Thursday, June 11, 2020

What you can learn about home staging from my Garden Shed Makeover

It's often the utility rooms, closets, storage buildings, and work areas of our homes that get no love.

They're the non-public rooms of the house that only family sees.

But if you're listing your home for sale-- and sooner or later, almost everyone will sell his residence -- it's not just immediate family who views these spaces.

It will be prospective buyers.

Why not make these necessary spaces attractive now, so they'll be safer, prettier, and more functional for you and yours to enjoy?

My garden shed was an example of one of those neglected storage buildings. It wasn't ugly, but it was crowded, disorganized, and dirty. It was no source of pride even before Hurricane Florence blew through our area a year and a half ago, but after the storm, it was a disaster. Floodwaters rose to three feet in the shed, where we had stashed potted plants, lawn furniture, and assorted outdoor equipment we didn't want to be blown away.

It took me a few weeks before I had the time and stomach to deal with the fetid, moldy remains of flooded bags of potting soil and organic fertilizers. Some things I was able to gradually dry out. But some things went to the curb where our still soggy furnishings waited for debris removal.

The steps I took to bring my shed back to a place I enjoyed using are the same steps anyone should take to stage a home.

Previously, the little outbuilding where I store garden supplies
looked like this. Since I see it from our dining room, from
the deck, and from my kitchen window, I wanted to
give it a little more character and color.   

Step One: Toss, then clean

Cleaning is always a good beginning when you stage a home. But even before a thorough cleaning, it makes sense to get rid of what shouldn't be there, whether you're staging a bedroom, closet, bath, backyard, front porch, or basement family room. There's no sense to cleaning what won't remain.

Cleaning gives you a new slate. Cleaning empowers you. Cleaning brings new possibilities to light.

It was mayhem inside the building after the storm.
So my first task was to take everything out of my little outbuilding.

Then I swept, hosed out, sprayed with bleach, and let it dry out for a full week of warm weather.

I knew I didn't want a gussied up she-shed. I wanted what my father called a "hut," -- a handy place to store all the supplies and equipment, big and small, a gardener needs that can't be left out in the elements.

While the building dried, I sorted through what was stored there.

Just as with a closet organization project, it helps to have everything out of the space and visible, in order to decide what needs to go back. I realized that some of the larger pieces of equipment should live in the garage, since they generally get used more by my Mr. Lucky. So, I relocated the power edger, leaf blower, and weed whacker to the garage. Amazingly, they all still functioned because we had secured them high up in the shed.

The back wall of the 8- by 8-foot building was dry and empty, but dirty.
I stood on a step ladder and hosed pine needles and branches
off the corrugated translucent plastic roof to let in more light.

Lesson: A blank slate makes home staging simpler. 

Step Two: Refresh the base

I wanted fresh paint on all surfaces. Because of the way it was constructed, with so many exposed studs and framing, I decided to use a small roller and grid in a one-gallon can to paint the ceiling, walls, shelving, and even the floor. I used a flat, interior, latex, white paint. On the floor I used a latex porch and deck paint.

You can see what a difference a new coat of white paint made. Rolling it on was
easier than brushing, but I still had to do a little bit of cutting in with a brush. 

Lesson: Paint solves a multitude of problems.

Step Three: Organize the essentials

Now came the task of placing the essentials in my hut, so that everything would be handy and the small space would not look crowded.

We've all heard the expression, "A messy desk is the sign of  genius." And research actually supports this fact. However, I'm still going to bat for team organized! Whether you are trying to sell your house, find what you need when you need it, or just clear your mind, an organized workspace is a plus all around.

I've blogged about how to easily create order from chaos with better organization and establishing systems to save yourself time and space. 

I clumped into groups all the items that needed to return to the shed -- hand tools, larger tools, bags of soil amendments and potting soils, labeling supplies, seed packets, string and ties, pots, and plant supports.
Before the hurricane, I took photos all around our property,
inside and out, so I could document damage for any
insurance claims. This was my messy work area. 

Lesson: Eyesores and excess junk need to disappear when you stage.    
The same area looked like this once I cleaned, painted,
and put supplies back where they should have been all along. 

Lesson: Buyers expect cleanliness and orderliness.
Before the storm the other side of the building didn't look
very pretty either. It was dirty and disorganized.

Lesson: Buyers will judge you by how you maintain your belongings.  
Now, this is what I see when I open the door to my shed.
I can locate things quickly, and it's easy to
keep the whole area clean.

Lesson: First impressions are important. 
All the long-handled tools went back up on the third
wall. There's no question where they belong, so replacing
each one is effortless.
Lesson: Make it easy to maintain orderliness.     

