Monthly Archives: March 2018

The One Room That’ll Make Buyers Bail, Even If They Love the House



In my yearlong house hunt, I’ve toured countless homes, and that first visit is a lot like a first date. It can be going great, right up until you spot your personal deal killer—like a pack of cigarettes in her purse, or white socks with sandals. Check, please!

Same thing happens when shopping for a house: The tour could be going swimmingly until you turn a corner and bam, you see that room that brings the possibility of living there to a grinding halt.

So what is this ominous, deal-killing room? It turns out there are more than one. Peruse the list below for the common offenders—not just my own, but ones that real estate agents have noted make buyers cringe en masse. Hey, it’s better to know than not so you can make some changes, right?

The empty room

“Empty rooms can kill a home sale, especially if the other rooms are furnished,” says real estate analyst Allison Bethell of New York–based

A room devoid of furniture leaves the buyer wondering what the space can be used for. And any of the room’s imperfections will also stand out. If you have an empty room, stage it as an office, extra sitting area, or guest bedroom.

The dark room

One of the biggest turnoffs for a buyer? “A dark room,” says Desare Kohn-Laski, broker and owner of Skye Louis Realty in Coconut Creek, FL.

The reason is simple: No one wants to walk into a home and feel like they’re trapped in a dungeon. Even if the rest of the house is flooded with light, one dark room can make a whole house seem dark.

For starters, open all the curtains and blinds before showing a home. If the room doesn’t have much light, paint the walls a light color and add a mirror to make it appear larger. Updating the lighting also goes a long way in adding to the brightness of a room.

“Finally, put a plant in the room, because plants need light and buyers often realize this, even subconsciously,” says Bethell.

The icky bathroom

A big offender in this category: carpeted bathrooms.

“Just gross,” says Janine Acquafredda, associate broker at House-N-Key Realty in New York.

Not only will many home buyers refuse to enter a carpeted bathroom, but “after seeing one, they lose focus on the rest of the house,” says Acquafredda. Note to sellers—replace bathroom carpeting with tile!

Another major turnoff? A tub that’s seen one too many baths.

“No matter if the home is large or small, expensive or affordable, every woman walks straight into the bathroom and looks at the bathtub,” says Kristina McCann of San Fransisco’s Alain Pinel Realtors. She advises clients across all price points to refinish a tub if necessary. “Or else someone could think they need to do a complete bathroom remodel.”

The cluttered playroom

Think the kids’ playroom gets a pass? Hardly.

“If a playroom looks like a cluttered mess, buyers get the impression that the current residents aren’t clean,” says Kohn-Laski. Home sellers should make it look immaculate. That includes erasing crayon and marker drawings as well as fingerprints on doors, windows, and walls.

The run-down kitchen

The state of your kitchen—the epicenter of most homes—can be a big-time deal breaker.

“Buyers will think twice if it’s too small, has outdated features and appliances, or looks run-down,” says Sarah Pickens with Re/Max Advantage Plus in Blaine, MN.

The problem starts when buyers start calculating how much a remodel is going to cost, she says. A quick fix with a lot of visual bang—that won’t break the bank—is to swap outdated appliances with newer ones found on priced-to-move sites such as Craigslist.

The stuffy formal living room

Rooms that serve no purpose or do not fit the needs of the homeowners definitely can hurt house sales, says Elizabeth Dodson, co-founder of For example, the formal living room of yore was once valued in a home; however, this room serves little purpose today and is more a room to look at than use.

“Instead, transform a living room into a home office, game room, or movie room,” says Dodson.

The creepy basement

Spine-chilling cellars can definitely turn buyers away from a property, says Pickens. She was recently touring a house with one of her buyers and came across an empty all-cement room with zero windows.

“The buyer was so creeped out that we left the property,” says Pickens. “And he said he would never purchase the house because of that one room.”

Decreep your basement by finding a use for potentially scary windowless rooms (e.g., filling what was likely a canning room with charming Mason jars).

The cluttered closet

I know, a closet is not a room. But lack of storage space is a big deal killer.

Teri Connors, associate broker at Coldwell Banker M&D Good Life in Patchogue, NY, and author of “Sell Your House … Successfully” was touring a pricey home with her buyers when they opened the coat closet and an avalanche of clothes spilled into the hallway.

