Sunday, February 24, 2008

Real Eats -- Nicolino's Italian Restaurant, Sunnyvale, CA

While waiting for the rain to end, my wife and I decided to have another of our "date" nights this month by going to another fine restaurant. We do this at least once each month where we choose a nice place to enjoy the food and ambiance that goes with it. This time, we chose Nicolino's Italian Restaurant on Reamwood in Sunnyvale.

While I've been Nicolino's for both business lunches and dinners, my wife has never been to the restaurant. She wasn't disappointed. Neither was I!

I told her about their excellent tortellini alfredo that I've had several times but to my amazement, it wasn't on the menu as either a dinner entree or appetizer. So, after getting her all excited with that, I had to move to "plan B". Order "off-menu"! And, I did order an appetizer-sized portion as a starter. It was simply delicious!

We also shared their Caprese salad which was made with alternating fresh mozzerella cheese and red-ripe tomato slices with fresh basil leaves drizzled over with olive oil and served alongside pesto sauce and roasted garlic. The surprise was that this was served with a small salad of spring mix that had an excellent balsamic vinegarette dressing on it that was marvelous.

Our dinner entrees were outstandingly presented. My wife chose off their regular menu their linguini cacciuco with plenty of different seafood selections (crab, clams, prawns) along with delicious small pieces of white fish served in a bowl of linguini with a very nice light tomato sauce. She loved it!

For my choice, I had their salmon filet entree covered with a lemon, white wine sauce with capers. The generous portion of fresh salmon was accompanied by great-tasting rice and vegetables. For a wine pairing, I chose a glass of Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc that went well with the entree. All of it was wonderful!

For dessert, we split a delectable gelato sampler that had hazelnut-chocolate and vanilla gelato(we asked to forego the spumoni) served with Italian cookies.

Apart from excellent food, comfortable surroundings with live music (singer with a pianist), we were treated royally by a superb server named Alfredo. When we return we will go for the food, the surroundings and definitely to see Alfredo again!

Nicolino's Italian Restaurant

1228 Reamwood Avenue

Sunnyvale, CA 94089

(408) 734-5323

I didn't want to end this without telling you, like me, Nicolino's is a proud member of the Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce.

Thanks for reading!

California -- here they came

According to the Department of Finance's latest data, the state's population grew over 438,000 new residents from July 1, 2006 to July 1, 2007. That's a 1.17% increase and gave California a total of 37,771,000 people living within its borders.

The San Francisco Bay Area led the way with Santa Clara County adding 29,904 residents or 1.67%, San Francisco County adding 11,327 residents or 1.40% and Contra Costa County adding 13,189 residents or 1.28%. Notice all three growth rates exceeded California's 1.17% population increase during the period.

Of the increase in Santa Clara County, 60% of it came from natural increases (births less deaths) and 40% was from net migration. The provisional estimate of population at July 1, 2007 was 1,820,176, making Santa Clara County the sixth most populous county in California behind Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. All of California's 58 counties gained population except for two -- Plumas and Sierra.

For a glimpse of the full report, use this link

Thanks for reading!

