Monthly Archives: May 2018

7 Dumb Reasons People Can’t Sell a Home


Trying to sell your home, but no one’s buying? Don’t beat yourself up quite yet—there are lots of complex reasons why a home might not sell the instant it hits the market, many of which are beyond your control.

However, there are also a lot of (to put it bluntly) dumb reasons a home won’t sell, too—things that home sellers could have easily avoided had they made a minimal effort to do their homework and enter the fray prepared.

Hey, we get it: Home selling is one of those things you might do only once or twice in your life, so it’s understandable if you don’t know every nuance of how to do it right. So, no judgments! Still, in an effort to steer you away from these pitiful pitfalls, we thought we’d sit you down for a heart-to-heart and spell out a few no-no’s to avoid before putting your house on the market.

Behold these seven dumb reasons people can’t sell their home—if you commit any of these blunders, that’s on you.

1. Pricing a home based on feelings rather than data

“Oftentimes people who’ve lived in their house for a long time believe the property is worth more than what the market is dictating—and insist on listing it at above fair market value,” says Carmen Bauman of Green Grass Real Estate. “When sellers are too emotionally attached to the home, it inhibits their ability to sell it.”

Pricing a home right the first time is crucial, because if it’s too high, no buyers will touch it—and the longer it sits on the market, the more it starts to look like damaged goods.

“Even those who lower the asking price at a later date do not have great success in selling their home,” says Bauman.

So try to take your ego out of the equation and price with your head, not your heart. Research what comparable homes in your area have recently sold for, and build a pricing strategy around that, says Beatrice de Jong, director of residential sales at Open Listings.

After all, the memories don’t come with the home, so buyers aren’t going to pay extra because your kids learned to play catch in the backyard.

2. Keeping all your stuff in the house

Sorry, but some of your stuff has got to go.

Remember, too much clutter can make a place seemed cramped; plus you never know what might offend a potential buyer.

Roh Habibi of “Million Dollar Listing San Francisco” offers this advice: “Start with removing all personal items, and anything political or religious.”

When selling a home, it’s best to keep any strong opinions or eccentricities out of the picture.

3. Not bothering to spruce up your place

Many homeowners are reluctant to spend a little bit of money to make their home look nice before it goes to market. We get it—receiving a long punch list of fixes to do before you can list your home is not fun. But consider this: Certain small tweaks cost a pittance, yet can reap big returns. For example, a fresh coat of paint can boost your sale price by 15%.

Also keep in mind that other small “flaws”—such as creaky floors or sticky doors—will be noticed by buyers and further drag down your sale price. So try to not be so shortsighted: Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.

“Even basic staging—paintings, hand towels, throw blankets, duvet covers, decorative pillows—is extremely helpful and should not be cost-prohibitive for any seller,” says Bauman.

4. Using lackluster listing photos

Professional photography is another thing it is just silly to be stubborn about paying for. Ideally, you or your real estate agent should bring in a photographer. Because relying on bad camera phone pictures is just going to hurt you.

“With the advent of the internet, a purchaser’s first impression of the home is gathered from their computer screen,” says Bauman.

Habibi agrees: “Always use a professional real estate photographer, because that is the big draw to lure in the buyers to come and physically view the home. I cannot tell you how many times we’ve seen cellphone photos on marketing materials—a huge disservice to any seller!”

5. Assuming if you just list it, they will come

It takes more to sell a home than just putting up a listing and waiting for the buyers to roll in. For sellers and their agents, getting the news out—through fliers, signs, word of mouth, and online promotion—is key.

Even in hot markets, “it’s very important to market the home,” says de Jong. Homes don’t sell themselves—that takes you. 

6. Being inflexible with viewing times

You’ve spent the past however-many weeks cleaning, repairing, repainting, decluttering, and staging, and now you’re supposed to just clear out of your house (including pets!) with no warning when buyers come calling? Yep, pretty much. Luckily, if you do it right, offers should come in quickly.

“In competitive real estate markets, if you are going to get an offer at all, it will likely be within the first two weeks of the home being listed,” says de Jong. “It’s important to make sure the house is available to see in person, which means the sellers will have to keep the home tidy and allow their schedules to be flexible.”

According to de Jong, serious buyers are scouring the internet, waiting for promising new listings to pop up. You get only one chance to be that fresh, new listing. Just like it’s important to get the pricing right the first time, you want to let excited buyers see your home right away. You never get another chance at those first few weeks, so it really is silly to shut them out, since they may not be back later.

7. Rejecting lowball offers

Selling a home that you’re emotionally attached to is tricky, and a lowball offer can feel like a slap in the face. But often, buyers don’t mean it that way. So tempting as it may be, don’t shut them down hard.

“A buyer may come in with a low price, but it’s best not to write them off completely,” says de Jong. “If the offer is rejected in a rude way, those buyers may feel like they do not want to work with the sellers at all.”