Step Four: Decorate with flourishes

Adding the finishing touches resembles the last steps you'd take when you actually stage a home, except I was staging to please only myself. I wanted things colorful. I chose teal and blue as unifying colors in order to reduce eye clutter. I shopped my house for boxes, bins, and other containers in teal tones.

What doesn't fit your new color scheme when you stage can be updated. I used things like paint, tape, and fabric to recover surfaces. I covered the main work surface with a plasticized cotton drop cloth that could be removed and washed. And I used 
duct tape and some washi tape to dress up these spray bottles.
Lesson: A simple, cohesive color scheme is a home staging essential.     

Gloves always need a place where they can dry out but still be
accessible. I mounted a cheap towel rod under the counter and used
clips with hooks to store all my garden and work gloves. 

Lesson: A well-staged home is a logically organized home. 
I wanted colorful accents outside the shed.
I used this faux finished container, and a vintage tin bucket set in a recycled wire seat
to keep costs down and add personality.
Lessons: Bright color makes sense when decorating
outdoors, especially mixed with some distressed items.
To make the plain jane building more interesting, I mounted
a small wooden shelf, added a Foo Dog, and hung
a small watering can from underneath.
Lesson: Touches of whimsy are always welcome additions.  

On the other side of the door I placed a wreath I made from
grapevines and artificial flowers. I know I will 
switch it up in autumn and spring with different DIY wreaths.  
Lesson: A home on the market should reflect the season.
Over the door I added a sign I stenciled on a
scrap piece of wood. It reminds me of my dad.
Lesson: Unique props can make a home on the market
memorable, as long as they are not too personal or controversial.  
The fence sections attached to the front corners helped
to ground the shed and make it look larger and more important.
The ceramic garden seat below the wreath added color.
Lesson: Buyers are impressed with size. Big looks like a bargain.  

Get Help with Home Staging

Because of social distancing guidelines, you may be dealing with boredom and restlessness as you stay home more. Improving a small corner of your property is bound to lift your spirits and provide a sense of accomplishment. 

For more tips about improving the value of your home, download my eBooks about home staging you can do yourself. No matter how long you plan to stay in your home, learning about what makes a property attractive to a wide variety of people is a smart move.


Friday, May 8, 2020

Feeling Blue? Think Indigo.

There's a reason people love classic bluejeans, and it has to do with their color. Classic blue denim jeans aren't just blue. They are indigo!

Their indigo color is one reason jeans are considered a basic, go-with-everything wardrobe essential. Indigo is a color that's a mix of true blue and violet.

It's a color that's easy to work with, versatile, available, stylish, and likable across different demographics, ages, and genders.'s the perfect color to incorporate into your home staging.

As a wall color for a home on the market, indigo won't rate high, because usually it's too light-absorbing and makes rooms look smaller.

But for almost everything else, it's a winner, either alone or sharing the spotlight with other colors.

It's easy to find pillows, art, and other
decor props in indigo shades for your
homestaging. Photo: CoastalStyleBlogspot
Indigo combines beautifully with neutrals like cream, tan, grey, and white. Experiment with it, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to see how it provides a foil for intense colors like tangerine, chartreuse, or bubble gum pink.

Do you have the blues? 

At a time when many of us are "feeling blue," I decided to poke around the Internet to determine the origin of that very phrase.

There are only theories about when and why feeling sad was given its own color!

History tells us that ancient Greeks believed when the skies were blue, it was because the god Zeus was sad and crying.

But perhaps the expression originated on naval vessels of long ago when an officer died onboard and sailors would raise a blue flag.

Or it could be that the color blue was associated with sick or dying people who had bruises or blue lips.

Well, I say, it's time to look again at blue, specifically indigo blue, for some more cheerful news!

Indigo has a history

What makes indigo unique is the way it dyes the surface of fibers, but only partially penetrates them. That's the reason indigo fabrics fade to give to a characteristic worn or vintage look.

Here's a little of indigo's fascinating story. In 1905 Adolf von Baeyer, of Bayor Asprin fame, was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering how to manufacture a synthetic indigo dye. 

It took him 14 years of research to develop a way to imitate the special qualities of indigo. Until then the dye was made from plant material in a labor-intense, time-consuming, multi-step process that remained unchanged for thousands of years. It was actually the mass production and popularity of Levi-Strauss jeans that necessitated the search for a modern synthetic substitute for real indigo dye. 

