How Much Does Location Really Matter When Buying A Home?

How Much Does Location Really Matter When Buying A Home?

Written by Jaymi Naciri on Wednesday, 07 September 2016 3:12 pm


The old saying, “Location, location, location” is more like a mantra when it comes to real estate. Buy in the wrong one and you could be setting yourself up for financial ruin. Or at least an unhappy experience. Right?

In some cases, yes. But also, maybe not so much. Let’s get into it.

The argument for buying in the best location you can afford

 You can change your home, adding, updating, and renovating down to the last square foot. What you can’t change is where it’s located. Add in an inherent desire to build equity when you buy a home, and it’s not surprising that real estate experts often recommend buying not only in the best location you can afford, but, if given a choice, buying the worst house in the best neighborhood instead of the other way around.

“A home is an investment – and the best investments have the most room for improvement,” said Realtor.com. “Ideally, you’ll be adding to the home during your ownership, building equity in hopes of a payoff when you (eventually) sell. Brendon DeSimone, author of “Next Generation Real Estate,” told them. “You can add value on your own. If you’re choosing between an awesome house in a crappy location or an awful house in a great location, I would choose the latter.”

Multiple recent studies bolstered the idea of buying in the best location you can, but identified new factors for determining location-worthiness. Namely, you need to buy a home with a Starbucks nearby. Or a Target nearby. Ideally, both.

“Among homeowners who sold in 2015, those near a Target saw an average 27 percent increase in home price since they purchased their home, which equates to an average price gain of $65,569,” said the Washington Post.

As for Starbucks, “Between 1997 and 2014, homes within walking distance, or one-quarter mile, of a Starbucks appreciated 96 percent,” said Forbes. “Compared to the national average for the same time period, 65 percent, it seems having a barista close by is a smart real estate move.”

Buying the house, not the neighborhood

Yes, buying in a neighborhood that seems to offer some cushion when it comes to values makes sense. But what if you fall in love with a house that’s not in your preferred neighborhood? What if it’s not in anyone’s preferred neighborhood?

The opportunity to buy a more affordable home can tempt people to take a chance on an iffy location. But how iffy is too iffy? The potential for losing money on a home that may not ever appreciate because of the neighborhood is only the beginning. Buying into an area that has higher crime can be dangerous to more than your finances.

Not sure what you’re getting yourself into? Here are a few ways to investigate the neighborhood:

  • Look at sales data – Beyond the safety issues, you want to know what you’re in for in terms of your investment. Just because a home in a questionable area is priced low doesn’t mean it’s a good value.
  • Check crime records – You’ll obviously want to pay attention to murder and violent crime rates, but also property crimes including break-ins, home robberies, and car thefts.
  • Check the sexual predator registry – That’s a given for any move.
  • Talk to neighbors and area business owners – Sometimes, the people that live and work there can provide the most telling information.
  • Consider the type of businesses in the neighborhood. Remind yourself about the Starbucks and Target value conversation. Those aren’t around? What’s in their place?

The quality of the businesses in the area can be one of the main determining factors when considering a neighborhood. A story from attn: asked the question, “Do Certain Businesses Attract Crime?” Their findings: “The prospect of a new liquor store or marijuana dispensary can spark safety concerns in some neighborhoods. But while the idea that particular businesses are crime magnets holds up in some cases, it’s not always true, and people’s concerns can be based on real evidence or flawed perception.”

Ev Grieve
However, they note that businesses like liquor stores, nightclubs, and pawn shops can be linked to higher crime trends. A careful examination of police reports can either put your mind at ease – or send you in another direction.

Perhaps toward a neighborhood with a strip club. Yes, the establishment once thought to be a neighborhood killer has actually been found to have little or no effect on home values. “A new study found that proximity to strip clubs doesn’t put downward pressure on home prices, said Inman. In addition, “The research undercuts legal arguments that municipalities have used to justify placing zoning restrictions on strip clubs.”

The new study was conducted in Seattle between 2010 and 2014, analyzing more than 300,000 home sales. “The basis for the study was as follows: The relationship between the City of Seattle and local strip clubs is tumultuous, at best. For more than 20 years, the city limited the number of strip clubs in operation using various forms of bans, ordinances and zoning regulations… to prevent a decline in property values due to possible negative externalities, or ‘secondary effects’ generated by the presence of strip clubs in local neighborhoods.”

The upshot: “The study found no empirical evidence that strip clubs drive down home prices, as property values in Seattle neighborhoods near the opening or closing of an establishment did not change in value per the study’s findings.”

Pittsburgh History & Landmark Foundation
Buying in a transitional neighborhood

Transitional is code for “might be on its way up” which also translates to “‘might be a great investment.” Many buyers seek out these changing neighborhoods when their ideal neighborhood is out of reach and/or to get more for their money and be on the “ground floor” as the area appreciates.

