Leave a comment

When I was growing up, some of the neighborhoods we lived in had no fences between the properties.  In Florida, we’d race along the back yards over to the canal where we would catch tadpoles in big jars to take home and watch the weird transformation from ball-with-a-tail to frog.  There was a huge parcel of empty land behind us where I’d go to dig holes and cover them with weeds, thinking I could trap something – I was always disappointed since I never caught a thing. 

 Today, fences are de rigueur in most places and can sometimes cause a real ruckus in a neighborhood.

 There’s a city nearby, where the neighbors have been feuding for years about a fence that is too tall.  The rule is not much enforced in the city except when a neighbor complains.  So a neighbor complains and the people with the illegal fence sue the city about the disparity – other properties have high fences but the city doesn’t go after them.  Litigation goes on for awhile, heads roll and the city has to pay a large penalty.

Down the street from us, a new buyer for a home on a semi-busy street put up a 6’ fence all around their front yard.  2 months later that fence is cut in half because its illegal to have a 6’ fence right on the line between your lawn and the sidewalk…doh!

 Its not that hard to find out what fence regulations are.  Many cities have the information on their websites and handouts available at the Building Department.  Plus its still possible to get an answer the old-fashioned way – by making a phone call 😉

Kentucky by oops_christine at http://www.photobucket.com

A client is adding an addition to their house, stretching towards the back fence.  Zoning Ordinance says that the house must be 15’ from the rear fence and, according to the parcel map, that’s not a problem.  However, when the contractor measures out the footprint of the addition, the fence is encroaching on the property by 1 foot.

Now, we wondered a) will the City inspector require proof of the property line?  b) require the fence be moved?  c) not care?

Rather than take a chance with the inspector, the client opted to have a survey done.   This will prove to the City that the addition is outside the required setback.  Without proof, the addition might have to be reduced by a foot, which doesn’t sound like much but it can be the difference between a nice soaking tub and a boring shower stall.

There have been times when fences are WAAAY off!  Even in regular neighborhoods, like ours, a fence was 3’ off, and not in our favor, either.  We weren’t building a new fence there, so it wasn’t a big deal.  But, we knew that it could become an issue one day if our neighbor did their own addition.  Then they’d redo the fence giving themselves that 3’ and we’d lose some yard.  Oh well.  But, knowing that the discrepancy existed we weren’t going to build or plant anything serious in that 3’ area. 

You might have read in the paper where 2 property owners, let’s call them the Hatfield and Mccoys, each with many acres, were in a dispute about one of the property lines.  This went on for years while they argued and fussed with each other.  At one point, the Hatfields supposedly passed onto the McCoy’s property – just hiking the land they said – and Mrs. McCoy brandished a bb gun at them for trespassing– didn’t point it at them, though.  For this heinous crime (the bb gun brandishing), Mrs. McCoy has to go to jail.  For heaven’s sake, people!  Get surveys!  Get mediation, arbitration, SOMEthing!  Don’t just stew about it.

Back in the old days people were loose and fast with fences, didn’t pay much attention to actual surveys, they mostly just did what seemed right.  Lot corners aren’t always 45% angles and the back property line isn’t always perpendicular to the front property line.  Frequently the only survey done on a property was when it was originally created, maybe 80-90 years ago (or longer), and as fences get replaced these lines get blurred a bit until the encroachment is noticed and the discrepancy fixed.

If you ‘lose’ property when the fence is rebuilt, the property is actually exactly the same; the only change is your perception of the property.  You are still paying for the same amount of land.  And you didn’t own the piece you were enjoying by accident.

On the other hand, if the fence is wrong in your favor, you can fix it!  You are paying property taxes on that land without getting to use it.

How much is a survey?  Recently, one of our clients paid $1000 for having the  property lines located.  If you want the survey recorded officially at the County, then there are other fees for that – our area is around $700 for those.

If a neighbor is unhappy, then we suggest that each property owner hire a different surveyor to help resolve the issue.  Maybe hire a third-party to help mediate if things get really sticky. 

http://www.obviousdiversion.com This fence transforms into a picnic table, counter and seat!

