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.

Friday, January 3, 2020

How to kick off your homestaging

Is one of your New Year's resolutions is to sell your home this year? If so, it's never too early to begin planning for success.

Even if selling isn't on your agenda yet, if you own a home, chances are that sooner or later you'll be selling it. Last year, the stats show that the average homeowner in America moved after eight years. 

The time to begin your home staging plans is as soon as you are confident that you will place your home for sale. Here is my 7-step program to make the home-selling process smooth and profitable.

1. Choose a Realtor

I always encourage sellers to work with a real estate agent. I've given tips on how to choose a Realtor and how to work with your Realtor so you both benefit.

An experienced Realtor will provide you with the information to get you started and help you understand the process, the current market, and a realistic value for your home. Get to know what your competition looks like. Study online photos of similarly priced homes. You need to meet or beat those standards!

2. Plan your budget

As soon as you know what your home could sell for, you'll have a better idea of what you can spend to make it as marketable as possible. Yes, it takes money to make money. Every home needs tweaking to become the dream home for a large demographic. Even if it's just cleaning supplies and a storage unit, be prepared to spend something to get the best return on your most important investment.

3. Evaluate your home

Get real about your home's problems and needs. Here's another area where a Realtor and a home inspector are indispensable. If you've chosen the right ones and pay attention, they will steer you in the right direction about ways your home might be outdated, cluttered, or in need of repairs. Don't get offended or defensive. It's just business. It's time to detach yourself emotionally from this piece of property.

Even when a home doesn't have an open floor plan,
buyers like to see from one room to another.
Keep doors open, and let photos for MLS
reflect how rooms relate to each other.   

4. Plan furniture arrangement

Determine the traffic pattern through your home -- the way people on tour will enter and walk through your house. That's the first step in deciding what furniture will go where.

Make the path obvious and easily accessible.

Make the focal point or best feature of each room quickly visible.

Make the eye move evenly and smoothly around the room.

Make the singular purpose of each room clear.

5. Take Inventory

Based on what your real estate agent has told you and what you've learned by studying your floor plan and traffic pattern, you can determine what furniture will best increase the perceived value of your home and what will detract from it.

Do you want to sell the furniture that "just isn't working?" You might decide that some can be refreshed with a coat of paint, or a new slipcover to jive with a simplified color scheme. The furnishings that don't help sell your home, but are pieces you value and don't want to part with can be stored off-site.

Once you know what furnishings will stay, it's time to list what pieces might be missing. Now's a good time to hunt for bargains. Don't forget to let friends and relatives know what you need.

6. Create a staging area

Your collection of samples and possible
staging supplies doesn't need to look this neat.
But it should keep you motivated.
Photo: BeachBlissLiv   
This next step really gets the ball rolling and convinces you that your home will be on the market soon!

Anything new that will be part of your home's staging can ideally be stored in one place.

Clear an area somewhere in your home where you can keep everything from fabric, notes to yourself, color swatches, and inspirational shelter magazines, to that new end table you found at Salvation Army and the throw pillows you're going to recover.

Seeing all these items in one place is constantly reassuring to me.

When you've set up your staging area, there's always one place to go when you need to check a measurement or color match. It's also a place to put the "maybes" -- those pictures and vases and trays and blankets you're not sure what to do with yet. 

Your staging area might be part of a closet, under a bed, a corner of the garage, or it could be a spare bedroom or the attic. Of course, this process is much easier if the home you are staging is vacant, but most DIY home stagers don't have that luxury.

7. Buy my eBook

As a final step to home sale prep, you'll need my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast For Top Dollar. The title says it all. I give you everything you need to make staging both economical and effective! You'll learn what I've learned over my 27 years in the construction, real estate, and home decorating businesses. It's all there in a 150-page pdf -- the formulas, the secrets, the shortcuts, ideas, and encouragement you need. You can do this! You're just two clicks away from kicking off your home staging plan.

Top and middle photos: BHG     

Monday, December 16, 2019

Thirteen of My favorite Things

Bloggers and celebs everywhere love to wind up the year by getting their Oprah on, and sharing their list of favorite things. So, I thought I would jump on the bandwagon.

None of the following are affiliates or paid product endorsements. These are the items that I love for all kinds of reasons. Maybe you will see something that strikes your fancy, something you did not know about, or something that solves a problem for you. That's my hope! 

