Home Improvements That Deliver The Most Bang for Your Buck

Monday, April 30, 2012
Fixing up your home will definitely make your property more appealing to buyers. It can also reduce the time your home stays on the market. And fix-ups will get you a better selling price. 
But, there’s another side to home improvement projects. 
Some fixes actually waste the money you've spent on them when it’s time to sell. Some so-called upgrades may even make it more difficult for you to find a buyer.  
Let’s distinguish the loser projects from the winning projects. Since my blog is about home staging, this is not the time and place to recommend major kitchen and bath remodels. I think we all know that kitchen and bath upgrades -- if done right --  have a pretty good return on their investment. 
But let's focus on the more frugal, simple makeovers that add value to your property at selling time. It makes more sense to redecorate, update, and stage, than it does to remodel. 


A kitchen dates a home faster than any other room, because kitchens follow decor and color trends. Yet, buyers have strong priorities when it comes to kitchens.
A major kitchen remodel (think big bucks) returns about 85 to 90% of your investment.

If you’re selling your home soon, any of these quicker alternatives to the complete makeover are more likely to pay for themselves.
Repainted white cabinets and new hardware, because white and grey are in style

Ceramic tile backsplash, for an oh-so-current look

Solid surface countertop with an under-mounted sink or farmhouse sink

A new faucet that calls attention to itself

Under-cabinet lighting that comes at all price points.

Updated appliances (psst…they don’t have to be top of the line to still earn you additional points on an appraiser’s form, and to impress buyers)

Space-saving organizers like pull-out shelving
    Remember that even a state-of-the-art, glamorous kitchen loses impact if your gutters are leaking, your heating system is antiquated, your roof is missing shingles, your updated wiring consists of yet another extension cord, and your toilets rock (not in a good way).

    A stylish backsplash and some under-cabinet lights make this space seem extra special. 


    You can get all crazy, bust through some walls, re-plumb the room, yank the standard tub and replace it with a steam shower or spa tub, install heated ceramic flooring, and upgrade the vanity  to the latest style topped with high-end granite, but unless your home is priced with other luxury properties to begin with, these upgrades won't pay for themselves at the closing table. 

    Instead,  give your bathroom added value by making it look new without changing the floorplan. New toilets, sinks, faucets, showerheads, vanities, paint, and mirrors are not expensive.

    Study the look of luxury bathrooms and imitate them with your accessories and color choices. 

    Scrub your tub until it shines, no matter what color it is. Clear off the surfaces. Introduce a light scent. Paint with a space-expanding hue. Invest in beautiful towels. Update the hardware. 

    Not every buyer expects a brand new bathroom. Simple cosmetic changes can change the subtle perceived value of a home, as reflected in your selling price, so go for a "reset" that's just an economical "refreshing."  

    Outside upgrades

    How your home’s exterior looks will affect its fair market value. Make your home look inviting with an appealing exterior. Maybe the budget won’t allow new cement board siding or a total repaint (although painting an exterior can increase a home’s value by more than what it costs), but you can hose it down or pressure-wash it. 

    Here are some other thrifty alternatives that will help make your house show well. 

    Replace or paint the front door so it looks new. Make the door match and enhance the style of your home.

    Paint just the trim of your home – what’s around the windows and doors, the corner boards, the fascia and soffit under the eves. New paint in these places brings a home to life.

    Clean up the landscape. Drive the best neighborhoods in your area, and study what the professional landscapers have done there. Copy the look with the funds you have available. If nothing else, declutter and mulch, especially in the area in front of your home.

    Money spent on a new deck, patio, or porch, will give a good return. Exterior remodeling projects like this are better candidates for homeowner projects than interior remodeling projects. Can you do it yourself? Exterior add-ons of outdoor living spaces, carefully done, have the illusion and even the function of added square footage. 

    Make sure exterior hardware looks cared for. Are exterior lights operating? Do they need replacing or painting? How’s the doorknob, hinges and other hardware around the front door? Check handrails and even the mailbox to see if they want fresh paint. 

    Spending is easy. Recouping is not.

    The hard facts are that with most home remodels, you never get your money back instantly. It’s only when you plan to stay in your home awhile, and you get to enjoy the improvements, that you reap rewards. And these rewards may not be financial, but the satisfaction of living in a home you love.
    Factor into your decisions about how to spend fix-up costs, the statistic that most Americans stay in their homes an average of only seven years, and that even though you plan to stay longer, you might not.
    One statistic stands out: that cleaning, decluttering and home staging give you unbelievable returns!
    A survey of 600 national real estate professionals shows that cleaning and decluttering can yield returns worth over 500% actual cost. I’m guessing the figure is that high because elbow grease is free. And because these actions have a huge visual impact.  
    These same Realtors rated professional home staging returning almost 300% of the cost. In this case, I am guessing that home staging you do yourself will return even better numbers.
    The other investments that Realtors rate as valuable are lightening and brightening, which returns over 300%, and landscaping, which returns over 250%, and electric and plumbing repairs, which return about 180%.    

