Cheeky Los Gatos Article from 1892

Tucked away on the back page of the San Jose Daily Mercury from Monday September 5th, 1892 is an amusing and impudent little article titled “The Effect of the ‘Mercury’ on the Gem of the Foothills”.

It reads:San Jose Mercury-news, Volume XLII, Number 67, 5 September 1892

San Jose, says the Los Gatos News, is making a lively bid for Los Gatos favors. The Mercury has arranged for a daily news budget and an agent (his name is Dennis) is canvassing the town for subscribers. Like the Novitiate College and Glenridge, the Garden City will soon be applying for annexation to Los Gatos. No doubt San Jose envies us our felicitous zephyrs and the picturesqueness of our mountain scenery and would like us to divide the honor which the Gem of the Foothills monopolizes on the Pacific Coast. We advise our Town Board to go slow on San Jose. It would be well to modestly suggest that our patronizing sister first purge herself of the discordant elements which have been blazoned from the electric tower and have been made so conspicuous in the councils of the body politic before we risk the chances of admitting her to our peaceful realm. We will take the Mercury on probation and if the evidences of peace and good will develop a tendency to reform in these important particulars, we may, at some future time, consider a proposition to admit San Jose as a suburb, providing she will allow us the privilege of attaching to her main sewer to the Bay, or offer some other equally persuasive inducement.

The author sets up the joke right at the start. The News and the Mercury are competing daily papers; the Mercury (based in San Jose) is hawking subscriptions in Los Gatos (home of the News) while condescending to the Town in it’s publications, at least in the author’s opinion. In response the author (presumably from our little Town and proud of it) turns right around and patronizes them back! This article references contemporary issues, from overtly bragging about annexations and reputations, to addressing the desired expansion of public utilities (sewage, in this case), and takes jabs at San Jose’s first attempt at electric street lighting and the “San Jose Electric-Light War”! What a cheeky piece of history!

Santa Clara Valley Water District’s 140 Miles of Pipelines: many need replacement or repair

Water distribution pipe in Los Gatos (Hilow Road, behind La Chiquita)When the San Bruno fire and explosion occured, many Bay Area residents wanted to find out where PG & E’s major gas pipelines were located.  Rightfully so, as there’s a risk associated with being too close to a major gas artery.

What about water transmission lines – the large distribution pipelines? Water, too, must come to neighborhoods and do so via distributory pipes.  As with any infrastructure, repairs and replacement will sometimes be necessary.  And at times, the need for the work will become apparent only when there’s a problem.  The Santa Clara Valley Water District reports that it has 140 miles of pipelines.  There are periodic failures and leaks – google the question and you will see repairs in the last 5 years in various parts of Santa Clara County.  Today’s San Jose Mercury News sports a front page article on an 8 foot high, 31 mile long pipe which suffered an enormous leak last summer.  This pipe supplies about 40% of the drinking water to Santa Clara County.  Luckily, where the breach happened the property damage was minimal – only a meadow flooded as it was near Casa de Fruta along Pacheco Pass.  The Merc tells us this:

On Aug. 1, a section of the underground pipe suffered “catastrophic failure,” sending 15 million gallons of water into a cow pasture near Casa de Fruta along Highway 152, according to water district staff reports.

At 5:30 that morning, water district technicians at the Rinconada Treatment Plant in Los Gatos noticed a sudden change in pressure. Realizing they had a break, they shut off valves and stopped the gusher within an hour.

How fortunate that this major break happened in a rural area.  But I find myself wondering, as with the gas pipeline, if instead of flooding a meadow, could it have destroyed homes?  Of course.  Fifteen million gallons spewed over just one hour could be devastating.  

That said, I suspect that most of the distribution lines going into neighorhoods are not as big as this transmission line, which sounds like the major artery for our area.

Where are the distributory pipelines in Los Gatos, and in the San Jose area generally?

Home owners don’t usually know where these lines are, and home buyers are unlikely to learn their whereabouts.

If you are buying a home in Silicon Valley, you will be given a Preliminary Title Report and that will include easments relating to the property in question.  If a water distribution pipeline is on or next to your property, it would likely show up on that report and visible on the plat map.

If the distributory pipeline does not create an easement, though, it is very likely that it will not be disclosed because the home owners usually do not have the slightest idea of its existence or proximity.  We have natural and environmental hazard reports to let us know about earthquake faults, underground water contamination, and many other important things, but to the best of my knowledge, the location of large water lines is not included.    I have looked all over the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s website to see if they offer a map of the distribution lines, but I’m not finding them.  I’ll inquire, do some more research, and hope to add to this discussion soon.