Seeds from Pinetree Seeds

I've purchased gardening and crafting essentials from Pinetree for years and am never disappointed. They sell not just flower and vegetable seeds, but plants, gardening tools and supplies, natural pest repellants, loose spices and teas, soap molds, yarns and knitting patterns, craft and gardening books, and everything needed to make your own natural cosmetics and toiletries.

What I especially appreciate about Pinetree is that their seed packets are sized right for home gardeners. You don't have to buy 250 seeds when all you want is 15. You won't find better seed prices anywhere.

Celosia flowers I grew from seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds. 

Original fabrics from Spoonflower

No matter what kind of fabric craft project I'm imagining, I know I'm going to find cloth to suit it at Spoonflower. Known for custom printing anyone's original designs on fabric, gift wrap, or wallpaper, they also sell dinner napkins, blankets, pillow shams, duvet covers, curtains, and wallpaper, including the peel-and-stick kind. So many mouthwatering designs in all categories, it's difficult to make a selection!

Spoonflower is a terrific source of fabrics for some stylish dinner napkins, placemats, tea towels, and other accessories for home staging. Lately, I've stitched up potholders to give as gifts for friends, after carefully choosing the perfect Spoonflower fabric for each person

If you can't find a fabric or wallpaper with just the right
 personality at Spoonflower, I don't know where you would go! 

Ghiradelli Baking Chips

As a chocoholic with a sweet tooth but also someone who values good health, I need something that strikes a balance. My go-to chocolate treat is a small portion of Ghiradelli dark chocolate bittersweet chips. I can nibble on these slowly and be satisfied, instead of destroying a whole chocolate bar! 

They're not cloyingly sweet, and I can remind myself that research shows dark chocolate has numerous health benefits. It contains antioxidants, minerals, and fiber that help your heart and blood profile, and that it improves brain function. Yay!


I like to listen to music, podcasts, and YouTube, but don't want to impose my choices on Mr. Lucky. My music tastes run the gamut from The Stones to Tchaikovsky. With this headset, I can relax, indulge in sounds I like, exercise, or watch movies and not disturb anyone.

Even without a soundtrack, these headphones soften background sounds I want to block. I chose orange, but they are available in five other colors as well, including neon pink, turquoise, lime green and bright blue.

Yeah, that's right, they are wired, as you can see in my photo. But they're adjustable, versatile, comfortable, affordable, and give me good sound quality.

Buckwheat hulls

The only pillow I sleep on is one I made at least 10 years ago. It's filled with buckwheat hulls.

You can buy a buckwheat hull pillow for $85, or you can order enough hulls to make your own for about $15.

The fabric cover you make will take less than half a yard of fabric. That cover stays on all the time, the way traditional ticking used to cover feather pillows.

Over that cover you can use a standard pillowcase folded over a few times, or make pillowcases especially for your pillow's shape. What a delight it is shopping the Spoonflower site for novelty prints!

The best part is that this source for buckwheat hulls comes from a small North Carolina company begun by a mother so her daughter, born with Down Syndrome, and others with special needs could be part of a business. It's a  win/win purchase.

The beauty of buckwheat hulls is that they support your head and neck gently, and never get warm, so your pillow will always be cool and comforting. Make your pillow just large enough to let the hulls move around a little, so you can adjust it when you sleep with it. My pillow is a lumbar style, but I have made square ones to use and give as gifts as well, and they are equally comfortable.

Unlike pillows made from synthetic materials, buckwheat hull pillows never take on a rancid or funky scent. You can wash the cover to your pillow by removing the hulls first. That's why I added a zipper to one end of my pillow.

This is my pillow, minus a pillowcase. The cover is made from two fabric circles, each one 6 inches in diameter, that are sewn to a single piece of fabric 18 inches (the circumference of the pillow) by 15 inches (the length of the pillow).    

Polymer clay

Polymer clay is fun to play with. It's versatile and just challenging enough as a craft. You can start turning out cool stuff without years of practice. It's not expensive to get started because some of the tools you'll already own.

I've used polymer clay mostly to create beads for jewelry, but also to make Christmas tree ornaments and garden art.

This medium does have some drawbacks. It takes adult supervision if kids use it because it's plastic and you don't want anyone ingesting any, so cleanliness is important.

Also, the clay has to be baked in something like a small toaster oven in a well-ventilated space. I bake mine in the garage because the fumes are toxic to both people and animals, although odorless.

Still, unlike traditional clay projects, what you see is what you get, you can get results relatively quickly, and the color choices are unbeatable because you can blend your own combinations.

