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.

Home improvements that turn off buyers

I’ve written multiple times on the home improvements that add the most value and the areas you want to focus on to attract buyers.  I found a great article on what could possibly turn buyers off, those improvements or features that might cause your home to sit on the market for a lot longer than you expected.  So if you do need to make one of these changes, consider your market and possibly try to convert it back prior to listing.  I’m focusing on a few that may affect more Chicagoland buyers.

1. Inserting a motorized stair lift.  Of course, this may be a necessary feature for someone who can no longer climb the stairs.  But for buyers that do have disabilities and are looking for a home, most buyers are looking for a ranch-style home, and they often search for homes that have a first floor master  bedroom and full bath.  You may also be competing with communities that specialize in low-maintenance living and those for ages 55 and over.

2. Converting a bedroom to a home office.  I’m not saying not to do it.  Trust me, I have one myself.  I’m saying that if you do, you could hurt your resale by not converting it back for showings.  If you have a 3-bedroom home and only 2 of your bedrooms look like bedrooms, many buyers may be turned off.  It’s best to put your desk and computer away and put a bed back in.  Now some people really upgrade a home office with flat-screen televisions, custom lighting, etc.  This would hurt your resale value a lot more, especially if it’s taking up a bedroom space.  If this is a location in an area of the basement that isn’t taking up a space meant for something else, you should be fine.

3. Converting a room to a hobby room.  This is a similar scenario to having an office in a bedroom.  I’ve come across lots of bedrooms that are now knitting rooms or scrapbooking rooms or pottery rooms.  Again, move that space somewhere like a basement, where it’s not taking up a bedroom.  Your home could sit on the market several months longer because of this.  

4. A home theater.  This I’ve seen quite often.  Oh, they’re nice features to have.  I’ve even seen mini movie theaters complete with theater chairs, popcorn machines, etc.  While it may not turn off a ton of buyers, it can put the home out of budget for many that weren’t expecting that feature to begin with.  You may price your home higher to recoup the $8,000-$15,000 it cost to install, but it will be hard to make that money back on a sale.

So if you are considering a major home improvement or upgrade, it’s best to consult with a Realtor prior to spending any money, just to get an opinion on resale value and how much you can expect to recoup when it is time to sell.  If you need to reach me, find me via my Web site.

Getting the best deal on a contractor

Chances are that in the time you live in your home you’ll want to get at least one home improvement project done where you’ll need to hire someone.  Whether it’s a new roof, new floors, new windows, paint, or a complete gut rehab, you’ll want to find a contractor at the best price to do the best work.  Here are some tips to save you money and get a great deal.

1. Get at least three estimates.  You really won’t have a great idea of how much your improvement costs until you speak with at least three people.  And by talking to more people, the better idea you’ll have of what goes into the project and how much it really does cost.  On that same note, don’t go with a bid that’s way below what everyone else is charging, especially if it’s someone new or an amateur.  You could end up with poor work that needs to be redone.  So make sure the contractor you choose is licensed and bonded and gets all the appropriate permits to do the job.

2. Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations.  They’ll know from personal experience who to hire and who to avoid like the plague.  Also, it’s common when you mention that you got their name from so and so that the contractor may be willing to work out a discount, especially if you pass their name along in the future for a job well done.

3. Negotiate.  Let’s say you hire the contractor that came in at the highest.  Tell him you got two other bids lower than his but you went with him because of his reputation.  Is he willing to match the lower bid?  Will he go down in price if you pay in cash?  Let’s say you went with the contractor that did have the lowest bid.  Did he know that you chose him out of 3 contractors because you liked his estimate the best?  Would he be willing to finish 2 days earlier than you were planning?  It never.hurts.to.ask.  This is not someone you plan to become best friends with.  It’s a business arrangement.

4. Make sure everything is in writing and know what it says.  True story: My relatives had hired someone to fix the roof and had a written contract.  Fast-forward one year later when they had a bad rainstorm and they now have a huge hole in their ceiling because the roof is leaking.  So they contact the roofer who specifically states in his contract that he is not responsible for interior damage.  Um, red flag?  Does he do this because of a previous problem?  My relative is an attorney and even missed this clause.  So make sure you thoroughly go over the contract and understand it before signing anything.  Now they have no recourse and have to pay for fixing their ceiling on their own.

Do you have any other great tips for getting a good deal?  I’d love to hear them.  Please leave me a comment or visit me online.

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 to maintain a healthier home

Now that spring has sprung, a lot of you have started spring cleaning.  Warmer weather means more open windows and fresh air through homes.  It can also lead to mold, dust, and other airborne particles that can make you sick.  Here are some tips to maintain a healthy home while you begin spring cleaning.