Here are photos that might spark some fresh ideas of how you can harness the appeal of indigo in your home staging.
Looking like the color of a loved and faded pair of jeans, 
the fabric on these slipcovers combines 
both ethnic and classic vibes. Photo: Luxesource
Three indigo-patterned pillows and an indigo-dyed throw are jazzing up a monochromatic color scheme. Photo: Raquel Langworthy Design 
A shibori print roman shade and an indigo floor pattern are perfect in this all-white bathroom. Photo: Samantha Todhunter Design
Indigo's the ideal foil for bright colors like this lemony
yellow, a color repeated in the abstract art. Photo: Tobi Fairley

Touches of indigo in surprising places can add a unique quality
to your home staging without shouting. Photo: rentpatina
Ceramics are another source of indigo accessories for
your home. Expect to find it in ethnic- and coastal-styled
pottery and textiles. Photo: Rae Dunn Clay 
Indigo holds its own as an exterior paint as well
as an indoor color choice. Shutters, front doors,
planter boxes -- they're all candidates for getting
a coat of indigo paint. Photo: Euamodecoracao 
You'll find indigo in Sherwin Williams most popular shades
of blue. This chart shows a dark tone of indigo, incorporating
some black pigment. Light and dark indigos mix well.    

Blue lifts us up

Color is powerful. It affects our emotional state more than we are conscious of. Just like the way decluttering or rearranging furniture or giving your home a deep-clean, injecting new color into your home can award you a sense of accomplishment and strength.

Right now's a great time to welcome some decor changes, even without leaving the house. If you don't have the paint or fabric on hand, go online and search for American-made products!

Search Etsy for indigo fabrics and order some today to stitch up pillow covers for your staging. Upcycle an old pair of jeans as a fabric-covered box or serving tray. Make an ink-blot work of art with some blue food coloring from your pantry.

It's a sad time in the history of the world. Each of us has a story to tell, but often not shared, about how the pandemic is affecting us.

You may be welcoming a slowed pace or more time with your immediate family, a new routine, the chance to be quiet in solitude or catch up on tasks usually ignored. Or not.

I hope your situation is not that you are haunted by anxiety, overwhelmed by homeschooling, worried about older relatives, or stressed about money for basic needs. You are not alone.

Most of us are little stir crazy, isolated and missing friends, coworkers, and family. Once we're reunited we're sure to savor more than ever our connections and friendships.

Meanwhile, no matter what your situation looks like now, I hope that the new normal that lies ahead is a good fit for you and all you aspire to. Let's hope the changes COVID-19 brings include improvements in the quality of life for every individual, globally.

Monday, April 6, 2020

How to DIY a Covid-19 Face Mask

If you read the Little House on the Prarie books, you'll know what I mean when I say I felt like Laura today as I repurposed fabric to use for face masks.

Common practice among pioneer women was to carefully take apart a dress that had faded, and then sew it together again "inside-out" so it looked like a new dress.

I've been self-quarantining myself for the past two weeks. Today I saw on Facebook that our local urgent care clinic is happy to receive homemade face masks. That's all I needed to hear, and I went to work.

I am sharing these tips with you in case you, like much of the world's population, are sequestered and want to do something to help. Case histories from other countries show that face masks help people from infecting others. Even if you are not sick, a mask, even a simple one like what I am making, will give you some protection.

The Center for Disease Control now recommends using a mask when going outside your home into settings where social distancing is difficult or when caring for someone with the coronavirus.

Wearing a mask will also remind you not to touch your face, an important part of the overall plan to slow the spread of the virus infecting millions of people. For my prototype, I made my first mask from fabric left from covering some chair cushions. You can actually see the chair behind me in this photo.

Instead of ties, that I thought would be bothersome, and possibly get all tangled up in the washer, I opted for elastic. You can order elastic on Amazon, or you might have some if you sew. Otherwise, you can cut the elastic out of the edges of an old contour sheet. If you recently purged a closet of clothing you don't wear anymore, perhaps there is an elastic waistband in that bag of clothes you've been meaning to take to the Salvation Army.

Using an assortment of fabric patterns
makes it easy for people to know
which mask is theirs. In some cases, I flipped
a fabric over to the backside to create variety.
It's recommended that you choose fabrics that are all cotton or cotton/synthetic blends. The fabric's weave should be a tight one in order for the mask to screen the small viral particles.

If you hold it up to bright light, you should be able to see just some light through it, and also to be able to breathe comfortably through it. The cloth used for good quality pillowcases and bedsheets will work.  Each of my style masks is made of two layers of fabric.

I watched and read quite a few DIY face mask tutorials, and then adopted the style and methods that made sense to me -- simple procedures that produced an effective yet comfortable mask that was easy to put on and remove, and easy to wash and reuse.

I didn't want to use elastic loops or hairbands that looped around ears. That seemed uncomfortable to me. I use a sleep mask every night, a mask that has two elastic strands across the back, so I figured that two large loops of elastic that crossed in the back of the head would be comfy and secure.

I encourage you to make a few masks of your own, so that after one use, you can carefully remove it, and then launder it and dry it, either in a clothes dryer or -- better yet -- outside in the sun and fresh air.