So how do you know if your neighborhood is transitioning? If they’re building a Whole Foods, a Trader Joes, or a café on the corner, that a good sign. Forbes offered a few more tips:

  • It’s Accessible, with “proximity to public transportation.”
  • “Hot hoods border it – A neighborhood that’s adjacent to a much-desired one is much more likely to gentrify than one that’s surrounded by less prime areas.”
  • Days on market are dropping – Your real estate agent will be able to pull data and show you trends.
  • “It Has an Art Scene. A large population of artists tends to mean galleries and restaurants will soon follow suit – which, in turn, attracts more residents and businesses.”
  • “It Has Historic Architecture – Historically significant styles, in particular, are a good indicator that an area is ready for a renaissance.”
  • Renovations are being made – “One of the most obvious signs of a turnaround neighborhood is homes that are in the process of renovation. Drive around and see if you spot construction trucks and dumpsters—then you know there’s activity in the air.”

Smart Home Technology: 6 Gadgets That Will Increase Home Efficiency

Smart Home Technology: 6 Gadgets That Will Increase Home Efficiency

Written by Realty Times Staff on Thursday, 08 September 2016 3:33 pm


For bolstered efficiency and enhanced convenience, it’s worth it to equip your home with the newest technology. There are practical smart home devices that will help you save on utility costs, ensure the safety of your home and assist in home maintenance. There are also more personalized gadgets that will help you monitor health, ensure your pet’s safety, and also provide multifaceted assistance in home management. Tailor your home with the right technology for you and your family. Here is a list of the best smart home gadgets you should invest in:

Nest Thermostat

The Nest Thermostat pays for itself with its energy efficiency programs, which yield significant savings on utility costs. The device learns the temperatures you like and will program itself in about a week with an automatic heating and cooling schedule. It also automatically turns itself down when no one is home, which saves energy. You can remotely control your Nest system from your phone, tablet or laptop. Nest will guide you toward the best temperature schedule that will save you both energy and money.

Philips Hue

Philips Hue bulbs help you control your house’s lighting via your smartphone. You can create light schedules for home automation so lights turn on when you arrive home or turn off once you’ve left. Doing this will help you reduce energy usage and also provide you with a means of remote theft deterrent. The away-from-home controls let you adjust your lights remotely. This is handy if you have forgotten to switch your lights off or if you need them on during a non-scheduled time. The Philips Hue kit is compatible with Apple HomeKit technology, which can be voice-accessed on the iPhone 6s Plus through Siri or manually through the app.

Withings Aura

The Withings Aura is a high-tech alarm clock disguised as a sleek, modern lamp. It offers a personalized, gradual wake-up experience that will help you feel refreshed and energized. The light on the Aura provides a simulated sunrise, at your designated alarm time, for a gradual wake up. At night, the light provides optimized colors that promote the secretion of sleep hormones while its attached speaker projects soft ambient sounds that will enhance your sleep.

Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo is a hands free speaker that you control with your voice. It can play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather and more. You can connect the Echo to your music libraries from Prime Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn—the music will fill the room through the devices’ 360 degree omni-directional audio. Even while music is playing, the Echo can detect your voice for instruction. You can connect the Echo to your other smart home devices like the WeMo, Philips Hue, Nest, Wink, Samsung SmartThings, Insteon and ecobee.


Keep track of your furry friend, while you’re out of the house, with Petcube. The cube contains a wide-angle lens video camera that provides HD live video so you can monitor your pet’s activity from your smartphone, tablet or computer. There is also two-way audio, which allows you to listen-in on your little friend and also chat with them through your smartphone. A built-in laser toy lets you interact with your pet so they get in some play time during the middle of your workday.

Belkin WeMo Switch

The WeMo Switch lets you remotely control the power source to your electronic devices. The switch uses your Wi-Fi network for wireless control of your plugged-in devices, like your television, stereo, heaters, fans, kitchen appliances and more. Through the WeMo app you can turn the device on or off and set schedules for them. The WeMo Switch helps you conserve energy and ensure that your home is safe from any electrical mishaps.


Use Technology To Attract High End Home Buyers

Use Technology To Attract High End Home Buyers

Written by Realty Times Staff on Thursday, 01 September 2016 3:19 pm


ERA Real Estate and HGTV reported 46 percent of consumers see smart-home technology as important for their current and future residences. But luxury homebuyers are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. According to Digital Interiors, 94 percent of buyers surveyed would sacrifice 1,000 square feet of living space for more technology in their new home. Oversized houses are no longer the driving trend in the luxury real estate market and agents are under pressure to respond to the demand. Here’s what affluent homebuyers are looking for and which gadgets are must-haves.

