Two years….

IMG_2802Today marks two years since my sister died. It was sudden, and tragic. She was one of my best friends, even though we lived two states away from one another. You know those relationships that seem to pick up where they left off when you get together? That’s what we had. It wasn’t because we were sisters necessarily, but we experienced some similar things in life, and we helped one another through the hard times.

She came out to visit for a week every other Christmas and Thanksgiving, with her amazing husband by her side. She had come out in the summer more recently since our parents were getting up in years and my mom’s health was declining. She came when she can, and when I needed her help with their care and attention.

I am sure to many she was just a sister, but for me she was a mentor and she probably didn’t even realize it. I should have told her. You see, my sister had a hard life for quite a few years. She was the rebellious one growing up—running away at 16 and marrying young at 18. Her marriage was filled with abuse and an alcoholic and drug-addicted husband.  And two children. Her kids meant everything to her and when she knew she had to leave she lived out of her car for months until she could take the children with her. She was willing to be homeless before she was willing to leave her kids behind and escape to the safety of my parents’ home—taking temporary refuge while she enrolled in college and prepared to raise her kids on her own.

There was a lot that was hard in her life, and yet she smiled. She finally met the love of her life and they married in 2000. She smiled more then. She suffered health issues and challenges, and she continued to smile. I am not saying she was always happy, or ignored the challenges, I am saying she managed to smile through them. She loved others, and she flashed that smile. When I asked my brother in law what made him fall in love with her, he said it was her smile. Life isn’t always easy, and for many it is hard—really hard. But I learned from my sister that everything doesn’t have to be perfect to smile. I try to remember that when I am frustrated or discouraged. And I can do better. I am so grateful that she found happiness, and her smile. I will forever be grateful that she was not just a sister but a friend. And I will always miss her. RIP Rebecca “Becky” Weston, and please smile down on me and let me know you are near.

Is a Virtual Office Really the Answer?

50565978_10217758466584220_481617768349696000_nThere are a lot of changes in the real estate industry, just like in so many other areas of our economy. Technology is changing the way we live and the way we do business in real estate and other areas. And there is a lot of competition in real estate; competition for listings, for buyers, and for agents to join a brokerage–and it seems there are nearly limitless possibilities. I have some real estate friends who swear by a virtual platform for their real estate brokerage, and they claim it is working wonderfully for them. In fact I have been asked by several of them to join their virtual world. They claim to make more money, have more freedom, and they can interact with other people in the company via an avatar in an online platform. But then I just scratch my head when I see that they are opening up a physical location. If virtual is really the answer, why have an office?

Real estate has been and always will be a relationship business. People depend upon their agent for advice as they traverse the minefield that can be a transaction. Sometimes it is just nice to sit down and talk over the issues face to face. It’s even better when you can sit down face to face and just talk. I know we can meet in a coffee shop, or at their home over the kitchen table, but having your tools close at hand in the office and a quiet space to communicate can go a long way toward getting the deal done with a little less stress. If virtual brokerages really are the answer, there would be no need for office space, or an annual in-person awards ceremony and celebration. We need human contact, in fact most people crave it. That happens in person, and let’s face it–an agent who meets their clients in a professional work space when needed shows their clients that they are worth the cost of having an office. For those who work exclusively from home, that is your choice. I personally prefer to have my CPA, my attorney or my financial advisor to have a place we can sit down in a professional setting with no distractions. So today I am grateful for my work space, for my 100-year old building in a quaint downtown. I am grateful for the relationships that are built here, with clients and with my fellow agents. For me, virtual simply isn’t the answer.

“Gathering Love”–an Epiphany

A week ago my husband and I headed up to Tahoe to spend a few days. It got us out of the smoke in the valley caused by the #CampFire in Paradise, California. The massive wildfire wiped out the town and well over 10,000 homes.  Thousands have been displaced and many lost everything. For a few days we were above the smoke that created health hazards and made breathing difficult in the valley. It was pure luck that we escaped to a higher elevation—we had made the reservations several weeks earlier.

There is a delightful art gallery that I love to visit when we go to South Lake Tahoe. The Marcus Ashley Gallery has many wonderful artists that it showcases, including a Dr. Suess collection that will take you back to your childhood. Now don’t think we are some sort of one percenters, we are middle class hard-working people who occasionally go out of town and even less frequently we purchase a piece of art. As we walked into the gallery that day, I told my husband that under no circumstances would we be buying anything this trip. We didn’t need any art and with the holidays coming we shouldn’t spend the money on it.

