Paint your home to sell

First things first.  You all know how important it is to keep your home in showing condition when you have your home on the market to sell.  No clutter, messes, dirty laundry, etc.  But it’s also important to make your home look the best it can in order to move quicker and to get you a good return on investment.  Paint color is key.  

Let’s start with what not to do.  No wallpaper.  I know it’s hard to remove.  I know it matches the bath towels that you special ordered along with the custom faucets.  But it just doesn’t work for most people.  And the buyers that want move-in ready homes don’t want to deal with it, either.  So if you have wallpaper, you’re probably going to benefit the most from this blog post.  I suggest removing it and painting.

No white paint.  This might sound surprising given that it’s neutral.  But having all white walls can make your house look very sterile and not lived in.  It also can appear too bright.  You do want to keep the colors neutral.  So if you’re going to be painting, I suggest light beige or light yellow.  

Don’t go crazy.  I am completely serious when I say that I’ve shown homes where one room is orange, another turquoise, another dark purple, etc.  It looks hideous.  If you have this in your home now and you are planning on selling, you’ll want to paint all the walls neutral to match.  And remember that dark colors make a room look a lot smaller.  So for those of you with navy blue bathrooms, now is the time to go neutral.

Here’s what does work.  Make sure that there are no noticeable scratches or marks on walls.  Touching up paint is very simple to do and can make a huge difference.  It shows buyers that your home is well maintained and cared for.  According to this AOL blog, “Karen Dembsky, president of Peachtree Home Staging LLC and Georgia’s Real Estate Staging Association, as well as a Pro Stager of the Year nominee, has the first and most important piece of advice before even tackling the issue of color.

‘A seller should always make sure that their paint has a fresh appeal, no dings, no marks. If there are any, it should be repainted or touched up because it gives the feeling of a well-maintained home,” she said. “The color has to be livable and appealing, you want a color where the buyer will come in and say that it’s not their first choice but they can live with it.'”

Dembsky suggests food-related colors for the kitchen, such as yellow, red, or orange.  But this is not permission to go out and paint your kitchen bright orange.  You still want to keep it soft and light.  She doesn’t recommend bright colors for the bedrooms because people view bedrooms as a place to sleep and relax, so light and neutral is best.  Dembsky recommends beige and light tan for bathroom walls.  If you’re dying for a bit of color, play it up with colored hand towels, bath mats, and fun soaps.  She does say that you can go for darker and richer colors in a home office, especially to play against a dark wood desk.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  Please leave me a comment or visit my Web site.

Create luxury looks on a budget

I found this very interesting and timely article on MSN today.  It talks about adding budget-friendly luxury items to your home.  I think this is great for those of you who need to sell your home but also want to update some things without spending a lot of money.  And instead of remodeling an entire room, you can add bits and pieces to give the look of luxury.  And even if you’re not selling but want to update here and there, there’s some great tips.

1. Create dedicated spaces.  This basically means to create space in your home to do a certain activity, such as exercising, craft space, or having an office.  And you can do this without turning an entire room over.  For example, you can create a nook in your family room with a desk, computer, filing cabinet, etc. to create an office.  A great way to do this without completely separating the room is investing in one of those decorative or wooden screens, one that looks like a trifold.

 2. Add quality features.  I love this idea.  You can easily transform a room to make it look updated by investing a little money and lots of creativity.  Take the kitchen, for example.  You can completely update it without breaking the bank by repainting cabinets (not replacing), updating drawer and cabinet pulls, and buying a luxury faucet.  So instead of spending the money on granite countertops and new stainless steel appliances, choose little items that can use an upgrade.  And as I’ve said before, keeping countertops clean and clear gives the illusion of a larger space.

3. Create an outdoor room.  Increase the size of your living space by focusing on an area in your backyard.  If you already have an enclosed porch or four-season room, you’re one step ahead.  For those of you who don’t, create a space with nice patio furniture and an outdoor fireplace on your deck or in your yard.  

4. Focus on furniture.  And I’m not even saying you have to go out and buy all brand-new furniture.  It’s simple to update your furniture by choosing a new fabric and getting it reupholstered.  You can also make the room pop by choosing new accent pillows to complement an existing colored sofa.  Even consider rearranging the furniture in the room for a change of pace or to create a new focal point, the fireplace, for instance.  