Get a Smart Thermostat

Outfit your listings for luxury with smart-home additions like a smart thermostat . The Nest programs itself based on your preferences and can adjust whenever you leave to conserve energy. Your clients can control the system right from their smartphones. Owners can warm up the living room before an evening entertaining clients, talk about how they can jet set to their vacation home and simply check-in on their property as needed. The idea behind a smart thermostat is really about controlling the overall climate of the home as opposed to an exact temperature.

Enhance your Home Surveillance

Home security systems have always dabbled in the high-tech world of smart automation. In the past, most alarms simply triggered an annoying sound and contacted the police at signs of danger.

Today, home security cameras keep an eye on the inside and outside of the home with wireless cameras. A wireless camera system can be mounted to the wall or ceiling and monitored remotely. Home buyers are sure to be wowed by its sleek and discreet design. Some home security companies, like Lorex Technology, even offer subscription-free monitoring options, yet another attractive feature for potential buyers.

New owners can keep an eye on their home from vacation, at work or on a spontaneous outing without worry.

Go High-Tech Culinary

Updating a kitchen has always been a recommended way to raise a home’s price tag and attract buyers. But affluent home shoppers are looking for more than just new appliances and chef’s kitchens. The latest technology trends include no-touch faucets and smart refrigerators that can alert you when you’re running low on groceries. The LG model features an internal camera to check on its contents, built-in Wi-Fi to connect to your mobile device and offers available accessories that can be 3-D printed. Other high-tech touches like Bluetooth smart cooking thermometers tell your mobile device when your food is ready to create perfect dishes every time.

Upgrade your Luxury Entertainment

Just about every home has a flat-screen television; some piped for surround sound and home theaters. Let your clients take entertaining to a new level by controlling everything from one device like Savant. Your clients can adjust the lighting, change the channel on your smart TV and turn on music. A system like Savant can also help monitor your home’s security and adjust the climate as needed. While clients are getting ready upstairs for an evening with friends, they can adjust the entertainment area and living room downstairs to create a luxurious atmosphere.


Canadian Doctors Call For Action On Healthy Housing

Canadian Doctors Call For Action On Healthy Housing

Written by Jim Adair on Monday, 05 September 2016 3:05 pm


As the Canadian government takes the first steps to develop a national housing strategy, many organizations are stepping forward to emphasize the importance of housing on physical and mental health.

“Experts in health care are trained to focus on the provision of health care services, often sending patients back into the social and economic conditions that made them sick. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of individuals experiencing homelessness or living in unsafe, precarious housing,” wrote family physicians Danyaal Raza and Ritika Goel in a recent commentary.

“We treat chronic back pain and send people back to sleep on concrete steps. We treat insomnia and send people back to chaotic shelters where they cannot sleep. We treat asthma and send people back into mouldy homes where they labour to breathe. We send patients back to the very places that create their disease.”

The authors say that 1.5 million Canadians live in housing that is “inadequate, unsuitable and unaffordable. In other words, 1.5 million families live in housing that requires major repairs, does not have enough bedrooms for their needs and pay more than 30 per cent of their household income for this unfit housing.”

As a national housing strategy is developed, “housing must be viewed as a health and social justice issue. Safe, secure and affordable housing is crucial to maintaining and improving health and well-being,” say Raza and Goel.

A 2013 article in the Ontario Medical Review for the Ontario Medical Association by Kathryn MacKay and John Wellner says, “There is a growing body of evidence that associates housing quality with morbidity from infectious diseases, chronic illnesses, injuries, poor nutrition and mental illness. Sub-standard housing that is damp, mouldy, too hot or too cold is an established contributor to morbidity and mortality as well. Respiratory infections, asthma and activation of tuberculosis have been independently associated with such housing conditions. Overcrowding can also increase susceptibility to disease.”

In a position statement, The Canadian Paediatric Society says, “Compared with peers living in adequate housing conditions, children and youth living in inadequate and crowded housing exhibit a number of negative outcomes, including aggressive behaviours, property offences, diminished school performance, asthma symptoms and diminished overall health status. Other studies link inadequate housing with poor air quality and lead exposure, an increased risk for asthma and exposure to health hazards and injury risks.”

The society says children and youth who feel they live in an unsafe neighbourhood experience higher rates of anxiety disorders and it can limit the amount of time they spend doing outdoor physical activity.

“Paediatricians and other physicians caring for children are uniquely qualified to advocate for enhanced action from all levels of government for housing-supported policies,” says the position paper. “However, they also need to collaborate within the health care system, work with other sectors caring for children and youth, and engage with organizations involved in building community and housing support.”

