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Randy Mack and Heidi Faulkner

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Equifax Hack Could Affect Sebastopol Mortgage Applicants

by Randy Mack and Heidi Faulkner

 

When news of the Equifax hack first broke, the credit rating giant scrambled to minimize fallout from this massive personal information breach. After an initial embarrassing misstep (they tried to have affected consumers sign off on Equifax’s liability), the company moved to ameliorate the hack by offering free ID protection to consumers.

Sebastopol homeowners and potential home buyers had reason to do more than shake their heads at yet another electronic pratfall. In one way or another, most Sebastopol real estate transactions involve creditworthiness appraisals that are managed by the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax is one). That means that among the 143 million consumers it admits could be “potentially impacted” are certainly a lot of current and future Sebastopol home buyers. The stolen information includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses—and for hundreds of thousands, credit card numbers. Even some California driver license data figured in the Equifax hack.

Given the obvious potential for identity theft, the company’s Chairman went online to make an unprecedented offer: his firm will furnish a comprehensive package of credit file monitoring and identity theft protection to everyone. Literally.

To every consumer in the United States. For a year. For free.

With few exceptions, it was left to us to take the initiative to take them up on the offer. That factor might shrink the size of the undertaking, but even so, delivering on this scale was unlikely to be accomplished without a few hitches.

Hitch #1: when this many millions of people try to check in on any site, no system can handle it all at once. So contacting this Equifax Trusted ID Premier link results in varying lengths of delay before enrollment can be confirmed.

Hitch #2: because it is now obvious that sophisticated thieves are active in the credit reporting industry, it will be doubly necessary for Equifax to make certain that you are who you say you are. That makes multiple email confirmation back-and-forths unavoidable.

It’s a cinch that Sebastopol residents who decide to sign up for the free protection should also be extra vigilant in monitoring their financial transactions. An additional step is also possible: you can contact any one of the three credit agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian) to request that they place a 90-day “fraud alert” on your file. It’s free, and whichever agency you contact is required to notify the other two. Fraud alerts obligate any lender to contact you before they issue credit in your name. You can renew the alert as many times as you wish—and cancel at any point.

Your credit score is a vital ingredient when it’s time to look for favorable home loan offers, so even before the Equifax hack, it’s always been well worth protecting. Give us a call when questions about this or other Sebastopol real estate matters come up!

Hurricane News Overshadows All but One Bright Spot

by Randy Mack and Heidi Faulkner

 

Last weekend’s regular California news should have been promoting all the usual upbeat feature stories about the onset of football season, the start of a brand new school year, the finals of tennis’ last grand slam tournament and the like—but Sebastopol readers would have gotten eye strain trying to find any of them. Instead, the dark clouds brought by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey cast dense shadows across the region and the nation’s news. It was certain, too, that even after the terror of their actual passages had subsided, the fallout would continue to reverberate—expensively—for a very long time.

What was covered was how the prayers of millions not directly affected were being answered by many thousands of Good Samaritan volunteers. That uplifting story was joined by another, too; a piece of hurricane-related real estate news. Too bad it was all but drowned out by the fury of the storms and their tragic aftermaths. 

Nonetheless, for Harvey-stricken Houston area homeowners with home loans backed by FHA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the announcement came that evictions and foreclosures would be suspended immediately. Added: the same government-backed entities would forego demands for monthly payments for at least 90 days (along with hints that “in some cases” that relief might be extended for up to a year). 

As for those just beginning the climb out from Hurricane Irma’s destruction, I think it would be all but inconceivable that the same relief won’t be swiftly forthcoming for those homeowners—even if the size and cost of that will eclipse the cost of defraying the Harvey-affected loans. The small print has it that interest will continue to accrue—but Sebastopol onlookers will probably agree that the immediate granting of this relief is more than welcome at this juncture.

It's really too soon to be able to concentrate on what happens in the months and years to come—but the future of the American story is entirely predictable. This year we may have lost focus on traditional late summer sports, but in the championship ring of our real world and our real communities, we don’t suffer knockdowns easily. In U.S. history, there are no true KOs; there won’t be this time, either. The communities Americans rebuild will be better than ever! 

