Thursday, June 29, 2006

Watch Out for Rip Currents at the Beaches

There will be just over a million visitors to our San Diego beaches over the fourth of July holiday weekend.

Mayor Jerry Sanders issued a statement reminding beachgoers that rip currents take lives every year.

What exactly is a rip current?
Rip currents are powerful currents of water moving away from the shore. They can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea.

Swimmers should follow these rules to avoid rip currents:
• Swim only in areas where lifeguards are present.
• Ask the lifeguards if you are unsure where it is safe to swim.

If caught in a rip current:
• Don’t fight the current.
• MOST IMPORTANT: Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current, then swim to shore.
• If you can’t escape, float or tread water.
• If you need help, call or wave for assistance.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

San Diego's median home price goes up 2.3%

The California Association of Realtors reports that compared to a year ago, the median price of an existing home in San Diego increased 2.3 percent in May and sales decreased 19.7 percent. Compared to the month before, the median price rose 3.5 percent, while sales increased 4.9 percent.

The median price of a home continued to increase in May, but at a more sustainable 8 percent rate. This is the first time since November 2001 that the median price did not increase by double digits, reflecting the return to a more balanced market.

The median price of an existing, single-family detached home in California during May 2006 was $564,430, an 8 percent increase over the $522,530 median for May 2005. The May 2006 median price increased a half percent compared with April's $561,750 median price.

Statewide, the 10 cities and communities with the highest median home prices in California during May 2006 were: Laguna Beach, $1,692,500; Saratoga, $1,500,000; Burlingame, $1,371,000; Newport Beach, $1,336,000; Manhattan Beach, $1,241,500; Los Gatos, $1,180,000; Santa Monica, $1,162,500; Rancho Palos Verdes, $1,144,000; Lafayette, $1,142,500; Calabasas, $1,130,000; Santa Barbara, $1,130,000.

Statewide, the 10 cities and communities with the greatest median home price increases in May 2006 compared with the same period a year ago were: Santa Monica, 60.3 percent; Ridgecrest, 56.3 percent; Adelanto, 42.5 percent; Loma Linda, 36.7 percent; Barstow, 36 percent; Laguna Beach, 33.8 percent; Delano, 33.3 percent; Tustin, 32.8 percent; Campbell, 32 percent; California City, 30.6 percent.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Save Gas, Don't Commute!

One of San Diego's most dynamically growing hi-tech regions is located in an area called Sorrento Mesa. It is home to San Diego's burgeoning telecommunications and wireless technology industries. You'll find major companies here like Qualcomm, Conexant, and Motorola. Bio technology research firms and support companies have also located in this area. Residential neighborhoods close-by provide homes for employees who want to live close to their jobs.

Imagine not driving to work each day but instead taking a short walk through a tree lined winding path. When its time for a lunch break, walk that same path down to the "The Brewery Gardens" and enjoy lunch at the Karl Strauss Brewing Company (aka "room K").

Stop daydreaming! A townhome just came up for sale that makes this dream come true!

Located at 10158 Wateridge Circle (MLS# 066048136) is a 3 bedroom, 2.5 baths, 1,390sf home selling for $535,000 to $585,876. Call me at 858-213-6058 if you want to go take a look! Here's a virtual tour

You can work, live, and play in a great location all without the long commutes!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Solar Cells for Generating Free Electricity

Southern California is known for its great weather and sunny days. That sunshine can be converted directly into electricity to power your home and reduce or eliminate completely your electricity bill! The established technology used to do this is called Photovoltaics, also known as solar cells.

More good news: The California Energy Commission is offering cash rebates on eligible grid-connected renewable energy electric-generating systems through its Emerging Renewables Program. Through this program, the Energy Commission provides funding to offset the cost of purchasing and installing new renewable energy systems using emerging renewable technologies.

For Photovoltaics, the State will provide a rebate of $2.80 per watt. A typical installation would cost anywhere from $8 to $10 dollars a watt so the rebate is roughly 30%.

