Sell Smart!

This Fountain Valley seller asked for my assistance:  “My house has been on the market for 89 days. We had a couple of offers right away and our agent advised us to counter offer but we figured we’d wait to see if we’d get better ones. The offers have stopped coming. What are my options now?” It would be a breach of ethics for me to respond directly to this particular seller as he is already represented by an agent, instead my responses are provided for any sellers facing these issues.

Your house will receive the most attention from realtors and buyers during the first two weeks on the market. Usually your best offers will come during that period. It is always better to negotiate with an offer that is already on the table than to fantasize about what might come in the future. The buyer is motivated to deal or she would not have written the offer.

It’s always about location, condition and price. If a house is in pristine condition when it hits the Multiple Listing Service and the professional photographs reflect that condition, buyers will flock to the house. The only deterrent would be if the house is overpriced. The buyers are examining the same comparable sales that the appraiser will be using to assess the value for the lender. Sellers are wise to price the house correctly according to the comparable sales within the last three to four months. Use comparatives that have the same number of bedrooms and baths, square footage, same housing tract or within a mile of the subject property. If your house backs or sides to a busy street, or is near the freeway, the appraiser will deduct eight to ten percent for that location. Consider that fact when choosing your price.

Prepare a house prior to putting it on the market. If your kitchen and baths are in original or in dated condition solicit estimates for new countertops and appliances. After reviewing the comparable sales decide if the upgrades will garner you a better return on your investment.  Buyers want a house that reflects beauty and value. They will deduct for imperfections. Scrape the ceilings, paint throughout, replace worn carpet; have the house professionally cleaned. Remove excess furniture, dried flower arrangements and wall paper. Have the house professionally staged. I can refer you to two local stagers that I use for all my listings.

Place a lock box on the front door or gate to provide easy access for agents to show your home.

Schedule open houses. The more perspective buyers through the house the more likely you are to receive offers within the first two weeks on the market. Exit the house during showings and do not converse with the buyer’s agent or the clients. Refer questions to your agent. Deals are broken by erroneous he said, she said comments.

When marketing in Fountain Valley an agent may strike up a conversation with a homeowner and infer that you should list with them because it is members of their race who are the predominate buyers in the community.

In most instances the buyer will be represented by their own agent. Their ethnicity or that of their agent has no bearing on the negotiations for the sale of your house. Don’t be fooled by agents who say they have a buyer for your property or agree to overprice your home just to acquire the listing. It’s referred to in the industry as “buying the listing”. Soon the same agent will be appealing to you to lower the price every two weeks until you are within the range of comparable sales. When choosing an agent to market your property, be careful not to be swayed by aggressive tactics. Good realtors come in all colors, sizes and ethnic backgrounds.

Agent reputation is paramount in real estate transactions. This is not only important in that other agents like and respect your realtor, but it means we colleagues are always eager to preview their listings and look forward to being in transactions with him or her.  I am not alone in admitting I would go out of my way to show a client the home represented by a local agent with a sterling reputation in the off chance my buyer might like it, knowing the transaction will be positive: smooth and equitable.  This can mean a faster sale and more competitive buying environment for Fountain Valley sellers.  Happy selling!

Susan Saurastri, is a Fountain   Valley resident and a realtor with Star Real Estate. Contact her at or 714-317-0664.  Realtor Maggie Etheridge-Ureno of The Etheridge Team contributed to this column.




Posted on September 25, 2013 at 3:27 PM
Susan Saurastri | Category: Advice Column, Real Estate News, Sellers

Home Inspection, what to expect.

Now that the seller has accepted your offer you have a contractually agreed upon timeline to remove your home inspection and other contingencies. The California Residential Purchase Agreement stipulates that the house you bought is sold in “AS IS” condition.

In other words you accept the house in its current condition at the time of purchase. The California Civil Code does require sellers install smoke detectors in each sleeping quarter. They may be battery operated.  Confirm that the batteries are working. The newest law mandates all homeowners, whether or not you are selling, must install one carbon monoxide detector on each level of the house.

It is never a good idea to waive your right to a home inspection. The average cost of a home inspection is $300-$500 depending on the living square footage. The seller is not obligated to make any repairs recommended in the inspection report but many sellers will negotiate to do some or all repairs or issue monetary compensation through the close of escrow.

