Riverside Realtor Blog - Alma Dizon

Alma shares her experiences and observations as a Realtor in Riverside California.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

There are words that rhyme with orange

I was at a party once, and someone started to tell me that nothing rhymes with “orange.”
“Stonehenge,” I said, but he kept on talking. “Stonehenge,” I repeated, but he paid no attention. Once again, I insisted, “Stonehenge,” but he was so convinced that there was no answer that he never seemed to notice. I decided that he wasn’t all that interesting and moved on to another conversation.
It can be very hard getting people to see past some ridiculous rule that they picked up along the way and have never questioned. I generally don’t believe forwarded messages from my friends and put them to the www.snopes.com test for urban legends.
Some of the overgeneralizations that I don’t believe are: “buyers are liars” (enough of them seem to tell the truth to keep us in business), and “real estate agents can’t spell” (some of us can). I also don’t think granite counters are a cure-all or that everyone can save money with cut-rate brokerages.
I’ve been told that no words rhyme with “purple” (so much for pull, full, handle, supple, etc.), “silver” (what about sliver, shiver, river, cover, bother?), or “month” (rhymes with millionth, billionth, trillionth).
In fact, I know of another word that rhymes with “orange,” and that’s “lozenge.” There are probably other words—let me know if you think of any!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Ungrammatical Spanish and Other Funny Street Names

After teaching college Spanish (language, literature, culture, history) for 12 years, I still get driven crazy by ungrammatical Spanish street names in the Inland Empire. Sigh. But I do refrain from whipping out the red pen. At any rate, the good news is, such names are unlikely to repeat between areas!

Moreno Valley has a lot of street names that look like someone looked in a bilingual dictionary and then jammed random words together. "Casa Encantador" should be "Casa Encantadora" and "Palos Grande" should be "Palos Grandes." In Murrieta, "Calle del Oso Oro" ought to be "Calle del Oso Dorado" and "La Alba" would be "El Alba" (yes, it's a feminine noun, but it starts in "a," has 2 syllables, and the first syllable is accentuated, therefore the singular articles would be "el" and "un").

Then there are the random names--did they run out of ideas? "Quebrada" means broken and "espaldar" means the back of a chair. Well, one thing is for sure, you won't find these street names in every city!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Do you need mortgage life insurance?

The general rule of thumb is that a healthy person doesn't need mortgage life insurance and shouldn't just buy it. However, you need to examine your current financial situation and make adjustments to protect your loved ones.

Recently, a client of mine who was about to list his home died unexpectedly. I discovered then that, not only was his widow not on title (they had married only a few months before), the ex-wife had gotten his life insurance and 401(k) as part of the divorce settlement, and there was no mortgage life insurance. In addition, he had taken out every bit of equity on the house in order to buy out his ex, so the widow was having to make the huge mortgage payments (interest-only!) on a house she couldn't sell in addition to the payments on the house she had just bought with him! The husband had been expecting to sell the first house quickly and was, he believed, in good health, so he took some chances by not getting his new wife on title, not getting mortgage insurance, and not writing a new will. In the end, he was wrong, and now his ex and siblings are suing his estate. Additionally, the amount of time needed to settle the matter in probate is likely to eat up the time allotted to the widow, so that if she does get title and sell, it'll no longer be considered a sale by the couple, so she'll only be allowed 250k in capital gains instead of 500k (which is actually how much the house has increased in value since the husband first bought it years ago). All in all, she has been hit with all of the costs and none of the benefits of marriage.

So please look at your whole financial picture and have your insurance updated to protect your loved ones because you never know.

Here are a couple of articles on mortgage life insurance and life insurance:
cnn money article on mortgage life insurance
cnn money article on life insurance

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Places to go in Riverside: the UCR Botanical Garden

The UCR Botanical Garden is a truly wonderful place with terrific collections of native plants as well as plants from similarly arid places, such as South Africa and Australia. Roses, irises, temperate deciduous trees, and a subtropical fruit trees round out the specimens on hand. You'll get great ideas here for plantings to spruce up your yard as well as your table. After all, this is Riverside, so you should be able to feed yourself out of your yard!

The fall and spring plant sales at the botanical garden are a local tradition. But warning, members get first dibs, so you should join to get a shot at the rarer specimens. Serious plant lovers come with their own garden carts.