If you plan to make more than just a handful of masks, set up a system to make the process go quickly and smoothly. Gather all the supplies you need. Cut the rectangles and match them up. Cut all the elastic pieces. Then start your sewing.

It's comforting to make masks for those around you or people in your community. Since I started writing this post, my local library announced it is starting a drive to have people in our small town organize to make masks at home to provide for residents here. I'll be giving them my masks today. 

I cut my fabric rectangles (9 1/2 by 6 1/2 inches) on the bias because I knew it would
drape better and therefore hug a face better, just  like the dresses Hollywood
designed for starlets in the 1940s movies. Bias-cut edges are at 45 degree angles
to the woven edge of a bolt of cloth. Bias-cut fabric is easier 

to work with and more forgiving than "straight-of-the-goods"
fabric. The above photo shows a dish towel I repurposed.  
I traced around the paper pattern I made from a grocery bag, and then cut out two
fabric rectangles. I wanted to make the front and back of the mask different
so anyone using it would always have the outside away from the face. The fabrics
I used had been in my house for over a year and had been washed, so I knew
they did not harbor any virus. I leave groceries I pick up at the supermarket drive-up
in the garage for 2 days, so I felt confident using the grocery bag for a  pattern.
This photo shows the elastic pinned ready for sewing. I crossed the pieces 
so they would help the mask stay positioned on the head. 

I took a few machine stitches in each of the four corners,
to secure the elastic. Then I pinned the two rectangles together,
making sure the elastic was positioned correctly. 
This is how the mask looked after it was stitched around the
four sides, leaving a gap to turn it right side out. I clipped the
corners to reduce the bulkiness, but I don't think this was really necessary.
Once I turned the mask right side out, I topstitched around the entire edge, then made three pleats on each side
of the mask, making sure that I didn't stitch over any elastic.

The pleats on both sides need to lay in the same direction.  
This is how the pleats looked on another mask I made, keeping the pleats spaced
so they don't overlap one another, because that would make it difficult to stitch through
multiple fabric layers. On this mask, I used some thin elastic cording I had.
These are some of the masks I made for local health care people.

Once you are comfortable stitching up these masks, you'll want to make some for family members, or neighbors, or local health care workers who are on the front lines of defense. What better way to use your time, channel your creative energies, and recycle scrap fabric and thread you already have as you shelter in place? These masks can even be sewn by hand. If you have only rudimentary sewing skills, this is one time your handiwork will not be judged! 

Remember to follow CDC guidelines, wash your hands often, stay home, and don't touch your face. Wear your mask if you have to go out. By wearing a facemask, you'll be encouraging others to wear one, and doing your part to halt the pandemic.

Stay safe, so we can all return to a new, better normal. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Springtime Makeover

Spring is a time for new beginnings. 
As I write this blog post, my mind is running on two tracks -- that people with homes to sell want advice on how to sell quickly and get the best price, and that people the world over are dealing with a much larger problem, that of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other bloggers, just as I am, are questioning the appropriateness of writing about food and travel and fashion and music and pop culture and sports and similar topics at a time like this.

We're asking the same questions. What's helpful?

What's relevant? What's timely?

What's the right thing to do?

I'm of the opinion that while we practice social distancing, and while we stay informed about the nature of the disease, and while we take our small measures to help contain it and help those affected, we also need to stay positive.

Staying positive doesn't necessarily mean talking yourself down from the ledge. That's hard work. Rather, I prefer pleasant distractions, the ones that give you satisfaction, that provide some sense of control, that bring order or beauty to your world. It's time to make music, write letters, cook, sew, sing, garden, work out, donate and volunteer where you can, read to your children, play with your dog.

When we recover medically, financially, emotionally, socially, from this crisis, we'll be smarter and stronger. People will always buy homes. You'll be ready.

It's Springtime. Curb Appeal Matters.

I have lived all over the country and so I know that spring doesn't mean the same thing in every region. Where you live it might be "mud season" during the months between winter and summer. Or you might be getting temps in the 80s. Or the ground could be covered with snow.

Nevertheless, the months of March, April and May generally mark a turning point for North  Americans, a time to shed some of winter's woes and begin afresh.

No matter where you live, you can still browse through online listings of homes for sale. When you do that, you'll notice one similarity. Almost every one features the home's exterior for a profile photo.

There's a reason for that. Even though home buyers value important data like kitchen condition, square footage, number of bedrooms, and neighborhood style, how a home looks from the outside is crucial to their decision about whether they want to get inside.

In a Zillow survey, real estate agents named curb appeal one of the five most important factors in selling a home. How does your home's exterior look? Spring's a natural time to spend some time and energy, and yes, even some money, on giving your home an outdoor spruce-up. As a bonus, being outside in mild weather is a natural mood-elevator.

Let's look at six different ways you can increase the curb appeal of your home.

