Home Improvement Projects That Will Pay Off for Sellers

With low inventory levels and a strong housing sellers’ market in California, you may be thinking it’s a good time to sell your home—or start making some improvements in preparation of selling. A few upgrades may be the difference between a disappointing home-selling experience and finding a buyer willing to pay your asking price or maybe a little more.

So, without draining your bank account, what can be done to your house to maximize its value when it comes time to sell? Below are some home improvement projects that are relatively inexpensive—a few thousand dollars or less, and much less in some cases—that could be the difference in convincing potential buyers that yours is the perfect home for them.shutterstock_50097079

Fresh paint. This is an inexpensive first step, along with a thorough cleaning, that should be done by nearly all homeowners ready to sell. The scuffs and seemingly minor blemishes you may have gotten used to can turn off a potential buyer. Avoid bold colors. The purple your son or daughter may be fond of in their bedroom may make others cringe. Real estate agents recommend staying neutral with colors to appeal to the most buyers.

Front-yard facelift. In short, curb appeal is crucial—and first impressions count. Having a nice yard tells people you take pride in the home and it is well cared for. Small upgrades like a paver pathway or adding new bark mulch under a tree can have a significant impact. A splash of color with some fresh flowers or a few bright planted pots is an easy way to perk up a front yard. Be sure your shrubs and hedges are trimmed; crisp lawn edges are always a nice touch.

Front door. A new or repainted front door can be an easy and fairly inexpensive way to make a positive initial impression with prospective buyers. It’s a custom touch that adds visual appeal and can set your home apart from similar-looking facades in the neighborhood.

Lighting. Experts universally agree that dark spaces are not appealing. Adding canned or recessed lighting to a bathroom or kitchen can dramatically alter a room’s appearance. Because electrical jobs can be tricky and potentially dangerous for novices, hiring a qualified contractor may be a wise choice. The Contractors State License Board is a good place to start, with the “Check a License” online tool providing information on whether a contractor is licensed, insured, and in good standing. CSLB licenses nearly 300,000 contractors in 43 different classifications.

Bathroom. A few upgrades can enhance the appearance of a bathroom immensely. Replacing dated fixtures or adding a mirror can provide a modern look, and re-grouting a shower may be well worth the time and effort.

Kitchen. Experts often single out the kitchen as a potential deal-breaker when it comes to selling a home, but it’s easy to spend a lot of money on upgrades. Because kitchens are often a matter of personal taste and may be overhauled by new owners anyway, focus on any negatives that could be potential turnoffs. Have you been getting by with a particularly old dishwasher or microwave? Could your cabinets use new hardware or refacing? Does the counter tile grout need a good scrubbing? When it comes time to show the home, avoid cluttered countertops by putting away everything but absolute necessities—the more visible counter space the better.

Flooring. Experts say that old, worn, or dirty flooring can be a major buyer turnoff. As a starting point, any carpets should be thoroughly cleaned, with particular attention paid to the entryway area. If deep-cleaning isn’t going to be enough to revive your carpets—and you can afford it—consider investing in new carpets or engineered wood flooring. If you already have wood flooring, brighten them up with a mopping or other product treatment.

If you decide to hire a contractor for any home improvement projects, remember that anyone who contracts to perform work in California valued at $500 or more for combined labor and materials costs must have a valid CSLB license. The CSLB website provides information on finding and hiring the right type of contractor and on home improvement contracts.

If you’re looking for a real estate agent, or have any questions about buying or selling a home, the Bureau of Real Estate offers a license search, consumer information, and more in the “Consumers” section of its website.


Get it While it’s Hot: Check out the Summer Issue of Consumer Connection

Summer’s not over yet. There’s still time to take a road trip to one of California’s manyConsumer connection summer 2016 state parks. From beaches and deserts to redwood forests and mountain summits, California parks offer a variety of amazing and beautiful sites to explore. The Consumer Connection article “Time for a Road Trip!” details 10 state parks—including Angel Island, Marshall Gold Discovery, Humboldt Redwoods, and Crystal Cove—to consider for your next destination, and ways to make sure your car is as ready for the trip as you are.

Also inside this issue is an article about the recently enacted California End of Life Option Act. The new law provides legal guidelines on how terminally ill adults can choose to die in a humane and dignified manner.

Readers will also find features about the recent trend of more Americans choosing to rent instead of buying a home, dealing with the repo man, the dangers of DIY braces, wills versus living trusts, the dangers of buying from a rogue online pharmacy, and more.

To download or read DCA’s award-winning Consumer Connection magazine, visit the DCA website. You can also pick up a printed copy in the DCA Headquarters lobby at 1625 North Market Boulevard in Sacramento. Or, to have a copy mailed to you at no charge, call (866) 320-8652 or send an e-mail request to consumerconnection@dca.ca.gov. Get connected!


