Six Easy Fixes to Guarantee a Smooth Home Sale

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Why do some homes linger on the market and others get multiple offers on day one? 

Maybe the listing price is inflated. Or maybe the location is a problem. 

But sometimes when a house doesn't sell it's details that turn buyers off. 

If you want your house to receive an offer for a price you love, and then to sail smoothly through the negotiations and inspections, make sure you don't ignore these six problems that have easy fixes. 

1. Danger signals

You want buyers to feel confident about your home's infrastructure and amenities. Don't let them wonder about basic necessities like electricity, water quality, and safety.

For example, if you bring bottled water in quantity to your home, and people touring your home see a supply of bottled spring water or purified water stored in your pantry, cabinets or garage, it gives the message that your tap water doesn't taste good or isn't healthy. They'll assume they will have to buy or filter their water. That's off-putting.

If you keep a space heater, a dehumidifier, an air purifier, or a large box fan in a room, buyers might assume there is a problem with heating, cooling, or poor air circulation in that area of the house. So, tuck these appliances out of sight if possible. 

If you have multiple security devices like window gates, deadbolts on exterior doors, and motion-activated cameras and lights, buyers will be concerned about safety. So, make sure your online listing mentions that the house is located in a desirable neighborhood.  

2. Deferred maintenance

Little things bother buyers. Are there any cracked window panes? Stains on the carpet? Cracks in the foundation? Any cabinets missing hardware?  Does the bathtub or shower area need tiles replaced or fresh grout or caulk? Does your roof have missing shingles or clogged gutters?  Any rotten boards in the siding? Loose boards on the deck? Tears in window screens? 

I always advise sellers to take care of these relatively inexpensive fixes because buyers will ask for repairs or discounts that will slow negotiations and cost you more in the end. 

Before your Realtor schedules a photographer, check that there are no red flags like these issues.

Buyers are especially particular about cleanliness
in bathrooms and kitchens. Fresh grout and caulk make these 
areas look more hygienic. Photo: Grout Masters 

3. Poor window treatments

Most buyers are looking for space when they plan to move. To make your rooms look bigger, have plenty of both artificial and natural lighting.

Don't cover your windows with heavy curtains and drapery. Simple curtains and blinds cost less money and look more contemporary than elaborate window treatments. Breezy, white drapes as shown in the top photo are often the perfect solution to replace your colorful window treatments that you want to take with you when you move. You can then list "all window treatments convey" on your MLS specs.

Make sure draperies and curtains are open for viewings, even though some photographers prefer to close window treatments for their photos. Buyers want to see the views.  

I also like the look of mini blinds or Venetian blinds in a home on the market. Blinds of 2-inch wide horizontal slats made from wood, plastic, or aluminum, are attractive and practical. There are plenty of styles to choose from, and you're bound to find versions priced low enough that you can leave them behind when you move. 

4. Not Clean Enough

No matter how beautiful your house is, you could turn off a potential buyer if your home looks unkempt. 

Prepping your home for the real estate market is the perfect time to schedule a professional deep cleaning of your home. Schedule it before your photos are taken. Professional cleaners will go over it from top to bottom.  Here's a handy checklist of what a deep cleaning includes

The professional cleaning will make your home sparkle, and free up time for you to concentrate on staging your property. 

A deep cleaning should follow any decluttering you
do because there's no sense in cleaning what doesn't stay 
in your house. A decluttered home will be easier 
to clean and keep clean. Photo: Family Handyman

5. Front door fail

First impressions are difficult to erase. That's s why curb appeal is crucial, especially around your front entrance, where buyers see things up close while their Realtor is dealing with the entry code. 

If you've arranged a deep cleaning, then the front door will be clean and ready for something extra to make your home memorable. It doesn't need to be extensive or expensive. Usually, a potted plant nearby and a seasonal wreath on the door are enough. 

If the door needs more than a cleaning, read my post about how to paint a door without taking it off its hinges. Choose a color that contrasts with the color of your siding.     

6. Unpleasant aromas

We all grow accustomed to the scents that fill our homes. But others will notice if the house has scents like mustiness, cooking, chemicals, or pets. That deep cleaning is going to go a long way, but then the ball is in your court. 

Don't let stinky stuff accumulate. Be extra diligent about taking out trash on a daily basis, or as often as needed. If you have pets, keep on top of any lingering odors from them, their toys, bedding, or litter box. 

Keeping pet odors at bay is crucial for homes on the market.
Some buyers could also have pet allergies. Photo: NBC. 

Don't try to mask aromas with chemical air fresheners, as these scents can be a trigger for chemically sensitive people and also a sign to others that you might be masking residual bad odors. 

Note that wastebaskets, compost buckets, and recycle bins can harbor aromas or attract pests like ants, roaches, or mice. So empty them often and consider using washable and lidded containers when practical.          

Get the look, get the book

None of these six steps to improving your home are major fixes. You can take care of them in one grand swoop or tackle them one at a time as you are planning your move. Don't leave before checking my home staging eBooks to see what else you can do to make your home the one that sells faster than your competition.  