Sometimes, a successful negotiation starts with a low offer, perhaps from a buyer who doesn’t really have a good handle on the market. Other times, what you thought was a low offer might just be a more realistic view of what your home is really worth at the moment.

Bottom line: Until you’re at the closing table, it’s smart to keep your options open. Deals fall through, buyers walk away, financing gets mucked up at the last minute. You don’t want to be reapproaching someone hat in hand down the line.

The post 7 Dumb Reasons People Can’t Sell a Home appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Top 5 Home Improvements to Increase Your Home’s Value

Your home is likely the largest investment you’ll make in your lifetime, so of course you want to make the most of it. That’s why it’s important to choose wisely when selecting home improvement projects. Although all of these projects can improve the way you live in your home, some have a much greater return on investment than others. Whether you’re planning to tackle a remodel as a weekend DIY project, or hiring a professional to do the work for you, we want to help you make the best decision for your home. Let’s take a look at some home improvements that are predicted to have the best return this year.

1. Upgraded Garage Door – It may not be the the first project that comes to mind when you think “home improvement” but it should be on the top of the list when you think “return on investment”. Upgrading your home’s garage door can significantly improve your home’s curb appeal, which can translate to your home selling faster and for more money. The average garage door replacement recoups over 98% of the cost when you sell your home.

Upgraded garage doors

2. Front Door Replacement – Replacing your existing front door with a new steel entry door can both improve your homes curb appeal and help you save on energy costs. Just like upgrading your garage door this improvement in curb appeal can add to your home’s curb appeal and lead to it selling quicker and for a greater profit. This easy update usually returns over 90% of your investment.

3. New Siding – Updating your faded or damaged siding can also do wonders to boost your curb appeal, choosing vinyl siding with a fade resistant finish will provide you with a beautiful home for the years you choose to live there and appeal to buyers when you’re ready to sell. Be sure to choose a neutral color pallet that can attract a large number of buyers to recoup the largest portion of your investment, about 83% according to the Cost vs Value Report. If you need help selecting a color a local realtor can advise on what buyers in the area are looking for.

siding upgrade

4. Landscaping Upgrades – A beautiful yard draws in buyers when you are ready to sell and creates a relaxing retreat during the time you own your home. The welcoming oasis of a well landscaped yard increases interest in your listed house, leading to a faster and more competitive sale. In addition to the usual trees and flowers, another landscaping upgrade which is increasing in popularity is outdoor living spaces. A 2017 survey conducted by The American Institute of Architects, has shown a 38 percent increase in demand for outdoor living spaces. Adding one to your home could set your listing apart from the competition.

Landscaping upgrade

5. Increasing Livable Square Footage – When comparing homes for purchase many buyers look at the cost per square foot. The current list price in Ohio as of Mar 31, 2018 is $99 per square foot. Therefore with every square foot of livable square footage you add you could conservatively expect the value of your home to increase a similar value.

Whether you’re looking to make improvements in your home in order to sell quickly and for top dollar, or just want to be sure you’re getting the most out of your investment when you decide to sell selecting one of these improvements is a great way to get the job done.

price per square foot ohio

If you’re curious as to what your home may be worth one of our agents is glad to help with a no obligation home valuation.


How Free Tacos, Beer, and Other Fun Extras Can Help Sell Your Home


You know how offering a free gift with purchase can be that extra something that persuades buyers to stop, take a look, and then open their pocketbooks to pay up? Well, that same approach works for selling homes, too. It’s psychology 101: Adding an unexpected benefit—beyond the home itself—can get potential buyers thinking, “Wow, I’m getting not only a home, but this other cool thing for free!” It’s a sales tactic few can resist.

So if you think your home sale needs a little something extra, check out these creative ideas below. While we couldn’t always verify whether these tactics resulted in a sale, one thing that’s clear is these freebies did garner tons of attention—and hey, that’s half the battle!

Free tacos

Nicole Lopez’s offer of free tacos generated a lot of buzz.

Nicole Lopez/Instagram

Who doesn’t love tacos? At least, that’s what Cypress, TX–based real estate agent Nicole Lopez must have thought in January when she decided to post a very special “For Sale” sign in front of a home she was trying to sell: “$250 in free tacos with purchase of this home.”

News of this “free tacos” sign soon went viral on Facebook, landing Lopez on local TV, where she claimed she was “inundated with calls from around the country and Canada.” Within a month, the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house—listed for $170,000—had found buyers who said they definitely planned to throw a taco party to celebrate their new property.

Meanwhile, Lopez has dubbed herself “the original taco Realtor®” as she expects others may try the same tactic.

“We’ll take (imitation),” she told local news channel KPCR 2. “If it helps people sell homes, we’re all for it.”

A free car

Buy this home, get a free car!

