Monday, July 30, 2012

A Simple Way to Get Feedback from People Who Tour Your Home


Do you know what people really think  of your home?
Here's how to get inside buyers' minds.
Hey, homesellers. Are you sick of people coming to look at your house and then never hearing from them again?

Do you wonder why they didn't make an offer? Do you question what they liked? Do you want to know what bothered them? What they thought of the price? The neighborhood? The floor plan? Your decor?

Whenever I have a house for sale, I want feedback. It’s never too late to tweak the staging, add a simple upgrade, get rid of a minor problem, or …dare I say it… lower the price.

Even when working with a Realtor and doing all the right homework (like reading my eBooks), without feedback, you’re guessing how the market sees your home.

Not everyone who views your home will tell his real estate agent what he really thought about your home. If a client acts disinterested, a good agent will probe for reasons, because a good agent wants to know what’s important to her client.

But some people feel bad saying negative things, or they may not understand fully what made them react to your home the way they did. So, not all feedback is helpful or complete.

If a potential home buyer says, “The house is nice, but …”
  • ...But they don’t like the carpeting. 
  • ...But kitchen is too small. 
  • ...But the appliances have to go. 
  • ...But they’re not crazy about the neighborhood. 
What they are really saying is the house is overpriced.

Their comments mean they are seeing bigger kitchens, or better flooring, or newer appliances, or nicer neighborhoods for the same price. Without choosing the exact phrasing, they are saying that they know they can get more for their money.

Buyers typically look at similar homes in similar neighborhoods, at a similar price point.
This means you need to know your competition to arrive at a fair asking price.  

It’s all about perceived value.

Staging is one way to increase the perceived value of your home. Another way is pricing it correctly. Getting feedback will help you in both cases.

Your Realtor will help you set your asking price. There are objective methods to arrive at fair market value, but fair market value also depends on how the market responds to your home. That's where feedback comes in handy.

Here is how one Realtor makes it easy to tune into what home buyers are saying about a listing. She simply sends this questionnaire out to every real estate agent who shows the property. She asks them to email or query the client, and get quick answers to these multiple choice questions.   

How would you rate the home's curb appeal?
  • Excellent
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Poor

Some homes have curb appeal on two sides. This home for sale in Florida on the
Intracoastal Waterway needs to look good from front and back. 
How did the home's interior look?
  • Very comfortable and stylish
  • Clean and organized
  • Average
  • Needs improvement 
Are there parts of the home that need improving or updating?
  • No improvements needed
  • Some exterior improvements needed
  • Some interior improvements needed
  • Appliances need updating or upgrading

A home in a subdivision is bound to be compared to the other homes in the same
(and nearby) subdivisions. A seller needs to match or beat these competing homes  

How is the home priced compared to other homes?
  • Price is very appealing
  • Price seems fair
  • Home is somewhat overpriced
  • Home is substantially overpriced
A charming entrance is the beginning of what could become a purchase offer.
Knowing how buyers respond to your home can help you fine tune your property. 
Are you considering making an offer on this home?
  • Undecided
  • No
  • Yes

Get the facts! 
It takes less than a minute to get answers to these questions. I encourage you to share this idea with your realtor, so you’ll be on your way to knowing what’s good about your property and what might need some attention.

Fix your home to get the best grades possible from potential buyers. 
Start by downloading my $4.99 eBook
DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and for Top Dollar.

Monday, July 23, 2012

How to Stage a Fireplace When It's Summertime


What better way to show off a fireplace in summer than
filling it with mirrors, the way Eddie Ross has done?   
Most home buyers are drawn to a fireplace like moths to a flame. 

But in hot weather, a fireplace doesn't have all the magnetism it does on a snowy winter day. 

In summertime, all your rooms should feel cool and refreshing.

Feng shui experts say that a fireplace makes a room “hot” because it represents the “fire element,” and that an empty, unused fireplace represents lifeless or drained energy.
   
Even if you don't know beans about feng shui, you can't deny that there’s nothing appealing about an empty fireplace, no matter what the season. 

It’s a black hole in one wall. It looks like something’s missing or not working.   

Is there a way to showcase your fireplace without suggesting heat? Yes. Here's how.

Whether you're decorating coastal style or not, you can't go wrong
with an oversized clamshell, either empty or filled
with shells or plants. Ali Wentworth via Completely Coastal.   