Top Photo: Custom Drapery and Shades



How to Score Bargains at Garage Sales

Saturday, August 12, 2023
Anyone who thrives on buying second-hand, and I'm part of that club, has her own bag of tricks. Here are my favorite ways to find bargains at garage sales.

Practice small talk

I always try to immediately befriend the seller. 

Smile. Chit-chat about the weather and about how many people have come by. 

Compliment the merchandise. Never mutter criticisms to your companions. Very often how friendly the seller thinks you are is in direct proportion to how flexible prices will be.

Approach correctly

Scope out everything immediately upon arrival. 

Zero in on the good stuff and don't get distracted. Don't knock anyone over getting to a prize piece on the opposite side of a driveway, but don't dally over the blankets when what you really want is books.

Be ready to grab 

Who among us hasn't hesitated, and then watched someone else walk off with a coveted treasure? Most garage sale items are one of a kind. This ain't retail, folks.

Asking the seller to set something aside doesn't work. It's still easy for someone else to not know it's "reserved." Often there is more than one seller, and I've seen arguments spring up about which buyer had dibs on an item.

Understand the demographics 

Buy from little old ladies, and I can say this because I am a little old lady. I'm not endorsing exploitation of the elderly. I'm saying that older people are often happy to downsize, and they usually have the kind of things that were made (in America!) before manufacturers realized how flimsy they could make things that people would still buy.

Don't confine your garage sale shopping to the better neighborhoods, on the theory that people with money have more taste or better stuff. Wrong. Not only is the merchandise sometimes crapola, but it's usually overpriced.

Originally beat up and painted an institutional green,
I stripped the paint from this $15 
dresser, and patched the places where wood veneers
had de-laminated. Then I faux finished what needed it,
imitating a birdseye maple 
on the drawer fronts, and marble on the top. It's a keeper!

 

Don't ignore middle-class neighborhoods, and even parts of town where there are older homes and people who need money. My favorite table lamp, above, is an example. I paid $2 after I found it in the corner of a dirt-floor garage that smelled like pee.

Drive the right vehicle 

Don't drive an expensive car. Buddy up with someone who drives an old pickup. We owned a Jaguar a few years ago (before we realized how expensive repairs were). I told Mr. Lucky, "I can't drive that car to a yard sale. I lose all my negotiating power. Leave me the work van, honey."

Sellers will judge your ability to pay by what you drive. Look like one of the people, not a wealthy cheapskate.

When I wanted to buy just one of these frosted pink glasses
(silly me!), the owner insisted I take the pair.
So glad I did, because they are perfect not only for
centerpieces and mantel decor but for ice cream sundaes
as well, which as we all know, one should 

never enjoy alone! My gardenias and roses scented the entire room

Arriving in a car that's not fancy or new also means you can transport things worry-free. You don't want that wrought iron trellis poking a hole in your leather seats. You want a truck bed that will accommodate a dining table if that's what you're hunting.

Dress the part 

There is a way to dress for yard sale shopping. 

You want shoes that don't absorb the dew that is still on the grass early in the day. Forget cutesy shoes that don't give you the comfort required to last the morning.

Look poor. Get your old sneaks out. Dress for functionality. The latest styles will only hamper your bargaining power.

Wear pants or a jacket with pockets for money. Don't carry a purse because you need both hands free to rummage.

What I fell in love with is the size of this demitasse
(that's a penny on the right), and the lovely
handle, and, of course, the pink transferware pattern.
I don't use it for anything, but I still like to

 keep it in sight, along with my other pink transferware.
If I ever start drinking espresso, 
I'll be all set. It cost all of one dollar. 

Game the schedule 

Get there early or get there late. Everyone knows this. Have a plan. If you have addresses, use your phone to plan the most efficient travel loop.

Don't be so early that you risk annoying the seller. Some professional pickers may differ with me on this point, arguing that arriving while it's still dark, and the harried sellers are just setting up tables, is okay because you are a serious buyer. Do what you're comfortable with, but I don't think sellers like the idea of selling to people who are making a profit. Don't act like a pro. Even if you are.

Learn to look

Train your eye to isolate objects. In the row of junk vases there may be a genuine Roseville. Don't be influenced by surroundings. Instead, envision the lamp or chair the way you will use it. Maybe you'll be faux finishing that ugly flower pot, or changing the hardware on an old dresser.

Last month my friend Julie found a signed crystal bowl at a yard sale that she bought for $5. She sold it on eBay for $3,000. True story. She's also found diamond rings and sterling place settings for pennies on the dollar. She's educated herself about what's valuable.

Have correct currency 

Have cash, and have it in small change and small bills. Sellers are wanting to see profits. Some even have set a monetary goal for the day. Make it easy for them, and yourself, by having exact amounts. Checks sometimes are acceptable (life in a small town, ahhhhhh), but usually, cash is king.


I recently bought this original painting at a yard sale.
 It's one of the first things I see every morning, and I
never tire of studying its play of light. It cost me
three dollars. It's signed on the front. On the back,
it's titled Approach to the Mountain, and dated 1984.
The artist even pasted his printed address sticker on the 
 back. Thank you, Mr. Sumner in Keene, New Hampshire.


Here is one trick I have seen work wonders. Know what you will pay for a piece. Have the cash in your hand. Make your offer, and extend your fistful of dollars. You can even put it on the table in front of the seller, or start counting it out. If the seller refuses your offer, put the money back in your pocket. Usually, she'll agree, or start negotiating, because she saw the money, started spending it in her head, then watched the money disappear. Try it. I once bought an expensive bike for my son this way, paying only a few bucks.

Expand your hunting grounds 

I know that many bargain hunters shop flea markets, thrift stores, and consignment shops while on vacation, but have you looked for yard sales when you're away from home? 

Vacation shopping in souvenir shops, gift stores, and outlet malls bores me, but show me a yard sale sign and I'm gonna follow that arrow. Besides prices being a plus, my chances of finding something with local color, something not common back home, are going to be pretty darn good. I still have the bamboo furniture I bought cheap while visiting the Florida Panhandle ten years ago.

These chair cushions have been re-covered numerous times, 

and I think it's time for me to sew a fresh set. 

I'm always attracted to the laid-back, tropical feel of bamboo, wicker, 

and rattan furniture. I don't remember what I gave that woman in 

Panama City Beach for her chairs and tables, but I know they've 

easily paid for themselves many times over in comfort and versatility

I suspect that each of you will have your own tips for finding great deals at yard sales. If you liked my bargain-hunting ideas, download my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, where you'll find plenty of pointers for thrifty buying at secondhand stores and decorating, whether you are presently staging a home, just doing some redecorating, or out having a fun Saturday morning with friends.


Make Home Buyers Jealous of Your Lifestyle

Thursday, August 10, 2023
Realtors use a common phrase to explain why home staging works: "Buyers buy the lifestyle."

Home staging is your tool if you want to make your home one that makes buyers envious enough to make a purchase offer. 

There are five different rooms that -- staged properly -- will do just that. Here is how to stage these rooms without any remodeling or expensive upgrades. .   

Luxurious living room

This room is often the first one buyers see when they enter a house. It has to make a good impression. 

The living room is often entertainment central. If buyers are impressed with your lifestyle, they assume that after they move in, the guests who they entertain will likewise be impressed. This is the case even though they know that your furniture doesn't stay with the property! 

A staged living room, whether large or small, will look comfortable but not sloppy. Educate your eye by studying designers' portfolios on DecorPad

Stage your room's focal point, like a fireplace, windows, or built-in bookcases, so that it stands out. Remove photos, prints, paintings, and wall hangings that are small. Replace them with a large mirror or oversized piece of art for wall decor.  

Use props that have interesting textures, shapes, and colors. Use books, crockery, glassware, candles, or objet d'art. Then arrange your carefully selected group of them on a tray.      

For larger furnishings, include a statement piece of two, such as a dramatic light fixture you can buy secondhand (ReStore is good for this). Make sure your furniture is clean and in good condition. If your upholstered pieces don't look impressive, invest in slipcovers. Microfiber chairs can be painted. Finally, add sizable flowers or greenery, either real or fake. 

Clean bathrooms

Whether your bathrooms are old or new, you can still stage them to make buyers feel good about your house. I believe in what one Realtor told me years ago about selling a house: "If it's clean and it's priced right, it will sell." That's how important cleanliness is, especially in bathrooms. 

Don't shy away from an abundance of white when staging a bathroom. Afraid it's too sterile? A plant and some touches of metal (like faucets) and wood always make things interesting. 

Don't leave the shower curtain closed when the photographer is coming. The online photos should show exactly what's there.

Good illumination makes a room look bright and clean. But it will also reveal any less-than-spotless areas, so a deep cleaning might be in order. Don't cover a window with anything blocking light; if privacy is an issue, use static cling frosted glass privacy film. 

Stage with props that are pretty, hygienic, and non-personal. Put away medicines and personal grooming supplies -- toothbrushes, shaving equipment, cosmetics, and hair products. Hide the wastebasket and toilet brush. 

A bathroom doesn't necessarily have to be large to impress buyers. I've blogged about how to stage a small bathroom. 

Aim for a spa-like vibe in the bathroom. Fluffy white
towels are perfect props. Photo: John Bessler

Comfy bedrooms

Make your bedrooms tempting, like a place people would gravitate to for some precious downtime. Comfort is key in all bedrooms, not just the primary bedroom.

The bed or beds should be the focal point of the room and the first thing buyers will see when they enter. 

Stage beds with fabrics that have soft textures and subtle colors. Have enough bedding so that the edges of the bed and corners are soft, not sharp. Make your own simple DIY headboard if there is none. The look should say, "Come and take a nap."       

If there is enough room, a comfortable chair or bench makes the room feel extra-accommodating, especially if there is space for a small table or even a dresser next to it. If the floors are hardwoods or LVP, a rug (or rugs) is a nice touch.

A rug next to the bed grounds it and creates a softer look.
Natural elements like wood, woven fabrics, and 
foliage make the space feel homey. Photo: Becki Owens

Delicious kitchen

Whether they are serious cooks or DoorDash addicts, everyone likes to eat. Having a kitchen that looks like a great place to fix food, entertain, and maybe eat in, is a perk. One way to make a kitchen "feel delicious" is by staging it with props that look appetizing. 

You don't need to go overboard with a pantry full of gourmet foods. Just make food storage interesting instead of ordinary. People with enviable lives enjoy special foods. Organize the contents. Leave some space empty. Cluster smaller items and keep them in matched containers. If you removed cabinet doors, perhaps now is the time to replace them, or else minimize what's stored there.     

One economical way to spice up a kitchen is to add a scent that is appropriate. Gone are the days when Realtors suggested baking a batch of cookies when a showing was pending. Instead, you can scent the air with citrus or cinnamon with a scent diffuser that's good-looking, economical, and reliable.    

My favorite decorative details for countertops are flowers or fruit like lemons or apples, or potted herb plants, or cookbooks, or an arrangement of cutting boards, or a crock of matching utensils. 

The staged kitchen needn't function well, just look good. Once you have due diligence money, it's probably safe to rearrange things the way you like them. Meanwhile, display your sexiest appliances -- that fancy coffee maker or Kitchenaid mixer. And hide the dinky toaster oven.  

 And don't forget to clear the fridge of magnets, reminders, and photos.

Keeping the kitchen clean and uncluttered will
be a challenge for most of us, but it's only temporary
and might instill new habits. Photo: Helen Norman

If you have open shelves, curate what's there to
create a visually pleasing vignette. 
Photo: Greg Scheidemann for BHG

Roomy closets

Even a small closet can look roomy if you arrange things right. Group similar items together after you've decluttered. Avoid crowding it, even if it means packing up some off-season belongings for storage offsite or in compression bags under the bed. Simplify the color scheme of what stays.

Don't waste space. Keep the floor clean, but use space up to the ceiling. Arrange smaller items in big,  opaque, matched containers. Remember, the fewer details, the better. Some belongings can be conveniently tucked away by adding Command hooks on the wall to the left and right just inside the door of a closet that's not walk-in. And over-the-door shoe organizers inside a closet won't be visible in your online photos.        

An inexpensive, battery-powered motion-sensitive light will make the closet look bigger, brighter, and friendlier. So will a fresh coat of white paint. And if the floor is dark, add a white area rug. 

I've blogged about what your closets reveal about you and how important closet staging is.

Tall wire dividers
keep stacks neat.
Photo: Miles Kimball

Dividers work for 
both wire and wood shelves.

Photo: Amazon 









Get the look, get the book

Don't leave here without downloading a copy of my home staging eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. It's an indispensable guide to help you figure out how to maximize your home's value. I make it easy and economical!   

Top Photo: Ballard Designs

Checklist for Staging a Small Bathroom

Monday, July 17, 2023

People shopping for a home have some specific numbers in mind. They are focused on the number of bedrooms and the number of bathrooms. 

Even if your bathroom is a small one, it's still a bathroom. And, staged right, it will be an important selling point. 

Here's my best checklist to make it easy. 

1. Stage it to look big

Yes, it's possible to have a fully functional small bathroom without it looking crowded. 

Ideally, the small bath should not have to also serve as dressing room, beauty salon, laundry drop-off, and linen closet. If your bath is everything to everybody, it's time to rethink storage.

Look for ways to relocate the non-daily essentials.

Keeping the room pared down to the must-haves means you'll probably need to do some decluttering and then re-organizing, but the payoff can be a quicker home sale. If it seems inconvenient, remind yourself that it's just temporary. 

You can still find clever ways to find storage space in a small bathroom. Make sure the medicine cabinet is a roomy one. Consider installing two matching cabinets, if wall space allows. Here is an excellent article on installing a medicine cabinet, both a wall-mounted one and a recessed one. 

Oftentimes, space between studs can be opened up, and recessed shelves added there. A good handyman will make quick and simple work of that project, especially if a premade shelving unit is used.    

I like the look of open shelves on bathroom walls, as long as what's arranged on the shelves looks tidy. A shelf added above the bathroom door is one clever way to provide a place for extra towels or supplies. 

Floating shelves like these are economical and easy to install, 
and they add a natural element. Photo: bloomingdiyer.  

2. Get it sparkling clean  

There's no such thing as a bathroom being too clean! If ever there was a time for you to spring for a professional deep cleaning, it's when your Realtor is ready to book the real estate photographer.   

Since Covid, more people are aware of the importance of cleanliness. And a home that looks immaculate is especially appealing to women buyers. It "feels" move-in ready, and gives buyers confidence that the home has been well-maintained.  

The older the home, the more important cleaning is. Sometimes vintage bath fixtures are charming, and other times, a complete turnoff. It depends on the style of your home and the market for buyers. 'But no one wants an old-fashioned toilet. Adding a new one needn't be expensive, but will make a big difference, especially if it is an ultra-high-efficiency toilet (UHFT) or even a high-efficiency toilet (HET), both of which significantly reduce water use. 

Do you have a bathtub that is showing signs of age? Here is how to hire a refinisher for your tub. Take it from me, it's not a fun DIY project. 

A new coat of pure white paint on the ceiling will go a long way toward making the bath look fresh.  Finally, make sure you have maximum wattage in your bathroom lights. A bright room looks cleaner than a dim one. 

Make white your go-to color if you want to emphasize cleanliness.
This see-through shower curtain fits the vintage vibe of this
bathroom and might provide the statement piece that makes
your house more memorable to buyers on tour. Photo: Foter

3. Demonstrate economy 

In addition to that high-efficiency toilet you could install, another amenity that wins the hearts of cost-conscious buyers is a tankless water heater, whether gas or electric. You'll get the use of it until your home sells, and you'll be spoiled if your next home doesn't have this never-run-out-of-hot-water feature. 

I've found that new faucets can jazz up a bath that needs a facelift, and I prefer single-lever faucets. They're sleeker, smaller, and look more modern. If your sink has three holes for a faucet, it can still be converted by choosing a model with a wide base plate, or adding what's called an escutcheon that might come with your new faucet.

If you do add a new faucet to the sink, opt for an aerated faucet that mixes air with the water which saves water without compromising performance. A faucet replacement can be a DIY project, but if you decide to change the tub or shower faucets, spouts or showerhead, you'll need a plumber. Think of these hardware upgrades as adding jewelry to your bath. 

Reminder: Money spent on minor bath and kitchen upgrades has a better return on investment than other home improvement projects.  

A single-handle faucet is easier to use, easier to clean,
and easier to maintain because there
are fewer parts to it. Photo: Clayton Homes 

 4. Keep decor to a minimum

By necessity, a bathroom has lots of hard surfaces. And that calls for some soft touches when you stage it. Use props that have interesting textures and are made of natural materials like wicker, wood, fabric, and pottery. Please, no chenille toilet lid covers! 

A plant or some flowers -- real or fake -- will add that softening, natural detail. Choose decor items that don't take up precious floor space.

Art with French motifs is popular for bathroom artwork. But pastel
abstracts or black-and-white photos are appropriate as well.   

Wallpaper is having a moment now, and the results are striking. But I never endorse wallpaper in a staged home because everyone has such personal taste. Rather, wall art is one way to add some character to a boring bath. Instead of choosing some small framed prints, drawings, or photos, hang a statement piece like a framed poster. There's no shortage of bathroom humor posters, so be careful that you don't choose anything that could be considered vulgar or sexist.  

5. Create an experience

I've blogged about how to tantalize all the senses when you stage your own home. Having your whole house heavily scented will make buyers think you are hiding a problem. But the bathroom is a natural place to keep fragrant soaps and scented grooming products. You have several ways to get a bathroom to smell good.

A reed diffuser with essential oils is a simple way to scent the air. A reed diffuser doesn't take up to much space or call attention to itself. Some scents like orange, lemon, lemongrass, sandalwood, and lavender are especially evocative of cleanliness. Or, you can arrange some unwrapped, pleasantly scented soaps or bath bombs in the room to help it smell nice.   

Professional drain cleaning will get you a thumbs up on a home inspector's report (faster drainage) and guarantee that your drains aren't the cause of a build-up of mold, minerals, or other yucky stuff that can create odors. Aromas are powerful messengers. You want potential buyers to feel like they are stepping into a little spa area rather than a funky public restroom when they enter your small bathroom on a home tour.  

A simple reed diffuser can scent your entire bathroom and 
look stylish doing it. Buy one or make one. Photo: Luna Oceans


Simplify the details

You don't have to be a minimalist to have a clutter-free bathroom. Think about how you can organize what needs to be there so there is less visual "noise." Think in broad strokes. Cluster necessary items onto one tray, box, or basket. For personal items, use containers that are opaque rather than ones where the assorted contents are visible.  

Work with a simple color scheme of light, neutral colors that match the existing fixtures. Avoid dark colors, clashing colors, and too many different colors. If you can tuck things like bath mats, the toilet brush, and the wastebasket out of sight, so much the better. Don't display rolls of toilet paper or extra hair products. Put away the Squatty Potty and any medical equipment.

Keep all your towels the same color. Treat yourself to a new set. It's not unusual for staged homes to reserve one set of pristine, fluffy towels for showings. It depends on your level of commitment, the price of your home, and how frequent showings are. 

Subtle decor in this small bath gives it character
without overwhelming the space. Greenery delivers  
the finishing touches. Photo: Young House Love 

 Get the look, get the book

Staging a small bathroom can be a creative challenge, but small changes make a big difference, and I know you can do this! It's often the details that make one home desirable over another. Take it step by step, following my checklist. 

When you stage your own home, you have the advantage of fine-tuning it to show what is special about your property. If you want more staging inspiration and tips, download my homestaging eBooks now. You'll discover how easy and economical it can be to add value to your home on the market.  

Top Photo: Curated Interior

How to market your home to home buyers concerned about safety

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Nowadays, people shopping for a home think about how safe the neighborhood is when viewing a property. 

If you are currently selling a home, you want buyers to feel assured that the neighborhood is safe. But when a buyer sees multiple security devices like metal grates on your windows, bulky whole-house camera systems, and multiple exterior lights he might see red flags. 

At a time when young families are moving to suburban and rural towns they perceive to be safer places than cities to raise their children, and retirees are eyeing gated communities for the security they offer, it makes good sense to demonstrate how safe your property is. 

Let's look at the simple security methods that are effective, easy, and economical. And at the same time, are not signs of a dangerous neighborhood.  

In some markets, security devices like window grates and
entry intercom systems are necessary and the norm, not signals of
a particularly dangerous neighborhood. Photo: Homelight 
             

Video Doorbell 

Fortunately, today's wireless security devices are compact and well-designed so they aren't cumbersome or ugly. Secondly, having things like a smart doorbell is common. More people shop online and have packages delivered, and this trend has spurred sales of devices like video doorbells.  

The smart doorbell is today's techy amenity that could impress buyers. It doesn't signal that your neighborhood is unsafe, just that you like to see who is at your door or know when packages arrive. 

Especially if you are marketing your home to millennial buyers (aged 22 to 40) the latest tech security device is impressive. If you don't already have a video doorbell, don't let cost deter you because the investment is a good one. Systems range from $60 to $260, depending on whether the package you choose includes options like custom installation or many hours of video storage.         

Here is a review of all the available home security systems. Some companies offer professional installation and others pride themselves on being DIY-friendly. 

Google's Nest Hello is one popular smart doorbell because it 
gives clear, wide-angle video. Prices start at $150.    

Outside Camera

If you want the combination of an outdoor light and a camera, there's a product for you that offers lots of features. These lights typically illuminate more area than what doorbell cameras do, and can be placed in side yards or backyards or over a garage. 

Some models of photo exterior lights can be set to stay on for a certain period of time. If a light you install has this feature, it's best if your listing agent knows that this is a bonus. Some buyers might like the idea of a patio or a basketball court that's illuminated all evening for them to enjoy.    

I own a rental house in a solid, safe neighborhood. But when a young woman moved in, her dad was nervous about her living alone in a new city. I installed a motion-activated light and camera and everyone is happy. She can see on her phone anyone who approaches the house, even in the dark. 

Photo: Readers Digest

Outdoor lights 

Other exterior lights without cameras are designed to stay turned on for the safety of people coming and going, or for the drama they can add to the property, or for security purposes. This kind of illumination makes it difficult for mischief makers to approach the house unobserved. 

Landscape lights, which are smaller and sit low to the ground, make walkways safe but aren't helpful for security purposes. 

Some homeowners consider tall privacy fences to be deterrents to break-ins, but a U.S. Department of Justice study showed that burglars are more likely to target homes that have high fences and walls to shield them. If you have a privacy fence, outdoor motion-activated lights could make your home safer,  

Outdoor lights that are too dim don't offer protection, but
lights that are too bright can annoy your neighbors. 

Whole house security systems

Ask your Realtor what properties in your locale and price range are exhibiting as security features. If your competition is boasting about fancy security systems that cover the entire interior, there are DIY versions you can install yourself. 

One system is the $100 Ring plug-in camera. It lets you remotely check on your home and communicate with people there at any time with the Ring app. It plugs into a standard electric wall outlet, and can be wall mounted or left on any flat surface. 

The trend now is away from large outdoor signs like this one announcing a security system.
A window sticker is sufficient to deter criminals and is more  
suitable when your home is on the market. Photo: Stephen Rudolph   

If you are purchasing a new system and planning on selling your home soon, read the contract carefully to make sure you won't be required to pay for 3 years of service when you are moving in a few months, and you're not sure the new owner wants to (or legally can) continue the service. 

Before you commit to a home security company ask neighbors, friends, or relatives for recommendations. Check reviews on Nextdoor, Yelp, and any community listserves or Facebook pages for local opinions. 

Make yourself safer at home 

While your home is on the market you want to be realistic about your own personal safety while living there. Don't allow strangers knocking on your door asking for a home tour to enter, no matter how convincing their story. Allow only listed real estate agents show the property. 

Outside, make sure things like bikes, furniture, and gardening equipment are out of the path. Typical garden hose diameters range from 1/2 to 3/4 inches, just enough for you or a potential buyer visiting your home to trip over. If it's winter and snowy where you live, make sure walkways are cleared and not icy. 

Staging a home always calls for some decluttering and often the online purchase of some new accessories. Half of all Americans have access to curbside pickup for waste disposal, so take advantage of this service to remove any unnecessary items that could make your space feel cramped. Break down those cardboard boxes and stack them to conceal evidence of expensive buys. Crooks will cruise neighborhoods looking for evidence of a new electronics or pricey purchase. Have packages delivered to your office or to a neighbor who's home when you are not.  

If you are not living in your staged home when it is for sale, it could be a magnet for people looking for valuables to sell or pawn. Or for a place to move into as squatters! I have blogged about how to make a vacant home look lived-in

Get the look, get the book

It's possible that homes where you live don't require any security beyond locks on doors and windows. And maybe not even more than a big dog dish on the front porch! Crime gets more than its share of media attention. and the statistics can be frightening. According to statistics from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Pennsylvania reported 39,228 cases of crime in 2019. But actually, crime rates have across the board remained level, and vary greatly from state to state, city to city, and neighborhood to neighborhood. Make sure your property is safe and looks safe, too. 

If you download my home staging eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast for Top Dollar, you'll get more advice on how to prepare your home for sale. Whether you want tips to speed up your decluttering, make cleaning easier, create rooms that look fabulous using what you have, or avoid all the common pitfalls of staging, you'll get all the step-by-step formulas and encouragement you need.

Top Photo: Home Depot

Should You Paint Your Walls?

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Prepping your home for sale? Having trouble deciding whether your walls need a fresh coat of paint? 

If you are like most sellers, you've already heard that painting is one of those home improvement projects that give a great return on your investment.

But what exactly that investment amounts to depends on things like how many rooms need painting. What about ceilings, cabinets, and trim? And, are you going to be doing it yourself, or paying a team of professional painters?   

To help you decide how painting can be part of a profitable home staging plan, here are some questions you should answer.

What is your market like?

A good Realtor will tell you if your prospective buyers are part of a buyer's market or a seller's market. That info should give you an indication of how demanding buyers will be. Ask her if the homes you are competing with typically have freshly painted walls throughout.  

Your Realtor should also tell you how discriminating buyers will be in your locale and price, and how insistent they will be about things like color choices. A $200,000 home in Omaha, a $1,000,000 home in Austin, and a $40,000 home in rural Maine are all going to be marketed differently.  

Will you need to change colors?

According to a study by Review42, up to 90% of first impressions are based on color alone. So, the paint color you choose will influence how potential buyers feel as soon as they enter your home.  

I've blogged about the way to choose paint colors that don't clash with the colors of your current surfaces like flooring and countertops, and with the colors of your fixtures like sinks and toilets. 

This bedroom wall color is a soft grey-green that could 
easily be used in other rooms. Photo: The Nester

My vote has always gone towards painting the interior walls of a home on the market one neutral color. Boring? Maybe. But at least buyers can more quickly and easily envision their own style and d├ęcor in the space. And if they want to add an accent wall or paint each bedroom a different color, that's in their court. 

A singular color throughout a home makes the house seem newer, cleaner, and more spacious -- all desirable qualities to buyers. Choosing one color also saves money at the paint store. Depending on your choice, a repaint could mean some walls will need two coats of paint for good coverage. Ask your paint salesman about the coverage of your color choice and the quality of the paint.  

Paint with grey undertones
will cover better than colors
like yellow or white. 

Are your walls in bad shape? 

Do your walls have dings that need to be fixed? Do some of your doorways show nicks where furniture being moved bumped the trim? Did your dog scratch the paint off one of your doors? These are the kind of eyesores that distract buyers when they tour your home. 

Expect some buyers to ask for a discount or "painting allowance" if your walls or trim need repairs. It's usually less money to have the work done than it is to give the allowance because the buyers aren't going to shop around for a good price quote the way you would. And if you DIY the repairs and painting, that's more money in your pocket.       

Have you ever painted before?

Painting can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, especially if you have a large property or limited experience in painting. A cheap, amateurish, or rushed paint job is going to depreciate your home's value.  

A good paint job requires patience and skill. If you are a caregiver to parents, children, or a partner, you may not have to energy to paint your rooms. If you have a full-time job or two jobs, maybe you don't have the time. If you are not a detail-oriented person, you may not have the mindset for painting. 

Two of my blog posts that will help you be a better painter are my tips to avoid common mistakes inexperienced painters make, and the value of using dropcloths.   

What's the best way to hire painters?

Before listing your home, decide if it makes economic sense to hire out a paint job. According to RemodelingExpense, repainting your living room offers a remarkable 125% return on investment. This means that for every dollar spent on repainting, you can expect to recoup $1.25 when it comes time to sell. That fact might take the sting out of having to pay painters instead of making it a DIY project. 

Another way to look at paying professional painters is that the cost could be lower than a reduction in your listing or selling price. Professional painters have the expertise and tools to get your house to market sooner, saving you effort, chaos, and potential mistakes.

Painting requires a combination of patience and
efficient motions that save a painter's steps and energy.   

Getting recommendations from local homeowners, Realtors, and building contractors is the best way to find a painter to hire. You can ask on NextDoor or any neighborhood listserve or Facebook group you belong to. When you get quotes, it's best if you can meet with the business owner. Ask who exactly will be doing the work, whether they are insured, how long the job will take, and how long they have been in business.

One red flag to be aware: a paint contractor asks for an advance so he "can buy the paint." If the business owner does not have sufficient credit to purchase materials, it does not speak well of him. Do not give advances for work that is not done.  

I am guilty of judging a contractor by his vehicle. You don't want a contractor who drives an old beat-up, paint-smeared pickup, but you don't want the boss to own a brand-new, luxury car either. Find that sweet spot between a business owner who is successful but not greedy. 

I also like to deal with business owners who know how to communicate easily, using today's technology for keeping in touch and billing.  

Get the look, get the book

Whether you decide to do your own painting or pay others, don't neglect the power of paint as a marketing resource. 

Cater to the preferences of your local market. Make informed choices about color and your own abilities and budget. That's the best way to make the most of your homestaging efforts and attract potential buyers. 

I've already blogged about how to paint your front door and how to paint an overhead garage door, two of my most popular posts. For more advice and encouragement on staging your own home for sale, download my ebook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. I offer my years of experience in real estate, construction, home decor, and homestaging, to take the guesswork and mistakes out of making your home sale quick and profitable.

Top Photo: Lindye Galloway

The Two Secrets to Making Your Home Smell Great

Thursday, January 12, 2023

We've all had the experience of walking into a luxury hotel lobby or a department store and immediately feeling pampered and refreshed by the fragrance in the air. When your home is up for sale, you've probably focused mostly on how it looks. But you can't ignore how it smells. 

If you want to "scent brand" your home the way major retail businesses do, you can start by eliminating any offending odors. Then,  you can create an atmosphere that tells buyers your house is safe, clean, comfortable, and desirable. 

Those are the two secrets to making your home's unique aroma one that is a selling point! 

First step

Certain smells are positive and others are negative. One scent that's a sure turn-off is mold and mildew. 

It's common for people to become accustomed to the aromas that surround them daily, so you may not realize that you have a mold problem. It's also common for people today to have mold allergies that create health problems. You may not see mold inside your home but you can test whether you have a mold problem by ordering a test kit from a company called ImmunoLytics.  

One way to keep mold and mildew at bay is to keep the air inside your home dry and circulating. Mold thrives on humidity and stagnant air. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recommends indoor air be below 60% relative humidity to avoid mildew and mold growth. The way to mediate mold and mildew in your home depends on the type of mold and its extent. 

The ImmunoLytics test kit will determine not only if you have mold but if so, what kind and how to eliminate it. Sometimes it's simply a good cleaning with bleach or another disinfectant. But sometimes it calls for adding air purifiers, replacing drywall, cleaning the HVAC ductwork, or improving the drainage around your home's foundation.  

Fresh air is always nice if the air outside your 
home is not contaminated by pollen, dust, or other 
common pollutants from sources like traffic,
construction, or manufacturing sites. Photo: Laura Casey

Other scents

There are other smells that work against your home being desirable. One comes from pet dander and pet litter boxes. If you keep any animals indoors, there is no excuse for people touring your home picking up any animal odors, given the number and quality of litter products, urine scent cleaners, and washable dog beds available today. An air purifier will go a long way toward keeping your home free of pet hair, dander, tobacco scents, cooking aromas, the stink of sweaty clothing and shoes, and animal scents. 

If you're rehabbing a home that has been vacant or has been occupied by elderly or sick persons, you'll need to pay special attention to the scents that might linger. Circulation of fresh air and a thorough cleaning are a good start. Check upholstered pieces, draperies, carpeting, and rugs to determine if they need replacing, washing, or shampooing.      

This is the air purifier I use.
The cost was less than $115 but it does
a great job keeping the air clean of
dust, pollen, and cooking odors.  

Outside air

Another source of unpleasant scents is your septic system. If your home has a septic system that is not functioning properly your home can have foul indoor odors, soggy ground outside, or interior drains that backup. 

The average household septic system needs to be inspected at least once every three years by a septic service expert. So, it's a good idea to have yours inspected and serviced before listing, and then make the inspection report part of your sales package. 

There are certain plants that give off unpleasant odors as well. I'm not going to suggest you remove problematic landscaping like Bradford pear trees in bloom or boxwood shrubs or some ginko trees, but you can avoid strong scents that can be offensive and even trigger allergic reactions in some people. The most common offenders are narcissus, marigolds, and some lilies. That's another argument for staging your home with silk flowers.  

Other scent sources 

While mold and pets and dirt and poor plumbing and garbage and cooking are common sources of undesirable odors inside, you can check other places that might make your home smell bad. 

Anywhere water can be stagnant is one place. Clean your in-sink garbage disposal. Disinfect the insides of trash cans and wastebaskets. Leave the lid open on your washing machine for a few hours after each load so that it can dry thoroughly. Run a cleaning cycle on your dishwasher. Have your water quality checked if it has any scent of chlorine or sulfur.

Introduce new aromas

Once you've dealt with the causes of anything that stinks in your home, you have a clean palette to add some pleasant scents. I'm a big fan of using essential oils as a way to scent a room. I've blogged about how artificial fragrances are unhealthy and how best to use essential oils. 

The diffuser I use doesn't call attention to itself, so it's
ideal for staging a home. Since I keep my indoor
air dry, I keep the diffuser near my African violets
to give them some of the humidity they love. 

Please don't count on plug-in air fresheners. They are a fire hazard and they annoy people with chemical sensitivities. Fabreze only masks smells and is loaded with carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, allergens, irritants, and toxins! I also don't endorse scented candles for the same reasons. 

The most common clean-smelling essential oils to use are lemon, orange, lavender, lemongrass, and mint. My favorite brand is Aura Cacia

Get the look, get the book

Scents are especially highly evocative and will cast a spell that can trigger either happy memories or uneasiness in people touring your home for sale. Don't put a home on the market that has halitosis! You can harness the power of fragrance to lure home buyers into a quicker, more profitable sale of your home. 

I give you more tips for smart ways to stage your own home when you download my DIY home staging eBooks. You can easily and frugally start your simple staging today to make your property the one that stands out from the competition!


Top photo: AliExpress

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