Showing Our Gratitude

by Randy Mack and Heidi Faulkner

We are very passionate about what we do. We love to help people. Typically that looks like helping you find the perfect home for your family. Yet, there are other ways our team helps our community be the best it can be: philanthropy. Bill Gates once said, “Effective philanthropy requires a lot of time and creativity - the same kind of focus and skills that building a business requires”. We have honed our skills helping to find our neighbors, old and new, homes and we then extend that expertise and additional resources to the Northern California family, at-large.  

 

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Redwood Empire HOG Chapter #3494
One of our favorite philanthropic outlets is through our local Harley Owners Group (HOG) chapter. Through this tight-knit group, we participate in charity events and fundraising. Group rides are a great (and fun) way for us to raise awareness of those causes in that we are most actively engaged.
 

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Veterans

Another area of philanthropy we are passionate about is supporting our veterans. We enjoy working with the unique situations veterans face in finding properties to suit their needs. We like to honor the sacrifices they have made and continue to make, for the country we all hold so dear. This help can take many forms and we would be happy to discuss the ways in which we support our local veterans with you if you are interested in getting involved or in direct support.

 

Philanthropic giving, of time or resources, is one of our favorite things to do. It shows our community how much we appreciate their support and allows us to give back and show all our gratitude. This small town makes us who we are, and together we can help house the future!

 
 

The Best Sebastopol Real Estate Agent’s Top 5 Qualities

by Randy Mack and Heidi Faulkner

If you are just about to commit to buying or selling a home in Sebastopol, the first important task before you comes with identifying the best Realtor® to assist your effort. That comes first because although you might begin by combing through the current Sebastopol listings or driving through the neighborhood to spot what’s going on, there is always a possibility that acting without delay will be important. If that happens to be the case, zeroing in on the best Sebastopol agent takes first priority.

How you ultimately select that best real estate agent for you involves a selection process that’s a lot like any business person's procedure—except that it’s easier to identify the candidates. You won’t have to post “help wanted” ads since the candidates (us included) are all actively looking for you! We are the prominent Sebastopol brokers and agents whose names you see on the web and on our “FOR SALE” signs. They’re all over the place.

The true lion’s share of the work of identifying your best “hire” will come in the conversations you have with the leading candidates. Whether you call them up or drop in on them at their office (or run into them at an open house), it’s important to bear in mind that these conversations, whether casual or not, are actually employment interviews. You’re the boss; the agents are applicants—and the hiring decision is a very important one. During these interactions, if you can determine that the agent you’re speaking with is strong in these five qualities, you’ve found your agent:

1.    Accessible. The best Sebastopol real estate agent for you is easy to talk to—the kind of person you connect with automatically; who puts you at ease. The best agent will be someone who is engaging and enjoyable to talk with.

2.    Professional. At the same time (it only seems to conflict with the above), the best agent is a professional at all times. After all, some of the most durable friendships wind up being with people we’ve “been through the wars with” in business!

3.    Sympathetic. A lot of the business at hand will consist of pinpointing your personal tastes and leanings and prioritizing them correctly. The best Sebastopol real estate agent for you will be keenly aware of your preferences—which won’t be the same as everybody else’s.

4.    Authoritative. That best agent knows Sebastopol inside and out; is personally familiar with the current crop of area listings; is known and widely respected by her or his Sebastopol real estate colleagues.

5.    Dedicated. Your best partner in the upcoming campaign will be committed to the real estate profession—not just for this week or for this transaction, but for the long haul. The best Sebastopol real estate agent will be there for you the next time, too!

Needless to say, when you are narrowing the field for who you want to become your own best Sebastopol agent, we hope you’ll call us for a chat!

Elements of Outdoor Entertaining

by Randy Mack and Heidi Faulkner

Here in California, especially in the summer, we love the indoor-outdoor living. That is, when our exterior spaces act as additional places to live, work and play. The outdoor spaces of our properties are so much more than your basic backyard, they are an extension of your home. Enhancing these spaces can help your family and friends to enjoy your outdoor spaces, and there are a few elements to incorporate into your living spaces that can emphasize all of your exterior assets. 


5832 La Cuesta Drive, Santa Rosa, California

Preparing Food
Having a safe and comfortable space to prepare food is an essential element to any backyard entertaining and living space. Grilling out with friends or cooking for your family, in the breeze, is quintessential California living. These spaces should be far enough away from the home as to not pose a risk while using the grill, with adequate ventilation. These spaces can also have shade so that the cook can be comfortable in the summer sun. Outdoor cooking spaces can allow the host, or cook in the family, to still be included in the fun in the sun.  


