Thinking of selling…what should I do? Start with the 3-C’s.

February 9, 2020

As thoughts of spring start to creep into people’s minds, some start to think about selling their current home. For some, maybe it’s time to downsize. For others it may be time to make the move up from a starter home. Whatever the reason for the move, most quickly start thinking about what they should do to get their house ready to sell. Below are my thoughts on that, based upon almost 20 years as a Realtor°.

Many people think that the time to sell is the time to finally get to those  major updates that they have been putting off (for years). The short answer to that is DON’T DO IT. While a brand new kitchen or bath will help the house sell faster and for more, investing $30-40-50,000 in the house just as you about to move is not a wise investment. Sure, you may get more than half of the money back by getting a better sale price; but, who makes any other kind of investment with the hope of getting just half of it back? There are much better ways to spend a lot less and still help your house sell faster and for the most that it will bring.

The items that I stress with would be sellers are the three-C’s – Clutter, Condition. and Cleanliness.

The first thing that I tell would-be sellers is to spend time decluttering – getting rid of stuff that has accumulated in the house over time. Most people have too much furniture, too many accessory and accent pieces – just too much stuff. People who aren’t hoarders save lots of stuff because they think that they may need it some day or that they will give it to their children someday. I have news for you. They don’t want your old stuff. You may have 1-2 items that truly qualify as family heirlooms and have enough real or sentimental value for them to want them; however, most of your treasure would likely end up in the dumpster if you suddenly were gone. Ask the family about anything that you are keeping for  that reason and go ahead and give them the items now. Get it out of your house. Clutter is a major turn-off for buyers.

The condition of the house is next. This involves getting all of the little (or large) repairs jobs done. Most people get used to walking past that missing electrical wall outlet plate or dealing with the missing cabinet handle or pull. They are so used to seeing the chipped or dirty paint on the doorways that thyey don’t notice anymore. They see the dirty grout in the shower, but they just don’t have time to do anything about it. And those nail pops or drywall tape lifts are just what it is. So they conclude that would be buyers will overlook them, too. Not so! Poor maintenance is a huge turn off, even on small items. The buyers make the assumption (most of time they are correct) that if you haven’t maintained these small items, you probably let the big things, like the furnace, go unmaintained, too. They thought is reinforced if you also haven’t done updates in the last 10 years. In fact, the noticeable lack of maintenance heightens their concerns about the lack of updates.

Once you get the first two C’s handles, take care of the third “C “and give the place a thorough cleaning. Buyers will look differently at some of the other failures of the house if they think it is clean. It needs to look clean and smell clean. That may be hard in a basement area; however, a dirty and musty smelling basement is a huge turn-off and can sink and otherwise acceptable house. Cleaning includes doing something about that brown or black grout in the baths and making sure that the tubs, sinks and toilets don’t have rust stains or rings. Sometimes it is worth the cost to have a professional; crew come in and deep clean the house. It is certainly worth having all of the carpets cleaned. Also power washing the exterior, any decks or porches and the driveway (if it is concrete) is worthwhile. You might also wish to hire a window washing company to clean your windows. Do a good job on cleaning and you won’t have to worry about burning a scented candle during buyer visits. Buyer tend to think that you ‘re trying to hide something with those candles anyway. If you have pets, the visitors should not be able to tell that you have them by the smells or from pet hair all over.

So far, you haven’t spent big money and could, in fact, do all of those things yourself.  So what about the upgrades – the new kitchen or bathes? Leave those for the new owners. Yes, they need to be done and, yes, it will impact the sale price that they are not done; but now is not the time to sink big money into those updates. You should  have always been updating your home as you lived in it, so that you get to enjoy those updates. You didn’t; so, rather than beat yourself up over coulda, woudla, shoulda’s, accept the fact that your home is worth less on the market than it might have been worth had you done them and get on with life. Your Realtor might still suggest a fresh coat of paint for the interior, especially in high usage areas and maybe new carpeting or flooring in high traffic areas. There’s a cost for that, but still well below the cost of major remodeling.

Work with your Realtor to come  up with the best price for the house in the condition that it is in and then work to help him/her sell it for that price by keeping an eye on those 3-C’s while it is on the market. If your house is priced correctly to reflect its condition and the market in which it is competing, it should sell quickly to someone who will come in and do those major projects themselves. You’ll still have all of that money in your pocket and be ready to move on to the next phase of your life.

Most good Realtors are willing to go through your house and give you advice on the things that may need attention before the house goes on the market. Listen to their advice.