A mirror in front of the firebox brightens any space, and a round one like
this adds some needed curves to the room. Photo: Porch Light Interiors.

Diane at In My Own Style blog designed this ever-so-sweet decorative, folding screen.
She made it no-sew style, from fabric attached to a pattern cutting board .
My own fireplace looks like this in summer. I bought the fabric fan at a garage sale years ago.
It's the perfect firebox cover-up because of its cool color.  
If you're going to keep logs in your fireplace in summer, add some hardware like a 
handsome grate or these anchor themed andirons. Photo: Traditional Home.

More How-to's for Hot Weather Fireplace Staging
  • Keep animal prints packed away during warm months. No furry pillows on
    the hearth, please.
  •  In summer, flowers and plants make more sense than candles in the 
    firebox. Candles represent small fires.
  •  White birch logs or white ceramic logs look cool in the summer 
    fireplace.
  •  Any props that are beachy, nautical or coastal are perfect for 
    fireplace staging.
  •  Keep your colors on the cool and pale side of the color palette.
  •  When in doubt, concentrate on white for a refreshing, summertime 
    color scheme.
  •  Choose colorful and glazed ceramics rather than dark crockery 
    and earthenware.
  •  Any reminders of water, like seascapes, a fountain, shells, or fish 
    motifs, make good props for the firebox, hearth, or
     mantel, because 
    they balance the fire element.
  •  Make sure your firebox is clean, even if it is covered with a screen. 
    Buyers will look inside.
  •  Your realtor and your MLS or FSBO listing should indicate that 
    your fireplace is working if it is a functional fireplace.
  •  Tracy at Comfort and Luxury blog did a marvelous post on out-of-season fireplaces.

Need more ideas for fireplace staging? Check out my Pinterest Board, Fireplaces Out of Season. 

And if you download my $4.99 ebook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, you can start staging your home for market today. You’ll see how easy it is create the look and feel buyers really want in a home.     


Monday, July 16, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Renting Your Home on the Market

When my friend Christina’s husband accepted a job out of state, they knew they’d be moving. Soon. With all their furniture. One of the Realtors they spoke with suggested renting out their 4-bedroom home instead of selling it.

They talked to a property manager, worked the numbers, and discovered that the rent they could reasonably expect would cover the cost of the home’s mortgage, insurance, taxes, professional property management, and maintenance.

So, they became landlords, and made their move. For now, they’ve become renters themselves. Meanwhile, they’re saving up, and learning the “lay of the land” in their new city, in preparation for the day when they can buy again.

Does this approach make sense? Yes, for some people.

The rental market is still very healthy. Many people who have lost their homes to foreclosures, and people who have difficulty obtaining credit are now renting.    

So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of renting your home while you wait for a better market to sell it?

On the Plus Side...

Get On With Your Life. You’re able to move without waiting. In Christina's case, her husband’s company helped with moving expenses, and even paid the mortgage until a tenant moved in, which didn’t take long. Even if you don’t have such a sweet deal, you could collect a security deposit and one month’s rent as soon as you have a committed renter.

Just Pack and Clean. You don’t have to keep your home picture perfect while you wait for a buyer. Tenants are more forgiving, and don’t expect to see a staged home. They aren’t plunking down a huge investment and going into debt. As long as your home is clean and everything works, you’re golden.

You can leave an empty, unstaged house behind. If it's clean, and it's priced right, it will rent!  

Leave the Closing Table with Cash, Not Debt. Rather than settle for less than what you want for your home, you can wait for the real estate market to improve. If your home value has decreased and you are upside down with your mortgage renting might make sense.

Test the Waters. Have you ever moved into a new town and later wished you had moved into a different neighborhood? It takes time to learn a locale. Not every realtor knows the best schools, the politics, the perks and problems, and where your favorite haunts will be. Perhaps you’re moving and still don’t have an employer in your new town. It makes sense to know where you’ll work before you invest in a home.

Vacant Homes Go Downhill. With a renter in your home, the home can pay for itself and be cared for. A good lease stipulates that the tenant be responsible for things like lawn care. A tenant should also be required to pay utility bills. A home that has electricity, heating and cooling, and running water, is preferable to a shut down property. Neighbors like it, and vandalism is less likely

You Have a Landlord to Call. Being a homeowner is demanding. By comparison, being a tenant is easy. When the dishwasher malfunctions, when the chimney needs cleaning, when the garage door doesn’t close right, when shingles blow off the roof, you’re not the one to pay the repair person.   

On the Other Hand...

Show Me The Money. Moving takes cash in hand or cheap credit. Most American homeowners don’t have enough money in the bank to relocate without the profit that comes from a home sale. Especially if they are moving to look for work. This might be your situation.  

It Feels Like A Step Backwards. True, being a renter can seem like financial backpedaling. Chances are your new rental home won’t be your dream home. But not always. In Christina’s case, she likes her rental better than the home she left behind!

Could it be that living in an apartment complex temporarily will feel like a vacation?  
Markets Turn Around Slowly. It may be years before your home reaches the point where you can command a decent selling price. Meanwhile, the property needs to be managed and maintained.

Good Tenants Are Scarce. I’ve been a landlady for almost 20 years, so I can tell you that it’s almost impossible to tell what kind of tenant a person will be.

I ask prospective tenants to bring me printouts of their credit reports. I telephone their employers and previous landlords. I assess their appearance, their language, their children’s behavior. I casually glance in their cars to see if they are neat. I even search online (yes, even Facebook) for any information I can gather.

In the end, it’s still a gamble. It’s rare that a renter takes care of a home the way a homeowner would. (My apologies to those of you who are perfect tenants and you probably know who you are.)

Bank of America sees the value of keeping homeowners in their homes as renters rather than foreclosing on them. It's a win/win situation. 

Costs Can Go Up. When you have a good tenant, you don’t want to lose him by increasing his rent. But taxes and insurance costs can rise. You can get hit with heavy maintenance, like a furnace that floods in a hurricane, appliances that need replacing, or other costs not covered by insurance, security or your savings.

It’s always a delicate balance deciding between the benefits of raising rent, and risking a vacancy that could cost you more than you’ll gain.

Real estate investing books like this one can
teach you how to be a successful landlord.  
Property Management Is Iffy. Just like finding a good tenant, finding a property management team is difficult.

My experience is that property managers like properties to run on their own, and are reluctant to hassle tenants who are not doing their share.

Find me a company called Tough Love Property Management, and I might sign up, but meanwhile, I’ll manage my own properties because I’m a hands-on kind of gal. That’s difficult to do when you live elsewhere.

If you live close enough to your rental property to manage it yourself, you need to get up to speed on regulations and smart procedures. It's a business that needs to be run like a business, a profitable and lawful one.  

Homes Age. Just like like cars and unlike wines, homes get older and show signs of age. Those new appliances, the fluffy carpeting, the newly painted walls -- they don't look as perky as they did before a tenant spent a few years living in your home.

Although the property itself may hold its value, when it's time to get serious about selling, you'll probably need to repair and update some features. 

Tenants Have Rights. Every landlord and former landlord has horror stories about tenants from hell who have done more damage than the security deposit can cover. Typically, the eviction process favors tenants. And it takes months. Months when you are not collecting rental income.

Rather than a lease, I use a month-to-month rental agreement that can be terminated by either landlord or tenant with 30 days notice. Leases protect tenants more than they protect property owners.

Some smart landlords I know have discovered that, rather than begin an eviction process, it's often faster and less costly to pay a problem tenant a few hundred dollars to get gone.

It's Not For Sale. Although some folks keep their real estate listing active, and put a renter in the house, I don't see this as a smart move. A renter doesn't have much motivation to maintain a staged home, keeping it show-ready, clean, organized, and decorated to please buyers. In fact, once the property sells, the renter gets booted.

Taking down the for sale sign does mean that potential buyers won't know about your property.  

The Summary: Whether you wait for a buyer, or decide to put a renter in your home depends on your circumstances. The criteria will include how rushed you are, how flush you are, how far away you're moving, what the local rental market is like, what your mortgage and other costs are, whether you already have employment, whether you can get financial assistance from an employer, and whether you have reliable home management people.

And guess what. Christina's tenants are talking to her about buying the house.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Do's and Don'ts of Whiz Bang Home Staging

Any size mirror adds an extra dimension to a room, but big
ones like this one really earn their keep. DreamyWhites blog.
You say you're getting your home ready for market? Or your home has been on the market and you're not getting offers?

