Thursday, April 28, 2011

Secrets to Successful Thrifting

Two tall table lamps, only $5 each.

Looking to stage your home on a shoestring? Then put Goodwill, Salvation Army and other local thrift stores on your list of places to shop.

It's no secret that thrift stores are the places to go for bargains in almost every department.

What's not as well known is exactly how to find those treasures in the mess.

I want to give you the pointers that will make the difference between whether you walk away empty handed, or walk away with bags of furnishings you can use to stage every room.

I discovered the world of second hand shopping 38 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. To keep up with my changing body shape, I purchased a couple of new outfits almost every week. By the time my daughter was born, I owned an impressive wardrobe of maternity clothing, one I could never have afforded if purchased new. (And one, as every new mom understands, I couldn't wait to get rid of.)

Since that time, I have relied on thrift stores and garage sales to furnish and stage homes, decorate gardens, provide reading material and toys, give me crafting supplies, and dress my husband, my children and myself. Here are my tips. 

All it asks for is a coat of paint, $10!

KEEP YOUR COOL. It helps to know what you are looking for. Otherwise, it's too easy to be influenced by price. Don't become a junk junkie. Have a list or a specific purpose when you  go thrifting.

LOOK FOR CLASSICS. Thrift stores are showplaces for the quirky, the bizarre, the funky. That's one of the reasons people love them. But when you thrift to stage your home, you are hunting for what doesn't go out of style, or call attention to itself in a staged home.

Not that lava lamp. Not the iridescent purple shower curtain. Not the framed sharks teeth collection.

Hunt for simple shapes and timeless designs. Mid century modern furniture, Asian-inspired table lamps, well-constructed book cases, white curtains, leggy end tables, large matching frames and vases, coffee table books, furniture that makes rooms look larger, and generous outdoor planters, are examples of good buys.

THINK AHEAD. Be realistic about what you are willing and able to do once you get your new-old things home.

Do you have the tools, the time, and the know-how to re-cover an upholstered piece, paint a stained dining room table and six chairs, or change the hem in lined draperies, for instance? Do you have the space for doing this kind of work?

Major pieces for minor investments.

BUYER BEWARE. Examine what you are considering buying before you actually buy it. You can't return items. If you are accustomed to shopping only regular retail, your mind may not run in this path.

Although most thrift stores scrutinize what they put out, don't assume anything. A lamp part could be missing. Fabric stains may be incurable. Dresser knobs may not match. Sometimes the repair will offset the savings, like a new tempered glass for that outdoor tabletop, or the fabric needed to slipcover that chair.

BE PREPARED. Drive a vehicle that will transport your bargains. Bring a tape measure. Bring hand sanitizer. Bring your list. Bring cash. 

BE PERSISTENT. Pick your favorite thrift store(s) and go there on a regular basis. Ask about when new merchandise is put out. Hop in on your lunch hour, or on your way home from work, on Saturday mornings (although not always the best time), or whenever you can.

The more you haunt these places, the more "luck" you'll have. The best bargains are sold first. However, that doesn't mean there aren't treasures waiting for you that have been on the shelf for weeks. One homeseller's trash is another homeseller's treasure.

ReStore is an ideal source for DIY staging. 

DEAL WITH YOUR DISTASTE. For those of you who don’t like the way some second hand stores smell, wear some of your favorite fragrance so you aren’t as discouraged or distracted by an off-putting aroma.

If what you want to buy has an unpleasant scent, reconsider. Some scents just never go away, no matter how much fresh air, bleach or baking soda you use. 

UPGRADE. If you feel thrift stores are too tacky, bump yourself up to consignment stores, where the owners are more particular and you won’t have to check everything over for stains, missing parts, or poor quality. You’ll pay a little more than at Goodwill, but still way less than la-de-dah “maul” stores.

DON'T WAIT. The sooner you start your search for frugal staging furniture and props, the better. You can't beat the prices for both essentials and the extras that makes staging economical, especially when you are staging a vacant house.

I hope you'll have fun on your thrifting expeditions, and bring back bargains that add to your home's look of luxury and warmth. But buy only the bargains that work for home staging. Remember, you'll be moving soon!