A real estate developer in a Chicago suburb facing a sales slowdown in April 2011 went the way of game shows with the perk he offered buyers: a new car!

Developer Kim Meier included a $17,000 credit at a General Motors dealership. “We needed to do something dramatic,” Meier told the New York Times. “The market’s been soft.” Seven sales soon followed.

And others have followed in his tracks: In 2014, a Boca Raton, FL, seller asking for $3.5 million for a six-bedroom home (pictured above) was willing to throw in a car worth about $100,000!

According to the Sun Sentinel, he even offered a choice: a Ferrari 360 Spider convertible or an open-top Hummer H1. (The Hummer, by the way, was worth a bit more than the Ferrari.) Decisions, decisions!

Alas, no buyers bit, but as far as publicity goes, we still think this is the most impressive carrot we’ve seen yet.

Free beer and beer pong cups

Beer and beer pong cups included with this place.

In 2015, the owner of a tiny bungalow in Los Angeles offered to treat the home buyers to beer—plus cups—for a celebratory game of beer pong.

“Whoever buys this house, I will buy the beer for the beer pong,” seller and listing agent David De Anda told “They will get cups and beer purchased by the owner. We definitely want to celebrate right.”

Why beer pong? De Anda described the renovated one-bedroom, one-bathroom house as a “fun” place where beer pong would complement the atmosphere. And apparently it worked: The listing went up in February with the asking price of $269,000 and sold for $330,000 in September that year.

Free pizza

After watching a Lancaster, PA–based home languish on the market for six months, real estate agent Doug Miller decided to think outside the box—the pizza box, that is. So in 2013, he hung a “free pizza with purchase of home” sign in front of the place he was selling, listed for $259,900.

It was enough to land him on the local news. “I just thought it was kind of cute and would grab attention,” Miller told WGAL 8.

While we can’t verify whether this sales ploy worked, here’s one question worth pondering: Is one pizza enough? As one local resident interviewed by WGAL pointed out, “It should have been a year of free pizza.”

Other fun freebies

  • Boat and water skis: Real estate agent Michael L. Jones had a waterfront listing where the seller offered to throw in a small boat. “I’ve also seen Jet Skis made part of other waterfront deals,” says Jones.
  • Gym membership: San Francisco–based real estate agent Roh Habibi has seen success when sellers throw in a free year-long Equinox gym membership. “You would be amazed at how many buyers love this gift,” says Habibi.
  • First year’s HOA fees: Fred McGill, CEO and co-founder of SimpleShowing, remembers a buyer in Atlanta who was interested in a loft where the HOA fees were $200 a month. In order to seal the deal, the seller paid the first year’s HOA fees, or $2,400.
  • Paid utility bills: According to Nate Masterson, a finance manager for Maple Holistics, “We had a seller who offered to cover half of the buyer’s utility bills for the first two months as an incentive to get the house sold.”
  • A vacation voucher: Dustin Turner of the Home Team at Keller Williams Realty, in Central Arkansas, says the most interesting incentive he’s seen was a free vacation. “Savvy sellers can buy vacation travel vouchers from online vendors and give away a free vacation with the purchase of their home,” says Turner. “While this splashy approach might not appeal to every buyer, it will generate a lot of attention to the listing, and maybe just close the deal.”


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A Septic System Inspection Should Be Done How Often?! Costs, Precautions, and More

A Septic System Inspection Should Be Done How Often

racy A. Woodward/The Washington Post/Getty Images

A septic system inspection is one of those home maintenance tasks that you might put off, and then put off some more. Because septics exist underground in the backyard, they are often out of sight, thus out of mind. But letting it go too many flushes without an inspection can result in some major problems if the system fails.

Plus, septic system inspections are also required if you plan to sell your home. Even if you don’t know if you’re going to sell, keeping your septic system in good condition will save you thousands of dollars in repairs if anything does go wrong.

Here’s everything homeowners need to know about a septic system inspection.

How often should you get a septic system inspection?

Experts say you should get a septic system inspection every three years. But here’s a dose of reality: Most homeowners never get their septic systems inspected unless there is a notable issue, according to Alex Glaser, a real estate agent in Richmond, VA.

But that means homeowners get an inspection only when issues that may signal big trouble arise, such as when the toilet backs up, water takes too long to drain, or there’s an actual septic system leakage. The benefit of doing an inspection every three years is to avoid major problems like these.

The three-year mark is also the maximum amount of time you should let your septic system go without being pumped out.

A problem caught at inspection can save you from having to replace the entire septic system (read: shell out a ton of money). It’s especially important to keep your septic system in good shape if you plan on selling. During closing, a certified inspection will be performed and you don’t want any last-minute surprises.

Who should perform a septic system inspection?

You’re going to want to hire a professional septic contractor for the inspection.

General home inspectors do only a limited, visual-only inspection of the septic system, says Robert Boudreau of Metro-West Appraisal and Home Inspections in Detroit.

