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Living in Earthquake Country – Are You Ready?

SF Bay Area Realtor Deborah Lopez 299x300 Living in Earthquake Country – Are You Ready?

Deborah Lopez

Having lived through the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake as a homeowner in San Francisco,  I often find it helpful to review with my family not only the steps to take to make sure our homes are safe, but what to do in case there is a quake.

by Deborah Lopez, SF Realtor

Resources for complete and detailed information about how to prepare your home for an earthquake and what to do in an earthquake can be found at various web sites.   The best ones I’ve found are,, and

7 Tips to Help Prepare You and Your Home for Earthquakes

The seven key recommendations below are from and are easy to remember.  If you want more information, you’ll find a detailed fact sheet on each recommendation on the website.

1.  Secure it Now – Eliminate hazards by securing heavy objects such as bookshelves, televisions, computers and especially water heaters.  California law requires the seller of any home to strap and brace the water heaters before they transfer the home to the next buyer – be sure this is done properly.   But if you’ve been in your home a long time, do it now yourself.

2.  Make a Plan – Have evacuation and reunion plans, an out-of-state contact person and a location for your emergency supplies.  Make sure everyone in your household knows what they are.  Make sure you know the plan at your child or children’s schools so you can find them fast!

3.  Make Disaster Kits – for home, car and work.  These should include water, food, flashlights, portable radios, batteries, first aid kits, cash, extra medications, a whistle and fire extinguishers.

4.  Is Your Place Safe? –  Consult a contractor or engineer knowledgeable in seismic safety to make sure you have done all the upgrades you can to strengthen your home in case of a quake.  Some of these are minor and inexpensive, others may require more extensive projects, but do whatever you can.

5.  DROP, COVER AND HOLD ON!  – Doorways are NOT the safest place in a quake – this is old information.  You are safer dropping to the floor, taking cover under a sturdy desk or table and holding on to it firmly.  Be prepared to move with the furniture until the shaking stops.  If outside, drop to the ground; if in your car, pull over and stay in your car.

6.  Check It Out – After the shaking stops, check for injuries, administer first aid, and identify safety hazards such as damaged gas, water, sewage and electrical lines.   Know how to report damage to the proper agencies and have those numbers in your disaster kit.

7.  Communicate and Recover – Listen to the most accessible radio, contact your insurance agent if your home is damaged and check for resources that will be made available from government agencies.   To locate separated family members, register on the Red Cross Safe and Well Web Site  or call 1-866-GET-INFO.  Make sure everyone in your family has that phone number.

We’ve only had small earthquakes since 1989 but being prepared will give you and your family the peace of mind to enjoy your home and know that you are ready if necessary.   If you would like laminated copies of the Red Cross Earthquake Safety Checklist or a printed copy of the Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety for your home, please e-mail me and I will send you either or both immediately.  

Be Safe!

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Six Ways to Help your Realtor Sell Your Home!

SF Bay Area Realtor Deborah Lopez Six Ways to Help your Realtor Sell Your Home!

Deborah Lopez

Yes, Virginia, there are buyers ready to purchase your home this spring! The 2010 San Francisco market is brisk and homes are selling before they even hit the market!

by Deborah Lopez

Well-priced, quality homes are getting multiple offers and going over asking – the competition is out there.   The median home price in San Francisco has gone up since December, 2008, but prices are still about 15% below the peak and predictions are that we won’t see those prices for 7-10 years.

So how do you make sure that your house gets sold for the best price?    Here’s what YOUR Realtor would want me to tell you:

1.  Be realistic and set a compelling price. Don’t just be competitive with other homes in your market – set your price to be the absolutely most attractive price in your market based on today’s values.

2.  Make your house as entrancing as possible. If possible, move out and get your home in move-in condition.   If your kitchen or baths need updating and you can do that, it is worth it.  According to the National Association of Realtors, minor kitchen and bath upgrades in San Francisco return over 100% of their cost.  Refinish hardwood floors and put on a fresh coat of paint in neutral colors.   To learn more about the positive impact of low cost remodeling, send me an e-mail to receive a free report on 10 Big Impact, Low Cost Remodeling Projects.

If you can’t move before selling, work with your Realtor and a staging consultant to clear out all your clutter, rearrange your furniture and make your house sparkle as much as possible.

3.  Make sure you pay attention to your curb appeal. If your exterior looks dingy, people will not be tempted to enter.  Power washing and repainting trim can refresh an exterior quickly.  Planters and flower boxes can add color and charm.  Replace or refinish your front door and make sure all your windows are cleaned – inside and out.

4.  Avoid surprises! Get all inspections done early.   An inspection by a licensed pest control company up front will allow you to either fix the issues or address them in your pricing.    If you are in a time-sensitive situation, get a general property inspection as well – you might get offers without an inspection contingency if the reports are relatively clean.    Again, if there are issues that can be fixed quickly and with reasonable cost, do them.

5.  If you are underwater or behind on your mortgage, try to negotiate a loan modification, refinance or, as a last resort, a short sale with your lender before putting your home on the market.   Lenders will not refinance once your home is for sale.   Try to get an approved price for a short sale – it will shorten the time your home is on the market and allow for a quicker closing.

6.  Listen to your Realtor! If you cannot trust the advice your Realtor is giving you, hire someone else.  You need someone today who will give you a true picture of how buyers and the market are responding to your home and your pricing.

Today’s market is completely value driven – even the best marketing strategy cannot sell an over-priced home.   Pricing right and/or  correcting the price when it’s too high is the most important role a Realtor plays today – find someone who is not afraid to deliver hard news and pay attention!

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Real Estate: Buy or Sell in 2010?

SF Bay Area Realtor Deborah Lopez 299x300 Real Estate: Buy or Sell in 2010?

Deborah Lopez

I think we’re all thrilled to be starting a new year and here’s hoping that it’s a good one!  While we expect the San Francisco real estate market to continue to be challenging, there is no question that this is the season to be buying. 

And if it is the season to be buying, it is also the season to be selling.

by Deborah Lopez, San Francisco Realtor

So when people ask me “Is this a good time to sell or buy”, my answer is absolutely!

Low Interest Rates, Low Prices, Tax Credits

Buyers are currently blessed with a perfect combination of historically low interest rates, lower prices and a first-time and a move-up buyer tax credit. 

Government programs are keeping interest rates low but they will most certainly go up in the future.   Every 1% increase in interest rate reduces the amount of home you can afford by about 10% due to the increase in monthly cost.   Before rates go up and the tax credit expires (April 30, 2010), anyone who has been thinking of buying a home should be working with a Realtor®. 

Even if you cannot buy your “dream” home, owning something as the market recovers will allow you to build equity and not lose ground.

What About Selling Your Home?

As for selling, my advice is always the same:  if your life will be better, then do not wait.   If your house is too small or too big and you can buy something more suitable, you will never lose money in the long run.  Why not be comfortable in a house that fits your needs while you wait for the market to recover?  

If you stay where you are and the value of your property increases, so will the value of the properties you want to buy – there is no gain in waiting.   Go ahead – move your loved ones while the buying opportunities are good and you will recover any losses as your new home appreciates AND, most importantly, your life will be happier in the meantime.   

All of the families that I helped make a real estate move in 2009 are thankful that they are in their new homes.  

What if You’ve Fallen Behind on Mortgage Payments?

And please, if you are facing hardship and falling behind in your mortgage payments, call a Realtor® today so that you know your options.  The short sale process is getting easier and you will do less damage to your credit negotiating a short sale than allowing your home to go into foreclosure.   You may be eligible for a loan modification.  Or, you may be able to hold on to your property by moving out and renting it.   

But be sure to talk to a Realtor® and your tax advisor before you make that decision – there are many legal and tax ramifications.  

You need to know the facts to make the best decision and we are here to help.  Consulting with a real estate professional will help you plan for the future, know your options and I hope make 2010 a Happy New Year.

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Seven Tips for a Warm and Green Holiday Season!

SF Bay Area Realtor Deborah Lopez 299x300 Seven Tips for a Warm and Green Holiday Season!

Deborah Lopez

This has been a challenging year for all of us and I’m glad the holidays have rolled around to bring some good cheer. The best part of my business is seeing my clients happily settled in their new homes, so the holidays always have a special meaning to me…because as the saying goes…

there’s no place like home!

by Deborah Lopez, San Francisco Realtor

As I’ve helped clients through this bad real estate market, it’s been really wonderful to get people moved to homes that will make their lives better.