These inexpensive books from Goodwill look gaudy, but they will look impressive when 
you cover them with paper book jackets in a color that compliments your decor.
I give examples of decor styles that work well for home staging, the ones to look for in second hand stores, in my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. The more you know, the better your staged home will look and the faster it will sell.

Monday, April 25, 2011

So You Think You're Not the Thrift StoreType?

Are you holding back from shopping at thrift stores because you believe that ...
  • There's only broken down junk there?
  • Everything is old and out of date?
  • Only poor people shop there?
  • You'll never find anything you like in the mess?
  • You need a big imagination for buying second hand stuff?
  • You don't paint or do crafts, so you couldn't make whatever you drag home look good?
Today we are going to dispel these myths. In fact, all this week on Facebook, I'll be posting tips to help you become a better thrifter.

I've collected a group of my own photographs to prove my point that good stuff goes out the front door of Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other charity shops everyday. I know that some readers are confirmed, even compulsive, second hand shoppers.

But many others think that every time you bring home a thrift store item, it doesn't become a treasure until you've painted it, or repurposed it, or added handles, or framed it, or distressed it, or taken it apart to repair it, or combined it with something else to make it beautiful or usable. Wrong.

The "silver" julep cup pictured above set me back $2.99, but the best part was, I didn't have to find silk lilies for it. The price included the flowers. Off the shelf, I had a pretty tabletopper ready for staging. 

The lovely globe you see here cost me $2. Yes. Someone didn't want it because it was out-of date, but I think it's a classic, perfect for adding interest to the corner of a staged room without taking up space. 

Does it take some imagination to go thrifting and come home with what will work for your home staging? I prefer to say it takes focus. Second hand shopping is not like the usual retail experience, where the merchandise is lined up by category and size and color, and you simply narrow your search to what you need.

When I shop second hand stores, I usually have a purpose in mind, either specific or general. That's my focus. I might even keep repeating to myself what my focus actually is. "Ginger jar table lamp, ginger jar table lamp..." as I browse the shelf of lamps.

Focus also means not getting distracted by what's surrounding the merchandise. With practice, your eye learns to isolate each item, so that you can judge each one independently. There are no department store mannequins (usually), no music, no perfumed air, or artfully arranged groupings to capture your attention and entice you to buy. What you see is what you get, so look carefully.

You have to be your own salesperson and store manager, as well as the customer.
 

A home stager can't have too many pretty boxes. To give you an idea of their scale, these two boxes are a little larger than a typical cigar box. One is made from shells, and the other is woven reed, and they are both super handy. I use them to elevate a plant, candle, sculpture, photograph, or lamp, or to fill out a bookcase. I am sure I didn't pay more than $1 for either one.


I am always on the lookout for glass hurricane chimneys at second hand stores, especially in matched pairs like these. I added second hand fake oranges and some silk freesia blooms to give them color. Together, the chimneys were about four dollars, a fraction of what they would be new.

   
I could show you the sticker that is still on the back of this original painting. It says $5.99, which is triple the amount you would pay for just the raw, unprimed, unstretched canvas. Including the frame, it measures about 25 x 30 inches. It wasn't dirty, incomplete, banged up, crooked or chipped. Do you see the point I'm trying to make here?
Let's talk lamps, one of my favorite second hand finds. I paid less than $5 for the chrome lamp here. Even though stick lamps like this get a bad rap  from some decorators, I find it versatile for home staging because it doesn't monopolize visual space. It came with the pristine white shade. Sometimes they come with lightbulbs, people! This lamp had no problems, and was ready to go into home staging service. Good second hand stores routinely check electric appliances before they display them.

I hope these few examples of just some of my many thrift store finds encourage any reluctant second hand buyers reading this post. 

If you follow my tips on Facebook this week, you'll learn more about thrifting to stage your home.
 
If you click on the Facebook icon, you can go directly to my DIY Home Staging Tips Group there. If you are already a Facebook member, it's easy to become a Group member, where you can connect with other people interested in home staging. It's one way to stay current with posts and tips, get encouragement, and  ask questions. 

My eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and  For Top Dollar gives more advice on buying second hand. Download the book now so you can start your smart staging today.

southern hospitality

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Favorite Fake Plant for Home Staging? Cactus!

The only real plant here is the spindly little sedum coming to life after a winter slumber.

There are two kinds of people in this world. There are those who adore artificial plants, and those who abhor them.   

Maybe there is a third group -- those of us who didn't sign on with either team, but certainly find plastic and silk plants useful for home staging, and at other times when we want to decorate with a bit of drama, but be sensible about it.
This cactus is "growing" in an abalone shell. Or is he?
I am linking this post to Photo Feature Friday, at A Rosy Note. I took these photos of succulents I have used for home staging. See if you can tell which are real and which are made of plastic. 

A small grouping of succulent plants in natural stone or clay pots can create an outdoor focal point, just the way a small herb garden does, as I wrote about last week. These kinds of focal points are part of exterior staging. They actually make your home feel more friendly. And I'm guessing that's the first time cactus plants have been called friendly.


This perky guy is living in a hypertufa planter I made to resemble stone (more trickery!). 
But succulents, either real or faux, make excellent accent pieces indoors as well as outdoors. They are the ultimate houseplant, making minimal demands for attention. Some sun, a little water, and they are happy. And if you choose plastic cactus, well, all they ask for is to be dusted! 

You can buy a collection of succulents like this one ready-made, pot and all.
I've found that although most of the really convincing silk plants like orchids, ferns, lilies, tulips, and peonies are pricey, you can easily get away with buying dollar store cactus and still pull it off in style. Perhaps it's the nature of these plants, their simple structure and smooth textures. 

To make them appear even more natural, put them in natural clay or stone containers. Stick their stems in floral foam or sand, and cover the surface with pebbles or river rocks. Or just let the sand be visible. Bingo! You're done.

The only real cactus represented here does, I admit, have a luminosity the others don't.
Using pretend plants is one example of smart DIY home staging. Staging your home for the real estate market doesn't have to take big bucks. Most of what you have will serve you just fine, thank you. I can show you how to refresh and update. My eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, concentrates on saving money and getting results. It's  easily down-loadable now, and comes with my money-back guarantee. 





I Hereby Declare This Week "Curb Appeal Awareness Week"

Mulching makes a huge curb appeal difference.
Because in some areas of the country, many of us (lucky ones) are finally able to get out and freshen up our yards, I chose this week to focus attention on landscaping.

I'm doing it on Facebook. Won't you join me?

Did you know that by clicking on my Facebook icon in the sidebar, you can receive a helpful Tip of the Day?

Starting this week, I'll be choosing a different topic each week and posting these tips on Facebook's DIY Home Staging Tips Group.

Next week, I'll be offering up tips on thrifting, and in future weeks, I'll pass along my favorite pointers on topics of concern to DIY home stagers, like:
  • photographing your home
  • trends to ignore
  • helpful websites
  • new products
  • common pitfalls
  • bedroom tricks
  • book recommendations
  • supermarket props
  • catalogs for inspiration
  • buyers' pet peeves
  • DIY insider tips and secrets
  • project management
  • vacant property tips
  • and lots more
The Facebook Group is also a way for you to connect with other home sellers, DIYers, decorators, crafters, renovators, realtors, investors, and others who are interested in home staging. You can easily access me to ask a question or tell me about your own project, start a conversation with other group members, or post your own helpful hints.

I love Facebook. I hope you'll decide to become part of the group. What could be easier? Just click!

Outside staging is alot like inside staging. It's all about being neat and clean.
When you're selling your home, your landscape is just about as important as your home's interior, and maybe even more so. It's the first thing buyers see.

Most of us have heard tales of buyers falling head over heels in love with a house when they first laid eyes on it as they drove by. At the same time, many homes sit on the market month after month because no one would guess how lovely they are judging by the curb appeal.
Spots of color liven the landscape.

I hope my Facebook tips this week will help you fine tune your home's curb appeal, that all-important aspect of  putting a home on the market.