If you have any more tips on creating a luxury look on a budget, I’d love to hear them.  Please leave me a comment or visit me online.

Tips for buying carpet

So you’ve decided you need to carpet one room in your home (or several.)  You’re at the flooring store and you’re overwhelmed by your choices.  Do you go by the lowest price? the texture? the color?  I wanted to offer you some tips on how to choose the best carpet for your home.

1. First things first.  The padding is very important.  If you have a thin layer of padding, no matter how cushiony the actual carpet, it won’t make a difference.  Padding is what determines how the carpet will feel under your feet.  Berbers typically don’t use much padding while a saxony will use more.  And color doesn’t matter here.  It will be invisible under the wall-to-wall carpet of the room.

2. Texture.  Saxony has an ultra plush look and feel and can look gorgeous in your home.  However, it shows footprints and vacuum marks, so it works best in a room that doesn’t get a lot of traffic, like a sitting room, living room, etc.  Best to keep this one out of your family room or master bedroom.  Frieze carpeting is when you have the yarn twisted so tightly that it curls over at the end.  I refer to it as “berber shag.”  This is great for high-traffic areas.  Another style not recommended for heavy traffic is cable because it can easily get matted down since the yarn is longer.

3. Know your quality.  Higher-quality carpet will have the yarn stitched more tightly into the backing.  It will show less and last longer.  If you know you’re going to want to change styles in a few years or replace carpet with different flooring in the near future, you might not need to spend as much on higher quality.

4. Color’s important.  Once you have carpet installed in your home, it’s typically lighter than the sample you saw in the store.  You definitely want to keep that in mind when choosing your color.  Also, a lighter shade of carpet can make a room look bigger while darker colors visually bring walls closer together and make a room look smaller.  And please whatever you do, do not carpet your entire home in evergreen or cranberry carpet.  If you’re planning to sell, keep the color as neutral as possible.

More tips on buying carpet can be found here.   That site also has a great glossary explaining many of the terms you’ll see at the store. For more detailed information on different textures and costs, click here. This site goes into specifics on different types of padding.

As always,  I can be reached online. Have a great week!

Remodeling not worth as much as it used to be

In a not-surprising news story in the Chicago Tribune, it turns out that those homeowners who choose to do some remodeling in their homes will not make as much money in resale value as they would have in previous years.  Most people are under the impression that if you do an upgrade or remodel to certain aspects of your home, you’ll get most or all of that money back when you sell.  Well, not so much in this market.  Unfortunately, more money is going in the contractor’s pocket than will go back in yours at the closing table.  

Remodeling Magazine has just put out their annual cost vs. value report for 2010-2011.  While you’re able to look at statistics and numbers for all areas of the country, I want to focus in on Chicago.  Let’s use a midrange major kitchen remodel for this year.  With the average job cost of $58,367, the homeowner would have a resale value of $40,126.  The percent of it being recouped is 68.7%, one of the highest values of all the remodeling projects.  However, last year that percentage was 72.1%.  So not a significant decrease, but still noticeable.

What’s interesting is that every single category the magazine studied, the percentage in recouped value was a decrease from last year.  Some examples of those categories include a basement remodel, bathroom addition, bathroom remodel, master suite addition, deck addition, siding replacement, window replacement, and others.  They also break it down into midrange projects and upscale ones.

Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures program at Harvard University‘s Joint Center for Housing Studies said, “A lot of what drove the (remodeling) market in 2003, 2006, 2007 was the notion that you were playing with house money.  You could get 90, 95 percent of your investment back. It was really a no-risk proposition. The mentality has clearly shifted to, ‘What kinds of features do I want in my home?’ given how long you live there and your lifestyle.”