No one guesses that my turquoise beads are not the real thing.
Imagine the possibilities for turning out your own
original jewelry using polymer clay to mimic different
stones, woods, metals, and plastics. 


My daughter and my younger son gifted me an iPad recently and I although I am still a novice at finding my way around, it's changing my game, making it easier to cruise around the web, to see more interesting feeds, and to be more creative and active on social media. I'll still use my computers, cell phone and camera, but I'm looking forward to expanding my horizons with my sleek, new device!

Watering can with long spout

It's just a simple vessel, but such an effective tool, I had to include it. There's no other way to water plants, indoors or out, without wasting water or splashing water where you don't want it, on a tabletop, for example. I also use it to efficiently rinse a shower stall after spraying and wiping the walls. It's kinda cute, too, pretty enough to leave out as part of a plant display.

My green plastic watering can holds just 6 cups of water
but is surprisingly helpful around the house. 


For home staging, the etagere is super useful. It's as functional as a bookcase, but has more style. Staged lightly with a few decor pieces, or more densely with books and other objects, it fills space without crowding a room. 

This etagere has smoked mirror
shelves, which add to its appeal. 
I deliberately purchased one that had an Asian tone, with the pagoda-like top. I wanted to display some chinoiserie collectibles all in one place. 

My etagere is a piece from Wayfair and was priced at less than $150, a bargain compared to others I looked at. It's an investment piece that didn't break the bank.  

The finish was a bronzey-gold, so I sprayed it with gold that had more of a glossy finish. I can't think of a staging job where an etagere wouldn't add just the right touch.         


A mini-trampoline has always been a favorite of mine. I gave the last one I owned to my youngest grandson, and when I started missing my bouncing routine, I replaced it with this rebounder.

I need a way to get moving no matter what the weather or my daily schedule. Spending just 20 minutes on the rebounder gets my heart rate up, tones muscles, and improves lymph system functions, all in a low-impact way.

I realize that a 20-minute workout session sounds lame, but, hey, it's better than nothing at all, and a rebounder delivers impressive benefits in the shortest amount of time. I have never been athletic, but have always been active and healthy. At age 77 now, I'm not going to become Ms. Fitness Fanatic.

My headphones can reach me when I'm on the rebounder, so I can listen to music, which makes it more like dancing than working out. The handle makes it accident-proof.

My Keto cookbook

I know I raved about the Ghiradelli chips I love, but I've been eating a Keto diet for the past month. After a week of adjusting ("keto flu"), I'm losing weight and feeling great! This book makes it easy to track macros. It gives me menus and recipes. Those chocolate chips are for binge days, because, you know, chocolate!

The author is an authority on eating well. This book tells you everything 
you need to know about following a ketogenic diet.

Bergamot Essential Oil

Since my favorite tea to drink is Earl Grey, it's not surprising that my favorite essential oil is bergamot. The scent of Earl Grey tea is what makes it unique and so appealing. Having the essential oil on hand means I can savor that scent in other ways as well. My fave brand? Aura Cacia, for its absolute best quality.

I mix it with coconut oil and sugar for a wonderful sugar scrub. Combined with sweet almond oil, it's my go-to makeup remover. And added to witch hazel and some lavender essential oil, it makes a delightful air freshener spray.

Bergamot oil possesses health benefits as well. It reduces anxiety, promotes sleep, reduces cholesterol, combats food-borne illnesses, and fights inflammation.

I've blogged about the importance of using natural essential oils rather than artificial air freshener sprays, candles, and diffusers for adding fragrance to a home when it's on the market. Bergamot, along with other feel-good scents like lemongrass, peppermint, orange, lemon, pine, and cinnamon, are perfect for giving a home a clean, pleasant scent.

I encourage you to read labels. The terms "natural oils," or "perfumes," or "fragrant oils" are not the same as essential oils. 

Bathroom wallpaper

Sure, wallpaper isn't usually recommended for home staging, but in our master bath remodel this year, I decided to paper one wall with something that would cozy it up and also add some life to a windowless room. Every day I see it, it makes me smile. The pattern is called Palm Leaves Banana Leaf, and I ordered it from Wallcoveringsmart. One roll was enough, and the cost was less than $60 -- so worth it!

