Profile picture for Lucy Armentrout

Lucy Armentrout

Premier Agent

11 Recent Sales (last 12 months)

Lucy Armentrout, Broker Associate (18 years experience)

Specialties:
Buyer's Agent,
Listing Agent,
Short-Sale,
Consulting

Advice

  • (53 Contributions,
  • 5 Best Answers,
  • 11 Helpful)

Contributions are sorted newest to oldest.

Why doesn't Zillow account for solar power? This is a huge money saving upgrade!

Best Answer

We have a number of energy-efficient homes in my market (San Francisco East Bay area), ranging from solar-paneled homes to fully LEED-accredited homes with all sorts of energy conserving features. Unfortunately, while people appreciate these features - especially once they buy the home and see how much they're actually saving on their monthly utility bills - we haven't yet seen a direct relationship between energy conserving features and pricing. I'm guessing that Zillow doesn't alter their Zestimates in response to energy efficient features (solar panels, etc.) because there isn't yet a direct market correlation.If you're putting your solar-paneled home on the market, I'd advise you to print out a number of recent utility bills (and maybe some bills for a comparable home WITHOUT solar panels) to illustrate the real dollar value of those solar panels. Include references to this benefit in your marketing materials. This can act as an incentive for buyers to bid "that extra bit" for your solar panels. Until people become more savvy about "green" improvements, your actual sales price boost will be based on how well you package and sell this energy efficient feature to the prospective buyers who come to see your home.I have a background in environmental analysis of housing, and I am accredited "LEED AP", so I know all about the value of energy efficient home improvements, and I'm quite invested in seeing homes becoming more "green" through improvements like solar panels. I am looking forward to the day when there's a direct demonstrable correlation between home values and energy and water conservation measures like your solar panels!

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Do you add the sq ft of a finished basement to your total size of your house?

Answer

Square footage for "improved" space in a basement MAY be included in the total square footage of your home. The two basic tests are (1) how much of the "improved" area is below grade level and (2) whether or not you got permits for the work and had the inspections and got your permits "finaled" (signed off) by the controlling jurisdiction (which is generally your local city building department). The important note about the grade level is that IF some or all of the updated basement sits at least 50% above the exterior grade level, that square footage can generally be counted toward the home's legal square footage, on an appraisal and other local tax records. This means that homes that have basements dug partially into a hillside can actually count about half of their improved basement area as adding to the total home size. To determine how this applies to your house, measure the ceiling height in your updated basement. Then go outside and see where the ground hits the side of your house. If you have an 8' high interior ceiling, then anywhere you find that the exterior ground level is AT LEAST 4' BELOW the level of the basement ceiling should officially qualify you to count that square footage in your total home square footage. Good luck!

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Is it possible to de-gopher a yard?

Answer

My NorCal mother is inadvertently playing hostess to a large "herd" of gophers. She has been told by a local landscape architect that the best anti-gopher treatment is a cat or a dog. Mother nature does it best, I guess.In the meantime, she's tried buying chicken wire and creating nice little baskets beneath the root systems of the new plants she puts into the yard. She just cuts a circle of chicken wire, presses it into the hole she's excavated for the new plant, and pops the new plant into its safe little cage. The gophers can't get through the wire, but the roots can still absorb nutrients and water from the surrounding soil. I'm not sure how well this is going to work once the root systems outgrow their little chicken wire baskets, though.I'm almost going to miss the stories of the vanishing plants if my mother succeeds in her anti-gopher mission, although I know that's not a very considerate thing to say! She says she's tired of spending money at the local nursery just to keep her gophers well fed. Fair enough. Good luck!

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Old listings on Zillow, houses that have already sold. The agents don't remove- what to do?

Answer

Oh boy... I am SO totally on board with you in being upset about this. Let me tell you a bit about what's going on, on the agent's side of the table (speaking from personal experience): I had a listing last year that was finally put onto Zillow after a long delay (was already in escrow by that time). I couldn't make the status update myself (to mark the house "Sold") for some strange reason that made no real sense to me (my account, my listing, why not under my control?).I emailed, posted an online query for Zillow, and spoke directly with Customer Service, asking that the listing status be corrected. I noted that the property was sold, for how much, what day the close of escrow occurred. To this day, I have a floating listing on Zillow that STILL shows up as "Active". It is really frustrating. It makes me - as an agent - look incompetent. I pride myself on being anything BUT incompetent!