So what does this mean for sellers in today’s market?  Just be smart about what projects you take on.  You might not have to spend the money on a complete kitchen remodel.  Sometimes just painting the cabinets and changing the hardware can make a world of difference.  You might not need to replace them all.   And if you have linoleum, it’s worth the upgrade to ceramic tile or hardwood.  Not every home needs granite countertops, especially those with small kitchens already.  It’s not worth the extra expense.  But do know that kitchens are the best room in the home to remodel.  While you might think you need to spend the money to finish your basement, that’s not necessarily true.  A young couple could come in and have a completely different idea of what they want it to look like.  See what the feedback is from the potential buyers coming through your home before you make any drastic improvements.  Talk to your Realtor about what he recommends before spending all that money.

For more information or to have me give you a market analysis on your home, please visit me online.

What’s most important in selling your home

I read a great article this morning in the Chicago Tribune. It talked about why sellers might be upset that the home they’re selling isn’t going under contract and why their neighbor’s home might be.  It listed some good points as to what will help get buyers through the door to get a sale.  Given the current housing market, homes aren’t selling as quick as they used to.  Market times are up, but given the right conditions, these tips will hopefully get your home to sell faster.  I want to go over a few of them.

1. Price.  This is the absolute most important reason why a home is not selling.  If you’ve had 30 buyers through the door and don’t have an offer yet, this is a good reason as to why not.  It’s probably overpriced.  This is not the right economy to “test the water” and list higher than market value for your home.  It will just lead to your home sitting on the market for longer and becoming stale for buyers.  If you need to sell quickly due to a divorce or relocation, for example, you will need to price your home below market value.  Make sure you discuss comparative properties with your Realtor as to what a good price should be.

The article also made a good point that you shouldn’t list your home for $299,900, thinking it will look better than $300,000.  You’re missing out on all the buyers who are looking for homes from 300-350 or 300-400K.  If you have a buyer looking from 250-300, your house will get noticed on both lists.

2) Curb appeal.  I cannot stress enough how important this is.  There’s a home in my friend’s neighborhood that just went on the market.  It looks like a jungle in the front yard where it’s impossible to find the front door.  It doesn’t take much time or money to trip the trees, rip out the weeds, and mow the lawn.  If I were a buyer looking for that home and I drove up for the first time, I wouldn’t even bother going inside.  So make sure your lawn is mowed, you have easy accessibility from the street or driveway to the front door, and even plant a few flowers with bold colors to make the front pop. 

3) Clear the clutter.  I’ve mentioned before how I’ve shown homes with dirty dishes in the sink, dirty laundry on the floor, and so much clutter in one room that you can’t even walk through it.  If you’re selling your home, now is the time to cut back.  Put some belongings in storage.  Clean out half your closet.  Make sure to remove family photos from the walls.  And do the simple things: put your dishes away, set the table, take your lotion and contact solution off your vanity and put it in a cabinet or drawer.  The less stuff of yours showing up, the better.

4) Internet marketing.  Make sure your home is being shown in the places where the buyers are looking.  It might be important for you to make sure your open house is showing up in the newspaper and there’s a big photo of your home there, too.  This is not where the buyers are looking anymore.  You want to make sure your Realtor is advertising on the proper sites: Zillow, Craigslist, Realtor.com, etc.  Ask any agent before you hire them what they do in terms of advertising and how many buyers will see it.  Find out how quickly the sign gets placed in the front yard.

These tips will help you sell a lot quicker.  If you have questions about if your home is ready for the market, please visit me online.

Appealing to the younger generation

So who’s leading the pack now in purchasing their first home?  It’s Generation Y.  Born to baby boomers, this generation is about 75 million people born between 1982 and 1995.  A lot are graduating college and looking for their first place.  Many are getting married and buying their first home with their spouse.  Either way, they’re the next generation sellers are going to want to appeal to.

First of all, you need to know that so many of these people are using technology to find their home.  They’re not the ones who are going to take out the Sunday paper and search for Open Houses.  They’ll be on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and dozens of other online sites doing their searches.  They can even use Zillow from their mobile phones or use their phones to take pictures of a building they might be interested in to send to their Realtor.  They grew up using technology and there’s no reason to change that now.  So if you are selling your home, make sure your agent shows you the Internet marketing he’s capable of.  Your home should appear on Web sites and social networking sites to appeal to these buyers.

