Friday, August 31, 2007

What Green Building Means

What Green Building Means
by Kimbrough Gray
There's a lot of talk in real estate about green building lately, but the phrase is still a little vague. Here's a guide to understanding a few key terms, so you can investigate whether or not a potential home is truly eco-friendly.

Insulation and Building: Many new buildings are insulated with recycled materials, such as old blue jeans or blown-in fiberglass. Proper insulation now goes a long way toward saving on energy bills later. Walls can be made of steel and concrete, rather than more expensive and volatile treated wood. Many cities have lumber yards and "re-stores" where you can buy recycled or left over building materials that are strong, cheap, and often antique or authentically vintage.

Appliances: Look for low flow showerheads and low flush or composting toilets. Consider energy saving washers and dryers, or put a line in your yard to hang wet clothes on sunny days Make sure your HVAC unit is sealed and clean, and look for gas stoves and instantaneous, or tank-less, water heaters.

Flooring: Rather than use expensive hardwoods that endanger the land and deplete forests, many real estate builders have found inexpensive and beautiful alternatives in bamboo (which is technically not a wood but a grass, and yet one of the hardest and most easily replenished flooring materials) and cork (also easily replenished). Concrete, too, can be a sturdy and inexpensive alternative, as can old-fashioned linoleum, which is actually made from linen and other natural fibers.

Paint and Other Materials: Many paint manufacturers are looking for green alternatives to oil and latex; one such option is the use of milk-based paints (which upon application smell like milk instead of harsh chemicals, and which don't have any carcinogenic ingredients.) Recycled glass is being made into kitchen and bath tiles, and countertops are being made with recycled materials that look even more beautiful and unique than mined granite.

Solar Energy: Solar energy doesn't just mean expensive panels that sit on your roof (though that's one kind, called active solar energy). Considering a solar home can mean investing in thick-paned, glazed windows or in more photovoltaic cells that are complicated. Though solar tends to be an expensive investment, upfront, the rewards show up every month in your energy bills.

Landscaping: Look for Xeriscaped yards and common areas with plants that require little watering. Consider getting rain barrels (many cities sell them through their water and energy programs) or converting your outdoor water system to "graywater" (which involves using recycled water from dishwashers and washing machines to water your lawn or wash your car). Looks for trees, native to your area, and plant them so they shield your windows from too much sun during hotter days.

Neighborhood:While a lot of green building means being aware of what is going into your home, you might also want to check out your neighborhood. Are there recycling programs or community gardens? Public transportation? Bike paths so you can have the option of avoiding traffic? Are there shops and restaurants close to you, to encourage walking? While thinking about these things may seem unimportant now, our global climate and community with thank you later. (Oh, and don't forget the federal tax deductions.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A new selling tactic: the pre-listing inspection

Owners hope to head off trouble and speed sales by hiring their own inspectors.
By Frank Nelson
Lost Angeles Times August 26, 2007

JUDY MELLO wasn't looking forward to buying a new place to live, imagining a lengthy, complicated and perhaps stressful experience. "I figured it was going to drag on for months and months," she says. "But it wasn't like that at all." In fact, it took Mello, a retired registered nurse, a total of only 3 1/2 weeks to buy a $500,000 condominium in Carpinteria, a small coastal town a few miles south of Santa Barbara. Although a number of factors smoothed the process, Mello says an inspection report commissioned in advance by the sellers played a large part in her decision to buy and helped speed the sale.

As housing sales continue to bog down -- last month Southern California sales were the slowest for any July since 1995, according to DataQuick Information Systems -- property owners are turning to new strategies. One tactic increasingly bringing buyers and sellers closer together is a property inspection obtained by the seller before the home is even listed. A seller's inspection report is not in lieu of one commissioned by the buyer, but it often accomplishes the goal of signaling openness and good faith while at the same time unearthing any unpleasant surprises. In some cases, a preemptive seller's inspection means repairs, such as leaks or faulty electrical wiring, will likely be completed in advance on the buyer's behalf; less pressing matters may be flagged and the asking price adjusted down accordingly. "To me, the report meant they were definitely interested in selling and cared about selling to somebody who was going to be satisfied," Mello says. "I felt comfortable that they were thinking of my interests."

Colleen Badagliacco, president of the California Assn. of Realtors, says not so long ago, when sellers were being bombarded with multiple offers, they didn't have to worry that much about the shape of the home. "Now, the seller has to go the extra mile," she says.

For some, the downside means making sure the house is priced right, taking disclosure to the next level -- the more they know, the more they legally have to disclose -- and offering to fix things. But on the upside, a pre-listing inspection that gives buyers a better idea of where they stand and what, if any, additional work is needed, can also help sellers fend off demands for unrealistic price reductions to cover repairs.
According to Dan Steward, president of Pillar to Post, a nationwide home inspection company, buyers typically expect a $2 to $3 price discount for every $1 worth of defects turned up by their inspector. With their own report, sellers can choose, for example, to spend a few hundred dollars fixing a plumbing problem that might otherwise mushroom into a claim for more than $1,000 off the price and, in the process, spark further potentially prickly negotiations.