A new study being funded by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. is examining whether people who receive rent geared to income (RGI) housing for the first time “experience any impact on mental health, general health and other known determinants of health, such as social support, sense of community, health behaviours or on income and education,” says a research report by the study’s principal investigator, James Dunn of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

He says the study, which will run until March 2019, “is a strong study design that improves on many other studies of housing and health by ensuring that the direction of causality between housing and health is correct. In other words, previous cross-sectional studies that showed relationships between housing and health are vulnerable to the possibility of reverse causation — that poor housing causes poor health, instead of the reverse.” But he says this study, the first of its kind in Canada, “will not be vulnerable to this weakness.”

Dunn says it is well-established that “low-income individuals often compromise or ‘discount’ their own health in order to pay for housing.” They may not buy a full course of prescription drugs that they should take, or they will buy less healthy foods and avoid medical treatment until their problems become worse.

More that half of those applying for RGI housing are moving from an apartment they can’t afford.

The study group is a “low-income, but fairly well-educated population who report a high level of satisfaction with their current housing and who also have somewhat poorer mental and general health than the general population, reflecting their low-income status,” says the researcher.

“Follow-up data collected from all participants at six, 12 and 18 months after they receive RGI housing will help to quantify impacts that affordable housing has on the health status of participants,” it says. “This comparison will help determine if the provision of affordable housing has an impact on general health, mental health and known determinants of health.”

It’s hoped the results from the study will “help inform the development of future housing policies and programs.”


Create Big Appeal With Small Kitchens

Create Big Appeal With Small Kitchens

Written by Realty Times Staff on Wednesday, 31 August 2016 2:27 pm


Many people complain about small kitchens but tiny spaces aren’t always to be dreaded. If you’re selling your home and your kitchen is, well, compact, know that you can find ways to achieve big appeal with a little creativity.


  • Bring in the light.Sometimes small kitchens can be dark, making them feel even smaller. But if you remove the curtains from any windows in your small kitchen, it’ll let light in and open up the area. Instead of curtains, you can use small blinds that are recessed inside the frame of the window. These are easy to clean and still provide some privacy even when the blinds are open. 
  • De-Clutter the counter tops and the walls.Most people have a tendency to let kitchen clutter build up on the counter tops and walls. Removing items from the counters, kitchen table, and even off the walls will make the space feel bigger. Yes, I know these items on the counters are useful but when you’re selling your home, a little inconvenience may help you receive a higher offer and you’ll probably agree, that’s worth it! Take the appliances and either store them in the kitchen cabinets or, if there isn’t enough room, pack them up. You’re moving soon, anyway.Clearing off photos and miscellaneous papers that are stuck on your refrigerator door or kitchen walls will also help make your kitchen look bigger. If you’re tight for space, mounted storage units can be added to your kitchen walls to free up limited counter-top space. But again, too many storage units, even the decorative kind, will give people a feeling like the walls are closing in on them. The same goes for hanging pot racks from the ceiling. Be sure to leave some open wall space and to use storage units that aren’t completely solid. The open units, if the shelves aren’t stuffed, will give a less closed-in feeling.

    My Kitchen
    Photo by Big Girls Small Kitchen – Search transitional kitchen pictures

  • Opt for lighter and brighter wall color.Going with lighter colors tends to open up a room. Light and bright colors are also very inviting and friendly, making them a perfect choice for the kitchen. You can use a darker accent trim to create some contrast. You can also use decorations including floral arrangements or even some colorful kitchen appliances to add spice to the kitchen. 
  • Wall-mounted appliances and reduced counter-top depth.Wall-mounted or under-the-cabinets-mounted appliances can save valuable kitchen counter-top space. You might even have a way to wall-mount your kitchen faucet. In one small home design, the faucet was mounted to the wall, creating a very distinctive look. The counter-top was a standard 24 inches deep but elsewhere the counter-top was reduced just slightly down to 21 inches–very subtle and hardly noticeable but it allowed more floor space in a tiny kitchen.Small kitchens don’t have to be an eyesore. Some even prefer less space because there’s less to clean. If you know the audience you’re marketing your home to, you can play up the home’s best features–including, perhaps, a small, quaint, and simple kitchen.



3 Things You Need to Know About Insuring Your Vacation Home

3 Things You Need to Know About Insuring Your Vacation Home

Written by Ryan Hanley on Monday, 05 September 2016 3:06 pm


Ready to purchase a summer home along the coast or a winter home in the mountains? Although it may seem like a can’t-miss investment, a vacation home could prove to be more expensive than you think, especially when you consider what it takes to insure this residence.

Believe it or not, vacation home and homeowners insurance are not interchangeable. Even though vacation home insurance may offer some of the same coverage as a typical homeowners’ policy, certain exceptions could apply.

What differentiates vacation home insurance from a homeowners’ policy? Here are three things you need to know about insuring your vacation home, and why you may need to add vacation home coverage to guarantee you’re fully protected.

1. Consider that your vacation home may serve as a temporary residence.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the average consumer spent $258.59 annually on vacation costs (food, housing and other living expenses) in 2014. But as a vacation homeowner, you’ll likely need to account for these costs and many others.

For instance, if you spend only a few weeks each year at a summer home on the beach, you’ll still need to ensure this residence is protected against hurricanes and other inclement weather year-round. You’ll also need to insure your summer home based on the fact that this residence may provide only temporary housing, which means you’re not present to maintain this residence in the same way an “average” homeowner would take care of his or her house regularly.

Homeowners insurance covers the “average” homeowner, i.e. someone who spends the majority of his or her time at a residence. Since your vacation home serves as a temporary residence, however, you’ll need an insurance policy that accounts for the fact that you may spend only a portion of the year at this house.

2. If you rent your vacation home, you may need additional coverage.

Vacation homes may provide supplemental income because they enable you to rent your residence to guests at various times throughout the year.

In fact, market research firm Statista reported U.S. vacation home rentals topped $22 million annually last year, and this total may surpass $37 million by 2020.

But consider this: Would an average homeowner rent his or her house to visitors? Of course not! As such, you’ll need insurance that accounts for guests who stay at your vacation residence temporarily.

Your homeowners’ coverage will likely not apply to vacation home damage caused by a renter, so you may want to add extra coverage against damage to your vacation house. You also might consider additional liability, bodily injury and medical payment insurance to minimize your risk when visitors stay at your vacation home.

3. You’ll want to account for insurance costs before you purchase a vacation home or rent your vacation home to guests.

Before you dot the i’s and cross the t’s on your vacation home purchase agreement, consider your insurance costs. By doing so, you’ll know exactly what it will cost to guarantee you’re protected against a wide range of dangers that otherwise could damage your vacation home and its long-term value.

Purchasing a vacation home represents a major investment, one that should not be taken lightly. If you understand your vacation home insurance options, you should have no trouble optimizing the return on your investment.

Vacation home insurance costs may vary based on risk factors such as the location of your residence, the age of your home and its amenities—all factors that could impact the cost of your homeowners’ policy, too.

Comparatively, with your vacation home insurance, you’ll need to account for problems that could arise when your home is unoccupied, including theft, vandalism or undetected damage like when a water pipe bursts.

Keep in mind that these issues may occur in an average home as well. On the other hand, an average homeowner is more likely to detect and address such problems immediately as opposed to a vacation homeowner who spends only a few weeks a year at a particular residence.

Like any residence, your vacation home represents both an opportunity and a risk. If you devote the time and resources to evaluate rental home dangers, you can learn about these risks and insure your vacation home accordingly.


Written Contract Essential For Major Home Renovations

Written Contract Essential For Major Home Renovations

Written by Benny L. Kass on Wednesday, 07 September 2016 3:11 pm


Question. We plan on adding two rooms and a bath to our house. What protection should we include in the contract with our architect and contractor?

Answer. I receive a number of questions on this topic every year. It is an area where an ounce of prevention can make a significant difference to the homeowner, and yet it always amazes me that homeowners will hire contractors for major renovations to their homes having only a loosely written one or two-page “letter agreement” or nothing in writing at all.

 In my opinion, it is absolutely essential to have a written contract with your home improvement company (the contractor) that spells out all of the terms and conditions of the proposed renovation.

We lawyers have to be concerned with “horrible hypotheticals,” because all too often these turn out to be real situations. If they are anticipated, homeowners can avoid unhappiness and extra expense.

More and more homeowners are improving and adding onto their residences in lieu of buying new homes.

Selecting a good licensed contractor is often a difficult task.

Ask every contractor you interview for references. You also should inspect the contractor’s previous work, to assure yourself that he or she is right for you. It is also important to make sure that the contractor is licensed in your jurisdiction. Keep in mind that no contractor will provide you with an unhappy homeowner.

Once you have selected a contractor, it is extremely important to enter into a contract spelling out in detail all of the terms and conditions under which the remodeling or renovation job will be done.

Do not rely on good faith, promises, or a handshake.

Here are some suggestions for mandatory provisions in any contract that you sign:

Do not sign the typical one or two-page proposal submitted by your contractor. I call this the “two page special”. Although this is a contract — legally binding on you — these one or two-page proposals unfortunately provide very little, if any, protection for the homeowner. The American Institute of Architects sells standard form contracts you should use in your dealings with a prospective contractor. You may contact the American Institute of Architects, and ask for AIA document A107, entitled “Abbreviated Owner-Contract Agreement Form For Small Construction Contracts.” It is available to non-AIA members at a nominal cost.

The contract should contain a payment schedule that has been carefully worked out. Regardless of whether you or your bank will be making the actual payments, it is recommended that at least 15 percent of the payment be retained until the job is completed. All too often a contractor will leave a job unfinished after he has been paid in full, and homeowners are caught in a double bind. There is no money to pay anyone, including subcontractors, to finish the task, and you have already paid most if not all of the entire contract price.