I feel blessed to have had so many successes as new clients have found their special places, old friends have sold and moved away to warmer climates and families have downsized or upsized to make their lives easier. Truly, this holiday season is even more special because we’ve come through such a challenging time.

As my family and I prepare for the holiday season, we’ve thought more about what we can do to help others and the environment this year. Here are some ideas we’ve collected (with thanks and credit to Cole Hardware  and Avi Green Now ) and we’re always looking for more. If you have a great idea, please share them here for all to enjoy!

7 Tips to Make Your Holiday Season Warm and Green!

1.  Instead of giving gifts at our annual family Chanukah gift exchange game, we’re going to gather books to donate to the annual toy drives. We’re each bringing our favorite children’s book (could be a toy, too) and then putting them all in a big plastic bag. The game will be to guess whose favorite the item is before we deliver them. I know we’ll have fun while at the same time doing some good for others! I’m adding a few dozen cookies for the volunteers – they sure deserve a treat.

2. Go through your closets for old coats and warm clothes and recycle them to shelters where people need them.

3.  Find a non-profit that’s doing an electronic-recycling drive.  Empty your shelves of cell phones, monitors, old hard drives and other electronics that no longer work for you, but could help others.

4.  Help deliver holiday baskets to the elderly with Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly. But get there early because SO many people show up to help. Christmas is a big day for them. Or volunteer at Glide or any number of places that serve shut-ins and the homeless. It will brighten your day as well as theirs.

5.  Wrap your gifts in recycled items – old maps, the comics, brown paper bags or scraps of fabric sewn together can replace holiday wrapping paper ( rarely 100% recycled).

6.  Put your holiday lights on timers and get LED lights if you’re buying new ones to conserve energy.  And don’t forget to use CFL bulbs all year round – it really does help.

7.  Pack boxes with unshelled peanuts or uncooked pasta noodles or buy compostable packaging (it exists)! But the peanuts can be eaten, too!

Take good care and from my house to yours, we wish you all the best for a safe, healthy and very happy holiday season and may 2010 bring all good things!

What other ideas do you have to help others or make this holiday green?

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You Don’t Need a Prince to Have a Castle!

SF Bay Area Realtor Deborah Lopez 299x300 You Don’t Need a Prince to Have a Castle!

Deborah Lopez

 Buy Versus Rent…
A Woman’s Point of View!

I was 20 years old when I arrived in California as a transfer from the Univ. of MI to U.C. Berkeley.  Married right out of college, we had our first child while renting an apartment in the Valencia corridor between the Mission and Noe Valley.

by Deborah Lopez, San Francisco Realtor

Right away I realized that paying rent instead of buying a home was not the wisest thing we could do.

After months of going over every argument I could think of with my husband, I finally managed to persuade him that I was right…we should buy a house!

That was in 1973…long before the prices of houses started skyrocketing.  Regardless of what’s going on with the appreciation of homes, the arguments that I used then still ring TRUE today!

6 Reasons Why Owning is Better than Renting

Whether you have a partner to convince or you’re on your own and just have to convince yourself, here are the reasons I used back in 1973:

1.   If you own a house, no one can ever evict you so your family will have stability. (This was before there was rent control in San Francisco, but it’s still the only true security.)

2.  If there is inflation, your house will be the best hedge – its value will keep even with the level of inflation and the money you invest won’t lose its value.

3.   Instead of paying down your landlord’s mortgage, you’ll be paying down your own and building up savings in the equity of your home…even if prices stay the same.

4.   You have a leveraged investment.  In 1973 we put down $7,000 to buy a home for $35,000 and that was a stretch for us!  But we knew that even the modest amount of appreciation we were getting was based on the full value of the house, not just our down payment.  And it compounded every year!

5.  Your monthly interest and property tax payments are tax deductible. You will get 30% or more buying power because of tax savings.

 6.  If you live in the house for 30 years, you’ll own it free and clear! The only expense is property taxes. Want to move, you’ll have equity to take with you! 

Of course, I could not foresee that I would be single again, but since the house was MY idea, I held onto it. It appreciated over the 23 years I owned it,  allowing me to refinance.  And guess what… that appreciation let me send my children to college and do an extensive remodel that added even more value to the home!

When I sold the house in 1996, I had money to travel and to create a new home with my NEW husband.  It was worth all the arguments!

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