Preparing Your Home for a Winter Sale

Posted on December 08, 2014 by Mark Stevens

Preparing your home to sell in the winter months

             What makes selling a home more stressful? Selling it in the middle of winter. What makes selling a home less stressful? Following these tips and hiring an agent who can, and will shoulder the bulk of the burden. Your lawn is brown, the weather is probably wet and overcast, and, unlike the longer days of summer, you have less time to open it to prospective buyers during the much sought after daylight hours. Not everyone has the luxury of waiting until the traditional spring or summer home-buying season to plant that “for sale” sign in the front yard. While it’s true that in most areas you’ll probably have fewer buyers during the winter, you will have less competition from other sellers. And, luckily, Sonoma County ‘typically’ has mild fall and winter months – save for our “El Nino” years. Be prepared to put a little effort into the process – it’s more difficult to make something look really appealing this time of the year. The trees are baron, the grass is a tinged shade of yellow green and the ground is littered with crunchy leaves. If you do it right, you can really make your house stand out.

  • Keep ice and standing water at bay

If the buyer can’t get in easily, the house won’t sell. That means keeping walkways and driveways free of standing water and slippery sheets of ice. Just like trimming the lawn in the summer, make the home looks like it’s been maintained. Consider salting the ice sheets, and revamping the walkways, so as not to allow rainwater to pool.

  • Warm it up

If you’re showing your home during the winter, think “warm, cozy and homey”. Think roaring fires and football games. Think spaghetti sauce and pumpkin bread. Think warm blankets and a ferocious storm. Before a buyer comes through, adjust the thermostat to a warmer temperature to make it welcoming, but not too warm – 70° is found to be a very comfortable temperature for most. If you have a gas fireplace, turning it on right before the tour can give the house a little ambience. With a wood-burning fireplace, you’ve got to be a little more cautious. If the house is vacant, don’t chance it. But if you’re still living there and will be there during the tour, it can add a nice touch. Many times, sellers leave right before the buyer’s agent and prospective buyers arrive. In that case, adjust the heat to a comfortable temperature and have the hearth set for a fire. Buyers feel the warmth and see the potential, and you don’t have to worry about safety concerns.

  • Take advantage of natural light

Encourage showing during the high-daylight hours. Make the most of the light you do have. Keep the curtains and blinds cleaned and open them as wide as possible during daytime showings. Clean all the lampshades and built-in fixtures, and replace the bulbs with the highest wattage that they will safely accommodate. Before you show the house, turn on all the lights.

  • Wash the windows

Windows are one thing that many sellers don’t even consider. In winter, that strong southern light can reveal grime and make it look like the home hasn’t been well maintained. Routinely wash the window interiors, and have a cleaning service to come give you a good scrub down on the exterior.

  • Play music softly in the background

To create a little atmosphere, tune the radio to the local jazz station (KJZY). Turn it down so that you barely hear it in the background. Soft music tends to have the most appeal to buyers. I think people tend to stay around a little longer and look a little longer.

  • Make it comfortable and cozy

Set the scene and help the buyers see themselves living happily in this house. Consider things such as putting a warm throw on the sofa or folding back the thick comforter on the bed. Tap into the simple things this time of year that make you feel like you’re home.

  • Give the home a nice aroma

The number one favorite – Chocolate-chip cookies. Just about everybody likes that smell. Or snicker doodles – love those. Other popular scents: cinnamon rolls, freshly baked bread, apple pie, apple cider or anything with vanilla, cinnamon or yeast. But don’t overdo it, either – candles in every room or those plug-in air fresheners can leave buyers wondering what you’re trying to mask. And let’s be honest – they don’t smell good. Watch the bad smells, too. Pet smells, smoke and musty odors can cling to curtains and carpets. Ask your real-estate agent or a friend to give it a sniff test. Then clean the house, air it out and replace drapes, carpets or rugs as needed before you show it.

  • Protect your investment

Some sellers (or their agents) will ask buyers to either remove shoes or slip on paper “booties” over their footwear before touring the house. Many buyers like that, it shows a pride of ownership and meticulousness that resonates with buyers.

  • Use the season to your advantage

When the holidays are over (all decorations should come down pretty quick after the holiday), you can still use winter wreaths and dried arrangements around the door to spark interest and add some fun, festive color.

  • Set up timers

You want your home to look warm and welcoming whenever prospective buyers drive past. But you’re not home all the time, so put indoor and outdoor lights on timers. Look at the outside lighting around the door. Is there enough illumination to make it inviting? If not, either get the fixtures changed or have new ones added.

  • Make it festive

Even if you’re not actually going to be present, greet your buyers as if they were going to be guests at a party. Set up the dinner table with the good china and silver. Have a plate of cookies for your guests, some warm cider or even chilled bottles of water. First impressions are so powerful. If it looks like you’re expecting me and greeting me as company, that’s a powerful impact.



Thanksgiving Recipe – Clam & Wine Pairing

Posted on November 24, 2014 by Mark Stevens

Restaurant autumn place setting

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, a time for family, friends and community, and of course, food. What a better time to share a Thanksgiving Dinner recipe with you all?  This is a delicious appetizer that I don’t think is very common among many tables in Sonoma County.  It is a simple yet warm and welcoming finger food, ensured to make all of your Thanksgiving guests wanting more.

Diced Clams on Toasted Baguette


  • 1 can minced clams
  • 1 8oz package cream cheese
  • Worcestershire Sauce, 1 tablespoon – (more or less to taste)
  • Lemon Juice, 1 tablespoon – (more or less to taste)
  • Garlic Salt – to taste
  • Sourdough baguette


Mix the clams, cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and garlic salt together

Chill in covered dish

Spread on thinly sliced rounds of sourdough baguette

Broil until lightly browned

Serve warm

Wine Pairing: Pair this appetizer with a crisp and refreshing Pinot Gris.  The acidity from this white wine will be a great duo with the cream cheese in the clam appetizer.  Make sure to serve the Pinot Gris ice cold. Sip, bite and enjoy!