What kind of warranty is the contractor willing to provide? This should be discussed in detail with the contractor before you sign, and the exact terms of the warranty should be spelled out in the contract itself.

The contract should state that “time is of the essence.” One common problem with remodeling contractors occurs when the contractor is unable to finish the job within the estimated time. It is also suggested that the contract provide for a daily penalty from the contractor for each day the work is not completed after the time specified for completion in the contract. This provision will give the contractor a real incentive to complete the work within the promised time period. As an additional incentive, many homeowners offer a bonus to the contractor for early completion.

Are you properly insured against possible claims by workers who may be injured on the job? Insist that the contractor be adequately insured, and check with your own insurance company to determine the limits and extent of your liability.

You should have the absolute right to terminate the contract if, after reasonable notice to the contractor, you are dissatisfied with the work. Of course, you have to be reasonable and cannot terminate the contract arbitrarily.

Arbitration must be provided for in the contract. You should not have to go to court to resolve any disputes that may arise. Legal fees, court costs and the time involved can be a deterrent to a prompt resolution of your dispute. Your contract should provide that all disputes be resolved through binding arbitration under the rules of the American Arbitration Association. I am not an advocate of arbitration, but it is certainly cheaper and faster than litigation.

Before final payment is made, have the contractor give you a signed statement releasing all mechanical liens. This means that the general contractor — as well as all of the subcontractors — should sign a release-of-liens form before you make the final payment. We have seen too many cases in recent years when the general contractor was paid in full, but conveniently “forgot” to pay the subs. In many jurisdictions, the subcontractors have the right to file “mechanic liens” on your property. You want to avoid the unnecessary expense and hassle of having to defend against such other liens.


Is Concrete The Future Of Homebuilding?

Is Concrete The Future Of Homebuilding?

Written by Jaymi Naciri on Sunday, 28 August 2016 1:13 pm


Is concrete the future of new home construction? Sollars HomeTM thinks so. The company, led by CEO Don Sollars, a veteran northern California general contractor specializing in architectural concrete, Sollars Home has introduced an innovative new home technique that they say can revolutionize the way we build, and the way we live.

BusinessWire called Sollars Home “the first substantial new technique for building houses since the mid-20th century,” noting that “building with concrete is a vast improvement upon the traditional wooden building.”

The homes can currently be built by individual buyers, production builders, developers, and custom builders. The company built two prototype models and a fully finished small Sollars Home that’s on display in their San Jose, CA offices, and is casting their first commercial Sollars Home in September.

The list of benefits to building with concrete instead of wood is long, but, for starters:

The structure

When a Habitat for Humanity Home was built in Canada in 2012 using pre-fab concrete slabs that were trucked in and assembled on site, it marked a significant departure from the typical “wood studs and plywood” construction,” as the Toronto Star called it. It wasn’t the first time this type of construction was used, but it was high profile.

Now, Sollars Home has essentially made concrete slabs a thing of the past. The homes are cast in their entirety from concrete, all at once, on site. “This process incorporates the framing, roofing, flooring, stucco, insulation, plumbing, electrical, and heating & air conditioning systems,” said Erika Sollars, marketing director for the company. “However, our patented forming system that we use is what is truly unique.”

That system uses a patented technology that’s unique because it’s comprised of structural steel tubing in combination with a drive screw, which makes the forms adjustable. “They can expand and collapse into themselves under mechanical control. Using a patented mounting mechanism, we are able to suspend the forms so that concrete can flow underneath and through, in order to create the slab, then the walls, then the roof. The structural steel is so strong it can bear the weight of the concrete used in the roof.”

Building time

Patience may be a virtue, but it’s hard to maintain when building a home. So, the fact that a Sollars Home can be built “dramatically more quickly than a traditional home, typically in about half the time,” said Sollars, could create a seismic shift in the industry that would be felt by builders, developers, tradespeople, and, certainly, buyers.

The reduced timeline is a function of the on-site manufacturing that significantly reduces the steps involved in the homes’ construction. “A Sollars Home incorporates a non-structural wood frame interior that is prefabricated, as are many of the items for one of our homes,” said Sollars. “In a typical home, the foundation is cast after excavation is complete. For a Sollars Home, the entire building is cast after excavation, so we get off to a quick start by eliminating the framing, which saves a lot of time. The concrete shell can be skim coated to make it water tight, which reduces the time for roofing and stucco. The wood frame interior is installed as part of the casting process, so when the forms are removed, the building is ready for insulation and drywall.”


Due to economy of scale, concrete as a building material is more

affordable than wood. And, of course, time is money, and the “expedited process saves both,” said Sollars.