Let's look at staging solutions that work for any home, the solutions that really make a difference. 

Prioritize. Do focus on the kitchen and baths. 

Concentrate your time and money on making these rooms beautiful. 

Kitchens and baths cost more money to remodel than other rooms, so if yours are outdated, compensate with extra cleanliness and extra décor luxuries. 

Or expect buyers to use obsolete fixtures and appliances as bargaining chips. 

If you are really motivated, your best bet might be to bite the bullet, and invest in new kitchen appliances and bath fixtures. 
  
Reflect Light. Do place a mirror in every room. A mirror is one of your best staging props. One mirror can sell a room, because it will fill an empty space, or brighten a drab corner, or increase the apparent size of a room. 

Don’t limit mirrors to just baths and bedrooms. Foyers, hallways, and even kitchens can sport mirrors. For what they cost, they are excellent investment pieces that you can take with you when your home sells. 

One large plant in this room is all it took to take the hard edge off the
simple color scheme and overly modern vibe. Henry Brown Interiros.

Freshen Rooms. Do include greenery in every room. Do you have a live plant, some cut foliage, or a silk plant or flowers in each room? Get rid of small house plants, and bring in the large and lovely stuff that impresses people, and brings a room to life.

Pretty Up Storage Areas. Do stage closets and inside cabinets. Yes, buyers look in these areas. If they are crowded, sloppy or ugly, that’s the feeling that buyers walk away with. A well-staged closet is organized, clean, and even scant. 

Storage areas like these are your opportunity to suggest the lifestyle any home buyer wants to step into.  Examples: A colorful hatbox on your closet’s top shelf, some gourmet foods in your pantry, or some beautiful toiletries in your bath vanity.
Freshly painted trim makes a room come to life and look new again.

Add “Jewelry.” Do make sure that trim paint is fresh or very clean. When the woodwork around doors and windows, the baseboards, and any crown moulding is newly painted (or looks that way), your rooms sparkle. 

Savvy buyers know that painting trim is time-consuming, tedious, and requires more skill than painting walls.

They don’t want to do it themselves, and they don’t want to pay to have it done. 

Get out your magic eraser before deciding whether or not your trimwork needs painting. Clean it up, touch it up, or else repaint it. 

Here’s What Not to Do

People Are Curious. Don’t display family photos. Decorating with pictures of yourself and your family and friends is distracting, and takes the buyer’s eye and mind off your home’s best features. You’ll be ahead of the game if you don’t use any art work with a face.  

Get Up to Speed. Don’t decorate with colors that were popular decades ago. Concentrate on the colors that look new and modern. An old home painted in today’s trendy colors rates better than one done in the mauves and forest greens of the 80’s, the pinky beiges of the 90’s, or the browns of the 00’s. Contemporary décor suggests that your home’s infrastructure – the plumbing, heating and cooling, electrical systems, foundation and roofing – are all up-to-date as well. 
  
Empty is Good. Don’t fill every space on bookshelves, counters, and tabletops. Leaving some spaces open is pleasing and restful to the eye. It’s breathing room, and gives the impression that there is plenty of room for everything in your home.   

Aromas Matter. Don’t ignore the importance of scent. You may be accustomed to the everyday aromas of your home, but people touring your home will pick up the scent of the litter box that wasn’t cleaned, the basement where mildew is a problem, or the laundry room that smells like old shoes. 

Bring in a good friend or your Realtor, to sniff test your entire home, and give you an honest opinion.
   
Do not fear off-white walls. They are less likely than colors to be deal-breakers. Some blues
add life to this room, but buyers know they have a clean slate to start with. Photo: BHG.   

Be Generic. Don’t decorate to please yourself. Decorate to please most people. Generic doesn't have to be boring. Neutrals and simplicity can be beautiful on their own. Count on a variety of textures and large props to be the finishing touches of your decor.  

When you are choosing paints colors and decorating styles, it helps to know the likely demongraphics of your buyers. Listen to your Realtor to determine the kind of people who are your target market. And follow the advice I give in my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. You’ll learn all the tricks and techniques that make your home the one your kind of buyers are looking for.     
 
The Take-Away: If you want to sell your home fast, and you want to pull as much money from the sale as possible, review these do’s and don’ts. The real estate market might be crowded, but it doesn’t take major renovations and expensive decorating to make your home stand out from the competition. 

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