Monday, October 29, 2012

How Selling Your Home is Like Playing Baseball, Major League Style!


In the movie, Moneyball, Brad Pitt's chcharacter learns that
to win at baseball, he has to pay attention to the numbers. 
I love baseball. It’s the only sport I watch on television.

Baseball is leisurely, unlike basketball. It’s gentlemanly, unlike football. It’s quiet, unlike NASCAR. It’s complicated, unlike tennis. What’s not to love?

Watching the World Series games,  pondering my fascination with the game, and thinking – as always – of home selling, I spotted some similarities.  

Teamwork is Essential

Although this blog concentrates on DIY home staging, there are times when you need to have someone else do it,  times when you need to call in pros to get a specific job done. 

Say you want to paint your tall stairwell, but you don’t even own a ladder. 

Maybe you need to replace the plumbing behind the shower stall, but you wouldn’t know where to begin. 

Or the garage needs to be rewired to meet electrical code, and only an electrician has the right license. 

Or you need a new roof, but you’re not going up there!

Each member of a baseball team specializes in whatever his position calls for. Each one is an expert. Even though there’s less apparent teamwork in baseball than sports like hockey or football, don’t be fooled. Each team member is a specialist, but one who also supports and cooperates with his teammates.

When you're staging your own home, it's important to know when to call in an expert if that’s what it takes to get your home in shape.  
  
Devil's in the Details

Yogi Berra, famous Yankee catcher, is known for his
crazy logic. He explains, "Baseball is ninety percent physical.
The other half is mental." 
Both baseball and staging look simple when done right. But look more closely and you’ll see they both depend on subtleties that guarantee success.

One good pitcher can determine the outcome of a game, just as curb appeal can determine whether buyers want to view your home’s interior. 

One fumbled catch can lead to a home run for the other team, just the way pet odors can be a deal-breaker for a home on the market.   

Think like a Major League player. Take your staging seriously. Don’t be like the neighbor a friend of mine described to me last week, who said “Why should I paint for the next owner?” Step  up to the plate, and tend to the details, so your home is the one that stands above the competition.  

Preparation Makes All the Difference

Teams that get to the World Series don’t get there by chance. They work all year to become the best athletes they can.

Selling a home shouldn’t be a last minute decision. It should be part of a plan.

Although some will disagree with me, I think any homeowner needs to be aware that some day she’ll want to sell her home. Or her heirs will.

A common phrase is, “I’ll never move,” but statistically, Americans stay in their homes an average of just seven years. Lifestyle preferences change, families grow bigger or smaller, jobs relocate, finances force people to shift priorities. 

In other words, whatever you do to your home while you are living there is going to affect your selling price eventually. Never remodel a home in such a way that its market value will be reduced.

Don't postpone routine maintenance until the effects snowball into major repairs. 

Leo Durocher, the legendary Baseball Hall of Famer, said, 
"There are only five things you can do in baseball – 
run, throw, catch, hit, and hit with power."
It's All About the Numbers

No sport relies more on statistics than baseball. 

Wins and losses, batting averages, on-base-percentages, runs-batted-in, slugging percentage – that’s just the beginning. 

Team managers, owners, coaches, fans, sportswriters and gamblers all rely on complex math to predict probabilities and make decisions.

Similarly, when you’re selling your home, it helps to have good grasp of the numbers.

Have you priced it competitively? 

Do you know what your monthly carrying costs are (mortgage, insurance, taxes, utilities, maintenance)?  

If you are negotiating with a prospective buyer, do you know in advance how flexible can you be with financing options to shape a win/win agreement? 

Patience Is Your Friend

Baseball is a test of nerves and strategy. When your home is for sale, waiting for a buyer to show up can be difficult.

Although we’ve all heard stories of people who’ve sold their homes the day they came on the market, I sometimes ask myself, “Did they price it too low?”

Even when you are impatient, a prospective buyer shouldn’t know this. That’s why I tell people not to pile moving boxes in the garage or spare bedroom. It looks like you’re in a hurry to get out of there, rather than living in a home you love. Strategy.