UCR Botanical Garden

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

On Declining Consumer Confidence and Paralysis in the Inland Empire

The Press Enterprise has an article about people being surprised by the sudden decline in the real estate market in the Inland Empire. Actually, it's not a surprise at all as the 30% annual increase in values 2 years in a row couldn't be maintained. One consultant cited a lack of consumer confidence as key, and I think that's what this is all about. Prices are so high that, even with continued low interest rates, buyers are understandably intimidated by the monthly payments they'd have to take on. That and the number of properties on the market, many of them in far less than pristine condition, is enough to paralyze any shopper.

The ambivalence of the home buyer faced with too many choices is something to behold. I look for the usual hints of the happy shopper (beaming smiles, caressing the spouse, lots of digital photos), and instead, I see frowns, nervous glances, the need to look at all the details but without satisfaction. This scene is followed by the inability to write up an offer, week after week, month after month... (I generally dump these buyers unless they're personal acquaintances or referrals of personal acquaintances, in which case I can't...)

Barry Schwartz' book Paradox of Choice offers a lot of insight into how consumers don't deal well with too many choices. When faced with too many (in one case, 2 were too many) choices between marked down items, people became too undecided. And as we all know, with indecision comes discomfort.

Here's a link to the Press Enterprise article on the decline in the area real estate market:
Press Enterprise article on market decline

Here's a link to an excellent review of Schwartz' book from the New Yorker last year:
New Yorker review of Barry Schwartz book Paradox of Choice

Sunday, August 13, 2006

What do the Sellers Usually Pay For?

Sellers should always get several estimated net sheets from the listing agent. They need to get one when they sign, when they adjust the price and/or the commision, and when get an offer comes in.

The estimated net sheet should list all the different items that the sellers usually pay for, plus any extras that the offer (or counter offer) entails.

For instance, the sellers need to take into account the following: commissions to each side, title and escrow costs, termite inspection (not including any repairs), natural hazard report, city and county transfer taxes, HOA transfer fees, prorated interested on the loan(s), reconveyance fee for the loan(s), grant deed preparation, one-year home warranty for the buyer, and any prepayment penalty. Depending on the buyer's situation, the seller may need to take into account paying closing costs, points, and fees for a VA or FHA loan.

The commission should be based on the net, that is the accepted price minus any closing costs and points. So if the accepted price is, say 700k, and the sellers are paying 2 points or 14k to lower the buyer's interest rate, they should pay a commission based on 686k. When they get the commission instructions from escrow, they should also go over the numbers and make sure that they're based on the net. If escrow makes a mistake, they can call and get another set of instructions drawn up.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

August Panic

It's August and panic is setting in for some sellers as they realize that summer is coming to a close without their properties going into escrow. Prices are starting to drop on a few homes, but it may be a case of "too little, too late." On the other hand, buyers who don't mind moving kids after school starts (and for some school districts that have an early start, that's next week), this could be a good time to get a bargain if their credit is in order and their lenders can move quickly.

Some clients of mine who needed to sell quickly were smart, lowering the price of their house a second time in July and then raising the commission to outside broker. They swiftly got into escrow with a buyer who was just approved to their new list price, and she needed help with closing costs, but the main thing was that her lender could get the loan funded in time for them not to lose the house that they’re buying.

Another couple I know wasn’t so lucky. They made an offer on another house after listing theirs (not with me), but no one bought theirs, and now they’ve fallen out of escrow. They cancelled the listing to rethink things, and we’ve begun discussing strategies to get their house sold. They’ll try to see if they can make another offer on the home they lost out on once they get theirs sold. It won’t be easy, but then the other sellers are also in a bind and need to sell, so we’re going to stay positive and do our best.

Here’s an AOL real estate article about the need to drop prices in order to sell soon. While it mentions other regions that are harder hit than the Inland Empire, sellers would do well to read it.

Is it time to cut your price?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Saving Your House From Incorrigible Little Dogs

If you or someone you know loves a little dog, keep reading. The rest of you should stop now before you get too horrified.