The Philosophy of Real Estate

If you watch Modern Family, you’re familiar with Phil Dunphy, suburban Los Angeles real estate agent and self-proclaimed real estate guru. You may have even caught one of the Real Estate Phil’s-osophies commercials for the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) starring Ty Burrell, the actor who plays Dunphy. It’s not part of the show: NAR hired Burell to star in-character in a series of commercials that advise consumers to seek out a REALTOR® when buying or selling property.

A real estate agent talking about the pros of hiring a REALTOR® —are you confused? Is there a difference between the two?

There is. And there isn’t. dunphey

When you enter the world of buying and selling real estate, you are confronted with several different titles: real estate agent (also known as real estate salesperson), REALTOR®, real estate broker.

Let’s start with Real Estate Agents, or Real Estate Salespersons. These professionals are licensed by the California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE), which licenses and regulates the more than 400,000 Mortgage Loan Originators, Real Estate Brokers and Salespersons in California. In order to be licensed in California, you must qualify for and pass a written examination, then submit an application to CalBRE for approval. Anyone who conducts real estate activities in California must be licensed and must conduct business as stated in the California Real Estate Laws and Regulations.

A Real Estate Broker has continued his or her education past that required at the real estate agent or salesperson level and has passed the real estate broker licensing exam. Real estate brokers can work as independent real estate agents or they can have agents working for them. Brokers can work on their own, while agents or salespersons have to work under licensed brokers.

Last but not least, there’s REALTOR®. In order to join this one-million-member national association, you must be a licensed real estate agent in your state, and you must uphold the NAR’s strict code of ethics and standards.

It sounds like a Phil’s-osophy: Not all licensees are REALTORS®, but all REALTORS® must be licensees.

And there you have it—a little information to help you get through the maze of buying and selling—or at least know who’s who.

Don’t forget to check the license before you decide on a real estate agent! To check a license, visit the CalBRE website, www.calbre.ca.gov, or call (877) 373-4542. To verify that an agent belongs to the National Association of REALTORS®, go to www.realtor.com.


Real Estate Fraud Could Rob You of Your Home or Property

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Do you own a home or property free and clear or have a large amount of equity in it?

If so, you could become a victim of real estate fraud.

In this scheme, criminals fraudulently record a lien against the property or illegally transfer the deed to the property to themselves or a third party. Depending on what county you live in, the fraud may not even be uncovered until the property goes into foreclosure or a property owner attempts to sell or refinance their property.

Unfortunately, elderly homeowners and non-English speakers are often targeted for this type of fraud. With seniors, criminals create a fake Promissory Note showing that the senior owes the crook money and then a fraudulent Deed of Trust is created that secures the Promissory Note. The fraudulent documents may not surface until the senior dies.

Wayne Bell, California Bureau of Real Estate Commissioner, said, “White-collar criminals are using a variety of fraudulent deed schemes to steal properties from their owners in order to re-sell or rent those properties, borrow money against those properties, or obtain lien rights that will be paid off upon the true owners’ death.”

Warning signs of deed fraud

If you receive a mailed notice or become aware of:

  • A recorded document on your property where you never signed the document and your signature was forged;
  • A recorded document on your property where ownership or a portion of ownership in your property was transferred or sold to another party without your knowledge;
  • A recorded document on your property where the signer of the document was deceased at the time of execution of the document;
  • A loan was taken out on your property without your knowledge; and
  • Changes or alterations were made to a recorded document after you signed it.

Or if you:

  • Stop receiving your property tax bill or notices;
  • Receive a Notice of Default or Notice of Trustee’s Sale when you own your home free and clear of a mortgage loan, or when you have a mortgage and you are not late on your loan payments;
  • Receive loan documents in the mail for a loan that was obtained without your knowledge; and/or
  • Receive real estate documents in the mail for a transaction on your property that you didn’t know about.

What to do if you become a victim

You must act immediately.

  • Gather and collect all of the information, documents and other evidence you have.
  • Contact the police, sheriff’s department or law enforcement agency where the property is located.
  • Contact the City and District Attorney’s Office where your home/property is located.
  • Contact the office of the recorder in the county where your property is located.
  • Contact your local city or county department of consumer affairs.
  • Contact your title insurance company. A title insurance policy may have been purchased on your property when you first bought your property and you may have insurance against forged deeds. A title policy with forgery protection may be able to help you get the fraudulent deed removed from the record via civil litigation and/or to cover certain costs up to the policy’s coverage limits.
  • Contact the California Secretary of State, Notary Public Section at (916) 653-3595 or sos.ca.gov/business/notary/.
  • Contact the California Bureau of Real Estate at bre.ca.gov if a real estate broker or salesperson, or unlicensed person purporting to be a real estate licensee, is involved in the forging of any deed or fraudulent recording of a false, fictitious, or forged deed. The Bureau has a Consumer Recovery Fund that may be able to compensate you (up to statutory limits) if you meet certain requirements.