Want more on how to boost your home's curb appeal? 

One chapter of my eBook,  DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, is all about staging your landscape. Landscaping is one topic I am passionate about. Like the rest of the book, it's full of down-to-earth advice that's helpful, practical, frugal, and illustrated -- written specifically for the DIY home stager.

Is that you? Then, download my book to help you through the home staging process. You have only once chance to impress buyers at the get-go.  My book will help you get it right, so that buyers see the real value in your home. 

Photo: Fine Gardening

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Your Basic Goof-Proof Color Scheme: Black and White


Want to make the task of choosing colors for home staging easy?  Just go with the ultimate color combination that's not technically about color at all -- black and white.

Don't be scared off by decorators telling you that white is sterile. Forget your old notions of black and white being the stuff of silent movies, funerals and institutional bedding. 

Fact: White goes with everything. The trick is to pick a white that works with the non-change-able fixtures of your home -- the refrigerator, the carpeting, the painted trim, the toilet. Make a decision to go with a creamy white, or a pure bright white, or a grey white. Then, you're on easy street.

Paint things like mismatched furniture, vases, and frames shiny black. Slipcover your sofa with white. (Learn how from Kristi at Pink and Polka Dot). Add curtains in a black and white print. Buy new white towels and duvet cover. Put white shades on all your lamps. Now you're getting somewhere.

It's perfectly fine to add some color as long as black and white predominate. There are bound to be touches of wood, and greenery, and metals here and there. If you need photos to guide you on your way, here's encouragement.
I don't think this room would be as striking if the colors were different. Yes, you can choose contrasts this bold when staging because the colors themselves are not a distraction. Notice the use of a framed black and white photograph, an ideal and economical way to play up your subtle theme.
Outdoor spaces take on a sophistication and unity with a black and white scheme. A concrete patio can be painted white to make it look new. A can of spray paint will give outdoor furniture a fresh face. Planters and flower pots and even chandeliers are easy to paint as well.

Black and white doesn't mean stark. It's also luxurious. Many classic designs come in this combo. To nail down that luxe look, pay attention to textures. Make sure there are some glossy, reflective surfaces and some soft, inviting ones as well. 
Strong graphics and colors like this will make your home the one house hunters remember. Did you know that you can change the colors of an upholstered chair. Fabric paint can turn one of your own  rejects or thrift store bargain into the star of the show. 
  All photographs above: Apartment Therapy.

When you go with black and white, walls don't have to be white. Here, designer Gregga Jordan Smieszny gave the walls a lustrous grey finish. I like the black wall sconces. The two average-sized photographs take on added importance when given wide frames and mats.  Anything here for you to copy ? Photo: Desire to Inspire.
No matter what the architectural style or age of your home for sale, there's a black and white pattern that's a perfect fit -- polka dots, checkerboards, houndstooth, buffalo plaids, zebra stripes, chevrons, key motifs, pinstripes, diamonds, wide stripes, paisleys, toile -- all classics. Read about mixing patterns here. Photo: Marimekko.

Don't let the simple, versatile popularity of black and white pass you by. Instead, harness its appeal to help sell your home. I wrote about all-white color schemes here, and blue and white color schemes here. Take your pick, and get staging!

For more tips about color and style selection to make your home sell, download my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. It's loaded with helpful advice, easy-to-follow advice that lets you stage your home yourself to appeal to home buyers.      



Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Very Short Course in Herb Gardening


Even if you know zip about gardening, you can add an herb bed to your yard in an afternoon that makes your property look special.

Okay, maybe not so it looks as full and lush as the photo at the left, but I'm here to tell you that herb gardens have an almost magic attractiveness, and at the same time, are very do-able.

And when you are selling your home, you need all the  attractiveness you can get!