One baseball cliche is "Hurry to lose, slow down to win."  And that’s good advice for a home seller.

Chance Plays A Major Role

Once you’ve staged your home, using the skills and resources you have, you have to accept the fact that fate takes over. You can’t call all the shots.

Sometimes, sheer coincidence steps in. A friend tells a friend who tells a friend about your home. It’s just what she’s looking for!

Or a couple out driving neighborhoods looking for real estate signs, turns onto your street, and Bingo!

Albert Pujols, a two-time World Series champ, and three-time Most Valuable Player winner, said, “This game is really crazy. Nobody can understand it, and there are a lot of things that happen that you can’t control.”  

The same thought was echoed by Wes Westrum, New York Giants catcher and manager, when he said, "Baseball is like church: Many attend, but few understand."

Remember that there is a buyer out there for your home. Do your best to attract him, and that’s all you can do. Your best.

The Game Ain’t Over Until It’s Over

Of course, this is one of Yogi Berra’s most famous lines, and I find myself saying it near the end of almost every baseball game. And at other times as well. It’s a Life Lesson!

In real estate transactions, snafus and surprises are common on the road between a showing and a closing. That’s the reason I never remove staging until the last possible moment.

As a seller, you can’t take your buyer for granted. Inspections, financing, contingencies, all can be bugaboos. Being a seller takes flexibility and a positive attitude.   

I’m Not the Only One

Plenty of people see more to America’s favorite pastime than men hitting, running and chasing balls. Saul Steinberg, the cartoonist, wrote, “Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem."

Sounds like home-selling to me!

My best advice: Listen to the coach, and play by the rules of the home staging game. The rule book I recommend is my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. It teaches you all the steps to build a winning team.  

I am rooting for you!

Monday, October 22, 2012

If You Ask Me About Home Staging ... And You Did.

He may be your best friend, but ...   
These are some of the questions I've received lately from readers and others.

You can ask me home staging questions and offer your own give advice on my Facebook Group Page.

Q: Our fenced backyard is a wasteland. We let our dogs have the run of it, so we have basically no landscaping there. The front yard has good curb appeal. What can I do?

A: There really isn't much you can do, is there? Fencing a portion of the yard would cost money, look less than satisfactory, and probably make your dogs unhappy.

Replacing your fencing with invisible fencing would also cost money, and necessitate landscaping the backyard.  

I'd make sure the landscaped areas around your home that are outside the "dog run" look really pretty.

With luck, you'll find a buyer who wants a backyard that's low maintenance and dog-friendly.

Q: Are twin beds okay in a guest bedroom, or should I stage it with a queen bed?

A: If you have only two bedrooms, I would stage both with a queen or double bed. But if you have three bedrooms, I'd stage the third with twin beds. If the third room is small, even a single or a sleeper would be fine.

Also, let your budget be your guide. Don't go out and buy beds you don't want or need.


Q: Should I change the bathroom faucets in my home? They are gold. They work well but I know they aren't the latest style.

A: In my eBook, I recommend changing faucets and other hardware like hinges and doorknobs so that  metals match. Matched hardware makes a home look more like a new home.

The gold faucets will definitely date your home (unless they are actually sold brass and in an historic home). However, if you are on a tight budget, and the faucets are in great condition, and you're not replacing other outdated, fixed features such as 40-year old countertops and pink toilets, I'd let the gold faucets stay.

In other words, it depends on your home, how you've priced it, and the type of buyer you expect to attract.    
Faucets don't have to be expensive. And installing one can
be a DIY project. Photo: Tiek Built Homes.  

Q: When we stage our home, do we need to convert our home office back into a bedroom?

A: A home office is a definite perk. But homes for sale are listed according to how many bedrooms they have. So, if you reduce the number of bedrooms in your listing, you might as well reduce your price and the desirability of your home!

A room is a bedroom if it has a closet. My advice would be to stage your home office as a bedroom, but keep its office status as well. It's all in how you arrange the furniture. Either squeeze the office space down to just a desk and chair. Or squeeze the sleeping space down to a convertible sofa or sleeper chair.

