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The old adage that you only get one chance to make a first impression rings true for sellers showing their homes in today’s competitive market. The spring market will soon be here. It’s traditionally the season when the market picks up, so many home sellers are wondering what they can do to help get their homes ready to sell and shine above their competition. Here is a checklist from SILVAR REALTORS® that might prove useful to prospective home sellers:

* Clean and reorganize
Clean your home from top to bottom and make sure all appliances are spotless.  Reorganize closets and pack away some of your belongings. Storage room is a priority for buyers and a full closet does a poor job of showcasing the amount of storage space available. Pack away the clutter and ensure the space is properly furnished.

  • Clean sinks, bathrooms before each showing.
  • Vacuum rugs and carpets before each showing.
  • Wash dirty dishes and put them away.
  • Empty waste baskets and trash.
  • Put away clothes and personal items.
  • Organize mail, magazines, and newspapers.
  • Fold towels and make beds.
  • Eliminate offensive odors from pets or cooking. No smoking; it can be offensive to buyers.
  • Keep landscaping neat and mowed. Sweep driveways and sidewalks. Shovel snow. Pick up litter on property.
  • Clear litter boxes and pet food and water bowls, and pick up animal droppings in the yard.  Not all homebuyers are pet-friendly.

* Detach your emotions, keep it neutral
Your goal is to sell your house, not your collections or mementos. Create a space in which as many people as possible will be able to envision as their potential home. To properly prepare your home for sale, you will have to pack away many of your personal items, including photos, souvenirs and other mementos.

Keep your décor simple and modern with neutral wall colors. Unusual accessories and strong wall colors will limit your pool of buyers. This is also true for renovations. The right renovations can often boost the price of a home but be careful not to do it with too much flair. Your unique style may set you apart but it will also shrink your potential pool of buyers. Keep it simple and modern.

* Brighten and lighten
Light-filled rooms are always appealing. Open blinds and make sure your windows are sparkling clean. If there are no windows in the room, make sure the lighting is adequate and keep all the lights on when showing the property, even during the day. A fresh coat of neutral colored paint goes a long way to brighten up the space.

During the day, open all draperies, shades, and blinds. Natural light is at the top of most buyers’ wish lists. Dark homes are not inviting. Don’t forget to turn on the outside light by the front door. Make sure your house numbers can be read at night.

* Stage it well

  • Consider furnishing empty rooms. People buy homes, not houses. Empty rooms make it hard for buyers to get a good sense of the space. Oddly shaped rooms make it especially hard for buyers to visualize how to arrange the room. Staging your empty property with the right furniture is key to ensuring that buyers will be able to visualize living in the space.
  • Have photos of your garden available and consider displaying before and after pictures of major remodeling and landscaping projects.
  • Spark your buyer’s imagination
    Set the dinner table for a formal dinner, light the fireplace on a cold day, and add some fresh flowers to your décor. Creating the proper atmosphere helps buyers envision themselves living in your home.

* Fix minor repairs
Buyers prefer to see a home in move-in condition, even small things such as a dripping faucet can detract from the value of your home. 

* Keep your neighborhood in mind when renovating
Actual returns on renovations depend not only on the renovations itself but also on how your home compares to that of your neighbors. If your home is already above market value for your neighborhood, your renovation may not yield a higher return. Buyers looking at moderately priced homes won’t be able to pay a premium for luxury finishes. Ask your Realtor to give you an assessment of homes in your area before embarking on costly renovations.

* Improve security
Household security is a sought after feature in homes and simple measures such as adding window locks and motion sensor lights outside can boost the attractiveness of your property.  In densely populated urban areas, simple additions such as blinds and shutters are good additions to provide privacy.

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Not being able to get a home insured can stall, if not kill, a transaction. At this morning’s SILVAR Cupertino/Sunnyvale District tour meeting, an affiliate panel shared information on how to avoid such a dilemma. The panel, moderated by Kyle Chuang (Farmers Insurance), included Walt Rowley (Liberty Mutual Group), Linda Bentson (Old Republic Title), Laura Roseblade and Pauline McDonald (both from State Farm Insurance).

Here are some of many tips the panel shared:
• Each insurance company is different and has its own limitations of coverage, so it’s important to shop around and make sure you are dealing with a true insurance professional who knows the business.

• While there are lenders who may insist that insurance should cover the amount of the loan, insurance companies will only cover the value of the home. The amount an insurance company will cover differs from the appraised value because the appraised value includes land, while home insurance just covers the structure.

• The condition of a house affects insurance coverage more than the age of a house. The following may affect coverage:

– Roof condition – Some companies may deny coverage if an additional layer is placed on top of the original layer.

– Trees and brush in close proximity to the house

– Distance of a fire hydrant or fire station to the house – Some insurance companies will not insure a home if it is more than three miles away from a fire station

– Certain pets

• You have to think in terms of risk. Would you take a risk on a condition that you have observed? Inform you client about a potential problem so it can be fixed right away.

