Do You Have a Grandma House?

Friday, July 30, 2010
"It's too grandma," is a phrase I hear home stagers often use.

It means the decor is out of date. Grandma doesn't spend money on foolish things that go obsolete before her next Social Security check comes.

But if you have a house to sell, you can't have a grandma mindset. A home seller needs to incorporate some trendy decor items.

Why? Because it says that the owners (you) are prosperous enough to stay current. It makes your house look fresh and stylishly new instead of stuck in another era.

Newness connotes better quality, as in "nothing's going to fall apart or give me trouble."

Sad but true

Never mind that grandma's stuff was probably built to last forever. Buyers want new. Give them what they want. Here are some signs of grandma decor:
  • Lace curtains.  Replace them with something like nubby sheers, wooden blinds, or tab top panels on rods.
  • Pictures of family members on walls.  Please, I hope you have stored these important but personal things when you removed clutter.
  • Quilts.  Replace them with coordinated bed-in-a-bag or a simple duvet cover. 
  • Cross-stitch or embroidered art work.  Instead, put up some restful landscapes, still life paintings, and modern abstracts.  Make them large.
  • Matched suites of bedroom furniture.  Move items from room to room so you have a mix of styles.
  • Velvet recliner. Take this to your storage unit.  Today. 
  • Small floral textiles.  Replace the pale pink rosebuds with geometric patterns, or more graphic florals. 
  • TV trays.  Grandma needed a place for her tea cup and TV Guide.  Store those small tables for now. 
The quilt, matched furniture, little tables, dried flowers, scatter rug, wallpaper,
lace valance, all say Grandma's been here. 

Don't put a grandma house up for sale.  Stage it to look current and you'll sell it faster for more money. Take it from a grandma who's a home stager. You can learn lots more about preparing your home for sale in my $4.99 ebook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and for Top Dollar.

Mildew's a Deal Breaker for Home Buyers

Friday, July 30, 2010
It's enticing to think that home staging as simply rearranging furniture and making things look pretty, but the truth is we DIY home stagers have to get down and dirty sometimes.

Cleaning is one of the essentials of staging. A clean home has a certain glow about it and it smells fresh.

Mildew does not smell fresh. Mildew smells musty. Buyers hate mustiness. Mustiness means the house has not been cared for. Buyers offer less for a house that's not been cared for.

Mildew is a fungus that can grow on many different surfaces. It is a thin, black, or sometimes white, growth produced by mold. Although molds are always present in the air, those that cause mildew need moisture and certain temperatures to grow.

Mildew commonly develops in humid summer weather, especially in closed houses. It loves to live in cellars, crawl spaces of houses without basements and clothing closets -- anywhere it is damp and dark, and the air doesn't circulate. 

Mildew can also grow on draperies, rugs and upholstered furniture in basement recreation rooms, or on shower curtains in a bathroom that doesn't get good air circulation. 

Mildew will discolor and deteriorate these fabrics and leave that musty odor we all know and hate.  Natural fibers like cotton, silk, wool, and linen are more susceptible to mildew than synthetic fibers.  

Leaving a large, open bucket or bowl of a 50/50 solution of bleach in a musty room or closet for a few days will help absorb mustiness by "cleaning" the air.     

Mildew likes to grow on dirt, and it doesn't take much to keep it happy. If there is enough moisture in the air and the temperature is warm, mildew will thrive on even any slightly dirty surfaces. Greasy films such as those that form on kitchen walls, also contain the food that mildew eat to live.

Keep Mildew at Bay

Keep your house clean and dry. If you have a damp basement, repair the cause, whether defective mortar, leaking casement windows or condensation. Make sure rainwater drains away from your foundation and that downspouts are not dumping water near the foundation. 
Sometimes a moldy crawl space is all that's needed to discourage buyers. What's called for is a layer of moisture-barrier material over the soil in crawl spaces under houses. You can use heavy roofing paper or polyethylene plastic film. 

Good ventilation is important. If possible, do not enclose the crawl space. In extreme cases, a fan or blower may be needed to move the humid air from under the building.

Dealing with smells

To remove musty odors from carpeting, sprinkle on chlorinated lime (commonly called chloride of lime or bleaching powder). Concrete floors or floors covered with ceramic tile or vinyl can be washed with a solution of solution of one cup ordinary household bleach to a gallon of water. Even painted walls can be washed with this solution.

I have had success with Tilex Mold and Mildew Killer spray on many different surfaces. It costs more than bleach, but it's handy. Use all these products with good ventilation.  

Exterior surfaces like wood, brick, stucco, stone and vinyl can be cleaned with bleach and water solution. The worse the mildew is, the stronger the solution should be. Sometimes agitation is necessary to remove mildew from decks, soffits and railings. An old broom usually does the trick. I write about pressure washing to remove dirt and mildew here

Getting rid of smelly, unsightly, and damaging mildew is part of home staging, one of the important steps to getting your home sold. Read more tips to help sell your home in my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar.

