Preparing for the Busy Tax Season in Single Family

Preparing for the Busy Tax Season in Single Family

With tax season approaching, we interviewed Nicholas D’Agnillo, owner of Nexus Property Management, to get some tips on how owners can prepare in advance so as not to be swamped when the filing date is bearing down fast.

“Advance preparation is so critical that we won’t officially take on new owners until they’ve given us their W-9s and contact information so we can get their tax information to them reliably when the time comes,” D’Agnillo says. “It’s a bad idea to wait until the deadline is on top of you. You should be assembling the information your accountant will need ahead of time.”

D’Agnillo says that Propertyware has capabilities built in to record and easily transmit tax-related information to owners. “The software publishes a monthly report to the owner portal in case owners need to see interim numbers, and then produces a year-end report which we send to all the owners that’s ready for them and their accountants to use,” he explains.

Other tips from D’Agnillo include:

1. Set up “pro” accounts with Home Depot and other vendors so data is collected on property-related expenditures

2. Maintain separate business accounts for each property rather than lumping them together

3. Use credit cards, debit cards or checks rather than cash to pay for property-related goods and services, making it easier to keep records

“If you don’t have software such as Propertyware that keeps up with tax-related information, I’d suggest something like QuickBooks,” D’Agnillo says. “But of course it’s not tied into the bank and there’s no integration with the rest of your software, so your rental income information won’t flow right into your monthly and year-end report – there’s more manual work to do. I’m a Propertyware fan so of course I think it’s the best way to go not just for keeping up with taxes but for running the whole business.”

Nexus Property Management provides property management and investment realty services in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.


Drive, Walk or Take Transit? These New California Laws Are for You

A Los Angeles-bound Metro Rail train stops at the Lake Metro Link Station along Interstate 210 in Pasadena. (David McNew/Getty Images)

A quick rundown of new California laws affecting vehicle owners, drivers, bridge users, parking-ticket payers, pedestrians and transit passengers:

  • New fuel taxes and vehicle fees (SB 1): Higher fuel taxes included in the law, which aims to raise $52 billion over the next decade for road and bridge repair as well as highway and transit improvements, kicked in Nov. 1. A new “transportation improvement fee” of $25 to $175 — based on the value of a car or truck — will be added to vehicle registration fees as of Jan. 1, 2018. A new $100 fee for zero-emission vehicles will take effect in 2020. SB 1, and all its higher taxes and new fees, is currently the target of two recall campaigns.
  • Bay Area bridge tolls (SB 595): The bill authorizes a vote on raising bridge tolls by as much as $3 in the nine Bay Area counties. The vote is expected to take place in June.
  • Crosswalk countdowns (AB 390): The new law makes it legal to enter a crosswalk after a crosswalk countdown starts — as long as you get to the other side by the time the counter reaches zero. It’s important to note that another facet of previous state law remains unchanged: If you’re crossing at a traditional pedestrian signal — one without a countdown clock — it will remain illegal to start into the street once the flashing “don’t walk” (or red hand) begins flashing.
  • Cannabis — no use in vehicles (SB 65): New law extends existing California ban on drinking alcohol while driving and while riding in a vehicle operating on a highway and now also prohibits “smoking or ingesting marijuana or any marijuana product while driving, or while riding as a passenger in, a motor vehicle being driven upon a highway or upon specified lands.”
  • Cannabis — no open containers in vehicles (SB 94): Among the dozens of provisions of the legislation enacting the 2016 Adult Use of Marijuana Act is one that makes it illegal “to possess a receptacle containing cannabis or cannabis product that has been opened, or a seal broken, or to possess loose cannabis flower not in a container, while driving a motor vehicle, as specified, unless the receptacle is in the trunk of the vehicle or the person is a qualified patient carrying a current identification card or a physician’s recommendation and the cannabis or cannabis product is contained in a container or receptacle that is either sealed, resealed, or closed.”
  • Driving passengers for hire — new DUI limit (AB 2687, 2016): A law taking effect July 1, 2018, extends the reduced blood-alcohol limits in place for truck and bus drivers to those who drive for Uber, Lyft and similar services. The law makes “it unlawful for a person who has 0.04 percent or more … of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a motor vehicle when a passenger for hire … is a passenger in the vehicle.”
  • Parking tickets — payment plans for indigent drivers (AB 503): Creates a process that allows individuals with outstanding parking citations to repay their fines and penalties while preserving their ability to register and drive their vehicles.
  • Disabled parking placards (SB 611) Via the Sacramento Bee: The new law “requires the state Department of Motor Vehicles to tighten its oversight of the state disabled placard program. That includes reviewing the federal Social Security Administration’s ‘death file’ and canceling placards of deceased drivers.”
  • Parking tickets — no citations at broken meters (AB 1625): The new law prohibits local governments from prohibiting or
    restricting parking at broken meters or payment devices. However, parking at broken meters is limited to posted time limits.
  • Bus seat belts (SB 20): Effective July 1, 2018, the bill requires bus drivers and passengers to wear seat belts in buses that are equipped with them and requires drivers to notify passengers of this requirement and the fine for not wearing a seat belt either before departure or with posted signs or placards.
  • Motorcycle training courses (AB 1027): The new law allows the Department of Motor Vehicles to accept a certificate of completion of an approved motorcyclist training program in lieu of a driving test and specifies that people under 21 must complete a novice program.
  • Transit fines (SB 614): The new law reduces fines for fare evasion and other passenger conduct offenses specified by state law (for instance, smoking, eating or playing loud music on trains or buses). The law also requires that low-income and minor riders be given the choice of community service in lieu of paying fines for such offenses.
  • Testing autonomous vehicles (SB 719): You may not believe this, but California’s official rules of the road require a minimum of 100 feet of space between vehicles moving down the road. One of the promises of autonomous vehicles is the potential to operate closer together, in effect adding capacity to our existing highways. SB 719 provides for continued testing of “technologies that enable drivers to safely operate motor vehicles with less than 100 feet between each vehicle or combination of vehicles until January 1, 2020, and requires Caltrans to submit an updated report on the testing to the Legislature on or before July 1, 2019.”