    Get the look. get the book.

    If you are a homeowner, chances are you’ll sell your home someday. Meanwhile, spending money to improve your home can be tricky. If you are willing to spend some money to get your home sold faster for a good price, the best places to spend cash are with the basic systems (plumbing, electrical, structural, roofing, painting, HVAC), and with cleaning, decluttering, and thrifty home staging. 
    In my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, I describe how to give buyers the features they want, even if you don't have the latest, greatest version of these features. Downloading your copy is quick and easy, and you'll get over 150 illustrated pages of how-tos, techniques, projects, advice and encouragement.

    My Ten Favorite Foliage Plants for Containers

    Monday, April 23, 2012
    Who says container plants have to be brimming over with colorful flowers? 

    Last week I blogged about how container plants can help sell your home. Today, I’m focused exclusively on foliage container plants for home staging.

    I’m a firm believer that greenery alone brings enough variety of color and textures, and that foliar plants are easier to take care of than blooming annuals.

    I’ve chosen ten dramatic but low-maintenance ones that are perfect for adding all-important curb appeal, and for otherwise dressing up your landscape.


    I like the big, tropical leaves on these variegated plants. They move in the gentlest breeze. They’re dramatic. They’re colorful. They’re relaxing.

    Caladium tubers won’t sprout until the soil is warm, so if you want Caladium plants and you buy packaged tubers in late spring, I hope you are a patient person, because it will be mid-summer before you have a decent potted plant. Nurseries carry lush potted Caladiums that are irresistible. You’ll find them in all kinds of fascinating variegations – from simple green and white to exotic lavender polka dots.
    Caladiums can be the accent plant in a potted container of foliage plants, or the singular star of the show. They do best in the shade, and in a moist environment. If that sounds like your porch or a shady spot near a fountain or water feature, Caladiums could be all the potted plant you need, their brightness calling attention to one of your home’s selling points.

    Rosemary tops my list of  trouble-free plants.


    What’s not to love? 

    She looks good all year long. She’ll grow in almost any kind of soil except poorly drained. She does not taste good to pests, including deer. She’s fragrant, and can be used to make a more interesting focaccia, or stew. She laughs at all the usual plant diseases. She’s available as an upright or a trailing plant. And she can even be pruned to take on different shapes, including topiary. .

    Buying a potted Rosmarinus officinalis plant is an investment you’ll never regret, because you can take it with you when you move. This is the perfect container plant to put in a sunny spot where you may forget to water on a regular basis.


    You may know Heuchera by its common name, coral bells. Heuchera is another investment plant. In containers, it is easy to winter over unless your winter temps go below minus 25 degrees.

    You can plant containers now with Heuchera and they will look good through the fall.  These lovelies are almost impossible to kill.

    This sweet potato vine will become the spill plant when it matures a bit, and the domed
    huechera plant is both a thrill and a fill plant. Photo: Landscape Design by Lee
    Choose colors that accent your home’s best features.  Different varieties of Heurhera come in mauve tones, silvery shades, and lime green colors. Many have two-toned leaves with distinctive veins in contrasting colors to make them even more showy.
    A beautifully shaped Heuchera plant is the perfect thrill plant in a container, or the filler plant surrounding a larger focal point plant. 

    Because Heuchera are not fussy about sunlight, your container can be placed in sun or shade, or a combination, like that area on the east side of your home that gets bright sun in the morning and deep shade all afternoon.  They are drought tolerant, making them a good candidate for a hanging basket.  


    Six varieties of coleus fill this clay pot, which will look only more exotic  
    as summer progresses. Photo: White  Flower Farms   
    I won’t start filling containers each Spring until I’ve brought home at least one six pack of Coleus. Their brightly variegated, frilly leaves make them easy to love, and they come in a seemingly endless assortment of colors and leaf shapes.

    The best part is that they are not demanding. Coleus will thrive in the shade, and they don’t need frequent watering or fertilizing to keep them perky.
    When they are thirsty, they might look a little limp, but they are the kind of plant gardeners call “signal plants.” Signal plants, like impatiens, signal you when they need water, unlike some divas, that just die, not mentioning any names, like Petunias.
    Coleus plants do send up flower spikes, but most people pinch them off.  With coleus, it’s all about the stunning leaves. 