If you have info on this topic, please email me.  (I’ve had to disable comments because I was getting 1,000 spam comments to 1 real one.)

Remembering San Jose’s "El Dumpo":What Makes a Fixer a Fixer?

March 10, 2008

The San Jose Mercury News was a Realtor’s close friend in the 50s, 60s and 70s. It was more current than the multiple listing book (which at that time was updated about once a week with tearout or replaceable pages) and scanning the ads was crucially important to know what was going on back then. Each morning, my mother, Pat Pope (a Realtor from ’56 to ’96) would pour over the Merc with her morning coffee to stay current on the market.

The "El Dumpo" ad ran in the San Jose Mercury News for years in the 60s or 70sMost of the ads were pretty plain.  One stood out for its frank humor – and it ran for what felt like years. The “old timers” in the industry may remember it. In large letters, this San Jose fixer-upper was listed boldly as “EL DUMPO”. It eventually did sell but while being marketed, gave a lot of folks the chuckles.


So what makes a home a “fixer”?

In my real estate practice, I find that buyers, sellers and agents can all have a different idea of what constitutes a “fixer”. It comes down to a matter of degree.

Simply put, a fixer is a home that needs a lot of work.

At one end of the spectrum, there are homes that have been updated now and then over the years – perhaps with a kitchen remodel that’s now 20 or 25 years old – but not recently. The carpet and paint need replacing and the look could be newer, but the home is well maintained and clean. Is it a fixer? The sellers won’t think so and may be offended if that label is applied to their home. The agents may view it as borderline. Buyers may view it as “liveable but needing work”. Or maybe not – perhaps they will wonder how the current owners could live in a home with that condition. They may consider it a fixer.

Orange formica countertop in a Milpitas house that was full of needed "fixes"At the other end of the range is the “bulldozer”. These are homes that have not been kept up at all: not updated, not even cleaned. They may have dysfunctional floorplans, illegal additions. They may need more than fixing; they may need replacing.

Once when my kids were out of school (vacation or inservice day) on a real estate board tour day, I took them along with me to see a few homes. We pulled up to one in Monte Sereno. The structure was sitting on a perflectly flat view lot close to Daves Avenue. The house was the kind of thing that makes a person say “ewww” when opening doors and seeing unpleasant, moldy surprises. My daughter, then about age seven, saw it and proclaimed wisely “Mommy, it’s a ‘dozer'”.

Here are the types of things that will make virtually all buyers and Realtors view a home as a “fixer” (not just one of these, but multiple issues):

  • major systems in need of being replaced, such as the roof, electrical system, plumbing, heating
  • floors badly out of level (foundation work needed, drainage work needed)
  • baths and kitchens that are 40 years old
  • fireplaces and chimneys that need rebuilding or extensive repairs

And here are a few more that may invoke the “fixer” label (or the milder “cosmetic fixer”) among homebuyers and real estate agents:

  • Textured or popcorn ceilings may contain asbestos. This one actually has gold sparkles with the texturing too - a popular look a few decades ago!popcorn or textured ceilings
  • paneling or (most older) wallpaper on the walls
  • single pane windows
  • cracked and stained concrete – driveways, walkways, patios
  • lack of in-ground sprinklers
  • ugly landscaping (obviously a little subjective)
  • baths and kitchens more than 20 to 25 years old or in out-of-date colors
  • old (or stained) carpeting or other floorcovering

For agents, it’s helpful to clarify with buyers what they mean when they say “I want to buy a fixer”. They may mean “replacing carpet and paint is OK” but nothing else. Or they may be willing to tear down a house and rebuild a new one for the right lot and location.

Kitchen with a pink countertop, stained sink and floral wallpaper - this is a fixer upper house in San Jose.For buyers, it’s important to be clear with your agent what kinds of things you’d be willing to do for the right price, and how much is too much.

For homeowners who may be thinking of selling, don’t worry about completely updating your house because someone may view it as a fixer upper. You won’t get your money back in the short term if you replace your kitchen cabinets, for instance. But it’s a mistake to take the stance that “the buyer can fix it” for everything extreme. Many buyers cannot envision how nice your kitchen would be without the brown and white flowered wallpaper and without the brown vinyl or linoleum flooring. Some fixes will make you money when you sell and some won’t. Floorcoverings and paint are often a good investment.

Please call me if you’d like to discuss your particular situation and how to maximize buying or selling a home that may be a fixer.

Mary Pope-Handy, Realtor, CRS, ABR, e-PRO, SRES, ASP, RECS, CNHS, ACRE
Helping Nice Folks to Buy & Sell Homes Since 1993
Co-Author: “Get The Best Deal When Selling Your Home In Silicon Valley”
408 204-7673 (Cell)