Maine Inspires Us All

Whaddya’ do when times are tough and things are looking dark? Why build a snowman, of course. At least that’s what the good folks in Bethel, Maine do. And, times are mighty hard in Bethel, Maine this year.

The “snowwoman” towering over this village features eyelashes created from discarded skis and bright red lips made from painted car tires. She wears a giant red hat and a 100-foot-long scarf, and her blond tresses are made from rope. She gets a little bling from a snowflake pendant that’s 6 feet long.

snowman

This ski town of about 2,400 residents already holds the record for tallest snowman, dedicated in 1999. Since then, they have been waiting for someone else to break the record. When no one rose to the challenge, the folks here decided they’d have to break the record themselves.

“Olympia” is named for Maine’s senior senator, Olympia Snowe.

snow-face

It took more than a month, dozens of volunteers and tons of snow to create Olympia. Jim Sysko, a civil engineer, oversaw design and construction.

Her “carrot” nose, painted by schoolchildren, is 8 feet long. Her eyes are made from giant wreaths.

However she’s made, she’s an inspiration to all of us here in Southern California…She’s our new vision of winter “down east.”

snow

Careful When You Upgrade

Hey, it’s July and the living is easy. The 4th is coming..The Dodgers and Angels are making the history books and the great time of home repair is upon us, as suburbanites head by the thousands to Home Depot or EXPO as the case may be. Great projects in mind to enhance the quality and value of their homes, every year homeowners make horrendous mistakes in home “improvement” as they discover, to their dismay, a few years down the road when they try to sell their “enhanced” homes.
What are some of the major mistakes, you may ask?

Costly Upkeep

Well, for one putting in an improvement proving to be high maintenance or high expense. An example might include a pool even here in sunny Southern Cal. In my experience, unless it’s a luxury or near-luxury home, value-conscious shoppers veer away from pools unless it’s summer and unless the pool is in pristine condition. Then, many buyers seemingly ignore the obvious–it’s gonna cost plenty to keep that pool in top shape. As for putting in a pool where none now exists, that is a costly operation which almost assuredly will not give a return on the investment.

How about redoing an existing pool and adding a waterfall and spa? That sounds great. Just make sure you are not taking up the entire backyard. Future buyers may want that yard for dodgeball or croquet. Families with very small children could not buy a home with a pool for a backyard due to safety concerns.

Had to have that complicated landscaping design? It’s certainly beautiful, but, then again, you have the gardeners come twice a week to keep it that way. Buyers have a sneaky way of figuring these things out with all their child-like questions…They are most likely going to notice the lawn costs an arm and a leg and shy away…

Overkill?

If you live in an entry-level home in an entry-level neighborhood and you want to put up expensive wrought-iron fencing with brick pillars and sculpted rock gardens, go for it. Just don’t think a buyer will pay for it or even like it.


Before jumping into your project, check around the neighborhood. Are you planning to put in your “dream kitchen” modeled on one you saw in Architectural Digest with custom Brazilian cherry cabinets, granite countertops, and travertine floors? If all the homes in your neighborhood generally have stock cabinets from Home Depot, it’s probably not going to give you return on your investment, though it may attract buyers to your home.

Quirky?

Let’s say you take a trip to Vegas and fall in love with the decor at the Bellagio. Your upscale, yet still tract home, cries out to you…Damning the torpedoes, expense-wise, so to speak, you put in trompe l’oeil murals, built-in wine cabinets and Tuscan-style detailing throughout your pad. Cool, no? To you, but to buyers? Most likely the next buyer will just rip it all out.

Other example? How about a fancy barbecue island with built-in speakers and tiki bar? It’s great for you, but don’t expect a buyer to pay for it. In fact, buyers may drop their offering prices complaining that all the “improvements” have to be removed.

Unpopular?

Maybe you feel you just have to have an office, and the garage is the only place for it, so you make over the garage as an office. Good idea? Well, no, even though hardly anyone around here seems to use their garages for cars, the vast majority of buyers will want to have one. In fact, in my experience male buyers are more interested in the garage than the house. It could be all those toys or it’s a place to tinker.