What's the big deal about herb plants, you ask? Well, for starters
  • Neatness counts. Herbs tend to have a tidy look about them.  Most don't grow real fast, so they stay tidy. That's a plus for curb appeal if your herbs are at the front of your house.
  • Antiquity counts. An herb bed, even a new one, makes a garden or yard look more established. Herbs have an air of permanence and maturity about them. If your house is fairly new, herbs add some character and age.  
  • Save money. One herb plant can stand alone as a specimen in a small garden and still look interesting. You don't need a row, a bed, or a drift of the same kind of plant, which is not the case with most perennials and annuals. Many herbs look great in pots, which means you can move your garden with you when your house sells. 
  • Assault the senses. Most herbs are fragrant. Many have blossoms. All have interesting textures and colors.
  • Intrigue buyers. A well-designed, interesting herb garden encourages lingering. The longer house hunters spend at your property, the greater the chances of them buying. Even a simple herb garden makes your landscaping unique, something buyers will remember after a day of touring homes. 
  • Look like an expert. Usually an herb bed has a formal structure, like a square, four squares, or a circle with quadrants, so it's easy to plant something that looks like you know what you are doing.
  • Sell the package. A focal point in the bed anchors it, and can create the atmosphere that will help sell your house -- a specific sculpture, birdbath, trellis, or planter box. Outdoor focal points remind buyers that there's more than a house for sale. There's property, too! And, of course, these garden ornaments don't have to convey with your home's purchase.
  • Small is good, too. Even if you are selling a condo or townhouse, a grouping of potted herbs or a windowbox of herbs adds a certain something, a je ne sais quoi. (I had to look up the spelling.)
  • Their beauty lasts. Many attractive herbs are not only perennial but stay good-looking all year long, such as rosemary and bay laurel.
  • Create a sitting room. A backyard herb bed, even a tiny one with a bench, suggests a destination for prospective home buyers on their tour, a new vantage point for them to observe the house and surroundings.
  • Herbs mingle. When there are bare spots in a landscape, herb plants can be counted on to combine well. They will carpet a sparse rose bed, add another layer to a row of foundation shrubs, act as placeholders for tulips and other spring flowering bulbs, or fill the gaps between stepping stones.
  • Tempt buyers. House hunters who are gardeners will be attracted to the idea of an already etablished herb garden, but because the usual herb garden is orderly and mulched, it doesn't look like a maintenance nightmare to house hunters who aren't into yardwork.
  • It's DIY-friendly. No matter what kind of soil you have, or how much gardening experience you have, an herb garden looks fine and will prosper in a raised bed that you can construct yourself, and fill with the kind of well-draining soil that herbs thrive in.
  • They are versatile. No matter what style your home is, from humble country cottage to McMansion, there's an herb garden style that's just right.
I grow about 25 different herbs, some culinary, some medicinal, some ornamental. These are some photos from my garden. In another post, I will give a step-by-step for making a simple herb garden that will add value to your home.

Echinacea flower. You can see why I love the macro lens.
Although it looks color-enhanced, this is actually an accurate depiction of a certain oregano. 
When you start with subjects from nature, it almost feels like cheating to get good pictures.
I try to find images that tell a story, even if it's just a lettered sign or label.
Flower of a society garlic plant. I couldn't resist cropping close and enlarging it.
I deliberately put the sun behind this rosemary plant to give it a hazy look.
Closeups let you see what's not visible to the naked eye, like the tiny hairs on woolly thyme. 

I am linking this post to a new Linky Party called Photo Feature Friday at A Rosy Note, so I am including these notes: My camera is a simple Cannon PowerShot A1000 IS. I will admit right here that most of the options available, I don't even use, like adjusting the tone, zoom, or changing the recording pixels. The result is I'm not always happy with my pictures. I am hoping that I can push myself to take better pictures by tuning in to Tricia's Linky on Fridays. 

