Riverside Realtor Blog - Alma Dizon

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

Saturday, September 23, 2006

In Pursuit of Your Happiness

I chose the motto "in pursuit of your happiness" because of that lovely and whimsical phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. Adam Smith preferred the "pursuit of property," but I rather like Jefferson's choice of words because the American dream isn't merely about chasing after material things, it's about self-determination. The ability to pursue one's own happiness, whether or not one ever succeeds, is something that very few people throughout the world have ever had.

So when I make the promise to work with a client to help them seek their own happiness, I know that we may not find it in the act of buying or selling a house. Sometimes, it means not buying or selling a house.

A couple called me a few months ago to discuss putting their home on the market. They'd been dreaming for years of retiring, selling their house, and buying a large RV to tour the country together. I looked at comps for their area, and we realized that the reason why a similar house in their tract hadn't sold for months was because it was priced over 50k more than the highest sale for its square footage. There was no reason for it to be priced so high as it would never have appraised, and no buyer would have gotten a loan on it. Then I asked my clients to find out just how much they would need to net to buy the RV they wanted. That's when we ran into problems. They had taken out a second mortgage to make some very nice improvements on their home, but consequently, they weren't going to net enough to buy the RV. I crunched the numbers for them with various scenarios, warning them about needing to help buyers with closing costs, etc., the effect that the HOA fees would have on 100% financed buyers, etc. Finally, they told me that they would need to list their house about 40k over what we all knew made sense.

I was cringing as I drove to their house with all the contracts ready for them to sign. While their house would be priced lower than the others around them, I knew it was just going to sit as no one with a lot of cash and very little brains wasn't likely to save the day.

They greeted me at the door with apologetic smiles and told me that just 5 minutes before I got there, the wife had looked at her husband and said, "Why are we looking all over for happiness when maybe it's right here in front of us?" And then they knew they weren't going to sell.

I was incredibly relieved and happy for them. While I want (and need) to make a living, I'd rather help people buy and sell a home when it's right for them. They need to know as much as possible, so that they can figure out if it really would be better for them to make that move ... or not. And it saves me the horrible situation of sellers in escrow who discover that they're not going to make enough money after all or who have to live with the stress of keeping a house clean for 6 months while no one makes an offer. Thus with self-determination comes the pursuit of one's own happiness and the possibility of actually achieving it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Using someone else's identity to get a home loan isn't a good idea...

... because you're bound to be caught. Think about it. If you buy a house with someone else's credit history, that address becomes associated with that name. The person is likely to find out at some point, and then you're a sitting duck, right? And also, if you couldn't have gotten that loan on your own, how will you make the payments?

Sounds dumb, and yet people try it. There was a case last year of someone who got a loan, bought a house, and then the listing agent was questioned months later because the person whose credit had been used found out about it and called the authorities. The agent hadn't ever realized that the buyer wasn't who he said he was. After all, he had provided all the necessary documents to his lender, right?

Another agent I know had a listing for some sellers that were about to go into foreclosure. Then she got a call one day from someone who told her that his credit had been used to buy the house. It was very odd because he apparently knew the couple to some extent, and it wasn't clear if he had knowingly given them his social security number. At that point, he was just hoping that they would sell the house in time to save what was left of his credit. Well, they lost the house. They didn't even own it a year and never were able to make the payments.

So don't use someone else's credit to buy a house. If you don't have the credit and salary, then you probably can't make the payments, and someone is bound to notice that they suddenly have a house payment showing up on their credit history. And if someone you know would like to use your credit to buy a house, don't let them. There's a reason why no one will loan them the money.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Nowadays, Yahoo Looks Better than Google for Real Estate Searches...

I used to hate Yahoo. I would try to search for data and just find misleading links to porn sites. So then I used Google religiously for a few years. When my husband put together my first website, and I began writing content for it, I was elated at how fast we went to the top of Google searches and not surprised at my lack of visibility on Yahoo and other search engines. Whenever I'd get sales calls from people who promised that I could buy my way to the top of Google, I'd tell them that we didn't need them because we're content-driven, and my husband isn't selling his know-how to everybody and their cousin.