An inspector may recommend you contact a professional in a field for a particular repair such as the furnace or air conditioner. Think of it as your primary care physician referring you to a gastroenterologist specialist. Major issues of contention that could be deal breakers include structural damage, mold, excessive moisture, major roof damage or considerable soil expansion that might compromise the foundation.

Yesterday, I spoke with a woman whose home I will be putting on the market next month. She voiced concern about the possibility of the home inspection revealing some unknown issue. A seller may be wise to have a home inspection prior to listing her home for sale. It’s a proactive method to address any potential buyer objections.

Some of the minor items most often noted in the report are: no spark arrestor on the chimney, no C-clamp to keep the fireplace flute open, no GFCI (grounded electrical)

near water sources such as kitchen, baths, laundry sinks, exterior pool and spa equipment. Remove any extension cords used in place of hard wiring particularly in the garage.

An automatic reverse mode is required on all motorized garage doors so that if an obstacle was preventing the garage door from closing it would reverse to the open position. The door from the garage into the house should have an automatic closure. Check for moisture under the sinks. Do the sink and bath tub stoppers work properly? Does water drain effectively from the sinks, showers and bathtub? Are all the appliances operational? Do all the circuit breakers work? Are their tripping hazards in or outside the house? Does the roof have loose tiles or shingles?

Finally, sellers may want to consider a home warranty during the time the house is on the market. It will cover all unknown pre-existing conditions. The approximate cost is sixty cents per day. My friend, Patricia Vidal of Realty One Group has shared stories with me of a water heater exploding three days prior to close of escrow. Another time she was representing a seller on a tenant occupied property with a leak behind the shower wall.

The repairs would have cost several hundred dollars rather than the sixty dollar home warranty service fee. Buying or selling a home doesn’t have to be a nerve wracking experience if you have savvy professional representation.

Posted on September 25, 2013 at 1:05 PM
Susan Saurastri | Category: Advice Column, Buyers, Real Estate News, Sellers

Tips for Selling Your Fountain Valley Home During the Holidays

If your Fountain Valley house is going to be on the market during the holiday season, your chances of selling it will be better if you make it festive and welcoming. Remember though, less is more. Here are some suggestions for holiday decorating.

  • Start at the curb: String lights on the shrubs or trees. Place a lighted lantern with a red bow at the walkway.
  • Put a poinsettia plant at the entrance to the house and/or a wreath on the front door.
  • Dont string your holiday cards. They will distract the buyers who will read them instead of focusing on the house.
  • If you have a fireplace, decorate it with garlands and lights. Hang stockings by the chimney with care or place your Menorah on the mantle.
  • Put a holiday runner on the dining table with a festive centerpiece. If you use candles do not light them if you are not going to be home and dont be home during buyer showings.
  • If you are displaying a Christmas tree you can leave the lights on if you are returning home shortly after the buyer showing.
  • Put on a CD with holiday tunes playing softly.
  • Don’t decorate your end tables. Leave them uncluttered with just a lamp.
  • You will enjoy the festive atmosphere you created and so will the prospective buyers.

Last week I mentioned that I was visiting Mary, a Fountain Valley resident who will be putting her home on the market in the Spring. She wanted my input on what if anything she should do to prepare the house for sale. Mary was considering purchasing plantation shutters for her windows. She had gotten a bid for $4500. I followed up with a thank you note for inviting me to tour her home. In the note I suggested to Mary that her money would be better spent on changing out the original tile countertops to granite in the kitchen first and the baths secondly, if resources allow. Home sellers will garner a much larger return on their investment with an updated kitchen than on other upgrades.

Kitchens and baths are the primary focus of buyers. A buyer will usually calculate higher than the actual costs to upgrade and deduct that amount from the list price when making an offer. The goal should be proper prior planning to eliminate the negatives so that buyers have no reason to offer you anything but top dollar for your home. College State Park Blvd. in Anaheim offers warehouse after warehouse with an array of granite slabs. When we remodeled our kitchen this past June I negotiated the price of the fabrication and installation of the stone. It costs us $3,000 for the stone and $2,900 for the installation. I had negotiated $1,000 off the initial quote. The granite covered a two-tier wrap-around island and the countertops. I will happily refer you to the company and the installer we used. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want feedback on what changes your house may need prior to marketing it. I also have a list of local vendors on my website for everything from painting, electrical, plumbing, remodeling and decorating.

