Setting Goals -- Six Steps That Get Results

Monday, December 26, 2011
I used this silly photo to remind me of the life I wanted.

Is selling your home one of the goals you hope to accomplish in the new year?

If so, can we talk? I want to share with you what I know about setting goals.

When I met Mr. Lucky in 1990, both of us were starting over, refugees who had fled failed marriages. He was living in a campground in a $3500 camper, working for someone else for $10 an hour. I was earning even less, and paying $250 a month for my rental apartment, which was basically half a doublewide trailer.

But both of us had lived in better circumstances and knew we wanted a better life again. Even before we married, we set mutual goals and together we have created a satisfying lifestyle, more comfortable and more interesting than we ever imagined.

We decided that our path to financial freedom would be through real estate investments. We had the skills and determination, so we set specific goals. We wrote these goals down and read them aloud to each other each evening.

We quit our jobs and went into business as painting contractors, something Mr. Lucky had been doing for 10 years. He trained me, and soon we were employing others and handling large accounts. Evenings we studied how to buy and sell properties, how to negotiate prices, how to calculate fix-up costs and interest rates, and how to find and keep good tenants. Midday we listened to audio tapes about real estate investment as we ate brown bag lunches in our work van. We joined a real estate investors club and listened to speakers, borrowed books, and attended seminars.
On some jobs, the lunch break gave us a distant view. These are mountains near Asheville, NC.
In a year’s time, we had enough savings and education to start buying houses, fixing them, staging them, and selling or renting them. Today, we are completely debt-free, and depend on our rental properties to support us.

I’m not an authority on how to set and reach goals, but I know what has worked for us, and I also did my homework for this post. Here’s what the experts say.  

Step 1.  Look at the Big Picture

Double-check that your goal -- selling your home -- is really what you want. If you’re not on board with the idea, or if your entire household isn’t supportive, the path will be uphill.

Make sure your goal doesn’t contradict other goals you have. I knew that investing in real estate did not compromise my ethics or my dedication to my family or health. Will the sale of your home support or undermine the other important expectations you have in your life right now?

This is our notebook we reviewed daily.

STEP 2. Write and Recite Your Goals

When you see what you want spelled out on paper, your subconscious begins believing! You can carry this visualization even further by describing in detail what you want, and even collecting pictures of your goals. Pinterest is terrific for doing this. Twenty years ago, I chose clippings from magazines to represent what we were working for, and put them in a cheap photo album, photos of dreams that are reality today.
Be positive rather than negative when defining your goals and new year’s resolutions. Instead of writing, “I will not sleep late on Saturdays,” write, “I will use each Saturday morning to deep clean a different room.” If you have low expectations of yourself, recite positive affirmations such as, “I will be happy with less clutter in my life.” A proactive state of mind is indispensable to achieving success.    

Be realistic. Educate yourself about how quickly homes are selling and at what prices where you live. Work with your Realtor to establish fair market value, based on proven formulas and statistics.

As an example, Mr. Lucky and I knew we couldn’t buy spacious four-bedroom homes as investments. Our first property was a one-bedroom home. But it came with enough land that we were able to subdivide the lot, and have a new house built on the property, which we sold for a handsome profit. Life is full of happy surprises when you begin with realistic expectations.
Mr. Lucky painting a home under construction.

Step 3. Define What Needs to be Done

List the steps to reach your goals. In our case, we knew we had to have a certain amount of money for a down payment on our first property. We knew we had to cultivate a relationship with a bank. We knew we had to build a good credit history so we could qualify for a mortgage.

List whatever you need to do to get your property sold.  This list might include:

  • Call a Realtor.
  • Write down what is especially desirable about your home, and what doesn’t work for you. Then, determine if any of these problems can be fixed.
  • Start your cleaning and de-cluttering process.
  • Download my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, to learn all the ways staging can help sell your home, and the easy steps to staging frugally and effectively.
  • Let friends and family know you plan to sell.
  • Study the area you plan to relocate to, whether across town or to the other side of the globe. You’ll have a better handle on what’s ahead and what you need to bring from your present home.
  • Examine the skills you have and consider how you can use the tools and knowledge you have at your fingertips.

Step 4. Divide Your Goals into Smaller Goals

Break larger tasks down into smaller steps. Be specific. Logically organize the things you need to do in order to be efficient. For example, if you plan to replace the doorknobs and hinges in your house, first get prices online, then read how to do it, then purchase what you’ll need, then set aside one morning to do it.