What Your Itemized Deductions On Schedule A Will Look Like After Tax Reform


by Kelly Phillips Erb –



With all of the focus on new tax rates after Congress green-lighted tax reform (you can see those new rates here), it’s easy to forget that some of the biggest changes don’t have anything to do with tax rates: They’re about deductions.

For 2018, the standard deduction amounts will increase from $6,500 for individuals, $9,550 for heads of households (HOH), and $13,000 for married couples filing jointly, to $12,000 for individuals, $18,000 for HOH, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. Most taxpayers will claim the standard deduction.

Initially, the change in the standard deduction amounts was meant to simplify the deduction scheme. In other words, most of the itemized deductions would have simply disappeared, leaving behind (initially) the charitable donation deduction and the home mortgage interest deduction. Over the past few weeks, however, those itemized deductions – those found on a Schedule A – have been tweaked.

Sched A

(For a full-sized version, which will download as a pdf, click here.)


Here’s how Schedule A will be affected for the 2018 tax year following tax reform (numbers correspond to the numbers in the blue circles on Schedule A):

  1. Medical and Dental Expenses.Medical and dental expenses remain in place with a lower floor. We call it the “floor” because you can only deduct expenses over that number. The floor – before tax reform – was 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Here’s how it worked. Let’s say your AGI is $40,000 and your medical expenses were $5,000. Assuming you itemized, you could claim $1,000 as a deduction, or $5,000 in expenses less the floor (10% x $40,000 = $4,000).

Under tax reform, the 7.5% floor is back in place for two years beginning January 1, 2017 – that means that it applies to the 2017 tax year. So assuming the same facts above, you can claim $2,000 as a deduction, or $5,000 in expenses less the floor (7.5% x $40,000 = $3,000).

Again, unlike most of the provisions in the bill, the provision is effective retroactively to the beginning of this year – so you’ll see this change on your 2017 and your 2018 tax returns.

  1. State and Local Taxes.Under tax reform, deductions for state and local sales, income, and property taxes normally deducted on a Schedule A remain in place but are limited (see #3 below). Foreign real property taxes may not be deducted under this exception.
  2. SALT caps.While SALT deductions remain in place, there is a cap on the aggregate, meaning that the amount that you are claiming for all state and local sales, income, and property taxes together may not exceed $10,000 ($5,000 for married taxpayers filing separately).

State, local, and foreign property taxes, and sales taxes which are deductible on Schedule C, Schedule E, or Schedule F are not capped. This means that, for example, rental property – even if held individually and not in a separate entity – remains deductible and not subject to these limitations.

And yes, Congress already knows what you’re planning, so amounts paid in 2017 for state or local income tax which is imposed for the 2018 tax year will be treated as paid in 2018. In other words, you can’t pre-pay your 2018 state and local income taxes in 2017 to avoid the cap. There is not, to date, a similar restriction for property taxes.

  1. Home Mortgage Interest.So, first, the home mortgage interest deduction didn’t disappear. But it did get modified. Here’s what you need to know. First, the definition of acquisition indebtedness is important: It’s indebtedness that is incurred in acquiring, constructing, or substantially improving a qualified residence of the taxpayer and which secures the residence. Home equity indebtedness is indebtedness other than acquisition indebtedness that is secured by a qualified residence. Those distinctions are important (more in a moment) no matter what they’re called by you or by the bank.