Here's what does seem to work for me.
  • I like to use the macro mode for a sharp focus on small details. 
  • I always turn the flash off. 
  • I like to shoot early or late in the day. 
  • I take excessive multiples of the same shot and delete all but the one I like best once I put them on my computer. Then I edit in Picasa. 
  • I usually crop to improve the composition, and then improve the contrast with the "Fill Light" and "Shadows" options.
  • For indoors photos, forget nights and evenings. Nothing beats natural lighting.
  • Sometimes I increase the saturation a little, but often this can make a photo look cartoonish. It's amazing what a little, simple editing can do to an ordinary shot.
  • I carry my camera with me all the time.
  • When I need a blog image, don't have it and can't find it online, I resort to photographing a book or magazine picture (with appropriate credit, of course). The trick is to get even, adequate light with no glare off the page. The very top photo in this post is taken from a book cover. The book is entitled Making An Herb Garden, and the author is Catherine Mason.
  • The self timer and a tripod are indispensable for making good tutorials.
  • The only thing I don't like about my present camera is that it has a big appetite for batteries.
I look forward to seeing what experienced photographers are doing, so I can be inspired and educated.

Photobucket


Monday, April 11, 2011

How to Arrange Furniture Around a Fireplace

If you have a fireplace to stage, the good news is there's no right or wrong way to feature it as long as you feature it.

Don't hide it behind a mountain of books, a cluster of kids toys, a jumble of media boxes and cables, or heaven forbid, a big ole piece of furniture.

Here are some pointers to guide you.
  • Anchor it. Make the fireplace the focal point of any staged room. People love fireplaces and they are a natural, architectural focal point. In a very large or multi-purpose room, a fireplace might be the secondary focal point, allowing house hunters the pleasure of discovering a bonus.
  • Add weight. Start by placing the largest piece of furniture in such a way that it emphasizes the fireplace, either visible immediately when someone enters the room, directly facing the fireplace, or even perpendicular to one end of the fireplace.
  • Experiment. Every room and every fireplace is unique. Fooling around with different pieces of furniture and different arrangements is a technique for finding the perfect grouping that even the experts use. Get your sliders out.
  • Refresh it. When it's spring and summer, it's time to exchange the logs and fireplace tools for a seasonal touch -- flowers, a plant, or a painting that says "fresh."
  • Break rules. If the fireplace is in the dining room or bedroom, there may not be room for the usual chairs flanking or facing the fireplace. In that case, stage the mantel to be the star of the room.
  • Be creative. A corner fireplace can be tricky to stage. Keep the furniture pieces small to solve any traffic flow problem.  Limit the number of pieces at the fireplace to avoid a lopsided look to the room.
  • Stage the mantel. The mantel is usually the icing on the cake. Choose accessories that emphasize the special features of your home -- contemporary prints if your home is newish or recently remodeled, charming antiques if your home is a cozy cottage, beachy items in you live near the coast, or period art work if your home is historic.
Chairs facing a fireplace emphasize it as a selling feature. Abbot Construction  photo.


Don't be afraid to limit seating to one chair beside or even 
facing the fireplace. Keep it from looking lonely with a side table,
 bookcase or lamp. Photo: Mantels Direct.

One way to dress up an unused or off-season firebox is with a colorful screen 
like this, a standard screen, spray painted a fun color that ties 
the fireplace to the room. Photo: Apartment Therapy.

Furniture arrangement around a fireplace doesn't have to be complicated.
A simple arrangement that lets the fireplace speak for itself
is sometimes the best approach. Wettlings Architects photo.

A corner fireplace, whether it's part of an open floor plan
or in a Southwestern kiva style, is often best left to fend
for itself rather than block a traffic pattern by adding furniture.

For more tips on furniture arranging and all aspects of effective home staging, consult my eBooks, check out my Pinterest boards, and join my group on Facebook.

Top Photo: Benjamin Dhong.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Checklist for Maintenance Problems

"Barbara made me add my photo."

Laurie, the crafty woman at Handy Man, Crafty Woman is our guest today. (Applause!) On her creative, fun blog she writes about her adventures as she and her handy hubby Rob (and their son Handy Boy) renovate, repair, and redecorate their New England home.  

They fully renovated their first home, built in the 1830s. Then they moved and did it all over again in their second home, built in the 1850's. They are now working on improving their current home, built in 1994.

Laurie and Rob like to go antique shopping, and collect vintage Fiesta Ware. They blog about the recipes they like, decorating discoveries they make, organizing problems they solve, renovating projects they finish, the tools they use, the crafts Laurie manages to find time for, and everything in between. 

