiring, wiring connections not put in a junction box, a lack of GFCIs in kitchens and bathrooms, outlets with reversed polarity (hot and neutral wires are mixed) and two electrical circuits wired through a single breaker.

2.    Water and plumbing
Smaller leaks around toilets, under sinks, and dripping faucets are actually pretty common and easily fixed, but bigger water damage issues can lead to mold and major structural damage, so home inspectors will look for telltale signs like discoloration on ceilings, rot, and cleanouts and drains that don’t work properly. Older homes may present a problem because galvanized water lines rust from the inside, closing the passageway which water can move through and reducing water pressure. Replacing all your water lines with new copper piping can be a huge expense – but necessary at some point.

3.    HVAC systems
Heat and air systems require regular maintenance and are costly to replace, so home inspectors will test both heating and cooling systems (no matter what the season!) thoroughly. Homeowners should be replacing their filters periodically and getting their HVAC system tuned up once or twice a year to keep the unit in good working order and prolong its life. Inspectors will also check the flow of ducting and making sure AC units outdoors are clean of debris and obstructions like high grass. Older homes or those in colder climates may have a furnace or boiler that also needs TLC.

4.    Smoke and CO detectors
This isn’t just nit picking, these detectors really save lives. In fact, studies show that fire-related fatalities are twice as high in households where no smoke detector is present or it’s inoperative. Regulations and safety codes for smoke detectors vary from state to state, but according to section 310.9.1 of the California Building Code, all residences must have smoke detectors installed.

Likewise, carbon monoxide poisoning shouldn’t be taken lightly, considering that more than 10,000 are poisoned by carbon monoxide and need medical treatment each year, and around 500 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning in the U.S. every year. California is now one of the 26 states in the U.S. that now mandates carbon monoxide detectors in private dwellings (and even schools) so it’s important you are in compliance not just to “pass” the home inspection but for the health and safety of your family.

Additionally, radon gas in the home is a growing health concern and testing is becoming more common.

5.    Windows
Home inspectors will check to make sure all windows open and close freely and aren’t painted shut, bent or warped, impeded by window ACs if they are the only egress in the room, and generally that they are up to standards of the home. Windowpanes should be free of cracks or splintering, and most people don’t realize that the dreaded fogging or trapping of moisture between double paned windows as the vacuum seal is breached will be an item the home inspector needs to flag.

In older homes with original windows, sash cords are often broken or missing, inhibiting the window from staying open, or closing correctly, and will need to be fixed.  Remember that focusing on windows being in tip-top shape isn’t just for cosmetic reasons but to ensure safe exit in case of a fire or other emergency in the home. 

Look for part two of this blog where we'll cover the rest of the 15 most common maintenance items that are flagged in home inspections.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Rating the top 15 outdoor home improvements

Warm weather and summer time in Northern California are here, and that means we’re enjoying spending time in our yards again. Whether it be a backyard barbecue on a Sunday afternoon, sitting out at night with a glass of wine to watch the stars or just watching the kids run around on the lawn to their heart’s content, the outdoor areas of our homes enrich our lives at least three seasons a year.

In fact, homeowners invest $6.2 billion yearly in outdoor improvements, but when it comes to adding fun and functional elements to our yards, is it always worth the time, money and aggravation? 

We’ll list the top 15 outdoor renovations or projects for homeowners and give them a rating based on the pros, the cons, practicality, enjoyment of use, costs and return on value.

1. Deck
Decks add huge value to a home with a 77% reported Return On Investment, and that’s probably because they offer a natural transition to a comfortable and functional outdoor living space. But they can also be expensive, as the cost of good wood is usually surprisingly high, and the alternative of Trex or some synthetic decking material can be twice or three times as much as wood (but never will need painting, collect mold, or rot.) Some intrepid homeowners try building decks by themselves, but even if you don’t hire a professional contractor you’ll probably need a building permit. Remember that wood decks also need maintenance of cleaning and re-staining or painting every few years.

Rating: B+

2. Outdoor lighting
One of the most economical ways to highlight and enhance your home and yard, outdoor and landscaping lighting is a great addition for any home. Of course there are plenty of options for landscaping lighting and lights along paths and driveways, but homeowners are getting more creative as lanterns, fixtures, globes, lamps, and even chandeliers are now made for outdoor use.  LED lights even allow you to rotate colors for interesting effects. Outdoor lighting not only adds to your curb appeal but improves safety and security, and therefore increases value with an approximate 50% ROI. But you may have to rework some electrical, trench to lay wires, and maintain landscaping lighting that goes out or needs new bulbs. Your energy bill might take a small hit but there are also more options for solar lighting than ever before.