Small steps make even the overwhelming jobs doable. Once underway, many tasks take on a life of their own. Often you will amaze yourself by what you are capable of doing if you just take the first step, then the next one, then the next one…

If anyone told me, shy and easily intimidated me, 20 years ago that I would be able to manage my own rental properties, I would have laughed at them. Now, being a landlady is easy and enjoyable! Baby steps.

Step 5. Set Deadlines for Your Goals

Make a schedule for all your goals and tasks. Review similar projects you’ve tackled in the past so you can give yourself deadlines that make sense. Deadlines keep you focused, and on schedule. And they provide a sense of accomplishment.

Be realistic about deadlines. If you know you hate yardwork, find someone who can do this for you. Mr. Lucky and I knew we didn’t have skills to do finished carpentry, so we hired the best carpenter we knew. In business, time is money, and selling a home is a business proposition.   

Step 6. Track yourself

One client wanted every door a different color!
If you don’t track results you won’t know if and when you’ve reached your goals. You wouldn’t start a diet without either weighing yourself along the way, or watching how your clothes are fitting you. Small successes build confidence and point the way.

Knowing that you’ve reached a goal lets you know you can move on to another project, or just relax!

Tracking calls for adjusting your goals as you progress. You’ll need to be flexible. Consider alternatives if your top choices seem impossible or impractical.

Are you able to rent your home and still move? Would it be smarter to remodel your home and remain in it? Are you able to owner-finance your home to a buyer who doesn’t qualify for a conventional loan? If you are serious about selling your home, make more than a new year’s resolution about it. Set it as a goal, and start walking towards it!

Happy New Year! May all your goals be reached.

Cookies that Welcome People to Your Home

Monday, December 19, 2011
Christmas cookies are one of the most endearing and enduring symbols of the holidays. Every year I bake dozens to give as gifts and to enjoy with family and friends.

Cookies rival candy as an indulgent snack, but they are more healthful. They are less formal than cake, and more satisfying in a homey way.

Cookies are also a guaranteed way to make friends. There is something magical about a cookie. At this time of year, they can pop up anywhere.

They're passed around at offices, warehouses, factories, schools and club meetings. They decorate mantels, trees, and packages.

Cookies are a symbol of good cheer, hospitality, festivity, and heritage. Every culture has its traditional cookies -- amaretti, madeleine, kringla, pizelle, biscotti. There are crescents, wafers, squares, bars, spirals, tartlets, and drops. I hear that even Santa has his favorites!

So, for home tours and open houses, cookies are a natural. Here is my absolute favorite cookie recipe.

Sesame Wafers

These crisp and flavorful cookies keep well, travel well, and are not complicated to make. I have been baking these slightly unusual cookies every Christmas season for over 20 years.

1 cup sesame seeds
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Have ready a small bowl for the toasted sesame seeds.  Heat a saucepan over medium heat, add seeds, and toast them for about 5 minutes, stirring briskly and constantly.  Immediately transfer to bowl.  The seeds should have popped, but not be smoking.
This year my 4-year old grandson helped
make cookies, wearing the cowboy apron
I made for him.

Beat butter with sugar until smooth and creamy.  Add eggs and vanilla, and combine well.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add to butter mixture, and mix well.  Stir in sesame seeds.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or as long as a few days.  Dough may also be wrapped in airtight bag and stored in freezer for a few months.

Shape dough into 1/2-inch balls.  Place on lightly buttered baking sheets.  Flatten to 1/8-inch thickness with a floured, flat-bottom glass.

Bake in a 325-degree oven for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Transfer to wire racks to cool.  Makes 6 dozen cookies.

My Favorite 15-Minute Holiday Decorations

Monday, December 12, 2011
When your home is for sale during the holiday season, some festive touches make it more attractive to buyers.

But you don’t want to spend boatloads of money or time decorating. Who has an excess of either at this time of year?

Here are my suggestions for some super fast, super easy, super frugal holiday decorations.

Grab Some Greenery

Find the prettiest containers you have and fill them with whatever is fresh and green.

Places that sell Christmas trees are usually happy to give you the discarded prunnings.

If you have any kind of property around your home, chances are there is shrubbery suitable for bringing indoors.

Some possibilities are the usual evergreen clippings, holly, mountain laurel, ivy, nandina, yucca, viburnum, magnolia, and ligustrum.

Shop your house and garage and garden shed  for containers –  baskets, vases, crocks, wastebaskets, ice buckets, and pails of any kind can answer the call.

If their style isn’t in keeping with the season, give them a paper or fabric gift wrap, or a quick coat of paint.