I don’t need to hear you talk…I need for you to listen

October 4, 2018

I recently wrote a post about getting things out of the shadows. One of those things was depression. As happens every time that I mention depression, I got several likes/comments/follows from people who are dealing with, or have dealt with, depression.

I sometimes go look at the blog sites of people who follow my blog and in this case I perused a post on one of the blog sites that had some interesting advice for those trying to be a help to someone suffering from depression. That post was titled “Why I tried to Commit Suicide”

The gist of the advice from that post was that the person suffering through depression who may reach out for help is not looking for a cheerleader to tell them that everythinggirl with smile picture will be OK. Instead, they are looking for someone to listen to them, share their pain and perhaps offer support.

This blogger also pointed out a common mistake that would-be helpful friend often make – trying to help by reminding them that things could be worse.

In today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog, the quote that Jack used seemed appropriate –

“Knowing that there is worse pain doesn’t make the present pain hurt any less.”  (Gordon Atkinson)

I would characterize the advice of the blogger who shared her journey through the dark tunnels of depression to those who may be trying to help someone suffering through that trauma as follows:

I don’t want your pity; I want your support.

I don’t want to hear how great things are from your point of view; I want you to help me find a way out from my point of view.

I don’t need to hear you talk; I need for you to listen.

That last point may be the most important. When we try to “help” people we all tend to rush to some quick conclusion of what we think we need to do and we start talking.  Basically, we stop listening and start giving advice, even if we don’t yet understand the problem.  We usually miss the signs from that person that we just made a mistake.depression2 Unfortunately, the person who was seeking our help sinks back behind the shield that they had temporarily lowered to ask for our help. They may smile back and nod their head in apparent agreement, but we blew the opportunity to really help.

There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak. (Simon Sinek)

Unfortunately, most of us are so full of ourselves that we are just waiting for the next opportunity to speak, in order to show how brilliant we are. We don’t understand how stupid phrases like “I know how you feel” or “I feel your pain” sound to the person that we think we are trying to help. A more honest statement might be, “I can’t imagine the pain that you are feeling, but I want to try to help.”

caringYou can’t really help until you understand the issues that are causing the pain for that person and you will never understand them until you listen to them. If you have to speak, just ask more questions to keep the conversation focused upon getting to the root of the problems that the person is having such trouble dealing with. Only then can we begin to really try to help.

There are many ways to approach problem solving, once we understand the problems. I have posted her a few time on approaches that might help in this situation as well as helping us solve our own problems. See –

https://normsmilfordblog.com/2014/03/05/problem-solving-101/

and

https://normsmilfordblog.com/2015/02/05/making-the-turns-in-life/

Those are two of those posts on problem solving.

However, the point of today’s missive is not to give advice about the solution that you may offer to someone who seeks you help; but, rather, to help you find the best way to help them by listening to them. You may not need to do anything other than that for them.

I think L. J. Isham  put it well – “Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire listento be with another which both attracts and heals.”

If you want to help – LISTEN!


Open House at 730 Milford Glen

October 21, 2017

I’m holding 730 Milford Glen open this Sunday, Oct 22, from 1 – 4 PM.

Come out and see this wonderful 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath Cape Cod in the heart of the Village of Milford. This home features a very hard to find (in the Village) first floor master suite, with huge walk-in closet and a master bath that has separate shower and jetted tub, plus dual vanity sinks. The open floor plan entry level has a great room with gas fireplace and an office/den, in addition to the kitchen, a powder room and the laundry.

It’s an easy walk to the shops and restaurants of Milford from this little development and there is no thru-traffic in the development.

I’ll have a dish of fresh cookies for your, so come on out and see the house and have a cookie.

730 Milford Glen flyer


Is your house fire smart?

May 30, 2017

In support of my real estate business, I get a daily news feed from Realty Times and there is always something interesting to read in those short articles. Recently I got an article about what the author with the intriguing headline – Why Some Homes Survive Wildfires – And Others Don’t. The article written by Jim Adair for a Canadian audience was about so-called called FireSmart house design – the things that one can do to make one’s home more likely to survive a wildfire incident. To read Jim’s article on the  Realty Times web site click here – http://realtytimes.com/consumeradvice/homeownersadvice/item/1002636-20170530-why-some-homes-survive-wildfires-and-others-dont?

Admittedly here in my little Village in Southeastern Michigan we don’t get many wildfires; however, I have plenty of neighbors with “cabins up North”, whose get-away homes are nestled in the middle of woods that could be susceptible to an occasional wildfire. Certainly we have seen wildfires out west and down south over the past year. I also see from time to time local news stories of fires that start in one house and quickly spread to others nearby. The design principals that are discussed in the article would help prevent that, too.

