Don't Overprice Your Home's Asking Price

When a willing buyer and a willing seller complete a home sale, they have just announced to the world what the value of that property is.  That home may now be used as a marker for other similar home sales, based on other factors:

Location - proximity to community attributes such as parks, schools, and job market usually has more desirability to the buyer.
Size - Larger homes and larger lots may sell for more, and comparing a home to one that is much larger or much smaller could lead to the wrong pricing.  A buyer's lender may have very specific criteria on size when it comes time for the appraisal.
Bedrooms and bathrooms - The most common request from buyers today is for a three-bedroom, two-bath home; families today want and expect more privacy than in prior eras. And, the difference between a two-bedroom vs. a three-bedroom home may be critical for the buyer.
Features - Luxury sells, and homes with newer flooring, newer counters and cabinets are perceived as more luxurious and appealing. Some features such as spas and pools may not be worth extra to the buyer, these are often market-led factors. Newer landscaping may be a comparison item depending on the area.
Condition - A newer home that is well-maintained retains more of its original value, as do updated older homes. Homes with deferred maintenance sell for less.
Appeal - A home that looks inviting on both the exterior and the interior may be able to compensate somewhat for a less desirable location, or some other condition the seller has no control over.

If your house looks like this . . .
Too often sellers based an asking price on their own perceived value, or because they are comparing their property to a recent sale that is not completely comparable to theirs. Understanding how the buyer views the property, using the proper sale comparables most likely to be used by an appraiser, and seeing how their property stacks up against the immediate competition in the local market are important tools for seller objectivity.

It cannot be compared to this.
The public online valuation systems may be very accessible and offer quick valuations, but the homeowner should keep in mind that these systems do not use software that can "see" the home the way the buyer or your REALTOR does.  They use the public tax records, and may include properties inappropriate for yours.  As an example, 9 recently sold SFRs or condo properties in the Long Beach 90803 zip code between February 25th and August 4th, 2015 varied as much as 68% between the actual sales price and the online value estimate by a popular website company.  (Many real estate data sources within the industry do use AVMs, but some are "closer" to value than others.)  In this particular instance with the 9 properties, 6 of the properties were overestimated in value, and 3 were underestimated.  Two of the underestimated were within 1.8% of the actual selling price, which is a realistic market difference, while the third underestimated value was 17% less, which is far outside of the average  list-to-sell price.  The condo that was overestimated in value by 68% at $572,000 actually sold at $339,000.  Other estimates ranged between 7% to 41% over selling price. 

Speaking of estimates, the value of an experienced real estate professional cannot be underestimated. A good market opinion and strategy can earn you more money at the close, and save unnecessary time on the market.  Please contact me, a professional with 20 years' of experience! 


Are Your Ceiling Fans Turning in the Right Direction?

Are you wondering what difference it makes to have your ceiling fans be in one direction or the other?  Make sure your ceiling fans are spinning in the right direction to move air around the room.

Most fans are reversible: One direction pushes air down, creating a nice summer breeze; the other direction sucks air up, helping you distribute heat in winter. There’s normally a switch on the motor to change the fan’s direction.

Is your fan turning in the right direction for summer?
  • Stand beneath the running fan, and if you feel a cooling breeze, it’s turning correctly.
  • If not, change directions, usually by flicking a switch on the fan’s base.

Typically, it’s counterclockwise or left for summer and clockwise for winter, but the best method is to follow the steps above.

This applies to fans in general, depending on which way you want the air to flow., i.e., into a garage or out of a garage.

More information is at EnergyStar.gov

In the summer, use the ceiling fan in the counterclockwise direction. While standing directly under the ceiling fan you should feel a cool breeze. The airflow produced creates a wind-chill effect, making you "feel" cooler. In the winter, reverse the motor and operate the ceiling fan at low speed in the clockwise direction. This produces a gentle updraft, which forces warm air near the ceiling down into the occupied space. Remember to adjust your thermostat when using your ceiling fan — additional energy and dollar savings could be realized with this simple step!


