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.

Monday, February 10, 2020

If You Stage Your Home, Make it Sensual!

Happy Valentine's Day. For readers who live in countries where this is not a national holiday, I can explain. It is a day set aside for people to show their love. We do this by spending money. This day of celebration was invented by the chocolate, florist, greeting card, restaurant, and jewelry industries.

But seriously, I think people should show their love 365 days a year. Instead of bestowing commercially produced tokens of affection, loyalty, and passion on February 14, how about we all just show kindness to the people we love? Like, all year.

Still, go to Olive Garden for their breadstick Valentine bouquet.

If your home is for sale, spend that chocolate and roses money on a few things to make people fall in love with it!

You can make buyers fall head over heels for your house, and all it takes is paying attention to the senses and how they make an atmosphere inviting.


Soft colors like pastels and whites add a romantic feel to any space. Colors like corals, lilacs and blues -- even in pale shades -- may not be ideal for all the walls in your home, but elsewhere they are what will add personality to your home.

So, use these "friendly" colors in small doses, like vases, artwork, pillows or lamps. The books, lamps, paintings, rug and bedding in this photo from Whitney Campeau show how soft tones can create a soothing bedroom scene.

Do you have some paint left from DIY projects you've done for your home? Properly stored, a can of paint will last for up to five years. If you add some of it to white paint you'll automatically have a pastel that will harmonize with what's existing in your home. It takes lots of white to make a pastel, so don't try adding white to a can of dark or highly saturated colored paint. Rather, start with white paint and gradually add small amounts of that leftover deep color.

Professional stagers know that intense wall colors can be hurdles to prospective buyers. Most of today's buyers want a home they can move into without fixing or updating anything. As much as you love your cherry red dining room walls or chartreuse powder room, buyers see these as projects they don't want to tackle. Go neutral with walls. Here's my best advice on choosing interior paint colors.

Don't let your house get photographed and listed like this. 
If you are having an open house, use signs and pennants with matching colors. When it's for sale, your house is like a mini-business, and up to half of all customers find a business because of signage. Does your Realtor have an eye-catching sign that's well maintained? I've blogged about how to DIY a simple pennant banner for an open house to help people find your home and attract passersby.


Incorporating some varied textures is important in any well-decorated home. This fact is especially true in a staged home where the color scheme is simple, and a simple color palette is usually the kind of look we aim for when we stage. 

Here's a homework assignment: Walk through the rooms of your home and look for interesting textures. Have you incorporated some smooth and shiny surfaces, some rough and nubby textures, and some fluffy or even furry materials? If you're not seeing a variety, here are samples to get you playing with textures.

Place a rustic basket or wooden bowl on your glass- or marble-topped table. How about a flokati rug on the tile floor of your entrance? Or a loopy yarn throw on the arm of a leather loveseat? Stage a wicker bar cart with chrome tumblers and a crystal decanter. These kinds of contrasting textures add subtle variety to a room

I'm crazy for these pillow covers I made from a fuzzy, thrift store sweater, and then
combined them with velvet pillows to telegraph that feeling of relaxation. Yum! 
People touring your home will "feel" these surfaces with their eyes. They might even want to get close, run their hand over the cool granite countertop, or touch that lush, potted fern on the nightstand. These are the luxury touches that appeal to the tactile sense. Buyers want to think they are taking steps up the social ladder with their home purchase. Luxury is important to Americans, who spend a whopping 42 hours a week commuting. They want a dream home to come home to.

Retail outlets know that when a customer picks up a piece of merchandise to handle it, chances of an actual purchase go up. Make buyers feel your home.


The sense of smell is so important that it's another trick high-end hotels and department stores use to coax buyers into a positive mindset. Forward-thinking stores that can afford it scent their indoor air with fragrances like vanilla, lavender, jasmine, bergamot, sandalwood, musk, lemongrass, citrus and pine.

You can imitate this powerful strategy. People will tend to linger longer, and judge your home as more pleasant, cleaner, and more memorable when it has a pleasing ambient scent.