As of December 15, 2017, there’s a limit on acquisition indebtedness – your mortgage used to buy, build or improve your home – of $750,000 ($375,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). For mortgages taken out before December 15, 2017, the limit is $1,000,000 ($500,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). It’s even more complicated because beginning in 2026, the cap goes back up to $1,000,000, no matter when you took out the mortgage.

And here’s where that definition is super important: For tax years 2018 through 2025, there is no deduction available for interest on home equity indebtedness.

  1. Charitable donations.Charitable donations remain deductible under tax reform. The rules are largely the same with a few changes. First, the percentage limit for charitable for cash donations by an individual taxpayer to public charities and certain other organizations increases from 50% to 60%. Two, taxpayers are no longer entitled to deduct payments made to a college or college athletic department (or similar) in exchange for college athletic event ticket or seating rights at a stadium. Those provisions are effective beginning in 2018.

Effective beginning in 2017, the provision which allows for an exception to the substantiation rule if the donee organization files a return is repealed. What this means to taxpayers: Always get a receipt.

And if you follow me on Twitter, you already know that for some inexplicable reason, the charitable standard mileage rate will not be adjusted for inflation under tax reform. It remains at a disappointing 14 cents per mile (for other mileage rates, click here).

  1. Casualty and Theft Losses.The deduction for personal casualty and theft losses is repealed for the tax years 2018 through 2025 except for those losses attributable to a federal disaster as declared by the President (generally, this is meant to allow some relief for victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria).

For more on casualty losses after a disaster, click here.

  1. Job Expenses and Miscellaneous Deductions subject to 2% floor.Miscellaneous deductions which exceed 2% of your AGI will be eliminated for the tax years 2018 through 2025. This includes deductions for unreimbursed employee expenses and tax preparation expenses. To be clear, it includes expenses that you incur in your job that are not reimbursed, like tools and supplies; required uniforms not suitable for ordinary wear (like those ABBA costumes); dues and subscriptions; and job search expenses. These expenses also include unreimbursed travel and mileage, as well as the home office deduction.

Please note that the elimination of unreimbursed employee expenses only affects taxpayers who claim an employee-related deduction on Schedule A. If, as a business owner, you typically file a Schedule C, your business-related deductions are not affected by the elimination of Schedule A deductions.

  1. Itemized Deductions.The overall limit on itemized deductions is suspended for the tax years 2018 through 2025.

Want more taxgirl goodness? Pick your poison: follow me on twitter, hang out on Facebook and Google, play on Pinterestor check out my YouTube channel.

GUIDE: Best Holiday Hikes in the Bay Area

Coyote Hills Regional Park. Moderate 7-mile Bay View trail in Fremont, California. (Courtesy of Mark Wagner)

Hiking is undoubtably a Bay Area pastime. When we asked our readers to share their favorite trails for a post-Thanksgiving jaunt, we received a few hundred replies from every corner of the bay — Livermore to Pescadero, Muir Beach to Mountain View, San Jose to Sonoma.

The trails include Little Yosemite, Brushy Peak and Gray Whale Cove. Some of you didn’t want to share your secret, “quiet” getaway from the hiking hordes. (“Like I’m telling. I don’t want my place to get overrun like Mission Peak,” wrote Paula Baez.) Yeah, we get it. Others quipped that their “hike” was a stroll to the fridge (Jacque Sommers) or that “relatives might get lost” (Winston Fox Nelson). And yet others shared sweet memories of the trails. (“The 8-mile trail to Point Reyes [is my favorite], mostly because it was the first of many hikes I took with the woman I married,” wrote Mark Falstein.)

Many of you did share your top picks — and pics (some with horses, dogs and kids in tow) — as well as your own telling names for trails, such as “deer tick trail” in Mount Diablo State Park, and some insider tips on park gems, like a cow named Stella in Rancho San Antonio Preserve, the abundance of banana slugs in Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve, and historic Willson Camp in Henry Coe State Park.

“It’s so hard to choose; they’re all my favorites,” wrote Barbara Baksa. Yes, we agree. And we hope some of these hikes will become new favorites for you, too.


Contra Loma Regional Park

“The reservoir loop AND the surrounding steep hills trails at Contra Loma in Antioch. Such a hometown treasure of scenery & wildlife.” — Kathy Martin Barlow

Coyote Hills Regional Park. (Courtesy of Barbara Baksa)

Coyote Hills Regional Park

It’s so hard to choose; they’re all my favorites! But I’m from Fremont, so I’m going to go with Coyote Hills Regional Wilderness (Fremont, Alameda County), taking the boardwalk through the marsh, out to Alameda Creek Regional Trail, and then looping back around to the visitor center. It’s an easy hike (really more of a walk in the park) and we always see lots of pelicans, egrets, cormorants, and so many other birds.” — Barbara Baksa

Moderate 7-mile Bay View trail (cover photo above). “It offers views of the Bay from the Marin Headlands to the Gabilan Range south of Gilroy, the Peninsula west and east to Mt. Diablo, as well as a Native American archiological site. Red Hill is a nice short climb and the levees are tranquil.” — Mark Wagner

Joaquin Miller Park

“Joaquin Miller Park, in Oakland’s redwood forest! Difficulty varies, depending on which route you take through its network of trails. Very dog-friendly.” (Courtesy of Evan Meagher‏)

“Start with the Sequoia Bayview Trail. Gorgeous views, flat, easy … add in Palos Colorados Trail in the same park for hills and waterfalls. Moderate-short, but some steep sections. This park and adjoining Redwood Regional Park are just a few miles from downtown Oakland, filled with streams and redwoods, ferns, single track and fire roads. It is an urban oasis, dog friendly, something for everyone!” — Joyce Hayes

Lake Chabot Regional Park

Lake Chabot in Castro Valley. (Courtesy of Ben Monroe)

“Finally made it all the way around a few weeks ago, and it’s a marvelous trail.” — Ben Monroe

Morgan Territory Regional Preserve

Morgan Territory Regional Preserve in Livermore. Volvon Trail. (Isabella, Girl With A Truck and a Dog)

“The Volvon Trail loop is a moderate 5-mile hike with plenty of options to make it longer (grab a map in the parking lot). This hike is my favorite because of the quiet, open space, rolling hills, expansive skies, distant views that go on forever, and dogs are allowed. There’s hardly a soul on the trail.”  Isabella, Girl With A Truck and a Dog

“Morgan Territory is one of my favorites because of the gorgeous views, wildflowers in the spring, and it’s relatively close to my home. The Coyote Trail is almost completely in the shade and has a lovely stream during late winter/spring. Coyote is steep — great for getting in shape for Yosemite.” — Linda Wingerd Meamber

Looking towards Los Vaqueros Reservoir from Volvon Loop Trail on Morgan Territory Road. (Courtesy of Linda Wingerd Meamber )

Mount Diablo State Park

Mount Diablo State Park, photo taken from Black Point Trail. A challenging trail with about 1,800 feet cumulative elevation gain over 7.2 miles, starting from Regency trailhead. (Courtesy of Joyce Hayes)

“Mount Diablo! Hikes can be anything from easy to difficult, depending on where and how far you hike.” — Kendall Paul Oei 

Mount Diablo State Park. Mitchell Canyon, “deer tick trail.” (Courtesy of Yvette Mendoza)

Rockville Hills Regional Park

Rockville Hills Regional Park (Courtesy of Erika Amaya)

The park “in Fairfield (Solano County) is the most accessible park and closest to where I live. Trails range from easy to moderately difficult with some short, steep inclines. There is little excuse not to hike every week when this little gem is right in my backyard!” — Erika Amaya

Sunol Regional Wilderness 

Little Yosemite Trail, Sunol Regional Wilderness (Courtesy of Irina Fox)

“Little Yosemite … near my hometown Fremont, Alameda County. Real easy amble; beautiful live oaks ending at semi-seasonal waterfalls. Good for the whole family to take a stroll no matter your hiking level!” — Irina Fox


Golden Gate National Recreation Area 

Muir Beach-Tennessee Valley (Courtesy of Shiloh Shaeffer)

Difficult hike in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, from Muir Beach, California, head south up Coastal Trail to Pirates Cove, pick up Coastal again up Coyote Ridge, then back to the beach via Middle Green Gulch Trail.” — Shiloh Shaeffer

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Point Bonita Lighthouse (Courtesy of Jessica Sorenson)

“For somewhat urban hiking, Point Bonita Lighthouse. Paved trails from a parking lot, quite a descent, and you do have to pass through a tunnel bored through the rocky hill, and then over a footbridge that sits high above waves crashing against the rocky cliff-face below. Not for those with a fear of heights (or crowds).” — Jessica Sorenson

Mount Tamalpais State Park 

Mount Tamalpais State Park (Courtesy of John Vanschaemelhout)

We love the Matt Davis-Steep Ravine-Dipsea loop on Mount Tamalpais! I’d give it an easy-medium difficulty level.” — John Vanschaemelhout

Mount Tamalpais to Muir Woods: Start at Mountain Home Inn (parking and bus stop). Take the trail down to Muir Woods. Stop for lunch at the very organic cafe. Stroll along the stream under old-growth redwood trees. Surprise the tourists with your dusty ruggedness. Take a second trail back up to Mountain Home. Bring hiking poles: this is a steep walk both down and up. You’re hiking from a ridge down into a deep valley.” — Janet Basu

Samuel P. Taylor State Park 

Samuel P. Taylor State Park (Courtesy of Claudia Mocis)

“This is a picture from our hike to Samuel P. Taylor State Park, Lagunitas. This park offers the most beautiful hiking trails from easy to hard and you can spend a full day of hiking, exploring, resting and picnicking. Great place for everyone.” — Claudia Mocis

Trione-Annadel State Park

“This particular area had been my place for escape, enjoyment and exercise for years. I have particularly used the following easy access trail entrance from Annadel Heights Road (no fee and easy parking). The main entrance is subtle with a bit of signage and a steep start. Once over the hill and through a quick ravine, the trail splinters to a forested beautiful ravine to the left, or to the right up a beloved mountain bike path/fire road. Depends on your mood. Both wind up at Lake Ilsanjo, which is quiet peaceful. Multiple options to extend your route via map trail posted at the lake. I would suggest printing the trail map out ahead of time. You can start from Spring Lake (Sonoma County park) as well, which is easy walking to slight difficulty after about a mile with a brief incline.” — Julianne Odell


McNee Ranch/Montara Mountain/Montara State Beach

Gray Whale Cove Trail in McNee Ranch looking south to Montara. (Courtesy of Tracey Myers)

“McNee Ranch’s Gray Whale Cove Trail has the best the Bay Area has to offer. It’s dog friendly, has mountain and scenic views of the ocean with a good 8-mile climb to the top and back. It is a great place to escape the summer heat and get in a cool hike. You can stop at the overlook bench and admire your surroundings.” — Tracey Myers and the dogs (see below) Maverick and Wyatt Myers

Maverick and Wyatt Myers on Gray Whale Cove Trail in Montara. (Courtesy of Tracey Myers)

Portola Redwoods State Park

“The forest is surreal and its serenity is magically healing.” — Al Lavassani 

Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve 

Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. Kate Leigh: “Hard to believe it’s a real place — so close to civilization.” (Courtesy of Kate Leigh)

“Hard to believe it’s a real place — so close to civilization. It has everything: ocean views, redwoods, waterfalls, ferns, deer, banana slugs, and is really quiet if you can get there early or on a weekday. … My favorite hikes there have been super early morning in fog. I start at the top (Skyline Boulevard) hike down North Ridge to Whittenmore (Gulch Trail), back up Purisima, across Craig Britton, and then back up Harkins. … it’s best in fog if you ask me.” — Kate Leigh

“I would also vote for Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve in San Mateo County. You can start from the top at Skyline Boulevard in Redwood City or from the bottom at Higgins Canyon Road in Half Moon Bay. The last time I was there (a couple of weeks ago) I counted 436 banana slugs and 3 newts!” — Ed Miller

Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. Ed Miller: “The last time I was there (a couple of weeks ago) I counted 436 banana slugs and 3 newts!” (Courtesy of Ed Miller)

Sweeney Ridge 

Sweeney Ridge Trail (from Skyline College or Sneath Lane) (Courtesy of Pavel Jirousek)

“This photo is from the end of July, and it was taken from Notch Trail (between Sweeney Ridge and Skyline College) looking southwest toward Pacifica/Linda Mar. There are several reasons why I like this hike: Its convenient location/proximity from anywhere in the Bay Area, its connection to history both old (SF Bay discovery site by Portola Expedition in 1769) and more recent (Nike missile control site), and its many great views (SFO, Pacific Ocean, San Andreas reservoir.” — Pavel Jirousek

Windy Hill Preserve 

“This is Lost Trail, Windy Hill OSP, on a day when fog had settled in the bay, but it was clear up higher (opposite of usual).” (Courtesy of Kate Leigh)

Moderate. Good on any day year-round as long as it’s not too rainy. We did it just two weeks back. Check the view from top in photo below. We can see from San Francisco/Oakland to South San Jose (whole Silicon Valley) and Mount Diablo range across. Very beautiful. Offering variety (nature, loops, dog/no dog, bikes/no bikes.)” — Shailesh Sahasrabuddhe

Windy Hill Preserve. “We can see from San Francisco/Oakland to South San Jose (whole Silicon Valley) and Mount Diablo range across. Very beautiful.” (Courtesy of Shailesh Sahasrabuddhe)


Glen Canyon Park

Glen Canyon Park (Courtesy of Jeanette Boiteux Schabowski)

“It’s NOT my favorite. My favorite is a secret. This one is a gem as it’s accessible by BART yet hidden away and tucked away. While I was there, I talked to many people hiking it, and it sort of was known as a locals-only spot. What makes this nice is it has an amazing vibe, very interesting viewpoints. It offers a good workout, plus it has something that I really love when I hike, and that’s rock formations.” — Jeanette Marie

The Presidio 

Park Trail in the Presidio, San Francisco. (Courtesy of Arjun Adamson)

Park Trail in the Presidio, SF (just outside the WWII cemetery) is gorgeous when you catch the light hitting the trees, easy hiking.” — Arjun Adamson


There are so many great choices in Santa Clara County Parks: I recommend Sanborn County Park for north county residents (shady, hills, easiest is John Nicholas Trail); Santa Teresa Park for central county (park in the Pueblo Day Use area and walk in any direction); and Harvey Bear-Coyote Lake for south county. If you’re in the south, make a family trip to the Martin Murphy Trail — a 2-mile flat loop with free parking.” — Melissa Hippard 

Almaden Quicksilver County Park 

Almaden Quicksilver County Park (Courtesy of Dick Lambrechts)

“The Mine Hill/Randol Trail Loop (10 mile) is my favorite. Diverse landscapes and fantastic views on both sides of the hills. The historic quicksilver mining sites along the way also make it interesting to learn about the past of the area.” — Dick Lambrechts

 Henry Coe State Park 

Grizzly Gulch in Henry Coe State Park in Gilroy. (Courtesy of Cindy Seminatore)

“This (below) is Willson house (camp) located at the intersection of Wagon and Bowl Trails. … There is a picnic table, running water and modern restroom; makes for a great lunch spot. The hike in is moderate to advanced depending on what trail you choose to get to the house. The main trail, Wagon, is rolling hills with awesome views, other fingers of Wagon can be steep. … Wildlife is everywhere if you stop, look and listen. Most of the time I ride/ hike with my horse and never see anther person the entire day!” — Cindy Seminatore

Henry Coe State Park (Courtesy of Cindy Seminatore )

Joseph D. Grant County Park 

Avenue of the Noble Giants in San Jose’s Joseph D. Grant County Park. (Courtesy of Frederic Garzon)

It is difficult to pick just one! Let’s choose the most recent one …
Trail: Avenue of the Noble Giants
Park: Joseph D. Grant County Park – San Jose/Mount Hamilton
Difficulty: Moderate to hard (10.7 miles)
It has beautiful views at the top (Lick Observatory, Mount Umunhum, Loma Prieta, South Bay) and the wildlife there is amazing: feral pigs, deers, foxes, bobcats, rabbits.” — Frederic Garzon 

Mission Peak  

“Mission Peak, though I usually don’t hike to the peak.” (Courtesy of Ruhi Mehta)

“There are days when fog lends an ethereal look to Mission Peak. This picture was taken a couple of weeks before the first major storm hit the Bay Area. I love going up on the mission because besides being a great workout, it offers beautiful views. It’s this area’s most beautiful natural gym!” — Ruhi Mehta

Rancho San Antonio Preserve

Rancho San Antonio. Stella the cow in the park’s Deer Hollow Farm. (Courtesy of Cate Smith)

“Can range from easy (Lower Meadow to Deer Hollow Farm walking trails) to moderate (Wildcat Loop Trail). There are farm animals, deer, creeks, pretty views, and lots of shade along the paths. And who doesn’t love checking in with Stella the cow after?” — Cate Smith

Black Mountain — Rhus (Ridge) parking to top. 11 miles. Close by my hometown of Menlo Park. Light traffic. Good views. Hard hike.” — Vonnie Estes

Rancho San Antonio. Black Mountain Trail (Courtesy of Vonnie Estes)

The list could go on (and yes, we’ll add to it). But for the moment, a final thought from KQED reader Cathy Hagin: “Mount Diablo, Black Diamond Mines, Morgan Territory, Mount Tamalpais … so many in the Bay Area; we are very fortunate to have so much beauty surrounding us.” 

Did we miss a trail/park? Share your hiking picks with the reporter: 

This post has been updated.



Miranda Leitsinger has worked in journalism as a reporter and editor since 2000, including seven years at The Associated Press in locales such as Cambodia and Puerto Rico, four years at NBC News Digital in New York and 2.5 years at International in Hong Kong. Major stories she has covered included the aftermath of the 2004 and 2011 tsunamis, the initial military hearings at Guantanamo, the Aurora movie theater attack, the Newtown school shooting, Superstorm Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombing. Reach her at or

After a Wildfire, Making a Holiday Among the Ashes


By Leila Fadel –


This was supposed to be the Ekblad family’s first Christmas in their new home, a four-bedroom near a park in Ventura, that they stretched their budget to buy.

Allie Ekblad, 32, says she was ready for the holiday: For once, she had finished Christmas shopping early for her husband, Matt, 2-year-old Jace and 8-month-old Ava.