The article referenced a booklet that was created to illustrate the design features that either help or hurt your house in the face or a wildfire. You can download that booklet for here –  https://www.firesmartcanada.ca/images/uploads/resources/FSCanada_HomeDevBooklet_5.5×8.5-V6-Mar20.pdf

Much of the advice in the article is what might be thought of as common sense; however, like other things in life we oft forget to apply common sense to our daily lives until someone points it out. Some of the advice is about home design features that can aid or thwart a fire trying to find a way to ignite the combustible materials in your home. Some of these pieces of advice are “Why didn’t I think of that” little gems and some are “I knew that, but I didn’t do it” items.

wildfireWhen the conflagration occurs, you don’t want to be standing there with a pathetic little garden house trying to save your house from a neighborhood fire when you could have done things to help it protect itself. In the case of a real wild fire, I don’t recommend the garden hose strategy anyway. So, whether your home is sitting in the middle of a forest or in the middle of an urban neighborhood, read the article and think about the things that you might be able to do with your home to make it FireSmart.


Don’t DIY if you don’t KWYD…

July 27, 2015

I promise that I’ll get back to my more inspirational posts starting with the next one. I just had to get this out of my system.

The popularity of many of the HGTV home fix-up shows has spawned a host of amateur DIYers and led to a host of DIY disasters. As a Realtor I end up showing a fair number of these failed projects, many of them in foreclosure. The problem is that the would-be fixer –uppers were people who didn’t KWYD (know what you’re doing).

It all looks so easy on TV, especially the demo parts where the TV personalities seem to be having fun knocking down walls to “open up rooms”. On a few of these “reality TV” shows they at least show the unexpected that can be discovered during the demo phase – the pipes that were running behind the walls or the shoddy wiring that is really a fire hazard or maybe they “discover” that the wall was load bearing after all and needs a major engineered beam to hold the second floor up. Many DIYers often hit those problems and more, plus they discover that demolition work is not fun – it’s sweaty, dirty, hard work and disposing of the resulting waste materials can be expensive, especially  in older (or historic)  homes that may still contain hazardous materials that were in common use years ago. In Michigan, for instance, there is only one dump left open that will accept asbestos waste and it is expensive if you have asbestos waste.  If you’re planning to “open up the floor plan” as part of your renovation; in order to avoid having your house cave in upon itself, get the advice of a good structural engineer before you start knocking walls down.

Once they get to the actual renovation work, many DIYers discover that they don’t have the proper tools. In some cases those tools might be rented, but in many cases they have to be bought, which is just another unplanned expense. Learning how to properly use those special tools can be frustrating, time consuming and perhaps even dangerous. Big wood or tile saws are serious tools that can bite the user. Before you even start a DIY project you should inventory the tools that you have and compare that to those that will be needed. You can get an idea about the needed tools by reading remodeling books. You might be able to get a good handle on the cost and skill needed to properly use those tools by attending one of the demonstration programs at your local Home Depot or Lowes store. Some even have some hands on training time.

Along with tools there is technique. Many aspects of a renovation job involved mastering specific techniques of working with the materials involved, especially if plaster repairs are involved. It’s not that you can’t slap a bunch of plaster up on the ceiling or wall and smooth it out; it’s that it will look like you slapped a bunch of plaster up on the ceiling or wall and tried to smooth it out.  It takes years of experience for professionals to master some of the techniques involved in their trades. Even painting is an area in which the differences in results between the average DIY person and a pro will be noticeable. You can put up all of the blue painter’s tape you want and still not get a job that looks as good as a painter who cuts his edges in with a brush and no tape at all.

Before you jump into any major remodeling project also make sure that you understand the local building codes and regulations about permits and inspections. Most projects that involve major changes to the plumbing system or the electrical system and any structural changes will require both permits and inspections by the building official for your area. I’ve seen finished projects in which the walls had to be opened up again because the DIYer forgot to pull the necessary permits or didn’t get the work inspected before the drywall went up. That can be a very expensive mistake. I’ve seen building officials make the DIYer tear down the newly installed drywall so they can inspect the plumbing or electrical work. And don’t think that because you’re working inside and you don’t think that anybody will notice that you’re making changes that you won’t have to pull a permit or get the job inspected. Many times a neighbor will report the work or just rumors on the street (or in your Facebook posts) may alert the officials.  It could also come back to haunt you when you try to sell the place. There is a question on the Seller’s Disclosure form for Michigan that specifically asks if you’ve made any structural changes to the house without permits.