The right way to cast this spell is to use essential oils, not artificial fragrances like so-called air fresheners and scented candles. Sorry, Scentsy, Fabreze, and Glade, but you guys are hormone disruptors that mess with our health. Follow that link to read how to make natural scents with essential oils. (Relax, I am not a distributor.)

Using essential oils will keep you healthier, and will prevent anyone touring your home who is chemically sensitive from experiencing common allergic reactions like coughing, sneezing, and itchy eyes. That's not the experience you want to create for prospective buyers.


You don't need a fancy expresso machine
to stage a refreshment center for
your home on the market. This one by
Nina Hendrick would let people on
tour of your home make a cup of coffee.  
Some Realtors recommend setting out cookies for people who come to see your home. It seems a little hokey to me, but if that's the tradition in your area of the country, you don't want to be the exception.

An open house is another story. That's the perfect time to have some light refreshments that will set a welcoming and casual tone, and perhaps encourage people to stay a little longer. It would have to be monitored, especially if children are coming by.

If it's winter, hot drinks like green tea (which has less caffeine than black tea) or hot chocolate would be a nice touch. In warm months, you can't go wrong with chilled water or iced tea.

You may even consider having some candy in a small bowl by your front door. Make them individually wrapped and nothing too precious. Peppermints, small candy bars, or wrapped chocolates are a nice touch.

These are the kinds of things that will help people remember your home after touring a number of homes in one day.


Staged homes on the market often get criticized for being "too vanilla." And to that I say, "What is wrong with vanilla?" Vanilla is America's most popular flavor! But if you want to add some "sprinkles" or "hot fudge sauce" to your staged room, flowers and plants are the way to do just that.

There is something special and even magical about flowers, even ones that are not real. I never recommend buying fresh flowers for staging unless you are living in your home, have a generous floral budget, and already have a routine of picking up a fresh bouquet every week. If your Realtor is scheduling an open house, I hope she's springing for the fresh flowers.

My vote goes to silk flowers that stay looking just-picked. Today's silks are classy and convincing. In lieu of flowers, you can stage with green plants that are either real or artificial. Green plants add that sense of freshness to a space without calling attention to themselves the way a big floral centerpiece does. I have my favorite very-low-maintenance houseplants.

I encourage you to try a few of these ideas when you're staging your own home, and I know you'll see, feel and smell the difference. If you need more inspiration and how-tos, download my eBooks on home staging. They come with a money-back guarantee. One click takes you to more information about how to order and what you get. You can start smart-staginng your home today!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Four Mistakes You Might Be Making When You Stage

I'm all about encouraging home sellers to stage their own homes!

According to Family Handyman Magazine, staged homes spend up 90% less time on the market than unstaged homes do.

That's an impressive figure. It translates into money in your pocket, because there are always carrying costs when a home sits on the market -- costs like insurance, taxes, mortgage payments, and maintenance expenses.

But I always remind people that staging a home involves more than adding some toss pillows and hiding family photos. Often it calls for tedious jobs, some dirty work, or even heavy lifting.

Experienced professional stagers know how to take precautions to make sure no one gets hurt. Here are the most common mistakes I've seen inexperienced DIY-ers make. I want you to stay safe when you stage. Because getting hurt is no fun!

You're not dressing right for work

Protect yourself. Protect your wardrobe. Wear what will keep you safe, save you time, and help you do a better job. I've blogged about how to dress for yardwork and how to dress for painting projects.

Always wear closed-toe shoes, never flip-flops, slippers, clogs, or sandals, when you tackle a home repair or furniture moving job. Invest in some shoes that are comfortable, support your ankles, and prevent slips and trips. 

A pair of safety glasses will protect your eyes when you deal with scraping popcorn ceilings, pruning shrubbery, or using power tools. I like mine because they have a warm tint to them, so I see the world literally with rose-colored glasses when I wear them!

I keep gloves for every chore -- latex ones for wet work, nitrile ones for painting, and heavy-weight but flexible gloves for demolition work. It's a joke in my family that I never saw a pair of gloves I didn't like. The right gloves will give you a better grip, and protect your hands from injury, and (horrors!) a ruined manicure.