• In the case of condominiums, work closely with the lender. It’s important to know the insurance company that handles the master policy, what the HOA master policy entails, and get a copy of the certification of insurance for the master policy.

• Once you have all insurance documents, get them to your escrow officer as soon a possible.

This week the California Housing Finance Agency announced the full implementation of four programs to help families remain in their homes. The programs, under the umbrella title of Keep Your Home California, are federally funded as part of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Hardest Hit fund, and are aimed at helping low and moderate income homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages. California received a total of nearly $2 billion through the Hardest Hit fund.

All four programs are intended to help avoid foreclosure: three offer several forms of mortgage assistance, as well as a separate program that will provide transition assistance to borrowers who execute a short sale or deed in lieu transaction. All of the programs are designed specifically for low or moderate income homeowners who are either unemployed or are facing another financial hardship, have fallen behind on their mortgages and owe significantly more than the value of their homes.

Specifically, the Keep Your Home California programs provide:

  • Mortgage assistance of up to $3,000 per month for unemployed homeowners who are in imminent danger of defaulting on their home loans.
  • Funds to help homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments due to a temporary change in a household circumstance. The program will provide up to $15,000 per household to reinstate mortgages to prevent foreclosures.
  • Money to reduce the principal owed on a mortgage for a home where the low or moderate income homeowner is facing a serious financial hardship and owes significantly more than the home is worth. The program requires lenders to match any assistance provided by the Keep Your Home California program.

The programs will be limited to homeowners who meet a number of criteria, including owning and occupying the home as their primary residence, meeting income limits, and facing a financial hardship. Homeowners who consummated a “cash-out” refinance are not eligible for Keep Your Home California programs.

To apply for the assistance, a homeowner should contact the Keep Your Home California call center toll-free at 888.954.KEEP (5337) or their mortgage servicer – the company to which the borrower sends monthly mortgage payments. Each of the mortgage assistance programs requires the participation of the mortgage servicer.

As of February 9, the following servicers are participating in all four Keep Your Home California programs:

  • GMAC
  • Guild Mortgage
  • California Housing Finance Agency
  • California Department of Veterans Affairs

Other servicers, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, CitiMortgage and Wells Fargo are currently participating in some, but not all, programs at this time.

Full details regarding programs and servicer participation can be found at  http://www.keepyourhomecalifornia.org/.

We have been receiving many questions about a federal real estate transfer tax enacted as part of the health care reforms in 2010. THERE IS NO SUCH TAX! Pay no attention to an Internet posting riddled with errors that is being circulated about such a tax. The National Association of REALTORS® has released a new brochure to help REALTORS® understand the facts behind this issue.

FACT: The health care legislation created a new tax that would apply to a portion of the gain on the sale of any capital asset (including real estate), but that tax will apply ONLY to individuals with more than $200,000 Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), or $250,000 AGI on a joint return. The tax does not apply to any amount excluded from taxation under the $250,000/$500,000 principal residence rules. The tax is never imposed directly on the full amount of any capital gain.

The tax is computed under a multi-step formula that captures only a portion of any gain and will only affect those with total AGI above the amounts noted above. Links are provided for a Q&A on the tax and to a brochure with examples of the tax.

The 3.8% Tax: NAR’s Q&A
The 3.8% Tax: NAR’s Brochure

RSVP (REALTOR® Service Volunteer Program) week at SILVAR will take place May 16-20 this year. SILVAR members are encouraged to volunteer their time and skills to help the elderly and the homebound in their respective communities. The deadline for volunteering for RSVP is Thursday, March 31, but members are encouraged to volunteer early to facilitate the ordering of RSVP t-shirts, supplies and assignments.

During RSVP Week, REALTORS® and affiliates visit the homes of seniors and the homebound and provide free assistance with household tasks like replacing light bulbs, changing furnace filters, washing windows, flipping mattresses, changing smoke detector batteries and other similar household tasks.

This is the 10th year SILVAR is offering the free assistance to seniors. SILVAR members will once again be joined by volunteers from the San Mateo County Association of REALTORS®, Santa Clara County Association of REALTORS® and Santa Cruz County Association of REALTORS®. Last year, 461 RSVP volunteers from the Bay Area provided free assistance to 325 senior households; 275 REALTORS® and affiliates from SILVAR assisted 152 senior households in SILVAR’s five districts.

This year, each district has scheduled a certain day(s) when volunteers will work in the homes. The schedule and contact information for the district team captains are listed below.