A septic contractor will look for cracks in the tank indicated by a low level of liquid, the amount of solids inside the tank using a measuring device called a “sludge judge,” and possible ground contamination.

How much does a septic system inspection cost?

Cost depends on how extensive the septic inspection is as well as the size of the tank, which is usually either 1,000 or 1,500 gallons. But a basic septic system inspection typically runs between $300 to $600, says Boudreau.

You can also reach out to your local health department to see if it performs inspections for a reduced price.

Is the home seller or buyer obligated to get an inspection?

The person who’s responsible for carrying out the inspection is determined based on where you live. In states such as South Carolina and Texas, it’s the buyers’ responsibility to handle inspections during their option period—part of their due diligence—unless otherwise agreed upon.

In Central Virginia, the standard purchase agreement contract states that it’s the home seller’s responsibility to get the septic inspected within 30 days of the closing date. If you live in a state with this type of timing caveat, don’t do an inspection before an accepted contract or you may have to do it all over again to meet the contract timeline.

Bottom line: Ask your local real estate professional about your obligation regarding the septic system inspection.

Is the seller obligated to fix any septic problems?

The responsibility to pay for septic repairs typically falls to the seller. However, repairs of any kind found at inspection are generally negotiable. Contract terms usually dictate the course of action, but sellers may have such options as doing the repairs themselves, splitting repair costs with the buyer, giving the buyer a closing credit equal to the amount of the repairs, or refusing to do anything. If an agreement on repairs isn’t reached, the buyer does have the legal right to walk away from the transaction.

Don’t forget about disclosure

In all states, sellers are required to disclose any known problems with a home to potential buyers. If there’s a septic issue after closing that the sellers knew about, they will be liable for the entire cost of the repairs.

For that reason, it’s good practice for all sellers to perform their own septic system inspection, says Jerry Grodesky, managing broker at Farm and Lake Houses Real Estate, in Loda, IL.

“That way, the seller is protected from any future septic issues after the closing,” he explains.

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Psst … Here’s How to Sell Your Home Before It Officially Hits the Market


Want to know the secret to drumming up buyers for your home before it officially hits the market? While most home sellers don their home-selling hats after their real estate listing goes live on the multiple listing service, if you’re eager to generate some buzz sooner, you certainly can—and should.

“There’s no reason to wait until the day your home hits the market to start selling,” says Regina Petruzzi Neumann, a real estate agent in Leesburg, VA. In fact, she recently sold her own townhouse before it hit the MLS, and adds that regular home sellers can easily follow in her footsteps.

Granted, the MLS—which distributes your listing far and wide on sites such as®—is an easy way to garner tons of exposure for your sale. But there’s plenty you can do on your own (and with a real estate agent’s help) earlier that’ll help you hit the ground running, boosting the odds that you’ll get an offer before your listing has gone live or very soon after. (Case in point: Petruzzi Neumann also sold her neighbor’s home on the very first day it was officially listed using the same early-bird tactics that worked for her own home.)

Want to know how to start? Here’s how to get those sales gears turning, and why it’ll pay to do so sooner rather than later.

Try a ‘coming soon’ status

One way to drum up some excitement before your home hits the market? A “coming soon” announcement. Basically, this description can be placed on listings that are up on the MLS, but not yet officially for sale. You can also plant a “coming soon!” home sale sign on your front lawn—which is what Petruzzi Neumann did for her own home.

The result: “Many buyers who were shopping other homes in the neighborhood saw the ‘coming soon’ sign, and came up and knocked on our door,” she says.

Oddly, a “coming soon” sign may have even more impact than a “for sale” sign because, let’s face it, everyone loves to think they’re getting special early access to something before everyone and their brother know what’s up.

“Marketing a listing that is not yet available often makes it more attractive to potential buyers,” says Andrew Smith, a real estate agent for the Lone Star Home Group with Keller Williams Realty and co-author with his real estate agent wife Lisa of “Swipe Right: Matchmaking 101: Finding the Best Mate for Your Home.”

While MLS rules vary from place to place, just know that they typically mandate that a “coming soon” status and sign can’t be used for more than 21 days. But that’s plenty of time to generate some buzz.

Partner with a loan officer

Another ally to get the word out early? Local loan officers can be really helpful on several levels. For one, smart home buyers don’t hit open houses until after they’ve sat down with a lender to get pre-approved for a loan. Pre-approval, after all, lets home buyers know what they can afford—and proves to sellers that they’re qualified to close the deal.

But home sellers can also benefit from working with local loan officers, since chances are good your upcoming listing will get some “free press” on their website and in their office. After all, it’s to their benefit if someone takes out a home loan through them; they may even offer these buyers special rates! But rest assured, home buyers don’t have to use these lenders to buy your home, either. So, it’s a no-strings-attached publicity at its finest.