And don’t just assume because they’re young they automatically look in the urban areas.  While that’s true for some, many want to have a close commute to work in the suburbs.  In the Chicago area, many suburbs have a “downtown” area modeled like the city itself.  Suburbs such as Palatine, Arlington Heights, Schaumburg, Highland Park, and Grayslake are a few examples. 

A lot of the Generation Yers go for low-maintenance living, like a condo or a townhome, where they don’t have to worry about shoveling snow or mowing the lawn.  However, some would like a single family home with a garage to park their cars and space to start a family.  They’re looking for newer materials in homes, nothing dated.  Forget the Formica counters – they want Corian and granite.  Helen Velas, a Naperville interior designer also adds, “They want the most bang for their buck because they can afford only a small space. They like flex floor plans. Maybe a home office can double as a dining room, exercise room or guest room. Gen Y is not into museum rooms that are never used, like living rooms.”

Of course, I’m not telling you that you should model your home to sell to someone in this generation.  These are just a few tips to keep in mind based on your location.  If you’re selling a condo in a downtown area and you have a formal living room, maybe you would want to stage it to act as a fitness room or office.  Think outside the box. 

More information on what this generation is looking for can be found here. I’m ready to help you buy or sell your home. Please visit me online.

Green is key at this year’s builders’ show

The 2010 International Builders Show took place at the end of January in Las Vegas.  Four energy-efficient homes were on display that focused on using less energy, less water, and having cleaner indoor air.  I love this quote by Kevin Morrow, The National Association of Home Builder’s senior program manager of green building standards:

If these trends continue, “Keeping up with the Joneses” could take on a different spin as neighbors compete for the lowest power bill on the block!”

So what’s going to be new and more green?  Here’s some featured items:

Panasonic’s ventilation fan, the WhisperGreen FV-13VKM2.  It features dual motors, an energy-efficient motor to improve air quality. 

Rainwater Collection Solutions Inc. has the Original Rainwater Pillow.  This is designed to collect rainwater and is stored horizontally, such as under a deck or porch.

Hoping to reduce energy costs, BaySystemsTM is combining an HVAC system with spray foam insulation installed by an energywise Preferred Contractor to keep your utility bills lower.

EcoStar® has a premium line of synthetic slate and shake roofing tiles manufactured with 80% post-industrial recycled materials.

Sommer USA happily showcases their garage door opener, the quietest in the world.  It’s stronger than a chain but quieter than a belt drive.

I’ve talked about low VOC paint before, great for people with allergies.  Sherwin-Williams was on hand to promote their zero-VOC, low-odor paint. 

Here is a list of even more products that were featured this year: CLICK HERE.

More information on the show can be found here and here.  I’d love to know what new energy-efficient products you’d like to see in the future.  Please visit me online or leave me a comment below.

Tips for buying new construction

There are many advantages to buying a home that is new construction.  Most importantly is that you are the first owner and no one’s lived in it before.  You can generally pick out all the finishes you prefer, the flooring, colors of the walls, layout, etc.  However, it’s important to know a few things before you sign any paperwork.  Here are some tips if you’re going to purchase a new construction home.

1. Use a Realtor.  This way you’ll have someone protecting your interests.  When you buy direct from the builder, they will help you out but they’re still representing yourself.  By using a buyer’s agent (free for you), you can get someone to help you negotiate a price (they’re not set in stone) and work to represent you in case anything should go wrong. 

2.  Don’t automatically agree to use the builder’s lender.  Oftentimes, the builder will make it a stipulation that you have to use their lender to finance your mortgage.  This means a lot more money in their pocket and a lot more coming out of yours.  Plus, if you use their lender, they’ll be able to keep track of your progress as you get closer to closing.  Generally, your closing costs will be higher and you could end up with a higher interest rate.  Make sure you choose a lender that you are comfortable with.  Make sure it’s part of the deal that you are not required to use their lender if you don’t want to.

3. Be wary of upgrades.  Builders make most of their money by selling you the upgrades to the home.  Most new construction homes don’t come with central air conditioning.  That’s an upgrade you have to pay for.  Want a finished basement?  That, too.  Find out if you can get those items done by a contractor for a smaller price.  If you can, don’t pay for the builder to do it for you.  Although, you will want to remember that some upgrades are easier to do before construction is completed, such as security wiring inside walls.

