Increase Curb Appeal For Higher Returns

Love at first sight. Is it real?

A recent study conducted at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands not only confirmed that the phenomenon is real, but also found strangers were more likely to experience love at first sight with physically attractive others.

This is reportedly true in love, and we also know firsthand that it is true when selling your home. First impressions matter—a LOT.


Why Do First Impressions Count?

“When buyers see the outside taken care of, they have a better attitude that the inside will be just as nice! First impressions make lasting impressions.” – Suzette Peoples, Owner of Peoples Properties

According to a Michigan State University study, a home with landscaping and effort put into curb appeal can increase perceived home value between 5% and 11%. Curb appeal can also sell a home faster.

Perceived value is very personal and highly subjective. It has nothing to do with numbers or logic. It has everything to do with perception. Emotion is the ruler of perceived value, and people buy on emotions. In fact, according to Harvard Professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of our purchasing decisions are made by our unconscious mind.


How To Get Great Curb Appeal

So, what are the smartest curb-appeal projects?

Based on the 2019 report from Remodeling magazine and the 2019 Remodeling Impact Report from the National Association of REALTORS®, these are the projects with the highest emotional appeal and return on investment:

Wash your home’s face. Cleaning up the home’s exterior with a thorough power-washing can add $10,000 to $15,000 to the sales price.


Freshen the paint job. The most commonly offered curb appeal advice from real estate pros and appraisers is to give the exterior of your home a tasteful new color scheme. Selecting an attractive palette may be tough, but Julie and her team know the colors that are most popular with current buyers, so we can give you savvy advice on choosing the right colors. Buyers will instantly notice a new paint job, and appraisers will value it.


Mind the roof. The condition of your roof is one of the first things buyers notice and appraisers assess. A new roof has a return on investment as high as 109%. For more roof tips, click here.


Neaten the yard. The Associated Landscape Contractors of America says landscaping can add as much as 14% to the resale value of a home and speed up its sale significantly.


Add attractive colors. Color attracts and pleases the eye of would-be buyers. If you’re planning to sell your house in spring, add colorful flowering plants to your front yard so they’ll be in full bloom at the time of showing. If you have a front porch, consider adding a couple of brightly colored chairs or a bench. If you’re feeling a little daring, paint the front door, too. For more tips, click here.


Glam-up your mailbox. If you have a standing mailbox, digging a flowerbed by it and adding pretty flowers like pansies or primroses will amp up curb appeal. A chic mailbox, elegant house numbers, or address plaques can also help make your house stand out.


Fence it up. A picket fence with a garden gate to frame your yard is an attractive feature. It adds visual punch to your property and extra value during the appraisal. If you already have a fence, make sure it’s clean and in good condition. For more tips, click here.


Little details matter. Nothing looks worse from the curb – and sets off subconscious alarms – like hanging gutters, cracked or missing bricks from the front steps, or peeling paint. They can make potential buyers immediately think the entire property has suffered from deferred maintenance. They can also decrease the value of your house by as much as 10%.


Can We Help?

Attractive curb appeal is a smart move, one which will make potential buyers fall in love with your home at first sight.

For more home-selling tips, please contact Julie at 650.799.8888 or to schedule a free consultation.

Trade Your Space For Better Living



In a previous article (Downsizers: How And Why You Should Think About Downsizing), we talked about the subjective benefits of downsizing.

The advantages are many, and include the freedom and serenity afforded by an uncluttered life, the opportunity to create deeper meaning through simplification, and the time gained by stripping away the nonessentials to focus on the things that matter.

Plus, the many health benefits a less encumbered and more connected way of life offers us, and the chance to finally pay attention and fulfill the personal dreams we’ve had to postpone while raising a family, provide an immeasurable degree of quality of life that could not be fully enjoyed before.

But downsizing has many financial benefits, too—perhaps none richer and more rewarding than to finally cash out on the enormous appreciation in value experienced by the Bay Area housing market for just the past ten years. With annual percentage gains in the double digits, it has been a fabulous decade for homeowners. 

When Is The Right Time To Downsize?

Is now the right time to make a move?” clients are asking us with greater frequency.

Savvy and successful investors question this every day and share a common secret: they know when to cash out. 

“We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.”

 – Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and fourth wealthiest person in the world

While we are not suggesting a dip in home prices is in the near horizon, if you are approaching retirement or are already an empty-nester, we believe the moment is ripe to consider a smart move. Appreciation in many of communities of the Bay Area is at record highs. Julie and her team can run a comparable market analysis on properties around your home and let you know what kind of return you can expect if you listed your home on the market.

How Can Downsizing Help You Financially?

Downsizing will not only allow you to reap significant gains in home equity, but will free up cash thanks to lower mortgage payments, property taxes, and maintenance and insurance costs. With your treasure chest thus filled, the possibilities are endless. 