If you feel the need to check your property lines (Don’t get all bent out of shape, now.  Most of the time its not going to be a big deal!)  here’s some help in getting started:

Get a copy of your Assessors Parcel Map.  This can be found at the County.  If you go to the Planning Department, they might give you a cc or your County might have them online, like mine does.  You can search for your property and print the map.  You can do a quick and dirty measurement of your property and see if this is something you need to pursue. 

If the Planning Department can’t (or won’t) give you a copy, then go to the County Recorder’s Office and ask for one.

The County Recorders Office might have a Record of Survey for your property, too.  Don’t assume anything, though.  Some ROS are really old and might not be much help.  For instance, Willow Glen, in our area, was its own little town and then was incorporated into San Jose.  Prior to becoming part of San Jose, property owners owned to the center of the street.  But when the City took over, they also took over responsibility and ownership for the street, so the parcels got smaller. 

Romania, either Rick or I took this picture. I was fascinated by the meticulous detail put into all the gates and fences.

You’ll also need to find out from your local Building Department how a property is defined.  Sometimes its to the street or to the sidewalk or not even to the sidewalk.  That way, you’ll know where to begin your measurements.

Take it easy 😉


There I fixed it!

Leave a comment

What in tarnation?

Uh, no points for creativity…


Is there a deck in the plans at some point?

This website – www.ThereIFixedIt.com – is filled with hilarious pictures of kludges – some of which are quite ingenious.  Here are a few of those that relate to the home-improvement (?) world. 

Won't last in earthquake country!

At least there is an access chair...

Hood seems kinda low, but I guess that's one drawback of using jacks.

This is what you get when staying cool is more important than, well, than common sense, obviously!

It may be inelegant but this is ingenious!

Maybe cheaper than poking a hole in the roof, but the heat loss in winter will be rather severe!


This is cute as a button and they said it works!


This house, in Cambria, CA, was built in response to (or retaliation for) Hearst Castle.

Crazy!   😉

Quality, Value and Common Sense

1 Comment

My mom, my sister, Rick and I went to the Birth of Impressionism exhibit at The deYoung Museum in San Francisco a couple weeks ago.  The exhibit is on loan from the Musee’ D’Orsee.

I was thinking that I would be bored out of my skull.  I’m not high-brow enough to like ‘Birth of Impressionist’ art, right?  I mean, honestly, I really liked an photography/art installation of Maori clans and their tattoos.  Me and Impressionist art?  Not so much…

Well, surprise, surprise, surprise.  Take this picture.  Officially, its called Arrangement in Grey and Black.  Unofficially, its called Whistler’s Mother.  Normally, when you see a picture like this in a magazine or catalog, you think it’s a boring painting of a dull person by some old guy.

Whistler's Mother - Arrangement in Grey and Black - Portrait of the Painter's Mother

And yet…the work on this painting is exquisite.  Her dress, black as night, has subtle tones of different shades showing the fall of the skirt to the floor.  I always thought she looked stern, like she was eating lemons.  But she looks completely approachable, like you and she might have an enjoyable conversation (but she wouldn’t gossip, oh, no, not ever), the soft lines on her face indicate kindness and you can tell how her son felt about her, his work with the brush is true to her elderly form but with a loving hand.

 I’d forgotten how moving these classic works can be.  My mom brought up the fact that years ago our family had seen the original painting Blue Boy.  I think I might have been in 6th grade or so.  I remember being struck by the glorious color.  He looked like he was alive and could step right off the canvas.  That is the first time I can remember understanding what art was and how it can move you.

Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough

Not to say that we liked ALL the works in the Exhibition.  There was an oil painting, about 4’ x 4’, of white turkeys in a yard.  White.turkeys.in.a.yard.

Sixteen square feet of white turkeys in a yard.  That’s a lot of space for a painting of turkeys…in a yard.    

 Sometimes, a copy feels the same as the original, or ‘close enough for government work’ as the saying goes.  You love  Eames original chairs?  Well, there are similar chairs you can get instead for much less.  You love crystal?  How about cut glass instead?  Faux fur vs the actual pelt, bathroom tile ‘seconds’ might have flaws you won’t even notice (or care about).  I love silver (I’m a real magpie when it comes to shiny objects) but I also love aluminum and pewter, so I’m not stuck with a taste only for the expensive stuff that I can’t always (read rarely) afford.