Fasteners like nails, screws, tacks, and bolts cause 30% of all injuries that happen when people are doing home improvement projects. Keep your work area clean and organized as you work. If you do get a puncture wound, you should get a tetanus shot.
You might not enjoy wearing it,
but it's going to keep you safe.
A particulate mask will protect you from dust particles but you need something more serious if you are going to be using epoxy paints and glues, oil-based primers, or strong cleaning products. You need a full-face respirator. Yes, it will cost you, but they will protect your precious lungs and keep toxins from circulating through your system. Ventilate your work area to avoid the dangers that things like mold and spray paints present.

Be aware of where lead paint and asbestos can lurk, and don't disturb these substances by sanding or removing them.

You don't know how to use a ladder correctly

Slip and fall injuries can happen easily in your home while you're doing work you're not accustomed to doing, like climbing ladders.

Most likely you will use a 6-foot stepladder to do things like paint walls, clean a ceiling fan, install drapery hardware, or hang a large painting. Be sure the ladder is on a level surface and that it doesn't have any slippery, loose or broken steps. Don't use the top rung as a step. Don't use a metal ladder when working with electricity. If possible, have someone spot you or hold the bottom of the ladder while you work.

Chances are you won't be using an extension ladder for home staging, but in case you need to clean out gutters or do some high work, be careful! Have a spotter stand on the ground but with both feet braced against the ladder's bottom legs. Make sure the ground is level and stable. Follow the "four-one" rule. For every four feet of ladder height, the bottom of the ladder should be one foot away from a wall or structure.

No matter what kind of ladder you use, don't over-reach while standing on it. Instead, climb down the ladder and move it.
I love a ladder like this for all kinds of
household tasks. It stores well, is safe,
and is super-versatile. Photo: Support Plus

You're lifting things the wrong way 

Avoid lifting furniture if possible. In my eBook on furniture arranging, I recommend using gliders to place under the feet of furniture. They make a world of difference when you're not exactly sure where you want furnishings to go and you need to see a few variations. These small, inexpensive devices are game-changers.

If you must lift a piece of furniture, hold it close to your body, and at or below waist level with your elbows tucked in. Don't bend from the waist. Instead, crouch with your knees bent to avoid back injuries.

If upright, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in order to distribute the weight of the furniture more evenly. Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed as you work rearranging things. This will give you more control and reduce the chance of hurting yourself or the furniture.

Pace yourself, and don't try to move heavier pieces on your own. Even if it seems silly to ask for help with a lighter piece, it's far better to have a buddy than to be out of commission when a job needs to be done, or to do damage to furniture or walls or door casings.

Gliders under furniture pieces will protect your floors when you are
moving things around, as well as make your job easier.

You leave valuables in plain sight

Besides putting yourself in danger of bodily harm, there's also the possibility of emotional or financial harm. These days, you can't be naive. Be defensive. Get proactive about staying safe.

If you are alone in an unoccupied or vacant house and working on staging it, don't be obvious about it to passersby. Keep the doors locked, even if you have a helper or two. Keep your phone on your person. Most women Realtors and professional house cleaners keep pepper spray with them because they are usually working alone or even in teams and know they could be victimized easily.

When you are living in the house, failing to protect your valuables and personal information when you stage and list your home leaves you susceptible to trouble once people start touring your home. Realtors cannot accompany every person to every room when showing your house. Thieves operate as couples. Some scumbags schedule tours of homes just so they can survey a place and then come back to burglarize it when no one is there.

Jewelry, electronics, and small antiques should be kept out of view. Larger valuables, such as artwork or expensive gadgets, should also be secured or removed before your home is photographed and listed.

Keep your personal or professional paperwork stored safely, never visible. In the wrong hands, your financial information could do long term damage to your whole family.

Remove personal items like sports trophies and family photos, as well. These can be off-putting to buyers and could make your children vulnerable to being targeted.

Of course you'll remove prescription drugs from the premises. Even if people are genuine buyers on a serious home tour, seeing something that's valuable or useful can be tempting. People can be impulsive. Don't give them any excuse to take advantage of you.

Get the look, Get the book. 