    Persian Shield 

    Persian Shield and Creeping Jenny share the technicolor spotlight in this
    foliage-only grouping. Photo: la fattina via Garden Pics 

    Look for this pretty plant early in the season, because it can sell out fast. What makes Persian Shield so desirable are the purple leaves that are so iridescent I wouldn’t be surprised if they glow in the dark. Ask at your savvy nursery for strobialanthus dyerianus.

    Persian Shield will be happy in sun, part sun, or shade. You will love this plant because it is so unusual. People touring your home will think you have a gardener on staff!

    I suggest that you place it in shady spots because it does like moist soil, and you don’t want to be dragging a hose or watering can around twice a day.

    Trailing Ivy

    I planted these two faux finished containers with ivy and set them on the edge of
    our property to give some importance to an ordinary bench. Ivy doesn't mind being ignored. 

    All ivies are easy to grow. In containers, they act as both fillers and spillers, and can be striking on their own or mixed with other greenery or blooming plants. 

    Don’t be put off by their commonness. All ivies are not alike. You can find the sexy varieties in the houseplants department, so look there instead of in the groundcover department.

    If you have a balcony or small sideyard that doesn’t get much attention, trailing ivy could be your go-to container plant, the one that adds fresh growth and texture to the area. Ivy plants don’t mind neglect, will tolerate full shade or full sun, and even keep on looking handsome despite periods of drought.


    This Wandering Jew specimen is a variegated
    cultivar called Red and Green.
    Photo: Malmbors's Garden Center

    Commonly called Wandering Jew, this house plant is easy and fast-growing. 

    In places where winters aren’t harsh, it will return yearly from pots or the ground. Its fleshy stems which sprout pretty 2-inch, purple -- sometimes striped -- leaves, can spill from containers, making it an ideal hanging plant. 

    It does show small pink flowers mid-season, but these are incidental to its value as a container plant.

    If your Wandering Jew plant is growing leaves that are too far apart, it’s not getting enough light. Prune it back and move it to a sunnier spot for a more compact plant.

    Golden Creeping Jenny  

    Her botanical name is Lysimachia nummularia, but her friends call her Creeping Jenny or Moneywort, and she has lots of friends.

    On the ground, she’s a ground cover, but in containers, she’s a spiller. Her small yellow leaves create the perfect contrast to plants with ordinary green leaves.

    My friend Janet really knows her plants. She's clustered two
    types of ferns with a  gorgeous begonia on her front steps. 
    Creeping Jenny will not disappoint you over the course of the summer. This is a plant that is easy to cut back if it gets too ambitious. No diseases are common, but sometimes rust spots occur. You can just snip off the affected parts.

    Grow Creeping Jenny in full sun or part shade, in a container that will be easy to water, because, although she won’t perish, she doesn’t like really dry conditions.    

    Sweet Potato Vine

    I considered not including this plant because you see it everywhere. The reason it’s so popular is its tropical-like chartreuse or maroon leaves on vines that ramble, filling in spaces on the ground and spilling over the sides of pots.

    These Ipomea batatas will grow in the shade and not require as much water there, but the leaves will not be as intensely colored.  If your sweet potato vine gets too leggy, it’s easy to cut it back without harming it. In fact, it will only grow fuller and more luxuriant.


    Janet likes to embellish her arrangements
    of potted plants with decorative elements
    like this angel sculpture. Great idea. 
    I love Ferns so much I have a designated shady garden just for them. Most people buy them already potted up in big hanging baskets for the front porch. But they are much more versatile than that.
    Ferns will soften and add maturity to the look of hardscape like a sidewalk, deck or patio. They have an old fashioned charm when flanking the front door, especially appropriate if your home is Victorian.
    A collection of potted ferns, if large enough, can create a striking “portable garden,” one you can take with you when your house sells. Meanwhile, they will fill in a barren area of your landscape and add to curb appeal or backyard appeal.
    Most ferns can tolerate some full sun, but not all day sun, making them the ideal porch plant.  All day indirect light is best. Ferns are happy in moist, but well-drained, rich potting soil.
    I’ve limited my list to just ten. But other foliage plants worth mentioning are sage and other herbs; chard, kale, mustard and other vegetables; asters and dusty miller; and all kinds of fabulous hostas. Depending on where you live, and where you’ll put your containers, some of these plants will thrive and others might struggle.  

    When your home is for sale, you have enough to think about. Why add fertilizing, watering, and deadheadling to your to-do list? The plants I’ve chosen here all have some cultural requirements, but they don’t ask for much attention to look good and help sell your home.

