Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Onto Solar?

Longtime readers of this blog know we're a bit maniacal about saving energy.  It's those years in Alaska, the energy-efficiency demo I did with the DOE while running the Farmer's Home Administration in the Clinton Administration, and my fundamental thriftiness (note:  I'm thrifty with my money, and thrifty with yours as well....).

At the Pala Avenue house, we installed a panoply of energy-saving devices...occupancy- and vacancy-sensor switches, insulation, double paned glass, low flow bath fixtures, a second furnace to replace the baseboard heat upstairs, and so on (I'll tell you a little secret--the Pala house is going on the market at the end of April!).

Here at our Pacific Avenue house, we've reworked the ducts, installed a Nest thermostat, and are installing double-paned glass in the original windows and skylight in the former artist's studio, which today act as a flue to drive warm air up and out of the house.  Meanwhile, our electric bill is huge because there are way too many halogen lights in the house, and the Remaining Son's room can get chilly, so he turns on the baseboard heat in his office alcove (and doesn't turn it off as he leaves for school).

We have so much low-hanging fruit that we haven't gotten serious about solar, and for me at least, "waste as much electricity as you want on those lights because you can get it for cheap from solar panels" is not a compelling argument.

But the Sungevity folks stopped by today and we'll talk again on Friday about what solar could do for our situation.  They're the company (run by a Kennedy, btw) that leases solar panels.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Integrity First

Mark McLaughlin, the owner of Pacific Union, has just finished his 2013 "road show" presentations around the region (we're now a dozen offices with 550 talented, deeply experienced agents, with the capacity and resources that such a sizeable, yet locally owned and managed firm can offer).

He reiterated our history:

"Pacific Union was founded in 1975 to be a different kind of real estate firm. We preferred to create industry standards rather than follow legacy or convention. To act with absolute integrity. To base our success on ethics and results. "

I continue to be struck by how consistently Pacific Union hews to the high road--

  • how consistently agents resist the urge to try to represent both the seller and buyer in a transaction (because let's face it, you can't, even though it's technically legal);
  • how consistently leadership reiterates the need to disclose disclose disclose, whether the condition of a home, or innocent prior relationships between agents and buyers; and
  • how effectively our agents are advised by our legal team about cutting edge issues, or the complications that a frantic market like the current one can generate.
We act this way because it's the right thing to do, but also because it creates a fundamental sense of trust between agent and client.  If your agent tells you in advance that one competing buyer is her tenant, or if your agent tells you in advance that she has a second listing coming to market at a different price point at the same time as yours, or if your agent tells you in advance that she has a second buyer interested in the same property so can't represent you, and is happy to refer you to another agent in her firm or in another firm if you prefer, does your sense of trust increase?  


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Piedmont's "Selling a House in Piedmont" Flyer

Stopped into the City offices a week or so ago and noticed a new brochure on selling a home here.  It focuses on three things:

-The mandatory sidewalk inspection ($30)
-The mandatory permit history and distribution to buyers ($50), and
-The mandatory compliance with EBMUD on your private sewer lateral.

I always go over and order/pay for these for my clients--like the natural hazard disclosure ($99), it's a mandated disclosure report, so ought to be paid for by the seller, but I have a hard time nickeling and diming about $179 in this market......

If the City says your sidewalk needs repairs, you get it repaired before closing, or more typically pay the City in escrow to do the repairs when they are next in your neighborhood.  (Sometimes buyers cover this cost as part of a campaign to get sellers to take their offer, but typically the seller is responsible.)

If your permit history notes any un-finalled permits, it's typically the seller's job to get them "closed" before closing (though again, sometimes buyers will take this on).  Now that I'm a broker, I have a take-no-prisoners attitude about closing permits, and you should too! Don't give your contractor or hot water heater installer their final check unless you have the finalled permit in hand!

Here's how it goes:  You call the installer when your hot water heater fails (hopefully it didn't involve a gush of water all over your rumpus room carpet....).  The installer says "$1395!" (because a more reputable installer will tell you, "well, this should be done with a permit [and your vent is wrong and your flue is transite and Piedmont doesn't allow that anymore, and the tank needs to be double strapped for earthquake safety] so the total cost to do all this is $2200," and this installer thinks you'll go with him if he says "$1395!"  Worse yet, in some ways, is when the installer says "$1395 and I'll get a permit too!"

Many years later, when you go to sell the house, you'll find that the installer didn't close the permit and the inspector will "ding" you for the incorrectly hung vent and the transite flue.  So you then have to pay a penalty, and pay to renew and then close the permit.  But before the Piedmont inspector will close the permit, they'll force you to fix that vent and replace the transite flue.  And double strap.

So much better to tell the installer, "get a permit and close it; I'm not paying 'til you do."

And when your brother offers to re-do your bathroom, say "only if you'll get a permit and close it."  Closing permits many years later, especially after code requirements have changed yet again, is an expensive and very frustrating process (often you'll have to open up walls, or god forbid, shower tiles, to prove there is proper plumbing underneath, and then close it up again.  As you can imagine, the buyer doesn't think this is their problem.).

And then on to sewer laterals.  Your sewer lateral is the "lateral" pipe from your house's drain lines out to the City sewer main, usually in the street, but sometimes at your rear property line, or sometimes through your rear neighbor's yard and down to the street behind you (been there, done that).

Recall that EPA settled with East Bay cities a couple of years ago regarding our leaky and cracked clay sewer lines.  All homes need to have their sewer lateral "compliant" at sale.  The buyer or seller can do it, and they can even delay for up to 180 days if there's a $4500 performance bond paid by someone.  All these issues typically get resolved in the purchase contract, and are negotiable.

If you're lines are clogging, pull the trigger and replace your lateral.  You'll avoid the mess in the intervening years, and you'll be eligible for a 20-year exemption from the testing requirement.  If you replaced it within the past 10 years, as we did, you can file for a no-cost 10-year exemption.

And managing all these details is the job of your realtor!  It's a lot to contemplate, but if you bit it off in bits, or ask your realtor to feed you these items in bits, it's easier to digest.  Don't forget, this is all in exchange for getting you closer to that new stage of your life!