Low flow toilets will be required soon

As of January 1, 2017, all single-family homes in California built before 1994 will be required to have only low flow toilets and certain other water saving fixtures installed.

Homeowners are required to replace older commodes with low flow toilets as of Jan 1 2017

What constitutes a low flow toilet?

Low flow toilets will be designed to use no more than 1.6 gallons on average per flush. Some water conserving commodes will have dual flushes, with one for solids that uses more than 1.6 gallons, and one for liquids which will utilize fewer than 1.6 gallons.

What must be replaced?

Most of the attention has been around Low flow toilets, but they aren’t the only objects of the new law. What fixtures won’t pass the standards of the upcoming law?

  • Toilets manufactured to use more than 1.6 gallons per flush on average
  • Urinals manufactured to use more than one gallon of water per flush
  • Showerheads manufactured to use more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute
  • Interior faucets emitting more than 2.2 gallons of water per minute

You might have anticipated the answer if you’ve been watching Santa Clara County’s water saving efforts during the drought. Showerheads and faucet filters have been offered for free in many instances and there was the HET toilet rebate program, too.

Take note that the law requires the replacement of units manufactured for a high level of water use, so displacing water in your toilet tank with a brick, bottle, or by other means does not make the fixture pass law.

What changes will this effect in real estate transactions?

This is not a point-of-sale law. So what does that mean? Owners must install WCP fixtures (Water-Conserving Plumbing fixtures), including low flow toilets, whether they are selling or not. If you own a home you must comply. If a homeowner does not comply, however, it will not affect a property transaction. Either way the seller is required to disclose.

What should be disclosed when selling a home regarding these devices?

  1. The legal requirements in writing.
  2. Any and all compliant and/or noncompliant fixtures, if any, on the property in writing.
  3. “Seller’s affirmation,” meaning the seller’s confirmation that the disclosures provided are in fact the sellers and not the agents, that they are not part of the contract, nor a warranty, and do not substitute a buyer’s inspection. Mandatory when a TDS is used.

Both the TDS (Transfer Disclosure Statement) and the ESD (Exempt Seller Disclosure) will be (or have been) modified to include the legal language explaining the regulations as required by the new law, which takes care of disclosure #1.

The second disclosure requirement, disclosing compliance and/or noncompliance, will also be covered in the ESD forms. The TDS provides check boxes to disclose compliant fixtures. The law is still being fine-tuned, so it is yet unclear whether an unchecked box on the TDS disclosing replaced fixtures is enough of a disclosure for noncomplying fixtures.

The third provision is only required with a TDS and will be part of the Seller Property Questionnaire (form SPQ) update in December.

However…

Many local laws do have point-of-sale WCP fixture requirements, which this law will grandfather in so long as they were in effect before July 1st, 2009. Even if the requirements are less severe, such as allowing a higher gallon limiter, these local laws will continue to apply.

Newer local ordinances, those established any time after July 1st, 2009 or in the future, are allowed to establish or promote stricter regulation and will not be supplanted by the state law.

In conclusion

Plan to update old fixtures, but check local law before you do for more or less stringent laws. Homeowners, plan to invest in thsee updates between now and the new year (plumbers might be busier than usual for a while). And look for freebies and rebates which are becoming less frequently available.

Posted in Home Improvement, Water conservation Tagged with: ,

Earthquake Insurance

Earthquake damaged house in Santa Cruz after the Loma Prieta quake in 1989 (San Andreas fault) - earthquake insurance would help to pay for rebuilding here

Earthquake damaged house in Santa Cruz after the Loma Prieta quake in 1989 (San Andreas fault)

Do you need earthquake insurance?  If you live in Los Gatos, Saratoga, San Jose, or anywhere in Silicon Valley, you are probably aware that it is very likely that we’ll experience a violent quake within the next 30 years.  The San Francisco Bay Area is woven with a number of different faults, some very active, others quiet for thousands of years: San Andreas, Hayward, Calaveras, San Gregorio, Greenville, Silver Creek, Monta Vista – Shannon, and many more.  It is not hard to imagine one of them letting off some serious pressure.

What are the odds of a very severe earthquake in the Bay Area?

I looked up the stats on the USGS site, and there’s a 72% chance of an earthquake of 6.7 on the Richter Scale or more between now and 2043.  The most likely area is the Hayward fault (33%), followed by the San Andreas (22%), per this USGS report:

http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2016/3020/fs20163020.pdfOn that same report, page 1, it says there’s a 98% chance of a 6.0 quake somewhere in the Bay Area between now and 2043.   So it’s wise to take it seriously (this is reminding me to update my emergency supplies!) Click the image below to go to the pdf referenced above.

San Francisco Bay Area Earthquake Faults and Probability of Major Quake by 2043

San Francisco Bay Area Earthquake Faults and Probability of Major Quake by 2043

What does earthquake insurance cost?