Silicon Valley Community Calendar

Here is an update to some of the events and on-going programs you might want to put on your calendar for March. These are selections from Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Mountain View, Santa Clara and other communities in Silicon Valley.
  • March 1, 8: California Theatre Center presents "The Cay", 11:00am
  • March 1, 8: Sunnyvale Community Players presents "Pippin", 8:00pm,
  • March 1, 8, 15, 22, 29: Farmer's Market, 9:00am
  • March 2, 9, 16, 23, 30: Fair Oaks Toastmasters, 11:30am
  • March 3: Sunnyvale Board of Library Meeting, 7:00pm
  • March 5, 12, 19, 26: Kiwanis Club of Silicon Valley, 7:20am
  • March 5: American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), monthly meeting, 1:30pm
  • March 5: Heritage Preservation Commission Meeting, 7:00pm
  • March 6: SNAIL Neighborhood Association, monthly, 7:00pm
  • March 7: Heritage District Neighborhood Association, 7:30pm
  • March 10, 24: Sunnyvale Planning Commission Meeting, 8:00pm
  • March 10: San Miguel Neighbors Association, general meeting, 7:00pm
  • March 12: Sunnyvale Parks and Recreation Commission Meeting, 7:00pm
  • March 12: Lakewood Village Neighborhood Association, monthly, 7:00pm
  • March 13: Wake Up Sunnyvale!, Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce (408-736-4971) Breakfast, 7:29am, not too early for me so if you want an invite, give me a call at 408-830-0092
  • March 15: Compost Workshop, 10:00am
  • March 15, 22: California Theatre Center presents, "The Raven's Tale", 11:00am
  • March 15: Evenings of Cultural Arts presents, Sasha Dobson, Sunnyvale Community Center, 8:00pm, 408-733-6611
  • March 15: Household Hazardous Waste Drop-Off, 8:00am-1:00pm, Sunnyvale residents
  • March 17: Sunnyvale Personnel Board Meeting, 5:00pm
  • March 19: Sunnyvale Arts Commission Meeting, 7:00pm
  • March 20: Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce (408-736-4971) Business Mixer, 5:00pm, give me a call at 408-830-0092 if you want an invite from me
  • March 20: Sunnyvale Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee Meeting, 6:30pm
  • March 26: Glaucoma Support Group of the South Bay, 6:30pm
  • March 26: Sunnyvale Housing and Human Services Commission Meeting, 7:00pm

  • Most Tuesdays: Sunnyvale City Council Meetings, 7:00pm
  • Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays: Computer and E-Waste Recycling, 8:00am-4:30pm, Cupertino proof of residency
  • Every Wednesday: South Bay Community Orchestra, Noon-1:00pm for strings, 1:00-4:00pm for full orchestra
  • Every Saturday: Family Astronomy Evenings, De Anza College Minolta Planetarium, 6:00pm, 7:00pm or 8:00pm
  • Every Second Monday of Month: Fine Arts League of Cupertino, Quinlan Community Center, 7:00pm

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

To Stage... or Not to Stage

That is a question that many sellers will ask. After reviewing television shows that tout that staging can make all the difference, they believe that this is always the way to go. But, here are a few thoughts I want to share with you on the topic.

A furnished house can be cleaned, de-cluttered and “spruced up” with plants, new matching towels, a few well-placed accessories, etc. Similarly, curb appeal can be made more attractive adding a few new flowering plants, mulch over dirt areas, and even a color bowl and new door mat on the front porch after, of course, taking care of the yard by trimming trees and bushes, mowing and edging the lawn, and yes, even power-washing the walkway and driveway to remove dirt, stains and moss.

An empty house is not very appealing to anyone unless a person has great visualization skills and can picture their belongings placed in the home. This is where staging can be helpful. However, it is not cost effective to stage every empty home. Staging may make sense for larger, more expensive homes because they can be filled with furniture and accessories without making it look too crowded. I’ve observed that smaller homes and condos that are staged are frequently done so with smaller furniture pieces, smaller beds as well as fewer pieces of it. These situations look like people would not or could not live with only the furniture used in staging (smaller beds, downsized hard-case furniture like small desks, dressers and the like). An experienced agent will point this out to their buyers and ask them to visualize their furnishings in the space. I suggest to my buyer clients that they even measure room sizes to make sure they’re not committing themselves to a major replacement of furniture for their new home.

As an advisor, it comes down to return – whether or not the projected increase in selling price will at least offset the cost of the staging. It makes more sense to either stage or partially stage a more expense home or condo than sinking some big bucks in a lower priced home. I’ve seen many homes where the amount of staging was “over the top” and cost would have, in my opinion, been a waste.