Their method is for Laurie to pick out the paint colors, and then tell Rob what to do. Rob does the painting, and all the heavy lifting.    

I am so happy that she is here to give you her advice on home maintenance issues. Please swing over to Laurie's site, where I am guest posting today, if you want to read my thoughts on how not to remodel.

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Hello, I'm Laurie from Handy Man, Crafty Woman. Thanks so much to Barbara for having me guest post today.

Home Staging: Don't Forget the Maintenance!

When you put your home on the market, there are so many things on the to-do list. You know that you must clean thoroughly, and remove excess furniture and clutter. However, you also need to pay attention to maintenance issues.

Your house may pass the "white glove" test, but if you leave any maintenance projects unfinished, potential buyers may think "No way!" in their minds.

Here are some areas you should examine before putting your home on the market:

The yard. The lawn needs to be mowed regularly. Trim bushes, rake leaves, and tidy up the flower beds. Potential buyers will often drive by your home in order to see what the neighborhood looks like. Give them a great first impression.

The entry door. The yard may look good, but the entry door is also very important. Is the paint on your door cracked and peeling? Is the door dirty? Give it a new coat of paint, or a good cleaning.

Interior doors. Do the doors inside your home close? Doors to kitchen cabinets, bedrooms, bathrooms and closets should close properly. Sliding doors should open smoothly. If you have a nice deck, you want the buyers to go outside and have a look.

Outdoor features. If you do have a deck or a pool, be sure that they are clean and maintained. These can be good selling features, and you want them to look their best.

Faucets. In addition to cleaning, fix the sinks and shower faucets so they don't drip.

Tiles. Do you have tiles in your home? Are they in good condition? If you aren't handy enough to chip out broken tiles and replace them yourself, you should hire a handy man to help with this. Broken tiles look shabby.

Lights. This may sound obvious, but do all of your lights work? Home buyers (and real estate agents) will often turn on lights in your home, so they can really see each room. Make sure that any burnt out light bulbs are replaced, and that all light fixtures are in working order.

Unfinished projects. You know what I'm talking about: The trim that is not complete; the new cabinet knobs that haven't been installed, etc. Go around your home and make a list of unfinished projects. Now is the time to finish them!

You can clean and declutter your home when you put it on the market, but don't ignore these basic maintenance issues. Home buyers look at broken and shabby items, and may wonder what else you have been ignoring. Take care of these issues, and let potential buyers imagine themselves moving right into your home.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Insider Tips: Notes From a Blue Collar Gal

How one client paid us.


Every homeowner bumps into situations when DIY is a DDI -- a "don't do it."

I'm talking about the times when you just have to hire the Big Guys, the ones with all the latest tools, the manly truck, and sometimes the proper local or state certification. They are the ones who have been doing it --  wiring, plumbing, roofing, landscaping -- for years.

This post if for those times. I am going to tell you how to deal with these people. I know because I am one of these people. I am a housepainter.

I might wear pink overalls, but I'm a blue collar worker. Housepainters rank pretty darn low on the status scale of trade people in the construction field. I'm not going to quote Rodney Dangerfield here, but you know what I'm talking about.

I like to think that I always give every client the best service I can. But if I am honest, I'll admit that the people who have treated me well when I worked for them, even though I am "just the painter," are the people I was happy to go that extra mile for.

While I can't endorse befriending every member of every crew doing work around your home, it helps to remember that a little kindness goes a long way.

Here are my tips to having a productive, satisfying relationship for both you and any helpers you hire.

Tip #1
Learn their names. if they will be at your house for more than a few days. First names are usually sufficient unless you are building an ongoing relationship or need to know the name that goes on the check. I remember one woman who hired Mr. Lucky and me to paint her home -- and then her son's home, her church's office, her next home, and her rental property (love that!). Whenever someone came to her home while we were there, she actually introduced us, using both first AND last names. She flattered us by showing us respect, simply by using our names. Lesson: It's the little things that create a bond between people. 

Tip #2
Make them feel welcome. Say hello to acknowledge their arrival and let them know you are home. In the South where I am, the custom is to always engage in a little small talk in all business situations. To not banter a bit is considered rude.