I hope these reminders will encourage you to stay safe while staging. And I hope you take advantage of my home staging eBooks to sell your home quickly and for a good price! They will help you stage your home to make prospective buyers feel like they are walking into anyone's version of paradise -- even if your property isn't a paradise like Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands!

It's winter and I am dreaming of a getaway! Photo: Magnum Helicopters

Monday, January 20, 2020

3 Common Mistakes Home Sellers Make

If you are getting your home ready to sell, part of your "homework" should be to check what's current in your local online real estate listings.

This kind of research is crucial because once you see how homes like yours look and what the asking prices are, you'll have a good idea what your competition will be.

Don't compare your property to the ones that show poorly. Compare yours to the ones that show well, and then do what's smart to meet or beat them.

If you're like me, looking at online photos or at open houses, you'll begin to see some common mistakes made by poorly motivated (or else naive) home sellers.

These are the three that stand out for me, mistakes I don't want you to make!

Kitchen Without Updates

The kitchen is to many buyers the most important room of the house. Because so much goes on in the typical kitchen, a lovable one can be a major selling feature.

And an unlovable kitchen can be a dealbreaker. How does yours look? How does it function? Does it show off some updates?

You don't need a full renovation to keep your kitchen market-ready. Good kitchen cabinets can last up to 50 years. If your cabinets are well maintained and sturdy, consider giving them an update with a coat of paint and new hardware. My vote goes to white cabinets, either bright white, or a softer white, depending on what other fixed features are in the room. Work with the undertones in your flooring, counters and backsplash to choose a good white.

All white kitchens are still popular. Don't be afraid your white kitchen will look too sterile. You can add warmth and color with props like cutting boards, plants, fruit, cookware or dishes.

If your kitchen floor is dated or shows signs of wear, get estimates on replacing the flooring. Depending on what type of flooring you choose and the size of the room, you may be surprised at what a quick and economical fix it can be.

If your kitchen is large enough to accommodate one, add an island, one that is not fixed to the floor, but one you can take with you like a commercial-grade, stainless work table, or a farmhouse style vintage table.

A jazzy new faucet and sink are sure to impress buyers. Shop around for the best bargains. Or work with a local plumber who can give you suggestions for saving money.

White is always in style, in dining rooms, kitchens, baths...everywhere.
It's easy to warm up these spaces with wood tones and the right accessories.
Even though this dining room has a wall of windows, a light over the table
centers the room and adds another layer of light. 

Dark Interiors

A well-lit home is a brighter, more spacious home. Sometimes just changing light bulbs to LEDs isn't enough. You don't have to purchase high-end lighting fixtures to make a room look big and bright. Shop online or at a Habitat ReStore for modern, economical fixtures that add plenty of illumination and style.

If you've rearranged furniture and the ceiling fixture isn't in an appropriate place anymore, it's possible you can easily swag it to a new location. You can find tutorials online for swagging or wiring a ceiling fixture yourself. Just follow instructions carefully. Take your time, watch where you step, and use a wooden or resin ladder that does not conduct electricity. You never see an electrician with an aluminum ladder!

Most rooms need some accent lights and task lights in addition to general ambient lighting.  I like floor lamps because they look important, illuminate well, and don't eat up tabletop space. For your table lamps and floor lamps, avoid lampshades that obscure too much light. White, drum-shaped lampshades are in style now and they allow plenty of light to shine through and above and below them.

Don't list your house until you've made it as light and bright as you can. Pull back those curtains or use sheers. Make sure your Realtor knows where important light switches and lamps are located, and label them if it's not clear. Put some of your lights on timers or smart devices.

Your bath may not be huge or glamorous, 
but the right staging can help it 
look that way! Photo: Betsy Brown 

Nothing Unique

I hope you have one element of your home that sets it apart from all the other homes in your price range. If it's something you're proud of, make sure buyers see it!

Your unique feature could be the one thing they remember about your home after viewing five other properties that day. They will want to return for another look.

What you see as special about your home might not appeal to every buyer, but those who appreciate it will be willing to pay for a beneficial and unique characteristic. Again, go through those online pictures of your competition to discover what you have that the others do not.