"Gathering Love" by Mackenzie Thorpe
“Gathering Love” by Mackenzie Thorpe

And then I saw it. “Gathering Love” by Mackenzie Thorpe stared at me as I approached. The figure in the piece is plucking hearts from a field. The faceless character had no color, no gender and no age. It was clothed in a simple heavy overcoat. The sky in the background reminded me of the smoke-filled skies of Paradise and beyond. The hearts spoke of love being plucked up, harvested from seeds planted previously. I admit tears came to my eyes. It represented everything that was happening at that time. My niece and her family lost their home in the fire, as did some of my real estate clients and some good friends. We all seemed to wander a bit in disbelief. So much destruction, so much devastation, so much pain, yet there was also an outpouring of love. Our communities came together to help, to serve and to give from our hearts and our bank accounts. The people of Paradise, Magalia, Concow and Pulga were reaping the love that had been sown by so many in the surrounding towns. They were literally gathering love and we were mourning alongside them. This picture came home with me and it will forever remind me of the loss of so many homes and businesses, the loss of so many people, and of the love that it takes to rebuild homes and lives. Our hearts and prayers will continue with those who lost everything in the #CampFire. We love you friends, neighbors and family. And we are here for you.

Be Smart About Your Summer Move

Moving Day!
Moving Day!

The Spring selling season is well underway in the Yuba-Sutter area, and that means that the Summer moving season is just a few weeks away.  According to Military Program Analyst Deloma Miley, more than 65% of the moves of military members take place between May and August. Those families don’t get to pick when they move, but for those not in the military it is still the most popular time to pack up and put down new roots.  Many families want to wait until the school year ends, and most people prefer to move during good weather.

No matter what time of year you move, it is hard work.  Here are a few tips that can help:

  1. Declutter, again! Perhaps you have prepared your house for the market and you already decluttered once, or you are renting and skipped that initial step, declutter again!  Make piles to donate, piles to sell and piles to take to the local landfill (try to keep this pile as small as possible).  Don’t plan to pack anything you don’t need.  There is nothing like paying for boxes and space on a moving truck for those old wire hangers and your kids homework from the first grade. Be brutal, and only pack what really matters.

    Happy sellers!
    Happy sellers!
  2. Make a plan. From packing boxes to picking out the size of the truck, start with a list of what you need to do and put those tasks on a calendar.
  3. Make sure to rent the right size moving truck and reserve it early. Many people choose to save money by moving themselves.  There are plenty of options for rental trucks so make sure you know how much stuff you are going to move and how large the truck needs to be.  I have had clients who were giving away their things on moving day because they simply ran out of room.
  4. Start accumulating boxes. Whether you are stopping by the local market to get their cast-offs or buying boxes at a discount store or moving company, start accumulating boxes early and store them broken down.  Pack a little each day, and start by packing the stuff you rarely use.
  5. Buy packing paper. It’s inexpensive and can protect your valuable and important possessions.  Bubble wrap can help too. In a pinch use towels, pillows, or other soft materials.
  6. Label your boxes well. Sometimes it just works to put some family photos in with the contents of your bedside table, but make sure you label it so you can find those photos again.
  7. Arrange plenty of help. Friends help friends move, but they usually offer pizza to go with it.  Ask plenty of people to assist on moving day—it will go faster and make the heavy lifting a little easier.

Few people love the idea of moving, but planned well and done right, it can get you to your new home with a minimum of stress and hassle.

I Found the Home of my Dreams…!

You really can buy your dream home!
You really can buy your dream home!

You have finally found the home of your dreams, but how much should you offer? Without a doubt this is the question I am asked most frequently when working with buyers, especially first-time home buyers. It isn’t always an easy question to answer but there are a few tips to help you make that decision:

1. Ask your agent how much comparable properties in the neighborhood have sold for.  The best indicator of value is the selling price of homes that are similar to the one you are hoping to purchase. Your Realtor can run a search and show you exactly which homes have sold, when, for how much, and generally show you pictures so you can compare condition, location and amenities.
2.  Ask yourself how badly you want this home. For some people, it is just a house, for others it is THE house. If this home is the only one that you believe will meet your needs in the next 5-10 years, you will probably want to make an offer higher than if it is just one of several that will work.
3.  Are you going to ask for the seller to contribute toward your closing costs? If you are, you should factor that into your offer. The more you ask for in the form of seller credits or seller-paid inspections, the more appealing that offer should be. Anytime a buyer is asking for concessions, the offer becomes less and less appealing to the seller. You can compensate for that in your offer price. Ask your Realtor what costs are typically paid by the seller and which are paid by the buyer. This can help you structure your offer to be more enticing to the seller.
4.  Can you afford it? Just because a lender tells you that you can borrow a certain amount doesn’t  mean that you are comfortable at that payment. Look at your budget and decide how much you can manage each month and still put a little into savings for the future. If you have to offer more than that amount, it might be wise to keep looking. Buying a home is probably the largest financial investment most of us will ever make. It is important to do your homework and seek the advice of a licensed real estate professional. Working together with your lender and your Realtor, buying the home of your dreams can be a reality. Happy house hunting!