Another bonus: Partnering with a loan officer allows buyers to “see” how their dream home might actually be affordable in a numbers and cents kind of way.

“When I was preparing our home to be sold, I partnered with a loan officer who marketed for me with his own online campaign and also prepared collateral—rate sheets and advertising information,” says Petruzzi Neumann. “This proved to be a very effective tool for buyers because they could tangibly see the mortgage rates and monthly payment options while they viewed our townhouse.”

Spread the word early and often

Naturally, you’ll want to make sure you tell everyone you see and meet that you’re getting ready to list your home. You’d be surprised by how many people have a friend of a friend who is looking and would love to be in the neighborhood. It’s like that gossip game you played in junior high: Start the rumor that your property is going on the market and see how fast it spreads.

Post the news on social media, with pics, and it can give your friends visuals that they can share. Petruzzi Neumann also suggests posting on community Facebook pages.

“Definitely post on neighborhood forums in which the house is situated,” says Petruzzi Neumann. “Neighbors love to help their neighbors. This is a great way to get premarket showings.”

Have a ‘preview’ open house

While you can’t have an official open house until your home’s on the market, you can host another event that’s just as good, if not more so: a “preview” open house.

“Having a well-attended ‘preview’ open house generates an atmosphere of creating multiple offers,” says Lisa Smith. Even better, try to schedule your “preview” at the same time as other open houses in the neighborhood to capture that foot traffic.

Basically, creating a prelisting buzz comes down to making people believe they’d better jump on this rare opportunity where they’re ahead of the curve.

“Utilizing psychology is crucial when marketing listings, especially reverse psychology,” says Smith. “People want what others can’t have.”

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How to Sell Your Parents’ House With Your Siblings’ Help—and Avoid a Family Feud

Jens Magnusson/Getty Images

When your parents pass away, you might find yourself tasked with selling their house—and if you have siblings, hopefully they will offer help on this front. Problem is, in the same way you all squabbled over who had the better bedroom or more toys growing up, you may find yourself embroiled in a whole new kind of family feud as you attempt to unload this baggage-laden piece of real estate.

At best, the sale could turn into a major headache. And at worst, unresolved issues from childhood might resurface and tear your family apart.

Here’s how to navigate selling a house with your siblings without drama—or wrestling each other to the floor like you did when you were kids.

First things first: Should you sell it or keep it?

Michael Mazek, an attorney in Chicago, says the most common problem when it comes to an estate is that there’s usually one sibling who doesn’t want to sell. This sibling may prefer to have the property remain in the family or rented out.

“The challenge is that essentially puts all the siblings into a business partnership,” says Mazek. And things can quickly go south.

If siblings agree to keep the home, what usually happens is that the workload isn’t even—maybe one sibling lives in a different state than the home—and soon brothers and sisters find themselves battling over money or time spent looking after the house.

“That’s why it’s usually best to sell the property and use those funds to purchase individual investments or simply keep the profits,” says Mazek.

What to do if one sibling refuses to sell

If one sibling wants to keep the home, he or she can buy the others out for their share of the home’s fair market value. However, if a buyout isn’t an option, even just one sibling generally has the right to force a sale even if the majority are against it.

The process is called “partition by sale,” and the net proceeds are divided among the owners.

“Generally the property will be sold at a sheriff’s sale, which is a court-ordered sale most frequently used in foreclosure auctions,” says attorney Richard Winblad of, in Edmond, OK. The minimum winning bid must usually equal at least two-thirds of a home’s value. For instance, a property worth $200,000 can sell for $133,333.

Still, a partition by sale is hardly ideal, since you could have sold the house at market rate and made a whole lot more! This is why siblings should do their best to cooperate in order to avoid a courtroom drama.

Determine if you want to sell the house as is or for top dollar

Real estate agent and attorney Bruce Ailion with Re/Max Town and Country in Atlanta advises siblings to have a discussion to decide what condition to sell the house in—as is or renovated.

Selling a property as is means skipping upgrades and settling for a lower asking price. It can make sense to sell the home as is if the siblings live far away and can’t oversee home improvements prior to the sale.

Another consideration is how much of an outdated wreck the home is.

“When only a top-to-bottom renovation makes sense, as is is the better option,” says Ailion. Major renovations take time, money, and patience, for which some or all of the siblings may have limited capacity.

If the renovations are easy and can nab a higher asking price, do them. If only a small number of repairs is needed—e.g., painting or swapping out appliances—it makes sense to make them, says Ailion. Whoever pays for the upgrades should get a refund at closing.

Can’t agree on a price? Get an appraisal

The sentiment surrounding a family home may cloud any given sibling’s idea of how much the home is actually worth. The solution? Have the home’s value appraised to avoid a family “debacle,” says Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of marketing consulting firm Mavens & Moguls.

Appraisers typically work for lenders in the home-buying process to decide if a property is worth backing with a mortgage. But they can work for home sellers, too, coming up with a fair price for the home.

