Watch the donut…

November 14, 2013

“As you go through life, make this your goal. Watch the donut, not the hole.” (Burl Ives)

donutThat would be good advice for real estate as well as for life. Too often both the sellers and the agent involved in marketing the house put too much time in on watching the hole – things that aren’t there; instead of things that are. There are almost always shortcomings in most houses, whether it is the design and layout, a smallish kitchen, small bathrooms, no garage or whatever.  Those are the holes that can’t easily be changed or fixed. What needs to be the focus is the donut. That might be the great location, the cozy warmth of a smaller place, the features of character that may not be found in newer homes.

You and your Realtor, working together, can figure out how to best show the donut and minimize the attention paid to the holes. Some Realtors give staging advice themselves and some may bring in a stager. It’s amazing what someone with an eye for furniture placement and accessories can do to make the donut look so great that you don’t even see the hole. Sometimes it may require a little paint to change the character of a room or just removing some of the stuff in the room to make it feel bigger. Little things, like adding knobs to kitchen cabinets can change the look of the whole kitchen and is a relatively cheap update. Just doing a deep clean on your bathrooms to make the tile and grout sparkle can change your view about that room. There are many other small and inexpensive tricks that your Realtor will be able to suggest.

One way to make the holes disappear is to take care of all of those little maintenance things that you’ve been putting off. That broken switch plate or missing plug cover is a hole in your donut. The piece of door molding that your cat has used as a scratching post for the last few years is a hole in your donut. That water stain on your ceiling from a leak that happened before you got the roof replaced is a hole in your donut. That wobbly bottom step on the front porch or the loose hand railing are holes in your donut. You may have grown comfortable living with those things, but a buyer will just see them as holes in your donut. Fixing them lets the buyers keep their eyes on the donut.

So, while it is good advice to stay positive and keep your view on the donut; when the time comes to sell you’ve got to fix those holes that you’ve been living with.  Ask your Realtor to help you by walking through and helping you make a list of the holes that need attention. You may be surprised at the number of things that he/she sees that need attention and that you’ve just gotten so used to that you don’t even notice them anymore. You want your home to come across as a crème puff and not a stale old donut.


If you want to sell; let visitors see the house.

November 13, 2013

Here’s a quote by a famous actor from the past that I’d like to apply to real estate:

“My father used to say, ‘Let them see you and not the suit.’”  (Cary Grant)

What the heck can I do with that? How does that apply to selling your house? Well, let’s just pervert it a little bit –

“My Realtors says, ‘Let them see the house and not your stuff.’” (Norm Werner)

One of the tougher things for me to get across to sellers is the concept of their house as a product and no longer their home. Sure, they may still be living there; but, as soon as it goes on the market, it is a product competing with all the other products out there for the attention of the buyers. Buyers aren’t interested is seeing your wall of family photos or all of the sports trophies that you kids won in high school. Buyers could care less about the miniature teacup collection that you have from all of the places that you’ve visited or the Hummel collection of cute (if somewhat dusty) figurines that you have in the corner cupboard. They aren’t very understanding when they open a closet and half of the sports equipment that you are still storing for your kids tumbles out at them. These are not selling points for your house.

Most people are pack rats, whether they admit it or not; they just keep too much stuff. If you have closets that are stuffed to the brim, you are a pat rat. If you have stacks of papers or magazines or things you have clipped out to get to later; you are a pack rat. If you have boxes of tools and shelves full of half full bottles and cans of stuff you can no longer remember buying; you are a pack rat. If you have boxes full of items that you used to collect and display but no longer do; you are a pack rat. If you have boxes up in the attic or out in the garage that are still unpacked from your last move; you are a pack rat. So, admit it – you are a pack rat- and then let’s get on with life.

When it comes time to sell your house it is time to deal with your problem. Get rid of stuff! Hold a garage sale. Load up the car and head to the nearest Salvation Army drop-off location.  Rent a storage unit, if you just can’t bring yourself to part with your treasures; but, get it out of the house. People need to be able to see the house and not just your stuff. You may well find this exercise in getting rid of stuff to be very liberating. All of that excess stuff is like baggage that you may have been dragging around for a long time.