“The one year I’m ahead of everything,” she says, sighing. “I had everyone done, including the kids, stockings, the extended family. All done.”

Now the Ekblads are scrambling to re-create this year’s Christmas preparations — and everything else in their lives — from scratch. Like hundreds of other families in Southern California, their house burned in the Thomas Fire, which has scorched an area larger than New York City and is on the verge of becoming the largest fire in California history.

I’ll Never Get That Back

When the family evacuated to Allie’s father’s house about 20 miles away, they thought they’d be coming right back.

“We lost everything,” Allie says. “We had an overnight bag, we had the monitors, my son’s teddy bear that he’s attached at the hip to, thank God.”

Her husband, Matt, would usually be working right now — he’s been a firefighter for over a decade, battling wildfires like the one that took their house. Instead, Matt’s colleagues are picking up his shifts while he and Allie scramble to mail insurance paperwork, find temporary housing, make calls about rebuilding and try to find their footing.

The Ekblads have seen a flood of support from strangers and friends as they try to figure out their next steps. A GoFundMe page set up by a friend has raised more than $50,000 — and the company where Allie works in marketing is matching the donations.

A Tree Where Our House Once Stood: Christmas Spirit Survives in Santa Rosa

Allie is grateful and a bit embarrassed by all the help, she says. Even though the kids’ Christmas gifts are gone, they will get presents from donated toys. But she says the magnitude of the loss makes it hard to crack a smile.

“I wish this happened when we didn’t have kids,” she says. “Because there is stuff I can never replace for [Jace]. Little things like his first curl, his first piece of hair, his baby footprints. Stuff like that. I’ll never get that back.”

One piece of Christmas magic amid the rubble: Allie found the family safe, burned to a crisp. But a container inside it survived. Allie was just 18 when her mother died, leaving behind her jewelry, with a letter for each piece representing a milestone that they would not be able to celebrate together. Allie still has that precious jewelry container, and in it her mother’s pearls that she opened on her wedding day, seven years after her mother’s death.

Nancy and Jay Blomquist stand outside the Local Assistance Center in Ventura, with their twins, Alexander and Olivia. The family wears masks to protect themselves from the ash and smoke in the air from the Thomas Fire. (Leila Fadel/NPR)

The Necessities

The city of Ventura has set up a range of services to help families displaced by the Thomas Fire. There’s a website with information about evacuations, boil water orders and air quality. A Local Assistance Center is open seven days a week to help fire victims who have lost everything get their affairs in order. The recent disaster looms over the assistance center; the hillside behind the building is scorched. Inside, fire victims move from table to table, replacing burned licenses and asking about insurance, aid and when their neighborhood might be open again.

Single mom Wendy Hellstrom heads inside, feeling nervous.

‘Defensible Space’ Couldn’t Keep Thomas Fire From Burning Ventura County

“I asked my family for Christmas gifts of food and gas cards, so we can afford food,” she says.

Hellstrom is out of work for the next month because of the haze of smoke in the air. She’s an athletic coach and her work is outside. Without a paycheck, she can’t afford her rent this month, let alone buy Christmas presents for her two kids.

“I had a meeting with my kids two days ago, I sat down and met with them,” she says. “I told them, just understand that I’m not going to be able to get you anything but you’re going to get some gifts from our family members. And be patient and be a little bit more non-complaining and whining because mom’s stressed.”

Making a New Plan

In the Local Assistance Center’s parking lot, the Blomquist family gets out of their truck. They’re all wearing pink gas masks to protect from the smoke and ash in the air. The night before the fire, the family was making Christmas cookies. The gifts were nestled under the tree. Since they evacuated, they’ve changed hotels four times.

“We left with nothing — the dogs, the kids,” says Nancy Blomquist, motioning to her 10-year-old twins. “They grabbed a few things and my daughter was like, ‘Can we grab the Christmas presents?’ My husband said, ‘Come on, we’re going to be right back.’”

Lawsuit Blames Utilities for Contributing to Thomas Fire

That night, the alarm system started going haywire and she and her husband, Jay, knew the house was lost.

“It’s just a stairway to nowhere now. It’s gone,” Nancy Blomquist says. “We haven’t been able to go see it so we can’t make peace with it. So we’ve been buying the toiletries, essentials.”

The twins, Alexander and Olivia, are very clear about the new Christmas plan.

“We’re going to buy everything again,” Alexander says.

“Yeah, we’re going to re-buy the gifts,” Olivia adds.

Their mother nods.

“This is the first year they bought for each other with their own money. We went back and rebought everything to make it look exactly the same,” Nancy Blomquist says.

“We went and bought a little tree for the hotel and we’re sprucing it up,” she says.