Your premium for earthquake insurance varies based on many factors, including the age of the home, whether or not it is bolted to the foundation, the size of the structure, the exact location, etc.  For instance, if you buy a house in the Santa Cruz Mountains which sits directly on top of the San Andreas Fault, or in Fremont along the Hayward Fault, you would expect to pay more than if you were many miles away from either of these areas.  Further, the amount of your deductible will impact the cost, too – the lower your deductible, the higher your premium.
Also, it should be noted that earthquake insurance covers the structure and may not include the contents of the home.  The point of it is to make sure you can rebuild or repair after a major temblor.    There are separate policies or riders for possessions, but primarily for the essentials, not the frills.  Things such as fine Belleek china (which we lost in the 1989 Loma Prieta shaking) will not be covered.
Most people who obtain this type of insurance will get it from the State of California (even if it’s offered via their regular insurance agent).

 

Here’s a great resource for info from the California Dept of Insurance:
http://www.insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/105-type/95-guides/03-res/eq-ins.cfm
There’s a link on the page above that goes to the actual CA state insurance site, and there you’ll find a calculator for the cost of premiums from the California Earthquake Authority. [The CEA site says “CEA is a not-for-profit. We are privately funded, and publicly managed by a governing board. We are not tied to the state budget. We are financially strong, with a total claim-paying capacity exceeding $12 billion. Our participating insurance companies sell and service our policies (Homeowners, Mobilehome owners, Condo unit owners, and Renters) on our behalf.]  This is pretty cool as it allows you to change the deductible to as low as 5% and to increase or decrease things like “loss of use” coverage.  http://www2.earthquakeauthority.com/Pages/calc.aspx
For most people, this type of insurance is very costly, perhaps running $2,000 to $3,000 per month with a large deductible and no possessions covered.  Prior to the Loma Prieta (1989) and Northridge (1994) quakes, this type of insurance was more affordable and was more commonly bought by home owners.  Today, the reverse is true.  Statewide, only about 10% of home owners opt to purchase this coverage.

More resources on earthquake insurance

Consumer Reports article from 2014: Should you buy earthquake insurance, is it worth it?http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/08/should-you-buy-earthquake-insurance/index.htm

MarketWatch article from 2014, updated June 2016: Despite quakes, most California homeowners don’t have earthquake insurance
http://www.marketwatch.com/story/25-years-after-bay-area-quake-most-dont-have-earthquake-insurance-2014-10-17

What is a cripple wall? (on this site)

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San Mateo County listings of homes for sale on the MLS

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Foster City, California Real Estate

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Hillsborough, California Real Estate

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Menlo Park, California Real Estate

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Burlingame, California Real Estate

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Can you buy a Silicon Valley home with ten percent down?

House Key:  Can you buy a home with just ten percent down?Silicon Valley Realtors have been seeing a “shifting market” for about a year now, at least in many segments of the real estate market. What does that mean for home buyers and home sellers? One major difference is the amount of cash, or the percentage of cash down, needed to compete in the bidding wars of recent years. Ten percent down purchase offers may become viable again.

Quick reviewL the years of bidding wars – high amounts of cash down, few or no contingencies

Since 2012, we have seen an incredible run up in Silicon Valley home prices, particularly in the hotbed areas of Palo Alto, Mountain View, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and nearby areas. For each property that went for sale, there were multiple offers – at least most of the time! With some of the extreme cases, homes were selling with more than a dozen offers, sometimes more than two dozen, and selling “all cash, no loans” and also with no contingencies. Sometimes, buyers were lucky and there were no cash offers to compete with. In those cases, the strongest offers (large down payment and few or no contingencies) would simply go to a buyer with the largest down payment and the smallest number of contingencies for things like loan, appraisal and inspection. Much of the time, it would be 30% or more down and no contingencies. (You can check the market stats going back to 2002 at my Silicon Valley Real Estate Report.)

Silicon Valley real estate history repeating itself

For those new to the area, this isn’t the only time when we’ve had a crazy red hot market. We saw this just before the great recession, we saw it in 2000, and we saw it in the mid to late 1980s, and before, too. In fact, it seems to happen about every 10 years. It’s a pattern: economy good, inventory low, qualified buyers fighting to buy a limited supply of Silicon Valley real estate, prices escalate, clauses get increasingly insane (no contingencies, huge down or all cash).

Hard as it can be to imagine, that became the norm. Especially for the nicest homes in the premium areas with shorter commutes and great schools. If anyone asked “Can you buy a Silicon Valley home with ten percent down?”, the answer was a resounding “no” – very very unlikely.

For that reason, in recent years, it has been challenging for home buyers to purchase with less than about 25% down (because with multiple offers, even the gold standard 20% wasn’t enough). The market has been softening a bit, though. Most homes are still selling fast by national standards, but the days on market have been increasing and the sale price to list price has been decreasing. Some homes don’t sell until they’ve had a price reduction. And then they sell with just one offer. We are seeing the return of contingencies.