Wallpapering just one wall in our master bath made a big difference.
It created the feeling of an exotic oasis! 
Everyone has favorite sources, products, foods, people, places, and activities. Although I usually limit my blog to topics that benefit people staging their own home, I enjoyed compiling this list for you and hope you enjoyed learning about what I value on a daily basis. Now it's time for you to make your own list!

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Hidden Dangers of DIY Projects

Homeowner enthusiasm for DIY home improvement projects keeps growing.

It makes sense because enhancing your home with your own hands saves money, and gives you a feeling of satisfaction and pride.

But as fun and fulfilling as doing it yourself can be, many projects can lead to falls, cuts, burns, and bruises. Whether you're putting in a new bathtub, painting over old paint, or repairing a fence, it's never wise to ignore the old adage, "Safety first!"

Did you know that over a fourth of U.S. patients reported in 2016 that they had visited an urgent care center in the last two years? For someone in the midst of a DIY project, that visit could represent pain, long term injury, financial expenses, and a postponed or canceled project at home.

It's all preventable if we review some basic safety measures to keep you on the job, healthy and happily creating a more valuable home.

Start Right 

Every DIY project makes a mess before it makes something better. Clutter is your enemy when you begin because it only complicates the chaos as you work.

Starting with a clean work area -- whether it's a workbench in the garage, your kitchen's center island, or a full floor of a house -- is essential. When your surroundings are neat and organized, you'll feel more in control of the project. Less stress equals better focus equals fewer accidents.

I always designate a central spot where tools and supplies are returned, even if it's just a simple project like framing a page from a book to hang as artwork. When I paint a room, I keep everything I need in one place, in the center of the room. It lessens the chance that I'll trip over something or knock over a can of paint. When I have a hot glue gun project, I collect all the supplies I will be using before I even plug in the gun. You don't ever walk away from a hot glue gun if you have children or pets.

In fact, keep things like sharp tools, moving machinery, and toxic material way out of reach of young children.

These are the kinds of practices that save injuries, save steps, save time, and save frustration. They can also save you the cost of emergency room care, physical therapy sessions, and chiropractic treatments!

For projects that take up room, like installing overhead light fixtures, upholstering chairs, cleaning gutters, tiling a backsplash, or painting a deck, give yourself working room. Clear pathways to eliminate tripping hazards.  Keep cords, ladders, equipment, and other obstacles out of your way.

Another important part of starting a DIY project is a tool check. This is an especially important step if you're planning to use anything electric or sharp. Is every tool you'll use in good working order? Batteries charged? Drill bits and utility knife blades sharp? Electric cords in perfect condition?

I would not think of doing any kind of gardening, no matter
what time of year, or how messy or brief the task, without gloves
and long sleeves. They both protect me from insects, cuts, thorns, and dirt. Yesterday I pruned this overgrown Chindo viburnum with my loppers. 

Dress for the Job

While you probably don't need to wear a HAZMAT suit for most home improvement projects, you do need to wear what's appropriate for the job at hand. The wrong clothing could make you uncomfortable, distracted, and vulnerable.

For example, if you're wearing loose clothes like floppy sleeves, an unzipped jacket, any dangling jewelry, or untied shoelaces, they could snag on a moving piece of equipment, or make you trip.  Keep long hair out of the way as well.

Please don't wear open-toed shoes like sandals or flip flops. Wear waterproof boots if you are pressure washing. Wear workboots that support your ankles if you move around on uneven surfaces. Wear heavy-duty workshoes if you will be moving heavy things that you could drop. Wear comfortable athletic shoes or Crocs if you'll be standing on your feet for long periods. Wear shoes with good sole support if you'll be going up and down a rung ladder.

Don't Drink While You DIY 

More than 7% of the population aged 18 years and older — nearly 13.8 million Americans — have problems with drinking, including 8.1 million people who suffer from alcoholism.

If you drink do so separately from any do-it-yourself home improvement projects. Even a glass of wine can impair your judgment. Postpone the drinking until the work is done. I know people like to have friends over for a beer-and-painting party, and that's just foolish for all kinds of reasons. It's not good for your home or you!

When I gave a demonstration for my garden club on making a hypertufa container for planting, I stressed
the importance of protecting yourself from airborne
dry cement and toxicity from wet cement. 

Protect Your Eyes, Ears, and Lungs

Work glasses or safety goggles are designed to protect your precious vision.

You don't want any foreign objects in your eyes that can irritate, cut or scrape. Get a good pair and then use them loyally if you are subject to sawdust, cement powder, wood chips, tile dust, tree branches, metal slivers, chemicals that can splash or outgas, insulation fragments, or airborne sand particles. Sunglasses are not the same as safety goggles. 