“The buyers had one thought: There’s not enough storage space in this home,” says Conners, who recommends removing at least two-thirds of the clothes in the closets to give the illusion that there’s plenty of space.

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Home Staging Ideas for Your Garage

organized garage

Photo by Garage Guru Enlightened Storage/Houzz

Need some home staging ideas for you garage? Yup, this grease-covered dumping ground that serves as a “home” for your car (at least we hope your car fits in there) is not overlooked by home buyers. A good-looking garage is worth its weight in gold, and can be a strong selling point. In fact, a recent® survey found that 32% of home buyers say the garage is one of the most important rooms in a house!

As such, in the same way you might try a little home staging to make your kitchen and living room look their best, it’ll pay to learn how to stage your garage.

Here are some garage staging ideas that’ll wow buyers even before they’ve entered the more civilized parts of your home.

Declutter, of course

Take advantage of overhead space by installing a ceiling storage rack.
Take advantage of overhead space by installing a ceiling storage rack.


Gather all the items in your garage, and divide them into three piles: keep, donate, and toss. Once you’ve purged, it’s time to restore what you need in a better way.

“Resist the urge to stack bins on top of one another,” says Jennifer Snyder, a professional home organizer and owner of Neat as a Pin in Waco, TX. Instead, hang tools on a pegboard ($50), store boxes on a ceiling storage rack ($160), and mount a Spoga Wall Organizer ($8) for your mop, broom, and other cleaning equipment.

Clean up

When’s the last time you cleaned your garage? Never?! Well, you’d better take time now to dust the walls and corners and sweep the floor. Find an oil stain on the ground? Pour paint thinner on the stain, and then apply an absorbent material (e.g., cat litter, baking soda, cornmeal, or sawdust) over the saturated spot. Let the mixture set overnight, and sweep it up in the morning with a heavy push broom with sturdy bristles.

Check garage safety

Make sure all flammable products and poisonous chemicals are stored out of reach of children and pets. (You don’t want potential buyers to wonder what else you may have handled irresponsibly.) And if you don’t already have one in your garage, install a smoke detector.

Let there be light

If your garage still looks dim and bleak, install a motion activated ceiling light.
If your garage still looks dim and bleak, install a motion-activated ceiling light.


Now is the time to replace burned-out lightbulbs. If your garage still looks dim and bleak, consider adding a motion-activated ceiling light ($148).

Go vertical with bicycles

This stylish bike rack is a great way to display your wheels.
This stylish bike rack is a great way to display your wheels.


Instead of hanging bicycles from the ceiling, mount them on the wall using this stylish Monkey Bars 4-Bike Storage Rack ($80).

Add a fresh coat of paint

Treat your garage walls to a new paint job to make the space look larger and more inviting.

Experiment with flooring

Punch up your garage floor by creating a fun pattern of tiles.
Punch up your garage floor by creating a fun pattern of tiles.

Garage Flooring Inc

Your garage floor doesn’t have to be plain old boring concrete. Punch it up by adding colorful Diamond Grid-Loc Tiles ($2.51 per square foot) or a shiny concrete stain ($27 per gallon).

Hang artwork

Make your garage more inviting by hanging cool prints or paintings. Stick with a theme, like photos of antique cars.

Add extra outlets

There’s no such thing as having too many outlets—and that includes your garage. If you don’t feel comfortable tackling this job yourself, either hire an electrician or simply plug in a grounded 6-outlet tap ($6) to an existing outlet.

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Need a Reality Check on Your Home Before You Sell? Here You Go



We get it—you spent years turning your house into a cozy home. And everything from that perfect shade of gingham blue you painted the cabinets to the quirky old chair rail you preserved makes your home priceless, at least to you.

Still, when it comes time to sell your house, you need to take off those rose-tinted glasses and regard your house as a buyer would. Without this shift of perspective, you run the risk of overpricing your home, or failing to make necessary renovations or repairs—all of which means your place could end up sitting on the market. For a long time.

So it’s time to take an honest look at your house, from basement to attic. But since that can be hard to do on your own, here are some ways to tap into a more objective perspective and get a reality check on your home.

Interview several real estate agents

Sit down with a few real estate agents as you get ready to list your home. Not only will you get a sense for whom you want to work with, but you can also ask them for suggestions on how you should prep your home for sale. Should you repaint that purple office? Clear out the clutter in those hall closets? Remember, no one has better insight into what homes sell for and why than a real estate agent.

