Friday, November 9, 2007

San Francisco Bay Area Oil Spill--What You Can Do

Almost 60,000 gallons of oil have spilled in the bay, after a large container ship scraped up against one of the Bay Bridge towers. Most beaches are closed. Surfers have been getting covered in oil, and even getting sick. Waterfowl and other wildlife are being injured and killed by the spill. If you are looking for a way to help, here are some resources to check.

Volunteer efforts have not yet started, although many people are eager to help. Check the Oiled Wildlife Care Network website, run by UC Davis or call (800) 228-4544. They will be posting information later today or this weekend on how you can help. If you come across oiled wildlife that needs help, call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at (877) 823-6926. And, do not try to handle or clean any oil-soaked birds or animals yourself.

You can also help the clean-up by simpling reporting on the movement of the spill by calling O'Brien's Group, the private cleanup company that is already getting started. They can be reached at (985) 781-0804.

You can get additional information and updates at the California Coastal Commission website and the San Francisco Chronicle website. And here is a Google Map of the affected areas:

Thursday, November 8, 2007

You Have to Spend Money to Make Money

Remember the old adage that you have to spend money to make money? Well, it certainly is true if you are planning to sell your home, especially in this market. They key word there is "planning". If you plan ahead, you will have a better sense of the scope of work and spending that will be required to sell your house. So, what are some categories of planning that you should budget for?

Inspections. You should have several inspections to make sure your home hasn't developed any problems that need to be disclosed. Some inspections to consider are pest/structural, general home inspection, sewer lateral, chimney, and roof. Keep in mind that you will need to include any inspections in your home's disclosure package. Inspections can cost you a couple thousand dollars, depending on what you schedule.

Repairs and Updates. Based on what the inspections turn up, you may need to have some repairs done. Perhaps you will need some work on the sewer or roof, or perhaps an update to the electrical system. It is hard to budget ahead for this until you get the inspections done. You may also want to consider updating features in the home, such as an out-of-date kitchen or perhaps adding dual-pane windows. A good Realtor can help advise you on what will make your home more attractive to the market, and how to do it in an affordable manner.

Staging and Landscaping. This topic has been discussed several times here before, but a home with attractive interior design and clean landscaping goes a very long way toward improving your curb appeal. Depending on the size and needs of your home, this can cost in the range of $2-4,000.

Commission. It might seem self-serving to bring this up, but this is how Realtors get paid. And, having a healthy commission available to the buyer's agent will likely cause more agents to bring clients through your home. The typical commission rate in this region is 5-6%. You might also want to consider an incentive to the Buyer's agent, such as a bonus. Commissions are paid at the close of escrow after the house has sold.

Closing Costs. There are many costs associated with the legal transfer of property, including transfer taxes. The standards for which side pays which fees varies from region to region, and this will typically come out of any proceeds.

The costs of selling a home vary drastically from transaction to transaction. If you would like help planning a budget & schedule for selling your home, please let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Berkeley Solar Update

As an update to yesterday's post about Getting Started Going Green in the East Bay, the City of Berkeley has just made it a lot easier and more affordable to add solar power to your home. Here are the details.

Basically, the Berkeley City Council has approved a financing plan in which the City will pay for the installation of solar panels to a home, and the homeowner will pay the City back over 20 years. Even better, the homeowner reaps all the benefits, from tax credits and incentives to lower energy costs. You might even be able to sell your excess generated energy back to the grid and make some money.

This is terrific news, as the up-front costs of going solar can be prohibitive, despite the long-term benefits.

Here are the highlights of the plan, according to

-- Property owners would hire a city-approved contractor who would be paid for the system and its installation, minus rebates.

-- The city would tax the property owner for the remaining cost, to be paid over 20 years. Future owners of the property would inherit any unpaid tax, along with the solar system.

-- Property owners would save as much in energy costs as they would be paying in taxes while reducing the amount of greenhouse gases created by generating electricity using natural gas and hydroelectric generation.

Now, this new plan is not effective immediately. The City will now spend the next 6 months or so working out the nitty gritty details. But, stay tuned, and get ready to Go Solar!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Getting Started with Green

Time to look at the Greening of America once again from a real estate point of view. I get the sense that a lot of people really want to get started on making their homes and lives MORE green, but don't know how to move beyond basic recycling and/or using public transportation. So, time for a crash course on where you can look for guidance to jump-start the greening of your home and life. You'll be making the world a better place, and quite possibly saving yourself some money in the long run.

First, the City of Berkeley provides an up-to-date list of companies that provide green and energy consulting. Peruse this list to see all of the options that are out there, such as green home interior design products from EcoHome Improvement and green building specialists Build It Green. Visit the City's complete list right here.

Ready to go solar? Check out the Northern California Solar Energy Association. They have practical tips and lists of companies to help you go solar. While your initial costs to go solar can be high, there are many government incentives available, and you might even be able to offset your costs by selling the energy you generate back to PG&E.

Ready to give composting a try? Why not if you have a yard! Composting will greatly reduce the amount of waste you contribute to landfills and dumps, plus you will be getting a very powerful fertilizer for your yard for just pennies. Get a crash course in composting at the Compost Guide and get local resources at Garden for the Environment.

There are so many options, especially living in the Bay Area. This is just a quick start, so go get started! If you have any questions about going green in Berkeley, Oakland, the East Bay and Beyond, just let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or