Then it all changed. Google changed their algorithms, and our site quickly fell. Regular updates and new content did little to help. Then, to my horror, someone in my office showed me that an agent who is very high in Google was using my site to boost their standing. My husband tried to put up blocks and complained to Google, but to no avail.

Then this afternoon, when looking for my blog in Google, I discovered that references to my blog show up very quickly when searching for "riverside real estate blog". And in fact, the same agent who has been using my website also pops up, and the description comes word for word from my blog! But my blog doesn't actually get onto the first page of the Google search. Funny, huh?

Yahoo, on the other hand, has my blog and our first site showing up immediately under several different search terms. And the annoying site jumper is below us when he shows up at all. So now I'm beginning to use Yahoo for other searches, and I'm finding them much improved from 5 years ago. I've located real sites with information.

Yes, this is merely a personal experience. Let me know what you've noticed!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Personalities that I prefer as buyers rather than as sellers...

I've been very lucky in that I've liked every client that I've had thus far (knock on wood). A few of them had personality traits that made them the perfect buyer or seller. But sometimes people whom I would have loved to have represented when they were buying come to me when they want to sell and vice versa.

Basically, these are clients who are easy going and can accept flaws. When they bought, they got a good price on an imperfect home, and they managed to live there quite comfortably. They made some improvements, and they accepted some of the home's defects while never becoming aware of a few. Sometimes, they also had agents and home inspectors who weren't extremely observant.

Then the time comes for them to sell, and they discover that the seller's market has ended, and buyers are expecting perfection. This can be harsh as they may not have the money to fix up everything and have more than enough to deal with jobs and family. If anything, that's one reason why we have so many houses staying on the market right now--because a lot of people aren't perfectionists, and these houses are expensive. What an average person could put up with for $900 a month, s/he won't for $3500 a month.

Of course, with these prices and consumer uncertainty, even dream sellers are watching their houses sit on the market. Dream sellers are a wonder to behold. Their houses are immaculate, everything works, and if there's a problem, they fix it before an offer even comes in. Since such personalities have excellent credit and savings, they get the termite inspection done during the first week and might even tent the structure before the first open house if termites are found... When they accept an offer and the home inspection is done, they read the report and start making repairs even before the buyer's agent can send a repair request form. Can you imagine what these people are like as buyers? They see every speck of dirt, loose fleck of paint, burnt out light bulb, and lose water heater strap. They detect the slightest odor of a pet, hear distant trains, and feel faintly sticky spots. If I find new construction that fits their needs and preferences, I'm in luck because then they'll get a house that has never been lived in, and they can go after the builder to fix any problems (and they will).

But us realtors can't be too picky. As long as my clients are honest, intelligent, and have a sense of humor (and like I said, I've been very lucky), I can't only represent them in situations of my choosing. So I keep smiling at them (even though sometimes I go home and cry), and I plug on.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Revenge isn't always sweet in divorce and real estate

Divorce and real estate can be tricky, especially when the couple decides to get back at each other in ways that end up sinking the boat for both of them.

An agent I know worked for some months a while back with a couple that wanted to buy a house. There were very few houses on the market at the time, and they did go for a period without looking. Then they continued and finally found the right place. However, when the agent put a call in to the loan officer to prepare the contracts, he found out that the couple had had a falling out during that break in the home search. The husband had moved out, they'd prepared to divorce, but then they managed to work things out. During that time, the husband continued to put money into their shared checking account, and the wife was supposed to pay their credit cards and car loans. However, it turned out that the wife decided to get revenge by not making payments. She shopped a lot instead. After he moved back in, the husband got them caught up again, but the damage was done. Their credit was no longer enough for them to get the loan they needed. I never did find out if they stayed together after that discovery.

Another more recent situation that happened to another agent I know occurred with divorcing sellers who had gone on the market after the slowdown. The house was in his name, but his job had him travelling a lot, and she was living at the house. Every time the agent went by the house, something else was missing. One day, all the kitchen cabinets had been pulled out. It turned out that the wife was getting revenge by ripping out everything possible. After many months, they managed to get a low offer and got into escrow. However, only a week into escrow, they had to cancel because the bank repo'ed the house. It turned out that the husband had taken his revenge by not making payments for some months... Now, they have nothing to show for their investment, and they both have ruined credit.