5832 La Cuesta Drive, Santa Rosa, California

Enjoying Food
Having a comfortable place to “eat, drink, and be merry” is another essential place to have in your backyard living spaces. These spaces allow for your loved ones to gather and be together over food and conversations. Creating an inviting space through comfortable seating that is organized in a way to enhance togetherness will help for people to be naturally drawn to these places. 


5832 La Cuesta Drive, Santa Rosa, California

Activities
The perfect outdoor living space has a little fun mixed in there too. A pool can provide the element of fun for any backyard experience. Whether it is for cannon balls or lounging, a pool can create the life in the outdoor lifestyle. If a pool is not your style, other activities can help to get people moving in your outdoor spaces. Small patches of grass can be used for a bocce ball r croquet courts. Just imagine your backyard lifestyle, there are people chatting, others eating or cooking, and a few throwing a football or lounging by the pool. Activity is as much a part of optimum outdoor living as any other element in life. 


4059 Burnside Road, Sebastopol, California​

A View
A view can draw you outside and keep you outdoors. If you have a property with a view, your outdoor living is enhanced by giving you a sense of place, as you gaze out at the expanse. All of the things we love about the outdoors, its ability to restore us, to make us think about life, to breathe in the fresh air and to breathe out our stress can be seen in one snapshot. The view provides the backdrop to life, it gives the living a context in the world as a whole. 


4059 Burnside Road, Sebastopol, California​

Easy Access to the Outdoors
One of the biggest impacts our home can have on your indoor-outdoor lifestyle is how easy it is for us to access that outdoor space. When our homes have easy access to the outdoors, we are more likely to use those spaces as extra living spaces. You can enhance the ease of access by having large windows, beckoning out outside. The egress can be enhanced through large doors (i.e. french doors) that can be left open to allow the breeze to percolate through the whole home, incorporating the outdoors, in, and vice versa. 

Outdoor living spaces can enhance the life in your California lifestyle. There are many aspects that can increase the use of these places, on your property but make access easier, and the spaces more inviting, comfortable, safe, and entertaining. 

Half a Dozen Vacation Safety Tips for Sebastopol Homeowners

by Randy Mack and Heidi Faulkner

 

An overstuffed curbside mailbox, blazing porch light at noon, or a pile of newspapers out there by your front door all indicate a couple of things Sebastopol homeowners would do well to avoid. For burglars and housebreakers of all stripes, these are like lighted billboards announcing:

  • This Sebastopol homeowner is off somewhere enjoying a nice summer vacation; and
  • This afternoon and/or evening, there’s nobody home!

Every Sebastopol homeowner deserves an extended break now and then—and the July/August weather makes now the ideal time for many—but it’s also high season for break-and-enter artists (or just ‘enter’ artists, since 34% of burglars walk in through the front door). As long as we’re discussing the percentages, the common assumption that break-ins are midnight outings doesn’t hold water. Sixty-five percent of burglaries happen in broad daylight; most between 10am-3pm.

For vacation-bound locals, a few precautionary steps will do much to avoid a miserable discovery on your return home. If your home is currently listed, we think it’s a good idea to notify your agent to add a “Do Not Disturb Occupants” rider under the “For Sale” sign (whether it’s occupied or not!). In general, here are another six good vacation safety tips:

  1. Recruit some trusted neighborly help to keep an eye on the place and gather any mail and newspaper overflow. Most Sebastopolites are delighted to help—and you should offer to reciprocate.
  2. DON’T POST VACATION PIX on Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media haunt until you get back. High among leading vacation safety no-no’ s are tweets like, “Off to Maui!”
  3. Think like a thief (that is, take a few minutes to case the joint). You’ll find yourself securing little-used doors and windows that are usually unlocked.
  4. Either unplug automatic garage doors that can be triggered by remote control frequency scanner or install a deadbolt lock.
  5. Do a better job of hiding the spare key. Thieves know all the common places. A spare key can be a vacation safety backstop if you need to phone someone to help get into the house in an emergency, but a spare key under the flowerpot is asking for trouble. Best hiding place: inside an envelope, you entrust to your neighbor.
  6. Cancel deliveries. An Amazon Prime carton beside the front gate is a commonplace—but when one or more remain uncollected for more than 24 hours, it’s a virtual invitation to the unscrupulous.