You can protect your hearing by wearing earplugs, headphones, or some form of hearing loss protection. Wear them when you are around anything accompanied by high levels of noise and intense decibels. Many people ignore the negative effects that loud, sustained noise can have on their long term hearing. The damage can be irreparable, and hearing aids aren't sexy, convenient, or cheap.

Project your lungs from the fumes that can come from paints, solvents, and cleaning supplies. Read labels. Use adequate ventilation. If necessary, wear a full-face respirator, not just a dust mask. Those little white masks screen out only airborne particles, not vapors. Buy zero-VOC paints. Take painting and staining projects outdoors, especially when using spray paints and especially if you are pregnant.

Take care of the little repairs in your home early, and you'll keep
big repairs at bay. This photo and top photo: Family Handyman

Keep Up Routine Inspections

Home improvement DIY projects are more fun when they are upgrades rather than repairs. Routine inspections minimize repairs. Part of being a homeowner means there is always something to inspect before it becomes a problem.

Make sure your home doesn't have exposed surfaces that are asbestos or lead paint. Removing these materials calls for pros, but covering them with safe paints and new, impermeable surfaces takes care of the problem.

Check your air filters monthly. Watch that your gutters aren't full of leaves. Look for cracks in your foundation and any concrete surfaces like driveways, patios, and sidewalks. Check the expiration dates on fire extinguishers. Make sure no mold is forming in basements, window openings, or under sinks. Inspect your roof once or twice a year for loose shingles and damage from animals or trees.

When you keep on top of these systems, your home will be safe for everyone inside. And you'll save money because you'll identify potential problems before they turn into costly, larger problems.

Practice Good Work Habits

People who work every day in the blue-collar trades learn safe routines for the work they do. Use your own common sense and awareness to do the same.

Tackling home improvement jobs yourself can be enriching and fulfilling, but also dangerous. Stay safe as you work, and you'll be encouraged to handle additional projects to make your home look and function better. For more about working safely while doing home improvement, check these additional simple safety tips.

And for more tips on staging your home when it's time to sell, be sure to download my $4.99 eBook DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast for Top Dollar

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Curb Appeal: Front Entrances That Say "Happy Holidays!"

If you're like most people, your schedule is crammed during the holidays. And if you are marketing your home during December, there's additional pressure to make it look inviting and neat every day. Tall order!

You don't need to tackle new craft projects or break the year-end budget to have your home looking stunning. Just simplify your decorating and seasonal staging! Make the entrance of your home -- what greets people coming to tour it -- the focus of your curb appeal and homestaging.

Here are easy ideas for making your home inviting to buyers during the winter holidays. As always, it's about curb appeal!

Create a plan

Start by selecting a simple decorating plan. Maybe it's a two-tone color scheme, or a candy and cookies motif, or a Santa theme. If you have something that looks like a collection of antique toys (teddy bears, an old wagon, sleds or skates) collect them all in one place to create a unified look. Maybe the nativity is your theme, or angels, or greenery, or plaids, or snowflakes.

This is the approach professional decorators in upscale department stores employ to cast a spell over shoppers, setting a consistent, feel-good, mood. That's how you want home buyers to feel when they enter your home on the market, that everything they see is intentional, not lazily thrown together. It builds their confidence in the maintenance and quality of your home as a whole.

You'll need to clean up your outside entrance of the stuff of summer and autumn. You want a blank slate to spark your creativity. Collect the props and outdoor decor that you can press into service to cast your Christmas spell! With luck, you'll have what you need from previous Decembers, but you may choose to add some new filler items to freshen the look and pull it all together.

Start with a seasonal wreath on the front door.
I've blogged about
how to make a greenery wreath,
a rag wreath, and
felt wreath. 
This twig wreath cost me 90 cents at Salvation Army,
and the silver poinsettias are from Dollar Tree.

Add something to ground the doorway and add seasonal personality. I spray painted these branches white and tucked them into the nursery containers of
three small juniper shrubs nestled in a lightweight plastic urn. 

An assortment of evergreens on your steps is a simple way to give a
nod to the season and greet people coming to the door (be sure to de-ice the steps!).
The greens can be real potted shrubs, artificial topiaries, or just branches cut from your tree or shrubbery. Their containers don't even have to match,
the winning way the gals at TheMerryThought set up their front entrance. 