    Get other tips for merchandising your home on the market in my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and for More Money. I've devoted one entire chapter to staging your landscape.   

    Top photo: Gardenality

    How Container Plantings Can Help You Sell Your Home

    Monday, April 16, 2012

    Got Kids? Got a Home for Sale? Here's Seven Tips Especially for You.

    Monday, April 09, 2012
    The only thing more difficult than living in a home that's for sale is living in a home that's for sale when you have young children.

    If that's your situation, I feel your pain.

    I know how stressful it can be when you've just touched up your wall paint, and discover two days later small handprints all up and down the stairwell.

    I know how stressful it can be when your Realtor wants to show your home on short notice, and the living room is draped in blanket forts that cover an intricate complex of  Lego villages and train tracks.

    With these things in mind, I've collected my favorite tips learned from PWHOM -- parents with a home on the market.


    Have routines. Do the same procedures daily. For example, everyone makes his or her own bed as soon as he or she gets out of it, one child puts away dishes after every meal, and another sweeps the front steps each evening. Soon, you'll have these habits down pat. Life is simpler with simple rituals, and young ones learn new tasks faster when the tasks are repeated at short intervals, like daily, or even twice daily.


    Put away the toys and games that are not essential. Most children will not miss the majority of their books, toys, games, dolls, and stuffed animals. If storing all but their favorites creates a problem, rotate toys in and out of storage, and explain that the situation is just temporary. It's important for your own sanity that children understand -- as best they can -- the importance of all you are doing to help sell your home.


    That's right, think like a squirrel, and hide things. People on a tour of your home don't need to see your basket of diaper changing essentials, the science project your son is in the middle of, the pile of sports equipment near the back door, or your daughter's doll collection. Think accessible, but still out of sight and in a place where homebuyers don't look. Here are some hiding places I like for temporary stashing:
    • under the bed, in sliding boxes
    • an emptied, designated dresser drawer 
    • pretty shoeboxes, hatboxes, or these DIY cardboard vases 
    • an ottoman or bench with a storage compartment built-in 
    • the washer or dryer  
    • the trunk of your car 
    • a vintage piece of luggage or wicker basket

    Delegate tasks on your pre-showing checklist to everyone in the household.
    This is my #3 grandson taking care of his daily chore.


    Once infrequently used rooms are decluttered and clean, don't let them become catch-all areas for stuff that has no home. If you can close off rooms like the guest room or powder room, placing them off-limits to family members, that's another possibility. Remind them that it's just temporary.


    Make a checklist of what touchups need to be done just prior to a short-notice showing. If you leave the house for work in the morning, never knowing if a Realtor will bring people through during the day, having a touchup checklist is even more important. I know it's asking a lot, but selling a home is like running a business. Children, even young ones, should have a designated role in touch-ups.


    Put away things like schedules and calendars that show when you won't be home or where your children will be, any paperwork and decorations that show your children's names, or photographs of your children. You do not know who is coming into your home or what they want to know about you. I don't think I have to go into the details. It's all about keeping kids safe.


    Work with your Realtor on timing so that showings are not a problem. Most parents prefer showings during school hours. Ideally, you should never have to refuse a showing. Some buyers breeze into town for the day and don't have much scheduling flexibility. It's more important to let your home be shown with some toys scattered about, and some wet towels on the rods, than to let a possible buyer escape. Many buyers interpret a demand for 24-hour notice as "not serious sellers." Be show-ready! I know it can be a hassle, but stay focused on the prize.

    You'll drive yourself mad if you expect organized perfection. It's a balancing act. On one hand, buyers know you don't live in a model home, but on the other hand, buyers watch HGTV and they have high expectations. Whatever leverage you can gain by making your home the one that looks better than the rest, gives you a clear advantage.

    I give other tips to help you navigate the waters toward a sale of your home in my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. For just $4.99, it will pay for itself over and over and over. Or I'll give you your money back.

    Need Some Curb Appeal? Dress up Your Front Door with a DIY Rag Wreath

    Monday, April 02, 2012
    Your home's entrance is where buyers begin forming opinions about whether your home is desirable or not. Your front door should say, "Hello."

    One favorite way to greet house hunters with a friendly hello is with a fresh, colorful wreath.

    Here's how I made a wreath using cloth strips on a foam ring. It's so simple you can do it while watching a movie at home.

    The beauty of these rag wreaths is that you cannot make an ugly one.

    Their nature is to be a little on the funky side, but -- depending on the fabrics you select -- they can be downright elegant.

    I love that these wreaths can be propped in a fireplace opening in summer, hung in the kitchen for a bit of charm, or placed in a bedroom for some soft textures.

