Tuesday, October 9, 2018

How To Stage Your Home for Fall

Every season has its appeal. Smart home stagers know that tapping into buyers' "mood of the season" can go a long way towards capturing the hearts of buyers.

If you're planning on putting your house on the market this fall, you'll increase your chances of a quicker sale if your home is staged for autumn.

You don't have to make major purchases or spend a crazy amount of time staging just for autumn. A few simple changes are all it takes.

Say Yes to Warm Fall Colors

Most people think of fall as a warm and cozy time of year. Not every area of the country experiences the changing colors of autumn leaves, but these same colors still make a home feel comfortable, friendly and secure.

Adding autumn color is easy. Look for props you have or can buy or paint that reflect the colors of changing foliage and embers -- reds, oranges and golden browns. You can place these decor touches near your front door or walkway.  Real and faux pumpkins and gourds are for sale everywhere at all price points. An autumn wreath of corn husks or grapevines, or a basket of painted pinecones or real pansies outside your entrance will welcome people on a home tour.

Inside your home, adding some accent pillows or throws in warm colors might be all you need. In case your interior color scheme is based on a cool color palette, the safe way to incorporate warm tones is with creamy whites or dark browns, since both are safe neutrals.

In addition, every home decor site and store has autumn-themed accessories like pillows, candles, table runners, garlands, and the like. Don't lose your head; a little "Welcome Autumn" goes a long way.

Natural materials and outdoorsy elements are the backbones of fall staging. 
Another sensible and thrifty approach is to use a floral arrangement with seasonal elements. It needn't be fresh flowers. Silk chrysanthemums or good quality faux autumn leaves and berries will set the tone.

Almost anything woodsy or harvest-themed is also fair game.

Your goal is to capture that snugly feeling most people think of when they think of the end of summer and the coming holidays.

Using rich textures is also a way to evoke that emotion. Any rooms that feel less than cozy can benefit from things like a fuzzy blanket, velvet pillows, a furry ottoman, or a knitted throw.

Some rooms of your house may look less seasonal than others. A dark and dank basement can feel especially unwelcoming. While a full-on basement remodel can offer up to a 70% ROI, there are simpler ways to make this area and other weak spots become part of your strategy to impress buyers. Light paint colors will make dark areas feel more homey.

Using the typical colors of fall and some seasonal decorations like a centerpiece or mantel display, you can make your home feel like the perfect place to snuggle up under a blanket during the fall.

Light Plays a Part

Nighttime curb appeal: Interior lighting at night creates a sense of retreat.
Photo: Archadeck of Raleigh-Durham and the Greater Triangle
Twilight comes earlier and earlier at this time of year. Shorter days lessen the chance for house hunters to see your home flooded with natural light.

Make sure you are taking advantage of all natural and artificial light sources your home offers.

Check your lamps and fixtures for burned out bulbs. You should have plenty of lamps, overhead lights, and mirrors spread throughout your home.

Leave lamps on or plugged into timers when you expect a showing, especially in darker rooms. Not every Realtor will have time to do this for you.  Light and bright sells homes.

Switch on exterior lighting at dusk because some home shoppers will cruise neighborhoods at different times. Timers and solar lights make outdoor lighting easy and economical.

If you can manage it, schedule open houses and showings during the sunniest times of the day so potential buyers get a good look at the entire home, both inside and outside.

Keep Decorations Minimal

There are Halloween decorations and there are autumn decorations. I know that for some people, Halloween is their anticipated time to drape whispery white cobwebs over resin gravestones and skeletons in the front yard. Don't do that if you are selling your home.

Stay with the simple harvest and autumn themes. Too much seasonal decor can be distracting and not to everyone's taste. Instead, let house hunters focus on the pleasant attributes of your property -- that wide front porch, the functional floor plan, the updated appliances, the fresh paint. Remember that you are staging, not decorating. Make your home enviable, not tacky or creepy.

With the beautiful fall atmosphere, fall can be the perfect time to stage and sell a home. Keep these simple fall homestaging tips in mind to ensure your house is as perfect as possible when it's time to sell. And if you're looking for more homestaging advice, you can purchase my $4.99 eBooks on how to stage your home.

Top photo: Popular Mechanics

Monday, October 8, 2018

Win Buyers with These 8 Home Improvement Projects

If you are like most people, you have a sale price in mind when you decide to sell your home.

It makes sense to get as much money as you can from the sale of your home. Smart sellers make smart choices about what needs to be done and what is "good enough."

Every home and every situation is unique. To help you decide what's the best way to spend your spruce-up-dollars for the best return, here are some of the projects that impress buyers. I've listed these fix-ups in the order of least expensive to most costly.

Clean up the landscape

One of the easiest and most economical ways to increase the perceived value of your home is simply to clean the areas around your home. Every neighborhood has one home where the landscape always looks great. And every neighborhood has one home that's, well... a mess outside. Be the good-looking yard!

Attractive landscaping can add up to 28% to your home's value. But don't think you have to invest in all new plantings (unless you've ignored our out-of-doors for years!). Usually, just working with what you have is good enough.

Do the basics: Keep the lawn mowed, trim all the shrubbery, plant what looks good in every season, and add a few seasonal plants for color and interest. Mulch areas that aren't turf, ornamentals, or walkways. Just the way you are doing inside your home, get rid of clutter. Put the nuts and bolts of home ownership -- garbage cans, recycle bins, brooms, rakes, and garden hoses -- out of sight.

If you want to throw some money at outdoor improvement, think furniture. New outdoor furniture is something you can use for smart staging now, and take with you when you move. Staging outdoor areas to make them comfortable and attractive always impresses buyers because it makes the home seem to have more usable living space.

Remember that new doesn't always mean brand new off-the-shelf. Check Craigslist for stylish outdoor furniture you can spray paint to look new.

A well-designed and well-maintained landscape will add money to your asking price. 

Paint your interior walls

Most of the cost of a professional paint job is labor, not materials. Therefore, if you do your own painting you'll enjoy an enviable return on your investment of time and effort. My best tips for a quality paint job are:

  1.  Buy good paint, not necessarily the best, but not the cheapest. Good paint covers better and won't splatter or drip the way bargain paints will.
  2.  Cut in the walls with a brush first  -- corners, around windows and doors and where the wall meets the ceiling. Then roll walls using a screw-on broom handle on the roller frame. Use a 5-gallon bucket and a screen from the paint store, not a small drip pan. 
  3.  Choose a color everyone will like, and have it harmonize with the immobile fixtures of your home -- counters, bath fixtures, and flooring that stays in place. Use the same color in all rooms. Use semi-gloss on bath and kitchen walls and flat everywhere else. 
  4.  Painting a ceiling sounds daunting, but it can be done when you screw on that broomstick extension on the roller frame. A fresh coat of white on a ceiling brightens the whole room.
  5.  Don't paint trim unless you can do a good job. A good job means you have done it before or you enjoy doing a careful job of tedious work.   
Get professional equipment to do a pro job at painting. 

Pay for a home inspection 

Unless a buyer is paying cash (no mortgage or bank) he's going to need a home inspection of your property. Get ahead of any complications, and pay for your own inspection before going to market.

These inspections can turn up nasty surprises, both big and small. Termite infestations, cracked foundations, electric outlets that aren't grounded, floor joists or rafters that have been cut into and weakened, poor water pressure, squirrels in the attic, mold in the crawl space, and a host of other problems you may never have known you were living with.

There are also region-specific dangers to be aware of. For instance, one in 15 U.S. homes is estimated to have radon levels at or above the EPA action level.

The money you spend on a home inspection is one of the best pre-listing expenditures you can make. The average price is $315, more if your home is larger than average, less if you own a small condo. When you hire your own inspector, you can fix what is going to be a deal-breaker or a negotiating chip for buyers.

Add insulation to the attic

Good insulation helps a home be energy efficient, and buyers love energy efficiency. In fact, according to a survey on Remodeling.com, homeowners can recoup a surprising 116% of the costs of attic insulation.

Newer homes will usually have sufficient insulation in both walls and attic spaces. But in older homes, the walls may have been poorly insulated and the materials matted or poor quality to begin with.

If you are ambitious and don't mind working in cramped, uncomfortable spaces, you can do it yourself and save some money. Whether you use blown-in insulation or batting, you'll need protective gear and a helper. But I recommend calling in professionals to get the job done quickly and done right.
If you are willing to do the work, you can save $500 or more. 

Fix the roof

I always look at the roof when I am considering a home purchase. A roof that looks compromised can indicate damage to interior ceilings and walls. A single inch of rainfall can put nearly 1,500 gallons of water onto a roof, causing problems to both the shingles and structure.

Typical shingled roofs last 20 to 30 years. Today's 30-year, heavy-duty, shingles look better and don't cost much more than the 20-year ones. This is the kind of upgrade that you can specify in your MLS listing, the kind of thing that home inspectors and home buyers like.

It's difficult to make repairs to a shingled roof without it looking like a quick fix. A buyer is going to ask for a discount if he sees your roof has patches or missing shingles. And what he asks for as a discount will most likely be more than a new roof will actually cost you.

If your roof is metal or tile, repairs are easier. Sometimes all a roof needs to look new is a power washing, a job best done by experts for the sake of personal safety and the protection of your roof surface.

Install new windows

After the roof, windows are another common feature buyers ask about. Older homes can have drafty windows that let air escape and increase energy bills. New windows look better, are easier to clean, and give buyers peace of mind that they're willing to pay extra for. In fact, when you sell your house, your window replacement can recoup 73% to 77% of what you pay at selling time.

If your windows are old, get estimates from local window installers. My rule of thumb is to hire a company that does this routinely, rather than a handyman. Typically, the pros will save you time and do a better job.
Refreshing the bath can call for more imagination than cash. Photo: BHG

Update the master bathroom

Bathrooms are incredibly important to buyers, for obvious reasons. Not only do they want to have enough bathrooms for the family and their guests, but they also want a master bathroom that's spacious, clean, and modern.

To wow home buyers, you can replace your tub, put in a new sink, and replace the tiles if they're worn or cracked. Bathroom additions can see an average 86.4% ROI.

But even minor upgrades to your master bathroom can make a favorable impression on buyers. If you can't afford a tub replacement, it can be professionally sprayed with epoxy for a like-new look. Sinks and toilets are much easier and less costly to replace.

Remodel your kitchen

The kitchen is still the heart of the home, and buyers care a lot about this room of the house. Completing a minor kitchen remodel can see an average return of 98.5% at resale. Minor, pre-sale remodeling projects can include resurfacing the cabinets, installing new light fixtures, a new backsplash, and new appliances.

Admittedly, most of the above recommendations I technically can't label homestaging. They are more ambitious than that. But all of them are upgrades you can enjoy now until you sell. These are the kinds of projects that will make your home more attractive, valuable, and comfortable immediately and will help justify a better selling price.

And, once you're done, it's time to move onto our favorite part of the pre-sale process: homestaging! You can get some excellent homestaging advice in my $4.99 eBooks on how to stage your home to make it sell fast for a price you like.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Are You Guilty of These Home Seller's Sins?

Smile if you are selling your home now.

It's a good time to have a home on the market because the usual indicators say it's a strong sellers market.

Consumer confidence is rising as unemployment dips down. The national economy is in a growth spurt.

According to Realtor.com's Market "Hotness" index, even traditionally struggling cities like Las Vegas and Rochester are seeing strong real estate sales, with California and the Great Lakes Region experiencing a particularly encouraging market.

It's not just primary residences that are selling. Spring 2017 data shows that about 9.26 million Americans own a second home, and with increased consumer optimism, more folks will likely take the plunge into purchasing a second home.

My message to you is, "Don't blow it." If you plan to list your home, please don't count on the rosy statistics to carry you through. You still have to make your home the one buyers want.

As I look at homes online and IRL, I am puzzled by the number of sellers who don't seem to "get it." I'm talking to you if you still have 47 decorative magnets on your refrigerator door, if you have any room painted with a different color on each wall, if your online pictures were taken with a cell phone, if shingles are loose on your roof. It's time to get into serious seller mindset.

So that you don't shoot yourself in the foot, let's review the three most common sins I see home sellers make.

One: Thinking of the home as your own

I get it that your home is chock-a-block with memories. I get it that it's difficult to imagine someone else coming in to change the paint colors, furniture arrangement, and landscaping you've so carefully finessed over the years.

As soon as you decide to sell your home it's time to face that it's no longer yours. Focus on the future rather than the past. Until you detach yourself emotionally, staging your home will be difficult if not impossible. Fortunately, you don't need to spend a fortune to properly stage your home.

Start by packing up personal photos and memorabilia. Potential buyers need to connect with the home, not with your family. Then, remove whatever is especially distracting or unusual, like collections, oddly placed or excess furniture, controversial artwork, vivid wall colors, or clutter of any kind.

During negotiations, if buyers ask about making changes to the home, like repainting or swapping out light fixtures, shake it off rather than be offended.

Do photos of your home show its best features?

Two: Having poor photos of your house

Everyone knows that good curb appeal helps sell a home. The new curb is the Internet. People shop online, so photos sell homes.

Your online photos offer a wonderful opportunity to visually brag about your property. Show it off. Don't be that home seller with poor quality, confusing or uncomplimentary photos.

You have one chance to impress buyers via the web. Here are my five best tips for making your home more photogenic.

One. Hire a professional real estate photographer. It will pay for itself in more viewings, a quicker sale, and a better selling price. Some Realtors will roll this cost into their cost of doing business. If not, spring for the cost yourself.

Two. Work with your listing agent to show the important features of your home. As an expert, she will know what buyers are looking for. Be sure these areas are clean, staged and camera-ready.

Three. Don't waste buyers' time and patience with insignificant photos like a closeup of your dryer's control panel, or inside of an empty linen closet, or your collection of lawn ornaments. Each photo should have enough information in it that it helps anyone understand more about the floor plan of your home.

Four. Insist that photos be edited for quality and effectiveness. Sometimes cropping, contrast, color enhancing, or retouching (without being dishonest) is necessary. This step is especially important if the photos were not taken by a professional. If your Realtor, or you, or a friend takes the photos, make sure plenty of pictures are taken and then select only the best. Include one or two images of each room and try to show different amenities in each photo.

Five. Prepare for your photo shot the way you would for your own glamour shot. Declutter like you mean it! Small items are distracting in photography. Aim for clear surfaces in all your pictures. No toys, grooming essentials, clothing, or small appliances, please. Think model home.

Even if your home is spotless and beautifully staged, photos that fall short will turn buyers away. Let your online listing make your home look irresistible to just about anyone.

A good photo will show both floor and ceiling. The lighting will be evenly distributed, and walls will be perpendicular to the floor, not bowed out. The viewer should be able understand its relationship to other rooms.

Three: Not completing repairs and maintenance tasks

Most home buyers want a turn-key property. Any buyer looking for a fixer-upper is looking for a bargain. Don't be a fixer-upper property.

Your goal should be a home inspection report that doesn't specify a hundred little quirks you never bothered to fix. A short, non-scary inspection report will keep the buyer and his lender happy. A long inspection report is a deal-breaker.

I can understand that you don't want to spend money on the home you hope to vacate soon. Remind yourself that every month you spend in your home costs you money in taxes, utilities and insurance. Realtors and serious buyers know how long a home has been on the market, so a home that hasn't sold for months on end looks stale. You don't want to end up in the bargain bin! You want to sell quickly.

It pays to have your own pre-listing home inspection done. It's too easy to ignore or just not know about the simple (or complex) problems your home might have. Once you know what the red flags are, you can replace that back door lock that never worked right, or schedule a plumber to fix that leaky drain under the sink, or arrange to have the air ducts professionally cleaned (which should be done every three to five years).

Get more homestaging advice in my $4.99 eBooks on how to stage your home to make it sell fast for a price you like. I've been there, and I can help you stage your own home.

Top and bottom photos: Jaimee Rose Interiors

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Declutter and Toss Junk? Not So Fast!

If you've read or heard anything about home staging, you know that getting rid of clutter is always recommended as a first step.

You've been told that clutter looks messy.

That it's distracting.

That it's too personal.

And all that is true.

But there is one way clutter can be a home seller's ally.

Home staging, especially in an unoccupied home, can result in a sterile and generic property.

But if you incorporate in your home staging some of what the minimalists call clutter, you can jazz up your home, giving it the personality that makes your home the one buyers remember and want to call their own.

All it takes is an open mind while you are decluttering your home for sale.

There's an additional benefit to using for staging what's cluttering up your home, and that is the economic benefit. So, before you load your trunk with what doesn't suit your present lifestyle or taste and take it to your favorite charity store, before you rush off to Home Goods to load a shopping cart with accessories and furnishings, reconsider the treasures you might already own. They might be hidden in your closets, the garage, attic, storage unit, garden shed, under the bed, or wherever you stash things you don't know what to do with!

Defining Clutter

A professional organizer will call all the little stuff  "clutter."

A professional home stager will agree with that definition of clutter. One guideline any experienced home stager goes by is that a home shouldn't display anything smaller than a cantaloupe.

But professional organizers also want you to get rid of anything that doesn't serve a purpose. A common formula for de-junking a home is to ask, "Do I use this item, and does it make me happy?" But for a home stager, the question might be, "Does this item enhance the perceived value of my property?"

Sometimes it's the items that others toss out that are the very items you can use to home stage.
In the name of homestaging, we will place props that serve no purpose other than to decorate. Extra pillows on the bed. Shells on the mantle. Flowers in the bathroom.

In other words, if it's pretty, bigger than a cantaloupe and "tells a story" that enhances your home's value, it's not clutter.

This styling photo below shows a Readers Digest Condensed Book (so uncool!) I covered with a DIY white paper book jacket. The center photo shows old Christmas ornaments put to good use in a bowl with other textural items. The third photo shows a teapot that lost its lid that I now use as a vase.

It's a Beginning

As soon as you start to de-junk your house, you're on your way to staging. It makes sense to remove ugly, broken and un-cleanable stuff, and objects that have no personality, objects that everybody else owns, before you actually deep clean and before you decide what rooms have what purposes and what furniture is going to go where.

But let's not get too crazy. Use your imagination when you're ready to toss interesting objects that can add some character to a room.

I used this wooden box as a bathroom prop. The bottle holds Epsom salts. The leftover Christmas candleholder holds a silk peony blossom. If any item is small or something I don't want to disappear (like the natural sponge), I am not above adding a drop of hot glue to hold it in place to discourage "open house thievery."

Some of the projects I've blogged about that used common items found around the house, items that might be discarded in an ambitious purge were tabletop Christmas trees for the holidaysrag wreathsnapkin rings from tin cans,99-cent tray makeover, and handsome props made from assorted odds and ends like grapevines or tissue paper or empty cardboard boxes or rocks or a discarded rubber boot.

Tips for Using Junk

There are a few secrets to decorating with what the minimalists call clutter. One is to mix it up with the classy stuff. You can't have a roomful of castoffs and expect it to look like a model home. 

In the top photo from Jenny Wolf Interiors the big, round mirror, a handsome table and some crazy oversized wooden links give a pass to the less-pedigreed other items -- a few books, a branch, a baseball cap, and eucalyptus leaves.

Look for objects with some age on them. Don't be too quick to toss items made from weathered wood, or rusty objects, or what was once part of something larger. If all you own is new stuff, don't give up. Distressing techniques can often put some age on shiny trinkets.

Remember that you can source decorative elements from nature, like these branches I painted.

We've all seen on Pinterest things like chandeliers made from teacups and tomato cages, but with luck you won't have to DIY your staging props. Ideally, you will find them ready made on that closet shelf of things you intend to re-gift or take to a thrift store. They might be items you've inherited or couldn't sell at your last garage sale when you stuck them back in the garage.

A color scheme will always help tie together a collection of props. This grouping reminds buyers of the enjoyment they will get entertaining, dining and relaxing outdoors at their new home.

Look for objects that are unique. One-of-a-kind props and furniture will help your home stand out. It could be an unusual color,  shape or size that makes an item different. Look for interesting textures and colors that coordinate for a pleasing vignette.

If you want to be creative when you stage your home, you need to surround yourself with articles that will inspire your imagination. The difference between a hoarder and a successful artist or happy crafter is often merely organization. The artist knows what's available and how to access it. It helps to have a space where you can keep all of what might be valuable for staging even if that space is not an actual workshop.

It's not just the currently popular farmhouse look, or shabby chic decor, or cottage style that relies on funky things for interior design. Unusual and rescued things can add some specialness to a contemporary home as well. In fact, the more modern and sterile a property looks, the more it needs touches of funky stuff!

Get more homestaging advice in my $4.99 eBooks on how to stage your home to make it sell fast for a price you like. I've been there, and I can help you stage your own home.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

4 Simple Tips for a Quick Summer Sale

Summer's a great time to have your home on the market. If your home is listed and you haven't received an offer you like, now's the time to review what makes a home sell quickly.

Gorgeous Curb appeal

Home staging sells homes. Home staging starts at the curb. Today's curb is the electronic viewing device. How does your home's exterior photo look online?

Boosting your curb appeal will increase both the perceived and real value of your property, and attract more house hunters, whether their first view of your home's exterior is a printed MLS sheet from their real estate broker, a cell phone image, or what they see from their car window as they survey desirable neighborhoods.

Have you done all you can to pretty up how your home looks from the street? Do you need to tackle simple landscaping, such as top dressing mulched areas, pruning shrubs, and keeping your lawn green and healthy? If you need to add some color, add summer annuals in containers. Potted plants don't convey with the purchase so you can take them with you when you move.

Is your front door the focal point of your front facade, as it should be, and is it an attractive color? If a big old honkin' garage door is your home's focal point, you can paint it the color of your siding. Your home will look larger and more attractive.

Have you decluttered the front areas of your home? Please hide garbage cans, lawn mowers and unfinished projects. I like to see seasonal items like bikes and backyard games that remind buyers of their future lifestyle.

You can rent a pressure washer for a day and use it to clean pavement,
siding, brick, stone and things like garage doors. 
It's a good idea to regularly take a broom to the areas around your front door, especially if it is prone to spider webs or debris that gets blown in. 

A fresh coat of paint is a more ambitious project but will pay dividends in the impression your home gives. If you don't want to paint your whole house, sometimes a good pressure washing is almost as good.

Another way to earn points with buyers is to update your windows to energy-efficient ones. It's not that expensive and can be done quickly by a window installing company. A standard window replacement can give you a return on investment of between 73% and 77% of the original cost.

Depersonalized spaces

When a potential buyer walks into a home on the market, he doesn't want to feel he's entering  someone else's exclusively private world. Over-personalizing makes it harder for him to envision the space as his next home.

Signs of a home having "too much personality" are posters and mementos of favorite sports teams, overly bright or varied interior paint colors, religious artifacts, displays of hobby crafts and other collections, controversial artwork, medical equipment, and family photos. Ideally you will depersonalize your home before it is listed. But if your home has been for sale and you are not attracting viewings or offers you like, it could be time to make your home more generic and minimal.

Wallpaper, black trim paint, and red walls could be
a turn-off for many buyers. 
Summer's the perfect time to pare down your belongings to what looks refreshingly cool and inviting. Lightweight window treatments, casual slipcovers, cool color schemes, and outdoor entertaining areas are the order of the day.

Furnish your home with fewer pieces that look upscale. If it's time for new  paint inside, keep the color scheme pale and neutral.

Fair Price

It's  unfortunate that overpricing a property is a mistake too many sellers make. Even in a sellers' market, if you price your home unrealistically, you will limit the number of serious buyers who come to view it.

According to the National Association of Realtors, 5.51 million homes were sold in 2017. Buyers know there are plenty of homes. They will left-swipe you, and move on to the next listing that matches their wish list.

Thinking sentimentally about your home when it's time to sell will only mess with your mind. There's no place for nostalgia when you put a dollar value on your home. It all comes down to location and numbers -- nearby amenities, size of lot, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, price per square foot, average days on market for homes like yours, age of your home, age of your HVAC system and plumbing, and on and on.

Best bet: listen to your Realtor and follow her advice. You are paying her a commission not for just listing the home and scheduling showings but for her expertise that helps you make decisions.

A Realtor will be able to determine what's an appropriate price for your home. She will base it on what similar, nearby homes have recently sold for. If your home is well-staged, and competing homes are not, you will  gain an edge and can expect better offers. Conversely, if your home is in rough shape, expect to get an offer that reflects its current condition.

Another way to put an accurate price tag on your home, one that will feud a bidding war, is to appraise your home and then set the price a little under.

At the right price, buyers will jump at the chance to get a good deal, and if there is more than one buyer, you could end up getting more than the actual appraisal value. If you are getting limited showings, it might be time to lower your price.

A local real estate agent will understand the ins and outs of the
home buying market where you live.  

The right time

Finally, timing is everything. Fortunately, in the current market, many home sellers are getting 10% or more over their asking price. In some cases, motivated buyers are even skipping inspections in order to close quickly.

Timing your home's sale right can help it sell faster. The housing market fluctuates, so it's a good idea to keep your eye on it. You'll want to sell your home during peak buying season, when buyers from all over the country are out looking for new homes.

If you're unsure of the best time to list your home, ask your real estate agent when that time might be. You would be surprised at the difference a few months can make to the sale price of your home.

If you don't get the offer you were looking for right away, don't worry. The average American moves 12 times during his lifetime, and people will always need a place to live. You might decide to wait and sell at a later date if possible. You don't want to regret settling for a price that is below what your home is worth.

You can get even more advice on selling your home quickly and profitably in my $4.99 homestaging eBooks. I want you to be happy with the sale of your home!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

How to Save Money When You Stage

You're selling your home. You decide to stage it. So far, so good.

But when you start to compare how your home looks with how you know it should look to appeal to the typical buyer, you envision dollars flying from your wallet.

It's easy to go overboard when you want your home to be all it can be. Of course you want to attract every buyer who's out there shopping for a house like yours,  priced like yours, and to convince them to offer full asking price or more.

That's how I feel when staging a home I'm selling. I want to start a bidding war!

But, as a real estate investor, I know I have to budget my staging in order to see a profit.

These are my favorite tips to keep expenses down while staging, without sacrificing that million dollar look I want.

Draft a Spending Plan

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey describes the practice he calls, "Begin with the end in mind." To you it may seem obvious, but to me back in the 80's, it was eye-opening.

To a homestager, the habit Covey writes about translates as, "Begin with a budget that will net you what you want at selling time."

Start your planning with what is a realistic selling price. Deduct what you need to pay the necessities -- a mortgage, your carrying costs (insurance, taxes, and utilities for typical days on the market in your area) a broker's fee, and closing costs.

How much you should spend on staging depends on quite a few factors. There's no rule of thumb because every house and every home seller is different.

Some sellers can afford to spend more to dress their home for the real estate market. Maybe you inherited your home and can justify a big budget to maximize profit, Maybe you're in a hurry to sell so you can take that good-paying job in another state. Maybe you're highly motivated to sell and have lots of equity in your home, and it's gone up in value since you bought it. Maybe you bought a distressed property and fixed it up as you lived there.

On the other hand, you may be in the tiny budget camp. You paid too much at purchase time. Or you live in an area where housing prices tanked and haven't recovered. In these cases, staging with what you have and doing a dynamite job of cleaning and decluttering will be the answer.

One thing is certain: If you spend on what matters to buyers, you will see a return of that money when you sell.

Define Priorities

Next, put on your "buyer glasses" and objectively evaluate the best and worst features of your home. Once you know what will help sell your property, and what might be stumbling blocks for a buyer, you're one step closer to knowing where to spend.

Start by studying what other homes that are your comparables are offering. Does your home have a killer garage and workshop that no one else has? Is the view spectacular? Are the closets all walk-ins? Have you just updated your kitchen? What sets you apart?

At the same time, make a list, mental or otherwise, of what you'd want to change about your home. Once you've determined what buyers will love and not love about your house it's easy to decide what to highlight and what to remedy.

Is an awkward floor plan something a problem? Minimize it by rearranging furniture. Get help  with that in my eBook, How to Arrange Furniture, A Guide to Arranging Furniture Using What You Have.

Does your backyard patio lack privacy or shade?  Create the illusion of a private outdoor seating area screened with lattice panels (like this deck by Maria Killam) or potted plants.

Does your home have windows that are small? Hang your window treatments higher and wider.

Do you hate your ugly lighting fixtures? Maybe a can of spray paint is all you need. Visit Pinterest to see what  DIY remedies catch your eye.  New lights from big box stores don't have to cost much.

Is your beat-up sofa not doing you any favors? Microfiber can be painted. How about off-the-shelf slipcovers? You might find a new sofa with a lovable price from Overstock or Big Lots.

It usually doesn't cost money to emphasize what's special about your house. Make sure the focal point and what is immediately visible to people entering each room is a plus, not a problem. Make sure your MLS listing accurately includes the home's best features. Make sure your whole house is clean,  organized and smells great!

Limit Your Sources

This one is difficult for impulse shoppers, but it's essential if you want to stay on course financially.

Most home staging begs for some new purchases. Some on-trend pieces to dress up the mantel. A stylish lamp for the bedside table. Or just new bath towels.

Decide where you can buy what you need at the best prices. Your answer will depend on the price point of your home, the local real estate market and demographics, and the style of your home.

If your home is going to be listed at $750,000, you can't expect to fix up that spare bedroom with furniture from Goodwill. But if you are staging a cottage as a second home, castoffs you find on the curb and odds and ends your grandmother left you might be perfect.

Once you narrow your list of places to spend money addressing the shortcomings of your home there's less chance of wasting cash. It's like shopping for shoes only at stores that carry the brands priced right for your budget. You won't be tempted to make unwise, impulse purchases.

Don't Overfix

It can be tempting to get rolling with staging and not know when to stop. You paint a bathroom and then decide it should have new sheet vinyl on the floor. You freshen your landscape with new mulch and now you want to buy some better shrubs. You make a headboard for the master bedroom and now want to shop for bedding and nightstands.

The question you have to ask yourself is what will buyers expect of a property in your market. Your Realtor should be able to guide you because she shows properties and talks with buyers on a daily basis. Ideally, you'll find that sweet spot between what's necessary to compete with other listings and what makes sense for your budget. You want to wow buyers without emptying your bank account!

You're off to a great start by deciding to do your own home staging. Download my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Fast and For Top Dollar, and you'll get all the help you need to make the right decisions and discover ways to stage on a shoestring.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Curb Appeal: The Front Doors of Summer

Summer's a great time to have your home on the market.

School's out and buyers want to move before the next school year begins.

People are generally in a more relaxed frame of mind (goodbye, chilly weather, hello vacations).

There are more daylight hours for people to view homes.

And -- most beneficial for sellers -- homes just look brighter, cleaner and prettier in summer than in other seasons.

If the look of your home from the curb hasn't changed since January, what are you waiting for? If it's advice to make the most of your summer staging, I've got that for you.

These photos and suggestions are bound to spark some ideas for staging your front door area.

Do Not Fear Color

We hear so much about neutral colors for home staging, that we might not realize when it comes to exterior doors, the rules change.

The red door on this shingled grey home above is a perfect example of how to make your entry stand out.

These homeowners went beyond painting the front door an extra cheerful color. They added a  friendly "Hello." People on a home tour will certainly remember the house with the yellow door and the hello greeting. Photo: Lolly Lane

A front door doesn't have to be a bright, saturated color to be summery. Cool colors are especially appealing during warmer months. Even though there are decorative props clustered around this beautiful doorway, it doesn't feel crowded because everything is scaled pleasantly. Photo: French Bulldogs.

In Charleston's historic areas, homeowners paint trim like shutters and doors and ironwork with what's called "Charleston green." It's black, but with a hint of green. It's a beautiful background for whatever else you use to adorn your front steps and walkway. Photo: Southern Living.

Flowers make buyers feel welcome 

If it's plain old white, don't feel compelled to paint your front door. You can add some seasonal color and style with plants and a jumbo welcome mat. It's easy to care for container plants that are right outside your front door.

If you're going to have flower pots, why not make them stand-out big and matching? For a formal house -- or to make your home look more formal -- nothing beats a pair, especially when both the pots and the plant selections match. Photo: Drive By Decor.

Summer gives you the chance to play with plants that might not like your climate in winter. These giant elephant ear plants look quirky and dramatic. When a front door area doesn't get direct sun all day, shade-loving tropical plants like these are perfect candidates. Photo: Home Design Inspired.

Artificial plants in containers look hokey, but no one expects you to have fresh flowers in a wreath for your door. These silk daylilies complete a summery rag wreath that's quick, easy and cheap to make.

Even a small entrance or condo door can sport a wreath to celebrate the season and make a home feel tended. Remember that home buyers will be standing at the front door while their broker is unlocking it and they are already judging what the home is worth to them. Photo: Windsor Silks.

Other Tips for Entrance Appeal

Make it a regular habit to quickly sweep away dirt, cobwebs, pollen, and dust around your outside entrance. Clean homes sell faster.

Even a small landing often has space for a chair or bench. Two chairs look especially friendly, but please arrange them to face each other at an angle that would be convenient for conversation.

A small piece of furniture near the front door gives you a chance to make an impression. A wicker table or anything else that's made of wicker looks wonderfully summery.

Your welcome mat is another chance to add a distinctive touch. Treat yourself (and prospective buyers) to a clean and colorful new one. They're so inexpensive!

If your property is unoccupied, use exterior decorations that are not so valuable that they might be tempting to vandals and thieves.

Is your porch, landing or steps needing a coat of paint? Is the door dented or faded? Deferred maintenance is a red flag to buyers.

If you add flags or signs to your exterior staging, be certain they do not offend or alienate any prospective buyers. Nothing profane or in-your-face opinionated.

If you have room for a bench or chair, set them out near your entrance. Match the furniture style to the architectural style of your home -- modern for a contemporary home, classic for a traditional house, some unique finds for a cottage, mid-century-modern for a ranch house, or rustic furnishings for a farmhouse, for example.

Elevate your plants to give them importance and make them more noticeable both from the street and up close. Use a color scheme that unifies a grouping of various containers and plants.

A little lightheartedness goes a long way towards befriending buyers. Show some personality outside your home by displaying a silly collection of garden art like these frogs, or some unusual containers for your plants, like vintage tinware, hypertufa, baskets, or wooden buckets.

I hope you have some fun staging the entrance to your home on the market, and make it a pleasure and an enticement for people touring homes. Download my home staging eBook for more tips to help you sell your home fast!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tips For A Successful Home Inspection

No matter how well you've cared for your home, the thought of a home inspector examining it to determine if it's a good buy for your prospective buyer can be unsettling.

Unless your buyer is paying cash, the finance people he's dealing with will require a professional inspection. Even if he is financing the purchase himself, he might pay for an inspection to use as a bargaining tool during your price negotiations. And while most home inspections last only two to three hours, they can be some of the most stressful hours of the selling process.

Give yourself some peace of mind and bargaining power by preparing as thoroughly as possible for the exam, just like you did in high school for those algebra tests. You did study, right?

One way to really be prepared is to hire an inspector yourself way in advance of listing with a broker, so you get a heads up on any problems your home has. Still, the buyer will get his own inspection.

Most advice regarding home inspections is aimed not at sellers, but at buyers hoping to ensure their new home gives them no problems after purchase.

But let's look at some tips geared for sellers like you to make sure your home inspection process goes smoothly. You want your home sale to move along without any delays, surprises, or any reduction in your sale price.

What Will the inspector check?

The standard inspection covers the important infrastructure systems -- heating and cooling, plumbing, electrical, the roof, chimney, visible ductwork and insulation, attic, walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, foundation, and other structural elements. The inspector also checks to see if all appliances that convey with your home are in working order, including smoke alarms carbon monoxide detectors.

It's important to note that a home inspector is not appraising the value of the property or the cost of repairs needed. Those tasks belong to an appraiser and to specialists, respectively. 

If your home has a crawl space, you should have plastic covering the soil there. Photo: Today's Homeowner

What to do to Prepare

Even though you won't be tagged for having a bit of clutter or messiness here and there, a less-than-tidy home can put a lot of preconceived notions in the mind of the inspector. Cleanliness will inspire confidence.

Clean your house inside and out before an inspection. It's a good idea to especially tidy up areas that the inspector is likely to see first. Inspectors usually start by checking the exterior of the house. His first impression will be based on that. Although the work he'll do is calculated by objective ratings, we're all influenced by our subjective observations.

Tidiness will also make it easy for an inspector to do his work. You want him to be able to see behind appliances like your water heater and furnace. You want him to be able to test all electrical outlets. If you haven't decluttered your home, a good time to do it is before your inspection.

The person paying for the inspection is the party that gets to follow the inspector around (without getting in his way or asking too many questions, please), and that's who will get a written report of the inspection. A buyer may or may not share the report with you the seller, usually not.

If you don't like the idea of vacating your home while an inspection is underway, have your Realtor be present. Generally, it's best if sellers and buyers don't meet up until the closing. Rules about who gets to see the printed report actually vary by state. Your Realtor can advise you.

An inspector will note clogged or leaking gutters and downspouts, a roof that's mossy, or shingles that are loose. 

Don't Neglect The Important Stuff

Although a professional inspection does not cover the land, or things like outbuildings or pools, an inspector will look at exterior conditions like grading for problematic drainage, and landscaping that is hanging too close to the roof or closer than 12 inches from the siding, or firewood stored less than  30 feet away from the house.

After you've taken a walk around your home to perform a visual inspection of the roof and siding, double check your home's security, particularly, the locks and deadbolts. Did you know that as recently as 2013, victims of burglary offenses suffered an estimated $4.5 billion in property losses, and burglaries of residential properties accounted for 74% of the total reported? Yikes. No wonder inspectors check these things.

Plumbing problems can be a deal breaker. Even minor issues like an incorrectly installed outdoor spigot, slow-draining shower stalls and bathtubs, or a leaking kitchen sink can look serious enough for a buyer to pull back his purchase offer. Some inspectors will check for water quality, especially if the home has a well or water filtration system.

No home is perfect, but you need to be prepared for a thorough going-over.  

Make His Job Easier

Be sure an inspector has an easy time of his stay. Utilities should be on, including water, gas, and electric. Are pilot lights working as they should? Will he need the garage door opener? A key to a storage room or an exterior electric box? A remote for a ceiling fan?

Your prep list should also include replacing filters in your HVAC system and checking that all lights have working bulbs.

When an inspector can't check a system or appliance, he has to note that on the paperwork. He's checking off boxes on his boilerplate report. If too many entries note "unable to inspect due to ..." or "recommend further evaluation by licensed... " plumber or electrician or pest control contractor or other professional, a buyer can get discouraged. No one wants to pay for another inspection or worry about what's been hinted at.

Finally, if you have invoices documenting major improvements and repairs, you might as well make them available. You can leave them with your Realtor in case any questions come up about the age or material or capacity of things such as plumbing pipes or electric wiring.

Get more advice on selling your home quickly and profitably in my $4.99 homestaging eBooks. I want you to be happy with the sale of your home!

Friday, April 27, 2018

How to Profit from Home Improvements

The typical homeowner wants to spruce up her property when she's ready to sell. At least the smart ones do. She knows buyers can have oversized expectations and long wish lists.

But... where to start? The kitchen? The bath? Paint? Carpet? Roofing? Windows?

Don't be that homeowner who chooses the projects she always dreamed of tackling while she lived in the house. Choose the projects that give you the best return on your money when it's selling time.

Here are five home improvements that do just that.

Garage Fronts Can Get Ugly

It may not sound all that exciting, but replacing your garage overhead door can actually be quite thrilling in terms of its effect on your final selling price. Because...curb appeal.

According to Remodeling Magazine's 2018 Cost vs. Value report, switching out your outdated garage door for a new one will probably pay for itself once your home sells. Not only can it improve the look of your exterior, but it can also have a positive effect on your insulation, and therefore, decrease monthly energy costs. Buyers' agents will research energy bills for their clients, so look for ways now that you can reduce your utility bills.

As a bonus, this project doesn't have to be expensive, and can take only as much time as it takes to phone a company that installs garage doors.

If you are on a budget, and there is nothing structurally wrong with your existing doors, painting them is simple, inexpensive, and a quick DIY project. I've painted many garage doors and can show you how.

A garage overhead door and driveway are often most of what people see
for the front view of a home. Photo: Decorative Concrete Orlando.

Clean Baths Look Newer

Buyers might love a completely new bathroom, but does it work in your favor to give it to them? Unless you've owned your home long enough for it to have appreciated handsomely, or you bought it for a song, or you've inherited the home debt-free, you'll have a hard time financially justifying a total bath do-over.

There are still some inexpensive upgrades that can make a bath look new. I recently purchased a low-flow toilet at Lowes on sale for about $100. It took a handyman an hour to remove the old one and install the new one.

Bath vanities and pedestal sinks can be are thrifty purchases as well. Many baths are small enough that a sheet vinyl remnant at a floor covering store will be a worthwhile expense for the newness it brings to the room.

Even simple changes like adding a shiny new faucet and shower head, replacing old towel bars with a matching set of new ones, putting up a trendy new overhead light, or hanging a beautiful mirror will make the whole room seem fresher. These are the kinds of changes that can go a long way toward bumping your home above the comparable ones buyers are touring.

The thrifty alternative is to take care of just what's going to give buyers what they are looking for -- a clean, functional, attractive and comfortable space with some wow tossed in. Sometimes, all it takes is a thorough cleaning followed by re-grouting tile or re-caulking around the tub for the facelift that impresses people.

Don't forget the power of paint.

Flooring Changes Everything

A floor says plenty about a room. A new floor is a good place to start if
you're not sure how best to spend money for home improvement. 
Floor surface makes up a big percentage of what a person sees and feels when he enters a room. Is it stylish?Comfortable? Quiet? Suitable for the room?

If you answered no to any of these, maybe a replacement is what you need to spring for. Don't assume flooring changes will be expensive. There are some flooring updates that won't set you back and can really make a difference when you list.

One selling point your listing can brag about is sustainable flooring. Linoleum flooring can last for more than 40 years if properly maintained and can be made to mimic all kinds of styles. There's even an eco-friendly kind, marmoleum, that will appeal to a lot of families.

To keep costs low, see if you can lay a new floor on top of the old one.

Smart rehabbers develop a working relationship with a flooring outlet. You can do the same. Explain that you are selling your home. Look for a deal. Then select wall color paint based on what bargain carpeting you select. New carpeting needn't be top of the line. An inexpensive carpet feels better with good padding underneath.

Hold off on sledgehammering

The kitchen is often the deal-breaker or -maker in a home sale. So it's only natural that you want to zero in on this room. Spend, but spend wisely.

A brand new refrigerator, dishwasher, stove, and microwave will woo buyers, especially if all come from the same manufacturer. But you can save some money shopping for unmatched, scratch-and-dent models, and even by negotiating at places like Lowes and Home Depot.

If your cabinets were poor quality to begin with or have taken a beating over the years, it'll probably be a better investment to replace them entirely. Stock cabinets from home improvement stores will go a long way towards updating your kitchen but be prepared to have some muscle and know-how to yank the old and hang the new. And most handymen, carpenters, and contractors aren't cheap.

This kitchen designed by Lynn Donaldson features two work surfaces -- a thin
butcher block  top on the island and a solid surface countertop elsewhere. 
Instead, you may be able to replace or resurface just the door fronts for a totally new appearance. To save money, leave some cabinets off and replace them with open shelving on wall brackets.

If your kitchen cabinets are still in great condition, you can clean them, sand them down, and paint them to completely change their look. Adding new hardware can do wonders, too.

Is your countertop making your kitchen look old? Work with a local stone company to create a high-end look on a shoestring. Tell them you are fixing a house to sell. Ask for a discount and don't be too choosy about the pattern. Just make the colors work with the existing flooring.

If you have a kitchen island, remember that the top doesn't have to match the counter. Look for bargains.

You can buy a new stainless double sink for about $200, and even less than that for a flashy faucet.

Unless your kitchen is very large, chances are a gallon of paint will give your kitchen walls two fresh coats.

Don't even consider leaving in place wallpaper or -- gasp! -- floral wallpaper borders in your kitchen or anywhere else. Buyers will experience unpleasant 80's flashbacks. Wallpaper removal is free.

The view from the Street

Buyers want to view homes that welcome them from the very start. That's where landscaping plays a major role.

Healthy turf, trimmed beds, pruned shrubs -- it all adds up to a
well-tended property that looks easy to maintain. Photo: Unknown source
Most Realtors agree, a good-looking landscape is buyer bait. The stats say that spending 5% of the value of your home on landscaping can increase its resale value by 15%.

According to Money Magazine, if you work with professional landscapers and make good decisions with their advice, their cost could bring a recovery value of up to 200% when you sell.

But you don't have to go overhaul your yard and gardens to profit from improved landscaping. Just giving your home's exterior a good power wash will make a big difference. I also recommend putting a coat of paint on your the front door. You don't have to change the color if it was a good choice originally.

Edge your mulched beds to give them a crisp look. Top-dress them with fresh mulch. Kill or pull any weeds. Tidy up shrubs that look too shaggy or overgrown. Remove unhealthy specimens. None of these tasks require a lot of cash or time yet the results will be dramatic.

Make More money when you sell

It's a common fallacy with homeowners that if a project is expensive it'll pay off in the end. These simple renovations prove that you don't have to spend a lot of money or time to reap benefits when you list. Frugal home improvements make sense. A dollar saved is a dollar profited. If you spend wisely, you'll leave the closing table with more in your pocket.

Are you staging your own home before going to market? You can get more thrifty and practical tips for staging your own home in my $4.99 eBooks on how to sell your home faster and for a better price.

Top Photo: Lenox House Design

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