The Final Walkthrough – 6 Things to Check

Posted on November 10, 2014 by Mark Stevens

You’re so close, that place you can’t wait to call home is almost officially yours. But don’t start picking out furniture and paint samples just yet. You should have already had a home inspection completed, but a final walkthrough is a necessary step to take before closing. The intention for this process is to ensure that the house is in the same condition as it was when you signed the purchase agreement. Here are the main things to check during a walkthrough.

#1. Main Structure

Check that all doors and windows open properly and aren’t cracked, make sure that the walls, ceilings and floors don’t have any new damage or obvious new stains.

#2. Plumbing

Check the plumbing throughout the house. Turn on all of the faucets and showerheads and then turn them off to see if they drip. Check the water pressure. Check underneath the sinks for leaks. Flush all of the toilets to check for leaks and not loose.

#3. Appliances

See that all of the appliances are working correctly. Test the dishwasher, the washer and dryers, the fan above the stove.

NOTE: Appliances are usually sold as is in present condition.

#4. Heating & Cooling Systems

Test both systems to see if they are running right. Turn both on one at a time to check if they work.

#5. Cleanliness

Make sure the previous owners have removed all of their belongings and the house is “broom clean” or otherwise agreed to.

#6. Repairs

Finally, double check that all repairs or any other items that were put into the contract, have been met.

Sonoma County Harvest Fair Winners

Posted on October 01, 2014 by Mark Stevens


2014 marks the 40th year of the Sonoma County Harvest Fair and the results of the professional wine winners are in! The wine competition is the largest regional wine competition in the United States and the awards are deemed highly regarded. Below are the three Sweepstakes winners for wine in Sonoma County. An entire list of winners can be found here. Congratulations to all 

Sonoma County Harvest Fair 2014

 Sweepstakes White

Selby 2013 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc at $15 

Sweepstakes Red

Balletto 2013 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir at $42 

Sweepstakes Specialty Wine

Windsor Vineyards Sonoma County Blanc de Blanc at $32


Also worth noting, Sonoma county celebrates the its top winemakers, growers, microbreweries and culinary artists. Congratulation to the honorees! 

Other Awards

Outstanding Young Person in Agribusiness Award

Lise Asimont of Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Excellence in the Craft Beer Industry Award

Bear Republic Brewery in Healdsburg

Excellence in Food Production Award

Bloomfield Organics in Petaluma

Lifetime Contribution to Sonoma County Agriculture Award

Al Cadd, Healdsburg Grape Grower

Radio Interview

Posted on September 26, 2014 by Mark Stevens

Last week I had the pleasure of being a guest on the talk show, Real Estate 360 on the Wall Street Business Network.  I had the chance to elaborate on my current listings which span across Sonoma, Mendocino, and Napa counties as well as the Peninsula and Central California.  There was wine business talk as well as gushing about some of my favorite wines.  If you would like to hear the program in its entirety click here. Thank you again to the entire RE360Radio Team!

Sonoma County’s Laid-Back Side

Posted on September 05, 2014 by Mark Stevens

Sonoma County offers a diverse collection of wineries that appeal to a wide spectrum of visitors.  If you are looking for an over the top sparkling visit, Sonoma County has you  covered with some of the most luxurious wineries here: 10 Luxury Wineries in Sonoma.  If your style is more laid-back, don’t worry, most wineries in Sonoma County have that down to earth vibe.  As a visitor or native, make sure to give all types of a wineries a try. I promise, they won’t disappoint.

Truett Hurst Winery: Located off of Dry Creek Road, Truett Hurst Winery is the perfect place to go and relax for any occasion. Whether you are enjoying a glass of zinfandel by the creek or walking the 5 acres of gardens, this winery hits the nose for a laid back feel.


 Kokomo Winery: When visiting Kokomo Winery you are sure to run into one of owners/winemakers talking with quests and pouring wine behind the tasting bar. This casual tasting room is located in the same space as the cellar creating a lively and interesting atmosphere, especially near harvest.


Red Car Winery: Walking into Red Car Winery there is an instant feel of being in a friend’s living room. With a comfortable couch in one corner and a table with card games in the other; it provides a great environment to relax and have fun with friends over some wine. 


Dutcher Crossing Winery: Dutcher Crossing Winery, also located off of Dry Creek Road, offers amazing views of the valley. Enjoy a tasting with the attentive tasting room staff and then take your lunch out to the picnic benches to soak up the sun.


Landmark Vineyards: Sitting at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain in the Sonoma Valley, Landmark Winery encompasses the leisurely style of wine tasting. With choices of where to relax; either in the tasting room, beautiful courtyard, or grassy lawn near the pond, there is something for everyone.


 Hook and Ladder Winery: There are two great locations to visit Hook and Ladder Winery, the main tasting room off of Olivet Road or on Main Street in Sebastopol.   The Olivet location offers a gorgeous outdoor setting to relax or take on a game of bocce ball with fellow tasters. 

HookLadder_0McPhail Tasting Lounge: One of the Macphail Tasting Room’s is conveniently located at the Barlow in Sebastopol. You have a choice to sit at the bar inside or sit at tables under umbrellas outside for your tasting. Stop in while you are out and about in Sebastopol, it doesn’t get more laid back than that!

MacPhail Joseph Phelps Vineyards: If you are headed out to the Sonoma Coast make sure to stop by Joseph Phelps Vineyards in Freestone. Outdoor seating for your tasting and one-on-one attention from the staff provides a relaxing vibe.