Keeping it clean and still festive, this entrance plays with simple signs of the
season -- a holly wreath, an evergreen garland draped casually over the doorway,
some logs and winter boots. Photo: InTheFields 
If you have a front porch or even a small landing where you've staged with
chairs or a bench, now's your chance to add some
welcoming winter accessories. Photo: One Sutton Place
Make your outside decor local as well as seasonal --
reflecting the charm of your area, whether it's an
urban or rural location. This wreath has a coastal theme.
Don't forget to add a fresh and cheery welcome mat!
Any garland or wreath you add can be real or faux as long as it is weatherproof.
This red door makes quite a statement. But I'm not suggesting you paint your front
door just for the holidays! It's not a good idea to cover it with a holiday wrap either,
because buyers will want to see your real door if they are serious buyers. Photo: BHG
The holidays are a time to go bold. So don't be afraid
of color combos you might ordinarily avoid for homestaging.
Pepto Bismol pink and bright red? Yes! Photo: JuliaRyan
Instead of a wreath or other decoration on your door,
the siding or trim near your entrance can be the
background for that festive touch. This wreath is
attached to the exterior light fixture. Photo: CitrineLiving 
This wreath of plastic sandwich bags I made years ago and it
comes out to play and get a makeover every Christmas. One of its best qualities is that
it looks attractive from both sides, so it's perfect for glass doors. 

Streamline your Decor

I love seeing home exteriors decorated during December with outdoor lighting. Who doesn't? The more lights the better, but it seems to me that the fun of putting up the lights and enjoying their sight turn into their opposite when it's time to take them down. Talk about unpleasant chores!   

My advice is to skip the elaborate lighting displays and make your entrance the star. This simple approach will free you so you'll have more time and energy for what counts, being with family, neighbors and friends at the end of the year and observing the traditions you honor.

I'm wishing all my readers the happiest of holidays!

Monday, November 11, 2019

5 Steps to Selling a House During a Divorce

As if going through a divorce wasn't stressful enough, adding the sale of a jointly owned home turns the process into a minefield.

Whether the home is occupied by both partners, only one, or neither, decisions about the sale will take ongoing cooperation -- something that's often missing when a couple is calling it quits. If you are currently in the process of divorcing, or perhaps contemplating a divorce, the more you educate yourself about your rights and how the home home selling process happens, the more you'll be able to protect yourself now and ongoing, as well as create a quick sale at a good price.

Dissolving joint ownership of property, although painful, is a necessary step so each of you can establish independent finances. Done equitably, you'll both will get money you need to start over.

The sale also allows both of you to see yourselves in a new light.

If you are sure you are going to sell the house, you should have already consulted a divorce lawyer. Laws regarding jointly owned property vary from state to state, and you'll need to know your rights. 

Then, to help you make sensible decisions and create a peaceful transaction, review these five steps to selling your home.

1. Choose a Real Estate Agent

I never recommend selling a house without a real estate professional, and especially when the owners are divorcing. The agent provides a buffer and acts as a mediator just by nature of the job description.

If you and your ex-to-be agree that the agent you worked with when you bought the house is a great match for you, see if that agent is still available. If not, you can each make a list of agents you know or who have been recommended. Then, you can compare lists and see if any one name pops up on both lists.

Alternatively, you could each enlist the aid of a friend or relative, and these two people could as a "committee" choose a real estate agent together. The important thing is that you not begin the process of selling by arguing about who the listing agent will be.

Do not hire a personal friend or one of your relatives as your agent. You want someone both parties implicitly trust and feel comfortable with, and you don't want to put a friend or family member in what could become an uncomfortable position.


2. Decide on the listing price.

You can't set a listing price based on how much money you need. Or on what you originally paid for the house. Or what the Zillow Zestimate is. You need relevant facts and figures to establish its current market value.

Your Realtor will give you the data necessary to determine an asking price for your property. He or she will examine homes like yours in your area that have sold in the past three months and then zero in on a fair price. The agent might also show you specs on homes that have sales pending, and homes near you that have not sold, including how many days they have been on the market, and homes that have lowered their prices waiting for a serious buyer. All this info will give you the big picture,

You could also pay for an appraisal by a licensed real estate appraiser. He will survey other sold properties and compare them to the condition, features, and location of your home.   

When you base your asking price on what the research shows as fair market value, you're more likely to sell quickly for a price you can't argue with. Rather than bump heads with your ex-to-be, you're deferring to the unbiased experts --- the Realtor and the appraiser. This deferring is a common tactic all successful negotiators use.