And what about the precious memories that have become a part of the house? Who didn’t have the kitchen doorway or wall with the little ruler marks and dates on the wall or doorjamb that marked the passage of time and the growth of various family members? Paint it over! Buyers might think it is cute initially, but then it just becomes another update project on their list and something that they will take off money for to cover the paint. And what of the stars on the ceiling mural in the Princess room, lovingly placed to warm the heart of your little princess? Get rid of them and paint the ceiling. Take down the bead curtain on the closet, too, and put the door back. It might be little Tommy’s room next. Finally, there’s the Hunter Red family room that seemed so cool when you had it all decorated with your daughter’s Dressage pictures from the equestrian team.  Paint it neutral and deep six the horse pictures.

The real point of all of this is not to call into question your tastes while you were living here, but to drive home the point that you have made the decision not to live here anymore and now you need to present the house in as neutral and unobtrusive way as you can. If the new owners want a Hunter Red room, they’ll paint one that color. If they want to put up soccer pictures of their kids, they can. If they have a little Princess, too, let them create their own fairy land bedroom. If they don’t want any of that stuff they certainly won’t want your old hand-me-downs.  People looking at houses need to be able to see the house well enough to imagine their stuff in it and not be distracted by all of your stuff.

I know that this is a tough point to get over for some home sellers, but it is an essential point. Once you can get past the issue of your home becoming a product – a house competing against other houses of similar size and cost – then you can join you Realtor as a more effective partner in making that sale happen. What was your home will always be there in your memories. You will remember lining the kids up for the annual marks on the doorjamb, even if the marks are no longer visible. No one can take away your memories of the house as your home, but now it’s time to let someone else take your house and make it their home.


Don’t try to understand it; just go with the flow…

November 10, 2013

“Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”  (Robert Heinlein)

The idea behind today’s saying is similar in concept to the title of the popular book Men are from Mars and Women from Venus. The underlying truth is a difference so profound in how men and women view the world and the things that are happening around them that it cannot be understood by either party. Many men never relax and get used to it, so they go through life being continually astounded and confused by the actions and reactions of women. Women, on the other hand, seem to be able to at least accept the idea that their mates live in a completely different world and they try to show sympathy or empathy for the actions and reactions of these befuddled beings.

Perhaps the tendency of men to try to make logical sense of things is at the root of the differences. Embracing logic as the basis for life’s decisions and actions is very restrictive and confining in terms of creativity and even emotions. Men’s tendency to think about things too much and too logically can also lead to hesitancy, which kills the spontaneity that so many women exhibit. I won’t pretend to be able to discuss what drives the actions of women. Some say intuition more than anything else, which tends to reinforce the notion of women living through a “feel” for the situation, rather than the pure logic of it all.

So, I think it best to take the advice that Robert Heinlein gave and just get used to it; rather than trying to figure it out. Men might actually have more fun in life if they just go along with the women in their lives who are doing as they please.


Appraisal issues a never ending battle…

November 8, 2013

As much as the market has been straining to break out of the recent recession and regain lost property values, one component of the market has been acting as an anchor, holding back or at least significantly slowing the positive progress. That component is the dreaded appraisal. I say dreaded, because it has become the biggest obstacle to sales these days. The house can be house valuein move-in ready condition with a clean bill of health from the home inspection and still have the sale queered by a low appraisal. That’s happening a lot these days. Why is that?

One of the constant battles that go on in the real estate market is that between the Realtors involved in listing the houses and the appraisers over what the market value of the house should be. Appraisals can be the cold splash of reality in the face for many sellers. Appraisals take all of the emotion out of the process of putting a market value on your property.  The battle over market value is one that is likely to continue forever, just due to the different natures of the two sides in this arguement.

Realtors, especially listing agents, tend to be optimistic and they also tend to bake the direction of the market into their listing pricing. In a rising market, like we have now, it is quite easy to miss the market on pricing, either low or high. If the listing agent prices the property too low, it might sell quickly; but, the seller will not have gotten the most out or the sale. If, on the other hand, the listing agent is too aggressive with pricing the property for a rising market, he may price it too high and it will just sit there, waiting for the market to catch up.