The love of your life is gardening, so you build a fancy “garden house”. Good idea? Enjoy it because the next buyer almost assuredly won’t want it and won’t want to pay for it. Ditto for children’s play houses, tree houses and you get the picture…

Buy Local, Buy Quality

One of the great things about living in California is the availability of fresh, quality produce. Of course, as we all know the rising price of gas has driven up other prices, especially groceries trucked or shipped in from far-away locales to astronomical heights. Luckily for us, we don’t have to buy our produce from far away. In fact, we have an abundance of fresh, organic and quality produce, flowers and many other products right here in town.

Almost every town has a Farmers’ Market where local growers bring their crops from not-so-far away and sell it for reasonable prices. Many of these markets are Certified Farmers’ Markets [CFM] which does not mean they sell only organic, though many do, but, rather, the County Agricultural Commissioner has approved these markets. Here, California producers can sell directly to the consumer, us…and are we happy about that.

Some of the towns turn Market Day into a festival with local bands and other vendors in attendance. Some of these include Monrovia, Glendora, San Dimas. Almost every night of the week you can find a Farmers’ Market somewhere close. Mondays are dark. And, only Claremont has a market open Sunday mornings. One of the best and largest around is at Victory Park in Pasadena on Saturday mornings.

Here’s a convenient chart listing all the local markets which are open usually from May through September or October.

Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Pasadena San Dimas CFM Glendora CFM Covina D.Bar CFM Claremont CFM
363 E. Villa W. Bonita @N. San Dimas 140 S. Glendora N. Citrus@ San Bern Grand @ Golden Spr W 2nd @ Yale
9-1 PM 5-9 PM 5-9 PM 4-9 PM 9-2 PM 8-12 PM
W. Covina CFM Monrovia Pasadena CFM
S. Glendora N. Myrtle, Olive Victory Park
5-9 PM 5-9 PM &:30-11:30
Whittier CFM
Bailey, Greenleaf
8:30-1 PM

Strange Baby Mamas

Babies need mamas, and if their own aren’t available…The urge to mother and the urge to be mothered overcomes all obstacles as the pictures show…

To me the most heart-rending is the baby macaque clinging to the pigeon.
How, I wonder, will the baby mouse fare when the frog-mama dives underwater? Will the mouselet become a water-mouse?

French Bulldog Fostering Baby Bengal

Recent Rental Real Estate Scams

The old shall become new again…As the housing crisis deepens and spreads across the country, vacant properties are proving a potent lure for criminals. That seems to be the case as scammers are coming out of the woodwork and apparently out of even more unsavory venues to prey, once again, using their same old tricks, on the helpless, the ignorant and the desperate.

Some of these scams are so diabolical almost no one would be able to avoid getting trapped. Here’s one: a Mr. Pradeep Singh rents out a vacant house in Covina requesting the usual deposit and the first month’s rent. Problem is…he’s rented out the same house more than 30 times! According to reports, he’s made more than $120,000 using this tried-and-true technique for extracting money from the unsuspecting. Police say he’s still at large. Not doubt he’s moved onto greener pastures…Santa Monica? Malibu? Newport? Good riddance to you wherever you are…

Usually, the scammer in this oldie-but-goldie finds a vacant property, advertises it “For Rent”, then lures in unsuspecting would-be renters with a specially good rent. The twist on this one comes with the additional info that Mr Singh actually owns the property, allegedly located at 5541 Calera Avenue.

Where do scammers usually find their victims? Why Craigslist and similar free ad venues, previously extolled here, or perhaps on the Multiple Listing Service, which also lists rental properties. Another blogger, no friend of Craigslist, Trench Reynolds, has made it his business to catch these and similar opportunities for crime presented by free ads in his Craigscrimelist.org.

These reports are now coming from all over the country and renters had better be careful before handing over their dough. It’s not easy to protect yourself. How do you know if the scammer really owns the property? Ask a Realtor with access to county records. Or, call the county assessor. Last year, that may have seemed a bit paranoid, but, not now, I guess.

How to protect yourself from a Mr. Singh who actually owns the property? That is a really difficult one because he would be able to show you the house, would have a key and all normal aqppurtenances. Maybe just remember that if it seems like too good a deal, it probably is…

More Ideas to Save Gas

Thinking about saving fuel is hardly my favorite activity, but these days, when gas stations are brazenly posting prices over $5 a gallon, it’s hard not to get outraged. Really, the price per barrel goes down a few bucks and here we have even higher prices..