A cousin of mine once told me that the best revenge is to live well. Sometimes, that means not taking revenge, especially when it can and will boomerang on you.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Imperial Irrigation District Encourages Planting Trees in the Desert

Imperial Irrigation District is now starting a program similar to the one here in Riverside in which homeowners can get reimbursed $25 per tree planted around their homes. This is a great way to lower air conditioning bills as deciduous trees can greatly reduce the amount of sun beating down on roofs and patios during the hottest months.

We've planted a number of trees around our house and have benefited greatly from their shade. Our family room went from impossible to cool enough to being the most pleasant room in the house all summer long. Our only regret is that we seem to have run out of sunny areas on our roof for the number of solar panels we want. So you may want to put up solar panels before you plant, and then just shade the remaining areas of your roof. Of course, if you're out in the desert and have enough land, you could also put panels in your yard. On the other hand, if you're on a budget, trees are much cheaper than solar panels, which are a big investment and, depending on your power company, may not get you much of a rebate.

You can read a Press Enterprise article about the new program by clicking on the link below:

Planting Trees in the Desert

Friday, September 08, 2006

Think Twice About Improvements

A woman once called me out of the blue to ask if putting in a new pool would increase her new home's resale value. I told her, quite frankly, that she should only get the pool for her family to enjoy but not if she planned on selling the house within a couple of years. I explained to her that the pool, which she said would cost about 40k, might add only 10k in value, so it wasn't the best investment.

Every time I preview homes, I see one or two that I have to put in my "What were they thinking list?" A poorly built (and unpermitted) deck off a master bedroom that had an unfinished and rotting plywood floor; a former closet turned toilet connecting a game room addition to a kitchen; a massive 2-story house where the laundry room had been made into a full bath (without a bedroom) while the washer and dryer were banished to the garage (they'll need to shower after hauling the laundry all that way from the upstairs bedrooms and then running the dryer on 100+ degree days).

An article in Money Magazine examines the pool question and other expensive renovations that don't always pay off when selling down the road. To read the article, click on the link below:
4 Risky Renovations

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Eating Well in Riverside: Pho 99

A great place for lunch or dinner with kids is Pho 99 on La Sierra. Their food is tasty and very comforting. Let's put this way, after my baby was born, I sent my husband there for take out.

There's Pho in abundance, of course. (For those of you who haven't yet had Vietnamese food, it's a wonderful soup with rice noodles and various cuts of meat. You add as much hot sauce and chillies as you want or none if you prefer.) They also have fresh spring rolls with shrimp and fried egg rolls, both of which our little girl loves. Then there are the noodle and rice dishes with wonderful charbroiled pork and pork paste (a kind of sliced sausage), among many other choices. And of course, what sets Vietnamese food apart from most other cuisines (for me, at least) is the salad greens (plus plenty of fresh basil and bean sprouts) that accompany most meals, so the guilt is minimal.

And if you're a coffee drinker, you must try their iced Vietnamese coffee. Forget Starbucks, you haven't had had real coffee (or been really truly awake) until you've had iced Vietnamese coffee.

You can find Pho 99 at:
4557 La Sierra Ave
Riverside, CA 92505
(951) 688-2671

Monday, September 04, 2006

Smells Like Chino

There are just some things that you need to warn buyers about. Having myself relocated to the Inland Empire some years ago, there were some details that I discovered and feel duty bound to inform my out-of-area buyers about. One of these issues is ... the smell of areas that are transitioning from agriculture to suburbs.

When we first moved out here, I made a little joke to some friends that their neighborhood smelled "like Chino." You see, I've always been in the habit of setting my car's air conditioning to recycled air when passing through Chino, which smells like dairy farms. How was I to know that Chino and the surrounding areas would become incredibly desirable and expensive. Geez, if only I'd known then what I know now.

Even though we bought a home in an established neighborhood, there have been days when I walk out of the house and found that we smell "like Chino," too. The UCR campus often has that odor, depending on the wind and who is fertilizing.