You can estimate what an installation would cost you by adding up the kWh (kiloWatts hours) usage amounts from your electricity bill for an entire year. Then, divide that by 1,350 kWh and you'll end up with a number that represents your system requirements in kiloWatts. For example, say your annual usage is 6,500 kWh. Divide by 1,350 kWh to get 4.82 kW. Lets assume you find a contractor willing to install the system for $8 per watt. Your total installation cost before rebates would be 4.82kw times 8 or $38,560. California will rebate you 4.82kW times $2.80 or $13,580. Net cost is $24,980.

Keep in mind that you can divide that cost in two if you install only enough solar cells to supply half your electricity. In either case, you'll still be connected to the utility company and they will supply you power to make up for any shortfall. Should you produce more electricity than you can consume, that surplus is sold back to the utility and your meter will run backwards!

When looking at the economics, consider that solar cells are an exceptional amenity should you decide to sell your home someday. Look at a solar cell installation much as you would an upgraded kitchen or in-ground pool; your home becomes more valuable and desirable.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Moving to San Diego? Latest Podcast

Check out the latest episode of my podcast "San Diego Homes and Lifestyles" where you'll learn what percentage of locals can actually afford to buy a home and what can be done to become a homeowner.

I'll also talk about downtown San Diego and Interest-Only Financing (see my previous posts on these two stories).

Where can you find my podcast? You should be able to find it on any podcast directory including iTunes podcasts. I've notice that Podcast Pickle just posted this episode on their site.

Thanks for listening!

Friday, June 23, 2006

San Diego Interest Rates Today

Here's a brief summary of what to expect when it comes to locking in an interest rate on your new home loan:

Thanks to Rebecca Philpott for providing this information!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Home Automation, You Can DIY

Would you like to be able to automate your home's lighting? There are many reasons why you may want to do this: convenience, safety and security, energy savings, aestetics, and value-added desirability if you decide to sell your home someday.

Home automation allows you to turn your home lights on and off based on the time of day or whether someone is actually in the room. With a normal lightswitch, the light, say for example the front porch light is either off or on. With home automation, you can have the light turn on automatically at sunset at 80% brightness and then dim it down by 10% increments every hour until its completely off by morning. Not only do you save electricity by not having the light burn at full intensity throughout the night, but the light bulb actually lasts much much longer.

When I automated my house, I was amazed how long the light bulbs last--- in some cases 2 or 3 times longer! Do you remember reading about the power outages in Southern California in 2000 and 2001... maybe you were here. The power company was asking people to reduce their power comsumption and to conserve energy. I was able to save an immediate 20% just by going through my home and automating every light that I could. From the small nightlights to the outside yard lights. I even automated my little wet bar refrigerator that keeps my drinks cold. I figured that I don't need that thing running at all 75% of the time so now it runs only a couple of hours when I'm actually at home and likely to grab a cold one.

The cool thing about this system is that every light or electrical device that is controlled by it can be managed from a computer. In other words, you can sit at your computer and program the on/off times of any light, turn them on, or turn them off. You can do this remotely from your place of work or while you're travelling anywhere in the world where you have access to an internet connection.

For any type of light, you would buy a small module for each set of lights to be controlled. So for example, to control a floor lamp, you would plug the lamp into a lamp module which in turn is plugged into an ordinary power socket. There are no wires to run and no complicated installation is involved. If you have ceiling lights that are controlled by a wall switch, you'll need to replace the wall switch with an automated version. Its fairly easy to do if you have some basic experience with house wiring.