Appraisers go at value pricing from a different perspective. They are required to use sold Appraisercomparable properties as a barometer of the market; thus their data is always trailing the market, sometimes by as much as 6 months. In a rapidly rising market that almost always means that they miss the value on the low side. For a long while appraisers were also forced to include the sales of foreclosed and short sale properties in their comparable properties. Fortunately much of that business is behind us now, but there are still a few of those types of sales that were done in the last few months that can affect appraisals.

Another major factor in many appraisals is something that the seller can’t do anything about – the style of the house. House styles come and go, with each decade usually having some dominant style. There are a few “classic styles” – ranches and colonial, for instance, that never really go out of style, but which might be less desirable than a more modern architectural style. For the past couple of decades the 1 ½ -story or Cape Cod seems to be the preferred style. Split levels, which were all the rage in the late sixties and seventies, have really fallen out of favor as a style. Those style preferences show up in the appraisals. Bi-levels, tri-levels and quads definitely appraise lower than ranches, colonials and Cape Cods of the same size. Homes that were sometimes classified as modern or contemporary when built can also fall out of favor, since many of them have very unusual floor plans.

What can you do about all of this as a homeowner who wishes to sell? Not much about the style issue; but you can make sure that your house is the best one of whatever style that it is on the market. A house in great, move-in ready condition will still attract buyers. Another thing that sellers can do is to compose a list of the updates and upgrades that they have put into the house, hopefully not too long ago. It is not obvious to the appraiser exactly when the roof was replace or a new furnace put in, but those things make a difference. Some updates, like granite countertops will be obvious, but many others may benefit from being pointed out for the appraiser. Taking care of the many little “deferred maintenance” items that you may have been putting off can also help by removing those value detractors.

Another thing to do is seek professional advice. Get a good Realtor to do a Market Analysis for your home and then follow his/her advice. You don’t need to fight with both the Realtor and the appraiser. Call me and I’ll help you understand more about the market value of your home and what you can do to improve it.


Face into the storms in your life…

November 4, 2013

“Facing it, always facing it…that’s the way to get through.  Face it!”  (Joseph Conrad) – from the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

From what Jack went on to write, seamen know that once you are in a storm, you get through it by facing into it, not turning away or trying to run away from it. Life is like that, too. We don’t go looking for storms in life, but occasionally we all get caught up in them. Perhaps it’s a disagreement with a loved one or friend. Perhaps it has to do with dealing with a bad situation at work. Maybe it’s realizing too late that what you mistook for love for someone else in your youth turned out to be just lust and lifes stormsnow that the ardor has cooled there is little substance to your relationship left. These types of things are the “storms” in our lives and we must do as the seaman would and face into them, not try to run away.

Many people are what is labeled as non-confrontational; they just hate confronting anyone about things. That’s OK and actually not as bad as being the overbearing opposite – a bully. However non-confrontational you are, there is still the need to face the issues that are affecting your life. Acquiescing to situations that are wrong or make you feel uncomfortable, just to get along, is a sure prescription for misery. Facing those problems is not being confrontational, it’s just being practical.

One benefit of just facing the storms in your life is that it gets over with quicker that way. The more you try to run or hide from life’s storms the longer they linger and sometimes the stronger they grow. Face it, get through it and get on with life. No matter what the short term hardship or pain, you’ll be surprised how good it feels when you come out on the other side. You probably will also realize how many of the bad things that you feared might happen were really all in your imagination. Humans have an amazing ability to imagine scenarios and consequences that seldom come true.

Another thing that you can do to help you get through life’s storms is to face them with a smile. man relaxingNothing is as disarming to those who would spread hate or trouble into your life than to have their efforts be met with a smile. At first they’ll be annoyed that they can’t drag you down to their level; but, then, they’ll begin to wonder what you are smiling about and how you can smile in the face of whatever negative energy they are trying to spread. Eventually, they’ll go away, seeking someone else to infect with their problem or they may ask you how you can appear to be so happy in the face of the storm that they are trying to conjure up. You may end up making a new friend out of that conversation.

Now, I certainly don’t recommend that you become a storm chaser. Avoiding storms altogether is something that everyone should try to do, if you have enough warming about them; however, when you find yourself swept up in a storm, heed the advice of the seaman and face it. Here’s hoping that you have a sunny day with no storms on your horizon.