Springtime Makeover

Thursday, March 26, 2020
Spring is a time for new beginnings. 
As I write this blog post, my mind is running on two tracks -- that people with homes to sell want advice on how to sell quickly and get the best price, and that people the world over are dealing with a much larger problem, that of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other bloggers, just as I am, are questioning the appropriateness of writing about food and travel and fashion and music and pop culture and sports and similar topics at a time like this.

We're asking the same questions. What's helpful?

What's relevant? What's timely?

What's the right thing to do?

I'm of the opinion that while we practice social distancing, and while we stay informed about the nature of the disease, and while we take our small measures to help contain it and help those affected, we also need to stay positive.

Staying positive doesn't necessarily mean talking yourself down from the ledge. That's hard work. Rather, I prefer pleasant distractions, the ones that give you satisfaction, that provide some sense of control, that bring order or beauty to your world. It's time to make music, write letters, cook, sew, sing, garden, work out, donate and volunteer where you can, read to your children, play with your dog.

When we recover medically, financially, emotionally, socially, from this crisis, we'll be smarter and stronger. People will always buy homes. You'll be ready.

It's Springtime. Curb Appeal Matters.

I have lived all over the country and so I know that spring doesn't mean the same thing in every region. Where you live it might be "mud season" during the months between winter and summer. Or you might be getting temps in the 80s. Or the ground could be covered with snow.

Nevertheless, the months of March, April and May generally mark a turning point for North  Americans, a time to shed some of winter's woes and begin afresh.

No matter where you live, you can still browse through online listings of homes for sale. When you do that, you'll notice one similarity. Almost every one features the home's exterior for a profile photo.

There's a reason for that. Even though home buyers value important data like kitchen condition, square footage, number of bedrooms, and neighborhood style, how a home looks from the outside is crucial to their decision about whether they want to get inside.

In a Zillow survey, real estate agents named curb appeal one of the five most important factors in selling a home. How does your home's exterior look? Spring's a natural time to spend some time and energy, and yes, even some money, on giving your home an outdoor spruce-up. As a bonus, being outside in mild weather is a natural mood-elevator.

Let's look at six different ways you can increase the curb appeal of your home.

You can never underestimate the value of pristine and charming curb appeal. 

1. Clean the siding

No matter what kind of siding your home has, whether it's brick, stucco, vinyl, wood, or cement boards, over time it's bound to accumulate dirt, debris, cobwebs, and possibly mildew. That doesn't mean you have to pressure wash your whole house. In fact, pressure washing with too much pressure can damage some surfaces. Giving your home a good hose down is probably sufficient unless you see signs of mold or grime that's built up over time. 

A fresh coat of paint can instantly make your home seem more expensive than it is. Whether you should DIY painting it is another question.

Maybe your home is a small or medium-sized, one-story structure. Maybe you have some painting experience or are willing to watch some YouTube videos about painting siding. Maybe you have the right equipment like a safe extension ladder or a paint sprayer. Maybe you have pretty good strength and energy and patience and the time to do this job. Then, maybe you can paint your home's exterior.

Otherwise, I suggest having professionals do the work.

I never recommend "paint parties," where people invite all their inexperienced friends for a fun day slinging on paint with a collection of cheap brushes while they listen to music and drink a little too much. Your home is probably your major investment. Don't gamble. Get quotes from some local painting contractors.

2. Enhance your doors

I have a friend who says that a front door is the smile on a house. It's her way of saying that a home's entrance area is the focal point of the facade -- what people's eyes go to when they look at your home from the street.

If your front door isn't in prime condition, spring is a good time to repaint it, since you'll need to leave the door ajar for a few hours. My post entitled Girl's Guide to Painting Your Front Door is one of my most popular blog articles. A fresh coat of paint will automatically make your entrance look newer, safer, and more welcoming.

If the door is beat up, has dings and dents that can't be remedied with paint or patches of Bondo, a replacement door might be your better option. It's relatively easy to replace a standard size door.

You can't ignore the condition of your overhead garage door, especially if it faces the street, the way most garages do. I've also blogged about how to paint a garage door the easy and efficient way.

3. Tend to the walkway

You can choose from a selection of nearly 40
designs to make your path unique. These
are my Fish-In-Water stones. 
Most homes already have some kind of walk leading to the front entrance. If you have a concrete sidewalk, make sure it's not a tripping hazard.

Pressure washing it might be advisable if is mossy or stained. If you don't have or want to rent a pressure washer, scrubbing it with a long-handled push broom dipped in a bleach solution often does the trick.

But if your home's approach is a worn path through grass, consider creating something more striking and still simple. It's a good DIY project. I made a series of stepping stones with molds from Garden Molds five or six years ago and they are holding up just fine. Once you purchase a mold for about $30 (you'll choose from 45  different designs), you can make all you want at a concrete cost of about $1 each.