 Other times the copy cannot do justice to the original and you get what you pay for.  Of course, most of us don’t have a wallet large enough to buy this kind of art, but sometimes the price is worth it.  Ever had a towel start fraying at the edges with its first wash?  Ever broke out in a rash from using a soap you got at a discount store?  Got green on your finger after buying a ‘silver’ ring?

You can make your dollars count by determining where you can scrimp and where you shouldn’t.  Quality, value and common sense.  Where do you need that WOW factor?  I used WOW products in areas that were important – such as the large window over the claw-foot tub.  We asked John Joy to put in a stained glass window.  http://www.johnjoystudio.com/artist.htm   

Window by John Joy

Wine label tiles in the butler pantry.  http://www.tilebydesign.net  

Wine label tiles

 Crystal chandelier in the dining room (but I’ve already shown you that picture…)

The picture following, taken before the tile was installed, shows you what a difference the tilework makes in the space.

without the tile

Does your bathroom floor HAVE to have whiter-than-white imported marble from Barcelona (believe me, the whitest is the most expensive).  How about putting that money to work where it counts, like on-demand hot water tank or solar panels on the roof or pavers in the driveway instead of concrete or Hardi-Plank siding instead of wood (it’s a cement product, very durable) or even uber-green stuff like a rain water reclamation system, landscaping your roof or buying a barn in Idaho and shipping it out here and having it re-planed into flooring – which isn’t the greenest thing, actually, because of the gas and effort it takes to get the barn pieces to wherever you are.

 OK, now I’m swirling in a cloud of indecision…is it green, is it not-green?  I need an Excel spreadsheet to calculate it all.

 Example:  Cement can be recycled, yet it is created by digging up the earth.  A product like Silestone or Caesarstone is a green product because it is created from other recycled products, YET it cannot be recycled itself because those recycled products are glued together with a product that can’t be recycled.  Granite is green but, again, you’ve dug up the earth to get it.  Its starting to feel like a no-win situation…

 But, then along comes a paper countertop – yes, paper –  and which can be made of 100% post-consumer recycled paper.  That’s pretty cool.  But, the product isn’t made ONLY of paper, there are resins involved – nice, green resins, they say, with Zero VOC and stuff like that there.  I don’t have samples in my hands yet, but I’ve ordered some.  They say its hard, extremely durable and can be sculpted like hard wood.  Hmmm, sounds good to me.  Now, all I need is a price comparison.  But, hey, that’s what you’ll do when you do your Quality/Value/Common sense test, won’t you!  😉


Leave a comment


by Alfred Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

 A tree provides shade, oxygen, food, lumber, medicine and shelters creatures of all kinds.  Some people revere the tree more than any other living thing, and surely its value is great.  Breathe in, breathe out, thank a tree.

Eudora in Pescadero

This tree, named Eudora, is in Pescadero and my niece has taken many of her friends there to appreciate the uniqueness of it.

 When you have certain trees on your property, however, you might come to consider them less highly than you once did.

 Trees of Heaven, for instance, are really a Tree From Hell.  You can’t get rid of them and they grow so fast!  They are a weed tree that will strangle everything else for dominance.  And, they drop sap on your vehicles, ugh.

We had 11 or so of the darn things on our property when we bought the place and had to get permission from the City to remove them, they were so large.  Fortunately, it doesn’t cost a lot, normally, to get a tree removal permit.  The actual removal of the blasted things costs about $1000 per tree!  Yikes!  We still have about 5 to be removed, but 3 are small and need no removal permit (this is true, honest).  It has to be done soon, though, because they are cramping our sycamores.

Tree From Hell

You can see from the picture, they pop up anywhere and I have to keep after the little buggers every week.

 In our area, there is frequently a huge uproar anytime someone wants to remove a tree to make way for a house or an addition or stop the damage they’re causing.  In one town close by, the Sheffield’s had to replace every tree being removed with 2 trees.  Mrs. Sheffield had a forest on her property and, taking down 7 trees, meant she had to replace them with 15!  Fifteen!  Even the Arborist doing the report on the trees argued against planting so many on the property, he said none of them would have a chance to grow so crowded up to each other.

