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Underground Snow Melt Systems: Home Improvement Idea of the Day


The long months of winter often leave homeowners dreading the task of shoveling their driveways and walkways to clear snow away to improve safety and accessibility. Here in Bend, we can have snow from October until May in some extreme seasons. Most people shovel snow by hand, while others have snowblowers. But the home improvement that intrigues me the most this time of year is an underground installation to automatically melt snow away. Steep driveways and walkways are dangerous when covered in snow and ice. It can be time consuming to shovel snow and scatter ice over walkways. With an automatic snow removal system, you can spend more time enjoying winter with less stress!

Most underground snowmelt systems are constructed with the ability to melt snow at a rate of about one inch per hour. The systems can be installed under new concrete or asphalt driveways, sidewalks, walkways or pavers. Existing driveways and sidewalks also may be retrofitted for radiant heat systems. A snowmelt system uses a series of tubes that are filled with an antifreeze solution and includes a sensor that can detect temperature and moisture changes.When snow starts falling, the system will automatically turn on and start warming the pavement, preventing snow from sticking. Snowmelt systems also include a manual setting in order to bypass the sensor, if desired.

With an underground snowmelt system, the antifreeze solution increases the temperature of the pavement to about 35-40 degrees F, using a system that supplies 150 BTUs (British Thermal Units) per square feet of surface area. This should melt falling snow at a rate of about 1 inch per hour under "typical" winter conditions.

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While some homeowners might try to take on a snow melting system as a DIY home improvement project, your best bet is to hire a professional. Installation of an underground snowmelt system will require both a concrete/asphalt contractor and an electrician. Once you install an underground snowmelt system, it is practically maintenance-free. Operation costs are low (electrical power) and are more than offset by an increase in the longevity of your driveway, patio or walkways. Damage from shovels or salt and other chemicals are avoided with a snowmelt system. In addition, the system is more eco-friendly!

Unlike snowblowers, an automatic snow removal system operates noiselessly and without fumes. With automatic turn-on features, you can literally awaken in the morning to cleared driveways and sidewalks. When you don't have to worry about visitors or family members slipping and falling in front of your home, winter is a much less stressful season!

Listing Your Property When You Have a Tenant


Let’s say you’ve owned an investment property for several years, but now you want to sell. When there are tenants involved, there are a few additional considerations. Obviously, you’ll have to consider the terms of the lease and double check applicable landlord-tenant regulations before you take the next step. But that isn’t the only factor that will affect the contemplated sale. With an experienced team on your side, however, you’ll find it easier to navigate the process of selling leased property. 

You will first need to review the terms of the lease agreement, paying particular attention to termination provisions. Note that in today’s COVID-19 environment, it can be more difficult to terminate a lease, even if the agreement makes such an allowance. While landlord-tenant online resources are available, a brief consultation with a real estate attorney is advisable to review any applicable restrictions.


Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Once you are satisfied the lease may be terminated, determine a potential date for listing your property and call your tenant to discuss your plans. Be sure to follow up any discussions with a written letter that constitutes legal notice under the lease. Among other things, you may wish to provide additional time for the tenant to move out, make other accommodations such as offering to lease a similar property, or assist with move-out expenses. While such incentives may not necessarily be required under an agreement, your tenant may be more cooperative with some concessions, which can help ensure a hassle-free sale. Remember, you are setting the stage for cooperation throughout the time the property is listed and once a sale is pending.

After you are ready to list the property, many property owners find it easier to manage this stage of the process if the lease has been terminated and the tenant has vacated. If they are still residing on the property, however, be sure to create a clear and realistic plan for showings and establish expectations for the tenant during the time the property is on the market. Provide ample notice of the date and time persons will be entering the property including brokers, potential buyers, inspectors, appraisers or any other person involved with the sale.

Make sure everything is wrapped up in accordance with the lease and any other agreements before closing. You may wish to schedule an extra day after closing before the new owner takes possession for a deep clean of the property and any additional repairs before handing over the keys. Some buyers may even be willing to take over the existing lease as landlord, but such an arrangement should be prepared and reviewed by an attorney well in advance of closing.

Contact us at, and let us help you sell your rental property today.

Zinnias: Easy Plants for Your High Desert Landscape and Containers


Looking forward to spring? Zinnias are one of the easiest landscaping and container garden flowers to plant and maintain. Zinnias come in a full rainbow of colors. There is also a range of sizes, from low-growing plants the size of marigolds, to giant, towering zinnias that can match the height of dahlias. Perhaps the best feature of zinnia flowers is that you can practically plant and forget them. Water as needed, dead-head them infrequently, and enjoy the showcase of dazzling colors throughout your landscape or in your container gardens.