Hope

"Hope" by G.F. Watts, 1886.
“Hope” by G.F. Watts, 1886. This reproduction of the original work was won by Alma May Edwards in 1919 or 1920 at the age of 9 or 10.

Hope.  It’s what keeps us going, even when things get hard.  When I was a teen I was lucky enough to spend time with my grandmother.  She was an artist and she taught my siblings and me how to paint in her ceramic shop.  I always marveled at her talent.  She seemed to be able to pick up a brush and just create.  I struggled with that but she never gave up trying to show me how to do better.  We stayed up late playing card games and we waited up until she got off her swing shift as a floor supervisor at the local Sunsweet plant.  Then, we watched movies together late into the night. Granny was a woman who seemed to be able to do it all.

I remember the picture that hung on the wall in my Aunt Charlotte’s bedroom.  Charlotte was killed in a car accident when she was just 17.  I never knew her except through the stories told by my grandmother and my mom.  Charlotte was pretty much idolized by all who knew her and so anything that had belonged to her or represented her in any way was prized.  This picture of “Hope” hung above Charlotte’s bed.  Granny told me that one day, when she was “done with it”, I could have that picture.  Although my grandmother has been gone for 14 years, that picture took a detour to my uncle’s home.  Today, that picture came home to me.  I admit that I cried on the way home after picking it up from my cousins.  They had come to clean out his things after he moved in with one of his sons, and they saved “Hope” for me, just like Granny promised.

The picture was originally painted in 1886 by George Frederic Watts.  It is an image of a blindfolded woman sitting atop a globe.  She holds a lyre with her head bent down close to the instrument.  There is only one string intact.  When explaining the meaning of the painting, Watts says, “Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord”. This is a fitting explanation of the painting because indeed my grandmother won this painting as a young girl when all she had was one remaining cord.  You see there was a nationwide art contest and my grandmother labored long over the perfect picture to enter.  She was nine or ten years old at the time and as she walked to school the day that picture was due it was stormy.  The wind blew her picture from her hands and sent it tumbling away, ruined by the rain.  She arrived at school in tears. Her teacher told her to quickly draw something else to enter and she did.  She drew a picture of a little girl in a storm, with tears running down her face, her paper racing in the wind.  That hurriedly sketched picture won the contest and was displayed for a time at the Smithsonian.  Her prize was a reproduction of the painting by Watts entitled “Hope”.  It hung on her wall nearly all her life and will now hang on mine.

Some of us have many chords in our lyre, some of us have one.  There are times in our life when we make music easily and other times when we struggle to strum just one single wire.  As long as there is at least one chord we can make music. We may have to lean in closely to hear it, but there is music in each of us.  Perhaps the blindfold that Hope wears is so that she can look inside and not be distracted by the world. Watts has taught us a powerful lesson, and Granny gave me a gift of more than just a painting, but a reminder that it doesn’t take much to make music, it just takes hope.

Is it time to find a smaller nest? Downsizing made easier.


Family!

There often comes a time when the home where we are living just isn’t working anymore.  Whether it is trying to navigate stairs after a stroke, opening doors with arthritic hands, or just having a yard that is more work than you choose to manage at this time, the thought of downsizing and moving can be overwhelming. Luckily there are services today that can help with a variety of issues that will need to be addressed, from figuring out a way to stay in your home a little longer to getting help hauling off all those “treasures” that no one in the family seems to want.

How can I age in place?  There are modifications that can be made to your current home to help with a variety of issues.  If opening and closing doors has become difficult you may want to consider changing out standard door knobs to the lever-type.  These are much easier for arthritic hands to manage and can make a world of difference in accessing all the rooms in your home.  You can also hire someone to put in ramps to make navigating steps easier.  If your yard is more than you can handle, consider hiring a yard service to help with the maintenance.  You can even put puff paint (available at most craft stores) on the buttons on your microwave to help you distinguish the start, stop and number buttons.  All of these modifications can help you stay in the home you love longer.