Granted, the real estate agent you’re working with can also suggest a number based on comparables. But an objective appraiser, who works for neither buyers nor sellers, will come up with the actual value of the home in a bank’s eyes, all for around $300 to $400. It could be worth the expense.

If you decide to sell, pick a point person

We all know the saying about too many cooks in the kitchen. So siblings should decide on a point person who will communicate with both the family and the real estate agent, and generally manage the transaction from the selling side. If multiple siblings give instructions, your agent and potential buyers may get conflicting information that could derail the transaction.

“When my mom died, she left me and my two siblings a condo in Florida that no one wanted,” says Arnof-Fenn, who, as the eldest, became the point person. She advises overly communicating with the family to avoid conflict or misunderstandings.

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What I’ve Learned From Visiting 100-Plus Open Houses in a Year


I’ve been house hunting for over a year (and counting) and visited over a hundred open houses in that time. Let me be clear: I’m not some overly picky real estate window shopper, because I have made offers, and been outbid. In New York City, where I’m looking, that’s just par for the course.

Still, though, my experiences have turned me into an open house aficionado of sorts. I know what makes buyers swoon (myself and others), as well as what repels buyers the moment they set foot inside.

So if you’re a home seller who hopes to bowl over buyers rather than send them running, I’m here to help. Let me tell you about a few things I’ve learned that could kill your chances of selling your home.

Personal quirks on display

Steak sauce, mustard, and hot sauce. These condiments were not in the kitchen (as one would expect) but on a dresser in a bedroom of an open house I attended in Queens. Right then and there, I knew I had to get out of the house. Who knows what was going on there, but it was just too weird for me to stick around and ponder the possibilities.

“First impressions matter,” says Gary Malin, president of the New York brokerage firm Citi Habitats. “Remember, you want the prospective buyer’s attention to be on the home, not your personal life.”

Remove all personal items, including family photos, unusual collectibles, memorabilia, and misplaced condiments.

Hovering home sellers (or their kids)

At an open house in Brooklyn, there was also a surprise in the bedroom: I walked in to find cute kids under the covers half-asleep. Granted, these kids weren’t there alone; their parents were lingering, too. But adult supervision or not, all these family members nearby made me want to flee, because I felt like I was intruding on their personal space.

“Home sellers often make the mistake of leaving their place too late and returning too soon,” says Aaron Hendon, an agent for Christine & Company with Keller Williams in Seattle.

A well-advertised open house will attract people early, and there will definitely be people arriving just as the agent is locking up. So plan on getting everyone up and out of bed an hour before the open house starts.

Dark, dusty rooms

A three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo I checked out in the suburban county of Westchester was spacious, but very dark. The windows were covered not only by lace curtains, but also by valances and vertical blinds. It felt less like a home and more like the inside of a crypt. I tried to open the curtains to get a sense of what the room would look like with Vitamin D. But there were too many window coverings to remove, and I could manage to let in only one ray of sun. Then I gave up and got out.

“The aim is to get as much natural light as possible and then turn on every lamp,” says Ashley Baillio of the Keyes Company in Florida.

She also recommends dusting blinds. If you don’t, the light will catch the dust and make the whole house appear dirty.

Cluttered closets and drawers

Open houses are all about strangers opening and closing things—closet doors, kitchen cabinets and drawers. I recall one apartment I instantly loved and was ready to make an offer on—until I opened the kitchen pantry. There were products in there with packaging I recognized from my childhood … at my grandmother’s house. It was only then that I realized the house actually needed a ton of work and had not been updated at all since the 1980s.

Bottom line: Every detail of your house resonates with buyers. Yet Linda Bettencourt of Sotheby’s International Realty in San Francisco often gets pushback on this topic.

“Clients will say, ‘People don’t care what my closet looks like!’” says Bettencourt.

But buyers do care, and all the details they glean help them form an opinion of your property

“Rather than remembering the beautiful skylight, they remember the medicine cabinet with a leaking bottle of Jean Naté body wash from 1983,” she adds.

Lack of snacks

There’s something about a platter of baked goods that makes people like me go wild. Think cookies and small bottles of water. (You may want to skip baking the cookies yourself, which can make savvy buyers think you are trying to conceal funky odors.)

“Refreshments are a nice touch,” says Baillio. After all, going to an open house takes effort—sometimes I went to several a day. When an open house offered a little snack to greet visitors, I would be in a better frame of mind when testing the water pressure in the shower. Having no snacks is not necessarily a deal killer; but in general, I’ve noticed that the better open houses tend to have something to nosh on, perhaps because they were managed by people who paid attention to details.

Cloth booties

At the last open house I went to a few weeks ago, the agent had visitors put on cloth booties to protect the floor. This is fairly standard procedure, but this house had steep, narrow stairs. Two potential buyers slipped on the staircase within 20 minutes. I pictured myself buying the house, only to fall to my death as I went downstairs for coffee. So as much as I liked the home, I didn’t make an offer that day. My husband made me tour the home again, sans booties. And after discovering the stairs were safe if you didn’t wear slippery booties, I fell in love and made an offer.

In this case, at least, I learned a lesson: First impressions can be deceptive. So if no one’s swooning over your open house immediately, don’t obsess about what you’ve done wrong. Sooner or later, the right buyer will come along.

The post What I’ve Learned From Visiting 100-Plus Open Houses in a Year appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

5 Home-Selling Tips Everyone Hears—and Should Ignore


One of the hardest parts of selling your home is all the unknowns: Who will buy your place, and for how much? How long will it take? That uncertainty might make you particularly eager to soak up advice from just about anyone who’s willing to share. Problem is, just because your sister or co-worker swear by certain rules that worked for them, it doesn’t mean they’ll be a magic solution for you, too.

Fact is, a lot of the real estate advice circulating out there is outdated, region-specific, or just plain wrong. As proof, check out this list of tips that many home sellers hear … then learn how these words of wisdom don’t always hold water. Let this serve as a reminder that when selling a home, you should take everything you hear with a huge grain of salt.

‘You should always list your home in the spring’

Common knowledge says home-buying season starts in the spring and goes through the fall. Not true, says Melisa Aponte, a real estate agent with the Keyes Group in Miami, FL.

“January is a great listing month,” she points out. “People are back from the holidays and ready to start looking.”

Well, at least in places that don’t have a nasty winter, like Miami. Which makes a larger point about real estate advice in general, Aponte says: Every market is different, and what’s great advice in one area can be terrible advice in another.

Besides, when it comes to deciding when to list a home, there are two sides to the coin. Busier times mean more buyers, but also more sellers and more competition. Listing your home when inventory is low could snag the right buyer quickly. Life is unpredictable, and there will always be buyers looking in the “off season,” too.

‘You’ll find your buyer at an open house’

Open houses are exciting, akin to a debutante ball where your home makes its fresh-faced appearance to scads of suitors all at once. And that’s fine, but don’t expect this to be the venue where you find “the one” who makes an offer. While that can occur, open houses are more like parties, filled with swains who aren’t ready to settle down, says Anita Clark, a real estate agent in Warner Robins, GA. Serious home buyers will more often request a private one-on-one showing instead.

Of course, you don’t want to skip the open house entirely. It’s a great way for people to browse, and hey, you never know. Maybe your looky-loo neighbor has a family member who would love to buy your place after all. But it’s time to let go of the idea that an open house is a key step on the road to your ultimate buyer.

‘You can save money by paying less in commission’

Reluctant to fork over the 6% commission that real estate agents typically request to sell your home? Sure, that may seem like a lot of money, but what you might not realize is just how much work an agent does behind the scenes.

“A lot of people don’t understand that an agent’s job is more than just listing the home on the MLS,” says Aponte. Agents’ commissions pay for their time and for marketing materials. Posters, flyers, broker open houses, and yard signs all come from the money you pay your agent.

But beyond that, “it gives your agent the power to offer money to other agents who have qualified buyers,” she explains. That’s because the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent split the commission.

Though in an ideal world, buyers’ agents would show them every property in their price range, regardless of commission, unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way, says Aponte.

“So if there are a lot of properties on the market and you’re only offering 2% commission, there are agents who won’t show that property,” she says.

Ultimately, you get what you pay for, and a higher commission can often justify itself in the sense that you can reel in tons of buyers, and (hopefully) spark a bidding war that’ll fetch top dollar.

‘Price your home high—and hold out for a buyer who’ll pay it’

Of course you want to get the most you can for your property. Still, pricing it sky-high and hoping a gullible buyer will fall for this aspirational sum? Not a great plan.

“I want to sell your property for a million dollars too, but I would be doing you a disservice to price it that way if the comps are saying $500,000,” says Aponte. Home buyers are highly sensitive to overpaying, and will quickly steer clear. And the longer your house sits on the market, the more buyers will begin to think something’s wrong with it … and lob you a lowball offer.

The best way to avoid this debacle is to price a house right from the start—not too high, not too low—and then seriously consider any offers that roll in, even if they aren’t as great as you’d hoped. To start things off, you can enter your address in a home value estimator to get a ballpark figure of how much your home is worth, then fine-tune that number with an agent’s help.

‘Here’s what the market is going to look like next year…’

Sure, it makes sense that real estate professionals will make educated guesses to help guide buyers’ and sellers’ decision-making. The operative word here is “educated.” Fact is, nobody really knows what the market is going to do; if they did, the housing crash of 2008 would have looked a lot different!