Maybe you have an extra-large backyard. If so, show it off with landscaping or even adding a major element like an herb garden, a seating area around a fire pit, a patio with a grill, an enclosed hot tub, or a tennis court. These are the kind of improvements that make a home above average in buyers' minds.

Maybe you have a beautiful fireplace. Make it the focal point of the room. If your master bathroom is what you love most about your home, keep it pristine and gorgeously staged like a spa. If the garage is a selling point, don't use it for storage, but organize it, clean it, and stage it to make people jealous.

Don't have photos of your house taken until you have at least one special feature that will make online house hunters want to schedule a viewing.

A fireplace is always an asset, so make yours the star of the show by
clustering furniture around it. Artwork above and a simple mantel staging
make this beautiful Sarah Richardson living room fireplace-focused.

Your Home Inspection Reveals All

While you prep your home for sale, remember that whoever makes an offer on your property will likely be paying for a home inspection. You won't have any secrets. That mold in the basement? He will write it up. That window that doesn't close? He'll notice. That bathtub that drains slowly? Yup, that goes into his report, too.

Buyers will either want these problems fixed, or they will want a discount. You can speed up the sale of your home and save yourself some money by taking care of any neglected maintenance issues before you even talk to Realtors. The discounts buyers ask for will probably exceed what your repair costs will be.

So, make those roof repairs. Check stairways and railings, both inside and out, so there is nothing that could cause someone to fall. Have your HVAC system and plumbing system checked. I recently read that a trillion gallons of water, worth $6 billion, are wasted each year as the result of running toilets, dripping faucets, or other leaks. If a buyer sees that your home has damaged fixtures or obsolete systems, they may put an offer on a home they like as much but that needs fewer repairs. People want move-in ready!

Get the Look Get the Book

You can avoid these mistakes and others common to home sellers if you download my home staging eBook. I'll walk you through all the smart steps you need to get your home market-ready so you can get the price you like, and quickly. Staged homes sell faster and for more money than unstaged homes. Maximize your investment when you sell. It's easy when I show you how.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Here's How to Make Your Green Home Someone's Dream Home

When the home you are listing is an up-to-date, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly green home, some buyers will be skittish about exactly what they are buying.

"It's fancy, schmancy and trendy," they're thinking, "But what does that mean to me and my pocketbook and what skills will I have to learn to maintain these new systems?"

Your job as a home seller is to set these qualms to rest and let the prospective buyers know the distinct advantages of buying a green home. Most likely you'll communicate with prospects only through your listing agent, so it's crucial that your Realtor understands these benefits.

There are two ways to do this. One is to have a walk-through of your property with her, when you will point out the specifics that are considered energy-efficient money-savers or safety features. Or you can pass along literature you have (or can create) that explains these features, such as copies of the manuals that came with your Energy Star refrigerator or programmable thermostat. Alternatively, you can provide online links to these manuals.

Ideally, you can do both. It's all about communication.   

Talk About the Safety

Especially if your home is an older one, buyers might be concerned that materials and construction techniques used 50 or 100 years ago won't be energy-efficient by today's standards. They might be worried about the structural integrity, termites, radon, outgassing plastics, lead paint, asbestos, mold, and outdated plumbing or electrical systems.

Let your Realtor know whatever you know about the strength and quality of the materials in your home, highlighting their reduced impact on the environment. For example, if your home is partially constructed of recycled steel, buyers might be happy to know that steel is the most recycled material on earth, with up to 90%  of recycled content.

A home inspection will reveal if there are problems with plumbing or electric wiring, but if buyers are nervous about an old fuse box or copper pipes, they might walk away rather than pay for an inspection.

If your home has asbestos siding, buyers need to be reassured that it poses no danger unless it is cut, sawed, or broken into small enough asbestos fibers that can become airborne. Actually, undisturbed asbestos is rot-proof, fireproof, and good at insulating a home. Termites don't bother it, and it's easy to paint.

Point out materials that may be unfamiliar to buyers, like flooring made from sustainable bamboo, or recycled flooring materials like stone, old wood, cork, and rubber. Emphasize the methods used to create certain recyclable plastic components, like reaction injection molding  -- the new way molded polyurethane parts are made, when two liquid components are mixed and injected into the mold where they chemically react and cure.