You can never underestimate the value of pristine and charming curb appeal. 

1. Clean the siding

No matter what kind of siding your home has, whether it's brick, stucco, vinyl, wood, or cement boards, over time it's bound to accumulate dirt, debris, cobwebs, and possibly mildew. That doesn't mean you have to pressure wash your whole house. In fact, pressure washing with too much pressure can damage some surfaces. Giving your home a good hose down is probably sufficient unless you see signs of mold or grime that's built up over time. 

A fresh coat of paint can instantly make your home seem more expensive than it is. Whether you should DIY painting it is another question.

Maybe your home is a small or medium-sized, one-story structure. Maybe you have some painting experience or are willing to watch some YouTube videos about painting siding. Maybe you have the right equipment like a safe extension ladder or a paint sprayer. Maybe you have pretty good strength and energy and patience and the time to do this job. Then, maybe you can paint your home's exterior.

Otherwise, I suggest having professionals do the work.

I never recommend "paint parties," where people invite all their inexperienced friends for a fun day slinging on paint with a collection of cheap brushes while they listen to music and drink a little too much. Your home is probably your major investment. Don't gamble. Get quotes from some local painting contractors.

2. Enhance Your Doors

I have a friend who says that a front door is the smile on a house. It's her way of saying that a home's entrance area is the focal point of the facade -- what people's eyes go to when they look at your home from the street.

If your front door isn't in prime condition, spring is a good time to repaint it, since you'll need to leave the door ajar for a few hours. My post entitled Girl's Guide to Painting Your Front Door is one of my most popular blog articles. A fresh coat of paint will automatically make your entrance look newer, safer, and more welcoming.

If the door is beat up, has dings and dents that can't be remedied with paint or patches of Bondo, a replacement door might be your better option. It's relatively easy to replace a standard size door.

You can't ignore the condition of your overhead garage door, especially if it faces the street, the way most garages do. I've also blogged about how to paint a garage door the easy and efficient way.

3. Tend to the Walkway

You can choose from a selection of nearly 40
designs to make your path unique. These
are my Fish-In-Water stones. 
Most homes already have some kind of walk leading to the front entrance. If you have a concrete sidewalk, make sure it's not a tripping hazard.

Pressure washing it might be advisable if is mossy or stained. If you don't have or want to rent a pressure washer, scrubbing it with a long-handled push broom dipped in a bleach solution often does the trick.

But if your home's approach is a worn path through grass, consider creating something more striking and still simple. It's a good DIY project. I made a series of stepping stones with molds from Garden Molds five or six years ago and they are holding up just fine. Once you purchase a mold for about $30 (you'll choose from 45  different designs), you can make all you want at a concrete cost of about $1 each.

A quicker option is to buy concrete pavers from a garden supply business or big box store and surround them with gravel or mulch as I did in the house photo below.

If you live where shoveling snow from the path to the door is a necessity, you need something other than gravel or stepping stones. If your home is formal in design, you need to match that style and not create something suitable for a country cottage, woodsy cabin, or farmhouse. Adding solar lights to your walkway is an additional inexpensive improvement.

This is the way the front yard at a home I recently rehabbed looked
before I gave it a makeover. There was no path to the entrance and
all the shrubs were overgrown. It needed help.

I removed weeds, removed shrubs blocking the windows, and pruned shrubs that were
crowding the front steps. I added new shrubs across the front.
I placed a series of pavers to a new, small landing at the foot of the
steps, created a "mowing strip" of bricks between the lawn and the pathway, and
filled the areas around the pavers with mulch from the local landfill. 

4. Refresh Your Landscape

Spring is considered prime viewing and selling season for homes. With the pandemic causing harm to almost every business, the real estate market will be changing in ways we can't predict. One positive possibility is that with lower interest rates, people who were planning on buying will have more confidence that they can afford it.

If you are in a rush to sell because of finances, divorce, or other change in lifestyle or relationships, it will be tempting to accept offers well below your asking price. Now is the time to do some knock-your-socks-off home staging that will persuade buyers to make realistic offers.

One of the best ways to win the hearts of buyers is with impressive landscaping. It gets them from hello.  

Fortunately, spring is the perfect time to fine-tune your front yard. I suggest you study how professionally designed landscapes look in the best neighborhoods -- something you can do by driving or walking these neighborhoods. Visit garden centers where in many areas now you'll find a tantalizing collection of healthy annuals, perennials and shrubs. Don't create a landscape that spells work for you or a prospective buyer.

My best advice is to avoid smallness. Go for wide sweeps of mulched areas, and a variety of textures in plant material. Keep the edges of mulched beds and pavements clean and sharp. Avoid clutter. Keep things like hoses, bikes, and trash containers hidden. Put color at the front entrance. Wherever you live, there is something appropriate for an outdoor plant or two that can be potted now for something fresh and welcoming.  Check my Pinterest board for seasonal wreaths if you need ideas for door decor.