 Once we had a neighbor complain that we were building too close to the oak that we shared (on the property line, thanks so much whoever planted it in 1970-something).  He actually had the gall to go to the public hearing on the matter – yes, everyone gets a chance to air their complaints when you are taking down a tree – and speak against, not the tree we were removing – which was what the hearing was FOR – but against the new foundation we had to add next to another tree.  Did he care so deeply about that tree when he tore into the rootball to build his own driveway?  Not really.  Some people…

 There are rules about building within the dripline of a tree, or driving over the area where the roots are, using pavers instead of concrete or asphalt around a tree, special fencing to protect it and so forth and so on.  Which, is mostly for the good, but, of course, it can be taken too far.

 A few years ago we had a client who was told that his addition was too close to a tree.  He either had to take the tree down OR hire an arborist for $1600 to determine how to mitigate the effects of construction so that the tree would not be harmed.  So, he got a permit to remove the tree (about $250), but, after construction, he ‘forgot’ to take the tree out…5 years later, the tree is thanking him!

 We recently visited Tahoe, which was the loveliest I’d ever seen it, we spent most of our time at one beach or another and I finally got a start on my tan. Anyway, we noticed that homes are built within a couple feet of the pines with no noticeable damage to the tree – they seemed pretty happy to us, but in our area, we have to stay outside the dripline or there will be hell to pay.  Why the difference?

Framing the view in Tahoe

Residents of Tahoe have a nice compromise to the problem of trees destroying their fabulous, money-making views.  They trim off the boughs in the offending area.  Tree above the lake, tree below the lake and only trunk at the lake.  We didn’t even notice for awhile.  It was almost like it was framing the view.

 We went to Acapulco a few years back.  (yes, we were pulled over by the Policia for ‘running a red light’  and had to pay them a bribe of $50)  We stayed where Liz Taylor had resided filming ‘Night of the Iguana’, with spectacular views of the bay.  The lady-of-the-house, Alicia, in anticipation of our visit, had gone to her neighbors and asked if she could have a tree trimmer come and get rid of all the dead palm branches.  She took flowers with her to each house to kind of bribe them.  It was part of the Homeowners Association rules that trees be trimmed to preserve the views, but poor Alicia had to keep going back to them, with more flowers, to beg for access.  It was worth it from my standpoint, I could sit on that patio for the rest of my born days!


Neighbors are always having feuds over trees.  I once looked out my window to see a hand sneaking over the back fence, dropping little bundles of branches that they had trimmed from our fig tree.  What the heck?  Legally, they were allowed to trim branches and take fruit that hung over the fence, but they aren’t supposed to dump it back on our side – and they did that with fruit, too!  Not enough to cause me to gripe too much at them since they loved our dog and rarely fussed at him for barking.  Give and take – that’s being neighborly (but, I can mention it now because I have a blog and they don’t 😉

There are neighborhoods in a feud with one another because the street trees are oozing something nasty that’s tracked into houses and ruining carpets and dripping onto cars and ruining their paint. 

Another city is dealing with neighbors arguing over trees vs solar panels.  The trees have to be trimmed constantly or removed.  And the problem is it’s the neighbor’s tree.  Tricky, that.

Liquid Amber trees have these spikey seedpod ball-things that people are always tripping over and falling and who do they sue?  Not the City that planted them, but the homeowner who was luckless enough to be stuck with one (go sweep up the dangerous balls and 20 minutes later, the sidewalk is again a minefield).

Or, what about those Ginko Biloba trees?  In the Autumn they turn a glorious yellow and the entire sidewalk is covered, so beautiful.  But they have a horrendously stinky fruit that stains the sidewalk AND the air around it.  Yuck.  The fruit is prized by some people, though.  Unless you are one of those who use the fruit (in, what, Kimchee, maybe?), don’t get a fruiting Ginko Biloba…just don’t. 

Trees have their pluses and their minuses.  Some trees are special, some are just a nuisance and others, ironically, get it the way when we’re trying to be ‘green’ and save energy costs.    Let’s try for perspective when dealing with trees.

Unintended segues


Not sure if Rick or my cousin, Celeste, took this picture of a chef carving a melon

Its not easy to write up a blog – even one as prolific as I am.   I’m in the process of writing a few posts, you know, adding ideas here and there…and they keep getting hijacked.