A quicker option is to buy concrete pavers from a garden supply business or big box store and surround them with gravel or mulch as I did in the house photo below.

If you live where shoveling snow from the path to the door is a necessity, you need something other than gravel or stepping stones. If your home is formal in design, you need to match that style and not create something suitable for a country cottage, woodsy cabin, or farmhouse. Adding solar lights to your walkway is an additional inexpensive improvement.

This is the way the front yard at a home I recently rehabbed looked
before I gave it a makeover. There was no path to the entrance and
all the shrubs were overgrown. It needed help.

I removed weeds, removed shrubs blocking the windows, and pruned shrubs that were
crowding the front steps. I added new shrubs across the front.
I placed a series of pavers to a new, small landing at the foot of the
steps, created a "mowing strip" of bricks between the lawn and the pathway, and
filled the areas around the pavers with mulch from the local landfill. 

4. Refresh your landscape

Spring is considered prime viewing and selling season for homes. With the pandemic causing harm to almost every business, the real estate market will be changing in ways we can't predict. One positive possibility is that with lower interest rates, people who were planning on buying will have more confidence that they can afford it.

If you are in a rush to sell because of finances, divorce, or other change in lifestyle or relationships, it will be tempting to accept offers well below your asking price. Now is the time to do some knock-your-socks-off home staging that will persuade buyers to make realistic offers.

One of the best ways to win the hearts of buyers is with impressive landscaping. It gets them from hello.  

Fortunately, spring is the perfect time to fine-tune your front yard. I suggest you study how professionally designed landscapes look in the best neighborhoods -- something you can do by driving or walking these neighborhoods. Visit garden centers where in many areas now you'll find a tantalizing collection of healthy annuals, perennials and shrubs. Don't create a landscape that spells work for you or a prospective buyer.

My best advice is to avoid smallness. Go for wide sweeps of mulched areas, and a variety of textures in plant material. Keep the edges of mulched beds and pavements clean and sharp. Avoid clutter. Keep things like hoses, bikes, and trash containers hidden. Put color at the front entrance. Wherever you live, there is something appropriate for an outdoor plant or two that can be potted now for something fresh and welcoming.  Check my Pinterest board for seasonal wreaths if you need ideas for door decor.

A home in tip-top condition will get more views and a quicker, better offer. 

5. Fix the driveway

The condition of your driveway is one of the first things buyers might notice when they come to tour your home. You want them to have confidence immediately in how your home has been maintained.

Driveway fixes can be DIY projects, or they might call for professional help. If there are serious cracks and uneven surfaces in your concrete driveway, these are red flags to potential buyers, and might call for work to be done by people who do this for a living and will do it right. Smaller cracks can be something you take care of yourself. Here is good advice from Home Depot on fixing driveway problems,

Keep the edges of your drive and sidewalk trimmed so turf and weeds aren't migrating into paved areas. An electric edger is worth the investment, and goes a long way to making a landscape look manicured. I have this Black and Decker trimmer that I like because it is versatile, easy to use, isn't noisy and doesn't smell of fuel!

6. Check the roof

Most asphalt-shingled roofs have a life span of 20 years. Wood-shingled roofs last about 30 years. Any serious buyer (and the home inspector he hires) will survey the roof for missing, loose, torn, or punctured shingles. They'll also notice moss, sagging, or other signs of trouble.

A brand new roof can cost, but sends a great message to any potential buyer, making him think, "I don't have to worry about replacing the roof for 20 years!" According to Home Advisor, the return on your installation cost averages 62.9%. But, as well as adding to the dollar value of your home, fixes like a new roof can speed up the sale of your property, saving you carrying costs like insurance, taxes, utilities, and routine maintenance.

I sincerely hope these considerations and projects will help you maintain some sanity and sense of accomplishment during the weeks ahead. Enjoy your springtime, wherever you live. I wish you all well, and I encourage you to take good care of your health and of the people close to you.

What I learned when my home was flooded

Monday, March 09, 2020
It's been just 18 months since Hurricane Florence blew through our coastal North Carolina area.

Our town was hit particularly hard, and the tidal surge from nearby water bodies coupled with drenching rains filled our home with over two feet of water.

Over the months that followed, I learned a lot about water damage, what it does and what homeowners can do about it before and after it happens.

The first thing you'll learn when your home is uninhabitable is the value of family, friends and community. And the second thing you learn is the importance of insurance, the right kind of insurance.

Even if you don't live near the ocean, a lake, river, stream, or canal, water damage can result from a variety of sources. Approximately one-fifth of all insurance claims are due to some type of water damage.

A water heater could leak while you are away on vacation. Water pipes in your crawl space could freeze in a cold snap. The sewer or drainage line on your street could back up. A dishwasher or washing machine or toilet could overflow. Pipes and drains under sinks could be leaking without your knowledge. A windstorm could blow a tree limb onto your roof and punch a hole in it that leaks rainwater.