You can get creative with this. If all the trees are bare, branches painted white, gold, or silver are a fine substitute for greenery.

The twigs in this photo  I painted white to use as placeholders to fill flower pots that are empty all winter. 

Glue Some Sticks Together

Give me some sticks and some glue and I will give you a trellis, a basket, a fence, a  star, or a tabletop Christmas tree.

I gravitate towards the shiny stuff at Christmas, and if it doesn’t move, I’m likely to hit it with metallic spray paint. But rustic sticks look charming in their everyday color.

I made the stick star from five straight branches of equal length. You could make a similar one using chopsticks, skewers, or stir sticks. I made the tree from a handful of sticks I cut into graduated pieces glued on a single "tree trunk."

Once the materials are in hand, fifteen minutes! If you want to spend more time, you can get fancy and decorate these stick sculptures with small ornaments, or make a bunch of them to cluster or scatter about. If your style is shabby chic, a twiggy star is a natural for your holiday decor. Have fun and glam it up with beads and baubles!

Under my stick star on the fireplace breast, I placed a string of blue lights on the mantel, and softened the look with a length of blue tulle.

Besides sticks, there are plenty of sources for frugal finishing touches in nature. Items from outdoors look marvelous indoors at holiday time. I’m thinking of hydrangeas, holly berries, nuts, acorns, pinecones, moss, wax myrtle berries and nandina berries. Don’t forget green apples, or lemons, limes and kumquats.

Wrap Up a Garland Wreath

Start with almost any kind of wreath form. It could be straw, foam, vines, wire, or plywood.

Step one: Attach a wire loop around it for hanging.

Step two: wrap with a glitzy, tinsely garland from the dollar store.

Step three: add a bow on top or bottom, or a ribbon wrapped around as I did, and you are done.

I used a plastic suction cup to hang this garland wreath on the pane of a French door. If you have a metal front door, look for a magnetic hook to hang a wreath on it.

There are other alternatives, including the old fishing-line-thumbtacked-to-the-top-edge-of-the-door trick. Or, buy a decorative metal hook that fits over your door's top edge.

Collect a Bunch of Ornaments

It’s a fast, elegant, and inexpensive decorating trick. Just heap an attractive bowl with simple holiday glass or plastic tree-trimming balls.  

If you don’t have excess ornaments, the dollar store is your friend. Now’s the time to press that glass bowl, tall transparent vases, hurricane chimneys, or wooden trough into service. Pairs of matching see-through vessels are perfect on a mantel or long table.

Silver paint turned this old twig basket into something I use every December.

Having a color scheme helps keep things from being too distracting. Save your heirloom, pricey and delicate ornaments, because some people do get sticky fingers around small objects. Sad but true, thievery is a problem in homes on a home tour.                 

It doesn't take endless days and countless dollars to get your home on the market open-house-ready at Christmastime. Try my ideas, look around, be inventive, and keep it simple.

Need more sensible ideas and encouragement for staging your home? Download my $4.99 ebook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, now and discover how easy it is to make your home the one that people want to come back to for a second visit!

I've linked this post to a Holiday Linky Party Songbird where you'll see other Christmas decoration ideas.

Festive Staging Prop Extrodinaire: How to Make A Christmas Topiary

Monday, December 05, 2011
If you had to choose one prop for home staging that's beautiful, classy, traditional, and colorful, you'd be smart to choose a topiary.

Even if you are staging an otherwise vacant property, a topiary never looks out of place. Use one to pretty up a kitchen island, add some color to a bathroom vanity, or decorate a mantel.  

Last year I made topiaries from boxwood cuttings. This year I made some from felt circles, folded and pinned onto a foam ball. What I love about this DIY project is that it looks elegant but not formal.

The container has the appearance of antiqued silver, but it's just a throw-away plastic flower pot. The edges of the felt are cut with pinking sheers, which I think adds an evergreen-like texture.

You can change the bow style and use your topiary at other times of the year as well -- pastel polka dots for springtime, multi-colored ribbons for summer, and raffia or burlap for autumn.

By then, you'll be living in your next home, having sold your house that's now on the market!

The Container: What You Need

  • 4-inch plastic flower pot
  • Stones (or dried beans) to add weight the container
  • Dry floral foam, enough to fill flower pot 
  • Scissors
  • Marking pen that will show on side of container
  • Glue gun and glue sticks
  • Four or more thumbtacks (optional)
  • Metallic silver spray paint
  • Black craft paint
  • 2-inch paint brush
  • Disposable bowl
  • Disposable latex gloves 
  • Rag

The Container: How to Do

Place stones in bottom of plastic container. Use a common, nursery flower pot that is flexible enough to withstand a thumbtack puncture without shattering. The stones will compensate for the top heavy ball of felt flowers.