The deadly earthquake in Italy, and natural disasters throughout the world, bring fear and destruction. Creating homes that can better withstand dangerous conditions is always top of mind in the industry. Because of the inherent strength of concrete, safety can be vastly increased.

“A Sollars Home possesses the strength of a commercial building. This is due to it being built from high-strength concrete that is heavily reinforced with steel; well beyond that which is required by code,” said Sollars. “The single-piece-of-concrete construction used in a Sollars Home implies that it does not have weak spots, which makes it highly earthquake resistant. The concrete shell will not burn, so a Sollars Home is inherently more fire resistant than a standard wood frame home. In fact, concrete walls are frequently used in multi-family structures to block a fire from spreading into adjacent units.”

“The sheer mass of a Sollars Home makes it tornado resistant. Can you imagine what kind of wind it would take to lift up or move a home that weighed a million pounds? Does such a wind even exist? A Sollars Home can be designed to resist mother nature’s fury to practically any measurable force.”

In addition, a Sollars Home can keep bugs and spiders out, renders termite damage a non-issue, and is mold resistant.


The quest for sustainability isn’t just a real estate or construction issue; it’s a global concern. One of the most significant advantages for those seeking an energy-efficient home that lowers their footprint is Sollars Home’s reduced dependence on wood and energy-friendly potential.

“Sollars Home’s goal is to see concrete displace wood as a more sustainable global housing option in a world that is marked by climate change and more frequent, more severe, natural threats, said Sollar. “We have set out to create safer homes that will last for generations to come. It is also our goal to be a ‘carbon-neutral builder.’ For every structure we build, we will offset the carbon footprint by planting enough trees to eliminate the carbon dioxide produced in the project in a 30-year time frame.”

The thermal mass of the concrete in a Sollars Home keeps it at a relatively constant temperature, independent of what the weather is like outside, and provides insulation values as high as R50. A homeowner who chooses solar power could potentially eliminate utility bills altogether.


As advantageous as it might be from a cost, time, durability, and sustainability perspective, few people will build a home that doesn’t also look great.

A Sollars Home is essentially a concrete exoskeleton with a non-structural wood interior, so it can be finished out to a buyer’s specific taste using one of their model homes or floorplans for inspiration, or creating custom plans.



Home Sellers Need to Understand Liquidated Damages

Home Sellers Need to Understand Liquidated Damages

Monday, 29 August 2016 11:24 am

Liquated Damages Clause Can BE Valuable, But May Be misunderstood

Is a liquidated damages clause a good thing to have in a real estate contract? If so, for whom is it good? The buyer? The seller? Both? Like so many questions in real estate, and life in general, the first answer to such questions is, “It depends.” Before we get into that, though, a word about what a liquidated damages clause is.

 A liquidated damages clause sets in advance — at the time of contract formation — what the monetary value of damages shall be in the event of contract breach by one of the parties. Often, a liquidated damages clause (actually, a paragraph or section) will include a recitation that the parties are agreeing ahead of time, because it would likely be difficult to determine the actual damages should a breach occur. But such a statement is not necessary.

A liquidated damages clause could be directed toward both parties. For example, “If either of us fails to perform, he will owe the other $10,000.” But it need not do so. Commonly, a liquidated damages clause will be directed towards only one. E.G., “If the commercial landlord doesn’t deliver the property within fifteen days of the date promised, he will owe the tenant $10,000.”

The standard residential purchase contract produced by the California Association of REALTORS®(CAR) contains a liquidated damages clause. It says this:

“If Buyers fails to complete this purchase because of Buyer’s default, Seller shall retain, as liquidated damages, the deposit actually paid. If the Property is a dwelling with no more than four units, one of which Buyer intends to occupy, then the amount retained shall be no more than 3% of the purchase price. Any excess shall be returned to Buyer. Release of funds will require mutual, Signed release instructions from both Buyer and Seller, judicial decision or arbitration award…”

Three items are worth noting: (i) This provision is asymmetrical. That is, it burdens only one party, the buyer. It does not provide for any preset damages should the seller breach. (Presumably, a seller breach could lead to a suit for performance.) (ii) It is limited. For residential properties of less than five units, one of which will be occupied by the buyer, the amount cannot be more than 3% of the purchase price. This has been set by legislation (Civil Code 1675). (iii) Payment of the damages would still require the agreement (by signatures) of both parties. That is because there has to be agreement that there has been a breach. Otherwise, a judicial or arbitration conclusion will have to be reached.

Signing (or initialing) a liquidated damages clause is optional. Although it is preprinted into the CAR purchase agreement, it will only apply if both parties so indicate. This is where problems, based on misunderstanding, may arise.