A home in tip-top condition will get more views and a quicker, better offer. 

5. Fix the Driveway

The condition of your driveway is one of the first things buyers might notice when they come to tour your home. You want them to have confidence immediately in how your home has been maintained.

Driveway fixes can be DIY projects, or they might call for professional help. If there are serious cracks and uneven surfaces in your concrete driveway, these are red flags to potential buyers, and might call for work to be done by people who do this for a living and will do it right. Smaller cracks can be something you take care of yourself. Here is good advice from Home Depot on fixing driveway problems,

Keep the edges of your drive and sidewalk trimmed so turf and weeds aren't migrating into paved areas. An electric edger is worth the investment, and goes a long way to making a landscape look manicured. I have this Black and Decker trimmer that I like because it is versatile, easy to use, isn't noisy and doesn't smell of fuel!

6. Check the roof

Most asphalt-shingled roofs have a life span of 20 years. Wood-shingled roofs last about 30 years. Any serious buyer (and the home inspector he hires) will survey the roof for missing, loose, torn, or punctured shingles. They'll also notice moss, sagging, or other signs of trouble.

A brand new roof can cost, but sends a great message to any potential buyer, making him think, "I don't have to worry about replacing the roof for 20 years!" According to Home Advisor, the return on your installation cost averages 62.9%. But, as well as adding to the dollar value of your home, fixes like a new roof can speed up the sale of your property, saving you carrying costs like insurance, taxes, utilities, and routine maintenance.

I sincerely hope these considerations and projects will help you maintain some sanity and sense of accomplishment during the weeks ahead. Enjoy your springtime, wherever you live. I wish you all well, and I encourage you to take good care of your health and of the people close to you.

Monday, March 9, 2020

What I learned when my home was flooded

It's been just 18 months since Hurricane Florence blew through our coastal North Carolina area.

Our town was hit particularly hard, and the tidal surge from nearby water bodies coupled with drenching rains filled our home with over two feet of water.

Over the months that followed, I learned a lot about water damage, what it does and what homeowners can do about it before and after it happens.

The first thing you'll learn when your home is uninhabitable is the value of family, friends and community. And the second thing you learn is the importance of insurance, the right kind of insurance.

Even if you don't live near the ocean, a lake, river, stream, or canal, water damage can result from a variety of sources. Approximately one-fifth of all insurance claims are due to some type of water damage.

A water heater could leak while you are away on vacation. Water pipes in your crawl space could freeze in a cold snap. The sewer or drainage line on your street could back up. A dishwasher or washing machine or toilet could overflow. Pipes and drains under sinks could be leaking without your knowledge. A windstorm could blow a tree limb onto your roof and punch a hole in it that leaks rainwater.

Know what your insurance covers

If you own a home, you need to know exactly what kind of insurance you have. If your home is in a flood plain as defined by local authorities, you should have flood insurance. If your mortgage is backed by federal insurance, and your home is in a flood plain, you are required to have insurance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

Not all water damage is created equal. For example, under the average homeowner’s insurance plan, leaks that develop gradually over time are generally not covered, while pipes that burst suddenly are.

Most water damage restoration services will cooperate with insurance providers to partially cover their services or, in some cases, provide full coverage. I strongly recommend that you check with your insurance provider to know what is and is not insured. Meanwhile, here's a quick primer on water damage and home insurance. 

Two other pieces of advice I'll give you are to create a photo record of your home's interior and exterior, and to purchase contents insurance. Make a photo record of possessions and serial numbers in case you need to make claims for replacing these belongings.

What to do When damage happens  

No matter what kind of water damage you're hit with, time is of the essence.

You can see the water level on our home's
wall in this photo, and you can see
the irresversible damage even a few
hours of water exposure can do to floors,
drywall, and baseboards. 
If your home is flooded the way ours was, the faster you can empty it of everything wet, the better. In the chaos that engulfed our neighborhood following the storm, we were fortunate to have family members come to our aid, dragging to the curb carpeting, doors, furniture, and anything damaged beyond repair (most of what we owned).

And we quickly hauled to a dry storage facility anything dry enough to rescue. We were also fortunate to have purchased just a few months prior to the hurricane's arrival, a house we were in the middle of rehabbing as an investment property. We camped out in that house for the eight months it took for our own residence to be rebuilt.

During that time, it took professionals to do the nasty work of removing drywall and flooring to dry out the structure. FEMA and local authorities oversee to some extent the process as best they can, but it will be up to you to hire reputable remedial workers, not untrained volunteers or fly-by-night, non-local, price gougers.