Some homeowners have turned the tables on downsizing by utilizing the extraordinary profits made possible by rising Bay Area home prices. In turn, they can purchase larger and more luxurious homes in more inexpensive areas out of state, or afford a grander lifestyle—on a reduced scale—in their own community or in more affordable neighborhoods nearby.

Does Downsizing Mean You Should Give Up Homeownership?

Just because you’re downsizing doesn’t mean you have to surrender homeownership forever. Many downsizing sellers have reinvested their proceeds into other homes. Some have downsized to purchase a second home overseas, or back home, as in the case of immigrants who long to renew their connection with their places of birth and with the family members and friends who stayed behind. Helping children with a down payment for their own home has been another factor motivating families to downsize. 

In previous cycles, savvy investors have also cashed out near the peak, then downsized (or moved temporarily into a rental) to wait for a price correction. They entered the housing market a second time once certain a new upswing was underway.

Can We Help?

Whatever your circumstances, investment strategies, or long-term goals, let our experienced team help you capture the many upsides of downsizing and to guide your next move toward a richer and brighter future. 

For more information on how we can help with your downsizing needs, please contact Julie at 650.799.8888 or to schedule a free consultation.


What Are Disclosures? How Do You Prepare For Them?

After signing the listing agreement with your agent, filling out your home’s disclosures is one of the next steps in the home-selling process. 

So what are disclosures, and how open should you be about them?


What Are They?


Disclosure laws are meant to protect both sides. Disclosing any issues about major home components, systems, and conditions puts your buyer on notice and prevents you, the seller, from being held liable for future problems.


Providing disclosures doesn’t mean you’re giving a buyer guarantees about your home. You must, however, give truthful information about defects you know about or should have known about, but were perhaps ignoring. In most states, it’s illegal for a home seller to knowingly conceal major defects from buyers (click here for disclosure obligations in California).

After your home is under contract and before the sale is finalized, the buyer will typically hire a property inspector. The better prepared you are for the results of this inspection, the better the outcome. 

How To Prepare 

To put yourself in the best position before disclosures and the ensuing buyer inspection, you should have at least a basic understanding of the most probable defects that a home inspector is likely to find. 

According to the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, these defects include:

  • foundation drainage trouble
  • electrical defects
  • roof problems (drainage, leaks, or rot)
  • heating combustion problems
  • improperly done repairs
  • structural damage
  • plumbing problems
  • infiltration by water or air
  • inadequate ventilation of attic or crawlspace
  • construction flaws.

Knowing what issues to look for and how to quickly and effectively resolve them is half the battle. To ensure a smooth inspection, take these steps before the inspector arrives:

  • If your home is vacant, make sure the power is on.
  • Make sure all light bulbs are working.
  • Pare down the clothes in your closets so the inspector can see inside them.
  • Remove items away from basement walls so they can be inspected for cracks and water penetration.
  • If there is access to the attic in a closet, make sure it’s accessible.
  • Change the filters to your furnace and leave any service tags so the inspector can see them.
  • Do not try to conceal any defects you know are present in the home. Trying to cover up problems will throw up a major red flag.
  • Ask your real estate agent to be present during the inspection.

The Benefits Of A Pre-Inspection

The buyer’s inspection will most likely uncover defects, and you will be expected to repair them if you want to get full asking price for your home. However, you will only have until closing to get the repairs done. This is why we always recommend our clients to conduct an inspection before listing to get ahead of any issues. Typically, an inspection costs between $200 and $500, but the advantages far outweigh the cost:

  • You’ll find out what condition your home is in. 
  • Pricing the home accurately is much easier. Even the best real estate agent will struggle with effective pricing if the state of your home is unclear.
  • Minimized stress. You’ll be putting your home on the market with confidence you’ve corrected any large problems.
  • You’ll be in full control of the scope, timing, and price of the repairs.
  • Less likelihood of extreme negotiations.
  • You’ll improve the buyer’s confidence.

The buyer, of course, will still conduct their own inspection. But if you have a pre-inspection, you can proactively resolve major issues which would otherwise make a sale fall apart. As your real estate agent, we want you to make sure you are as prepared as possible. 

Can We Help?

Trust Julie and her team to guide you through the disclosures and inspection stages. Their goal is to eliminate stress while helping you achieve the results you want.

For more information on how we can help with your selling needs, please contact Julie at 650.799.8888 or to schedule a free consultation.

Finding The Best Time To Sell Your Home

If we all waited for the perfect moment, we would never marry, have children, switch careers, retire, or move. 

Leave perfect timing to Swiss watches and trains. In real estate, optimal timing is the target.

Time To Move?

Selling your home and moving, especially if you’ve lived in it for a long time, is an emotionally charged decision. After all, home is not just a living space, but a storehouse of fond memories; your children’s cradle and launchpad; the cozy, nurturing womb of friendship and camaraderie; your safe harbor. Just thinking about what will be left behind and the inconvenience of moving fills many people with anxiety and dread.