Commonly, when encountering a liquidated damages clause, a principal is liable to ask, “What does this mean?” It would not be unusual for an agent to say something like, “This means that if the buyer breaches, the seller gets to keep the deposit.” That, unfortunately, does not go far enough in explanation for many sellers. They need to know that it means that, in the event of breach, they would be entitled to no more than the deposit (or no more than 3% of the purchase price, if the deposit is larger than that). Often, when buyers have breached a contract, the seller feels wounded and entitled to more than the deposit. If a liquidated damages clause is in effect, that will not be an outcome.

Let us consider some possibilities. Say the purchase price of a single family home intended for owner occupancy is $300,000. The liquidated damages limit is 3% of the purchase price — $9,000. Suppose the CAR liquidated damages provision has been signed and that the buyer subsequently breaches.

(a) The deposit is $5,000. The seller has a right to the $5,000; but not to pursue the buyer for the additional $4,000. Liquidated damages is limited to the amount of deposit actually paid.

(b) The deposit is $15,000. The seller is entitled only to $9,000, the statutory limit.

(c) The original deposit is $5,000, but it had subsequently been increased by another $5,000.

(i) If the increased deposit was accompanied by a separate liquidated damages provision (CAR form R.I.D., Increased Deposit/Liquidated Damages Addendum), signed by both parties, then the seller would be entitled to $9,000 of the $10,000 actually paid.

(ii) If the deposit had been increased by $5,000, but no separate liquidated damages provision had been executed, then the seller would only be entitled to the original $5,000.

Is a liquidated damages clause a good thing? For both buyers and sellers the answer may be ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It depends. Suppose the buyer backs out — breaches — very early into the transaction. Typically, that would not cause a lot of damage to the seller. A liquidated damages provision may give too much to the seller. Conversely, a seller who has gone through a long escrow and who has made plans and commitments — sometimes financial — may feel that limiting the damages to the deposit (or 3% of the price) is not sufficient.

For both parties, though, if they have agreed to a liquidated damages provision, they at least know what is at stake.


8 Essentials For Cooling Your Home

8 Essentials For Cooling Your Home

  Tuesday, 30 August 2016 2:50 pm

When the temperatures spike, most families crank up the air conditioning to keep their homes cool. While blasting the AC is often viewed as the first step in cooling a home, there are a number of other ways to keep your home comfortable in the summer.

#1 Open Windows at Night

If you live in a region of the country where nighttime temperatures tend to dip into the lower 70s and upper 60s, open your windows at night and turn off the AC. Once the sun is down, that cool air can flow into your home overnight and help maintain a cooler starting point for the next day. Turning on any fans you have around the house will help circulate that cool air.

#2 Leave Interior Doors Open

During the winter months, it’s a good idea to close doors to unused rooms to avoid wasting money heating those spaces. But closed-off rooms can become heat blankets in the summer if you don’t open them up and allow for even airflow throughout your home. To help keep the house cooler, open your interior doors.

#3 Close Blinds During the Day

It’s nice to open the shades and let in some sunlight, but up to 30 percent of the unwanted heat in your home comes from windows. Shut your shades to limit the house-warming sunlight allowed into your home. Focus on closing only west- and south-facing windows to still give your home the benefit of natural light. This can help lower the mid-day temperature of your home by almost 20 degrees.

#4 Using Appliances at Night

Your oven, washer and dryer are the primary culprits when it comes to unwanted heat in your home. Using your grill to cook is a simple way of keeping unwanted heat outdoors. As for your chores involving laundry, leave those for the nighttime hours when temperatures are naturally lower.

#5 Keep the Furnace Fan On

The vast majority of thermostats give you the power to manually control the fan that blows hot air through your home in the winter. If you turn this fan on during the summer, it can help to distribute the cool air from your basement to the other levels of your home. This provides better airflow in your home and an overall cooler feeling.

#6 Leave the Bathroom Exhaust Fan On

The steam from your shower will create a pocket of hot air in your home that will exit the bathroom the moment you open the door. It’s already a good idea to run the exhaust fan while you’re in the shower, but consider leaving it on for 20 to 30 minutes after your shower to help blow out the hot air.

#7 Consider Upgrades Outdoors

There are two big things you could do to the outside of your home to help keep it cooler in the summer months. First, you could repaint the siding of your home with a lighter color to deflect more of the sun’s rays. The siding on your home is just like any dark surface or dark clothing. The darker it is, the more heat it attracts and retains. The same can be said for your roof. Slate, concrete, clay and various tiles offer better protection from heat than standard shingles.

#8 Install New Windows

Old, single-pane windows are a significant source of heat gain in your home during the summer months. These old, outdated models make it too easy for hot air to creep in and cold air to leak out. Replace your older windows with newer models if you can. Or, install new weather stripping to reduce the temperatures in your home.


These seven house-cooling tips are sure to keep you comfortable and lower your utility bills — all without resorting to the constant use of your AC.