4. Hire a home inspector.  I’ve had clients who thought that they didn’t need a home inspection because the home was new construction.  What could go wrong?  They moved into the home and found out the air conditioning didn’t work.  The water faucet was backwards and let out hot water when you turned it to cold and vice versa.  Builders are humans, too.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Just because it’s new construction doesn’t mean that it will be perfect when you move in.  Make sure your home inspector finds any problems before closing so you can get them fixed before you move in.

Always have an attorney look over any paperwork prior to signing it so you know what your rights are as a buyer.  You might also want to check out the builder’s reputation to make sure they’re known for building quality construction. 

If you need a Realtor to help you find your next home, please visit me online. I’m happy to help!

Energy conscious homeowners get rewarded

You may all remember the famous Cash for Clunkers program offered by the government last year.  Well, Obama wants to do for homeowners what he did for car owners and that is offer a similar program called Cash for Caulkers.  He’s proposing a bill where homeowners can earn tax credits and receive money back for purchasing energy-efficient appliances.  Up to $12,000 per home!

Congress is currently working on drafting a bill that would be twofold.  First, homeowners would receive reimbursement for energy-efficient equipment and insulation.  Second, the government would reward small businesses and companies.

Included would be appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, and even air conditioning, heaters, windows, and insulation.  They’re currently looking at reimbursing homeowners 50% of the purchase price PLUS installation.  So without an income cap, you could spend up to $24,000 to get $12,000 back.  Congress is still working out the kinks as to how the money would get returned.  It’s possible that it would come in the form of a tax credit (there is a current tax credit for energy-efficient appliances already, but not this much) or they might set it up where you can fill out information for a rebate and receive a check.  The government is looking at a cost of about $10 billion to fund this.

They’re trying to model it similar to New York State’s energy efficiency program.  How that program works is homeowner’s contact a contractor who is licensed to perform an energy audit from the State’s Web site of a toll free number.  The contractor arrives to determine how much energy is wasted in that specific home.  It costs the homeowner several hundred dollars.  When the contractor generates a list of what could be replaced, the cost, and how much energy could be saved, the homeowner chooses what he wants done and negotiates a price.  The contractor gets paid directly, submits paperwork to the state, and the homeowner receives about 10% back in the form of a check.

So do you think it is another program that could invite fraud?  Will homeowners take advantage of it?  Is the government wasting $10 billion that could be spent elsewhere?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please leave me a comment or visit me online.

More information on the program can be found here, here, and here.

Up and coming design trends

Happy New Year, everyone!!  Can’t believe the first decade of the 21st Century is already behind us.  How time flies.  Since I wrote last week on some 2010 predictions for the year in real estate, I thought it would be interesting to write about some new trends in home design.  What do experts expect to see going forward?

For those of you who bought your home insisting on stainless steel appliances, you might be shocked to find out that big name appliances companies like Amana and Viking are introducing color.  And no, this is not your avocado green oven anymore, folks.  They’re looking at bold, bright colors like royal blue, deep purple, even orange.  Expect to see a lot of bright colors in kitchens moving forward.  Think about what a statement these would make with white walls, dark granite counters and wood floors.  Can we expect to see patterns next?  Can you imagine zebra print or leopard print refrigerators??  Experts also say that more comfortable seating in the kitchen like benches and sofas could be the next trend for sitting around a table.

Home builders will definitely be building more “green.”  What’s interesting is that now in our local MLS, there are options to include what design features, fixtures, and appliances are considered “green.”  Appliance companies will start to phase out those that used up a ton of electricity and water.  Imagine shower heads with less water flow.  Maybe we’ll see appliances that auto shut off when not in use to conserve energy.  And think of the tax savings!

Also this year, the stats show that 1 in 4 homeowners will be aged 55 and older.  Easy-to-use products will be more readily available to make life easier.  Designers have created touchless faucets, pullout drawers, and even non-slip bathroom floors.  And those ugly grab bars will get a makeover, too, to match the rest of the decor. 

What new design features would you like to see?  I’d love to hear your comments.  For other expert opinions, read this article.  Please be sure to visit my Web site.