But an inconvenience, said British author G.K. Chesterton, can become an adventure if rightly considered—which is the same as saying we should think about what we stand to gain instead of what we stand to lose.

Getting rid of stuff, for instance, can seem daunting, until we imagine ourselves and our lives more unencumbered. Goodbye worrying about the three sets of dishes that have never been used! Decluttering our lives is good for the mind and soul. Shedding allows us to travel light. We lose stuff but gain freedom and peace of mind.

Downsizing can feel stifling until we picture ourselves in closer quarters and proximity to our loved ones, or when we imagine all the wonderful experiences and new memories a lower mortgage payment will afford us. 

A new neighborhood, town, or city may just be the fertile soil we need to reinvent ourselves in midlife. Change is energizing!

Separating ourselves from the familiar—our old friends, community, or favorite haunts and hikes—allows us to see everything anew. Distance, they say, makes the heart grow fonder.

If rightly considered, selling your home and moving someplace new will always be an adventure, and with Julie Tsai Law, we stand ready to chart the course with you.

Perfect Timing

Attempting to perfectly time the market is one of the great traps into which many people fall.

If someone as knowledgeable as Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan couldn’t see the 2008 market crash coming, it is hard to comprehend how we can predict the highest wave in a market cycle—especially in a real estate market as nuanced as the San Francisco Bay Area.

“A decade of results throws cold water on the notion that strategists exhibit any special ability to time the markets.” – The Wall Street Journal

Regardless of market turbulence, over the years Julie and her team have helped our clients focus on obtaining the highest possible price while selling at the time that suits each client’s needs. Our clients have been amply rewarded by our conservative, yet savvy advice. After all, we have been around long enough to know how to tailor the timing of your selling experience to be both easy and financially rewarding. We also know if a window of time simply won’t give you the results you expect, and we feel it is our duty to inform you and let you make the final decision.

Our team of experts has a constant finger on the pulse of the market, tracking Fed policy, interest rates, supply and demand, economic growth, demographic shifts, and regional development plans that may impact your property value. This allows us to provide a comprehensive outlook to our clients and recommend the optimal time to sell your home for the value and terms you desire.

Can We Help?

Julie understands the idea of selling your home may seem overwhelming. This is why we have created a system that makes home-selling as easy and effective as possible.

For more information on how we can help with your home-selling needs, please contact Julie at 650.799.8888 or to schedule a free consultation.

Helping Aging Parents Downsize While Building Wealth



America is getting older. 

By 2040, about one in five Americans—or eighty million people—will be 65 or older, up from about one in eight in 2000. The number of adults age 85 and older (the group most often needing help with basic personal care) will have quadrupled by 2040. And while overall longevity rates are declining, affluent and well-educated individuals are still expected to live past their eighties.

An aging population is expected to strain government budgets because younger people are much more likely than older people to work and pay taxes that fund Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other public-sector services. The latest Social Security Administration projections indicate that, by 2040, there will be 2.1 workers per Social Security beneficiary, down from 3.7 in 1970.

Meanwhile, the cost of long-term care keeps going up and most Americans keep believing—incorrectly—that the government will cover most, or all of it.

“Our population is aging, living longer, and not prepared.”

 – David O’Leary, president and CEO of Genworth’s US Life division

Preparing A Place For Your Aging Parents

Caring for our aging loved ones in their later years is becoming a costly challenge.

Nationwide, a private room in a nursing home now costs more than $8,000 per month, or $97,455 per year, according to a report by Genworth Financial. That’s an increase of nearly 50% since 2004. A semi-private room is less expensive, but still carries a hefty price tag: $85,775 per year. As it is, 87% of adults over the age of 65 want to age in place, according to an AARP survey, and nearly three-quarters of those will eventually need some kind of long-term care, reports Genworth.

Given the staggering rise in nursing home costs and the uncertain long-term financial viability of Medicare and Medicaid, a growing number of families are seeking to add a “senior-friendly flat” to their aging relatives’ properties. This can be rented out until the time comes when Mom and Dad are ready to move-in. In the meantime, the rental income is held in escrow to help cover future in-home healthcare costs. Once the seniors move into the smaller flat, the main residence is rented out to outsiders, or used by the younger generation who wish to stay close to their parents and save money on in-home healthcare services (which can run as high as $47,000 per year, for homemaker services, and $49,000 annually for an in-home health aide).

How An ADU Can Help

Adding a “granny flat” or auxiliary dwelling unit (ADU) to an existing property is not only a creative solution to allow seniors to age in place and save money. It also boosts the property’s resale value. According to Remodeling Magazine, real estate professionals in high-tech areas of the West Coast (Silicon Valley, San Francisco, North Bay, etc.) report that most of the homes sold in recent years that included a recently constructed ADU more than recouped the ADU project cost in the resale—well beyond, in most cases.