Where will I go?  When you realize that it is time to downsize you need to sit down and assess your needs.  Meeting with family, close friends or trusted professionals such as doctors, attorneys or financial planners can help with this decision.  Know what your limitations are and remember to choose something that doesn’t just work today but can work into the future.  This may not be your last move but some of the options are a single story smaller home, a condominium, an independent living facility or even an assisted living facility.  Knowing where you plan to move to will help you know how many of your things you will need to keep.

I need to downsize, what do I do with my things?  Most of us have acquired quite a few possessions throughout life, and it can be overwhelming to know what to do with everything.  The first recommendation is that you “gift” away anything you can do without that you would like family or friends to have.  From Grandmas’ quilt to Daddy’s coin collection, give away the things that you planned for family members to take.  This makes it so you can be sure that the person you wanted to have it actually gets it.  For those things you don’t choose to gift away, consider a yard sale or an estate sale.

No one seems to want my doilies and bottle cap collection. It’s true that you probably won’t get a taker for everything you want to get rid of.  If you can’t give it away and you can’t sell it, consider donating it.  But make sure you are donating something of value.  If it really doesn’t have any value, perhaps the local landfill is the best place for it to be.  Yes, it’s true that one person’s treasure is another person’s trash.  Don’t’ take it personally, after all it is just “stuff”.

Downsizing will never be easy, but finding a service that can help you accomplish all of these tasks can certainly simplify it.  Simple Senior Transitions can help you through this process and reduce the stress and worry.

Staging-It Just Makes Sense

Recently I purchased a home with the purpose of flipping it.  It was a much nicer home than I usually buy, but it still needed some improvements.  We touched up the paint, replaced the stove, changed

Master Bedroom
Master Bedroom

out some light fixtures and replaced some faucets and a vanity top.  There were also some miscellaneous repairs that needed to be made and I replaced the front lawn with some low-water

landscaping.  And then I

master bedroom
Master Bedroom

had someone clean it from top to bottom, including sprucing up the backyard.  I thought it looked pretty good when all that was done so I took some pictures of it before I had it professionally staged.  I usually stage a home myself but this one was vacant and I didn’t want to start from scratch so I hired a design firm from the Roseville area.  Wow, that was perhaps the best investment I made on this project.

The home looked spacious and open before the staging, now it looks spacious and beautiful.  I can’t even describe the way it feels when you walk in to a lovely living room setting, instead of the empty room that greeted you as you opened the front door.  I haven’t had the home listed for even 24 hours and I have multiple offers.  Our market is  crazy-hot right now, but I know that professional staging works.  If I wasn’t a believer before I certainly am now.  And I am not alone, according to Realtors who work with buyers, a staged home generally gets higher offers than a similar non-staged home.  This doesn’t mean you need to go out and spend thousands to have your home staged, but there are plenty of things you can do with what you have.  Start by de-cluttering and de-personalizing the space.  Choose paint that is in neutral tones and clean the house from top to bottom.  No one wants to walk in your home, sniff, and say “they have pets”.  So clean and de-clutter, get the advice of your Realtor or even an interior designer on how to rearrange your furniture, and happy selling!

Living Room
Living Room
Living Room
Living Room

 

Great Local Restaurants, No Reservations Required

I was looking for a subject for my blog this week and did what most people in my situation do—I googled it.  I found a great site with some ideas, but most did not really apply to our market area.  One that made me laugh out loud was, “popular restaurants in your local area and how to get a coveted reservation”.  Now don’t get me wrong, we have some great local restaurants, but there generally isn’t much trouble getting a reservation and some of the best places to eat don’t even take reservations.  So, here are a few of my favorite places to eat in our local area.  I know that you will have your favorites too so be sure to share in the comments.

Antonio's has locations in Yuba City, Linda and Olivehurst.
Antonio’s has locations in Yuba City, Linda and Olivehurst.

I admit that I absolutely love Mexican food.  I think I could eat Mexican food almost every night of the week.  We have plenty of Mexican restaurants in our local area, but my favorites are the local tacqueria-style places.  My kids have long favored Antonio’s Quick Lunch, and what’s not to love about Tortilleria Flores.  El Taco Naco in Olivehurst has some pretty tasty food too.   I love El Zarape for their crab enchiladas—they are pricey but worth it.  I admit that I am missing the taco truck that was always parked in Plumas Lake though.  With no real options for eating out in PL, it was nice to know I could at least grab a quick burrito or taco.