I never had much patience for little male dogs that mark all over the house. Then I found 2 elderly Pomeranians in the same week. A Pomeranian rescue group cued me into the best way to save my house and furniture: disposable baby diapers. Since my guys (now 3 in total) are huge 15 pounders from backyard breeders, I use a size 2 diaper and a business envelope (the kind you get in those credit card applications that are mailed to your house every other day). I use clear packing tape to stick one end of the diaper to the envelope, then 1.75-in. wide masking tape for the other. That way, during the day, I can rip through the masking tape when I let them out and then just use fresh masking tape when they come back in. (Please note: it's a good idea to feel around and tuck them in just in case the key element of the dog's anatomy is not in the diaper.) They reuse the same diapers until they're too soggy (modern diapers are a wonder--they can absorb a lot of liquid!), and each generally uses one diaper per day. The diapers don't hinder them at all, they still lift their legs and don't seem even to notice that they're not hitting their target.

This won't work with all small dog breeds. Pomeranians are very easy-going. A friend of mine has a toy poodle, and when I took one of my boys (diapered) to her house to visit, her poodle quickly de-diapered my Pom. I could just imagine him thinking, "Let me help you with that!"

I haven't figured out a solution for little female dogs, but then my little girls were never so bad. As long as I let them out often enough, we didn't have many problems.

As for leaving these little dogs outside all day (and all night), I would never do so. They can squeeze out of fences and gates very easily, and they're easy prey for coyotes. Plus, it's amazing how many people I've met who've had a small dog stolen out of their yard or car.

Someone did tell me that the dogs were marking because they felt insecure. I tried holding one of them (the only one who came to us unfixed) and telling him while gazing into his eyes, "Oh, Skunk, you're so virile," but it had no effect whatsoever. So I'm not the dog whisperer. And even while I don't like the idea of overwhelming generations to come with non-biodegradable trash, it does save my house, and my dogs stay clean and happy inside. So before you take that cute little dog to the pound, try a diaper.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Pros and Cons of Porcelain Tiles

Tile flooring has become quite popular of late, and porcelain tile surpasses ceramic tiles for beauty and durability. With a lot of houses on the market these days, the ones that stand out often have attractive, updated tile floors. With our hot weather in the Inland Empire, tile underfoot helps to create a cool, tranquil oasis. It's also easy to clean and much better than carpets for people who have allergies. However, think it over before you race out and have your entire house tiled.

Porcelain tiles are expensive, which is why most rehabbers prefer to carpet. (You should be tiling for yourself unless the home will truly benefit from increased marketability.) There's plenty of cheap tiles out there, but ugly tiles are a real turn off, and if you plan to sell the home ever, remember that buyers will run at the sight of them. Also, remember that cheap tiles can still be expensive to rip out, so if you offer a flooring allowance to the few remaining buyers, you're probably going to end up losing on both a reduced price and a huge allowance. So tile well and judiciously in the first place.

Keep in mind that porcelain tile is used in airports--meaning that it won't get scratched up or broken during your or your great-grandchildren's lifetimes. We chose it because our many dogs had scratched up our old Pergo flooring (and scratches in Pergo gather dirt that you'll never get out). However, this durability means that anything dropped on the tile floor will break first, and you'll have to be a bit more careful. (A TV remote was the first casualty at our house. My cell phone slipped out of my hand, but the forward momentum kept it skidding, so it didn't shatter, and I was able to put it back together.)

Think of how the flooring will affect both the feel of the house as well as your physical well-being. If you have a small home, it's a good idea to stay with the same flooring as much as possible, so that the house or condo won't feel chopped up into tiny spaces. (Think twice, however, before tiling the entire house. Those hard porcelain tiles can be tough on your joints, and if you already have back trouble, they could aggravate it, forcing you to wear thick rubber soles at home.) A large house can have different flooring materials in different rooms, but avoid wild changes in color that attract too much attention.

Depending on your preferences, you could put porcelain tiles in high-traffic area and /or where there's water (entryway, kitchen, bathrooms, laundry, living/family rooms) while using carpet or hardwood flooring in the bedrooms and hallways leading to them. If you do use hardwood anywhere, however, I'd recommend putting it in the formal living room rather than tile for a more sophisticated look.

Lastly, we did wait until our little girl had learned to walk (and run) quite well before tiling our family room. Carpet and vinyl are more forgiving to little knees.