Midway through the cleanout process in our home. The major concern is mold.
Microbial agents and quick dry-out are the solution.
No one wants any residual moisture in the structure. 
Whether your home is damaged by floodwaters (and I hope it never is!) or a slow drip under your kitchen sink, the sooner you take action, the less severe the damage.

If you don't know where the main water shut-off point for your home is, now's the time to learn. Some turn offs require a special tool. If the problem is a toilet or sink or washer or dishwasher or water heater, turning off the water source at the appliance is usually sufficient, depending on where the damage is exactly.

When it comes to removing residual water yourself, you'll likely be able to do it only to a point. Every homeowner should have a wet-dry vacuum. Anything you can do will help until you get a pro to fix the problem-- either a plumber, building contractor, carpenter, or restoration service, depending on the exact nature of the water damage.

Certain types of water such as floodwater can be full of contaminants and hazardous waste, which you should not attempt to clear out yourself. If you are unsure of the source, please leave the job to the professionals. Nothing is as important as your good health. Do not try to salvage carpet and upholstered items that have been wet as they can harbor harmful mold that will continue to grow even if unseen.

Replace or Restore what's Damaged 

We opted to replace our hardwoods, carpeting, and tile flooring with what real estate agents are telling me today's sellers like -- luxury vinyl planking. I can see why it is popular. It's bulletproof! Handsome patterns, easy to maintain, and it's waterproof. If we are hit with another flood, we are told this flooring can be removed, dried and re-installed! 
Polished concrete can be stained or left natural.
If it's too sleek or too chilly for you, area rugs will fix
the problem. In the right setting, polished concrete can
act as a passive solar heating system. Photo: Carl Hansen  

Another replacement option is polished concrete flooring due to its superior performance and durability. If you like the industrial vibe, this might be your choice. It's economical, durable, and low-maintenance. 

There are currently about 309,000 public and 10.4 million residential swimming pools in the United States. Whether it is in-ground or above ground, swimming pools contain thousands of gallons of water that can leak into the surrounding soil and cause damage to your home’s foundation. As a pool owner, part of your job is to stay on top of potential problems and leaks.

Schedule an Inspection

I was concerned running the identical
flooring throughout
our home would
look too commercial.
Instead, it created a
seamless, contemporary look I love.  
When your home sufferers extensive damage, your insurer and lender and local building inspector all need to be satisfied that the home is finished and safe. You'll be required to pass electric and plumbing inspections. Local authorities will guide you on requirements.

If the problem is less severe, it will be up to you and the people you hire to inspect singular water damage such as a roof or plumbing or appliance repair. If you are planning to put your home on the market, now is the time for a complete home inspection. The report you get will allow you to fix any remaining deficiencies so there are no surprises if your buyer wants an independent home inspection.

Chances are your home is not going to be flooded they way mine was. But I want to post my advice to my readers so you can prepare for the different ways water can damage a home.

Make your home the one buyers want. Stage it right. Download my eBook DIY HomeStaging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. I guarantee you will add value to your home by learning from my boots-on-the-ground years of experience in real estate.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

A Simple Formula for Beautiful Rooms

Professional decorators and successful home stagers all have a giant bag of tricks they depend on to keep their clients happy.

They know what colors work well together, how to dress windows and beds, where to place art, what size rugs should measure, where to buy all that killer furniture, how to add those perfect finishing touches that make a room come to life, and much more!

If you're worried that you don't have that kind of know-how, relax. There's one simple method for making a room look pulled together that's always a winner.

It's not expensive or difficult to buy, it doesn't take skill to use, and it works its magic across all decorating styles.

You can tap into this power by making chinoiserie part of your repertoire. It's pronounced SHEEN-waa-zr-ee, and it translates from French as "Chinese-like." It's not an authentic Chinese style. Rather, it's a European interpretation of Chinese motifs.
Bamboo is often part of a chinoiserie-themed room.
It can be painted whatever color works for you!
Photo: MonicaWantsIt

Historically, the fascination with these motifs began when Western nations started trading with the East in the 1600s.

Aristocratic ladies and gents in Europe apparently could not get enough of the elaborately painted ceramics, the fanciful murals depicting nature and leisure, the sumptuous silks, and the exotic materials like ivory and ebony.

All across Europe, the fashions, architecture, furniture, and gardens of the wealthy reflected Asian style mixed with a heavy dose of the extravagant Rococo style.

Chinoiserie still carries with it the appeal of the exotic and mysterious. Even dashes of it incorporated into your decor will hint at playfulness mixed with high quality.

Traditional Chinese-inspired designs in iconic blue and
white patterns are a given for chinoiserie decor. The best blue
is a cobalt blue, but all blues work as well. Photo: Livcorday.

How to Get the Look

We've all seen decor magazine photos and Pinterest images with chinoiserie done in both small doses and in full-blown style.