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Going Green

Response

I'm jumping on board with the consensus here - that YES, Green is here to stay. What IS "green" and how much people will be willing to pay to buy a "green" house is going to evolve over time, though. For now, if your seller uses low-VOC paints - the ones that don't smell and aren't literally unhealthy for small children - you can write about that as a "green" feature of a home. But over time, I expect buyers and sellers to go beyond the use of low-VOC paints and similar simple fixes. They may note that tight seals on windows cut heating and cooling bills - a "green" thing to do - and will start marketing that a bit more. They may recognize that the proximity of a home to good, reliable and safe public transportation means that homeowners will need to drive less (creating less carbon monoxide) and may market that as one of a home's "green" features. They may note that photovoltaics on a rooftop will save money on electrical bills (avoiding some of the air and water pollution that are necessary to standard power production) and push that as a "green" feature They may note that using recycled or quickly renewable (FSC rated) wood in their floors and cabinets will...and so on. My point: Over time, I think buyers and sellers (and agents!) will start getting smarter about recognizing and marketing the many great "green" features a home has. And with this recognition and marketing, there will come further pressure to improve homes in a "green" manner - as it will be seen as adding extra value to your home.I believe that over time, there will be added value in that fantastic house that can advertise that it is MORE than beautiful. It was built using local, renewable, recylced materials, with solar power, passive ventilation, low-VOC paints and adhesives, located a short walk from the grocery store and a few blocks from a fabulous public transportation system, and with a weekly farmer's market that sells only pesticide-free, locally-grown produce down the block. -- I know this may not sound totally credible yet, but I have a few reference points to support my belief:One reference point is the fact that this year in the San Francisco Bay Area, buyers have all wanted to be in a home from which they could "walk to coffee". Suddenly, buyers are not just paying extra for the big bay views way up the hills, they're paying extra to be down in the flatlands, next to the public library, on a main street, but walking distance to the local shopping district. This walkable neighborhood concept is a hot commodity, and I think the fascination with "walk to coffee" is a facet of buyer interest in green living.Another reference point is a home that recently sold in the Rockridge area of Oakland (a high-end area and a current neighborhood of choice). This house had all of the green bells and whistles, and was both LEED Platinum certified AND GreenPoints rated. It sold for a substantial amount (much more than adjacent homes), to a prominent buyer who was able and excited to shell out a lot of extra money so that his family could move into a home with all of those green features. I see this buyer's purchase as an eearly indication of where the mainstream will go once it becomes less expensive and more commonplace to have green features in our homes.

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I have finished my basement to include a full bath. Can I now count the Square footage?

Answer

Basic/safe rule of thumb: You can generally count the square footage in your listing information IF it is recognized by your county assessor's office. Here's how to make sure that happens:Ideally, you have done your improvement work with permits and you've "finaled" your permits. If so, your local jurisdiction may have already forwarded the information from your work -  the number of added square feet, added bedrooms, bathrooms, and total rooms - to the county assessor's office. Sometimes your local permit-issuing agency does not forward this information, or is very slow getting it to the county assessor, so the information is incorrect on county records when you you look it up before sale. In this case, in most jurisdictions, you need only get proof that you got permits and "finaled" them (from your local permit-issuing agency), bring this to the county assessor, and ask them to update their records to match the records from your local permit-issuing agency. I'd let the county fiddle with things like whether or not to count 50% or 100% of square footage if a basement improvement is below grade - unless you feel the work has been improperly recorded, and you want to be sure all the rules were applied correctly in the calculation of the new square footage.If you DIDN'T get permits for your work, you can try to get the work permitted after the fact. A few issues can come up: (1) If you made changes that would not otherwise be permitted because you violated planning regulations, that can be a mess. In this case, you can still go through a review process to try for planning approvals, but it can be dicey and you can fail. (2) You may be asked to open up your walls to show an inspector that all work is up to code, and to correct any non-code-compliant work. (3) You will be asked to pay for the permits you're pulling, of course, and many jurisdictions penalize people for getting permits after the fact. Penalties are sometimes equal to the permit amounts. (4) Once you get the permit situation settled, you may still need to go through the county assessor update process, described above.One tip: If you didn't get permits for the work and you want those permits and that formal recognition now, go to the Planning and Building departments and ask some general questions so you get the lay of the land and know what challenges may be in your path BEFORE you give anyone your actual address. If someone gets your actual address and hears that you've done work illegally, they may feel compelled to start chasing you to force you to get permits or tear the work apart. If your work does not qualify for permits (i.e., is prohibited under the zoning ordinance), you probably want to know this before you let the city folks know where you live and where they should start sending the nasty letters about your "illegal addition".Good luck!

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I have finished my basement to include a full bath. Can I now count the Square footage?