Originally, I had installed devices known as X-10 which is a very old technology out of the seventies. It worked OK much of the time but not all of the time. I'm just beginning to convert my system to a newly born technology called Insteon from an Irvine California company called Smarthome. Its very cool technology that creates a "dual network" over your home's existing wiring and through wireless RF signals. The software I use is called Homeseer and so far it's all working great. I'll post updates in a future post.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Beating San Diego's High Home Prices: Don't Live Here

WHAT? Now you're probably thinking that I must have some sort of mean spirited slant to my character to make such an indignant statement such as this. Not true, but it did catch your attention didn't it? In fact, not moving here is one of the alternatives that some of my clients have employed to beat the high San Diego home prices. They bought homes 40 miles up the I-15 in Riverside County. In fact, many people from San Diego have been snatching up homes in places like Temecula and Murrieta for 30% to 40% less than what a comparable home would sell for in San Diego. Many of those people commute to San Diego for work. But with gas prices going well above $3 a gallon, the cost advantages have been eroding. Plus, the freeways at rush hour can be terrible.

Still, if you don't mind the drive, it could be a great way to save on housing costs. As an example, you can buy a 5 bedroom, 3300sf newer home in Murrieta for around $500,000. In San Diego, a similar home may go for $750,000. That $250,000 difference equates to a mortgage savings of about $1500 a month! Are you one of those who made the move to take advantage of the savings? Drop me a comment and let us know how it worked out!

This 5 bedroom 3 bath 3,200sf Murrieta home sold for $512,000. Its only about a year old and has a large 10,000sf yard:

Want to know more about Murrieta? About 15 years ago, the population was about 16,000 and there wasn't a single traffic light. It was an old rural community of horse ranches and farms. Today the population is over 80,000 with sparkling new tracts of homes and modern shopping amenities designed to attract families from San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange County.

Murrieta is at the edge of southern California's wine country where you can tour some two dozen wineries in the nearby Temecula Valley. Look up in the skies and you'll see hot air balloons which have become a symbol for the region. The mild climate is hard to beat with warm days and cool nights. Because the area is so new, its more difficult to make a living there with very few major employers other than the numerous retail businesses. But if you are self-employed, retired, or if you don't mind the commute to the major job markets in Los Angeles, San Diego, or Orange County, then this can be a great place to live in some of the last affordable housing left in Southern California.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Avoiding Taxes on Property: The 1031 Exchange!

In a nutshell, a 1031 Exchange is a section of the IRS code that allows you to exchange one rental property for one or more of equal or greater value, without paying any taxes. There are rules and regulations you have to follow, but they are clearly set out, and a third party intermediary, called an "accommodator," will handle the transaction for you.

The IRS says that if you touch the money, you pay the tax. But if you use a qualified intermediary to transfer the money from the sold property to the purchased one(s), you qualify for a tax-free exchange. This person should be a member of the Federation of Exchange Accommodators, and bonded.

You may want to exchange your rental property for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you no longer want to manage it. Or, you want to own a property that can be more readily refinanced. Then, you could exchange one property that is not so easy to take cash out of, for one that is. This is true for houses, vacant land for apartments, or an office building, to name a few. And, you have 180 days after the sale of one property, to close on the replacement. You can even buy a new property before selling the old one, that’s called a "reverse" Exchange. In that case, the intermediary holds title for you until you sell the old property. Make sure you tell your Realtor that you'll want to perform a 1031 Exchange whether you are buyer or selling so that the proper wheels can be put to motion!

Naturally, as with any tax related matter, you should consult your tax accountant or tax attorney.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Bumming Off the Internet

As a Realtor, I visit many homes every week. Frequently I'll have my HP tablet PC with me so that I can take notes or have contracts available for clients that I meet. It never ceases to amaze me that I can walk into a home, turn on my computer and 1 out of 3 times have immediate access to the internet. This is not supposed to happen. Your wireless network should be secure... only you should be able to access it, not me, not your neighbor, not some dude driving down the street scoping out free internet connections.

Its really weird when several neighbors all unknowningly have unsecured wireless overlapping each other. The people in one house may be using their neighbor's wireless internet thinking that they were in fact using their own. I was in a house once where the homeowner was telling me that he was in the process of moving his wireless box to another room so it was temporarily disconnected. He said that he was a little surprised that his internet was still working fine and assumed that the wireless box did not have to be plugged in to work. Of course it doesn't have to be plugged in if you are stealing your neighbor's wireless connection!