To help alleviate the housing crisis, the California legislature recently passed a series of bills ( “Homesellers, New ADU Housing Bills Could Add Significant Value To Your Home) aimed at facilitating the addition, or new construction, of auxiliary dwelling units. This easing of restrictions, coupled with the potential for rental income and higher property values gained by the addition of an ADU, are allowing families to build wealth. But more importantly, it gives loved ones the chance to age in place and save money on senior care in the process.

Rental income, higher property resale values, costs savings—what’s not to like?

Can We Help?

For more information on how we can help with your downsizing and life adjustments needs, please contact Julie at 650.799.8888 or to schedule a free consultation.


How To Achieve Higher Appraisals

An appraisal is an unbiased, professional estimate of the value of a property. It is required by the lender before issuing a mortgage, and usually happens after an offer has been made and the home has been inspected.

Appraising a property isn’t an exact science. It is only an opinion of what your home is worth. It doesn’t dictate how much the buyer should pay, or how much you should accept. If your home is appraised lower than the price you and the buyer agreed upon, the lender isn’t going to make up the difference. It’ll be up to you and the buyer to figure out who pays for the shortfall. Both of you can agree to negotiate a new price, or you might consider finding someone willing to offer cash, which doesn’t require an appraisal.


Preparing For The Appraisal

  • Comparable listings


The first thing a home appraiser does is pull comparable listings (called “comps”) from the nearby area. These are similar properties, usually located within a mile or so, which have sold in the last 90 days. Typically, an appraiser compares the target property with at least three comparable ones. While appraisers have full access to MLS Listings and other programs, some offerings might not appear, so it’s good practice to compile your own and have a printed copy ready to hand to the appraiser as a courtesy. If you are a client of ours, then Julie and her team will already have comps prepared that you can review and share if possible. Click here for resources.


  • List of improvements


Make an itemized list of all significant repairs, updates, and improvements you’ve made to your home, including dates and total cost. Major structural upgrades, such as replacement of a worn roof or stabilization of a crumbling foundation, are important to an appraisal because, if they are not done, the home’s value suffers. Do not include cosmetic upgrades. Any improvements that are not permanent are usually inconsequential to a home appraisal.


  • Neighborhood bragging rights


If there have been positive changes to your neighborhood, let the appraiser know.

For example, did a new Starbucks open nearby? Mention it to the appraiser. After all, there was a recent Harvard Business School study that determined the entry of a Starbucks into a ZIP code is associated with a 0.5% increase in housing prices within a year.

What about public schools? How are they ranked? (Check here.) What’s the availability of daycare centers in your area? (Click here.) Mention improvements in public transportation, availability of bike paths, access to nature and hiking trails, etc. Display your neighborhood pride!

  • Deep cleaning


“The home appraiser isn’t coming by to judge the cleanliness of your homestead,” says appraiser Adam Wiener, the founder of Aladdin Appraisal in Auburndale, MA. “But it’s still good form to declutter, dust, and mop beforehand to show your home in its best light. Home appraisals won’t typically devalue your home because it’s messy—but a neat, organized home might help you. Even if they’re not consciously aware of it, the appraiser might value a messy home a little lower.”

So, the cleaner you can make your home look before an appraisal, the better!


The Physical Appraisal

Imagine your home after you’ve emptied it of your personal items. Thats what the appraiser will focus on. He will assess and record the quality and condition of the “bones” of your home and combine it with the comps to determine the market price of your property.

While unbiased, the appraiser is human, so will likely be influenced by first impressions. Make sure you’ve done everything you can to enhance your property’s curb appeal.

Once inside, the appraiser will conduct a room-by-room assessment to look at the material, quality, and condition of all fixtures, appliances, flooring, plumbing, and anything that will be left behind when you move out, including:

  • Plumbing fixtures (toilets, showers/tubs, faucets)
  • Interior paint quality
  • Flooring
  • Appliances
  • Windows/doors
  • Furnace
  • Air conditioning unit
  • Lighting fixtures
  • Cabinetry
  • Countertops
  • Electrical
  • Basement finish
  • Security system
  • Fireplaces

Appraisers often value houses in $500 increments, so if there’s a repair over $500 that can or should be made, do it. Fix leaky faucets, running toilets, broken windows, and cracked ceilings. Be sure to also touch-up the interior paint.

Once your home is appraised, it is almost impossible to have the appraiser reconsider his assessment. That’s why it’s crucial for you to present your home in the best light possible and be fully prepared for when the appraiser knocks on your door. 


Can We Help?

Don’t worry! Our expert team is ready to assist you in getting the highest appraisal possible. 

For more ways on how you can get the best value for your home, please contact Julie at 650.799.8888 or to schedule a free consultation.

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