Putting On a Happy Face

Monday, July 19, 2010
Both the new baseboards and the ceramic floor were were real estate enhancements that will impress buyers.  We hope.
Our total bill from flooding isn’t tallied yet, but by the time we pay Mr. Sucker, and the flooring guy, and Mr. Carpenter, and add the cost of new baseboards (about $500) it will go over $10,000.  Gulp!

To look at the episode in a different light, we have added ceramic flooring to two places where it really packs a punch – the entrance area (above), which is one of the first things a buyer would see, and my cutesy little dry bar area, which got a giant style shot in the arm from the sexy, new, white flooring. 

The other quality quotient boost came from the new baseboards, which we beefed up to 5.5 inches.  Details like wider trim make a big difference, so it’s something to consider if you are remodeling as well as staging your home for sale.

I also see the new vinyl flooring as an upgrade.  It’s a better quality than what was there, and it’s a lighter color, so the kitchen and baths all look cleaner and bigger. 

Finally, by calling in the Mr. Make-it-right we can tell any buyer that the water damage was professionally corrected. 

Although all these things don’t deliver in benefits what they actually cost us, I am going to pretend that they do.  Just for my own sanity.

How to Kiss Wallpaper Goodbye

Thursday, July 15, 2010
I spent all morning in someone else’s bathroom.

A client wanted the wallpaper removed and the walls painted.

One thing’s for sure: I would rather take it off than put wallpaper up.

If you ever want to test the strength of your marriage, wallpaper a small room with your spouse.

If your home is on the market, you need to remove wallpaper.The exception might be a high quality vinyl paper that is a simple grass cloth design or some other very simple all-over pattern that is absolutely classic, that is in excellent condition.  

How to Take it Off

Wallpaper removal is difficult only when:
  • The walls weren’t properly primed for paper, and/or,
  • There is more than one layer of paper on the wall.
Neither of those bug-a-boos presented themselves to me today, so in an hour I had all the paper off the walls of a 6 x 10-foot bathroom.

Getting them clean and smooth took another hour. And painting them brought me up to lunchtime.   

Steps to Removal

You'll need a spackling knife, screwdriver, spackling,
a paper tiger, and a sanding block.
What you need: Stepladder or two-step stool, screwdriver, dropcloths and old towels, paper tiger tool, garden pump sprayer, cloth rag or large sponge, spackling knife, quick dry spackle, sandpaper or sanding block.
  1. If the room is small, remove all furniture. In a larger room, cluster the furniture in the center of the room.
  2. Remove curtains, wall hangings, and all hardware (curtain rods, switchplates, outlet covers, picture hooks, towel bars, etc)
  3. Protect the floor if necessary, using towels and dropcloths.
  4. Use a paper tiger to perforate the outer layer of paper.  Do the whole room or just a section.  Don’t be too rough with it.
  5. Fill a garden sprayer with hot water.  Spritz a section about five feet wide, starting at the top.  Mop it up when it runs all over the baseboard. 
  6. Let the water work into the paper for a few minutes while you say good riddance to the paper that someone once loved (you?)
  7. Peel off the outer layer of paper. With luck, the under layer will come off at the same time. You may have to gently lift the edges with your spackling knife, and then carefully scrape the under layer off,  but don't put gashes in the drywall. 
  8. When all the paper is off, wipe down the walls with water to remove glue residue. The smoother the walls feel the better they will look. 
  9. Sand the walls. Patch any dings or holes with spackle.
  10. When the spackle is dry, sand your patches smooth.

Details That Matter

Walls that were papered when the house was built may not have ever been caulked around the baseboards and other trim.  You may have to caulk these seams to get a finished look to your paint job. Here's help:

Now your walls are ready for paint – a light, neutral, buyer-friendly color.

Remember, wallpaper patterns are very personal choices, and what you like is probably not going to be a buyer's first choice.  No offense. Also, styles change and you can't afford to have anything looking outdated in your staged to sell house.

For my helpful comments about problem wallpaper removal, and advice about how to paint over wallpaper, see my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar.

Did We Make a Remodeling Mistake?

Monday, July 12, 2010
The carpet/vinyl man finished up our flooring today in our condo that’s for sale. It looks fantastic, but his bill came to $800. When we asked him if it would have been cheaper to replace the carpet rather than dry it out and re-stretch it, he said – unfortunately – “Absolutely!”

This whole wet floor scenario leaves me with a knot in my stomach. I always expect the best from people and I am usually rewarded with kindness and fairness.

The bill from the clean-up company arrived today. It runs 14 pages long, and totals $6762.41! Forty one cents? They had to squeeze every last penny out of the job?

We spent some time studying the invoice. It looks like the way it works is the local franchise buys the national company’s software. Then Mr. Sucker, the franchisee, fills in the blanks like square footage and how many dehumidifiers he used, and ends up with a detailed printout of costs. I guess we were supposed to be impressed with the thoroughness and detail of the invoice. Instead, we just got mad.