The bottom line is that if you don’t know what you’re doing don’t DIY. You probably won’t end up saving the money that you thought you would and you may end up decreasing the value of your home or hurting yourself in the process.  You probably already have everything that you need for even the most demanding projects. It’s called a checkbook and the only skill needed to use it is the ability to fill out the checks. DIY using that tool and get the job done right by professionals.


What the new TILA-RESPA rules mean for the buyers or sellers

July 26, 2015

Every now and then I post something here that concerns my real estate business. This is one of those posts and it concerns the upcoming changes to the mortgage process and the closing process that will have impact on all buyers and sellers. In any profession, there are usually lots of acronyms used by the practitioners of that profession both as a form of shorthand for long, unwieldy terms and sometimes as a way to sound more important and knowledgeable in front of “lay people”. The upcoming TILA-RESPA changes are an example of that and an example of how changes usually cause concerns whether they are warranted or not.

man under papersWhen any major changes occur within industries that impact their current systems there is always a bit of “the sky is falling” reaction to them. The changes to the disclosure and closing documentation requirements for real estate transactions are no different. You have likely already seem newspaper stories about the coming TILA-RESPA changes. You may hear your Realtor® talking about it, but it primarily impacts the mortgage lenders and the title companies. Your Realtor should be able to explain things to you as well, but the primary source for information about how this might impact you should be your mortgage agent.

Here’s the gist of these rule and documentation changes.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was created under the Frank-Dodd legislation that was aimed at cleaning up the financial industry mess after the housing industry collapse that brought on the Great Recession. One of the actions that the CFPB took on was to clear up the confusion caused in real estate transactions by the differences in the Good Faith Estimate that the buyer got from their mortgage rep at the front end of a real estate transaction and the closing documents, including the Buyers’ and Sellers’ Closing Statements and the HUD-1 document, that the buyers and sellers got at the closing table.

Buyers often noticed differences in what they expected their costs to be and the actual costs at closing. In addition, sad looking manthe mortgage industry fell into a practice of not getting the closing information to the buyers in a timely fashion before closing (many times buyers saw the closing docs for the first time at closing). It was sometimes very difficult for the buyer to even determine how much he should bring to closing, since he did not have the final documents.  There was a need identified to standardize the information that was presented to the buyer at the front end and what they eventually see at the closing table, as well as controlling the changes that might be allowed between those two times. There was also a need to get the final closing information to the buyer well in advance of the closing date, so that they could react to any changes and know how much to bring to closing.

Based upon those needs the CFPB produced the new, consolidated TILA-RESPA documents. TILA stands for Truth in Lending Act, which was the original law that set up the requirement for the Good Faith Estimate at the front end of the deal. RESPA stands for Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, which defines the rules and documentation requirement for the closing of the sale. The CFPB decided to create new rules and documents for both ends of the sale and initially stated that they would impose those rules in August of 2015. The new document that the lender will give you at the front end is called the Loan Estimate. The new closing document packet is called the Closing Disclosure and clearly presents all of the information that used to be on the Closing Statements and the HUD-1. Best of all the Loan Estimate and the Closing Disclosure use all of the same terms and data fields (although the Closing Disclosure has some data fields concerning the cost of the sale and tax rebates on it that the loan officer would not have known at the front end) and they look very much the same. It is possible to lay them side by side and see what, if anything changed from the front to the back ends of the sale.

Based upon an outcry of the real estate industry that they didn’t want to try to implement these new things during the height o the busy real estate season, the implementation was delayed until Oct 3, 2015. All mortgage loan officers are being trained, as are all title company people and most Realtors. Your first line of questioning should probably be your mortgage rep; however,  the CFPB has also created a new Home Loan Toolkit for buyers, so that they have a clear reference guide to the new documents and the new process.  In the Toolkit are examples of the new documents as well as helpful forms to help you choose the right mortgage product and to compare mortgages if you choose to shop at more than one mortgage company.

changesOne of the other areas to pay attention to in the Toolkit and with your lender is the changes that are allowed between the initial Loan Estimate and the final Closing Disclosure. Those changes can and do occur because of changes in things like rates or closing dates or other factors; however, they are limited by the new TILA-RESPA rules and can cause the whole process to be re-set to zero if they are too large. Another new rule concerns the timing requirements on the lenders and title companies to get the Closing Disclosure documents to you. The new rules require that you have them in-hand three days prior to closing. That not only gives you time to get the necessary funds ready, but also to review and challenge any changes that you see that you don’t understand of maybe don’t agree with your lender about. Keep in mind, however, that any changes that may be made during that three day period may reset the clock and push back the closing. There are exceptions which define acceptable last minute changes, but they are few and relatively minor, compared to some of the “closing table surprises” that used to take place under the old system.