Browse Fountain Valley homes for sale.

Posted on September 2, 2011 at 8:32 PM
Susan Saurastri | Category: Advice Column

What is a Real Estate Escrow?

When entering into an escrow, the buyer and seller of a piece of property establish terms and conditions for the transfer of ownership of that property. These terms and conditions are given to a third party known as the escrow holder.

How does the escrow process work?

The escrow is a depository for all monies, instructions and documents necessary for the purchase of your home, including your funds for down payment and your lenders funds and documents for the new loan. Prior to close of escrow, the buyer deposits the balance of funds required and agreed upon by the parties with the escrow holder. The buyer instructs the escrow holder to deliver the monies to the seller when the escrow holder:

1) Forwards the deed to the title company for recording;

2) Is notified by the title company that a policy of title insurance can be issued that shows title to the property is vested in the name of the buyer.

The escrow holder handles the pro-rations and adjustments on any fire/hazard insurance, real estate taxes, rents, interest, etc., based on the escrow instructions of both parties. The escrow holder thus acts for both parties and protects the interests of each within the authority of the escrow instructions.

How do I open an escrow?

Your real estate agent will open the escrow for you. As soon as you execute your purchase agreement/joint escrow instructions, your agent will place your initial deposit into an escrow account. The escrow holder takes instructions based on the terms of the purchase agreement and the lenders requirements. Escrow cannot be completed until the terms and conditions of the instructions have been satisfied and all parties have signed escrow documents.

Browse Fountain Valley homes for sale.

Posted on September 2, 2011 at 1:39 PM
Susan Saurastri | Category: Advice Column

Questions to Ask When Hiring a Fountain Valley Realtor

I spoke with a seller recently who told me that he was not satisfied with his realtor. I asked him how he came to hire him. He said he called many agents and he was the first one to pick up the phone. This list will hopefully spare you the aggravation of hiring the wrong person to sell your house.

1) How many years have you been actively selling real estate? (Some agents may have been licensed for many years but never sold a house) Its not how long a person has been in the industry but how well they do their job thats important. How many homes have you sold? Are you a realtor? (A realtor is held to a higher standard of ethics and must be a member of the realtor associations. Are you a full time or part time agent?

2) What is your marketing plan? Now that the market has changed from a sellers market to a buyers market, have you made any changes to your marketing plan? Do you create the property flyer yourself or does a company create them for you? (Ask to see a copy of the flyer; you want it to convey a professional representation of your house.) Are the flyers color or black and white? What other advertising resources do you use?

3) Are you a member of a team, if so what are the responsibilities of each team member? Which member will represent me during the transaction? How often will you communicate with me regarding the status of my listing? May I have your cell phone number and email address? How timely are you responding to messages?

4) How will you describe my home in the MLS (Multiple Listing Service)? Will there be photos with my listing? Listen to determine if the agent will hire a professional photographer to obtain the best photos of your house for the MLS. You also want to ascertain how many photos will be attached to your listing. Did the agent mention that she would provide a virtual tour of your home for the Internet? (Buyers will determine which homes they want their realtor to show them based on the photos and/or the virtual tour they view on the Internet from the comfort of their homes.)

5) Do you have a website? Will my house be advertised on your website? What is your website address? Does your company have a website? What is the web address of your company?

6) I keep hearing about staging. How do you feel about staging and is it necessary to sell my house? If an agent tells you the house is perfect the way it is, although it may be lovely, there is a difference between livability and marketability and every house can use some tweaking to showcase its best features. Remember your house will be in competition with over one hundred and fifty other homes in Fountain Valley..

7) I understand that often times agents dont leave business cards when showing or previewing the house, how will you keep track of who is viewing my home? (Agents can check the codes in the lock box regularly to determine who has shown your house.) Its important for the listing agent to obtain buyer feedback from the buyers agent.

8) Will you provide open houses and if so how often? Will you hold it open yourself or will it be one of your associates? What days and times will the open house be conducted?

9) Does your office provide agent caravans to preview new listings? During the first week my house is on the market, will you put my house on the broker preview sheet for agents from other companies to preview? Will you serve lunch or some other goodies? (Feed them and they will come.)