“I am honest with my sellers,” says Alexis Moore, a real estate broker and attorney in California. She often tells sellers that they should repaint in neutral shades, and nix all family photos. “All personal touches need to go bye-bye.” (Here’s how to find a real estate agent in your area.)

Hire a home inspector

It also helps to hire a home inspector for a pre-inspection, says Samuel Pawlitzki with Beach Cities Real Estate in Malibu, CA. Besides dispensing a metaphoric wake-up call, an inspector will usually find problems with your home that you didn’t even know existed.

Plus, you’ll have to go through the inspection process at some point of a sale, and being proactive could save you some dough.

“When home buyers discover through an inspector that a home needs a $5,000 repair, they will ask for $7,000 off the purchase price,” says broker Brian Jacobs at Network Property Group in Palm Beach, FL. “But if you got that issue repaired ahead of time—and without it being a rush—it’d cost more like $4,000, meaning your net will be higher at closing.”

Consult with a home stager

To get a fresh perspective, hire a home stager to provide professional feedback on how your home currently presents itself and what suggestions would make it more marketable.

“Usually a stager can prepare a report for $150 to $250 with recommendations on what in the home is dated or would put off potential buyers,” says Sharon Steinman, a sales representative at

You can then either implement the advice the stager suggests yourself or, if it’s too overwhelming, simply hire the stager to stage your home. Here’s more on home staging and how much it costs.

Visit open houses in your area

“Sellers don’t learn,” says Ian Slater, a licensed real estate salesperson with Compass, in New York City. “They sit inside their homes with an idea of its value and don’t understand what the buyer pool is actually seeing.”

So how can sellers learn? By getting out there and looking at what’s on the market.

“I take my sellers on a tour of comparable properties and show them what you can get for an equivalent price,” says Slater. Once armed with information about how many homes are on the market, and what types of houses are selling for how much, sellers can start to see their home in the same light.

Do a walk-through with someone in your target market

Think of who you were when you bought your place—a single professional, a young couple, a recent retiree. Unless your neighborhood demographic has changed substantially over the years, the younger you is your target demographic, says Ali Wenzke of Chicago, and author of “The Art of Happy Moving.”

So instead of inviting your mom or your friends to do a walk-through, ask your friend’s niece who just graduated from business school or the young family at your church if they’d be willing to give you an honest assessment.

“Besides, it’s easier to absorb critical feedback from people you don’t know as well, and you won’t hold a grudge against your mother-in-law,” says Wenzke.

Take pictures and post them to social media

A seller needs to realize that only 10% of buyers can see beyond what is presented, says Karen Gray-Plaisted, a property styler with Design Solutions KGP, in Warwick, NY. And what’s presented to buyers on a listing site such as® is all about the visuals. So to see just how your home comes off, snap pictures of your various rooms. View your photos and honestly ask yourself if a buyer would find the rooms bright, attractive, and updated.

Then post those pictures on Facebook and Instagram to get multiple opinions from a large pool of friends. Your home’s appeal may become evident in the amount of likes—or lack thereof—you get.

The post Need a Reality Check on Your Home Before You Sell? Here You Go appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

How to Sell a Home With Foundation Problems



“Foundation problems.” Those two words are enough to make homeowners quiver and home buyers run screaming. The foundation, after all, is the base of a house, and when something goes wrong with it, problems with everything built on top often follow. From cracked walls to sagging porches, the complications from a faulty foundation can be significant. But they’re not always as bad as they seem, nor do they have to be a deal breaker.

So, how do you go about selling a home with foundation problems? Here’s what experts say.

To repair or not repair a home with foundation problems?

The big dilemma most homeowners face is if it’s worth it to fix foundation problems before the house is put on the market. Unfortunately the answer is not so cut and dried.

If at all possible, you should always fix foundation problems, says Sean Keene, a real estate agent in Salem, OR.

“Most people that have a home with foundation problems are selling because they can’t afford to fix them,” he says. “It’s the worst case for a seller.”

On the other hand, if the rest of the property is in tiptop shape, it might make sense to sell it to someone looking to buy a fixer-upper.

There are “plenty of buyers willing to purchase a fixer, but the selling price will be lower to reflect the work to be done and a profit for the flipper,” says Kathryn Bishop, a Realtor® with Keller Williams Realty in Studio City, CA.