Answer

Ideally, you have done your improvement work with permits. If so, and if you've "finaled" your permits, your local jurisdiction may have already forwarded the information from your work - including the number of added square feet, number of added bedrooms, bathrooms, and total rooms - to the county assessor's office. Your local jurisdiction (permit-issuing agency - either your local city or county) sometimes does not forward this information, or is very slow in getting it to the county assessor, so that the information may be incorrect on county records when you bring your home onto the market. In this case, in most jurisdictions, you need only get proof that you (a) did the work with permits, (b) "finaled" the permits, and (c) added X square feet, Y bedrooms, Z bathrooms... If it's easy to do, you may want to bring the plans in to the county assessor's office to show the addition. Your local permit-issuing agency can give you the information to show the county assessor, including copies of "finaled" permits and/or proof that your addition was given its certificate of occupancy. You bring this to your local county assessor's office, and ask them to update their records to match the records from your permit-issuing agency. Let the county fiddle with things like whether or not to count 50% or 100% of square footage if a basement improvement is below grade. That shouldn't be something you need to worry about unless you feel the work has been improperly recorded, and you want to be sure all the rules were applied correctly in the calculation of the new square footage.If you DIDN'T get permits for your work, you can go to your local permit-issuing office and try to get the work permitted after the fact. A few issues can come up: (1) If you made changes that would not otherwise be permitted because you violated planning regulations, that can be a mess. Sometimes you can still go through a review process and get a planning approval, but it can be dicey and you can fail on occasion. Caution! (2) You may be asked to open up your walls to show an inspector that all work is up to code, and to correct any non-code-compliant work. (3) You will be asked to pay for the permits you're pulling, of course, and many jurisdictions penalize people for getting permits after the fact. Penalties are sometimes equal to the permit amounts or... (4) Once you get the permit situation settled, you may still need to go through the county assessor update process, described above.My general recommendation, if you didn't get permits for the work and you want those permits and that formal recognition now: Go to the Planning and Building departments and ask some general questions so you get the lay of the land and know what challenges may be in your path BEFORE you give anyone your actual address. If someone gets your actual address and hears that you've done work illegally, they may feel compelled to start chasing you to force you to get permits or tear the work apart. If your work does not qualify for permits (i.e., is prohibited under the zoning ordinance), you probably want to know this before you let the city folks know where you live and where they should start sending the nasty letters about your "illegal addition".Good luck. I used to work in a City Building and Planning Department. Based on what I observed there, this is how I'd move forward if I were you.

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What is/are the BEST and WORST MONTHS to list house for sale?

Response

Real estate's traditional busy season is between Superbowl Sunday and Thanksgiving. This is not to say that homes don't sell in the "low season". In fact, if your home is special enough, you may have good luck if you bring your home on the market when there isn't all the other inventory sitting on the market to distract your buyers. There are some great sales at great prices during the winter months, and the lack of choice may make your winter buyer more eager to make a higher offer and get your home if that buyer really loves the home, or if the buyer needs to move right away and sees nothing on the market that meets his or her needs as well as your home. So, if you've got a real "wow" home, your home can be the new great thing on the market, and it will stand out from the homes that have been on the market all Fall and haven't sold yet (and are now stale listings).On the other hand, if your home is not quite the show-stopper that will make buyers (and their agents) go out of their way to see it, you may want to bring your home onto the market during the more traditional real estate season. You'll have a larger crop of buyers who will see your home, and a higher chance of getting an offer simply because the extra exposure will increase your odds of your home being seen by the right buyer.One final piece of this puzzle: If you're going to bring your home onto the market during the traditional February - November season, I'd agree with other advice written here, in that Spring is often a time of greater buyer optimism and excitement and sales prices in the Spring are often higher than in the Fall. With the economy we've got today, there's always a chance that Spring will be so-so and the market will be zooming by the Fall (with higher prices as a result), but the economists and advisors I've been listening to do not believe that's likely to happen next year.Good luck selling your home for a great price and good terms, no matter when you decide to bring it onto the market.

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Where can I get sales in my immediate area around Janurary 1, 2009

Best Answer

I don't know of a function on Zillow that does this - although I'm no "Zillow pro". However, try calling a local realtor. I'm a real estate broker, so my response may sound like I'm trying to drum up business for my profession. Apologies for this, BUT your local agents have access to the MLS and can run a very quick search for the area and time period of interest. If you mention that you may be interested in buying or selling in the next year, but are not yet actively looking, that should be enough incentive for an agent to take the time to run this very simple search. They'll probably want to keep in touch with you. If you're clear about your time frame and real estate needs (i.e., not looking to do anything now but I might sell next April), that should keep the agent from hounding you (assuming that you're worried about that, and this is why you're currently collecting your own information online). And when you ARE ready to buy or sell, I'm sure that agent will be very glad you came back to him/her.Whatever your current plans are - Good luck!- Lucy ArmentroutCA Broker's Lic. #01249688

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