Don’t do that upgrade until you read this.

Whether you’re considering selling your home soon, or not, it’s a good idea to understand what improvements will provide a return on investment, and which could be a waste of your hard-earned money.

I often encounter people considering a move, and the immediate inclination is to fix everything, and worse, make improvements to the home because they think it will add value to the sale. In most if not all cases, those repairs and improvements will not even give you your money back, let alone add to your profit. Look at these results from the 2017 Cost vs. Value report below, showing you the local data, regional data, and national data. It’s remarkably consistent. See that report here.


In case you don’t have time to look at it, the average across the board is about 64% return on investment. For every dollar you spend on a home improvement project, you can expect an average of 64 cents back in added value.  Sure, improving your home will add value, but if it doesn’t even return the money you spend on the improvement, maybe you should reconsider, based on how long you intend to stay there. If you spend $25,000 on a kitchen remodel (average 59.9% return), and it only adds $15,000 in value, and you’re getting ready to sell the home, you’re effectively leaving $10,000 on the table. Where could you go for $10,000?

That covers the financial side, but what about the emotional side? If you’re going to be in the property for several years, and you realize that your return on investment comes in the form of enjoying the upgrade, then make the decision that’s right for you.

However, if your motivation for spending the money is profit, save it…take a vacation.

Sellers-have you missed your window of opportunity?

For five years or so, home sellers have enjoyed the benefits of what many call a “seller’s market.” Although the definition varies a bit among analysts, a seller’s market is generally defined in part by the amount of available inventory for ready-willing-able buyers to choose from…typically 1-3 months of inventory. A neutral market is typically defined as 4-6 months of inventory, and a buyer’s market anything above 6 months of inventory.
For a long time the level of inventory has remained extremely low…hovering around 1 month of inventory, giving the sellers generous advantages when selling their property.
In the past several weeks, I’ve noticed a slight pumping of the brakes, so I wanted to investigate myself.
In Riverbank, one of the markets I serve, 151 homes sold in the past six months, giving us an average of 25.2 home sales per month. Pretty consistent with the past history. However, there are now 93 homes on the market, rendering us in a state of 3.69 months of inventory. That’s a borderline neutral market, folks, which may be diluting the seller’s advantage.
I wanted to see if the same results would be found expanding the assessment to a county level…and they were. 2850 homes sold in Stanislaus County in the past six months, or 475 per month. Today, there are 1610 active properties, or 3.4 months of inventory. This is a far cry from where we were just weeks ago…and an indicator that the market is shifting.
While I’ve only broken down two specific areas, I believe the data will show the same consistency in most neighborhoods. If you want to know your specific neighborhood, call me and I’ll research your specific area and advise you of the results. 209-505-8679.
If you’re still thinking of selling, it’s not too late…but you’ll need to be priced right and hire an experienced agent who can negotiate on your behalf. We can help you with that, and even offset some of the “loss” you may feel you incurred by missing your window of opportunity.
Visit for more details.

There’s a war on for your contact information

It’s no secret that the real estate industry has seen its fair share of change in the past decade. With the introduction of large information portals like Zillow, Trulia, Redfin…the list goes on and on, the way information is shared today is light years away from just a mere decade ago. While I believe change is good, and I firmly support the access the general public has to information that was once solely controlled by real estate Brokers and attorneys, there is perhaps an ugly side developing…one deeply rooted in corporate greed.
The introduction of all of these new options for consumers is going to come at a price. The question is, who will pay for it?
Until recently, these companies made their money the old fashioned way…they earned it through fees paid by third parties and advertising. However, it didn’t take them long to realize that they could actually make money a different way. A lot more money.
One must remember that the information shared on these portals comes from a source, and that source is real estate agents. Realtors syndicate their listings through these portals to increase national exposure…which is a good thing, right? The portals get the traffic so they can get more advertising, and the listings get seen by more prospective buyers. It’s a win/win.
However, that’s simply not good enough for some of these corporations, so in an effort to capitalize even more, they now have found ways to “sell” the leads derived from the very information provided by real estate professionals to…you guessed it…the same real estate professionals.
Wait a minute. You’re telling me that the same companies whose sole existence relies on the information provided by real estate agents are now selling back to the same agents the fruits of that information? Yes, I am. You give your name and phone number to the likes of zillow, and they will sell that information to the highest bidder (a real estate agent), whether you buy a home or not. Not a bad gig, huh?
Just how much money are we talking here, I mean, twenty bucks here, twenty bucks there, who cares, Curt?
Would you be surprised to hear that your name and number are being sold for as much as 30% of the total commission earned by the agent? On a $400,000 dollar sale, at a 3% commission (half of the total), that company is going to charge the agent 30% of their share earned…or in this example, $3600. For a name and a phone number.
Now, not to sound like I’m bitter about this, because I’m not. I refuse to do business with these companies any more than I have to. Here is where the rub lies.
At one point in time, it was common for a homeowner to pay 6% to list their home, and they were happy to pay it. It represented a good value for the service. Along came the crash of 2007 and we saw banks controlling much of the inventory, through foreclosures and short sales. They saw an opportunity to slash commissions to 5%, because they had a captive audience. Today, 5% is almost the norm anymore, although commissions are 100% negotiable.
Now, if a real estate agent is paying 30% of his/her commission out to an “internet marketing company” just to get your name and phone number, the homeowner’s leverage to negotiate a lower commission just got destroyed. By the time everyone takes their portion of that commission…the Franchisor, the Broker, MLS companies, insurance companies, etc., there’s often very little left for the agent. Take another 30% away and it’s an insult to the effort put forth.