1. Use fans.  Especially in the bathroom, it’s important for warm air to circulate out of the house to prevent mold in your bathroom.  Make sure exhaust fans send air outside and not into the attic or another room.  A range hood above your stove keeps carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide out of the air when using a gas stove.  And you can save money on air conditioning when you use a ceiling fan to circulate air in a bedroom or family room.

2. Use an air filter.  You’d be surprised to find out that indoor air pollution can be 5x worse than outdoor air pollution!  Aside from controlling odors, an air purifier removes pollutants from the air.

3. Make sure you have a ventilation system.  With a lot of new homes built, the homes are sealed very tightly in the name of energy efficiency.  It’s essential to allow fresh air in and stale air out.  If you are buying new construction, check to see what kind of ventilation system is going in.

4. Clean!  Make sure sponges are sanitized, cutting boards and utensils are thoroughly washed after using them for raw meat and fish.  Clean showers after each use to prevent inhalation of bacteria.

5. Upgrade your vacuum.  And make sure bags (if you don’t have a bagless vacuum) are removed as soon as they’re full or they’ll release dust in to the air.  Vacuums now come with high-filtration filters and can help rid the house of allergens.

6. Be careful when remodeling.  It creates A LOT of dust.  So make sure that your duct system is thoroughly cleaned out (by a certified company if necessary) after a remodeling project.

7. Install carbon monoxide detectors.  It’s now Illinois law that these are located within 15 feet of a bedroom.  For little money, these can go a long way to save lives.

More great tips can be found here. I can be reached online through my Web site.

Remodeling mistakes to avoid

I opened up yesterday’s Chicago Tribune and found a great article on the cover of the Money & Real Estate section.  There were some great points that I wanted to share with you.  I’ve talked multiple times before about what’s important when remodeling and where you can get the most bang for your buck.  But this article talks about mistakes to avoid so that you don’t lose money and a potential buyer.  Here’s some mistakes not to make when choosing to remodel:

1. My favorite.  Really bad colors.  I’m not kidding when I tell you that I’ve seen a house like this.  I’ve actually seen several homes like this.  Walls painted bright orange, neon green.  I’ve seen homes with fake grass in the living room.  Avoid it.at.all.costs.  It’s not pretty.  If you’re going to paint, stay as neutral as possible.  If you’re selling your home and your house looks like this picture, paint the walls beige.  It’s only going to help you.

2. Dysfunctional floor plans.  So you want to convert your family room to a garage.  That won’t quite work if the family room is adjacent to the kitchen.  Think things through first.  It might make more sense to add a garage to the front of the home if that’s where the family room is.  But if not, choose another option.  Tandem rooms (where you have to enter one room to get to another) don’t work well.  You don’t want any room accessible only by entering another room first.  Every room should be accessible from a common hallway.

3. Too few baths to match bedrooms.  Some people need more space and decide to split a large bedroom into two smaller ones.  If you’re going to do this, make sure you have enough bathrooms to match.  Homes with 5 or 6 bedrooms and 1 shared bath are hard to sell.  And make sure bathrooms are accessible to bedrooms.  I’ve shown homes where the only bath was right near the front door and the three upstairs bedrooms were in the back of the house.  That’s a long walk in the middle of the night …

These tips should help you understand what buyers are looking for in their home.  And it’s worth talking to an experienced Realtor before any big home improvement project.  You can find out where to best spend your money.  I’m here to help!  Visit me online.

Reasons your property taxes can go up

It’s obvious that the value of your home helps determine the amount of your property taxes each year.  Home values go down, there’s a good chance your taxes might, too.  However, the value of your home is only one part of what makes up the amount of your taxes.  The other is the tax rate for your specific town or county.  So even though home values are dropping, it’s possible your taxes might still go up.  CNBC wrote a great article about some reasons why:

1. Budget cuts.  Since part of your property taxes go to help fund your local schools, library, fire department, etc., if the government cuts funding in those areas, it usually means more money is needed from the homeowners.  This is one of the biggest reasons taxes can increase during an economic downturn.

2. Increases in public employee benefits.  With wages, pensions, and benefits for health care increasing among public employees, states are usually strapped for money to cover these costs that unions can require.  You may be surprised to know that your property taxes might have to front the bill.

3. Renovations to your home.  Let’s say you do a major kitchen renovation or add a bathroom.  This can be a great selling point down the road.  But since it’s most likely to increase the value of your home, it’s very probable your taxes will increase, as well.  Tax assessors often determine when renovations are done by the permits a homeowners has taken out to cover any electrical work, plumbing, or major construction.  You might think you can sneak around the system and not take out any permits.  I do not recommend this at all.  I’ve had several deals fall through when that sellers goes to sell the house and the buyer realizes that proper permits weren’t taken out at the time of construction.  It ended up costing the seller a lot of time and money and they had to relist their home after that.  It’s not worth the hassle.

