What to do, what to do…

March 27, 2020

Many of you already know that I am a Realtor®, in addition to doing some sales work for a local paper and a bunch of volunteer work. The Michigan Governor’s stay home executive order has had a dramatic impact on that aspect of my life.

We all know that we are supposed to stay home, wash our hands a lot and practice social distancing. We can do that. The real estate market has been effectively shut down by the Governor’s stay home order. Realtors are not considered to be essential components of the infrastructure under this order and, thus, are not allowed to show homes during the shutdown or to visit homes in order to list them. It’s disappointing, but a logical precaution to take.

 What if you are a would-be home seller or buyer? What else could you be doing, while you wait out the government mandated self-quarantine?

If you want to sell your home, use the time to work on the little things that can increase its value or allow it to sell faster, once the government releases the market from this shutdown. There are lots of advice articles (some in posts to this blog) on the things that home owners should do to get their homes ready for market. Most of the time homeowners just don’t have (or take) the time to do therm. The result is a house that is really not ready for visitors or which leaves a bad first impression because of those little things. You have the time now that you are confined to your home to get those things done. Walk through your house with an eye to identifying all of those little things that you know are there, but which you have trained yourself to ignore. Things to look for and make note of include:

  • Declutter each room – what can you take out of the room to make it look bigger and cleaner?
  • Cleanliness – what needs dusting, cleaning , vacuuming, or wiping – just do it
  • Small repairs – replace those missing or worn/dirty plug covers or light switch covers
  • Larger repairs – fix those tape and nail pops in the drywall, especially those along the ceilings
  • Paint touchups – either touch up or repaint areas of wear or areas that you just repaired
  • Replace missing handles/pulls on kitchen and bath cabinets and drawers and any doors
  • Wash windows and, if you can,  replace any cracked glass and repair windows with broken seals
  • Clean or re-grout  bathroom tubs and showers and replace worn out fixtures as needed
  • Trim exterior hedges and bushes, especially around the front door
  • Fill and smooth any basement floor or wall cracks in unfinished basements

There are many more things that you might start to notice that you need to do, once you start working your way down that list. The whole point of the exercise it to deal with the things that might distract a buyer later or cause them to back off from making an offer.

Either buyers will make lists, in writing or mentally, when they go through your house of all of the things that they see that need to be done to make the house “perfect” for them. If they make an offer, they will use that list in two ways – as a negotiating tool to get those repairs made prior to closing or as justification for reducing their offer price (sometimes both). You have the time right now, while you are on lockdown to shorten that list. Anything that you can do to take items off their list will help your home sell faster and for more money.

If you are a would-be buyer, this is a frustrating time. Due to the stay at home order, homes may not be visited; so, what are you to do?

Some Realtors are experimenting with so-call “virtual showings”. These are usually video based and offer the “visitor “a virtual walkthrough of the home, sometimes accompanied by audio remarks by the seller to explain what you are seeing. At a minimum there are usually lots of pictures available that have been posted by the listing agent. It is important that you use the right real estate web site to get access to the most pictures. Some sites restrict the number of pictures that can be posted. I recommend using the Realtor.com site, which taps into the local Multi-list Services (MLS) and usually provides access to all of the pictures that are on the MLS.

The reason for doing virtual visits or going through the web-site pictures is to give yourself practice on what to look for and to help you refine what it is that you are really looking for in a new home. Make note s as you view the virtual tour or pictures of features that you liked and did not like. If you are a buying couple discuss each home you look at that way, so that you begin to understand each other’s point of view. Discuss the features on which one or both of you are willing to compromise and which are “show stoppers” for one or both of you. This will help you narrow your search when you actually can start to make visits.

Learn and practice what to look for when you walk through a real house. You have to train yourself to ignore some things, like the current  paint colors or furnishings that are there now, and start looking instead for things that might indicate problems that will need to be resolved:

  • Scan the wall-ceiling lines to look for any signs of water intrusion
  • Also look for ghosting on the exterior walls and ceiling that indicate possible insulation issues – just google ceiling ghosting to see what this is
  • Look closely at the windows for cracks or cloudy glass that indicates an issue with the seals
  • Look for evidence of leaking fixtures under the sinks and around tubs and toilets
  • Look for obvious signs that maintenance has been delayed or ignored (those missing switch plates or cabinet pulls are a telltale sign)
  • Look past clutter, but take lack of cleanliness into consideration, which is another sign of of a homeowner who hasn’t maintained things well.
  • Check the age and condition of the furnace and water heater and look for signs that they have been maintained – both have limited lifespans and the owner may be trying to pass off the need to replace them to you.
  • Check with the FEMA database to see if the property is in a FEMA flood zone You may be required to buy expensive flood insurance if it is.

Revisit your financial criteria and plans. Do some research on the cost to make common repairs or to renovate areas of a house.  There are many reports available on line of repair cost estimates and renovation costs. Ask your mortgage person about programs that they may offer to help with renovation costs, if you end up making a bid  on a house that needs renovations. Also as your mortgage person about programs that might be available in certain areas to allow for low, or no, down payment mortgages, which can save that money for the renovations that you see are needed. Arm yourself with all of this knowledge and practice by applying it to the homes that you visit virtually or through MLS pictures.

By using this down time in your home search to better educate yourself on these and other topics, you will be a more well informed buyer and will find the new home that you desire much faster. It is especially useful to hash out with your partner what it is that you are both really looking for in a new home. You can also develop a practice of looking at listings with a more discerning eye, which will save you time by eliminating those listing s that you would probably eliminate anyway of you visited them.

So, you see that there is plenty to do for both buyers and sellers during this stay at home time. Your Realtor will be happier, too, because you will not be wasting your time or his/hers visiting hoems that just won’t fit for you.


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.