CUPERTINO/SUNNYVALE DISTRICT
RSVP Day: Wednesday, May 18
Team Captain: Sue Bose
For more information, e-mail suebose@yahoo.com or call
(408) 996-8100

LOS ALTOS/MOUNTAIN VIEW DISTRICT
RSVP Day: Wednesday, May 18
Team Captains: Susan O’Brien and David Kim
For more information, e-mail sobrien@interorealestate.com or davidkim@interorealestate.com, or call (650) 947-2900

LOS GATOS/SARATOGA DISTRICT
RSVP day: Thursday, May 19
Team Captain: Rick White
For more information, e-mail rick@serenogroup.com or call
(408) 335-1400

MENLO PARK/ATHERTON DISTRICT
RSVP Day: Thursday, May 19
Team Captain: Chris Isaacson
For more information, e-mail christopher.isaacson@cbnorcal.com or call (650) 851-2666

PALO ALTO DISTRICT
RSVP Day: Wednesday and Thursday, May 18-19
Team Captain: Jeff Beltramo
For more information, e-mail jbeltramo@cbnorcal.com, or call (650) 325-6161

“RSVP is our way of giving back to the communities where we live and work, especially to our senior citizens who have contributed so much to our society,” said SILVAR RSVP Committee Chair Eileen Giorgi. “By helping our seniors who are physically unable to do these tasks and cannot afford to pay to have them done by someone else, we can show our appreciation for what they have done for us.”

Volunteer now by completing a volunteer application and faxing it to SILVAR at (408) 200-0101. You may also call SILVAR at (408) 200-0100 and ask that an application be mailed to you, or contact the RSVP team captain in your district.

For seniors who are physically and financially challenged, tasks like replacing smoke detector batteries, flipping a mattress or washing the windows can be a major chore, especially if relatives who can help them don’t live nearby. Seniors and the homebound living on the Peninsula and in the South Bay may now request free assistance with such household tasks through the REALTOR® Service Volunteer Program (RSVP) for the week of May 16-20, 2011. The deadline for seniors to request assistance is Monday, February 28.

RSVP is a community outreach program offered each year to qualified seniors who cannot otherwise perform certain household tasks due to physical or financial constraints. This free assistance is offered by local REALTORS® in cooperation with various community organizations and senior centers.

During RSVP Week, teams of REALTORS® and affiliates (professionals who provide industry-related services) will visit senior citizens and perform various cleaning and maintenance tasks free of charge. Seniors can request to have light bulbs replaced, furnace filters changed, windows cleaned, mattresses turned or new smoke detector batteries installed.

This is the 10th year the free assistance is being offered to seniors by local REALTORS®. The annual hands-on effort was organized in 2001 by members of the Sili­con Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR), the local trade associations of the real estate industry on the Peninsula and in the South Bay. RSVP has since expanded to include volunteers from the San Mateo County Association of REALTORS®, Santa Clara County Association of REALTORS® and Santa Cruz County Association of REALTORS®.

Homeowners or renters who are advanced in years with physical and financial constraints and live in the communities of Atherton, Campbell, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Palo Alto, Woodside, Portola Valley, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Saratoga, Monte Sereno and Los Gatos may apply for services by contacting the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® at (408) 200-0100, or visit www.silvar.org for more information and to download an application.

The 12th annual Silicon Valley Scholars Program for graduating seniors from 18 public high schools in Silicon Valley is now underway. The scholars program is sponsored by the Charitable Foundation of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS®, the over 4,000-member trade association representing REALTORSand affiliate members on the Peninsula and in the South Bay. 

The REALTORS®’ scholarship program is a partnership with local high schools in Silicon Valley. Principals and faculty at 18 participating high schools nominate three exceptional graduating seniors. The program awards a $1,000 scholarship in recognition of exemplary records, outstanding academic performance and community spirit to one nominee from each school.

The Class of 2011 Silicon Valley scholars will be selected from the high schools in thecommunities served by members of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS®. Final selections will be made by a committee that includes representatives from the local business community, area high schools, area colleges and the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS®.

“The annual Silicon Valley Scholars Program is an opportunity for our members to show our support for our communities and schools, and to invest in the future of our youth,” said Nina Yamaguchi, chair of the Scholars Program of the Silicon Valley REALTORS® Charitable Foundation. “It’s our way of thanking the students, teachers, administrators and school board members in our communities. Through their hard work and dedication, the schools in our communities are among the best in California and the nation.”

The Silicon Valley REALTORS® Charitable Foundation Scholarship Program has provided nearly $200,000 to 198 graduating seniors in Silicon Valley, since Yamaguchi established the program 11 years ago. Participating schools include Leigh High School and Lynbrook High School in San Jose; Westmont High School in Campbell; Fremont High School in Sunnyvale; Los Altos High School in Los Altos; Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos; Gunn High School and Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto; Menlo Atherton High School in Atherton; Santa Clara High School and Wilcox High School in Santa Clara; Cupertino High School, Homestead High School and Monta Vista High School in Cupertino; Prospect High School and Saratoga High School in Saratoga; Mountain View High School in Mountain View; and Woodside High School in Woodside.

Graduating seniors from the above-mentioned high schools who wish to apply for the scholarships may obtain an application from the respective schools. The completed application must be returned to the high school’s principal or scholarship counselor by Friday, March 11, for submission to the Silicon Valley REALTORS® Charitable Foundation.

For further information, please contact Nina Yamaguchi at (408) 861-8822 or nyamaguchi@cbnorcal.com.

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