Go Vampire Hunting in Your Home…

November 18, 2013

Vampires and vampire shows on TV and in the movies are still very popular; however, you should be aware that there are vampires in your home that you need to locate and kill. In the movies and on TV the vampires suck the blood of their victims by biting into the veins in their necks. In your home the vampires suck the power out of the circuits in your home. The power vampires in your home are the result of devices that never fully turn off. They are in stand-by mode, ready to come back completely on at the click of the remote. In fact it was the advent of the remote control that necessitated that the device always be partially on and ready to respond to the remote.

vampireBoth kinds of vampires are most often seen at night. The easiest way to go vampire hunting in your home, wait until dark and then turn out the lights and walk around. I think you’ll be surprised at the eerie little glows that you see in the night – those are your vampires. Those are the little standby lights on your TV or your printers or your computers or any number of other items in your house. As you walk from room to room in the dark, count the number of little glowing lights that you see. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at all of the vampire activity that is going on. You can also just go around picking up all of those little power bricks that come with almost every new device and which you leave plugged in. If they are warm that is heat from the power that they are drawing, even if the device isn’t turned on.

Now some of you may be saying that the use of the term vampire is too dramatic for such a small amount of power waste by each device. So, maybe you’d prefer the term “ticks”. Each little tick draws just a little blood. But imagine instead of one little tick there are tens of them, all sucking at once. According to one study – The average US household has a total of 50 watts of standby power going all the time. That’s 440kWh per annum per house hold or about 5% of the total consumption for that household. Across the 100+ Million homes in the US that represents 5 GW of wasted power.

If you’ve never thought about all of the things in your home that might be sucking down power when you thought they were turned off, read this government report –  http://standby.lbl.gov/summary-table.html.  I’ll bet there are some surprises on this rather extensive list of home items that draw standby power.

It turns out that it is probably impossible to get rid of all of the standby vampires, since some of that energy is going to maintain internal clocks that need to be kept current or they would have to be reset every time that you wanted to use the appliance or gadget. Many of the little energy suckers can be completely turned off only by unplugging them or putting them on a power strip that can be turned off. Ironically, many of those same power strips have a glowing (energy consuming) little light in the on-off switch, so that you can see them in the dark. There are many things that you can do to rid your home of most of your vampires. Here is a good video by Kansas City Power and Light on some suggestions to reduce your power losses – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJCSjsrE8ZM

So, unless you are comfortable sharing your home with vampires (or ticks) wander through tonight and see how many of the little power-suckers you have in your house. Happy vampire hunting!


Bits and pieces from the weekend…

November 17, 2013

My wife and I tried the new Smoke Street restaurant in Friday night. It seems to be off to a great start, as it was packed by 6:30 that night. The food was great and the atmosphere better that many places locally and quieter, too. You could actually carry on a conversation without having to shout at the other person to be heard. We certainly appreciate that. Obviously one visit isn’t enough to form a real strong opinion, but that one visit convinced us that we’ll need to go back and try more of the menu. We met manager/owner Greg Mitchell while we were there and he indicted that he is very happy with how things have gone during opening week and the reception that the local restaurant crowd has given this new place. Milford needed a good BBQ place and now it has one. This is sure to become another destination restaurant for Milford. Click here to view their menu.

We went out to the Livingston County Animal Shelter on Saturday to take one of the new Pet Calendars to them. We adopted our little dog Skippy from there and wanted to share his appearance in the Calendar (he and our other dog, Sadie, are the October dogs in the calendar. We are fortunate in this area to have Michigan’s only Pet Food Pantry for people who just can’t afford pet food anymore. The Pet Pantry is part of the Community Sharing food pantry service for needy families in this area. If you haven’t purchased your Pet Calendar yet, you need to go find one. They are only $10 and all of the proceeds go to support the Pet Pantry. Calendars are on sale a various retail stores around the area and at the Digital Document Store. They make great Christmas gifts that will bring joy the whole year. Community Sharing is much more than just a food service for people and pets. To read about the full spectrum of services that they offer, click here.