"It definitely makes sense," says Chuck Miller, a 16-year veteran of the real estate business and now associate manager and sales agent with Coldwell Banker in Studio City. In his own and other real estate companies, he's seen a marked uptick in the number of pre-listing inspections, perhaps a rise of 10% to 15% in the last year, and believes the ploy is helping sales move faster and more smoothly. "Most people want to turn the key and walk in," he says. "They don't want repairs, and they certainly don't want surprises. If they know they have to do some work, they can at least prepare for that."

The National Assn. of Certified Home Inspectors, based in Boulder, Colo., also has noted a rise in the number of inspections carried out for sellers, though founder Nick Gromicko says they do not have national statistics. However, on a local level, Gromicko does have some figures: "Our Denver chapter went from doing less than 2% of their inspections for sellers last year to doing 28% for sellers in 2007."

When Jack Lucarelli and his wife, Jeannie Wilson, decided to put their Toluca Lake home on the market for $3.75 million, they followed agent Miller's suggestion and first had an inspection. The way it turned out, they need hardly have bothered. As Bob Wood, senior inspector with Sunland-based LaRocca Inspection Associates, combed through their 3,700-square-foot, two-story home, he was hard-pressed to find anything wrong. A little dry rot in one post in the backyard, two faulty sink stoppers, a loose faucet and a cracked tile in the driveway. "It cost us about $18 for repairs," Lucarelli says, adding that the clean bill of health did not surprise him.

He says that he and his wife -- both of whom work in the entertainment industry -- have done a lot to the 1936 Spanish Mediterranean-style home and always kept the place in top shape. "But we thought the inspection and termite inspection were important to alleviate any fears or anxieties about any internal, hidden problems," he says. "It's an added convenience to the purchaser." Chris Wrightsman, co-owner of LaRocca Inspection, sees these types of inspections becoming more prevalent and estimates that the number of homeowners choosing this option has risen about 5% in the last year. He says the practice is much more common in Northern California, especially in the Bay Area, and he expects the trend to continue to grow. "When homeowners know the condition of their property, they can avoid a lot of problems and price accordingly."

Lisa Endza, director of communications for the Boulder-based national home inspectors group, says the cost of inspections ranges from $300 to $600, depending on the size and age of the property. Tom Valinote of Thousand Oaks, who inspected Mello's Carpinteria condo for the sellers, runs Pillar to Post franchise offices in Camarillo and Goleta. Armed with a digital camera, laptop and a 1,600-point checklist, he typically spends two to three hours working through a house for an average cost of $425. Inspections give sellers options, he says. "They can say to the buyer: 'We found these problems. But we wanted to make sure we sold the house in the best condition possible. So, we fixed things, here are the receipts and now you don't need to deal with this.' "

That approach certainly appealed to Robert and Judy Parkinson. Longtime Los Angeles residents before moving to Oregon two years ago, they are in the process of selling a Montrose house they've owned as a rental for about five years. Robert Parkinson says it was because they had never lived in the property, which is almost 90 years old, that they opted for the pre-listing inspection. "We wanted to do the due diligence and know the condition of the house before we put it on the market," he says. "We didn't want to get into escrow and have someone do their own report and have a bunch of surprises. We mostly wanted to know that the price we're asking, $615,000, is a good, fair, solid price. We wanted to have a real clear idea of the condition of the house and do any work that needed doing. We felt that put us in a stronger position." The inspection brought to light a number of issues, he says, the main ones being some plumbing, electrical and roof caulking work.

They have now fixed most things and feel that having the inspection and spending about $7,500 on repairs were good moves. The Parkinsons' agent, Gena Pinkerton, with Richard Keilholtz Realtors in La Cañada Flintridge, says the feedback from potential buyers to the roughly 30-page pre-listing inspection report has been very positive. People assume because the house is old that it must need a lot of work, she says. "But the report shows that it doesn't. It's a huge relief for people to know that."

Sellers wanting to have their home pre-sale inspected should visit:

Saturday, August 25, 2007

How A Virtual Tour Benefits Realtors:

Virtual tours have become one of the most important tools for selling a house. 92% of home buyers consider the addition of property photos to an online listing to be very important. (NDP Group, Sept 2000) The average online listing with a virtual tour receives 38% more views than listings without tours. (® internal logs. July 2001)

Virtual tours are like having a 24x7 open house – available online without agents or the home seller having to show the property. It's a tool to help you and consumers pre-qualify properties, saving everyone time.