Recently, I received a rather zippy email newsletter from a local SoCal organization called MyRide, offering some information on how to save gas, along with a bevy of articles about car buying, new or used, classic cars, hybrids.

The first set of instructions proffered was the shocker: How to prevent your car from getting its fuel siphoned! It seems that’s the newest twist on the gas price run-up. We now have gas thieves galore. I suppose RVs and giant trucks are special targets. Myride recommends some kind of special gas cap, warning that some thieves are so determined they will actually drill into gas tanks if the cap is burglar-proof. One spark and pouf! Adios, ladron…We’ve all heard the dumb thief stories–you know the burglar who put his ski mask on AFTER he robbed the bank or the one who was smart enough to put on the mask before the robbery, while pointing the gun at HIMSELF…But, drilling into a gas tank…that’s a real moron.

So, avoid siphoning by keeping your car in the garage or secured parking and check that your auto insurance covers loss or damage resulting from attempts to siphon your gas.

More tips include using the right octane. Only 5% of cars need more than 87, yet 40% of the gas sold in the US is high octane. Inflate your tires properly. The correct PSI is located on the driver’s door. For some reason, I hate doing this. Maybe what I most dislike is  running around trying to find a free air machine that isn’t broken.

Maintain your car. Check spark plugs, get the oil changed regularly. Do the tuneup when it’s time. In the long run, it saves money. Slow down! I mentioned that one in an earlier post about gas. I’ve actually been fairly successful lately in lightening up on the lead foot. I hate wasting time in the car and always want to drive faster; it’s not easy slowing down, but it is far more relaxing. Plus, I take surface streets more, which is not only more relaxing but also more interesting.  I get to nose around more even if only from the car.

Then, there’s cruise control. Use it if you have it on your car. I know that’s good advice, but…Myself, I am scared of it because the cruise control on a Honda Accord I had a few years ago failed–it wouldn’t go back to normal or slow down until nearly too late–and I almost had what would’ve been a serious accident.

Also, lighten the load by decluttering your trunk. I mentioned that one also. MyRide also seems to think having the A/C on is a bad idea, unlike the advice in my previous post from the Sierra Club, but, then they also want the windows closed to eliminate drag. In an L.A. summer, wouldn’t that also eliminate breathing? Put your control to “outside air”. Well, I can’t agree with that. For me, I use the air all the time, especially on the freeway because leaving the windows open seems like asking for trouble. Not only are those fine particulates heading right for your lungs, but the noise is deafening and people are throwing all kinds of crazy stuff out their windows–ever stop anywhere by the side of the freeway? amazing–and that stuff could wind up in your car or in your face..at 80 miles an hour–I mean 60 miles an hour.

Then, put up your tailgate for you truck drivers. That’s not me. Are there really lots of drivers who leave their tailgates down?

Also, here’s another one that seems controversial: turn off your engine rather than idle for any time above one minute. How do you know when it’s going to be more than one minute? Some red lights seem to last more than one minute..What if we all had turned off our engines when the light goes green? You might save a drop of gas, then wind up in a fist fight. No kidding. I’ve actually seen drivers jump out of their cars, pummel each other and then jump back into their cars in time to make the green light.

Check out this snazzy website for yourself.

Moving? Great Website 4 U

As a real estate broker, I do encounter more than my share of people who are moving, planning on moving or who would like to move…It’s a tedious business and most of look forward to moving as much as we enjoy paying taxes!

Now, I’ve found a great website that makes at least part of the ordeal easier. It’s called White Fence.

It will make your move easier and here’s how…You can change your address with the U.S. Postal Service here and you can order your new utilities, including phone, internet, cable or DSL, gas, electricity, but not water or trash. It will help you select the best bundle of services for your needs.

Not moving? It will check what you have and figure out the best deal for you. I checked it and it saved me $30 a month off my cable bill. That’s almost half a tank of gas!

Worried about environmental degradation and pollution? I hope you are. At White Fence you can purchase CO2 offsets of hydro, wind or biomass power. It’s quite cheap and it’s making me feel better, despite doing everything I can think of, short of getting off the grid, to save energy.

Beyond that, this website gives quotes from movers, auto shippers, locksmiths, plus other home services, such as maid, lawncare, pest control, furniture and appliance rental…Then, it connects to home warranty services, home and renters and auto insurance companies. This is a great site. I’m going to recommend it to all my buyers and sellers.