Long Beach Area Hot Sheet Data Shows Trends Towards More Listings

Every day the MLS shows how many new listings, new escrows, or new sales in a given period of time.  Even though the market is still in a low inventory mode, there has been a trend lately of more new listings coming on the market vs. how many sold in a given period of time, i.e., 24 hours up to 7 days.  So for Long Beach, Lakewood, Signal Hill areas, there seems to be a "catch up" going on.  And even though you can read every day of the week in the Los Angeles Times about the latest multi-million dollar celebrity residence sale, recent sales in this area don't share that profile.  Between July 10th and July 13th, 27 houses or condos sold in these 3 areas, ranging from $235,000 (house)  to $1,070,000 (condo). These are represented by vastly different neighborhoods, and seeming show the far ends of the distribution curve for houses and condos. 
MLS Area Sold Stats for 7/10-7/13-2015

As showing at the right, the average price for these properties in this time period is $505,963.
While condos and houses are not normally used to compare with each other, this data is for trend purposes,.

New listings on the market for the same time and areas are 46, ranging from $175,000, to $3,450,000.   Three properties went into escrow right away, and 43 remain as active listings, with the average listing price being $628,072.  Whether this shows an upward trend in sales price remains to be seen, as the $3,450,000 property has been previously listed multiple times and not yet sold.
MLS Area New Listing/Active Stats for 7/10-7/13-2015

For buyers, this is a positive trend; for sellers, it's really nothing to get the least big panicked over, because over stats for June for Long Beach, for example, clearly show that there is less than 3 months of inventory for houses and condos.  This low level, which has been going on for very long periods of time, does not reflect a normal level of inventory, which traditionally means about 6 months, or perhaps double our current inventory.  Sellers often think that multiple bids due to housing shortage is favorable for them, which can be quite true, but not if you don't already have a home to move into after you sell.

If you are thinking of buying or selling, whether you have a house, condo or multiple units, give me a call for an evaluation of your selling position.


What Do Homesellers Really Want? Four Important Things

 Judge Judy, that icon of courtroom wisdom, says "Beauty fades, dumb is forever."

"The top four tasks that sellers want from their agent has remained consistent regardless of the housing market— sellers place the highest priority on: helping the seller market the home to potential buyers, help selling the home within a specific timeframe, help pricing the home competitively, and help finding a buyer for the home.  As many sellers use an agent that was recommended to them personally, it is not surprising that the reputation of the agent is the most important factor in choosing an agent to work with (36 percent). This is followed by the importance of the agent’s honesty and trustworthiness at 19 percent and the knowledge of the neighborhood at 15 percent."  Just a few more facts out of this 128 page report:  The typical age of the homeseller was 54, vs. 46 years in the 2009 report.  Married couples were 74% of the sellers, while single females accounted for 14% of sellers.

This report stems from an annual survey, the most recent being the  July 2014 127-question survey which was sent out by the National Association of REALTORS® with a response from 6,572 home buyers who had purchased a home during the prior year within one of the four U.S. regions.  There are many elements to this report - including agent efforts, problems buyers can have with financing, characteristics of homes sold and homes purchased, all of which is valuable profile information.

Ironically, buyers in this survey rated the top two valuable features of a real estate website as being 1) the photos of a property, and 2) detailed information about properties for sale.  Maps, tours and neighborhood information came next in importance, with videos of the property second to least most important.  I say ironically, because--and here is the unspoken elephant in the room not usually overtly addressed in these nice surveys--one of the most difficult aspects of selling for many sellers to grasp is the appearance and cosmetic condition of their home, yet most sellers always want their home marketed as much as possible.  A key factor in marketing a home is how it looks to the buyer, that means the buyer who is looking at those photographs.  The cereal box needs to get off the counter, the bed sheets need to hang evenly, because those photos are memorializing your home FOREVER on the internet.  And once the buyer gets inside the house, if only they could see past the catfood, and ignore how it smells on a 90 degree day, it would all be so much easier.  This is where the faded beauty and forever dumb enter the listing.  You would not buy a car like that off the showroom floor, not for full price.  And that's where your listing is, on the showroom floor.  But I digress.  Buyers are not always perfect either, but they do have a physical inspector and a 17-day contingency period, and a 21-day loan approval contingency period.