On our way back from the Livingston County Shelter we noticed that  new store has opened in Highland Station – Odds and Ins. This is a resale and consignment shop and has some really interesting stuff. They are having a Ladies Night Out on Wednesday, Nov 20, from 5 – 9 PM. If you bring a can of food to donate you will receive 10% off any purchase. Kathy Mika is the owner. The shop is located right on Milford Rd at 144 S. Milford Rd. There is parking in the rear and to the side. They have some real quality stuff on consignment there and you’re sure to want to come back often to see what’s there. Kathy told me that they turn over the merchandise quite rapidly, so there is always something new.

Yesterday was the Fall Tea at the Mary Jackson house, sponsored and put on by the Milford Historical Society. The Tea was a great success and sold out two weeks ago. The Milford Historical Society inherited the house when Mary Jackson, an actress in movies and TV and a lifelong Milfordite passed away. Mary played one of the Baldwin sisters in the TV series Walton’s Mountain and was in many movies, including Airport. Mary was born and raised in the Milford area and went to school in the Milford schools. She bought her early childhood home on Canal Street  in Milford and used to come back every summer to renew old acquaintances. The home is kept pretty much as Mary left it and is used by the Historical Society for meetings and special events.

Today is the Hunter’s Ball at Colasanti’s in Highland. This is an annual charity fund raising event that is held to give the ladies a shopping event to go to while the men are away at deer camp. Funds raised go to help women who can’t afford mammograms pay for that service. The program is administered through The Botsford Foundation. Click here to view the event poster.

As usual, there are lots of things to do in the Milford area this month and next. To keep up with all the events that are going on in the area be sure to check in regularly at www.movetomilford.com . There is a poster window there with as many of the event posters as I can find. It is available also formatted as a mobile site for smartphone users.

 


Buyers, don’t leave home without one…

November 16, 2013

Realtors® would always prefer that you let them do the searching for you and then have them show you each house that you like. That really doesn’t happen in real life. Buyers today are more independent and many seem to enjoy driving around to see what they can find in areas that they may like. They are also much more into technology, especially mobile apps on their smartphones.

I understand that and so I always advise buyers that I work with to download one of the great smartphone apps that exist for buyers. You can find these at the Apple App Store or at your Android App Store. The two that I recommend are from Real Estate One and from Realtor.com (search on Real Estate One or Realtor at either store). If you live in Michigan, especially in the Detroit Metro area you really can’t beat the Real Estate One mobile app. If you live anywhere in the United States (including Michigan) the Realtor.com app will work for you and is just as good. The Real Estate One app only works for Michigan-based properties.

smartphonesThe great thing about both of these apps is that they are location sensitive. They are GPS enabled, so they know where you are when you turn them on. They both have very good, very up-to-date data bases of the homes that are for sale anywhere in the country. Unlike some apps from national real estate oriented sites, both of these apps are kept up-to-date. The databases for both are updated multiple times during the day. That means that you won’t waste your time calling on a house that was sold last week or last month, like you can with those big national sites.

As you drive around both apps will interactively show you on a map display what homes are for sale all around you. You can set the range of the display, so that you only see homes within a mile or within 5 miles (or more). Both give you a very cursory display initially – you know the format from other location-based apps- a little pin with a street address and the price. Touch on the pin and the information expands to show you more, including a picture of the property. Touch again and you can see the entire listing. It’s sweet. All the stuff you need to know to decide whether or not to head over to that address to take a look at the house from the street.

Both apps will also let you do searches that are criteria based rather than location based – things like price, number of bedrooms and more.  The Realtor app has a nice, unique feature that lets you search within a school district, if you have your heart set on a particular district. You’ll have to play around with both apps to see all of the search options, but both are extensive and both put you in charge of the data.

Once you have enough information available from either app and maybe have done a drive-by, you can call and set up an appointment to go see the  listing. And, if you’re in the Southeast Michigan area, you can set the Real Estate One app up with me as your preferred agent and then it will make it easy for you to call me when you want to see a house. I like that part. These are apps that any serious house hunter should have on their phone. Don’t leave home without one.

Here’s a link to a video about the Real Estate One app.


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.