The agents commission is negotiable however in this slower market most agents will spend considerably more time and money on your listing than ever before. The commission negotiated at the time of the listing contract is normally divided four ways. With a full commission of six percent, three percent will be divided between the listing agent and the listing broker and the other three percent will be divided between the selling agent and the selling broker. Offering a 3% commission in the MLS will attract more buyer showings than a discounted commission. Ask to see a copy of the listing once it has been placed in the MLS to ascertain if the commission offered is the amount you agreed to.

The length of the contract is negotiable. Although six months is the industry standard you may request a shorter term, 3 or 4 months so you arent stuck with an agent who isnt performing satisfactorily. If at any time during the listing period you are not satisfied with the agents performance, make a list of the problems and contact their office manager to discuss a resolution.

Now that we have established the listing price, how long do you believe that it will take you to sell my house? The average time on the market in Fountain Valley is 53 days. Staged homes usually sell faster and for a better price.

If an agent suggests a higher listing price than the comparative market analysis provides, show the agent the door. Some agents will “buy the listing” by providing the seller with a higher than reasonable list price which sounds enticing to the seller; the house will linger on the market without any offers, because the buyers know the house is overpriced. Once the agent has the listing for a few weeks he will start to harp on the seller to reduce the price.

Ask the realtor for the names and phone numbers of recent sellers in your area who were represented by this realtor to determine what practices the agent used. Ask the seller if they would hire the agent again and why? Interview two, three or four agents before you sign on the dotted line. After all is said and done, trust your instincts. Happy selling!

Susan Saurastri, a Fountain Valley resident is a realtor with Star Real Estate. Contact her at or 714-317-0664.

Browse Fountain Valley homes for sale.

Posted on September 2, 2011 at 1:32 PM
Susan Saurastri | Category: Advice Column

How to sell your Fountain Valley house in today's Competitive Real Estate Market

Today there are 132 houses on the market in Fountain Valley, 34 of them are condominiums. In the last month twelve single-family homes and 8 condos have closed escrow in Fountain Valley. They sold for between $350,000 and $820,000.

Why are some Fountain Valley houses selling and others aren’t?

Location, Condition and Price are still and always will be the 3 factors that govern the sale of a house. Why are some houses selling quickly and other houses lingering on the market? It takes strategy.

Timing is crucial. Youll only get one opportunity to impress a buyer. Once the buyer has toured your Fountain Valley home and is not impressed, they wont be back. Selling a house is a collaborative effort between the seller and their agent. Sellers make a mistake when they dont listen to and apply the advice of their realtor. Clutter will dwarf the size and minimize the attractiveness of the house. Clear off the kitchen and bathroom countertops except for one or two items. Move the excess or oversized furniture from each room. Buyers want to see space and envision their own furnishings in your house. A vacant house lacks emotion. If you are moving out prior to putting your house on the market, it pays to either leave some pieces that can be used to decorate it or hire someone to stage the house.

One week prior to putting a house on the MLS, I educate my clients on how I market their property and then I call Jerri Hebert. Jerri knows how to stage a house to sell. Shes a decorating dynamo who in one day can transform a house from nice and inviting to drop dead gorgeous. She puts the wow in the wow factor just by moving furniture and bringing in accessories. If the house calls for it, she also paints. When Jerri is finished preparing the house I bring in a professional photographer. He will photograph the house and each room to its best advantage. Those are the photos the perspective buyers will view online along with the virtual tour. 90% of buyers now choose their selection of homes via photos on the Internet, before calling their realtor for a personal tour. Some listings on the MLS have no photos or just one of the homes exterior. Buyers are more likely to skip seeing those homes all together. Ask your agent to provide you a copy of your MLS printout; the number of photos will be listed as media. I will happily refer Jerri to other agents and Orange County sellers.

If you told your agent that you want to market your Fountain Valley home by appointment only prepare to live in the house for a long time. The same is true if you don’t have a lock box available for agent showings. This competitive market calls for sellers to step back and give the buyers access when and how they want it. Agents have too many homes to show their buyer clients to adhere to a particular sellers schedule. Now is the time to distinguish your house from all the others on the market. The days of discount commissions are over, at least for the time being. Some sellers are offering exotic trips on top of full commissions and bonuses to the buyers agent in order to get their homes shown.