Not all foundation problems are catastrophic, however. “I’ve seen some foundation issues that were relatively easy and inexpensive to repair after my seller brought in a foundation expert for an inspection and quote,” Bishop says.

“If the seller does the work before going on the market, then this repair has a warranty on it, and the buyer is reassured that all is fixed,” she adds.

Cost of foundation repair

While the cost to repair a foundation will vary widely depending on the type of problem and where you live, the average fee is $4,008, according to Home Advisor.

Not all buyers will run away

While plenty of buyers will be wary of any homes with foundation issues, there are those who actually seek them out to purchase.

“Foundation issues can mushroom into a financial morass, so only buyers with construction knowledge or a very good friend who is a foundation repair expert will be attracted to the property,” Bishop says. “But these buyers know how to fix the issue and want to buy the property at the lower price, either for their own residence or to resell.”

Also note that if the foundation issues are substantial, many banks won’t loan on the property. In that case, the property will be advertised as “cash offers only.” And many people looking to resell or “flip” a house will be cash buyers.

How to sell a home with foundation problems

If you suspect your home has foundation issues but you still want to sell, the first thing you should do is get an inspection and several repair quotes from reputable foundation repair companies.

“Advertise the property truthfully,” Bishop says. “Authorize your [real estate agent] to show the inspection and quote to interested buyers before they submit their offer, that way the offer is based on knowledge, not guesswork.”

One thing you don’t want to do? Disclose the foundation inspection after accepting the offer.

“The buyer may want to renegotiate the price or walk away” in that situation, Bishop says.

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5 Sweet Tax Deductions When Selling a Home: Did You Take Them All?



Are there tax deductions when selling a home? You bet—and they can amount to sizable savings when you file with the IRS. So whether you’re selling your home soon or sold it last year, you’ll want to know all the tax deductions (not to mention tax exemptions or other write-offs) at your disposal.

Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know, plus a preview of what’s in store once the new tax code takes effect next year.

1. Selling costs

“You can deduct any costs associated with selling the home—including legal fees, escrow fees, advertising costs, and real estate agent commissions,” says Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax and Consulting in Rockville Center, NY.

This could also include home staging fees, according to Thomas J. Williams, a tax accountant who operates Your Small Biz Accountant in Kissimmee, FL.

2018 tax changes: These deductions are still allowed under the new tax law.

2. Home improvements and repairs

Did you renovate a few rooms to make your home more marketable? Super—they probably helped you fetch a higher sales price, and now you can deduct those upgrade costs as well. This includes painting the house, repairing the roof or water heater, or anything that remains useful past a year.

But there’s a catch, and it all boils down to timing.

“If you needed to make home improvements in order to sell your home, you can deduct those expenses as selling costs as long as they were made within 90 days of the closing,” says Zimmelman.

2018 tax changes: None.

3. Property taxes

If you were dutifully paying your property taxes up to the point when you sold your home, you can deduct the amount you paid in property taxes for the time you owned it.

2018 tax changes: This deduction is still allowed, but your total deductions are capped at $10,000, Zimmelman says. You may be able to avoid this cap if you prepaid your 2018 taxes and if your property was assessed  in 2017, but estimated assessments won’t qualify.

4. Mortgage interest

As with property taxes, you can deduct the interest on your mortgage (up to a maximum of $1 million) for the portion of the year you owned your home.

2018 tax changes: New homeowners (and sellers) can deduct the interest on up to only $750,000 of mortgage debt, though homeowners who got their mortgage before Dec. 15, 2017, can continue deducting up to the original $1 million amount, according to Zimmelman.

5. Moving expenses

If you sold your home in 2017 in order to move for a job change, you can deduct those expenses.

2018 tax changes: Lawmakers eliminated this deduction for most of us. However, members of the armed forces on active duty can still take the deduction.

But what’s up with capital gains tax for sellers?

This one isn’t technically a deduction (it’s an exclusion), but you’re still going to like it. As a reminder, capital gains are your profits from selling your home—whatever cash is left after paying off your expenses, plus any outstanding mortgage debt. And yes, these profits are taxed as income. But here’s the good news: You can exclude up to $250,000 of the capital gains from the sale if you’re single, and $500,000 if married. The only big catch is you must have lived in your home at least two of the past five years.