It’s not the Christmas they had planned, but it’s the best they can do this year.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit


New Year, New Laws for California Community Associations/CIDs-2018

Recent legal Developments affect community association interests in a variety of ways. In 2017, the California Court of Appeal decided several cases concerning such issues as title to common area and board member liability. These cases may be instructive to board members and managers. Meanwhile, on the legislative front, new and pending laws affect association interests in the areas of governance, business dealing, FHA certification, annual notifications and use restrictions. Though not a complete or authoritative guide, we hope this article (published in the Winter 2017 Volume 10, Issue 1 of the Communicator, Community Association Institute/Bay Area/Central California Chapter’s news magazine) can be a useful resource for the most relevant legal updates this year. Follow this link or click here to download the article.   Read the article………………..

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The Rise of Acquisitions and Nearing Future of Property Management

Prior to the mid-1990s, before the age of the internet, the property management business was built on personal relationships. But with the dominance of online research, networking, and robust accounting technology, property management has evolved into a multifaceted engine characterized by smart business and profitability.


Looking Back

Most property managers entered the business almost by accident. They often owned a rental property or two and had fellow investors ask them to manage their properties. Soon, they had enough properties to form a legitimate business. Or, in other scenarios, a real estate agent managed a property as a favor to a client whose property would not sell. Soon other agents asked the person to do the same for their clients.

Personal word-of-mouth referrals was the way property management offices grew. Accounting was done on Excel spreadsheets and tasks and communications with residents were managed in Microsoft Outlook. Property management firms were – and many still are – “Ma and Pa” organizations with five or fewer employees driving the business.

Ushering in Change

However, in place of referrals, the internet has become the go-to place for investors and tenants to find a property manager or rental property. Google and Bing are now top sources for information about “who should I call?” Paid search and SEO for organic rankings are critical to getting a property management business visible to prospective customers. Online testimonials and online reputation ratings have supplanted much of the traditional person-to-person referral approach. Online directories, social media, and review sites, such as Google Reviews, Facebook Reviews, and Yelp are more important than ever.

This change in how business is generated means that property managers should expand their knowledge of the internet and the latest in technology, such as website development, pay-per-click advertising, search engine optimization, task management software, or other new technologies being used by larger and more sophisticated competitors.

How We Compete in Today’s Market

For example, the Real Property Management franchise invests hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on technology and online marketing. We have created a website infrastructure to support our 300+ offices with custom websites, state-of-the-art capabilities, and national oversight. We have negotiated partnerships with top online marketing companies, take care of directory listings for local offices, and are now starting reputation monitoring and automated online testimonial requests. We spend large sums on Google display and Facebook advertising to build brand awareness and generate leads for local offices. Even very large independent property management firms cannot match these investments.

The Emergence of Business Intelligence

A related trend that will radically impact property management is Business Intelligence. Making decisions based on hard facts, and not opinion, makes success infinitely more likely. To do this takes data, and the right software, with ideal financial and operational management, can be a great start.

But numbers in a vacuum have limitations. The numbers might be improving for an individual office but how are your numbers comparing to your competitors’ or peers’? You need to analyze the data to walk away with a competitive advantage.

Also consider the next evolution in data management for property managers. What happens when you combine operational data, Google Analytics data, media buying information, CRM (customer relationship management) data, and market and customer demographics into a single relational database? A company could connect the dots from marketing tactics (e.g., an online ad) to lead volume to sales success to revenue/expenses per property to profitability by account. A complete closed loop intelligence system would be in place.

Imagine the competitive power that would bring to a company! An office could:

  • Know exactly the return on investment for specific marketing tactics.
  • Be able test changes in processes or procedures, and accurately measure the short and long-term impact.
  • Become drastically more efficient in how money is spent and invested.
  • Model how to react to competitive pricing or service changes.
  • How could a less sophisticated competitor compete effectively?

Growth by Acquisition

With these technological and business intelligence advances, a big future trend in the property management industry will be the acquisition of small property managers by more sizable firms that choose to invest in these new technologies and tactics.

Independently-owned Real Property Management offices are demonstrating this now by buying competing offices in their markets. Sometimes buying property management companies with more properties under management than they presently have. This can be done because of the nationally available processes, systems, and support.

Just as real estate brokers evolved from small independents to regional brands to national brands, the same is starting to happen in property management. Small, independent property management companies need to consider their technological abilities, and consider whether they may join a national brand now, or watch as a local competitor joins a national brand and rises to a new level.

Bob Pifke is CMO, Property Management Business Solutions, LLC, franchisor of Real Property Management. He continues to strengthen the Real Property Management brand and guide franchise owners using his wealth of experience in every aspect of marketing. Bob held executive positions with prominent companies such as CCA Global Partners, VISA and Ogilvy.