Rating: A

3. Koi pond
Koi ponds, natural ponds, and fountains are one of the most enjoyable and beautiful enhancements you can make to your yard. Just sitting by a serene koi pond will lower your stress level after work or on weekends, and children love them especially. However, koi ponds should only be considered if you plan on staying in the home long term because they are not a great financial investment. There are basic DIY koi pond kits you can install yourself with a good deal of labor and patience, but custom professionally installed ponds could run $5,000 all the way to $50,000 or more for huge projects. Maintenance is an ongoing task with filter pads that need changing, fish food, chemicals or additives to balance the water, and other items. And of course you’ll need to purchase some koi, but for many homeowners all this will be well worth it as they are some of the most beautiful creatures in nature, growing as big as their environment allows and sometimes living up to 200 years in extreme cases!

Rating: C

4. Gazebo
Well-planned and aesthetically pleasing sitting and communal areas are always a good investment, and gazebos are starting to see resurgence with homeowners who want to spend more family times outdoors. They can be as big as 30 feet diameter or as small as only 6-foot diameter and made from natural weather resistant wood or synthetic Trex material. Depending on if you have a gazebo custom built, built to standard plans, or even buy a DIY kit and try it yourself, gazebos can run $2,000 all the way to $10,000 or more. You might want to add lighting, speakers, mosquito netting etc. to make it a more useful, but gazebos will offer a high ROI if you ever choose to show your home and sell – but many gazebos can be deconstructed and move to your next house!

Rating: B-

5. Putting green
As eccentric as it may seem, adding a putting green to your backyard may be a sound investment in some neighborhoods and for some homes. If you live in a high-end community or area that may have some avid golfers, it could attract potential buyers in the future, whose excitement to buy a 1-hole golf course with a house attached will translate in a solid offer. But putting greens are also efficient to install, as you can either lay out a round green area or contour it to just about any space or corner of your yard that is free. You can easily set up and install a putting green in one weekend yourself or purchase some of the DIY kits that are not available, with synthetic grass you’ll never need to maintain. Fore!

Rating: C+

6. Awning
If you have a house that faces directly west, you probably get blasted with full sun every day and know just how much it can heat up rooms, living areas, and make the outdoor spaces unusable until nightfall. In fact, up to 40% of heat and UV rays that enter your home come through windows. So an awning or shade cover may be a great remedy to that. They range from simple canvas awnings that you can affix yourself to motorized retractable awnings and even ornate wooden trellises with vines. Over time, you’ll recover any cost of installation and maintenance in lower AC bills and being able to use your entire home and yard again.

Rating: A

7. Trampoline
These days, it’s easier than ever to add a trampoline to your backyard, offering countless hours of enjoyment for your kids and their friends (and even bouncy adults when no one else is looking!) The vast majority of homeowners choose to purchase an above ground trampoline for only a few hundred dollars at places like Costco or Sam’s club. They’re not fun to put together but should last a long time – and can be moved when you decide to sell your house and live elsewhere. However, injuries are not uncommon on trampolines so make sure it as safety netting and padding on any exposed metal or hard areas, and check with your insurance agent if it will affect your homeowner’s policy or increase your liability. Trampolines that are set into the ground used to be in vogue but are rare these days, and only recommended if the homeowner knows they will stay there a long time.

Rating: C+

Here is part two of this blog, with ratings for the next 8 outdoor home improvements.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

25 Ways Google Earth is clarifying, classifying, and changing our world!

If you go to https://www.google.com/earth/ you can download Google Earth for free on your PC or mobile device, and from there explore our world like never before, visiting far-off foreign countries with a bird’s eye view, zooming into an aerial image of your own house, or even explore Mars and the moon. But there are far more uses and applications to Google’s Earth, Maps, and Street View than just looking at static images. Here are 50 facts about Google Earth and how it’s both clarifying and changing our world:

1. Most people don’t realize that what we now known as Google Earth was originally called Earth Viewer.  The project was created by Keyhole, Inc., a company that received some of its funding from In-Q-Tel, which was a venture capital firm for hi-tech companies sponsored and funded by the CIA.

2. Instead of trying to design, create, and release their own cutting edge technologies, the CIA apparently just invests in smaller firms through this shell venture capital firm, and reaps the rewards that keep them armed with the latest information technology and advancements.

3. Nowadays, Google Earth, Google Maps, and Street View have become invaluable parts of every day life for billions of people around the world, including advances in agriculture, clean energy, weather patterns, geological tracking (earthquake, volcano, and tsunami tracking), gaining information about unfriendly foreign nations (like North Korea), scientific breakthroughs, solving natural mysteries, and documenting and protecting our natural environment. Oh, and I almost forgot that it helps us get from Point A to Point B on our roadways without getting hopelessly lost.

4. Every year, we use Google Maps to help us navigate through 12 billion miles of roads.

5. Since Google Map’s Street View project began in 2007, their team has driven more than 5 million unique miles of roads and taken tens of millions of images to document them.

6. There’s even a feature that lets you view where the Google Street View vehicles are driving at the moment.

7. If you add up all the satellite, aerial, and street level imagery that Google Maps has collected, it comes to over 20 petabytes of data (about 21 million gigabytes, or 20,500 terabyte drives lined up and used to capacity.)

8. Some of you photogs might be wondering what kind of cameras and image tech Google uses for their Street View project. In fact, each Street View camera system has 15 lenses that can take photos at an incredibly sharp 65-megapixel resolution.

9. These 15 lenses take photos simultaneously in a 360-degree panoramic, and then digitally align the photos to produce seamless images.

10. Google Maps, Google Earth, and Street View images are updated as frequently as possible with logistics, weather, road, and other conditions permitting, but that usually comes to an update about once every two weeks.

11. Not everyone is a big fan of being documented by Google Earth. In fact, the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain banned Google Earth because it didn’t want its citizens to be able to see the huge areas of land owned by the royal family, dotted with swimming pools, mansions, and other opulence right next to overcrowded slums and villages.

12. The Chinese military inadvertently let the cat out of the bag on one of their military operations thanks to Google Earth. In 2006, a perfectly detailed 1:1500 scale model of a border region between China and India that was under dispute was photographed from above. The scale model of the terrain was 3,000 x 2,300 feet in size and right next to a Chinese military complex that apparently was using it to plan mock raids and troop movements.

13. Google Earth has a feature that allows you to recall historical imagery, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks can be seen.

14. A large number of shipwrecks that rest under the oceans and seas have been viewed with Google Earth, including the wreck of the Titanic!

15. When Google Earth images taken over Iran’s national airport were revealed for the first time, Iranian officials were shocked to see a Star of David – the symbol of Judaism – sitting atop the airport roof. Apparently, the star was erected and left by Israeli engineers who built the structure before the Iranian Revolution in 1979 when it was a more peaceful country, but not discovered for three decades.

16. An archeologist named Angela Micol discovered a grouping of lost Egyptian periods by surveying satellite images taken by Google Earth.

17. Virtually buried by thick jungle in a remote part of China, the world’s largest natural bridge was unknown to humankind until Google Earth observed and documented it. Now called The Fairy Bridge, it spans 400 feet of solid limestone across a river.

18. A rainforest in Mozambique in Africa – earned the nickname, ‘Google Forest’ after it was first discovered by scientists – as well as the mountain it spanned - using Google Earth in 2005, as only local villagers knew about it until then.

19. A lot of good can be done if the technology is in the right hands. For instance, they’re using Google Maps to track and mark dangerous landmine fields in Kosovo so others can avoid danger.

20. And scientists have used Google Maps to set up maps of every recent animal extinction or mass death.

21. Once isolated Tribes in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil have started using GPS and Google Earth technology to map their lands, monitor natural resources like rivers and medicinal plants, and monitor for illegal logging and mining.

22. In an eerie mystery befitting a sci-fi novel, there is a phantom city that shows up on Google Earth and Google Maps. The non-existent town was called Argleton and appeared on Google’s projections in West Lancashire, England before being removed.

23. Law enforcement agencies around the world have made good use of Google Earth’s mapping imagery, like the Swiss police force, which spotted a two-acre marijuana farm on Google Earth.

24. If you’ve used Google Earth, you may notice that it first centers in on a spot in the middle of the U.S. In fact, default center for Google Earth is Lawrence, Kansas – the home of the man most responsible for the technology, Brian McClendon.

25. Concerned about privacy after seeing that your house shows up in detail on Google Street View? You can request that Google blurs the image of your own home or address and they will comply.

Look for part two of this blog, with 25 more facts about Google Earth!

15 Home-selling mistakes that could cost you a lot of money. (Part 2)

Your house is probably the largest financial investment you’ll make in your lifetime, and therefore selling it should be handled with diligence, care, and planning. But too often, homeowners make the same common mistakes when putting their home up for sale, ultimately costing them tens - if not hundreds -of thousands of dollars.

But if knowledge is power, then by identifying these most common home selling mistakes we can empower you to make better decisions and avoid them, ensuring you maximize your profit when selling, starting with selecting the right real estate agent to represent you.

In part one of this blog we covered the first 7 mistakes homeowners make when putting up their house for sale, and here are the next 8:

Mistake #8: Becoming too emotional
We understand that your house is your home, where you probably raised your family and have many years and memories invested. But selling your home should be viewed as a business transaction, not personal. By taking emotion out of the process as much as possible, you’ll make clear and logical decisions in your best interest. Ask any successful businessperson and he or she will tell you that emotion, fear, anger, ego, and personal feelings end up costing you money!

Mistake #9: Not listening to the market
When we list a home, we first run a comprehensive market analysis for the seller, showing the hard data about what similar homes in the same area are selling for, as well as what other competition is on the market. We’ll make our best professional recommendation on the listing price, but the final decision is up to the homeowner. No matter where you set your initial listing price, pay attention to what the market is telling you – what the data says. Ignoring market data and instead making decisions on emotion or hope for gain can be counterproductive and cost you in the long run.

Mistake #10: Failing to think like a buyer
Instead of thinking, “This is what I want for my home,” and “I want to sell at this price,” try to put yourself in a potential buyer’s situation. Imagine yourself hitting the home buying circuit on a busy Saturday and how you would view each listing. For instance, buyers usually start from the bottom of their price range and then work their way up, and as a home seller, realize they will be viewing a lot of other listings in the same price range as your home – your competition. Understanding the process from a consumer’s perspective will help you maximize your home’s presentation and strategically set your price to get the highest and best offers!

Mistake #11: Not having your home staged
If you are trying to sell your luxury or high-end home, enlisting the help of a professional stager is a must. Yes, you’ll have to spend a small amount of money up front, but it will offer huge returns when your home sells. In fact, national statistics show that staged homes sell in an average of 13.8 days while non-staged homes sell in 30.9 days, and staged homes sell for an average 17% higher sales price, offering a 586% return on investment.

Still not convinced? In a recent survey, 9 out of 10 potential buyers said they had trouble visualizing how a completely unfurnished home could appear when furnished, and 81% of buyers report a stage home is easier to visualize the property as their future home.

Mistake #12: Not researching your competition
Buyers have a lot of homes to choose from, so before you even price your home or put a For Sale sign in the front year, your real estate agent should sit down with you and go over a market analysis thoroughly. Every home that is currently for sale within your greater geographic area and with similar dimensions and features (for instance, homes with 3 or more bedrooms in Folsom,) should be considered your competition. This is the same approximate list your pool of potential buyers will be looking at, so make sure you’re listing is strategically priced and positioned correctly against that competition.

Mistake #13: Not marketing your listing correctly
What sells homes these days? A great home at the right price is WHY a home sells and that never changes, but the HOW is something far different. Research shows that certain marketing strategies significantly impact home sales – and pay the most dividends for the seller. These include taking a good number of professional-quality photos, staging the home, making sure it’s easily accessible for any potential buyer’s agents, exposure through community and professional networking, and especially a great online presentation that includes a stellar MLS listing, web, email, and social media promotion. Marketing correctly through digital platforms is essential these days, especially with higher end listings, considering that 95% of luxury homebuyers are active and engaged on social media and 90% of luxury buyers start their search for a home online.

Mistake #14: Not consulting your tax advisor and other financial advisors
Some of the best tax breaks you’ll ever realize are tied to real estate, especially with capital gains exclusions and the ability to do a 1030 exchange rollover to avoid profit from some home sales becoming taxable events (especially with investment properties.) However, you never want to sell your home (or make any big financial decisions, for that matter) without consulting your CPA or tax planner. Since an additional hundreds of thousands of dollars (or millions) of income you potentially might have to declare would surely throw your tax returns out of whack, failing to get expert counsel could potentially be the biggest home selling mistake you could ever make.

Mistake #15: Using the wrong Realtor
The home seller ultimately makes the important decisions about pricing, listing, staging, showing, and marketing their home. But smart sellers enlist the help of the best real estate professional possible to give them great advice, and it all starts with finding the right real estate agent. Too often, homeowners choose a Realtor just because they know the person socially or they bump into them at an open house, but you should really use a local expert who specializes in listing homes similar to yours. Interview the best candidates and ask tough questions, while also gauging whom you feel good about since you’ll be communicating and working closely with that person. If you follow this process, you’ll end up with the best possible real estate agent to help you sell your home and maximize your profits through a smooth transaction.


The Alfano Real Estate Group would love the chance to compete for your business and earn your trust. When you’re ready to sell your home, so feel free to contact us any time with questions.