2018 tax changes: None. Lawmakers tried to change this rule, but it managed to survive—so it’s still one home sellers can cherish. However, look for this to possibly change in a future tax bill.

Ralph DiBugnara, president of Home Qualified and vice president at Residential Home Funding, says lawmakers would like to change this so that homeowners would have to live in the property for five of the past eight years, instead of two out of five.

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7 Mistakes People Make Handling Deceased Family Members’ Estates



Dealing with a family member’s death can be a double cruelty. There is the emotional loss. Then, that’s often followed by the monumental task of dealing with the deceased’s estate—any property or possessions left behind.

Given this is a hard time, it’s understandable that many people in this situation make mistakes. In an effort to get you through this process with minimal pain and suffering, here are the pitfalls to watch out for—and smarter ways to handle them.

1. Going through possessions piece by piece

People tend to start by sorting through each and every item they encounter as they go through the house, says Jacqui Denny, co-founder and chief development officer of estate sale marketplace Everything but the House. But this approach easily becomes a huge drain on time.

“That’s how you end up spending four hours looking through paperwork in one drawer,” Denny points out.

What to do instead: If you want to avoid burnout, she recommends a simple sorting method. Mark four boxes with personal correspondence, photographs, medical papers, and legal documents. Go through the house looking for just those items and place them in their respective bins. Now you’ve removed an entire layer of items from the house, possibly the most important things. You can sort through each box later and decide what to keep or let go.

2. Undervaluing items you aren’t familiar with

Some people will carefully collect the silverware and then drag the fishing equipment to the curb. But some flies are worth tens of thousands of dollars. Who knew? Don’t assume that stuff is worthless because some hobby or style of art just isn’t your thing.

What to do instead: Talk with an appraiser before going through the estate to make sure you aren’t overlooking something rare or valuable.

3. Overvaluing items you like

Denny says she sees this happen a lot: When we like something, we tend to value it more than the market does. For example, a costume jewelry fanatic may think an entire collection is uniformly valuable. But that’s not always so.

“A vintage Miriam Haskell rhinestone brooch can bring hundreds of dollars,” she says. “But the typical, unsigned rhinestone brooch of the same vintage will sell for $35 to $50.”

What to do instead: Manage your expectations! And again, work with an appraiser to find the true value of items.

4. Overlooking the attic and basement

Maybe your parents came from more humble origins and you doubt they’ve collected anything worth a lot of money. You’d be surprised, Denny says. She recalls a client who assumed his mother didn’t have anything worth selling. But it turns out she left behind a 17th-century Korean bodhisattva statue in the attic, which later sold for $47,000.

What to do instead: Don’t neglect the attic and basement. Denny says they’re where the most valuable items are usually found.

5. Letting your vintage-loving friends sort and assess the estate for free

Hey, you have friends who love vintage items and are volunteering to sort through your parents’ estate. That’s better than hiring someone, right? Unless they’re experts, perhaps not.

“What if they donate something you end up seeing on ‘Antiques Roadshow’?” Denny asks.

What to do instead: Thank your friends and let them help you with other tasks. Most estate sale companies will do a free consultation, so you might as well tap their expertise just in case. It pays to have someone knowledgeable about the vetting process.

6. Selling to dealers rather than collectors

Most people consider selling first to dealers, but remember this: A jeweler will pay less for your jewelry than an ordinary consumer who just loves it. A jeweler wants to make a profit; a consumer just wants that lovely piece you have.

What to do instead: If you can, sell to collectors rather than dealers.

“End buyers don’t need to make a profit,” Denny says, “so they are willing to pay more.” The same goes with coins, stamps, and other collectibles.

7. Not dealing with debts

We’ve gone over the profitable elements of an estate. But remember, an estate includes debts as well.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, in the U.S., family members of the deceased are not responsible for paying the deceased’s debts. (That’s in most cases.) Debts should be paid from the deceased’s estate. If there’s not enough in the estate to cover the debt, the remainder goes unpaid. However, there are some conditions when family members may be responsible: if they co-signed an obligation, are a spouse of the deceased, or are legally responsible for handling the estate and haven’t complied with laws.

What to do instead: Be proactive in following up on any debts the deceased left behind. Make sure obligations are met according to the law. You may need to hire a lawyer. You can also contact your state attorney general’s office if you need help.

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