The Realtor should know about exterior lights that automatically come on at dusk and off at dawn, about the video doorbell that lets you see from your phone who's at the door, and about any home security system you have, including the fact of whether or not these things convey with the home purchase. The more information your home shoppers have, the more confident they'll feel about buying your home.

Talk about the Savings

Buyers love saving money. The more specific you can be about energy costs, the better. Heating and cooling make up 54% of annual utility bills in an average home. If buyers think they are paying extra for your double-paned glass windows and other energy-efficient features, let your Realtor have a statement from your utility company that shows your billing for the past year to demonstrate the savings that come with good windows and up-to-date insulation and HVAC systems.

If your major appliances convey with your house and they are new-ish,
make sure buyers know they are energy-efficient. Photo: ComEd  
Major appliances account for 25% of a home's energy costs. If you are replacing older appliances with newer models as part of your staging, you might even leave the yellow and black Energy Star stickers on them to make it obvious how energy-efficient they are!

If you've had insulation added to your attic space, basement, or crawl space, let your Realtor have copies of the invoices itemizing the work that was done. Buyers will be happy that they don't have to pay for the work.

Buyers can also learn that you've swapped out your incandescents with warm-colored LED bulbs that last 50 times longer.

A programmable thermostat looks impressive, the simple ones aren't expensive, and they can shave as much as 10% off heating and cooling costs. If you have a tankless water heater, specify it in the MLS data, because people will notice. Typical water heating accounts for 12% of a home's utility bill.

Look for ways to decrease energy consumption further before listing your green home. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program estimates that adding insulation and properly sealing air leaks, monthly energy bills could be slashed by up to 20%.

Eco-friendly homes emphasize lower energy use for the sake of a reduced carbon footprint, and less energy consumed means more money saved.

Talk about the Environment

While some eco-friendly, green homes feature unconventional landscaping like an overgrown wildflower meadow for a front yard, or an expanse of barren rocks and sand in place of turf, an environmentally sound landscape doesn't have to call attention to itself.

A drought-resistant yard design that relies on native plants
can look good all year. Photo: ThePressDemocrat   

If your landscaping is appropriate for your climate, if it conserves water, if it incorporates indigenous plants instead of exotics, if it includes some wild areas as habitats for wildlife like birds and butterflies, if deciduous trees shade your home in summer and evergreen trees protect it from winter winds, and if you have mulched around flower beds and trees to reduce water usage and minimize lawn, then you have a right to brag about it as an environmentally friendly landscape.

Other signs that you are conscious of your home's impact on the environment: a bat house that will help control the mosquito population, ground covers that don't require chemical fertilizers or irrigation to thrive, and a rain barrel. Most people don't realize that one inch of rainfall on a 1,000-square foot roof can produce 600 gallons of water that can be collected in rain barrels at the corners of the home and used to irrigate a property.     

Your city or county may have restrictions in place that ban some plants as invasive species, that don't allow an outdoor clothesline, that determine how near trees can be to your home, or how much water can be used for irrigation. Ideally, any irrigating you do will be on a drip system rather than a more wasteful spray system.

When you're marketing your home, it's crucial to fine-tune your curb appeal by keeping trees and shrubs pruned and tidy. Avoid "topping" them, and instead practice "crown thinning" to keep them healthy and attractive, removing only 10 to 15% of the live growth in the tree's interior.

Once you've listed your home, you'll need to check features like fountains, birdbaths, and pools so they are clean and functioning. If you have a pool, it can boost your home’s value by up to 7%, if it is customary in your market area and if the pool is in good condition.

Get the look. Get the book.

Your home may be greener than you realize! Advertise your eco-friendly qualities by making them obvious and attractive.

Selling an eco-friendly home doesn't have to be a challenge. In fact, savvy buyers will appreciate the modern conveniences, the safety, and the ethics of your property. Even buyers reluctant to purchase a home only a techy could love, once they are educated, will happily get on board. And that means a purchase offer coming your way!

Learn more about how to get your home sold quickly at a price you like by downloading my eBooks on home staging.  You can start your staging today.

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