While partial or full staging can be quite expensive, I offer my clients a sensible, complimentary way to take the edge off of their empty home and that is to accessorize key areas: kitchen, baths, fireplace mantel, etc. This, in addition to a thorough cleaning, can help to make an appealing difference and help prospective buyers project themselves into the home. Conversely, accessorizing a large home is meaningless as the house just overwhelms the accessories and the accessories are lost in the space.

If you are thinking of selling and have not made a decision to work with a certain agent and would like an assessment of what things are necessary to prep the home for the market, please give me a call. I’ll arrange to stop by and offer my suggestions and advice on a complimentary basis. If we later end up working together, that’s fine. If not, that’s OK too because either way, you’ll end up with information that will help you sell your home faster.

To illustrate some of my concepts, I have included before and after photos of a master bath in a Gilroy townhouse that I sold last year.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Real Eats -- Pezzella's Villa Napoli, Sunnyvale, CA

Standing room only! That's how it was from the time my wife and I got to Pezzella's until the time we left!

Dinner at Pezzella's is something special for us so we chose it for Valentine's Day dinner, even though we've been regular patrons for many years.
Reservations made about a week before made the experience even better as we were seated at the time we reserved and left many waiting in the lobby area. So, as with many things in life, planning ahead makes it more enjoyable.
We started off with an off-menu item -- spinach salad. One of our Pezzella's favorite, so instead of splitting a salad which we do frequently, we each ordered one! Inside tip: they often will make this delicious salad even though its not on their regular menu.
For our main courses, my wife had her favorite Red Linguine Misto with clams, prawns, and crab. "It was great" was her words! My entree was off their special Valentine's Day menu. I ordered the Petrale Sole with lemon-butter caper sauce. In addition to a very generous portion of sole, it was served with rice and grilled veggies and was outstanding.
We topped it off with a Chocolate Tartuffo (ball of gelato) coated with pistachios and cocoa and served with whipped cream. Wow!
Service was attentive but not overbearing and prices were reasonable so we continue to be pleased with the value package (excellent food, great service and reasonable prices) they present.
Pezzella's, a family-owned restaurant, has been a part of Sunnyvale for more than 50 years and greeting us last night was Pat and Margie Pezzella who are always so gracious and helpful.
To view an excellent website with lunch and dinner menus, photos of menu items and more go to
Pezzella’s Villa Napoli, 1025 W. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA (408) 738-2400.
When you go, say "hello" to Pat and Margie!
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

World class chocolates in the valley of hearts delights

You've made dinner reservations at a romantic restaurant (I did!) and you might have picked up a little something for her at her favorite store (I'm looking!) but the there's always sweets for your sweets for Valentine's Day.

Here are some world class chocolatiers from Silicon Valley to Santa Cruz:

Chocoate Dream Box

Pictured are hand-crafted chocolates in beautiful boxes by Chocolate Dream Box

Fleur e Cocoa Patisserie Chocolaterie

39 N. Santa Cruz Avenue, Los Gatos. 408-354-3574

Pictured are selected handmade chocolates from Fleur de Cocoa

Richard Donnelly Chocolates

Saratoga Chocolates

Schurra's Fine Confections


Sugar Butter Flour

Pictured is Dark Chocolate Ganache Truffle from Sugar Butter Flour

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 11, 2008

February Silicon Valley Real Estate Market Update

This information summary and analysis uses MLS Listings Inc. (MLS) transactional data for January 2008. For single family homes in Santa Clara County, January saw the fewest closings (338 closed escrow) of not only any January but of any month going back to at least 1988, when the MLS records began! There were 338 closings in the month with 563 initiated sales (accepted offers) that indicates that closings in February will be higher. This lower closings record occurred across the board in each of the counties I track closely: Santa Clara, San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Monterey. Inventory of available homes was 4,432 up from 4,031 in December compared to a high of 4,925 in October. Since we've had a significant number of homes come off the market in late 2007, I forecasted that we'd see a rebound in inventory either in January or February as some of those homes come back on the market for another try. We did indeed see that occur and we may see even higher inventory in the months ahead.

Days of Unsold Inventory (DUI) or the intersection of the inventory (supply) with the recent sales level (demand), shows Santa Clara County at 214, down from 303 in December, San Mateo County at 161, down from 190, Santa Cruz County at 274, down from 351 and Monterey County at 404, down from 579. Clearly, even with the drops in this indicator, these still are indicating a buyer's market condition as a reading of DUI above 90 depicts. For comparison, a seller's market will have a DUI of less than 45 and a balanced market will have a DUI between the two. Keep in mind that these are county-wide averages so there is an incredible variation between those areas experiencing terrible market conditions compared to those at virtually the other extreme.

As I've mentioned, real estate is local (down to the neighborhood level) and market conditions can vary within each county and even within cities by a large amount. For instance, within Santa Clara County, Mountain View, Los Altos, Palo Alto and Cupertino have the best market climates in the county with a DUI reading of 61, down from 83, while San Jose's East Valley has the worst reading of 542, down from 698 followed by South County (Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy with 440, down from 542. In San Mateo County, the best market climate is in Foster City/Redwood Shores area and contrasts with the San Mateo coast that includes Half Moon Bay and Pacifica.

The following is a ranking of selected Santa Clara County cities or areas with their current DUI readings and last month's calculation in parentheses. Even though there are a lot of "improving" notations made, these areas are still in what we call a "buyer's market". Just some markets are much better off than others.

  • Los Altos, Mountain View, Palo Alto - 61 (last month -83) - improving
  • Cupertino - 61 (94) - improving
  • Almaden Valley - 129 (120) - worsening
  • Los Gatos, Saratoga - 134 (126) - worsening
  • Campbell - 79 (128) - improving
  • Cambrian - 111 (148) - improving
  • Sunnyvale - 106 (152) - improving
  • Willow Glen - 140 (163) - improving
  • Milpitas - 141 (210) - improving
  • North Valley - 248 (263) - improving
  • Downtown SJ - 242 (275) - improving
  • Evergreen - 213 (303) - improving
  • South San Jose - 372 (446) - improving
  • East Valley - 542 (662) - improving
  • Morgan Hill, Gilroy, San Martin - 440 (698) - improving
The median price for single family homes in Santa Clara County was $743,500, down from $799,000 in December and down from the record high reached in April 2007 of $868,400. This is a decrease of 14.4% from the peak. There is still an emphasis (overweighted percentage) of higher-priced homes sold as opposed to the more affordable homes but not as pronounced as last year when the sub-prime loan problems started in February 2007.

Median prices for single family homes by county in January 2007 were:

  • Santa Clara County - $743,500
  • San Mateo County - $877,500
  • Santa Cruz County - $610,000
  • Monterey County - $500,000
These median prices are back to the levels reached in early 2006. The price range with the lowest DUI is called the "sweet-spot" of the market. For January as is was in December, the $1,000,000 to $2,500,000 range is the most brisk. Next comes the $750,000 to $1,000,000 range and then the under $450,000 range. For condo/townhouses the picture is similar but slightly better with a DUI reading of 216, down from 264. Potential real estate investment buyers take heart as the DUI picture has continued to deteriorate to a reading of 563, down from 529. This means under the current rate of sales of multi-unit properties, there are about 1.5 years of supply! The "sweet-spot" of the multi-unit or investor class is the range $1,000,000 to $2,500,000. If not for this range's activity levels, this segment would even be worse! Lenders have substantially increased the borrower's minimum requirements to obtain a loan for investor property purchases.

Why is following all these statistics worth it? I believe that informed clients make the best decisions. The research and staying on top of the changes to market conditions allows me to properly advise my clients on the appropriate strategy to employ so that they make the best decision possible. This is one area I part company from other real estate agents who don't invest the time and would rather spend time working on self-promotion ads for newspapers, magazines and fill your mailbox with either "brag" cards or "spray and pray" cards.

The various real estate markets are too complex for media sound-bites or headlines as they generalize too much (i.e., the national real estate market, the Bay Area real estate market, etc.) and you lose the fineness of being able to use information strategically to make better decisions. These publications are often weeks and sometimes up to a couple of months later than my data which comes directly from the multiple listing service of actual transactions.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to post them here or send me an email at

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Real Eats -- Aldo, Los Altos, CA

Real Eats – Aldo, Los Altos, CA
Here are notes of a visit to Aldo by my wife and her two friends last week. I was so impressed with her writing and comments about this restaurant that we've added it to our list!

My two friends and I don’t often have a chance to get together for lunch so when we do, we like to make it special.

We drove to downtown Los Altos on Main Street to look around in some of their shops before lunch. After shopping, we had to make a decision – where to have lunch.

We decided on Aldo, an Italian restaurant on Main Street. Their tag line is "cicchetti e piatti piccolo" or "eat small…live large!" Their menu has something for everyone, even my friend with the limited palate. Choices range from salads, both large and small, paninis, pastas, main courses and, of course, their cicchetti (pronounced chi-ket-ti) or small bites. Our beverages were promptly served along with a wire-coned shaped basket of a variety of unusual but tasty breads. Two of our party chose the Toscana con Pollo which is a bread salad with diced bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, capers, red bell pepper and grilled chicken breasts. The salad was huge! I tasted a bite of the chicken and it was delicious – the seasoning permeated throughout. I chose the Pappa al Pomodoro, a rustic, Tuscan-style tomato-bread soup, although I chose to have the bread cubes served on the side. It was an extremely tasty bowl of soup. Along with the delicious soup, I ordered the Caprese side salad because I love Caprese and this one was served with a twist – grilled eggplant. Along with the eggplant were sliced tomato and mozzarella cheese layered with basil, EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and topped with a balsamic vinegar reduction which gave it a slightly sweet flavor.

The service and food was worth the upscale pricing and I would gladly return to try some of their fabulous menu offerings. Arrive early for better seating as we arrived at 11:30 am and when we left about an hour later, tables both inside and out were nearly full. Parking is also better for early arrivals.

Aldo Los Altos
388 Main Street
Los Altos, CA 94022


Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Cost versus value report -- 2007

Remodeling Magazine, published by Hanley-Wood, LLC, Washington, D.C., has been publishing the "Cost vs. Value Report" annually for some twenty years. The 2007 version compiles information for 65 metropolitan areas (top remodeling areas) on 29 upscale and midrange home improvement projects estimated by HomeTech Information Systems (, which publishes estimating software for professional remodelers.

What do the numbers have to say? Higher cost estimates for projects coupled with lower resale prices have tipped the percentages to below 100% with minor exceptions. New for this year is an online source (requires registration) for free city reports. If interested, go to A map on the site shows cost comparisons by region.

Here are samples of midrange projects for the Pacific Region along with its average percentage of cost recouped:
  • Bathroom addition - 83%
  • Deck addition - 108%
  • Family room addition - 84%
  • Master Suite addition - 87%
  • Bathroom remodel - 96%
  • Home office remodel - 68%
  • Major kitchen remodel - 96%
  • Minor kitchen remodel - 103% (one of the projects I have advised my clients to consider)
  • Roof replacement - 85%
  • Siding replacement - 82%
  • Windows replacement (vinyl) - 98%

Hope this information is of help to you as you decide on remodeling projects to either enhance the value of your home for immediate reselling or to enjoy the lifestyle benefits of the improvement before you eventually sell.

For more information and to view the entire report online, please visit If you want a professional opinion of potential payback for a project you are contemplating, please let me know at For a referral to a licensed tradesperson to obtain quotes or just to talk it over as you firm up your plans, please let me know. The only thing I get for a referral of this type is the knowledge that my client will be well-cared for.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Owning property with a non-spouse

As a real estate professional, I come into contact with individuals who are planning to purchase a property with another person not their spouse. This is an extremely tricky area because the partners could have a falling out or something happens to one of them to change their mind about their share of the ownership.