Your buyers, if they finance the purchase, will pay for their own appraisal, and it may not jive with yours, but that's okay. At least you've set your asking price and you're ready to list it, show it, and accept offers.

Once your home is staged, and you've removed personal objects, you'll see it with new eyes. It's always best if one spouse moves out, and the other takes responsibility for keeping the home show-ready. Photo: Meg Braff 

3. Fix and Stage the house.

Before the house can be shown to potential buyers, you'll need to get it market-ready for the competition it will face. Here's where things can get dicey, when you and your "insignificant other" may differ on what needs to be fixed, removed or replaced.

Almost every home needs minor repairs before it is ready for showings. Rather than bicker over what needs to be done and who will pay, once again it's best to get the opinions of your Realtor. Making these decisions will call for maturity and level-headedness. Remember that you both want the same outcome -- a sold home, so it's no time for petty jealousies or vindictiveness.

If you can jointly draft a list of repairs and updates deemed necessary to command a good selling price, and then get price quotes, and split the bill evenly, that's ideal. Otherwise, one party might provide the labor and the other one the money. Or agree to some other equitable arrangement, depending on your financial circumstances.

Hopefully, you can both agree on the necessity of staging. Staging the home will help you both disentangle emotionally from the property. Once family keepsakes, valuables, photos, and memorabilia are removed, it's easier to see the house as a major investment instead of "our home."

DIY home staging can be economical. Try to agree on a budget in line with the value of the property. According to, a staged home sells for 20% more than an unstaged home, and staged homes sell 88% faster than ones that aren't. With these statistics in mind, it's easier to justify spending some money on things like repairs, painting and some trendy, new accessories. One percent of your asking price is a realistic figure to use when you calculate how much to alot for home staging.

Do not let your listing agent include terms like "motivated buyer," "must sell," "all offers considered." It only makes you look desperate.

4. Review offers together

When the time comes to review purchase offers from potential buyers, you'll need to work together to make sure you both feel you're getting a good deal. Your agent will advise you during this process, but you and your ex-to-be will ultimately be making the decision together. Follow the lead of your Realtor. You are paying for his or her expertise.

No matter what kind of offers you get, always counteroffer. It will keep the negotiating ball in the air and can lead to an agreement. It's best if your buyers not know that you are divorcing. It will only encourage low ball offers and hard-nosed negotiating.

5. Let lawyers distribute the money 

You don't need to sweat the division of the proceeds once the house has been sold. The escrow company will distribute the money to you and your ex after all the obligations on the house and other payments have been made. The attorney you hire will educate you about laws in your state. 

In the U.S. between 40% to 50% of marriages end in divorce. So, you're not alone if you are in the midst of the divorce process. Selling the home can be a rocky road, but it doesn't have to be. It takes patience and compromises for both partners to cooperate and trust their real estate and legal advisers. Once the house sells, you'll both be ready financially and emotionally for a new start.

For more valuable tips on how to get your home ready to sell, be sure to check out my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and for Top Dollar. Go here to see what you get!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Six Tips for Selling your Home this Autumn

Just because days get cooler does not mean the home selling market cools.

Summer may be over, but please don't assume as a home seller that real estate sales take a nosedive. In fact, fall is one of the best times of the year to sell your house.

Buyers tend to be more serious than people who were house hunting during the summer.

The weather is friendlier than in summer or winter, making home tours more comfortable.

And, crisp, dry autumnal air and colorful landscaping result in better photographs.

With cooler weather on the horizon,  potential homebuyers are looking for a place to hunker down for the winter. You can cash in on autumn's appeal with the right staging!

Here are six tips you can use to make your home look like the perfect place for homebuyers to snuggle up this fall. 

1. Use Autumn Colors

According to Michael Plant, Sherwin-Williams Director of Color Marketing, color trends for 2019 are both jewel tones, and sun-washed oranges and tans. Coincidentally, these are also autumn accent colors.

Of course, you're not going to paint your walls deep burgundy, chocolate brown, or royal blue for staging purposes, but you can count of these colors when choosing decorating accessories like your pillows, artwork, throws, wreaths, and vases.

So, replace your spring-like, pastel-colored candles on silver candlesticks with chunky, purple pillars on wooden pedestals. Recover your grey and white pillows with a remnant of deep teal velvet. You might even splurge on a new paisley duvet cover like the one below from Pottery Barn.