Some people give in-house workers the message that they are not trusted. Don't do this. If you have questions about the honesty or ethics of people in your house, you have hired the wrong people. I am not suggesting that you leave cameras, money, and jewelry about when having your bathroom re-tiled by a couple of men you never met before. Be smart, but don't demonstrate paranoia and distrust.

How do you find trustworthy and capable tradespeople? Ask your realtor for the names of good people. Or ask other tradespeople. For instance, a carpet cleaning service man will probably know who lays good carpet, and a painter will know a good carpenter. You can also ask fussy friends and neighbors for the names of people they have been pleased with.  

We have painted for people who do not leave the room we are working in. They may be lonely, or they may be distrustful. If you have hired tradespeople, greet them, and then remove yourself. Not only is it a distraction to have to carry on a conversation, but workers may feel you are trying to learn how they do what they do, so that next time you can DIY and save the money. It makes you look like you wish you didn't have to hire them.

Tip #3
Make them feel appreciated. In one small house where we were painting, the homeowners were home all day. Each day when their daughter returned from school, they baked cookies. Of course the scent of chocolate chips, sugar and butter filled the place. Did they ever offer us one? They did not. Did we feel appreciated? We did not. Did we adjust our schedule so we could do more painting for them when they called us again? No. We're not mean, but when push comes to shove, people go where they are appreciated. Lesson: The Golden Rule is still good business.  
Cheese, crackers, grapes, jellybeans!

Can you tell I love cookies?

The woman who paid us with gift-wrapped cash in a thank you card last week (photo above) also set out a snack and coffee buffet just for Mr. Lucky and me that was so unusual in its graciousness, I had to take a photo (right). While this example is definitely over the top, the message was clear: "We appreciate you."

You absolutely don't have to go to this extreme, but...just saying...

Doughnuts are always a big hit with workers. A dozen doughnuts buys you a whole lot of feel good.   

Tip #4
Make them comfortable. I don't know if you have ever been in a stranger's home for the whole day. It can be a delicate situation. Workers aren't guests, but they aren't robots either. They will appreciate it, for example, if you tell them when they start a job, where the bathroom is, where they can get water, and what door you want them to use for coming and going. In some states the law requires you provide an outside portijohn when the number of persons on site reaches a certain number.

Are conditions comfortable for working? Tradespeople are used to working around debris and dust, and in extreme heat and cold. But you can still be the hero by providing an environment that is uncluttered and at a sensible temperature as much as is practical. Let them have what they need in order to do their job well.

At the same time, if the person you are hiring will be coming back on a regular basis, a housekeeper or a lawn maintenance person for example, you need to establish businesslike protocol at the beginning of the relationship. If you are too casual about the work that needs to be done, you may find your cleaning person or pool cleaning serviceman expects to have coffee and half an hour of conversation before beginning work. Lesson: Be friendly but don't be friends.

Tip #5
Praise their work.  Even if you are not totally happy with the job being done, find something you like. If you have complaints, let them know that, too. And don't wait until the job is done to express discontent. If you are considering a number of options at the start of your project, ask for their opinions. Experts and professionals usually like to hear the question, "What would you do?" because it signifies that you value their experience. You can still do it your way, or decide on an approach better than either you or the professional hadn't thought of previously.

Clients often ask me to help them make decisions about color or finishes. Some ask about painting-related problems, like removing mildew from a roof (trim the tree branches back to let light in, and sprinkle the roof with laundry powder). Asking opinions is one way to acknowledge expertise.

Next time you need to hang up your DIY tool belt, and bring in a contract worker, whether it's an air conditioning repairman, an electrician, a floor re-finisher, or some other hard working soul, follow my advice, and I think you will see better communication and better workmanship.

Maybe even a better price.

I can offer you many more tips to make selling your home a positive experience. My eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, will provide answers, inspiration, buying guides, and how-tos for everything from arranging furniture to curb appeal and everything in between. It's quick and easy to download. Why wait? I can start today to help you stage to sell.

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