I have my own way to deal with this latest development in our industry, and it doesn’t involve participating in a pay-to-play scenario. But make no mistake, it’s not going away, it’s only getting bigger. More players, more dilution. More reselling of the same information. The likes of corporate behemoths like Amazon are jumping in, anxious to leverage their own internet traffic into easy profits for simply gathering a name and phone number. Think about this…over 46 million “leads” were sold to real estate agents last year, but only 5 million homes were sold nationally. It’s not uncommon for the same lead to be resold 5-10 times.
Based on your own interpretation, you could say that real estate agents will pay the price for all of this. I say it will be the same people that typically pay for it…the consumers. There’s only so much pie, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.
So next time you enter your name, phone number, and maybe an email address, ask yourself this…”I wonder how much money is being made from this information?”
Then ask yourself this…”How much did I get?”
Someone has to pay for all of that…and real estate agents can’t afford to give up much more. That only leaves you at the table.

Pricing your home

There is no greater challenge you’ll face when selling a property, than to price it correctly. Pricing it too high will create a stagnant listing and perhaps draw low ball offers. Pricing it too low, hoping that buyers will compete for your property, may backfire on you if you’ve over estimated the demand.
As I’ve stated in prior blog posts, online valuations have become increasingly popular, because they don’t require talking to an agent, and they’re relatively easy to obtain. However, any valuation created by a computer matrix is going to be off the mark…the question is, how far off? As a Broker, I’ve seen online valuations off by as much as 30%. That’s a lot of money to leave on the table.
Online valuations were never meant to be a replacement, but a simple guideline. That computer doesn’t know that you’ve updated your home, versus the same floor plan down the street who has not. It hasn’t walked your property, or heard the story of your property. There are too many variables to consider.
Aside from the statements above, it’s important to identify other factors that may affect your pricing decision. What’s the absorption rate in your specific area? Do the current conditions indicate a seller’s market, a balanced market, or a buyer’s market? How does the prior 6 months activity compare to the last 30-60 days? Does it indicate a trend in a different direction? Based on the attributes of your property, who is most likely to purchase your home? Is that a broad audience or a narrow one?
You see, pricing a property is not as simple as logging on to zillow or redfin, or by pulling a few comparables. If you want to sell for top dollar, and have more control over the timeline, take the time to gather all the data needed to make an informed decision.

Water conserving plumbing fixture-legal update.

2017 Water Conserving Plumbing Fixtures – What You Need to Know

In January, 2017, new laws became effective regarding plumbing fixtures in homes built prior to 1994, but it essentially affects all homes not in compliance, whether you’re selling or not.

Q. What does the law require?
A. In a nutshell, starting in 2017, the law requires installation of water conserving plumbing fixtures if you own a single-family home, and it is built before 1994 – whether or not it is being sold.

Q. I am selling my house. Are there any special disclosures that I must make?
A. The law requires you to disclose whether there are any non-compliant plumbing fixtures on the property. The form on the other side of this FAQ [portions of the new WCMD] has the specifications. But if you are unsure, then you should consult with someone who has expertise in the matter like a contractor or plumber.

Q. I am selling my house. Are there any installation requirements under this law?
A. No. There is nothing in this law that requires installation of water-conserving plumbing fixtures as a condition of sale. However, if you haven’t already installed water conserving plumbing fixtures on your pre-1994 single-family house, then you are in violation of the basic requirement of the law.

Q. I own a property in a city where there is an existing retrofit law for water-conserving fixtures as a point of sale requirement (such as Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco). Are those retrofit laws still in force?
A. Yes. Local laws passed before July of 2009 requiring retrofit of plumbing fixtures remain in effect. The state law also allows a locality to pass more restrictive requirements at any time.

Q. I would like to install water conserving plumbing fixtures. What can I do?
A. Call an expert such as a contractor or plumber. You can also go to your local home improvement store. You may wish to contact your local water service provider to find out if they offer low-cost or even no-cost plumbing fixtures.
(courtesy of CAR)

As always, before you take any action, consult with the appropriate professionals so that you make an informed decision.

Finding “off market” properties

Savvy buyers know that finding properties with the highest return on investment potential often means researching and finding off-market deals. If you’ve been thinking about joining the ranks of investors taking advantage of hot fix and flip markets in your market and aren’t confident you know where to find the best deals or don’t know where to start, this should help.

Based on my experience, these are some of the best hacks used by people to find the best off-market deals in their market. While this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, you’ll gain the insider’s view you need to get started in your search. Of course, if you don’t want to fly solo, that’s where we can help.

What Defines an “Off-Market” Property?

While the majority of sellers use a local real estate agent and the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to list and advertise their property to a wide pool of potential buyers and investors, this is not the only method of presenting a property for sale.