Stealing may be a strong word in this case, but I'm sure the other neighbor may have noticed his internet has been running a little slower lately. The more users you have on a connection, the slower it becomes. But thats not the worst problem.

You've heard about those new wireless video cams. Some people install them all over the house so from many miles away they can keep an eye on the baby's room, the pets, the garden, the entry doors. If someone can get access to your wireless network, it becomes all the easier for them to access your cameras and see whats going on in your own home. This could go on for months and you may never know it.

The solution is to secure your wireless system as soon as you install it in your home. The wireless box has 2 little antennas on it and its called a wireless access point or sometimes a wireless router. Making it secure is not difficult, but you need to follow the step-by-step instructions that came with the unit. Most people only do step one which is to plug the unit in. If you keep reading, you'll see a section that describes how to set up a secure password. Look for the initials WEP or Data Encryption and that should be checked on. You'll have to store a password for each wireless computer in your home. Its not hard to do and you'll have less reasons to worry about strangers having access to your home network.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Drink Up To Something Different: Boba Tea

Have you heard about the latest sensation in the world of beverages? Its a new asian tea drink that started in Taiwan some 20 years ago and made it to California in the 90's. Its called Bubble tea or boba tea. If you haven't had one yet, you need to try one. You'll either like it or not, but I guaranty that your first experience will have you surprised, bewildered, and maybe shocked beyond words. This is not your grandma's dainty cup of camomile tea.

To describe it is a little difficult, but here it goes; Boba tea is any number of cool and refreshing combinations of flavors of teas, milk and sugar. The tea is likely to be in pastel colors of yellow, pink, or green and its not overwhelmingly sweet. Mixed in with the drink is small dark, pea-sized balls made from Tapioca. These Tapioca balls are usually several layers deep sitting at the bottom of the clear plastic cup in which the tea is served. You're given a special super wide straw to suck up these bobas as as you enjoy the tea. At first it may seem weird to suddenly have plump balls of tapioca in your mouth as you're sipping up the cool tea, but both the tea and the chewy tapioca make for a surprisingly good match.

I had my first boba tea 6 years ago at a Vietnamese restaurant in Mira Mesa San Diego. Since then, it seems that you can find Boba tea all over San Diego and one place I've been going to is called Tea Station located on Mira Mesa blvd. You can find Boba tea now in most larger cities in the US. Give Boba tea a try and see if you like it. This may be the start of the next big counterpunch to Starbucks.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Thinking About A Place in Downtown San Diego?

Whether you are considering in making an investment on a second home or ready to buy your first home, you may want to take a look at downtown San Diego. There is a buzz downtown with nearly 30,000 residents and the population is anticipated to grow to nearly 90,000 by 2030. More than $3 billion has been poured into downtown over the last few years in new residential, commercial and public infrastructure. Downtown has become a vibrant, cosmopolitan place with new restaurants, public art projects, parks, retail shops, and activities. If you haven’t been there lately, you’re in for a jolt. Downtown offers a surprisingly wide price range to accommodate every budget. You’ll find everything from studio lofts starting at just under $300,000 to luxurious 4,000 sqft condos in the $5,000,000 range. Some homes have breathtaking views and others are walking distance to places like Petco Park, the Gaslamp, Horton Plaza, Little Italy, Balboa Park, and Seaport Village. Imagine owning a second home downtown to take those mini vacations while capitalizing on a great investment! There are many prime opportunities now available and one of them could have your name on it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Paperless Office. It Is Here.

Many of my clients know that I’ve been involved for many years in the software industry. As a Realtor, I’m constantly applying technology to help my clients stay ahead in the home buying and selling process. One improvement that my clients seem to enjoy is the use of electronic documents. Rather than carrying a thick pile of contracts for my clients to sign, I use a small tablet PC and an electronic pen. Documents can be signed, executed, and e-mailed wirelessly or printed on the spot. You can get paperwork delivered to your home, office, or anywhere around the world! In effect, you can buy or sell a home from anywhere!