When I want a nice meal with a great wait staff we go to Pasquini’s.  Their bread is delicious and the Steak John appetizer is the best around.  I have tried to duplicate it at home, but I can’t quite master it.  It doesn’t really matter, it’s nice to have table service now and again anyway.  City Café has been a consistent winner, although I admit I haven’t been for a while.  Their salmon is always delicious and perfectly prepared.

Pasquini's is located in Live Oak at Lomo Crossing.
Pasquini’s is located in Live Oak at Lomo Crossing.

Have you tried Cool Hand Luke’s?  I have been a couple of times but the long wait always discourages me.  The food is fine, but I am not one to stand around for 20-30 minutes waiting for a table, sometimes longer.  The Refuge is set to re-open, again.  I look forward to trying out the newest version of fine dining here in the Yuba Sutter area.

While we don’t have a lot of restaurants that demand reservations, and none that require them weeks in advance, we have quite a few local options with great food and great service.  The best part of eating locally is that we are supporting our local businesses that employ our neighbors, friends, and family.  So the next time you are looking for a place to eat out, just look around, you won’t have to look far.  Let me know your favorites in the comment section below, I am always  looking to try something new.

Bon appetit!

Making Smart Choices as a First-Time Home Buyer, Part 2

In my last post I talked about finding out how much you can afford, what types of loans are available and a little bit about reality in the real estate market.  This post will give you some insight on whether to buy a new home or an existing home, as well as information on home inspections and disclosure laws.

Do I buy a new or an existing home?
Do I buy a new or an existing home?

Buying a new home is similar to buying a new car.  It has that special smell and no one else has ever driven/lived in it.  It comes as a clean slate with everything shiny and new.  Just as you pay a premium for that new car, you will usually pay a premium for a new home.  For some it is worth it, for others it isn’t.  If you decide you can’t or choose not to afford to pay that premium, there are some things to investigate on an existing home.  How old is the roof?  When was the heating and air conditioning system last replaced?  Has the home been re-wired or had the plumbing updated?  When were the appliances last replaced?  Have there been any inspections performed recently?  There is a long list of questions and one of the best places to start in getting those answers is with a home inspection.

Home inspectors come in all shapes, sizes, and costs.  There is no licensing body, at least in California, although

A home inspection is a step you should not skip.
A home inspection is a step you should not skip.

there are associations they can join.  How easy it it to become a home inspector?  It could be as easy as creating a website. With no test, no licensing body and no experience required, you should take extra care in finding a qualified home inspector to inspect the home you plan to purchase.  One of my favorite inspectors is a member of a home inspection trade group and has taken a test to prove competence to their certification standards.  He also holds a current California Contractor’s license.  When you are looking for a home inspector, ask around.  Your Realtor can help you find a competent home inspector , and if you have had friends or family who recently purchased a home, you can ask for their advice.  Whatever you do, don’t select a home inspector based on their fee.  The worst home inspection I ever saw cost next to nothing.  You literally can get what you pay for.  But don’t skip this step.  Getting a home inspection can help you understand the true condition of the home you are buying.  The report can suggest issues that should be addressed due to health and safety, and it can put your mind at ease about other potential issues.  If the inspector suggests you get another trade in for further inspection, it is wise to follow their advice.  Once you know everything you can about the property, you are in a position to make an informed decision about whether to proceed with the purchase.  I cannot emphasize enough how important a home inspection is.  And I am talking about an inspection by a qualified inspector, not just your contractor friend.

Disclosure.  What exactly is it and who does it?  California law requires that sellers of residential property of 1-4 units must disclose any known issues regarding a home’s plumbing, electric system, foundation, roof, interior and exterior walls, appliances and many other areas.  There is a questionnaire for a seller to complete that discloses if the home has had repairs recently, or if it has been painted or there are ongoing services such as pest control, or if there have been pets on the premises.  The seller must disclose if there have been lawsuits and even if someone has died on the property in the last three years.  When you receive copies of these disclosures review them carefully and don’t hesitate to ask questions.  Your agent can help you get more details on any area where you need more information. This entire process is designed to give you adequate information to make a decision to purchase the home of your dreams and to feel good about it at the same time.

Buying a home is probably one of the largest financial transactions in which you will engage, and buying your first home can be practically overwhelming.  Find a good Realtor and let them help you through the process.  An experienced Realtor can help to lessen the stress, help you understand the huge amount of paperwork and information that will be presented to you, and they can help you overcome the hurdles that are likely to pop up.  As a first-time home buyer there is no reason to go it alone.  Working with the right Realtor, we really can make real estate simple, well almost!