So to have it all come up roses, it pays to pay attention--on appearance, on disclosures, on price--so that the homeseller can get what he/she really wants -- a SOLD home. If you, however, are a seller who is marching to the right drumbeat on marketing your home, my sincere congratulations!

To find out competitive listings in your area, just go to www.juliahuntsman.com.


You Don't Have to Have a New Home to Have a SmartHome

The best part of home innovation is that it has little to do with the infrastructure in your house. So, even older homes can take advantage of the home innovation products on the market today. From wireless dimmers, to a home battery, chatting with your appliances to a speaker light bulb, new products do not require remodels of your home, but things that can be used now!

Here’s a look at the products featured and discussed by members of the Coldwell Banker Home Innovation Panel from April 2015:
1. Caséta Wireless Dimmers by Lutron. Control your lights, shades and temperature from anywhere, whether you’re home or away. Caséta Wireless dimmers and switches install in minutes, work with numerous bulb types – including dimmable LEDs and CFLs, and bring the convenience of a connected home to your fingertips. “Smart lighting may be special now, but it’s going to be part of a smart home going forward,” says Matt Swatsky,of Lutron Electronics product management director.
2. Tesla. We’re all enamored with Tesla Motors. Who doesn’t want a car that drives like a dream, runs on electricity and gets new features every time the system is updated? Now, the company is offering the TeslaPowerwall. It’s a home battery that charges using electricity generated from solar panels, or when utility rates are low, and powers your home in the evening. It also fortifies your home against power outages by providing a backup electricity supply. Automated,compact and simple to install, Powerwall offers independence from the utility grid and the security of an emergency backup.
3. LG HomeChat. Start chatting with your home appliances on your mobile messenger. Heading to the store but not sure if you need milk or not, text your refrigerator and it will tell you. What is your refrigerator doing right now? Is your washer not working properly? Isn’t it a hassle to have to find your audio and play music every time you come home? HomeChat will take care of everything. “HomeChat is a digital personal assistant that you can text and tell the refrigerator to make more ice or download new wash cycles on your LG washing machine,” says John Taylor, vice president
of public affairs and communications for LG.
4. Sengled PULSE speaker bulb. Each intelligent bulb has a JBL multi-channel stereo wireless speaker hidden within. You can simply screw the bulb into your existing lamp socket and pair with your Sengled PulseMaster bulb; download and install the app on your smart devices. Instantly stream music and regulate the lighting. They also have lights that offer wireless security cameras, so cool! Because you don’t need to buy or adapt infrastructure, said Robin Foreman, vice president of marketing and business development, “You can make an impact on day one with just one bulb.
5. Nest. “We transform unloved home products,” said Ben Bixby of NEST. The company offers a thermostat that can program itself. Most people leave the house at one temperature and forget to change it. So, the Nest Learning Thermostat learns your schedule, programs itself and can be controlled from your phone. Teach it well and the Nest Thermostat can lower your heating
and cooling bills up to 20 percent.


Long Beach 4th of July

Looking for July 4th activities in Long Beach?  Here are all-day
events in Long Beach: on the Queen Mary, a bike parade, barbecue at the Aquarium, and a party at the Belmont Pier. 

All-American 4th of July
Queen Mary / 12-11pm
(562) 499-1771 / www.queenmary.com

Kids’ July 4th Bike Parade
Granada Avenue / 9:15am

Big Bang on the Bay - July 3
Boathouse / 5:30-10pm
(562) 493-1100 / www.boathouseonthebay.com

Late Night & BBQ
Aquarium of the Pacific / 5-10pm
(562) 590-3100 / www.aquariumofpacific.org

Party on the Pier - July 4-5
Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier / 12-10pm
(562) 477-6820 / www.alfredosbeachclub.com

Please remember that fireworks are not allowed in the City of Long Beach, except as permitted for events. 