Remember the 6 Ps. Proper prior pricing prevents paltry paydays.

Buyers are writing low ball offers. Sellers are wise to counter offer rather than reject the offer outright. Sometimes it will take four or five counter offers before a deal is struck. Its worth the time and the energy if at the end of the process both the buyer and the seller walk away feeling they made a good deal.

Browse Fountain Valley homes for sale.

Posted on September 2, 2011 at 1:23 PM
Susan Saurastri | Category: Advice Column

Top Ten Reasons Why Buying in Orange County is Still A Deal!

  • Private property, not politicians’ promises, is the basis of liberty.
  • Your own house on your own land is the last truly private space in populated areas.
  • Over your lifetime, rent money’s gone with the wind; equity grows with you.
  • Home ownership makes you feel good. Walking on your own land restores the feeling of personal sovereignty.
  • Your own home is a bastion of peace, civility, order, and a true refuge for decades to come.
  • These interest rates are the most remarkable in decades. The Fed will likely keep short-term rates low not just until after the next election, but until the European Central Bank lowers Euro rates (and shrinks the gap between US and Euro rates enough to neutralize it as a major factor in trans-Atlantic capital flows) By the next decade, the 20-teens, will have galloping inflation so a hard asset will be good to have and a confirmation of your wisdom now.
  • A second house as an income property will help you sleep nights.
  • According to a representative at Terra Mortgage (powered by Countrywide) when purchasing a $600,000 home, a buyer can now obtain an interest only loan with a monthly payment of $1800.00. The interest is tax deductible. When you consider how much $$ goes towards the principle every month anyway, this is a terrific deal.
  • Orange County offers sun, sand and surf year round with the absolute best climate worldwide. Your home in O.C. is the envy of tourists from all corners of the globe.
  • A house is a lifetime hobby. It’ll keep you out of mischief and make you develop wholesome skills.


Susan Saurastri is a Realtor with Star Real Estate. Submit your suggestions and questions to her at 714-962-8136 or

Posted on September 2, 2011 at 12:31 PM
Susan Saurastri | Category: Advice Column

Do I Need Title Insurance?

Real Estate has always been considered an individuals most valuable asset. For most people, it is the most expensive and important investment they will make in their lives. When you purchase a home or other real estate, what you actually acquire is title to the property rather than the land itself. Your title encompasses ownership, as well as use and possession of the land. However, title to property may be limited by rights and claims asserted by others.

Most lenders require mortgage title insurance as security for their investment in real estate, just as they require fire insurance and other types of coverage as investor protection. Title insuring begins with a search of title records for matters affecting the title to the real estate concerned. The examination of evidence from a search is intended to fully report all material objections to the title.

Some examples of what is considered a cloud on the title would be:

Outstanding mortgages, judgments and tax liens; Deeds, wills and trusts that contain improper vestings, incorrect names; easements, and incorrect notary acknowledgments. Through the search and examination, title problems like these are disclosed so they can be cleared up whenever possible. Despite the dedication that goes into a search, hidden defects can emerge after completion of a real estate purchase, causing an unpleasant and costly surprise. A forged deed that transfers no title to real estate, previously undisclosed heirs with claims against the property and mistakes in the public records are a few of the examples. Thanks to title insurance, homebuyers can enjoy protection against many title claims and potential losses. In most instances, the seller of the property pays for the buyers title insurance in order to provide a clear title to the property.

Susan Saurastri, a Fountain Valley resident, is a Realtor with Star Real Estate.


Posted on September 1, 2011 at 1:48 PM
Susan Saurastri | Category: Advice Column

The Value of a Home Inspection

So you found the house of your dreams, or is it? The only way to know for sure is to have a professional home inspection. A home inspection is not mandatory but definitely advised. What is mandatory is that home sellers disclose anything thats wrong with the home prior to selling. The home is sold in its present physical condition, problems included but the seller must disclose all known material facts affecting the value of the property. The home has to be maintained so its in the same condition as it was on the date the offer was accepted. The purchase contract has a time designation to remove the inspection contingency. In these days of multiple offers, many buyers will remove this contingency within 7 to 10 days in order to get their offer accepted over the other offers. A standard home inspection involves a visual, noninvasive examination of the home from top to bottom. The inspector will inspect and evaluate the foundation, drainage, plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems, visible insulation, fireplaces and chimneys, walls, windows, doors and so forth. Only those items that are visible and accessible by normal means are included in the report. Depending on the square footage, the average home inspection costs between $275. & $350. and takes about two to three hours. The inspector will indicate items that may require specialized follow-up by other professionals. Think of it as your primary care physician referring you to a specialist. The buyer, seller and agents are provided a copy of the report that is used to negotiate repairs or monetary credits between the buyer and the seller.