For FAQs and to read up on the difference between ceramic (or clay, saltillo) and porcelain tiles, go to: Build Direct

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Downtown Riverside: Maria's Antiques

One block north of the Mission Inn is a little antique store where everything is worth looking at. We met Maria at her previous store on Market, literally when we first came to Riverside. We were in escrow and were shopping for furniture (which you generally shouldn't do, but we were coming from a teeny but more expensive condo in Santa Monica, so we had a little money). We'd already gone to a few new furniture stores and had been disappointed by the high prices and poor workmanship (note: if a big dining room table has a lot of pressboard under that veneer, gravity will win, and the table will sag). Then, while wandering around the Mission Inn, we discovered that Riverside is an incredible place for antiquing, and the best store is Maria's. We got a gorgeous bedroom set there and later went back for a dining room set. The prices for many pieces of furniture in Riverside antique stores are about half of what they'd be in West L.A. There are plenty of big places where you can search for hours, but if you're short on time and need a great gift, go straight to Maria's.

You can find Maria's Antiques at:
3541 Main St. (between 5th and 6th)
Riverside, CA 92501
(951) 784-6528

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Downtown Riverside: Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's Gift Shop

Downtown Riverside has some great places, including Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's Gift Shop. This eclectic little store is the best place in town to find tasteful gifts. The first items you see when you walk in are sheets of gorgeous gift wrap--too beautiful for me to use. But they are good for lining drawers! Then there are various sections where you're bound to find the right gift for a discerning woman (or her young child). There's a section for soap and teacups, East Asian gifts, horse lovers, faerie magic, dog and cat fanciers, liberated women, extremely classy infant clothes (including Robeez shoes), old-fashioned toys, sophisticated clothes and shoes, decorator items, and an entire backroom devoted to seasonal ware (truly magical at Christmastime).

Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's Gift Shop is located at:
3675 Main Street (near the Mission Inn)
Riverside, CA 92501

Saturday, August 05, 2006

HOA fees and 100% Financing

I often get first-time buyers asking me about condos. My husband and I started out in a condo, and it's a wise choice for first-time buyers as well as older people who are downsizing. Condos tend to be in much better physical condition than houses in the lower ranges of the market as the HOA has to maintain it.

However, I do have to warn first-time buyers that the monthly HOA fee will have a real impact on their buying ability, and they shouldn't assume that they can afford a condo with the same price tag as a house. With 100% financing, every $50 of monthly fee will subtract about $9000 from their pre-approval amount for a house. So if an assn. has a monthly fee of $200, that means that a buyer who could afford a house at $350,000 can only go up to about $314,000.

First-time buyers should ask their lender about the effect of HOA fees on their buying ability, and they should ask their realtor to find out how much assn. fees are when looking at condos.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

In a Slower Market Sellers Need to Clean Up, Make Repairs, and Update

Now that we have so many properties on the market, I'm telling sellers that they have to take another look at their homes and make them as cute as possible. The few buyers I've had of late are really picky, and who can blame them? Would you pay 2 to 3 times your current mortgage for your home in its present condition?

If you've already listed your home, look at the photos of it on the MLS (your agent can send you a link to show you what buyers are seeing). If the photos are bad, have them redone. The first photo should be of the exterior. The driveway needs to be empty--no cars, trucks, trash cans, children, or pets. You'll need some interior and yard shots, too: 1 of the kitchen, the living room, family room, each bathroom, each bedroom, and the patio or backyard. If you're missing any of these, someone will ask "Why? Is it that ugly?" Don't bother with multiple shots of the front of the house or the same room--people will wonder if those are the only decent views. And trust me, if you have no photos or few, agents won't even preview because they'll go to a house that has pictures available.

If any of these essential areas don't photograph well, clean them up, so that they will. Get rid of the clutter, make it look like perfect people live there, update flooring, paint in neutral colors, refinish or replace dilapidated cabinets, outdated countertops, beat up sinks. It will be cheaper than lowering the price of the house and could make the difference in months on the market.

Once you have only good photographs on the MLS, be prepared for people to come and visit. Curb appeal is crucial. There’s nothing like waiting at an open house and watching as cars pull up, then drive away after they take one look and decide not to come in. Is your lawn dead? Is it hard to see the house for the jungle of overgrown plants? Is your house paint peeling or of an unfashionable color? Let’s face it, cute sells. (I managed to sell a mint-green house recently after 6 months on the market. The buyers asked for and got 10k in closing costs. The first thing they did after they closed escrow was paint the exterior. It's so much nicer now! Perhaps if the sellers had done it themselves, they may have sold in the first 2 months and saved what they lost on mortgage payments on an empty house.)