Autumn colors are soothing and homey. Warm wood tones and rich reds and olives are balanced here by plenty of whites. When staging, layer on those interesting textures. 

2. Add Seasonal Gourds

Produce of the harvest season, like gourds, pumpkins, and winter squashes are iconic of autumn. Any of these will add a touch of fall-feeling to your home even if you don't change anything else.

Arranged in a glass bowl or rustic basket, or on a generously-sized tray, they'll create a seasonal centerpiece for your entry table, coffee table, or kitchen island. If these hard-shelled vegetables don't jive with your home's color palette, change their colors with craft paint or spray paint.

No one says your pumpkins and gourds have to be real. Stores are jammed with adorable replicas to suit any taste or staging need. And I've easily made pumpkins from fabric scraps! Other seasonal props are feathers, baskets, dried autumn leaves, branches of dried berries, apples, pine cones, corn husks, terra cotta pots, logs, dried flowers, and shafts of wheat.

Keep your color palette geared to warm, seasonal tones and you can't go wrong. Feathers and faux flowers are from Dollar Tree,  $1 pumpkins are from Home Goods,
nd the agate-inspired tray is from Ollie's Bargain Outlet at $7.  

3. Check Your Water heater 

Anyone shopping for a new home loves the idea that he doesn't have to tackle any home maintenance projects right from the get-go. Before listing is a good time to give your water heater some TLC. Having a plumber drain your water heater and remove sediment is something a Realtor can let a prospective buyer know about. It indicates that you have maintained your home well. Experts recommend doing this once a year and pre-listing is a good time to do it.

A plumber's visit can also include a check of things like dripping faucets, leaking joints, or outdated pipes. Buyers will hire a home inspector, so you might as well fix these minor issues now. An inspector wants to find problems because it assures the buyers he's earning the money they pay him.

If you have a tankless water heater, a water conditioning system, or an irrigation system, make sure your MLS listing includes these amenities. If you have a septic system, buyers will want to know about its location and if it's had problems. The same goes for a private well that is used for drinking water or irrigation.

4. Inspect your roof

Another area that a home inspector will look at carefully is your roof. Savvy home buyers will walk around the outside of a home and look up at the condition of a roof. To avoid surprises, have your roof inspected yearly and earn some more bragging rights for taking good care of your home.

In most areas of the U.S, when your home is on the market in the fall it's likely to be a landing place for falling leaves, pine needles, and twigs. Don't let this junk litter your roof and drift into gutters and downspouts. A clean roof boosts your curb appeal.

Silk hydrangeas on your front door can handle the elements and stay looking fantastic through the year-end holidays. I love this chocolate door! Photo: House Beautiful

5. Revisit your door color

A front door is the smile on your curb appeal. You'll make a memorable impression if your door sports a bold color. I've blogged about how to choose the best color for your front door and also how to paint a front door without taking it off the hinges.

If your door color isn't one of the popular autumn colors, and you don't want to paint it, just clean it and dress it up a bit. Adding an autumn wreath and some seasonal touches near your entrance make your home look loved and shows you're in tune with the times. I have a Pinterest Board for wreaths to give you inspiration and ideas. And also a board for autumn decor ideas that are perfect for home staging.

6. Clean up the yard

A few leaves won't hurt your home's curb appeal, but piles of blown-in debris will ... well... contribute to that haunted house appeal!

Enjoy some outdoor exercise by raking any yard you own and clearing any pathways. Trimming overgrown vegetation will make a big difference. Small projects like these can determine whether people request a tour of your home or else decide to keep looking. First impressions count!

If you have a painted fence, it's a good idea check it for damage. If it has signs of flaking or thinning paint or stain, a fresh application will do wonders for even an older fence. When the fence is constructed of pressure-treated lumber, it might need a pressure washing to make it look new again.

A fence like this is usually a selling feature that charms buyers. A poorly-
maintained one looks like work to them. Photo: The Fence Authority

Get the Look, Get the Book.

October in the U.S. seems to be the month for spooky and scary sights. But it's also the season for slowing down and getting comfortable, that sweet time between busy summer schedules and hectic winter holidays. Make it easy for homebuyers to visualize themselves in your clean and cozy world! My three $4.99 eBooks on home staging show you how. They help you prepare your property for a quick and profitable sale. Trust me. I've staged and sold homes in all seasons!

Top photo: Country Living         

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