Here are some examples:
  • Remove two bifold doors (about a three minute task) $20.20
  • Block furniture in living room (put chunk of foam under each leg of loveseat)  $37.87
  • Detach toilet $99.33
  • Tear out non-salvageable wood from dry bar (pick up 20 squares of parquet flooring already floating in water) $47.81
  • Apply microbial agent to one bedroom (about a two minute task) $147.22
  • Plug in a non-monitored air mover near a 3-square foot closet $77.25
If you extend these figures to two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two hallways, a living room, family room, kitchen, and six closets, you can see how the total grew to a ridiculous amount, even though it entailed just one day’s hands-on labor and then three days of fans and dehumidifiers running.

Mr. Lucky, being the sweetest man on the planet, could not take what I considered the next, necessary step, to contest the bill.  But his wife could. So I made a list of talking points and key phrases and phoned Mr. Make-it-right’s boss, Mr. Sucker (he does take up water), the franchise owner.

Without my cheat sheet in front of me, and without the gut feeling that we had been seriously taken advantage of, I would be completely outside my comfort zone. Being assertive is not something that comes naturally to me, but I was furious and I wanted this company to know what we thought of their pricing system. I also wanted a bill reduction.

We agreed to meet next week to discuss the situation. Meanwhile, we are still fine-tuning our staging to get the property back into shape for househunters.  

Insuring Vacant Property on the Market

Monday, July 05, 2010
It's unfortunate that the staged home has to have something so inhospitable, but what's a vacant property owner to do?
Major shock last Friday.  The builders insurance we took out on the property does not cover damage due to water from inside the property.  Don’t you love the way insurance companies make it work for them?  They don’t get to build those skyscrapers by helping ordinary folks.

Here is the list of what they DO cover: Fire, lightning, explosion, windstorm, smoke, aircraft or vehicles, riot or civil commotion, vandalism, sprinkler leakage, sinkhole collapse, and volcanic action.  If only that volcano that triggered the sinkhole collapse that led to the civil commotion and explosions had caused the sprinkler damage and consequent vandalism that broke the toilet part, maybe we’d be covered.  But probably not.      

I am sick that we will have to eat the entire cost of this cleanup. We talked to Mr. Make-it-right and he’s agreed to work with us to keep costs down.

And you know what really fries my grits, as we say in the South?  Today at our supermarket we happened to park next to a brand new Cadillac SUV.  And its vanity license plate was the name of the local company that sold us this insurance policy.  That’s right.  We helped some undeserving leech buy that gas guzzler.

That’s fried grits.

To find out what other homeowners and real estate investors have done to get insurance for an unoccupied residence, I went online.  One of my favorite sources of information is  The forum is called “Buying and Selling Homes.  It’s an active forum, one populated by knowledgeable investors, legal types, realtors, as well as buyers and sellers at every level of experience.  I recommend checking in often if you are a home seller.  I know you will lean new things with each visit. 

What I learned is that it is almost impossible to insure a vacant property.  At best, it’s expensive.  What some forum posters suggested to me is to call it a rental property, but others suggested that such an approach could backfire if it becomes obvious that no one lived in the house and you have a claim. 

So, there’s just no easy answer, except to turn off the water, either at the main valve, or at least at the toilets.  That’s what we’ll be doing henceforth.

Sucking Up Water Costs Big Bucks

Thursday, July 01, 2010
Who ya gonna call?  There are times when only a specialist will do, and DIY won't do. 
Ah- HA.  So it wasn’t the water heater after all that flooded our condo.  When we spoke with Mr. Make-it-right on Tuesday we found out that one toilet had been tuned off.  The mystery is who turned it off, why, and when.  Also, why didn’t the overflow valve take care of water getting too high in the tank? 

Was it sabotage?  Was it the woman who calls every day to ask if someone else has bought it?  Or the woman who’s looked at it three times already?  The couple who are trying to sell a similar unit for more money?  Mr. Lucky and I like to think we have no enemies, but one never can be sure.  Perhaps we’ll never solve the Mystery of The Flooded Condo. 

Meanwhile, the big dry-out continues.  It’s over 90 degrees in there, but the air is in constant circulation to hasten drying.  The floors and lower walls have been treated with microbial agent to eliminate mold that may have started growing. 

The estimate for damage repair from Mr. Make-it-right and his cleanup people is $6000.  All because of a failed toilet, maybe a $2 part.  

I like to concentrate on the positive.  The positives here are that we will be able to upgrade the baseboards to a wider style.  We’ll be able to replace the small area of (out-of-fashion) parquet flooring with (always-in-style) ceramic tile.  We’ll have brand new vinyl in the kitchen and baths, but that vinyl was brand new already.  

Of course, we’ll have to fill out a new property disclosure form, because there is a question on that form about water damage.  One of the things we like about Ms. Speedy is she has ethics.  Some realtors would hide this information, and those are the kinds of realtors we hope we never have to deal with.

When you have a home on the market, I keep telling myself, there are bound to be some surprises along the way to the closing table.

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