Walk in the front door and pretend you're shopping for something new. What do you first see, smell, hear, feel? Cleanliness, light, and temperature are crucial. Can you see or do you need to open blinds and turn on lights? Does it smell like stale cigarettes, leftovers, kitty litter, disinfectant? Is it too hot? If it’s hot out, have the air conditioning running full blast. Smokers should smoke outside until escrow closes and deep clean the interior until a non-smoker says it passes a sniff test. (Note: non-smokers generally want carpets changed and the entire house repainted inside.)

If they make it past the entryway and into the house, kitchens and bathrooms are going to be very important. Put away as much as possible, so that the rooms look bigger. Make the house perfectly clean and touch up grout and paint (correctly, so that it doesn’t crack and peel soon afterward). Check to be sure that all doors open and shut easily, fix torn screens, and clean out the garage, so that there's room to park in there.

It's hard to keep clean, especially if you have children. Try to give each child one or two responsibilities depending on age and ability. A younger child might be able to wipe off fingerprints down low on the sliding door while an older one could handle toilet duty. Will the child get his or her own room in the next home as a reward? Or perhaps a big yard, swingset, something special? Keeping their and your goals in mind will help you sustain your energy and get your house sold.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Moreno Valley Statistics from the Past 60 Days

Real estate prices in Moreno Valley are proving stable despite a larger inventory and longer days on market. There's been a noticeable increase in the average price of available 2-bedroom homes as only the most affordable are selling. This high average is some 65k over the average price of the pending 2-bedrooms and 50k over the closed sales. 37 of these houses have 2 bathrooms, and 35 are 1000 and more square feet, and these larger 2-bedrooms houses are proving harder to sell as they're priced similarly to smaller 3-bedroom houses. The difference between available and pendings/solds in 3 and 4-bedrooms is about 28k and 20k respectively. Very few condos are currently available, and there's such a gap in value between older and new complexes that the data is mostly anecdotal.

As always, this data comes from the IMRMLS and thus does not include For Sale by Owners and houses that were listed only in other boards. The numbers may be skewed by agents who made errors in their entries. Pending, closed, and expired numbers are as of 6/1/06.


2 and less:
Available: 93 Avg. Price: 355,168 Avg. Days On Market: 51
Pending: 19 Avg. Price: 289,763 Avg. DOM: 51
Back-Up: 4 Avg. Price: 326,662 Avg. DOM: 51
Sold: 24 Avg. Price: 305,070 Avg. DOM: 48
Expired: 17 Avg. Val: 317,700 Avg. DOM: Unavailable

3 bedrooms:
Available: 574 Avg. Price: 390,241 Avg. DOM: 54
Pending: 107 Avg. Price: 362,884 Avg. DOM: 54
Back-Up: 22 Avg. Price: 407,582 Avg. DOM: 83
Sold: 185 Avg. Price: 366,113 Avg. DOM: 46
Expired: 154 Avg. Val: 394,659 Avg. DOM: Unavailable

4 bedrooms:
Available: 757 Avg. Price: 467,528 Avg. DOM: 58
Pending: 133 Avg. Price: 448,168 Avg. DOM: 56
Back-Up: 23 Avg. Price: 476,280 Avg. DOM: 74
Sold: 184 Avg. Price: 445,381 Avg. DOM: 51
Expired: 221 Avg. Val: 464,726

2 and less
Available: 2 Avg. Price: 212,000 Avg. DOM: 48
Pending: 0
Back-Up: 2 Avg. Price: 309,950 Avg. DOM: 54
Sold: 6 Avg. Price: 261,333 Avg. DOM: 21
Expired: : 1 Avg. Price: 285,000 Avg. DOM: Unavailable

3 bedrooms
Available: 7 Avg. Price: 300,457 Avg. DOM: 48
Pending: 1 Avg. Price: 238,000 Avg. DOM: 20
Back-Up: 0
Sold: 2 Avg. Price: 272,220 Avg. DOM: 32
Expired: 0