Zinnias make great cut flowers, too. Think bouquets are too expensive? Grow your own with a zinnia garden!

While botanists will tell you there are over a dozen zinnias species, not many of them are found in residential landscapes. Zinnias are part of the Asteraceae (or Compositae) family of flowers. Asteraceae is one of the largest families, with 1100 genera and 25,000 species, found with the greatest diversity in semi-arid regions, like Central Oregon.

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Photo by Andy Makely on Unsplash

You are probably most familiar with Zinnia elegans (syn. Z. violacea ), also known as the common zinnia. Although they might appear to be several different species, the same species is represented in tall, medium-sized and dwarf varieties. While the giant blooms of dahlia-like zinnias are impressive, many gardeners prefer compact zinnia flowers for small spaces and container gardening. Among the most popular include dwarf versions of Zinnia haageana , specifically "Persian Carpet" and "Old Mexico" and the 8-15-inch Z. angustifolia "Crystal White." In the past 25 years, Z. angustifolia and Z. elegans , were successfully bred to create "Profusion," "Cherry" and "Orange" zinnias that offer the best of all worlds when it comes to easy to care for plants: tolerance of heat and humidity, resistance to disease, no deadheading, compact growth and impressive 2-3 inch single flowers.

Zinnias prefer full sun (6 hours or more) and moist but well-drained soil. My in-laws always say that you should put a $5 plant in a $50 hole, rather than a $50 plant in a $5 hole. This means that, if you prepare your soil properly, you are much more likely to have gardening success! So, invest a bit more in soil amendments, then enjoy sowing the relatively inexpensive zinnia seeds, or planting seedling starts without worry.

Once your zinnias are planted, they really do need little care.  Water as needed, but not too much to drown them.  In the garden, you should fertilize twice during the growing season, using a 20-20-20 water-soluble mix.  Alternatively, you can go with a slow-release or organic fertilizer mixed into the soil.  This is also recommended for container gardening.

Whether you love working in the garden (or perhaps particularly if you don't) growing zinnia flowers is an easy way to add a splash of color and personality to your landscape.  Enjoy the bright blooms without concerns of frequent deadheading and disease.  Cut flowers for enjoyment indoors with the satisfaction of knowing that the buds will quickly be replaced.  What more could you want in an annual flowering plant?

Tiny Homes and ADUs in Central Oregon


One of the most frequent questions we get asked as real estate brokers is, “Can I build another small home on this property?” Sometimes referred to as “granny flats,” these structures are technically called accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. Many homeowners desire an additional space for guests, elderly parents or college age kids with a separate entrance, bathroom facilities and even a kitchen.  And one of the hottest trends for smaller-sized living spaces is found in the “tiny home” concept.

In Central Oregon, the rules on tiny homes and ADUs are varied. Buyers should be aware of general requirements before planning to build a separate, stand-alone dwelling structure. If your property is within city limits (Bend, Redmond or Sisters), an ADU may be permissible, provided it is sized, setback and permitted appropriately. On rural properties, however, zoning may prohibit you from adding another living space that is disconnected from an existing home.

You should always check zoning and permitting requirements before making a real estate investment. A land use attorney – or a broker that is also licensed as an attorney - can help you confirm what uses are allowable on any particular parcel. If your current and long-term plans cannot be achieved on one property, an experienced realtor can help you find alternatives.

Another cautionary note regarding tiny homes is that, where they are allowed, the structure must be built on a permanent foundation. It cannot be mobile, e.g., on a chassis or frame, unless sited within a mobile home park. In addition, tiny homes may not exceed 600 square feet in size and all required permits for a typical residential structure must be obtained. Some units are also required to have a sprinkler system. An experienced professional can guide you through permitting requirements and estimated costs.

Not all people that are interested in tiny homes are considering an additional living space. The trend toward minimalistic, efficient interior spaces at affordable prices catch the eye of many potential home buyers. The cost of construction of a tiny home is less than a traditional single-family dwelling. Moreover, the designs are particularly attractive to young adults who may balk at the idea of a modular or manufactured home. Throw in the “cool” factor, and tiny homes become that much more attractive. The major drawback in Central Oregon, however, is that a tiny home on wheels is not permitted. That means that land still must be purchased or leased, and other requirements for new construction, including system development charges and utility hook-ups must be met.

Whether you are considering constructing an ADU, a tiny home, stand-alone office or even a she-shed, there are many properties in Central Oregon where you can achieve this dream. Our team can guide you to the right property for you!

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Photo by Danielle Rice on Unsplash

Easements 101


What, exactly, is an easement? In simplest terms, it is a property right granted to another person to use a portion of your property for a specific purpose.  The most common easements found on title include access easements (also known as ingress and egress easements) and utility easements. An express easement is one that is recorded against the property. These are typically – but not always – straightforward. An implied easement is a right that has developed over time, usually by continued, regular use of the property by a neighboring property or even the general public. A claim of implied easement may be more difficult to prove and often involves dispute resolution to formalize the parties’ respective rights, or lack thereof. We see these issues arise when a “short cut” is allowed over property for access, whether on foot or in vehicles. They can also be implied by necessity for land-locked parcels.

Easements do not expire when property changes ownership. Once granted, they automatically transfer to future owners, unless revoked or cancelled by both the easement holder and the property on which the easement exists. When you are considering a purchase of real property, you will get a title report. The title report will list any express easements recorded against the property. It will not, however, show whether there is a claim to any implied easement, unless litigation is pending and a lis pendens has been filed.

Here’s what you need to know when purchasing real property that is burdened by an easement.

First, as your real estate brokers, we are happy to review the title report with you and help you interact with the title company to answer any questions beforehand. We want our buyers to be fully advised and have all concerns addressed before proceeding with the transaction! 

Second, easement rights are not typically contentious and may allow virtually full use of the property, provided that you not take any action that undermines the easement’s purpose. For example, a shared driveway easement cannot be blocked or gated without permission of the easement holder. Utility easements also must allow access by the holder of the easement to maintain or replace pipes, wiring or other equipment. Property owners can usually install landscaping and other, easily removable improvements without issue.

Third, remember that communication is key. This is definitely not the situation in which you take action first and request permission later! If in doubt, ask! Notify and work with the easement holder before you start making improvements in the easement area. They may even be willing to share costs with you if the improvements will also benefit their property.

Finally, keep in mind that the easement holder has protected property rights within the easement area, even though the easement is situated on your property. Act in a manner that is respectful to the rights of the easement holder and you will have much greater enjoyment of your property as a whole!

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Understanding the Capital Gains Exclusion


Your home is probably your most valuable investment. So, when you go to sell it, you should consider potential tax implications. We always advise our clients to review their investment strategies with a qualified professional. But it’s important to point out basic information that sellers can consider in deciding when and whether to list real property for sale. 

In general, you are subject to capital gains tax when you sell a capital asset, such as your home. The amount that is taxed is the increase in the value of the asset since the date of your acquisition. So, if you bought your home for $500,000 and then sell it for $600,000, that $100,000 increase in value may be taxed as capital gain.

Fortunately, there are ways around the IRS rules, which can allow you to keep more of that increased value in your pocket (or available for reinvestment). There are several “magic” dates to keep in mind, as well as residency requirements. You may also get more benefit from the capital gain exclusion if you are married.

The fundamental take away is that if you and your spouse sell your home and you have lived in that home as a primary residence for at least two out of the past five years, you may qualify to exclude up to $500,000 of any capital gain realized on a sale on your joint tax return. If you are not married, the capital gain exclusion is still up to $250,000 for qualified taxpayers.

What if you haven’t owned your house for two years? Although the capital gain exclusion cannot be claimed, there is a difference between short-term capital gain (one year or less) and long-term capital gain (between one and two years). People that have owned and lived in their home between 1-2 years will fare better tax-wise than those that sell within the first year. Of course, if you are close to either mark, it may make sense to consider waiting to list your home. However, some homeowners have decided not to wait, in order to “capitalize” on the hot sellers’ market. Even though they understand they may be subject to capital gains taxes, these sellers determine that they would rather sell now than wait to risk a downturn in the market.

There are many other factors that influence the amount of gain you may realize on the sale of real property, including a stepped-up basis from improvements. Other rules apply to installment sales contracts, as well. Be sure to talk with your CPA so you are fully advised on potential tax implications of a sale. Keep in mind that no one knows what the future may hold as the tax code and regulations are always subject to change. But note that homeowners have enjoyed these capital gain exclusions since 1997.

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