May 2015: Average Price of a Single Family Home in Long Beach CA: $590,000

The average price of a single family home in Long Beach at the end of May was $590,000, an increase from $427,000 in January of 2013. The overall market in California is characterized by fewer first-time homebuyers, lower homeowner turnover, static turnover in rentals. Employment levels are not expected to rise to pre-recession levels until 2019, even though California has regained all the jobs lost due to the 2008 recession. High level of speculation by investor buyers drove prices upward beyond the borrowing capacity of occupant buyers. California homeowners underwater in their home values is around the 9-10% level, and is another chunk of the population which is holding back movement in the market due to inability to move on.
Relocating baby boomers are anticipated to be a forward movement in selling and then buying -- however, that will vary greatly by geographic location in the state. According to an estate sale professional who works in the Long Beach area and is kept very busy with approximately three estate sales per week, it would seem many people in this area are not moving until the very end.
 Buy-and-hold owners may finally begin to let loose of their accumulated rental inventory (this has been a major impact in areas such as Riverside County), which hopefully will occur prior to a major rise in interest rates. (Interest rates bipped up twice yesterday.) This investor-held group is considered to be a massive shadow inventory which may not be released for another two-plus years, and at what price? For now, there is a gradual 3% annual increase in the number of new jobs, and a price-flattening trend compared to 2013 and 2014, all of which is helpful to bringing an upward trend in sales volume and inventory over time.

Who May Run and Check Your Credit in California?

Homebuyers seeking a purchase or refinance mortgage, or people wanting to buy appliances on payment plans or using their credit cards, are among those who will have their credit reports checked.  The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requirements state who can look at or order your credit report.

Such people may include landlords, credit card issuers, car loan lenders, student loan lenders and insurance companies and government agencies.   However, at least ten states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) have passed laws prohibiting employers from pulling credit reports at all or restricting how and when employers may use them to make hiring or other job decisions.  According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, access is restricted to businesses or government agencies that meet the permissible purpose requirements.

Concerning landlords:  If a landlord has a property managed or listed by a Realtor with a written contract in place giving the broker permission, the broker may be allowed to run the credit of a prospective tenant.  Or, the Realtor can also assist the property owner by helping the landlord find a source for running credit (about $25), with action performed and the report reviewed by the landlord.   The Realtor may be doing all other agreed functions for renting, but the credit report responsibility lies with the landlord if not otherwise expressly allowed for in the contract.  It would be a good idea for landlords and tenants alike to find out what should be of concern to a landlord.  Landlords can check rental history, accounts, debts, foreclosures and general credit worthiness.  For individuals who experienced getting a notice of default and foreclosure, even though they had other good credit, they found it was not easy moving to a good rental property, and some found that getting a co-signer was necessary.

To find out what can be included in your credit report and other resource material, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Nolo contain additional information.  For California information on accessing a free annual credit report, see the California Office of the Attorney General.


Rental Scams: Don't Fall For Them

One of the downsides of all the home listings on the internet is the abuse of them by hijackers.  They
go to sites such as Zillow and Trulia, choose a property and turn a legitimate listing into a so-called rental ad, with the listing agent not finding out until he/she receives a bunch of phone calls about a "rental".  In a very expensive and limited rental market, a renter is doubly frustrated when finding out that the seemingly good deal is too good to be true.  So not only is it a waste of time for those searching for a rental property, it's also an extreme annoyance to the listing agent whose listing is illegally used as a dupe and all the misdirected phone calls, as well as the time it takes to correct the situation on the listing site. 