4. Location.  Where in an area you live can determine if your taxes will rise.  If your neighborhood fronts a lake or you live within walking distance to a downtown, it’s likely your taxes will be higher.  So it’s important to know that it might be great that your town is thinking of adding in a golf course (for example), but it might make your taxes rise.  That’s important to know when the town does a public hearing to find out what the residents think.

Taxes are definitely appealable.  Make sure you know the deadlines and timelines to get the appeals turned in in your local area.  You’ll often be asked for comparable properties.  Your Realtor can help you with this.  For more information, please 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!

How to find cheap home improvement supplies

So you’ve decided to take on a home improvement project.  Your kitchen cabinets are from the ’70s and need an upgrade.  Your dishwasher stopped working.  Your carpeting is maroon and covered with paint.  Whatever the reason, I’m sure you’ll appreciate some tips and ways you can fund your home improvement project without spending a fortune. 

1. Scour garage sales and Craigslist.  Some people post items they are getting rid of for free on Craigslist.  Sometimes they’ll have appliances that just need a tweak or two to get back running or they bought a new one and no longer need the old one.  You can find great deals on secondhand products.  You can find items under household, appliances, or materials.  With a quick glance this morning, I found wooden fence, bricks, and a hot tub for free!  They just usually request that you’re able to pick up and haul the items yourself.

2. Search for a Habitat for Humanity Restore. This one is in Gurnee, IL.  Individuals and contractors can donate used or new building materials which you can purchase at a great discount.  They generally carry appliances, doors and windows, flooring, plumbing materials, cabinets, and more.  This location sells new and used toilets starting at $25 each and 6-panel interior bifold doors for $10/pair!  You can find the closest store near you here.

3. If you’re ordering carpet and flooring, check the clearance area for their discontinued products.  You might also find carpet that someone ordered and was dyed the wrong color and the buyer no longer wants it.  As long as there’s enough on the floor for the space you need, you can get it at a deep discount.  The store generally wants to get rid of what they have to make room for new products.

4. If you’re shopping at a home improvement store, head to the back near the loading docks.  Stores usually have a section for building supplies that were slightly damaged during transport or custom orders that ended up being cancelled.  It’s worth looking through because you’ll be able to purchase these at a discount, too.  And if you see something that’s going to be discontinued, be sure to ask a sales associate if they’re willing to negotiate on the price.  Since stores want these products gone to make room for new ones, there’s a chance you’ll save some cash here, too.

Do you have other tips on how to find discounts on these supplies?  I’d love to hear them.  Please leave a comment or visit me online.

Tips for keeping your basement dry

It’s been a while since I did a blog about some real estate tips.  And I figured now couldn’t be a better time, especially for those of you living in the Chicago area.  With the amount of rain we’ve been having, I’m sure many readers are wondering how to keep their basements dry without the expense of some of the more permanent sealants.  I have a neighbor who gets water in his basement every time it storms. 

Aside from having to get water out of your basement and having it ruin floors, walls, and possessions, having water down there can lead to permanent mold and fungal growth which can make you sick.  Most people are probably familiar with interior and exterior sealants.  Interior sealants are often found in an aerosol can and can be sprayed right on the floor and walls.  You should know that those are just a temporary fix and are better used to prevent humidity that’s already in the house from seeping into basement walls.

An exterior sealant actually keeps ground water out.  A sealant with a polymer base will last the lifetime of the home.  If you get this done professionally by a company like Perma-Seal or U.S. Waterproofing, make sure it’s covered for the life of the home and that you receive paperwork which will guarantee a lifetime warranty that can be passed on to a future buyer.

Here are a few more tips that can help keep water out.

1. Make sure appliances vent outside.  Many people have their laundry rooms in the basement.  Make sure the dryer vents outdoors.  On that same note, do not hang wet clothes to dry in the basement.  It keeps the humidity and moisture in.  Make sure you run the dryer until the clothes are completely dry or air dry them either outdoors or ground level or above.

2. A cheap method is to place rocks and gravel around the perimeter of the basement outdoors.  They are especially good at collecting moisture and dry a lot faster than just grass.  They can act as an extra barrier from ground water getting in.

3. Use a dehumidifer.  These are also relatively inexpensive (you can get them for under $50) and act as a great way to absorb extra moisture.  You just plug them in and turn them on.  Make sure to collect the water out of there often to avoid using up extra electricity to be doing more work.

4.  Just do a random check to make sure that water is flowing away from the house.  You want to make sure your downspouts have the water leaving the roof in the direction away from the house.  If your yard slopes down toward the house, make sure there’s a place for the water to run off so it doesn’t pool around the foundation.

I’d love to hear more tips (especially those that don’t cost a lot of money) for my readers.  Please leave comments below.  You can also visit me online.