Know what your insurance covers

If you own a home, you need to know exactly what kind of insurance you have. If your home is in a flood plain as defined by local authorities, you should have flood insurance. If your mortgage is backed by federal insurance, and your home is in a flood plain, you are required to have insurance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

Not all water damage is created equal. For example, under the average homeowner’s insurance plan, leaks that develop gradually over time are generally not covered, while pipes that burst suddenly are.

Most water damage restoration services will cooperate with insurance providers to partially cover their services or, in some cases, provide full coverage. I strongly recommend that you check with your insurance provider to know what is and is not insured. Meanwhile, here's a quick primer on water damage and home insurance. 

Two other pieces of advice I'll give you are to create a photo record of your home's interior and exterior, and to purchase contents insurance. Make a photo record of possessions and serial numbers in case you need to make claims for replacing these belongings.

Be safe but act quickly  

No matter what kind of water damage you're hit with, time is of the essence.

You can see the water level on our home's
wall in this photo, and you can see
the irresversible damage even a few
hours of water exposure can do to floors,
drywall, and baseboards. 
If your home is flooded the way ours was, the faster you can empty it of everything wet, the better. In the chaos that engulfed our neighborhood following the storm, we were fortunate to have family members come to our aid, dragging to the curb carpeting, doors, furniture, and anything damaged beyond repair (most of what we owned).

And we quickly hauled to a dry storage facility anything dry enough to rescue. We were also fortunate to have purchased just a few months prior to the hurricane's arrival, a house we were in the middle of rehabbing as an investment property. We camped out in that house for the eight months it took for our own residence to be rebuilt.

During that time, it took professionals to do the nasty work of removing drywall and flooring to dry out the structure. FEMA and local authorities oversee to some extent the process as best they can, but it will be up to you to hire reputable remedial workers, not untrained volunteers or fly-by-night, non-local, price gougers.

Midway through the cleanout process in our home. The major concern is mold.
Microbial agents and quick dry-out are the solution.
No one wants any residual moisture in the structure. 
Whether your home is damaged by floodwaters (and I hope it never is!) or a slow drip under your kitchen sink, the sooner you take action, the less severe the damage.

If you don't know where the main water shut-off point for your home is, now's the time to learn. Some turn offs require a special tool. If the problem is a toilet or sink or washer or dishwasher or water heater, turning off the water source at the appliance is usually sufficient, depending on where the damage is exactly.

When it comes to removing residual water yourself, you'll likely be able to do it only to a point. Every homeowner should have a wet-dry vacuum. Anything you can do will help until you get a pro to fix the problem-- either a plumber, building contractor, carpenter, or restoration service, depending on the exact nature of the water damage.

Certain types of water such as floodwater can be full of contaminants and hazardous waste, which you should not attempt to clear out yourself. If you are unsure of the source, please leave the job to the professionals. Nothing is as important as your good health. Do not try to salvage carpet and upholstered items that have been wet as they can harbor harmful mold that will continue to grow even if unseen.

Replace or restore what's damaged 

We opted to replace our hardwoods, carpeting, and tile flooring with what real estate agents are telling me today's sellers like -- luxury vinyl planking. I can see why it is popular. It's bulletproof! Handsome patterns, easy to maintain, and it's waterproof. If we are hit with another flood, we are told this flooring can be removed, dried and re-installed! 
Polished concrete can be stained or left natural.
If it's too sleek or too chilly for you, area rugs will fix
the problem. In the right setting, polished concrete can
act as a passive solar heating system. Photo: Carl Hansen  

Another replacement option is polished concrete flooring due to its superior performance and durability. If you like the industrial vibe, this might be your choice. It's economical, durable, and low-maintenance. 

There are currently about 309,000 public and 10.4 million residential swimming pools in the United States. Whether it is in-ground or above ground, swimming pools contain thousands of gallons of water that can leak into the surrounding soil and cause damage to your home’s foundation. As a pool owner, part of your job is to stay on top of potential problems and leaks.

Schedule an Inspection

I was concerned running the identical
flooring throughout
our home would
look too commercial.
Instead, it created a
seamless, contemporary look I love.  
When your home sufferers extensive damage, your insurer and lender and local building inspector all need to be satisfied that the home is finished and safe. You'll be required to pass electric and plumbing inspections. Local authorities will guide you on requirements.

If the problem is less severe, it will be up to you and the people you hire to inspect singular water damage such as a roof or plumbing or appliance repair. If you are planning to put your home on the market, now is the time for a complete home inspection. The report you get will allow you to fix any remaining deficiencies so there are no surprises if your buyer wants an independent home inspection.

Chances are your home is not going to be flooded they way mine was. But I want to post my advice to my readers so you can prepare for the different ways water can damage a home.

Make your home the one buyers want. Stage it right. Download my eBook DIY HomeStaging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. I guarantee you will add value to your home by learning from my boots-on-the-ground years of experience in real estate.

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