It is not uncommon for owners to market their properties off-market, making the decision to keep the sale of their property private for one reason or another. Sometimes called a “pocket listing,” an agent may represent the seller and their property, but they are not actively marketing the property online or within the MLS.

Off-market properties can also be in pre-foreclosure and not yet advertised publicly, or they can simply be a property that an investor is considering selling, but hasn’t made any grand efforts to do so.

Sometimes, it simply represents a property that has gone under contract, but has not yet hit the internet or multiple listing service. Listing agents often try to find buyers before that occurs, well, for the obvious reason…although we discourage that strategy simply because the Seller may never truly see what the property would have brought.

While the definition for “off-market” property varies widely, one thing remains the same—these are generally hot deals that investors are actively seeking out. Finding an off-market deal can mean less competition and a quick sale.

But if they’re not advertised publicly, how can you find hot off-market properties?

How to Find Off-Market Properties

At this point, it’s important to note that finding off-market properties takes time—and sometimes money—in order to find the best deals. Most importantly, however, it’s about finding a strategy that works for you, implementing it, and staying focused on your goals. The best fix and flip property deals require your patience, diligence and research…or a great agent that’s willing to put in the time. (wink)


Too often times in our industry, owners and agents alike tend to treat every transaction the same…a sort of “cookie-cutter” approach that implies that one size fits all. It just isn’t so. Real estate transactions are inherently unique, as they should be. The owners are unique, the property is likely unique, and the circumstances surrounding the sale are most certainly unique.
So why treat them all the same? There are likely many reasons for this, but the one that screams out to me is “education.” Owners and agents alike are not informed about alternative strategies to sell a property. Some of this is by design, as large brokerages tend to streamline their processes to mitigate risk. Even those agents who understand these alternative strategies are often forbidden to use them for the same reason.
An example comes to mind. I look back at the short sale boom from 2006-2012, in which many homeowners endured the painful process of short-selling their homes, only to walk away with nothing but damaged credit. Many of those owners could have used alternative selling strategies and kept their home, rebuilt their equity, and preserved their credit rating. Not all, but many…particularly those that were upside down 30% or less. They just didn’t take the time to educate themselves, or talk to someone who could educate them.
The motivation for the move should always be considered. Are you being relocated for a job opportunity? How much time do you have to sell? How will you balance the need to sell, with the need to acquire a new property? What are the market conditions where you’re selling? Where you’re moving to? Do you need an agent, or can you sell it yourself?There are a great deal of factors that need to be considered before you decide how to sell your property.
The important lesson to take away from all of this is that there are always multiple ways to accomplish the mission, and the final decision should be based on which option gives you the best outcome, given the current circumstances.


Absolutely. Will it make a difference? Hard to say. I can tell you that if you don’t write one, you will have 100% chance of making no difference…writing the letter will certainly increase those odds.
So why should you write one? Real estate transactions are emotional for all parties involved. However, they don’t start out that way. They begin their journey as a multi-page contract with a bunch of legalese and numbers on them. Often, the seller knows very little about the buyer, and the buyer knows very little about the seller. Most of that information is shared deeper in the transaction, if ever at all.
Telling your story, or informing the seller why you feel you would be a great fit for their home, and the neighborhood, will likely resonate with more sellers than you’d think. For sellers who have lived in a home for a long period of time, it will resonate even more. They want to know their home will be cared for, and that the neighbors won’t resent them for selling to someone who didn’t fit in to the neighborhood. Obviously we have laws preventing us from discriminating, but you get the point.
Tell your story…make your sale pitch. I can tell you that more often than not, it makes a difference.

Should you ask the Seller to complete any repairs?

It depends. Most “boiler-plate” contracts are written “as-is,” reserving the right of the buyer to complete due diligence, and to ask for repairs. Most also state that the Seller has no duty to agree to any repairs, complete any repairs, or even respond. So what is the right call?

In my opinion, it depends on two conditions. First and foremost, does either the buyer or seller have any leverage related to the market conditions themselves? In other words, is it a buyer’s market, a seller’s market, or a balanced market? If you’re buying, but it’s a seller’s market, it’s probably best to pick your battles or risk losing the deal. If it’s a buyer’s market, then exercise your leverage, but don’t be ridiculous. Just because you have some perceived leverage doesn’t meant the seller is desperate.

Second, what is the nature of the repairs that you seek assistance on? Are we talking light bulbs or major appliances? I tend to advise my clients as follows…”If the Seller is going to have to complete the repairs to sell it to a different buyer, then ask for it.” For example, if the home has termites, and the Seller now is aware (because you gave them the report), they’ll have a duty to disclose that material fact. It’s likely the Seller will agree to complete the repair. This condition also requires that you consider the first one…trying to project whether the Seller will likely need to complete the repairs to sell it to a different buyer may very well depend on the market conditions. If it’s a Seller’s market, the Seller will likely be more conservative when it comes to agreeing to repair requests, while if the leverage lies with the Buyer, more liberal.

As with any negotiation, or component of negotiation, it’s always best to consider both sides of the equation…not just yours.