The average virtual tour on® receives an average of 13 hits per day and each scene gets four views per day. (Summary Tour Traffic Report, Internal logs. Nov 2001)

More than 2 million people per month are using®, the official site of the NAR. (Jupiter Media Metrix, Dec. 2001)

Real Tour Vision™ is a PicturePath™ Partner with™ which allows virtual tours powered by Real Tour Vision™ to be posted to the #1 real estate Web site –® with more than 1.7 million listings. (Net Ratings, Sept 2001)

In December 2001 the Homestore™ Network attracted 8.01 million unique users. Users spent 125.08 million total minutes and approximately 9.1 minutes spent per individual visit on Homestore ™ sites in December. (Jupiter Media Metrix. Dec. 2001)

Roughly 50% of Homestore™ visitors are "actively shopping". Of those actively shipping, 94% say they have found a home/homes that they are interested in on®. (this means that, of our total visitors, just under 50% say they have found a home they are interested in.) (® Web Site Visitor Survey, November 2001)

Internal survey data shows that users are more satisfied with their experience on® than HomeAdvisor. ( Usability Comparison Test, October 2001)

Homes/properties are viewed over 400 million times per month on®. (Jupiter Media Metrix, Dec. 2001)

Homebuyers are becoming much more Web savvy. 60% of homebuyers are using the Internet to get home buying information. By 2005, Jupiter Research predicts that number will be as high as 80%. (NAR Jupiter Research Oct 23, 2001 Realty Times)

Internet homebuyers are more educated and invest significant time investigating the housing market and financing options before contacting a Realtor. Internet buyers spend nearly three times as much time investigating real estate markets before contacting a Realtor than traditional homebuyers. By the time Internet buyers contact an agent, they have a good understanding of what they want, where they want to live and what they can afford. (2001 CAR study)

Internet buyers spend 4.6 weeks investigating homes and neighborhoods before contacting a Realtor as opposed to 1.9 weeks for traditional homebuyers. (2001 CAR Study)

Most Internet homebuyers (89%) use the Internet in the home buying process before they start to look for a specific home.
Internet homebuyers start using the Internet very early in the home buying process and before selecting a real estate agent.
Since Internet buyers typically have a good understanding of what they want, where they want to live, and what they can afford, they tend to look at fewer homes and buy faster.

Traditional homebuyers spent over three times as much time looking for a home with a real estate agent than Internet buyers do (6.44 weeks versus 2.10 weeks)

Traditional homebuyers look at nearly twice (15.08) as many homes with a real estate agent prior to purchase as Internet buyers (7.93). (2001 CAR Study)

By the time Internet buyers contact a real estate agent they have often:
* Chosen the neighborhood they want to evaluate
* Narrowed their choice of homes
* Come up with a list of homes they want to see
* Understood what they can afford and what their mortgage options are

78% of Internet homebuyers found their Realtor on the Internet. By the contrast, most traditional buyers find their real estate agent as a result of farming, referrals, advertising or sign calls and 23% of Internet homebuyers found the type of house they wanted on the Internet. (2001 CAR study)

Additionally, Internet homebuyers act quickly and purchase a home in less time than do traditional buyer. (2001 CAR Study)

Nearly all Internet homebuyers (96%) are very likely to use the Internet the next time they purchase a home. (2001 CAR Study)

Internet homebuyers on average purchased a more expensive home than traditional homebuyers ($403,752 versus $321,950). (2001 CAR Study)

How A Virtual Tour Benefits Home Sellers:
* Selling your property can be costly and time consuming. Traditional advertising such as newspaper ads, brochures, and open houses have a limited reach. These traditional forms of marketing don’t give buyers a feel for what your property actually looks like.
* The Internet is now being used to extend the marketing of your property. As of recent, realtors in the U.S. are now commonly using virtual tours. This now provides sellers with an enormous additional audience. Now buyer’s from all areas of the U.S. and beyond can view the property.
* This online service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week
* This means you sell your property faster and will also save you time and money!
* Reach more buyers with our Virtual Tours than with any other comparable product or service on the Internet.
* With our Virtual Tour, you can avoid the hassles of having strangers visit your property unless they have seen your virtual tour and know they are qualified.
* You can also advertise your property through the real estate sections of leading Internet sites in addition to the links we provide.
* Email your property tour to prospects anywhere around the country.
* Offer people the chance to take a virtual tour from anywhere with Internet access—their home, office or from any remote location.

How A Virtual Tour Benefits Homebuyers:
* Searching for the right property can be time consuming and costly. Countless hours can be spent looking at properties and driving around to open houses. Virtual Tours can now eliminate hours of driving and viewing by optimizing time for both the buyer and their agent.
* The Internet is becoming a major factor in searching the majority of properties listed for sale. * Rather than merely viewing a small exterior photo and a plain text description, we allow you to see full color 360º views of properties, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
* Our Virtual Tours enables out-of-town buyers to make qualified decisions efficiently and conveniently because now they now have the ability to visually walk through the property without having to be there.
* Our Tour’s are available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
Virtual tours can be taken and viewed from anywhere with Internet access. And all of our tours can be quickly downloaded and burned to a CD to be viewed offline.
* Navigate through the tour images without installing software, plug-ins or any long downloads.
* Buyers can literally show the property that they are thinking of buying, to family and friends before they make a buying decision.
* Use a Virtual Tour to look inside your future property when access to the property is limited -- visualize room sizes and decorating schemes before you move in!

If you're trying to sell your property and it doesn't have a virtual tour, give me a call at 360.581.9020 or email me at and I'll set you up. Coldwell Banker Ocean Beach Properties offers virtual tours to all of our sellers for their properties.

Meanwhile, feel free to check out some of the virtual tours:

Why have one blog when I can have two!

Another blog. Just what I need! Go here: