Are You a Granite Snob?

Thursday, March 25, 2010
The vanity counters we're installing are resin, or so-called cultured marble, and have built-in sinks. For the kitchen counters, we shopped for granite, quartz, Corian, and laminates. 

I know that buyers hyperventilate over granite counters, but for homes in our price range, we decided granite amounted to over-fixing. We doubted we’d get our money back, so we chose a stone-like black laminate that Mr. Carpenter will install in the kitchen, on the pass-through counter, and in the dry bar off the living room.

Frankly, I think granite is over-rated. Sure, it’ll last hundreds of years, and it’s cold and smooth and shiny, but it’s not exactly maintenance-free. Some cleaners can compromise the sealer and dull and discolor the granite itself.

In our area, hard water is a problem because it stains show in glossy surfaces like stainless and granite. 

With granite as countertops, if certain spills aren’t dealt with quickly, they can etch the surface.  That means everyday cosmetics and toiletries like perfume and mouthwash, as well as common foods like citrus, coffee and oils, can be detrimental to your precious granite.  
The vanities in both baths already matched, so I gave them matching faucets 
and raised them both to a sexier 35.5-inch height.
Justifying the cost of granite didn't add up, so I chose an attractive laminate 
to replace the (gag) butcherblock kitchen laminate.  

Bring on the plastics
Laminates like Formica are easy to take care of, are reasonably priced, outlive the homeowners, and come in all kinds of styles and colors.    

At our condo, we’re trying to put money where it will give good returns. It was easier than we thought to bring the vanities up a few inches to a trendier 35.5-inch height. Mr. Lucky removed the faucets, and then he and Mr. Carpenter eased out the old sinks and countertops.

They had to enlarge the opening at the back of each vanity cabinet to accommodate the existing plumbing since it now entered the cabinet at a different level. No big deal.

All it took as a 3.5-inch board at the base of each vanity, acting as a new kickplate. Then they were screwed back in place on the wall. I think this is an exciting way to get a contemporary look without replacing the whole cabinet, and all it takes is basic carpentry skills, some muscle, a little lumber, and a lick of paint.  

It’s worth mentioning that all the metal we pull out of the unit – old pipes, faucets, cabinet hardware, light fixtures – we are hauling to the recycle center and getting cash in return. We donated the still-good bathroom sinks to Habitat For Humanity ReStore.

How to Paint Like a Pro

Monday, March 22, 2010
Mr. Carpenter must have spent weekend time on our cabinet doors, because they are here!  What a difference. I managed to get two coats of paint inside all the cabinets, and now I’m priming the hung doors.

Using a small roller after cutting around the hinges with a brush makes the work go quickly.

Big is not always better. The 4.5-inch roller is a handy tool to have. The brand I use comes from and is called a Whizz.

A Whizz is not suitable for painting large areas, but for things like these, it’s perfect:
  • Interior doors of all kinds (solid wood, hollow core, or hollow six panel)
  • Cabinet doors and cabinet interiors
  • Exterior metal and wood doors
  • Shelves from closets or fixed bookshelves
  • Closet walls
  • Pickets on exterior porches and decks, and balustrades on interior stairwells
  • Walls behind toilets
Instead of using a paint tray, a Whizz works better if you set a grid into an empty, clean, one-gallon paint, and then pour in a few inches of paint.  The Whizz and grid are easy to wash up when you’re done, so they’ll be ready for you the next time you’re ready to roll.

This little roller is one of my handiest tools for 
staging because it makes painting small areas easy. 
The grid fits into a 1-gallon paint can.
While I’ve been whizzing, Mr. Lucky has finished painting all the trim, including interior doors, with white semi-gloss.

Trim always gets painted first, then the walls.

As soon as the doors were dry, we hung them back up, replacing the old brass hinges and door knobs with new brushed nickel ones. Cost per door: about $10 for both knob and three hinges. Good bang for the buck!

Lowes delivered the new six-foot sliding patio door, so the Mr. Lucky and Mr. Carpenter tore out that old double door to the deck, and wrestled the new into place. I make it sound easy, but I could tell from their muttered expletives that it was not. Once positioned and trimmed out, the difference is striking. Beautiful.

Adding Bling: Lights, Faucets, Handles

Friday, March 19, 2010
Kitchen lighting is important, and not expensive. On our daily swing through Lowe’s we picked up some halogen track lights to replace two kitchen ceiling fixtures.

They were less than $40 each. The existing ones were not ugly, so we relocated them to the hallway, replacing builder grade fixtures.

The bathrooms received their matching faucets last week. I’m a firm believer in the value of pairs, as readers of my eBooks  know.

Matched pairs of accessories or furniture add instant style to a room. Although the bathrooms are in two separate areas of our condo, I still wanted them to have matching faucets. I think it makes the place feel more like a newly constructed home rather than one remodeled whilly nilly over time.

I also wanted the faucets to be single lever, not a spout and two separate handles. It’s a cleaner look and a more user-friendly design. Faucets can get very pricey but we were able to find one style that met my fussy criteria for under $50 each. Although we could have spent a couple hundred dollars on a new la-di-dah kitchen faucet, we settled on a decent looking one for just $68.

If you have patience and a faucet that you love, it is possible to change the finish from chrome or brass to a more trendy oil rubbed brass finish.

People who rehab and sell houses for profit know the importance of putting some money into these small but showy details, the home’s jewelry. For less than $40 total we added an oversized chrome shower head to each bath. You can’t miss them, and that’s exactly what I wanted.

I love the vanity lights we chose. They’re compact, bright, and edgy, and for $75 each, worth every penny.

Last but not least, and not exactly bling, we replaced the toilet seats. All home buyers want to imagine their butts are the first to sit there. I wanted the seats to look absolutely pristine.

Kitchen Rehab on a Shoestring

Thursday, March 18, 2010
Painted cabinets, with new hinges and handles.
One of the least attractive aspects to the condo we're rehabbing was the look of the kitchen.

We knew that kitchens are important to buyers, and we knew this kitchen wasn't getting a passing grade.

Cabinet Fail 

While there was nothing inherently wrong with the layout, it looked like a somewhat controlled explosion of cabinet doors, knobs, and hinges.

It was Mr. Carpenter who came up with the idea of replacing a vertical stack of three small cabinet doors with one long door, and hanging them with concealed hinges.  The look will be clean and streamlined, an upgrade for sure. He’s taken measurements and will be working on those top-grade plywood doors back at his shop.

Update: The photo aove  shows what the cabinets looked like when we finished with the makeover. 

With doors off the kitchen cabinets, I’m able to go to work on the insides.  They were nasty with a capital N. It always blows me away to see how some people put a home on the market.

Would it have killed these sellers to take 15 minutes to spray and wipe inside the cabinets? Or paid someone to do it? I suspect that dirty cabinet interiors are just one more reason this property sat on the market for two years.

Disgusting details like that are the subtle turn-offs for people out househunting. Buyers subconsciously assume other problems lurk unseen.

closet Story  

Meanwhile, Mr. Lucky has removed all wooden shelving from all closets, so that I can fly in on those. I’m sanding them, then giving them all two coats of bright white semi gloss paint. I want those closets to glow!  I taped contractor’s paper to the floor of every closet, and Mr. Lucky came behind me with the airless paint sprayer and gave every closet a fresh coat of paint from top to bottom. 

We always like to do closets with white semi gloss paint. The semi gloss is easier to wipe clean, and the white reflects light better.  Also, should a homeowner later decide to change the wall color of a room, the white closet doesn’t have to be painted to match, which isn’t the case when a closet in a pink room gets painted pink to match the room.

These are the same cabinets pictured above, before we painted them. 
The dark hinges and knobs were distracting and dated.

If you are dressing up a home for market, consider painting your closets after you have decluttered them. It’s not necessary to have a paint sprayer, just faster. If your closets have wooden shelves, either paint them in place, or remove and paint both sides. If you have vinyl shelving, just paint around the supports and shelves.

My advice? Do a closet each day to make it painless. If they are small enough, you can brush them and save roller cleanup time. Painting the ceilings will make the closet look bigger and brighter, but painting their popcorn ceilings is messy.

To learn other staging and kitchen makeover tips, check out my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar.  

Paper on Walls, Popcorn on Ceilings, Ugh!

Monday, March 15, 2010
It took me two full days, but the condo’s wallpaper is history. I didn’t have to use the wallpaper steamer because the paper came off fairly easily. A steamer is a handy thing to own or rent when walls have not been properly prepped before papering.

Mr. Lucky and I once bought a house with wallpaper in every room, so we bought a steamer on eBay for what it would cost to rent one for a day.   Removing old wallpaper is a nasty job, something I hope you won’t have to do.

The papered bathroom. In a staged home, wallpaper needs to get gone,
because everyone's  taste is different and because styles change with time.

Ceilings the Limit

Another nasty, nasty job is removing popcorn texture from ceilings. That’s what Mr. Lucky has been working on. Once renovation begins, one thing leads to another.

We needed to fix the loose drywall tape around the ceiling edges, but doing so would have ruined the popcorn texture, so we had two choices -- add crown mold to cover the repairs, or remove all the popcorn.

We decided that since adding crown mold would cost money for materials and labor, while removing the popcorn would be our own labor only, we chose the smooth ceiling route. I say “our” but to be accurate I should say “his,” referring to Mr. Lucky’s labor.  

Who doesn’t hate those cottage cheese ceilings? Builders blow it on because it’s cheaper than perfectly finishing the ceilings.  It hides all flaws of mediocre drywall finishing. We liked the fact that smooth ceilings would be a selling point.

We have to remember that local realtors know what this unit has looked like for the past year. We want the changes we make to be obvious. Wooing the brokers is part of staging’s job.

Financing Made too Easy

We’ve decided to open a Lowe’s Project Account, something we’ve never done before.  Here’s how it works. We’re approved for a certain limit, in our case, $8,000, which is more than enough to finance our renovations. We need to open the account with a single purchase that amounts to at least $1,000, and then we’re able to make purchases in any amount and pay only 1% of the total for six months. At the end of six months, the usual credit card terms apply. 

We’re so optimistic that the property will sell before the six month period ends that we’re willing to take the small risk that we might end up paying interest on an amount that could total $6,000. In a worse case scenario, we could afford the payments, based on our projected profits and ordinary household cash flow.

I don’t know if I would recommend this approach to financing for everyone, but we felt comfortable with the arrangement.

Initial Purchases

So, we picked out a new electric smooth top range, a combination microwave and exhaust fan, our laminate countertops for the kitchen (cut to our specs) and two vanity tops with built-in sinks. We also ordered a sliding patio door to replace the double doors leading to the deck which presently hold fogged glass.

Ordering all these items met Lowe’s $1,000 opening purchase requirement, and it will all be delivered at once, next week. 

It was cheaper to replace the doors to the deck with new ones than it was to simply replace the fogged glass. We learned this when we received the quote from a local glass company after they came to measure the problem doors and window. The window is a different story. It will cost $316 to replace both panes, but that will give buyers a crystal clear view of the water, and that's a selling point!

How to Stage a Pointless Room

Thursday, March 11, 2010
Staging our condo for the real estate market, making it so attractive that buyers will practically salivate, is going to be my creative challenge for the next couple of weeks.

There will be plenty of grunt work and mental calisthenics, too, but I thrive on this stuff!

Closing was this morning.We left the lawyers' office, had a celebratory lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant, went home to change into work clothes, loaded up some tools and equipment, and dove into our new project.

digging in

First task for me is getting all the wallpaper down. It’s in both baths, on two walls of the kitchen, and in an open closet off the living room which I’m calling the dry bar.

The dry bar is a room that doesn’t make sense, the perfect sort of space that benefits from staging.

I don’t know what the builder had in mind. He put in some upper shelves, some lower cabinets and a laminate countertop. A TV alcove? Little library? Storage room?

I’ve decided to stage it as a party headquarters because it is near both the fireplace and the door to the deck.

When Times Are Good

I think people like to envision themselves in the happiest, most relaxing situations when they are shopping for a home.

If you watch any of the television shows featuring actual people looking at homes to buy, it’s eye-opening. I know these shows are heavily prescripted and edited, but I still think much of the reactions are genuine. So I think anyone with a home on the market can learn some things from watching typical buyers touring typical homes on HGTV.

Women often make comments about whether the kitchen’s center island is big enough for a holiday buffet, or if the soaking tub has jets.

Men want to know where the high def plasma screen will go, and if the patio is big enough to accommodate all their friends.

They are both picturing the best of times. That’s why I plan to turn a nonsensical door-less closet into a tease of good times ahead. Here are the things that I have collected for this tiny room.

Essentials for Dry Bar

  • Three bottles of my favorite mineral water, emptied    
  • A small basket with some fake lemons
  • Four wine goblets on a wicker tray
  • Four beer mugs
  • A bunch of matching plastic tumblers that look nice and sparkly
  • An ice bucket
  • A three-bottle wine rack and three empty wine bottles
  • A fancy decanter filled with faux brandy (tea) and two small, stemmed gasses
This much stuff sounds like a lot of detail to cram into a small space, but I want househunters to linger in that corner, so I think it’s a good call.

I encourage you to look around the home you want to sell, and find some space that can be used to capture the imagination of buyers.

Need more tips for staging your home on the market? Order my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and for  Top Dollar. I guarantee results or I'll give you your money back.

Life is Short, Art is Cheap

Monday, March 08, 2010
It’s so exciting to have a home staging project in the wings that I couldn’t sleep last night.  My mind wouldn’t stop rearranging condo furniture.

Put the twin bed on the diagonal or at right angles to the wall?

Face the love seat towards the fireplace or the water view?

Set a bookcase in the living room or the dining area?

Stage a home office in a corner of the kitchen or leave it open?

Do I have enough lamps?

Are these end tables the right height?

Are the vases large enough? What about artwork for the walls? It’s not that I’m worried.  I just love the game of it.

Making Frugal DIY Art

Over the weekend I fooled around with making some artwork to hang. Here are the supplies I used and the steps I took:
  • Supplies: two matching frames with mats and glass, six to eight sheets water color paper, set of children’s water colors with brush
  • Measure the opening in the mats that go in the frames.
  • Cut water color paper an inch larger all around than the mat opening.
  • Using the brush, mix water into green paint and squiggle paint over papar.
  • While green paint is still wet, do the same with yellow.
  • Let dry. Choose the best two. Tape all around to back of mat, and frame.

Jump in!

I hope you have the confidence to just fool around with some simple art supplies. I am sure you will find that you don't need to be an artist to create art for staging your home to sell.

Where Does Furniture for Staging Come From?

Thursday, March 04, 2010
Waiting for a home to sell can be excruciating.

But waiting to close on a home you’re buying can be fun, like those last few weeks of a pregnancy, when everything is ready and all you have to do is waddle around and enjoy the wait.

We have another week until closing. Every chance I get I hit the second hand stores, hunting for bargains that will help create that casual, comfortable look I’m after.

Since staging is more hobby than occupation for me, I don’t have a storage facility stuffed with furniture and props, so I’ll do what I’ve always done -- cannibalize my own home.  I don’t want to buy upholstered pieces, drapes, beds, or anything else that could crank up my expenses.

I won’t terribly miss a few end tables and chairs. I just won’t be able to have anyone over until the property sells and I can reclaim my furniture!


The way I see it I will be loaning the condo we're selling:
  • The green love seat from our bedroom to go in the living room
  • A bamboo chair from our bedroom to go in the living room, with new cushions
  • The teak chair with the animal print seat from Mr. Lucky’s office to go in the TV room
  • A wicker table from our living room to go in the master bedroom
  • A bamboo table from our bedroom to go in the living room
  • A table from our hall bathroom to go in the TV room
  • The walnut credenza with chrome legs from Mr. Lucky’s office to go in the TV room
  • My foyer’s large mirror, which I will miss!
  • A side table from my sewing room, “Studio B,” to go in the TV room
All this switching and loaning reminds me of the advantage to having a unified color scheme throughout a house.  It makes it so much easier to switch items from room to room, and now, from house to house.  Through necessity, I’m using the color palette at my house to be the basis for the condo’s because it makes economic sense.

 At a garage sale last weekend I scored a wrought iron floor lamp for $2, a chrome floor lamp for $3, and a fabulous silk orchid for an unbelievable $2.50.  At these prices, I didn’t even bargain with the seller!

I’m also gathering whatever faux greenery I have in my house that I’m not presently using.  A weekly circular comes out that features at 50% discount coupon for the local d├ęcor store, good for one day only, on one item only, so I have to plan my purchases.  I came home with a bunch of white peonies today, for just $2.95.

I am keeping a careful record of all my staging purchases. I want Mr. Lucky to know just how lucky he is to have such a frugal partner. Also, personally, not keeping a tally of costs would diminish the fun of DIY staging, like playing tennis without a net. It might be fun to hit the ball back and forth, but what’s the score?

My one dilemma is a couch for the TV room. It’s a must, and will be the first thing buyers see when they enter the unit, so it has to set the tone. I have my eye on a click-it style leather couch that I could use at home afterward. It makes into a double bed, but looks handsome as a couch. I found one new at a furniture store for around $200. It would be the highest ticket staging item I’d buy. But, we’d own it and use it for years and years.    

Studio B, is beginning to look a little warehousey. I’m setting the stage for staging.

Mentally Dressing the Walls

Monday, March 01, 2010
Art on the walls of a staged property
 should remind buyers of property's assets.

If you are reading this, chances are you have a home to sell.

Are you using art on the walls? You should be. And what's best is using art that makes your home look better to buyers.

That means non-personal, non-objectionable, non-controversial art. That means images that put people in a happy frame of mind, images that create a feeling of luxury or leisure.

And whether you are using prints, drawings, posters, paintings, or anything else framed, the bigger the better.

Who Will Buy Your House? 

I still don't  have access to the condo we’re going to buy, but I have my measurements and my photographs to help me brainstorm staging ideas.  Most likely our buyers will be a retired couple, because most of the residents in that complex are retirees, and because there’s no outside maintenance, and because it’s a one story unit. 

However, there is no reason the unit would not make a perfect rental property.  The layout makes it possible for two singles to live there, with two separate entrances and two full baths.  It would also work well for a young couple, a single adult, or a single parent with one child. 

So, I’m not going to pitch my staging to a particular demographic.  The outstanding feature of the property is its water access and water view.  To drive home this point, I want to hang art that emphasizes the location.

Economical Art Sources

Here are some of my budget-conscious plans for wall art in this property:
  • I have two matching silver frames, with glass and white mats. I’ll do a bunch of abstract, pastel, watery water colors, just squiggles of blue and green, and frame the two I like best.
  • I have an oversized print of the sunset, beach and sailboat scene that’s kinda schmaltzy.  I found it at Goodwill yesterday. I’ll cut out the part I like and frame that in a silver frame I also found at Goodwill for $3.99.
  • I have a 20 x 16-inch white frame with glass. I’ll tear a page from one of Mr. Lucky’s out-of-date navigation chart books, showing local water depths and such, and frame that.  I love those charts because they are so pretty – creamy white and pale blue with lots of little numbers.  Nothing too distracting, but it will appeal to any boater.
  • I have a large acrylic painting I did of boats that now hangs in our living room. It’s got some dark colors, but I’ll put it in the room where I plan to have some dark furniture and create a manly kind of TV room.
  • I have a photograph that I took from our boat recently of a marshland – muted blue sky, green and yellow grasses next to beautiful blue waters. Perfect. I’ll put it in an old frame I can spray paint silver. (See photo above.)
  • I have two black and white photographs of sailing yachts that I love. The wooden frames are dollar store frames, and I bought the reasonably priced art for staging from
Give Cameras to Home Buyers

One suggestion I make in my home staging eBook  is that sellers make available disposable cameras at an open house. If you buy more than five at a time from, they can cost as little at $3.55.

I always take pictures if I am looking at a home on the market. If I decide not to pursue the purchase, I simply delete them. But as long as I’m interested in the property, the photos stay and help me remember all the details, including some I might not have even noticed.

Use this idea to help buyers remember your property at the end of a day of viewing a few. 

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