The smarter people knew before they called me that $1200 per month rent for a 2800 sq. ft two-story house in a nice neighborhood of $500,000-$600,000 selling prices was suspicious, but they called me anyway after they drove by the property.  Some actually called the name given on the fake rental ad, which of course used my listing photos and information as if it were their own, and were told to send money before they would be given any more information.  This is the tipoff--a legitimate landlord or management company does not request money, i.e., security deposit or rent, up front for information. 

And another scenario may be that the rental does not exist at all.  Yet another is a rental sign in front of an actual advertised property that is for rent, or it may be a bank-owned property for sale.  In this situation the false advertiser is attempting to get business by re-directing prospective renters to actual rentals--one company has been complained about in California, yet they popped up again with their red and white rental signs on wooden stakes posted on properties that are not their rentals. 

For more information, contact the Federal Trade Commission.  Avoid sending money to people you don't know.


Have You Heard of PACE for Energy/Water Savings?

Keeping Cool
The Property Assessed Clean Energy Program, or PACE, makes it possible for an owner to finance certain improvements and pay for them via an assessment on the owner's property.
There are a wide range of conservation improvements allowed and which vary by program, but most PACE programs include  improvements such as solar panels, energy star rated core plumbing systems, duct replacement, electric vehicle plug-in stations, pool circulating pumps, water heaters, and furnace.  They work in conjunction with a local public agency, and are available for both residential and commercial properties.

To be eligible, the homeowner must be current on property taxes, with no judgment liens or federal or state tax liens, not in bankruptcy, can't be delinquent on any mortgages or late on property taxes (some exceptions), and there are limits based on the mortgage percentage value of the property.

Property tax liens associated with the homes underlying the security, which are meant to fund energy-savings measures, are senior to all other liens - including mortgages on the properties financed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (which currently finance close to 90% of US mortgages).  Read more at Reuters.  Since they don't like not being in first lien position, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) ordered Fannie and Freddie to avoid financing mortgages on homes with PACE liens already on them,  Generally, all loans following FHFA guidelines must obtain consent before being allowed to enter into a PACE program, or the lender may declare the loan in default if owner does not pay off the lien. These conditions also affect refinancing as well, especially if the loan was obtained after July, 2010.

Homeowners who may find that PACE works well for them are:
  • Those who have sufficient equity or whose improvements are not that costly and therefore, would not have difficulty paying off the lien if they need to sell or refinance their home
  •  Those who intend to remain in their homes for the duration of the assessment and do not plan to refinance 
  •  Those whose PACE program will offer to subordinate the PACE lien in circumstances beneficial to the homeowner.


Certain PACE programs, such as the HERO PACE program are now offering to subordinate their liens in certain instances, generally for a fee.  If the PACE lien is subordinated the buyer may be able to enter into a PACE agreement and obtain consent from a conventional lender.  Homeowners in areas with HERO PACE programs should inquire with the entity. Not all cities have approved this program; according to their site, HERO programs are locally available in the cities of Carson, Bellflower, City of Industry, Hawthorne, Lomita, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Stanton, Westminster, Cypress, to name several.  Long Beach, Los Angeles, or Lakewood are not included at this time. 

California FIRST

This program  appears to cover Long Beach and other areas, but an address must be entered in order to find out. Their criteria and financing terms are available on the site.


Energy Efficient Mortgages have been around since the 1990s, and may work for the owner with an FHA loan. Contact an FHA lender for more information. 

Secondary Financing

Another alternative is a home equity line of credit, for people with enough home equity, which may provide some tax advantages, including lower interest rates than the PACE programs. This type of loan would automatically be paid off in sale of a home.

Similar to solar panels, any PACE lien must be disclosed to a prospective buyer and will most likely be found in the preliminary title report given to a buyer. The seller may be in the position of having to pay off the lien in order to sell, depending on the circumstances involved.

And, a property owner should always first consult with a tax advisor regarding their own circumstances before accepting any of these loans. Interest paid on PACE liens may not be tax deductible but there may be a capital gains benefit based on the improvements.


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