Smaller down payments will come with a slower, quieter market that is more balanced. A 20% down offer will no longer be viewed badly at all. Read more ›

Posted in Buying tips, Finance Information, First time homebuyers Tagged with:

What is a cripple wall?

What is a cripple wall? The wall between the foundation and the first floor is a cripple wall.What is a cripple wall? If you are buying or selling real estate in Silicon Valley, you most likely have seen a seller questionnaire asking if the house has a cripple wall, and if so, has it been reinforced.  Most people have no idea what it is, let alone if they have one that’s been improved.

What is a cripple wall?

A cripple wall is a wooden wall between the foundation and the first floor of a wood frame house.  This wooden wall is usually less than a full story high and runs between the foundation and the first floor.  Often it looks like it’s half the height of a regular wall, and it is part of a basement. (Again, there are not many basements in Silicon Valley, so  it’s not a common sight in most neighborhoods. Although many homes have a crawl space, these do not usually have cripple walls if they are on a level lot.)

Put another way, a cripple wall is found when there is a distance of several feet  between the foundation and the first floor.  When you visit those lovely Victorian homes in which you walk up about 6 or 10 steps to get to the front door, and sometimes there are windows peering out from a basement – there’s a cripple wall.  It is the wall between the foundation and the first floor. In the photo, you see basement windows resting on or near the foundation. Above them is the first floor.  This older house has a cripple wall.

Cripple walls are also found on sloped hillside homes. With an inclined lot, part of the first floor may be directly on the foundation, but perhaps not all of it.  Part of the house may have a cripple wall in that case.

Most of the time, cripple walls are found in older, possibly historic homes.  Los Gatos has a number of historic districts and houses that qualify as historic. Part of it was badly hit in the 1989 quake.

What is the risk with a cripple wall?

In California, we have periodic earthquakes, and unreinforced cripple walls can be the weakest part of the structure when a quake hits.  If the walls aren’t strengthened, they can buckle and collapse. The taller the cripple wall is, the more at risk it seems to be for collapsing during a temblor.

Jim and I were living in Santa Cruz and just about to close on the purchase of our first home in the Cambrian area when we experienced the Loma Prieta earthquake.  Our Neary’s Lagoon neighborhood was very badly hit, with many older houses extensively damaged or destroyed. Many had cripple walls that were apparently not reinforced, or not sufficiently reinforced for earthquake safety. (Luckily, our rental townhome stayed structurally sound, though everything inside moved violently.)  The photo below was taken by my better half of a house about a block from where we lived.  Before this happened, they may not have been able to answer our question of the day, “what is a cripple wall?”  But I am sure that in the hours and days after the quake, they found out how dangerous it was to have an unreinforced one.

House with cripple walls destroyed in Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989

Older Santa Cruz house with cripple walls destroyed in Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989

Here’s a helpful video, which I think lays out the risk of danger much better.

How to improve the safety of cripple walls

The goal is to strengthen the cripple wall, usually making a shear wall so that the short wooden wall won’t buckle and give way. Here are a couple of resources that should be helpful for anyone wanting to improve safety with a cripple wall.

FEMA has a guide regarding reinforcement of cripple walls (it is a pdf)
Earthquake Strengthening of Cripple Walls in Wood-Frame Dwellings

And one more helpful video from the same contractor. (I don’t know him but he has a great set of vidos on YouTube.)

Related: Earthquake Insurance

Posted in Home Improvement, Older & Historic Homes, Safety Tagged with: ,

Los Gatos videos

Mary Pope-Handy YouTube Channel & Los Gatos videos

Mary Pope-Handy YouTube Channel

On my YouTube Channel, you’ll find a Los Gatos videos and number of real estate and neighborhood films for Saratoga, San Jose, Silicon Valley, and California. There are some of me on camera, offering some real estate advice to home buyers and sellers.

Below, get a sampling of one playlist on Los Gatos neighborhoods, parks, downtown, and more. They are in some cases “rough” as I am not a professional videographer, but they will give you a good sense of this beautiful town and the many different and unique neighborhoods & architecture found here! In other words, it’s a good intro to Los Gatos real estate, especially!

Los Gatos videos: neighborhoods, downtown, parks, and real estate info

Click on the menu icon in the upper left corner to see what’s on the playlist or to view a particular neighborhood’s video.

Please check out the channel at https://www.youtube.com/PopeHandy/ to learn more about Silicon Valley real estate, Saratoga CA, San Jose and the Santa Clara County area generally. You can also see some of my sold listings, but the focus is really not on my inventory, so that has not been a big priority. What else? You’ll also find videos “just for fun” on California Missions, Haunted Real Estate, and local history, “The Valley of Heart’s Delight” too.

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