I start the post on one thing and by the time I’m done, its gone in a completely different direction which is irritating.  Sometimes, I’ve completely lost my point (and don’t you dare say that its totally normal for me, regardless of how true it is).  I hit ‘save’ and figure I’ll come back to it.   Then I start on a new subject and again end up in random directions >sigh<

I’m working on a post about trees – how hard can that be?  And another on the value of quality and the real thing – you’d think that would be easy, too.  But, no, they twist and turn around the subject and finally end gasping for breath without actually getting to their point.   Hmmm…do I need more sleep?  another drink?  more fiber in my diet? 

...and if the carver boo-boos, he has to try to turn it into something else or he has start all over with another melon

I’m probably trying to say too much…need to split the post into multiple ones.  

Well, with that said, I’ll go back to work on that post on trees.

hmmm, wonder what my friends are doing on FB?

gotta check email one more time…and search for Chuck Norris on Google…


Changing Your Mind…or…having it changed FOR you

1 Comment

This is your mind beFORE you begin a project

Image: Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


And this is your mind once you’ve begun…

Scrambled egg from http://www.startcooking.com


It can drive you crazy.  You’ve chosen all your colors and model numbers – you’ve even got pictures of the faucets, tiles and flooring – and every room has its own section and Excel Spreadsheet in your Project Binder.  Then, you find a big sale on a different chandelier that throws the entire interior design out of whack…aaargh!

 When I look at my original spreadsheets I want to laugh, HA!  Hmmm, was there a hint of insanity in that laugh?  Oh, the changes we went through; colors, bathroom cabinets, tile murals, lighting, marble, garage doors. 

Color Materials Suppliers

You have to make a change because the item you want has a shipping date that’s too far out for the contractor’s installation requirements.  He needs it on X date and it won’t arrive until Y.

Or…ever buy 2 faucets, go to install them, find one is broken, take it back only to find its been discontinued and there isn’t another to be found in the enTIRE KINGDOM?!?  Oh, sorry, did I get a little loud there?)

Breathe in, breathe out…

Don’t be dismayed.  You’ve got to go with the flow.  Take a deep breath and think about your choices.

  1. How much is your time worth?  Does changing the bathroom tile save you enough money to warrant the extra work of choosing new paint and faucets?  The Domino Effect
  2. Is the sale item what you wanted in the first place?
  3. Will this sale save you crucial Budget money?
  4. Is this a choice you even need to make?  What happens if you just let the sale pass you by? 

 In our case, my husband, Rick, cared about a few things very deeply (the look and feel of a room and what was behind the walls and in the attic) and mostly gave control of interior design over to me.

Middle Bath


EXCEPT when he saw something he really liked and threw my entire materials list into flux.  He loved, absolutely LOVED some mosaic tiles in white, black and shades of gray and wanted to use those in the middle bathroom.  Which meant that the paint and floor tiles were all wrong. 

That is the Domino Effect.  We were wavering on the floor color (light, medium or dark bamboo) and the kitchen cabinet color.  We found flooring we liked and took a piece of it around to the cabinet shops to find a good match.  What we discovered was that we didn’t like the cabinets that matched.  This meant we had to toss our flooring choice and pick a cabinet color, THEN choose the floor.

We decided that all the door hardware was going to have a bronze-finish.  So, to me, that meant that the light fixtures also had to have a bronze-finish (not the bathrooms, they are stand-alone rooms and can be chrome – is that goofy?).  And that meant that the kitchen faucet had to be bronze, too.  But the garbage disposer didn’t have a bronze ring (a little irksome, but I let it go) and I wasn’t able to find a crystal chandelier with a bronze finish that I liked (i.e. less than $1000). 



So, I had to decide:  shall we change the hardware so that the chandelier matches?  At some point I had to release my inner-retentive-interior-designer and allow the chandelier to be silver and crystal regardless of what the rest of the house looked like.

 Honestly, there is only so much you can do.  At some point you have got to tell yourself to STOP.  There will ALways be another sale, always another supplier you haven’t checked out.  At some point you have to let go of the options, stop looking at sale catalogs, stop surfing the ‘Net!  Just stop.  There will be a withdrawal period, but hold firm and move forward.

 I know you can do it 😉 

%d bloggers like this: