home values in Danville CA

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It doesn’t take much to get me talking about real estate. So in my many social venues – I am often queried as to what sort of home improvements give the biggest bang for the buck? And as often – framed within the context of “what do I do now?”. My response will be “well, that depends on when you are considering selling. Selling NOW is very different from selling in two to five years.”

The first and most important thing you can do to prepare your home for sale now, in the near or distant future is get it and keep it clean. Clean, clean, clean is critically important. If your house needs to go to market THIS WEEK, my first bit of advice would be to hire a very good cleaning crew and make it sparkle.

You may not have the time to make changes, repairs or upgrades, but you should have time for professionals to clean your house. I’ve sold very dated homes, or homes with “challenges” (such a nice way of phrasing the less than positive attributes of a home!), but if they are clean, most buyers can see the potential. If a home isn’t clean, it’s very difficult to see past the dirt. A dirty house is the kiss of death. It’s bad energy and agents don’t want to show it. So get it clean and keep it clean.

Some simple things like paint and new carpet can be done quickly and can make a huge difference. Get an old tired house clean, with fresh paint and new carpet and you’ve gone a long way in getting it sold faster and for a higher price. You’ve heard me tout the use of a good color consultant when picking paint colors – please use a professional! I can tell you from personal experience the difference it makes. If you want to hear my nightmare story, just ask. It was a very expensive mess!

When you have that painter in, ask for an estimate of what it would cost to remove wallpaper. Wallpaper is not popular right now (it will likely come back – but it’s gone for now), so unless you are a VERY experienced interior designer who can make this work – get rid of it and paint the walls a neutral color (that your color consultant recommended!). Get an estimate on removing the popcorn ceilings too. Lead paint is the big hoo-ha these days and pop-corn ceilings imply asbestos and lead (though most actually contain neither).

If you are considering a sale in the next year or so, here are some ideas. Hire a landscape stager (I can make a great recommendation). Not a landscape architect – they are expensive and that’s not what you need if you’re selling. You need a stager who can tell you what to plant NOW that will mature in the coming months and draw the eye to the right places in the home. Landscape stagers can take a home with less than stellar “curb appeal” and make buyers look in the right places to show your home in its best light.

Consider things like a new front door or painting old tired cabinets in bathrooms or the kitchen. These are projects you can do in a weekend, don’t cost a fortune, and can make a big difference in how your homes shows.

Any project you take on in the months leading to a sale should be congruent with what you are NOT going to do. Let me explain. So often a home seller will pick something that is their pet project. So they go overboard on that, but leave supporting elements the same. An example would be switching out hinges and door knobs on the interior doors, but not changing the doors themselves.

Beautiful rubbed hardware on cheap old hollow core doors is a waste of money and effort and can even send the wrong message. If they ran out of money here, what else isn’t done? Another example is slapping cheap granite on top of old cabinets. If you have good cabinets that are just old – make sure you do the granite right. This can be done – but it can also be screwed up easily.

If you will be selling in the next three to five years – there are some
things that will pay back, and some that won’t. It is unlikely we will see
any considerable appreciation in home prices in the coming years, so where and how you improve is important to understand. Improvements combined with appreciation was part of what drove our bubble. But now prices are holding (at best) and it’s the condition of the house that can really affect price and how quickly a home sells. (I think that is why we are seeing such a spread in home prices – for example why are some homes in Greenbrook $599,000 and some $999,000? But that’s another topic – maybe next week!).

Here are some average Return on Investment (ROI) numbers for various improvements:

Kitchen Remodel – 90%
Add a Bathroom – 90%
Bathroom Remodel – 80%
Install Central Heat – 90%
Install Central Air – 75%
Add a deck / patio – 70%
Replace Windows – 70%
Add a room – 55%
Build a pool – 45%

So be careful where you spend your dollars on home improvements. A new kitchen and adding a bath are always the big winners.

Two other topics worth addressing are 1) Maintenance and 2) Home Inspections. While we have good intentions of keeping our homes well maintained – it’s a lot of work, and sometimes things just don’t get done. Getting the maintenance done won’t affect your value – it’s maintenance, not improvement. We’re supposed to always be maintaining our homes, our cars and our bodies! But we all know how that can slip on the priority list! A home that is not well maintained will likely have other less obvious issues too. It is always instantly obvious when a home has considerable deferred maintenance.

So hire a home inspector, and possibly a pest inspector too. These are the inspections the buyer will order once your home is in contract – but it is a good idea to know what these inspections call out now so you have a punch list of maintenance items you can work on as you can, rather than in a scramble when your home is in contract and you’re trying to keep the buyer in escrow.

Last thought – if you are considering a sale in the coming years consider getting a Home Warranty back on your house. Homes typically will have a Home Warranty in the first year after the home transfers – but most new buyers allow that warranty to lapse. If you are going to be selling your home in the next couple of years, make sure the big items (AC, furnace, fridge, pool equipment) are covered if they poop out on you right before you go to market.

Finally, if you are considering a sale now, in the near future or three – five years from now – CALL ME!! That’s what I do – sell houses – and I’d be happy to share with you some of the obvious, simple or more complex things you should be doing to get your home ready for sale. I have worked with hundreds of buyers and sellers and experienced the first impression of clients and agents. We have a biased eye when it comes to our own homes – so get an objective, professional opinion. The worst thing to do is the WRONG thing when it comes to getting your home ready!


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Location, Location, Location

How many times have you heard that mantra as it relates to Real Estate? Many, I’m sure. And location does have a huge affect on the value of your property. But I would suggest there is another mantra that should be chanted when it comes to home values and that is SCHOOLS, SCHOOLS, SCHOOLS!

It’s Back to School time, and as some of you know, the J. Rockcliff Office is across from San Ramon Valley High School. My personal office is across Love Lane from the Senior parking lot, where I get to look at my son’s Jetta everyday (good to know he’s there), and listen to the marching band practice after school in that same parking lot. I love it!

I had the first day of my last year of San Ramon Valley Public schools last week with my 17 year old son, Robbie. It has been a long and wonderful run – almost ten years at little Alamo Elementary, seven in Middle School (Stone Valley) and a combined eight at Monte Vista and San Ramon High.

But we didn’t start out here. In 2002 we moved from The Peninsula because, while it was my husband’s home and we loved the area, I was having a very hard time getting my head around the fact that housing costs were what they were there (REALLY expensive) and the public schools were sketchy at best. I remember thinking “Hmmm, 12 years of private schools x three children, and then college – AAAGGHHHH!!!”.

When we had a chance to move to Alamo, my husband came along kicking and screaming – he used to utter “I will NEVER cross a Bridge to get to work”. But he fell in love almost immediately, knowing we had found the best kept secret in the Bay Area.

Since then the schools have changed, some changes for the better, some not so much. For one, they’ve gotten bigger. When we started at Alamo Elementary with my now 22 year old son, there was one class for each grade except Kindergarten where there was an AM and a PM class. A total of just five classrooms!

And they’ve gotten more expensive. Yes, expensive. We were always asked to make a contribution here or there to subsidize class size reduction, library services or maybe a tech fee. It always was, and still is, optional. It was minimal and most of us just paid it. But the costs have gotten bigger – a lot bigger. I had to budget about $1,000 per child per year to get them registered at their particular school.

Did I complain? Absolutely NOT!! All my friends on the Peninsula were paying $1,000 a month for their private schools. And I got to enjoy LOWER Home prices AND 12 years of great public schools! ALL GOOD!

We all know that good schools are an important part of good home values. The little house I brought to market this week (see top picks #3 – Livorna Rd.) is an old original California Bungalow, it’s the lowest priced detached home in Alamo AND it’s across the street from Alamo Elementary School.

Think that’s appealing to young families from Vallejo, Oakland or parts of Concord that are moving up? You bet! I tried to quantify that value – and you know what? I couldn’t do it. I was surprised that I was unable to find ANY hard data for our area on how good schools affect home values.

But as a full time, dedicated REALTOR® (can you say REAL-TOR – not Real-a-tor? Or as one of my favorite clients used to call me his Realaster), I can tell you that maintaining the quality of our schools is the single biggest thing within the purview of our community that we can do to keep our home values up. This is true even during this time of plummeting home values. You all know that we haven’t been affected as badly as places like Modesto, Tracy and Vallejo have.

So how do we keep our Public Schools good? If you have kids in our schools, do what you can to pay the school registration costs that affect education directly. You can pass on the school logo gear and cookie dough, but be sure to pay that class size reduction donation.

If you don’t have students in our schools, please support the occasional bond or parcel tax. There was a huge hullabaloo a couple of years ago when the San Ramon Valley School District had on the ballet a requested increase of the $90 annual parcel tax to $144. I get that our schools are supposed to be paid for with our taxes, but I never say Public Schools are free, they aren’t.

We pay for them whether we have school age children or not. Those of us who had kids attending school pretty much got it – but there were plenty of home owners who no longer, or never did, have students attending local school. Why should they pay a parcel tax?

Because that parcel tax benefits the entire community, not just the students and their parents. The quality of the schools is maintained, which influences the desirability of the neighborhoods, which ultimately helps home values. It’s not hard science, but it works.

So when you are house hunting – whether you have children in school or not, consider the local schools as it is an important contributor to the home’s current and future value. You should read this study called School Performance Can Increase Home Values and Buyer Interest released by Move.com.

As always, call or email me if you have any questions or need any help at all.

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