How do you fix it?

Because of the “cloud” on your home title created by fraud, an action in court must be started to “quiet” title to the property. That is the legal term which refers to cleaning, cleansing or clearing the title to the property’s official records by invalidating the forged, fraudulent and improperly recorded deeds and documents.

Sometimes a city attorney or district attorney may be able to obtain a court order quieting the title in connection with a criminal prosecution of the criminals or fraudsters for forgery, grand theft and other criminal counts.

If that is not a possibility, you should contact, meet with and hire a knowledgeable California attorney to bring a quiet title action. If you cannot afford a civil litigation attorney, you should call the State Bar of California or a local county bar association and ask for a referral to a public interest law firm.

The important thing is for you to act immediately to protect your ownership rights.

Deed fraud can scam you out of your home or property, so stay informed about the status of your property title and records. Property owners should periodically check title to their property, the same way they check their credit report. Also, if you are purchasing a property, ask the title company about protections and risks covered under their policy.

This post was based on a California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE) alert titled “Consumer Alert: What Should You Do If You Learn that a Forged and/or Fraudulent Deed Has Been Recorded Against Your Real Property” written by Commissioner Bell and attorney Summer Bakotich. To view the document, click here.



Prepaid Rental Listing Service…or Prepaid Rental Listing Scam?

shutterstock_164228687Searching for a rental home or apartment can be a daunting and time-consuming task. So to save time and energy, you decide to have a company take care of the search for you. You do some quick online research, and then tell the prepaid rental listing service (PRLS) company representative what you are looking for in a rental, pay them a fee for a list of rentals matching your criteria, and find that dream rental in no time.

Sounds easy enough. The problem? There is more to the PRLS business than meets the eye, and scams are common. To avoid getting scammed and to get in the door of the rental you’ve been looking for, consumer education is the key.

Watch for red flags
Unfortunately, not all PRLS businesses are on the up and up. Here are some common problems and scams to be aware of:
✔Unlicensed companies
✔False advertising
✔Lists of rentals that are not available as advertised
✔Lists contain properties that are not for rent or do not exist
✔Lists do not meet a consumer’s requested specifications
✔Failure to provide refunds

Before handing your money over to a PRLS company, it’s best to understand whom and what you’re dealing with. A PRLS provides prospective tenants with listings of residential real property for tenancy while collecting a fee at the same time or in advance of when the listings are supplied. In order to legally conduct business in California as a PRLS, the company must be licensed by DCA’s California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE). Always check the license to verify the company you’re dealing with is in good standing. If the company is not licensed, do not conduct business with them!

Look before you sign
Before any PRLS company accepts a fee for rental listings, it must provide you a written contract that includes detailed information, including:
✔The amount of the service fee
✔A description of the services to be performed in exchange for the fee
✔Specifications for the rental unit that you want the service to find for you
✔The expiration date of the contract, which is no more than 90 days from the date it is signed
✔The small claims court remedy available should any issues arise

If you have a problem with a PRLS company, you may not be able to recover all of your money or time, but you do have rights and should fully understand them. Keep in mind it is always good consumer practice to do research before conducting business with any company. Ask friends and family you trust for recommendations of companies they have had good experiences with. It is also a good idea to research the company online and check with the Better Business Bureau.

You are entitled to a full refund if you have not received within five days of signing the contract three available rental listings that meet the property specifications listed on the contract. You are entitled to all fees you paid, minus $50, if the service does not locate a rental for you or if you find housing on your own within the timeframe of the PRLS contract. You will have to provide documentation in order to receive a refund. If the service failed to locate a rental property for you, you will need to provide documentation proving that you have not moved and still reside at the same address. If you found a rental on your own (without the assistance of the PRLS), you will need to provide documentation of your new address. If documentation cannot be provided, a statement of the facts should be prepared and submitted to the PRLS company. If the PRLS company does not issue a refund, a court of law can award you the refund, plus additional damages, up to $1,000 (Business and Professions Code section 10167.95). The quickest way to obtain a judgment in these cases is through small claims court.

The mission of CalBRE is to safeguard and promote the public interests in real estate matters through licensure, regulation, education, and enforcement. To check a license, file a complaint, report unlicensed activity, or for more information about PRLS, visit http://www.calbre.ca.gov or call (877) 373-4542.