Even for Sebastopol neighborhoods that are safer than most, vacation time burglaries can happen anywhere and anytime that basic vacation safety precautions aren’t observed. A few minutes of prevention should yield added peace of mind while you’re on the road as well as a pleasant return to a safely secured home. We will be standing by to help when you start planning the more extended kind of outing: to your next Sebastopol home!       

Top 6 Obscure Tips for Coping with Sebastopol’s Weather

by Randy Mack and Heidi Faulkner

 

The heat of summer is upon us. The extreme temperatures of late caused us to rummage for a few useful tips for coping with Sebastopol’s hot weather. Most everyone can guess the commonsensical ones, like the NAR’s number one Home Showing Tip in Hot Weather: “Keep the house cool;” or the lead safety tip from the National Weather Service: “Stay out of the sun.”

Seriously, here are some ideas that don’t appear often. Some are only applicable in special instances, but all of which make a lot of sense:

Comb your fins. 

This tip for coping with Sebastopol heat spells has nothing to do with keeping any tropical fish well-groomed: it’s about your air conditioner. You’ve probably noticed that the sharp metal ridges that populate the exit side (the “fins”) are easily bent: just brush up against them, and they crumple. The problem is that when bent, they retard airflow. What you probably didn’t know is that there is actually a tool called a “fin comb” to straighten the condenser fins. 

Sub-tip: turn off the power before you comb.

Vacuum the pollen. 

This tip for summer pollen is already applicable here in Sebastopol, where springtime pollen is equally evident. The idea is to vacuum the front door flashing and window jamb crevices where pollen lurks, eliminating lingering allergy or asthma issues.

Rethink expensive suntan lotions. 

We can’t vouch for this one (we don’t have the lab equipment to test out CR’s findings)—but was surprised that Consumer Reports says that WalMart’s in-store brand (“Equate”) tests highest for effectiveness and lowest in price (less than half of some). If true, it might be practical to leave those fancy French-sounding versions in the shade.

When the house is empty, don’t turn the A/C off. 

Instead, set the thermostat up a few notches so that the place doesn’t absolutely bake. Sub-tip: when you enter a too-hot home, resist the temptation to set the thermostat ‘way cold: it won’t cool the house any faster.

Plant for shade. 

This is a strictly long-term tip, yet it’s one that’s probably the most valuable of the lot. Sebastopol homeowners whose roofs and walls are shaded by majestic trees and plantings have the best of it: lower cooling bills and the pleasure of shady porches and yards. When you are thinking about improving your Sebastopol home’s landscape profile, this is the tip to remember! 

Visit the grocery store. 

A lot. The wikiHow site explains that not only are grocery stores air conditioned (they are here in Sebastopol, though that’s not universally true)—but for extra chill, you can “visit the freezer section and peruse for a while.” 

All right—we admit we threw in wikiHow’s tip to round out the half-dozen. Another summertime tip that you could take advantage of right now, before Sebastopol’s summer ends: give us a call if you’re ready to plan your next real estate venture!  

This Land is Your Land

by Randy Mack and Heidi Faulkner

Land purchases are sought out by buyers for different reasons. Sometimes, land can be a great, low-maintenance investment or it can be the start of a client's dream. The spectrum of reasons for buying land is just that far-reaching. This spectrum makes finding the right land for the right person, so interesting! We love matching motivations to parcels and feel like we are really helping to set in motion something special for our clients.

Some of the reasons buyers seek land are universal, regardless of what their ultimate goal for the property may be. There is a huge opportunity for increased property value when buying land, after all, they are not making any more of it. This opportunity is compounded by the fact, land can be very low maintenance. Whether you are investing to one day resell, or build your dream home, when there are no existing structures of maintenance issues to impede your vision, the possibilities are endless (and less expensive). Also, in the competitive market, we often find ourselves in, here in California, land purchases may be a way to relieve some of that tension. Often times, buying and selling land is less stressful and buyers often reap the benefits of that fact.

All of these benefits can be found at our listing at 3500 Sweetwater Springs Road. This property has breathtaking views, one of those perks found more often when buying property versus neighborhood homes.  Gently rolling ridge top features open sunny meadows, natural springs and incredible views of the Russian River Valley, Mt. Saint Helena and beyond. The views continue to sweep through the entirety of the 480± acre parcel. This property is the perfect canvas awaits to create your dream estate with vineyard potential. There are multiple building sites on this property that will provide the idyllic backdrop, your dream in wine country has always deserved.