So, the sky is not falling. From the perspective of the buyer or seller, these rules and document changes are a good thing and hopefully will make life easier. The mortgage and title company people will adapt, even while grumbling about all of the extra work and time involved (it will likely add about a week to the process). I recommend that you go download the CFPB Toolkit if you will be in the market for a house this fall. Read through it so that you will be an informed consumer who knows what his/her rights are and what to expect in the process.


Is walkability important to you?

February 26, 2015

How walkable is the area that you live in? Is walkability important to you in your choice of a new home? How do you find out how walkable a location is? I can’t answer the middle question, but I can help you find the answer to the first and last questions. There is a great site now owned by Redfin – https://www.redfin.com/how-walk-score-works – that rates neighborhoods all across the country. If you go there you can put in an address – either where you live now or where you are thinking about moving to – and find out its Walkscore.

walking manThe Walkscore web site gives grades on a scale of 1 to 100 for the walkability of the area surrounding the address that you provide. The site looks at a lot of different factors, but it all boils down to evaluating what you can walk to within a reasonable distance. Things that the site looks for are stores, restaurants, libraries or other cultural venues within walking distance and what that walk might involve. The Walkscore will be higher is there are sidewalks and a good layout, such as the grid structure that is found in most large cities vs. the lack of sidewalks and  winding streets with lots of cul de sacs that are found in  most modern subdivisions. You can go to the Walkscore site for a more complete explanation of the factors that they evaluate to come up with a Walkscore for any given area.

In the past (through the 1950’s at east) most cities and towns were laid out in grid patterns and had sidewalks. The advent of the suburban subdivision in the 1950’s changed all of that.  Many of the early subs still had sidewalks, but those eventually went away, too. People moved further out and became much more dependent upon getting into their cars and riving to get to anything. Subdivisions quickly evolved from any sibilance of a grid structure into free flowing curves and cul de sacs. The term “bedroom communities” was coined to refer to these developments where the only thing that one could do there was sleep; anything else meant getting into the car.

There are still great walkable cities like New York, Boston or Chicago available; wherecity street with people living quarters are interspersed with businesses, stores and amenities and where one can still walk to a great many things. Newer cities tended to be built mainly for business and seem to empty out at night, leaving little to walk to for those who might live there. It’s actually kind of eerie at night or on weekend in many of those cities – like being in a ghost town.

So, why is all of this of any importance? I suppose one could start by pointing out the obvious health benefits of getting out and walking to things; but there is also an environmental benefit – you’re not driving and creating pollution or using up fuel. There is also usually a social a side benefit. When you are out walking you will likely encounter others in the neighborhood doing the same and, because you are walking, it is easier to stop and say “hi” to them and maybe even have a conversation. Try that while driving your car.

You may be much more likely to make use of local libraries, museums or other cultural amenities if it’s a short walk, rather than a drive, to get to them. Walkable areas usually also have lots of neat little restaurants and locally owned shops. You may find that you don’t have to jump in the car and drive to the mall to get what you need. A side benefit is mostly psychological –  you don’t feel trapped in walkable areas, because you know that, even if you’re without a car, you can just walk to most things if you want to.

Skippy and Sadie for calendarI moved from one of those “bedroom communities” in the suburbs that had a Walkscore of 15 into Milford, Michigan, a small village where I’m just 2 blocks from downtown; and I see a Walkscore of 62 when I check it. I can literally walk to most that I need, with a few exceptions where I would have to get in the car and go to a mall or superstore. It’s great and we love it. Plugging in downtown addresses in neighborhoods in Boston, New York or Chicago might turn up Walkscores that are
Front of Palatemuch higher than that. Try it and see what the Walkscore is for your current home’s location.

So, if you’re in the market for a new home, how important is the walkability of an area to you? If you have 3-4 areas that you are considering for a new home location, plug them in to the Walkscore.com site and see what their Walkscores come out to be. You don’t necessarily have to move back into an urban setting to get into a walkable, but it is more likely that small towns offer more walkable environments than most suburban subdivisions. If you happen to be looking in Southeastern Michigan, call me and I’ll help you find a great walkable area to live in.