  • One, a father told me that his son and his girlfriend were going to buy a home together. I suggested that his son and girlfriend needed a written contract or an agreement as they weren't yet married. The father's remark was something like "of course they will get married, I'll disown my son if he doesn't marry his girlfriend". Now, I was just trying to help and head off some potential problems that may have occurred due to their non-spousal relationship.

  • In a second situation, I was working with a young professional women who wanted to purchase a commercial building to relocate her business to. Her other real estate investment was in a partnership with three other women. She suggested that the three others buy out her portion so that she could proceed with her business plans. When my client received a ridiculously low offer, she had no recourse other than to hire an appraiser and attorney to convince her partners of the proper valuation. No written contract was ever discussed or completed as they all were "good friends". This situation continued to unravel for over a year and even then still had each of the partners paying large legal fees to their own attorneys.

Attending a recent broker's tour meeting at the headquarters of the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors, I heard Nancy Chillag speak to these types of arrangements. Nancy Chillag is an attorney who has practiced law for over 20 years and specializes in construction law, representing both contractors and homeowners. What follows are my notes of her presentation. Hopefully, they will help you keep away from problems that do not have to even come up.

Nancy's first piece of advice is to always have a written contract.

Her second bit of advice was to ask some basic questions before getting into a partnership:

  • Who's going to contribute what to the venture?
  • How are negative cash flows going to be handled?
  • How are repairs and maintenance expenses going to be handled?
  • How is the non-payment by a partner going to be handled? By a loan from the other partner(s)?
  • What type of situations will cause one or more of the partners to a buyout of the remaining partner? This is commonly referred to as a "buyout provision" as part of an exit plan. For instance, many corporations have a succession plan to prepare for the replacement of key executives.
  • How will the value of the property be determined? One manner could be that each partner hires an appraiser and then the appraised amounts are averaged.

Of course, nothing in state law requires that an owner stay with another owner that he/she doesn't want. If the situation disintegrates enough, Nancy said that may call for a partition lawsuit where one partner sues to partition his/her share. Courts normally order a sale of the property and make it subject to their approval. A costly method to employ that often results in less interest by buyers as they don't want to get involved in someone else's legal web.

If you are considering a real estate investment with at least one non-spouse owner, get things taken care of in advance. Contact Nancy Chillag of Chillag & Associates in Menlo Park. Visit Nancy's website at She has also authored "Building by the Book: Legal Advice for Contractors" and "How to Survive a Remodel" a book I have in my library.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Finding Willie Mays or how to find lost money

Unclaimed Property -- assets which the owner has neglected, abandoned or just plain forgotten gets transfered to the state. All states have laws related to unclaimed property called "escheat" laws. The initial purpose of these laws was to ensure dormant assets -- uncashed checks, bank deposits, securities in brokerage accounts, valuables in safe deposit boxes, even gift cards -- were returned to their owner. However, states running into budget problems have used some of this unclaimed property as a source of funds. States do make some effort to return property to their owners but this effort is woefully inadequate. California, for example, is holding more than $5 billion in unclaimed property. Combining all states, the total balloons to more than $35 billion!

To learn more about unclaimed property and to see if you own a portion, you may visit or The first site is sponsored by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators and the second is run by Affiliated Computer Services and each have the capability to do national searches. In searching sites, it will be helpful to have the owner's last known address handy. I have found that having previous addresses were helpful as well when doing a thorough search.

Using the site, I was able to locate about $500 of unclaimed property in a state I've never been in! I went through the process of putting a claim together with supporting documentation (keeping good records pays off!) and received a check for my "lost money".

Oh, as to finding Willie Mays, my favorite baseball player of all-time and the hall of fame San Francisco Giants slugger. The state is holding some $3,000 in unclaimed property for Mr. Mays even though he's been at the same address for more than 30 years!

Thanks for reading and hope this helps you find your lost money.