The small doses show up as blue and white ginger jars and pagoda-shaped lamps.

The more extreme indulgence shows itself as whole rooms of Asian-inspired scenic wallpaper, gold Chippendale chairs, and black lacquered etageres.

But don't think for a second you need to invest in pricey pieces of furniture you'll never use or like!

Smaller chinoiserie elements have the same power to attract. They add a touch of tradition and high style to a space, no matter what size, layout, age, or architectural design your home is.

Although this style mixes well with most other decor styles, you can't assume that adding chinoiserie pieces to a room that's already fully decorated room is going to work.

This kind of blue and white ceramics display is never going to make
anyone unhappy! It's so fresh and classic at the same time. Photo: TheZhush

So, your first step has to be removing the pieces of furnishings and props that don't make your home look more valuable.

Hide, sell, or give away the objects that don't make your home look stylish. These would be the dated or useless or overly personal possessions, the unfinished projects, the broken or dirty or cheap objects. If you love them, store and keep them for your next house.

Fabric with an Asian motif can
be framed and used as art. 
Look through shelter magazines and upscale home furnishing catalogs for ideas and inspiration on what today's enviable homes look like.

Even though these photos showcase the residences of millionaires, you'll be training your eye for what's functional and smart.

You may not want to imitate exactly or buy from catalogs and websites like Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, DecorPad, House Beautiful, Veranda, Elle Decor, and Architectural Digest. Still, perusing them will educate you about trends and styles. 

Don't think that you have to stay with traditional colors of chinoiserie -- blue and white or black or gold or celedon. Let the colors you are using for staging be the colors for your chinoiserie props. Spray paint to the rescue.

You'll often find chairs like these Chippendale styled ones
at flea markets and antique malls. Photo: ChinoiserieChic

Best Sources

Be on the lookout for affordable chinoiserie props, and scoop them up when you see prices that fit your home staging budget. With luck, you may already own pieces that have that Asian style you are after. 

Madame Pampadour, mistress to Louis XV, may have had to commission her elaborately painted vases back in 1760, but today you'll find plenty of fun knockoffs and kitchy imitations that pass as good enough for staging. 

Shop these online sources and use the keyword "chinoiserie" to search: eBay, Chairish, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Etsy, and Replacements. Locally, visit the usual second-hand stores, charity shops, estate sales, and garage sales.

Hunt for bargains on blue willow ware dishes, Oriental lamps and lanterns, chinoiserie vases, dragon-themed and peony-themed fabric, ceramic foo dogs (actually lions), monkeys, elephants, cats and other animals. Also worth looking for is artwork such as Chinese-style paintings of fish and birds, and joie de vivre renderings of people in happy, often pastoral scenes.

There are hundreds of fabrics with a chinoiserie motif available online. Use them to make pillows, framed artwork, covered boxes, window treatments, chargers, or serving trays. Photo: TheFabricCo.

Chinoiserie Touches 

Foo dogs are classic. Look for ones that work
with your color scheme. Pairs are best.
Here are my choices for five budget-friendly frills you can incorporate in your staging to cash in on the appeal of Asian decor.

Ceramic foo dogs are a favorite of decorators and stagers. Ideally, you'd have a pair, representing male and female, but if you're budgeting you'll be happy to see singular ones at second-hand stores, donated I suppose after the mate fell and broke! Deal!

Chinoiserie vases can also be found second hand. They don't have to be authentic Chinese antiques to be charming. Home Goods is the best source, but smaller ones sometimes show up at discount and dollar stores.

Asian-inspired planters are another go-to item for decorators. Look for blue and white ones with designs of lotus and peony flowers. Use them for real or artificial plants, or simply for arranging empty on a mantel or bookshelves.

Bamboo frames, new or used, are common in all sizes, from ones too small to use effectively for staging, up to poster size. Any finish is good, but gold, red, black, and natural bamboo are the most stylish.

Finally, if you use nothing else from the grab bag of chinoiserie props, select some pillows with Chinese designs. They can be either fun and eye-catching, or subtle and sophisticated, depending on the style of your home.

Staging vs decorating  

Why not DIY some pillow covers with chinoiserie fabric?
A yard will cover a standard bed pillow. Photo: ChicChinoiserie
You don't need a dining room designed around a black lacquered table set with blue and white Delftware and surrounded by red Chippendale chairs to capture the essence of chinoiserie. Since you are staging and not decorating, you can count on subtlety rather than overkill.

Learn more about how to make your home attractive to buyers. My home staging eBooks take the stress and confusion out of staging your own home. You can count on my 25+ years of real estate buying and selling experience to steer you right. I'm practical and thrifty, and you can be too! You are just two clicks away from reading and staging. Go here.

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