    I am sure you will find other places in your home that need a touch of whimsy. And you can do it all on a shoestring!

    Outside, a rag wreath, unless made from outdoor fabrics or plastic, will need some protection from the weather. But most front doors offer enough shelter.

    I also like that rag wreaths, because they have a finished appearance front and back, can be hung in a window opening or on a mirror, and still look fabulous. They look pretty from a distance, and interesting up close. Ready to make yours?

    All kinds of fabric are suitable. For your base, choose one made of foam, straw, wire, or vines. 

    What You Need

    • One wreath form 
    • A collection of fabric in coordinated colors
    • Some kind of seasonal embellishment, such as a silk flower, seashell, ornament, toy, or fake fruit.  
    • A wide ribbon or fabric strip to use as a hanger 
    How much fabric you need depends on the size of your ring. My ring measured 12 inches across, and I used 60 pieces of fabric measuring between 2 and 3 inches wide by 12 inches long. If you don't have scrap fabric, and want to buy fabric, calculate a 1.5 yards total.

    You should have at least three different patterns in a complimentary color scheme. I've blogged about how to mix patterns when you decorate. You can also tie on pieces of ribbon or tulle to the finished wreath.

    How to Do

    1. Determine how long you need your fabric strips to be by tying a test strip of fabric around the ring.

    2. Tear your fabric into strips, and separate them into piles. The fabric can be torn on the crosswise grain or the lengthwise grain of the fabric. Be prepared for lots of loose threads, but just pull away the tangled ones for now.

    3. Start your tying with the fabric you have the least of. Space these ties around the wreath. Pull away stray threads if they bother you, or just let them be part of the wreath's natural charm. Don't be afraid to mix drapery fabric with delicate silks, and denims with floral sheets. As long as your colors work, and you follow the rules for pattern mixing, the look will be interesting.

    4. Tie another pattern or color of strips around the wreath form, spacing them evenly around the circle.

    5. Cover the wreath with remaining fabric ties. If using a smooth foam ring, sliding the strips so they are snug together is easier than if you are using a vine or straw wreath form. Fill in any gaps with additional ties or ribbons, and save a space for the tie you will use for hanging your wreath.

    6. Add your ornament or embellishments. You can center one item or cluster of items on the lower half, or place multiple ornaments around the circle. I chose just one sunflower for this yellow and blue wreath.

    7. Tie the wide ribbon or fabric strip in a loop around the top. And hang your wreath. If there is no hook on the door, duct tape comes to the rescue. Tape the top of the loop to the top edge of the door or mirror.

    Variations for your home

    You can use this simple formula to create wreaths for any season your home is on the market. Buyers will notice that your home is being given attention and care.

    In spring, a collection of pastel fabrics and florals is perfect. Bright colors and flowers rule all summer long, and in autumn, you'll want something seasonal like orange leaves, small gourds, bittersweet berries, and dried flowers. In winter, you can bring on the glitzy fabrics, colorful bows, and gilded ornaments!

    For this Spring, I  chose a palette of  warm greens 
    and whites to make this "leafy" wreath,
    and I added strips of white tulle to soften the look.  
    A few yellow, silk, day lilies brought this rag wreath to life. 

    There are plenty of ways you can give your home the "Buy Me" touches that set your place apart from the competition. Download my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, to learn more tips, tricks and techniques.

    A Photo Primer to Staging Your Home

    Sunday, April 01, 2012
    When it's time to sell your home, you want it looking its absolute best. As we go into prime buying season, let's review some home staging basics. I've gone through my collection of photographs to illustrate the most important aspects of a well-staged house.

    Make sure your front door looks colorful, clean, and welcoming.

    Keep the areas around exterior doors free of clutter and distracting landscaping.

    When you have a historic home, let visitors know that the property has a history.

    Buyers prefer that pets live outside, and have accommodations of their own, even French doors. 

    A garage is a plus, so stage it to call attention to it.

    When you have a room with a fireplace, do whatever it takes to make the fireplace the focal point.

    Don't use family photos unless they show you and your family relaxing with celebrities.

    Shabby chic is still a popular decorating style, so leave some fixtures with patina in place.

    Everyone wants a home office, so stage one area to look like a clean, contemporary office space.

    Mixing patterns makes a room look up-to-date and interesting.

    Add personality to a room with carefully selected wallpaper.

    The right window treatments will make small windows look larger.

    Be sure to stage an outdoor entertaining area. 

    Pictures arranged artistically on the walls make a room look luxurious.  

    Tune in again tomorrow, April 2, for some serious tips to help sell your home!

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