Fit pieces of floral foam into container, creating a tight fit that will support the stick that is the stem  of the topiary.

Using the marking pen, draw lines on the sides. You can use a strip of cardboard to guide you if you are not comfortable about drawing freehand.  It doesn’t have to be precise.

Lay the container on its side. Heat the glue gun and trace the lines you made. With the glue gun, draw a swirl or star or an initial in the center of each side.

Practice with the glue gun on a scrap of cardboard if you are unsure of your design, and how much control you have with the gun.

Let the glue on each side harden for a few minutes before continuing on to another side. (Remember not to let the glue gun sit unattended if you have children or pets.) Prop the bottom of the container up with the pen if the pot is tapered so much that the hot glue will run down the side of the pot.
If desired. Punch one or two thumb tacks into the sides of the container. (or nails with large heads). As an alternative, you could make the entire design from thumbtacks.
Spray the container with silver metallic paint. When the silver paint is completely dry, brush the container with a solution of 1 part black craft paint and 1 part water. Make sure black paint gets into every groove and undercut. Using a clean, absorbent rag, wipe most of the black paint off, leaving it in the receded areas for an antiqued look. You will want to wear those disposable latex gloves for this step.
Your finished pot should look something like this.

The best results come from wiping each side both horizontally and vertically after you have applied paint to the inside rim and all four sides, then dabbing with the rag to remove any streaking. Work quickly, and do not let the paint dry before you can dab it to the look you want.

The Topiary: What You Need

  • 3-inch round glass or plastic cup
  • 3-inch sphere or square of dry floral foam
  • 2  9- x 12-inch pieces of medium green felt
  • 1  9- x 12-inch piece of chartreuse green felt
  • 1  9- x 12-inch piece of light green felt
  • 1  9- x 12-inch piece of medium green felt
  • 1  9- x 12-inch piece of olive green or blue green felt
  • Ball point pen
  • 72 straight pins
  • Scissors
  • Pinking shears (optional)
  • 18-inch bamboo stick or straight branch, about ½ inch in diameter
  • 4 feet wired ribbon
  • Sheet moss or sphagnum

The Topiary: How to Do

Using the glass or clear plastic cup, and a ball point pen, trace 12 circles on each felt square. If there is a small amount of overlap, the circle can be slightly askew, but the edges should all the curved. I like using the clear container because you're able to see the entire circle as you draw it. Each sphere will take about 72 circles of felt -- more or less.

Using scissors, cut between the circles, so that you have 12 squares. I found cutting the felt into strips of four circles, and then cutting crosswise into individual squares makes the work go quickly.

Using the pinking sheers (or ordinary scissors), cut just inside the lines, so no ink shows on the edges of the circles.

I chose dry floral foam instead of white Styrofoam because it is easier to insert ordinary straight pins without wearing out your fingers. If you prefer Styrofoam, you can use pins with round heads. If using the square of floral foam rather than a sphere, use scissors and shave corners from the square until you have a roughly round sphere, about 3 inches in diameter

Mark the center bottom of the foam sphere with a small hole, where the topiary stem will go. Begin attaching your felt circles at the top, working in circles as you move down the sides of the sphere. I used the lightest greens at the top, but you might prefer a random pattern of mixed greens, or place the light ones in a band around the middle.

Alternate the direction of the individual circles as you go. You can fine tune the arrangement when you’ve got all the folded felt circles pinned on. Check that the hole you’ve made in the center bottom stays at the center of your design. Push the pins firmly into the foam.

Find the center bottom hole and insert the 18-inch stick straight into the bottom of the foam. Insert the other end into the foam in your antiqued silver container. If the stick is unsteady, add some hot glue to keep it centered, checking the position of the stick from all four sides to be sure it is perfectly perpendicular.

Cover the surface of the foam in the container with sphagnum or sheet moss. Tie or glue a bow made from the 4 feet of wired ribbon.

No pinking shears? No problem. You can still make a beautiful felt topiary, like the white one above (perfect for a wedding favor or centerpiece). And if you don't want to decorate with designs or thumbtacks, simple lines, like the ones in the fourth photo above, will still add the look of weight to your humble plastic flower pot.

Home staging props like topiaries are important elements of home staging. Props like pillows, lamps, books, and plants add the finishing touches to your staged spaces. Learn more about staging your own home for sale from my $4.99 ebook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar.

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