North Corona, aka Eastvale, smells quite strongly of dairy farm. It doesn't matter that the farms are shutting down and moving out of the area--the manure will be in the dirt for many years to come. The upside, as I tell people, is that they will have gorgeous lawns and be able to grow most any vegetable or fruit suitable for our weather.

A couple of articles on how dairy farmers have been selling out to developers in Chino and Eastvale can be read at the following sites:
Chino Dairy Farms

LA Times article on Dairy Farms

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Tented House for Sale

Growing up in Hawaii, I took it for granted that people ought to get their houses tented for termites every ten years or so. The joke about rickety houses was always that the termites were holding hands to keep them from falling. Several times a year, the weather would be ripe for termite love, and clouds of termites would hover around the streetlights. We'd turn off all the lights and set candles by dishes of water to catch those that got into the house.

Here in California, termites don't seem nearly as omnipresent, and so I occasionally run into sellers who seem to think that because their house was better built and/or kept clean, they won't have any termite problems. Not true.

Even brand new houses can have termites deep in the wood--they just won't work their way out to a visible area for about 10 years. And if there's been extra moisture (not just weather, but badly aimed sprinklers, for instance), all the more reason to expect an infestation.

I generally tell sellers to get a termite check done as soon as possible after listing the house. Then when they get into escrow, they can go ahead and have any section one (outright infestation or situations that could soon lead to infestation) repairs made. Depending on the buyer's lender and the severity of the problem, a clean report may be required by funding or even just to get loan docs.

Several times in the past year, I've had sellers who found themselves having to get the house tented during escrow. Yes, it can be embarrassing to have that tent go over your home with the for sale sign in front. The neighbors can't help but notice. But I tell sellers that the good news is that they're definitely selling a termite-free house and that the buyers will have a warranty from the termite company. And this is much better than what happened to my husband and myself when we bought our home. Some termite work was done, but they didn't tent, and by the time we discovered live termites swarming inside our house a couple of years later, the company had gone out of business, leaving us to pay for tenting out of our own pocket.

Every year, we have a company inspect our house to nip any activity in the bud. But you have to be home and make sure the inspector is really looking closely. Ask them about any odd piles of sawdust-type material you may have seen or any dark holes appearing in the ceiling (those turned out to be subterranean termites that had gotten up through the wall and were eating our ceiling!).

There was a great article in Harper's Magazine in Aug. of 2005 about Formosan termites in New Orleans. It also had some very interesting info on the levees there, so that when I first heard about the approaching hurricane, I knew that the city was going to flood. You can read the article online at:

The Swarm

Friday, September 01, 2006

Some of the Pros and Cons of a New House versus Resale

Buyers often tell me that they think that it'd be better to buy a new house in order to benefit the most from increased value. I tell them that can be true if they're buying in the first phase, plan to finish the backyard, put in upgrades, and sell within a few years. People who bought a few years ago have seen their homes double and more in value even if they did just about nothing to them. However, builders have really increased prices on new homes, and buyers of new homes now are faced with higher prices at the outset. If they plan to sell sooner rather than later, there's lots of competition, so they need to finish the yard, put in patios and patio covers, and upgrade the interior. So I find myself warning people that, after the 30% annual increase in value across the board during two years in a row, they're going to have to put some money into that new house to get some out of it.

The potential for a lot of unearned equity (when sellers benefit from fast-rising prices rather than having to improve the property) led to a virtual torrent of flipped houses in new tracts. But as buyers go from one empty house to another, each one with the same layout, the same flooring, the same everything, and all with barren dustbowls outback, their enthusiasm quickly wilts. They wonder why "everyone" wants to move out of the neighborhood and if they're being had.

So while it can make sense to buy a new house in order to get more equity faster, buyers need to keep in mind that the market has changed. If they choose a house that has been lived in (and landscaped), they can finance the cost of the improvements that the sellers have made. Whereas if they choose to buy from the builder, they'll have to come up with the cash (or perhaps get an equity line of credit if value goes up quickly enough) to make those improvements. And they'll have to live with the dust, noise, and general mayhem while those improvements are made. Of course, they'll get to choose the improvements, so the property will be just to their liking. But then they ought to stay put and enjoy living there after all their hardwork.