Additional Resources
Prepaid Rental Listing Service Information

Prepaid Rental Listing Service Consumer Alert

List of unlicensed PRLS companies that have been issued orders to desist and refrain from engaging in further prepaid rental listing service activities


Check Out CalBRE’s Newest Licensing Video


Now, there is one more tool at your disposal when applying for a Real Estate Broker’s License. The California Real Estate Bureau has a new tutorial video for those individuals interested in applying for a Real Estate Broker’s License.  In just a few minutes you’ll learn the guidelines and steps in order to complete the process.

If you have any questions regarding the Broker examination, visit the CalBRE website or contact them at (877) 373-4542.

Legislative News from the California Bureau of Real Estate

The 2013/2014 legiCalBRE_Logo_HiResslative season ended September 30, 2014, with the Governor signing 931 bills into law in 2014.  Summarized below are recently signed bills that affect California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE) licensees and subdividers. All statutes are effective January 1, 2015, unless otherwise indicated.

Assembly Bill 2018 (Bocanegra) – This bill amended Section 10159.5 and added Sections 10159.6 and 10159.7 to the Business and Professions Code. It allows a real estate broker to delegate to a licensed salesperson, under specified conditions, the process of filing a fictitious business name. Moreover, this bill allows a real estate salesperson to contract with a broker allowing the real estate salesperson to retain ownership of a fictitious business even though the real estate broker may file the fictitious name with the county. This bill also allows a salesperson to use a “team name” without filing for a fictitious business name if certain conditions are met.

Assembly Bill 2540 (Dababneh) – This bill amended Sections 10150, 10151 and 10162, and added 10165.1 to the California Business and Professions Code. This bill requires real estate licensees to provide the Bureau of Real Estate with an up-to-date mailing address, telephone number, and email address used for licensed activity. The bill also requires applicants for licensure to disclose valid contact information in the application.

Senate Bill 1171 (Hueso) – This bill amended Section 2079.13 of the Civil Code as it pertains to real estate licensees. The bill extends to commercial transactions the duty of a real estate broker to disclose, in writing, that the broker is acting as a dual agent. Prior to this bill, disclosure of dual agency in commercial transactions involving real property did not have to be in writing.

Assembly Bill 1159 (Chau) – This bill amended Section 30 of the Business and Professions Code as it pertains to the Bureau of Real Estate. The bill eliminates the requirement that a license applicant show proof of legal presence before obtaining a real estate license. Real estate license applicants will still need to provide a social security number/individual tax identification number in order to obtain a real estate license. The provisions of this bill will be implemented on or before January 1, 2016.

New Regulations of the Real Estate Commissioner – CalBRE has adopted regulations (2907.1 – 2907.4) to implement, interpret, and clarify Business and Professions Code Section 10080.9, which established the Citation and Fine level of discipline for both licensees and unlicensed persons. The final regulation language can be found at here. The new regulations became effective July 1, 2014.

NEW PUBLICATION — 2015 Real Estate Law Book Each year, the Bureau’s Real Estate Law book is updated to reflect changes in laws and regulations, including those set forth above.

This important reference for licensees contains:

  • The Real Estate Law (from the Business and Professions Code);
  • The Real Estate Commissioner’s Regulations (from the California Code of Regulations);
  • The Administrative Procedure Act (from the Government Code); and
  • Pertinent excerpts from various California Codes.

The 2015 Real Estate Law book will be available online free of charge on January 1, 2015. The print version, which includes a CD copy, is expected to be available for purchase from the Bureau in mid to late January 2015. The cost for the book is $25 (plus tax) and can be ordered by completing the RE 350 – Publications Request form.

For more information about CalBRE, visit http://www.bre.ca.gov.

Two New Publications from the California Bureau of Real Estate

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The California Bureau of Real Estate has two new publications available on its website, http://www.calbre.ca.gov: the Quick Guide for Tenants Renting a Home and the Quick Guide for Landlords Hiring a Property Manager.

The guides feature important questions to ask for potential tenants and landlords seeking a property manager, as well as information on contracts, resources for research, and possible red flags tenants and landlords should be aware of to avoid being a victim of fraud.

Take a look!

California Bureau of Real Estate Issues Valuable Tips for Seniors on how to Avoid Becoming Victims of Real Estate Fraud


Those who commit fraud often target and exploit senior citizens. According to the FBI, the reason they do is because senior citizens are most likely to have a sizeable “nest egg” that criminals can target, and seniors are typically seen as more trusting of others. Older Americans are also less likely to report fraud because they don’t know who to report it to and are often too ashamed at having been scammed. Sometimes they aren’t even aware they have been scammed.

The California Bureau of Real Estate recently issued an advisory directed at California seniors to offer them essential advice and tips on how to protect themselves from becoming victims of real estate fraud schemes, including those scams involving home loans, rentals, timeshares, and false or fictious deeds.   Check out the advisory here.