 

Sebastopol Home Ownership: a Bedrock of the American Dream

by Randy Mack and Heidi Faulkner

 

You’d think that the whole notion of the American Dream is vague enough that it would be immune from challenge, and for the most part, that’s still true enough. Not so for its principal emblem, which most Sebastopol residents would agree is owning your own home. Being free to work hard to reach that goal—no matter who you are or how humble your origins—has long been the leading sign that the Dream is alive and kicking.

Even so, lately it’s been getting hard to ignore some media discussions that seem to challenge homeownership’s legitimacy as a pillar of that whole American Dream notion. Simply put, the suggestion is that the financial benefits to be had from owning your own home are no longer valid—or at least, that they are growing less valid. 

There’s no arguing that there are many situations where renting makes more financial sense than does buying. Most of them are related to the expected duration of residence. As The New York Times observes, “Buying tends to be better the longer you stay” if only because the upfront costs are spread out over many years. In one of its Upshot commentaries, the Times presents a calculator which adds up “Initial,” “Recurring,” and “Opportunity Costs” for various rent and buy situations in order to show at what monthly rental dollar amount “renting is better.” 

Sorry, Times. Your calculator may accurately display the tradeoffs in dollar costs—but it overlooks one factor that can ultimately prove to be the most significant. It’s the real-life factor that is built in whenever Sebastopol families decide to graduate from renting to buying. It begins to take form with the first dollar saved for a down payment and continues until the last mortgage check clears the bank. 

You can call it “enforced savings”—but whatever its name, in addition to the emotional benefits of owning your home, a measurable infusion of financial independence is the usual outcome. For example, when the Federal Reserve last reported “Changes in U.S. Family Finances” during the years from 2010-2013, it found that although median incomes fell 5%, “the median net worth of homeowners increased 4%, whereas that of renters or other non-homeowners did not change.

If the American Dream is one of self-reliance and independence, then owning your Sebastopol home isn’t likely to disappear as its leading goal anytime soon. It’s one of the greatest parts of our job to help clients turn that distant dream into today’s reality. It’s a process that starts with a simple call to our office!

Same Ol’ List: Not Just for Those with Homes for Sale

by Randy Mack and Heidi Faulkner

 

It’s that time of year again when those of us who write about Sebastopol homes for sale and related matters have a hard choice to make: do we run the risk of boring everyone to death by writing the same ol’ spring cleaning blog, or can we (please!) just skip it this year?

This time, despite our inclination to do without it for once, we are once again making the same decision. Yes, here is yet another spring maintenance reminder list. (Here’s the list first, ending with why we always make this same decision):  

  • Of course, clear the gutters, downspouts—and any channel that water finds on your property
  • Take a look at the roof—if anything looks screwy, best to assume it needs a closer look
  • Seal the deck (unless you did that last year, in which case check whether it’s still doing its sealing job—with weather like we’ve had, it might not last another season)
  • Inspect the driveway and walks
  • Do a test run of the sprinkler system
  • Change smoke and carbon monoxide alarm batteries
  • Change air filters
  • Take a leisurely stroll around the house to check for infestations (“leisurely” because the evidence can be minuscule)

This isn’t an exhaustive list, so as you’re taking the leisurely stroll you’ll probably notice one or two details that can use attention: some caulking here, a screen that could use replacement there. 

And here are the reasons why we always wind up deciding to repeat the same old points:

  1. Because first-time homeowners often need to be reminded that now they make up the first line of defense
  2. Because if and when your home comes up for sale, having religiously maintained the place will make a real difference
  3. Because for homeowners, a stitch in time saves nine…ty.
  4. Because once you’ve attended to your spring maintenance list, summertime enjoyment of your property won’t be spoiled by nagging upkeep worries

That last one could be the most important. Your Sebastopol home will only come up for sale one time, but you can enjoy it year after year when you feel good about how it’s cared for. But from our point of view, when the day comes that your Sebastopol home really is on the market, not having to scramble to correct maintenance lapses makes the whole process that much easier. Then all you have to do is give us a call!

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Randy Mack and Heidi Faulkner
Artisan Sotheby's International Realty
7775 Healdsburg Ave.
Sebastopol CA 95472
(707) 696-6272
(707) 480-4098
Fax: (707) 824-0587