Most bedrooms have space for a small office if you make the bed either a
day bed or sleeper sofa. Buyers see the flexibility of the space. Photo: BH&G.

Q: I plan to paint all three bedrooms in our home. Is it important to paint inside closets, too?

A: Good for you for giving your walls a facelift! Remember to keep those colors light and neutral.

Even though the job may sound daunting, I recommend painting closets. You may have already decluttered your bedroom closets. If not, painting is a great excuse to empty them, then discard or recycle or put into storage what's left.

The good news is that when you paint a closet you don't have to get too fussy about wall imperfections and such. You just want it to look bright and clean. For this reason, I always paint closets white rather than the color of the bedroom. Give the ceiling a fresh coat of white as well, and you'll be surprised what a difference it makes.

Do YOU have a question about staging your home for the real estate market? I'd like to hear it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

What a Restaurant Can Teach You About Home Staging

Even a restaurant needs curb appeal. 

I ate lunch today at my favorite Mexican restaurant. My husband and I eat there quite often, about once a week. Is it because we adore Mexican food above all other types? No. Is it because it’s close by? Not really. Is it because we know the owners? Hardly.

It’s because everything that a restaurant should do, they do right.

Today, midway through my chile relleno I thought, home staging should be like this restaurant. 

Here are some of their winning ways that translate over to staging your home.

Always Inject Something New

Every time we go to Cerro Grande something new has been added. Today it was bigger iced tea glasses. Muy grandes and brand spankin new! And new menu covers. Nice touches.

Since we’ve been visiting this restaurant for about four years, we’ve seen it grow from “just another family-style Mexican restaurant” to a fun place with a captivating ambiance. They’ve added outdoor seating, painted murals on the wall, changed the light fixtures to south-of-the-border-style lights, expanded the menu, decorated the spaces between the booths, and added a full service bar.

These changes tell me that the management is investing in their business instead of milking it, or just coasting.

If you are selling your home, chances are you’ll need to make some investments. 

Buyers will sense it if you are just coasting, waiting for a sale, holding off on maintenance and repairs because you’ll be moving soon. 

Buyers want some show of recent improvements. Walls that have been freshly painted, a stove with some of the latest bells and whistles, window treatments that stay with the home, landscaping that’s been manicured.

It’s not necessary to do all kinds of upgrades, but it is important to make a showing of good maintenance.

What was a playground is now an outdoor patio,
with a bar and bubbling fountain. Are you using your
imagination to maximize your homes potential?
Give Good Value

We never complain about the cost of a meal at Cerro Grande, because we know we get our money’s worth. We enjoy the feeling that we're not getting ripped off, just the way a home buyer wants good value for his money.

Is your home priced competitively? You can’t just meet your competition. You need to beat them! Ambitious, savvy realtors and successful FSBO sellers will usually set a listing price that’s just below the comparables.

And if you are not a motivated seller, what are you doing in the marketplace? If you have the attitude of, “I’ll sell if I get my (unrealistically high) price,” you can expect to wait a longer time to sell.

Offer a Transporting Experience

I find myself uttering the same phrase almost every time we eat at this restaurant.

“It feels like we’re on vacation.”

Why? Because the experience is a step away from the ordinary. The aromas of ethnic spices drift from the kitchen. Music and the language of another culture provide background sounds. Vintage back and white photos of heroes from a different place fill the walls in the vestibule. Brightly painted wood carvings decorate the backs of all the chairs.

The way you want a buyer to feel when he tours your home is that he's being taken to an exciting new place. A place where he can relax, and even enjoy a pampered lifestyle. A lifestyle he doesn’t presently enjoy. He should feel like he is moving up the ladder of success.     

She usually smiles, but she was camera shy. Delivering
chips and salsa to your table right away is like great
"curb appeal."It makes you like the place immediately. 
When a buyer enters your home for the first time, will his initial reaction be, “This is how I want to live?”

Even though you don’t know what the buyer’s present living conditions are, it’s safe to say everyone reacts favorable to touches of luxury, to extreme cleanliness, to simple orderliness, and to soothing color combos.