Susan Saurastri, a Fountain Valley resident, is a Realtor with Star Real Estate. Submit your questions to her at 714-317-0664.


Posted on September 1, 2011 at 1:46 PM
Susan Saurastri | Category: Advice Column

Image is Everything when Selling

Your house will sell faster and for a better price if its in tip-top condition.

Condition Your House to Sell

Your house has been on the market for 27 days now and you havent received any offers.

If your home is in a good location and you priced it competitively, then odds are you need some tips to improve its condition.

The process of selling your home will be easier for you if you step back mentally and view it through the eyes of the buyer. Disconnect from the good memories and focus on the task at hand, selling it.

Curb Appeal

Lets start at the curbside; its the first impression buyers will get of your”housekeeping”. Is the grass cut and the shrubbery trimmed? Did you plant colorful flowers along the entry? The front door can be a depository for dirt, clean it. If the door handle is outdated, replace it. Place a new mat at the entrance. Remove the clutter from the front porch. The kids bikes and toys should be put away. Wrap the hose up and replace the mailbox if it needs it or save some money and spray paint it.

Setting the Mood

As the agent and buyer enter your house, whats the first impression they get? Remember the buyer forms an opinion in the first 60 seconds; if that opinion is positive the buyer will seek to enforce it throughout the remainder of the tour, the same for a negative opinion. Have music playing softly in the background. Set the dining room table for guests. A vase of fresh flowers will add a graceful touch.

Did you have the carpets steamed cleaned in the week prior to putting the house on the market? Youd be totally turned off to see the condition of some folks carpet and so are the buyers. Did you remember to wash the windows? If there is too much furniture in the room it will give the impression the house is too small. Rent a storage unit for the listing period, deposit all the excess there. If money is tight use the garage as a catch-all space while the house is on the market.

Romancing the Room

Its okay to have computer desks in the kids rooms but not okay to have one in the Master Bedroom. The master bedroom is viewed as a romantic oasis from the daily grind. Clear off the top of the dresser. Leave the lamp/s and either a vase of flowers or one nice decorative piece.

Make the beds upon waking. There should be NO evidence of clothes other than in the closet. It would be impossible for me to emphasize the importance of making the kitchen and bathrooms sparkle. Any evidence of dirt or odors is a huge turnoff. Some buyers will leave without even touring the rest of your house.

Bring In Mr. Clean

In the kitchen, remove the clutter from the countertop. Let the buyers see the amount of counter space they are purchasing. Bake some sweet smelling cookies in the oven or if time is limited put some cinnamon in an oven safe bowl and put it on low heat. The pleasant aroma will waif through the house.

NEVER leave dishes in the sink. Empty the wastebaskets around the house. If the grout needs cleaning and replacing, do it; ditto for the bathtub and shower enclosure. You can replace the grimy shower curtain liner for less than $5.00. Examine the sink and shower fixtures? Are they original to the house? You may want to consider updating them as well as the interior door handles. If your house will be vacant, paint it after you move out. It will show much better.

Just Like the Model

If you want to see some examples of how to put the best “face” on your house, go visit some model homes. There are also local companies that will “stage” your home to derive the greatest impact during the listing period; $150.00 will get you a 90-minute to 2-hour consultation. HGTV has a new show “Designed to Sell” its another good venue for ideas.

Buyers purchase on emotion, its difficult to get emotional over a messy house. Your house will sell faster and for a better price if its in tip top condition.

Susan Saurastri, a Fountain Valley resident is a Realtor with Star Real Estate. Contact her at 714-962-8136.

Posted on September 1, 2011 at 1:42 PM
Susan Saurastri | Category: Advice Column