Pay Attention to Detail

My Mexican restaurant takes care of the details like spotless restrooms, fresh flowers at the table, candles that get lighted at sundown, soft music playing in the background, a waitstaff that acts happy to serve you, clean menus, comfortable seats, quick service, consistent food quality, and I could go on and on. It all adds up.

In today’s real estate market it’s not enough to give the house a cursory once-over, pound a For Sale sign into the front lawn or call a real estate broker, then sit back waiting for a good offer.

A home seller needs to tend to the little things that set the home apart, to make it memorable, and tempt the buyer.

Don’t go thinking that my restaurant is a fancy place. It’s located in a former McDonald’s building. There are no tablecloths, cloth napkins, view of the harbor, printed wine list, pastry cart, or maitre d'. But we can have dinner for two, including drinks, tax and tip, and spend just $20.

Those low prices and the humble pedigree don’t prevent management and employees from delivering the kind of food, atmosphere and service that more than just satisfies.        

The Takeaway

No matter what the asking price, or the location, age, and style of your home on the market, aim to satisfy the buyer. Remove any hurdles he has to making an offer by doing everything right. Just like my friends at Cerro Grande.  

Sound daunting? It can be. But my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar simplifies preparing your home for sale. You’ll learn all the step-saving, money saving, stress-saving ways you can get a jump on the competition. Download it now and start a program for staging your home today. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Selling Your Home with Words: Writing A Real Estate Ad

These are the kind of evocative images a Smith and
Hawken catalog featured, along with compelling copy.
Three very different men taught me about advertising and selling.

The first was Joe McKertich.

He owned an advertising agency and hired me when I was fresh out of college. It was way back in 1964, so think Peggy Olson. But instead of Don Draper, Joe was a paunchy, balding teetotaler who worked long days and expected me to do the same.

But he was an excellent teacher.

From Joe I learned the importance of mistake-free printed matter.

Part of my job was to make sure every word in the catalogs and ads we produced was spelled correctly, spacing was consistent, and every number was correct. Tedious!

Guy Number Two 

My next copywriting teacher was Paul Hawken.

I knew Paul when he was president of Erewhon Natural Foods in Boston in 1970, before he went to California with another friend, Ty Smith, and started the company called Smith and Hawken. These guys revolutionized American gardening with their mail order catalog, originally written entirely by Paul, a really savvy entrepreneur.

The Smith and Hawken catalog pre-dated and was more genuine that the J. Peterman catalog that premiered a few years later. Paul's catalogs transported you to a dreamy world where you tended your heirloom flowers growing in glazed pots, using your hand-crafted tools and wearing your French farmers hat. Up until that time, gardening was a hobby for penny-pinching oldsters and unwashed hippies.

Paul's catalogs made gardening stylish, classy, hip, fun. His company was grossing $50 million annually by the early 1990's. He cashed out, and after a number of post-Hawken owners, it was bought by Scotts the chemical gardening people, who ran the company into the ground. But that's another story.

Like home ownership, boat ownership is a dream for many people, and the same
selling techniques apply. Capture the imagination, be honest, and be specific.  

Selling Yachts

The third person who taught me about selling was Kevin Bush.

Kevin was the owner of a yacht brokerage company where I worked as a yacht broker eight years ago. The most important thing Kevin taught me was to ignore the negatives. If a client touring a boat wondered aloud why some cushions were missing, or remarked that the galley was small, the best response was no response. Any comment from me would reinforce the fact that the boat had liabilities.

At first I thought Kevin was hard of hearing, but I came to realize that his selling technique was a practiced  one, and an effective one.

Advertising and Real Estate

Are you wondering what these men in my life have to do with selling your home?

Let's say you have fabulous curb appeal. You've decluttered and cleaned every square inch. You've staged your rooms beautifully. Your property is well-maintained, and priced right.

But unless buyers know about your home, you're sunk. Whether you list with a licensed real estate agency, or decide to sell your home FSBO, advertising is essential if you want buyers to come and see for themselves. Advertising is what drives almost every American business.

And if you are selling your home, you are in a business.

You may think that an MLS listing is all formula, but just like a Facebook page or a LinkedIn profile, there's plenty you can do to make your listing more interesting. You can turn it into a strong selling tool instead of just a list of specifications.

Of course, photos of your home are what catch buyers' attention. Today, I'm concentrating on just the words you use to sell your home, because that's what buyers look at next.

Yours truly as NYC copywriter in the mid 60's.
Where was Don Draper then? 

Be Correct

Work with your realtor to make sure your specs are correct in your listing. Your online data and your printed material need to be accurate.

Is the square footage right? The age of the home? The types of flooring? The number of baths, the size of the garage, the school district. Humans make mistakes, and realtors are human. Double check the info because this is how buyers judge your home before they decide whether to visit it.

Don't get sloppy about grammar, punctuation, consistency of style and spelling. Your advertising should look professional. By showing respect for your potential buyer in this way, you earn respect from your potential buyer. 

That's the way Joe would have wanted it. (May he rest in peace.)

Be Specific

When Paul Hawken wrote about a shovel, he didn't tell you that it had a wooden handle. He told you it had a kiln dried ash handle from trees grown in Sweden specifically for shovel handles, and that it was attached using a method that had been perfected over the centuries by farmers.

If your home has a new heating system, give the date, the manufacturer, and the capacity. If you installed new carpeting, specify Dupont Stainmaster or whatever. If your home is near restaurants and shops, name the big businesses and the number of restaurants.

And this is important: Even if the brand name and the measurements aren't actually impressive or top of the line, the fact that you are citing them indicates transparency and even pride. Advertising is bragging. But you can't brag unless you're specific.

Photos are a subtle way of bragging. The tantalizing photos in a Smith and Hawken catalog did their job of seducing mail order customers. Taking great photos of your home on the market is very important, and a subject for another post, one about photographing your home.

Being specific is one way to interest buyers in your property without reverting to annoying "fluff" phrases such as, "Just bring your rocking chairs and enjoy the view." A smarter way to merchandise your porch would be with specifics: "Enjoy a 4-season view from the 12 x 40-foot front porch."

You don't have much space on an
MLS listing form, so every word has to be
chosen to make your home look good.

Be Positive 

My boating boss Kevin knew that every boat had some things that a buyer didn't love. Your house will have some things that a buyer wishes he could change. Focus on the best qualities, and you'll encourage him to do the same.

If you are FSBO and showing your home, never call attention to unfinished projects, problem areas, or any shortcomings. Showcase what you love about your home.

If you have a realtor, make sure she knows exactly what's special and unique about your property -- that the fireplace works, that the utilities are very low, that the windows are extra thick, that the roof is brand new...all that nitty gritty stuff.

These are the qualities a buyer needs to focus on so that he's comfortable with the trade-offs, those things that are less than perfect in his mind.

Don't think you are being deceptive by being positive. Anyone buying a home will need a home inspection, just the way people buying boats through me bought a marine survey of the vessel. There are no secrets.

The Takeaway

Staging your home to sell it is the beginning of the selling process. Getting the word out is the next step. Listen to the lessons I learned from my teachers and you'll have better success with advertising your home on the market.

If you are selling your home, whether you have staged it already or not, my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, will teach you new tricks and techniques to make it inviting to buyers.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Does Your Home Have Some Wow Factors?


A powder room is the perfect place to go for wow.
This BHG shot shows a fabulous vanity, tile on one wall, 

new faucets, and a mirror that can all be part of a modest budget.  
A friend who is a Realtor told me that he tells every client, "Your home has to have some wow factors."

He's right.

In case you haven't noticed, it's not exactly a sellers' market out there. If you want your home to sell fast at a price you can be happy with, you need to stand out from the competition.

Price is one way to do that. Wow factors are another.

Let's Get Specific

Understand, I am not saying you need to start dumping money into your home to make it far more luxurious and up-to-date than it is. The last thing you want to do is price yourself out of the market.

But if you are really motivated to sell, or need to sell fast, some wow factors are what could put your home over the top.

Here are some typical wow factors that fall midway between gutting-it-all remodels and simple, gussy-up staging. They'll cost you some money, but they'll help sell your home!
  • New walk-in shower
  • One or two obviously high end lighting fixtures
  • An outdoor hot tub
  • Private, outdoor enclosed space or garden
  • Professionally designed landscaping
  • Outdoor shower, even if it's cold water only
  • Stylish overhead garage door or refurbished existing one
  • New kitchen appliances that match each other
  • New washer and dryer that stay
  • Built-in bookcases, beautifully staged, of course
  • Built-in window seat, so charming!
  • Media room with basic home theatre
  • The fenced backyard that parents and pet owners crave 
  • Fully finished garage and/or basement that attracts the male buyer
  • New toilet and sink, maybe in all baths
No one is suggesting that you add more than two of three of these improvements. Even one upgrade buys you some wow. What changes you make to your home to make it more attractive to buyers depends on your home's present condition, the local market, your reasons for selling, and your budget.


A "sun tunnel" in the ceiling adds great lighting!
The Reasons Little Luxuries Matter

So, what's the big deal about features that wow?
  • Buyers are immediately impressed, and favorably so.
  • Your home becomes memorable. It's the one with the bathroom skylights, or the one with the luscious, secret shade garden.
  • You can include these features in your MLS listing and all your literature. Include specifics like brand names and measurements when possible. Specifics impress. 
  • The longer buyers stay in your home during a preview, the better. Improvements that wow encourage lingering.
If you do a slow, room-by-room walk-through of your own home, and put your mind in the Dream Big Mode, you're bound to envision some improvements.

If you can't justify spending money on new appliances or bathroom upgrades, examine your home for almost-wow factors. Is that awesome sunroom being wasted as a clutter collection point? Has your view of the distant mountains been obscured by overgrown weed trees? Are there heart pine floors under carpeting? Is the working fireplace currently not working? Does your formal dining room look more like homework and crafting headquarters?  Is that killer shelving system for the garage still in boxes? These are missed opportunities to wow buyers.



Could a charming and functional garden shed be your wow factor?
This one belongs to my friend, Julie.   
Brainstorm Your Brains Out

Maybe you've always wanted to add crown molding to the living room. Maybe you've wanted a chandelier in the foyer, or a beautifully stylish ceiling fan in your sunroom, or an outdoor fountain by the patio. If these are changes you would enjoy in your own home, as long as they aren't particular to unique tastes, they are the kinds of things that buyers will want as well.

Don't let the idea that all these upgrades are expensive scare you. Get some estimates. Work with an experienced handyman who can come up with economical alternatives. Purchase from mid-price range.

You can upgrade just the half bath. Who says baths must match?

You can install hardwoods in just the downstairs, or just the living and dining rooms. Hardwoods can be laid for the cost of wall-to-wall carpeting. I did it in my own home.

You can buy scratch and dent appliances. Very often these deeply discounted appliances are high end, and the ding isn't visible once installed.

You can buy mid-range bookcases you assemble yourself and screw to the wall. Centsational Girl did this and blogged about it.

You can DIY a board and batten treatment in the hallway. Blogland is full of tutorials for this project.

You can put together a home theater system from Craigslist. First adopters sell their systems to upgrade to the latest. And you can always negotiate price. Maybe they will offer to install it for you.

You can trade skills with friends or family for what you need. Feed your cousin the tilesetter for a week while he lays new ceramic flooring in your kitchen. Trade babysitting services for your neighbor who has a hot tub to sell.

Hardwood flooring is going to wow most people. Prices can be comparable to carpeting.
Time is of the Essence  

Remember that every month your home doesn't sell you are paying carrying costs to stay there. The sooner your home sells, the more money you make, because homes that stay on the market grow stale, and that fact influences what you can ask for it. Agents and buyers wonder what's wrong with these stale homes and they stay away. You need to tempt buyers and do it at the start. When you list!

So don't fall into the rut of thinking, "If it's good enough for me, it's good enough." Buyers are spoiled. You won't change that. But can can still wow them with some amenities.

Get more ideas to help you prepare your home for the real estate market by downloading my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. 

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