“Beware of ‘future’ predictions that don’t come from a reputable source,” says Dillar Schwartz, a real estate agent in Austin, TX. Sure, your brother-in-law or best friend might be trying to help, but keep in mind that their armchair philosophizing about the future of real estate is just an opinion—nothing more.

The post 5 Home-Selling Tips Everyone Hears—and Should Ignore appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Hands Off? 5 Rules for What You Can—and Can’t—Take When You Sell Your House

5 Rules for What You Can—and Can't—Take When You Sell Your House


When standup comedian Nathan Brannon moved into his newly purchased home in rural Washington state, it seemed the joke was on him: The previous owner had left the pegboard on the garage wall, but had taken all the pegs.

“When I first saw the pegs were missing, I was superconfused; I mean, what are you going to do with just pegs?” Brannon recalls. “Now I have a pile of yard tools on the floor in front of the pegboard.”

Brannon isn’t the only home buyer to discover that sellers sometimes take the strangest things with them when they vacate a property. We’ve seen home buyers ranting on social media about missing doorknobs, toilet paper holders, and even trees from the front yard.

But it can be far beyond merely annoying for the buyer. If you take something you haven’t negotiated to keep, you could tank the sale—or even face a lawsuit.

Not sure what you’re allowed to take with you when you move? Here are some rules to keep in mind before—and after—closing the deal.

1. If it’s nailed down, bolted, or mounted, it probably stays behind

When Laurel-Ann Dooley walked through a vacation property she was purchasing, there was a glaring hole where a storage shed had recently stood.

“The previous owner had sold it, even though it was supposed to stay,” recalls Dooley, who’s an attorney and Realtor® at PalmerHouse Properties in Atlanta.

While most buyers and sellers probably know that “fixtures”—immovable elements of a home such as built-in furniture, fences, or, yes, a storage shed—must stay behind, there can still be some confusion, says Bill Gassett, a Realtor® with Re/Max Executive Realty in Hopkinton, MA.

“Probably the No. 1 gray area that I’ve found is the mounting mechanism for big-screen TVs,” Gassett shares. “Obviously, it’s attached, so it’s supposed to stay with the house. But commonsense says, ‘Well, if somebody has a $3,000 TV hanging on the wall, unless they’re including [the TV] with the house, [the mounting mechanism] doesn’t stay.’”

“It becomes a real battling point with buyers and sellers if it’s not specifically referenced,” he adds.

Generally, Dooley says, if a house has been modified for an item, it’s probably a fixture.

“If an air-conditioning unit is placed in a window, it’s arguably personal property and the buyer can take it with them,” she says. “But if a hole has been cut in the wall to accommodate the unit, then it’s most likely a fixture.”

With that said, you want to avoid “arguably”, “probably”, or “most likely” when it comes to selling your home, Dooley cautions. Be specific and firm.

“If you want it, say so upfront,” Dooley advises.

2. Leave Mother Nature alone

Unless the property listing specifically mentions that you intend to take the prized rose patch your Aunt Zelda gave you, sellers cannot remove any landscaping, Gassett says.

“I’ve had sellers with specific requests to take certain things that might have been a special gift,” Gassett says. “Otherwise, you can’t just dig up a plant and take it with you; it’s part of the property.”

3. Hands off anything anchored in the ground

Other backyard items are also potential sources of misunderstanding between buyers and sellers.

“Technically, if a basketball hoop is cemented into the ground, then it’s considered to go with the house. Freestanding ones sitting on the lawn, however, would be something buyers could take with them,” he says.

Ditto for swing sets: If it’s anchored in the ground, it stays.

4. Let go of your lighting fixtures

Even if you’re attached to your show-stopping dining room chandelier, don’t pack it up and leave electrical wires hanging when you leave. And if you’re thinking about swapping out that chandelier right before closing—and hoping the buyer won’t notice? Forget about it, Gassett says.

“When you buy a property, you’re buying what you saw the day you saw the property and wrote the offer on the house, so for sellers to change something out after that date is illegal,” Gassett warns. Yes—illegal. 

You can declare your intention to remove it, Dooley says, but be aware that excluded items often become sticking points between buyers and sellers.

“Instead, take that chandelier out before you list your house, and put something else there,” she suggests.

5. Window treatments stay, too

You may have spent a fortune on those custom blinds in your living room, but technically, you’re supposed to leave ‘em hanging, Gassett says.

“Curtains are always considered personal property, because they just slide off,” he says. “Rods and blinds, on the other hand, are considered part of the house because they’re affixed and attached.”

Mirrors are another murky area, he adds, but pretty easy to figure out: If they’re hung like paintings on a wall, they’re personal property. Bolted to the studs? They’re fixtures.

Don’t be petty—or you might tank the sale

Often, the littlest things cause the most heated debates, or even the derailment of the sale itself.

Sometimes, as in Brannon’s case of the missing pegs, sellers remove things from the house that aren’t worth chasing after, but are incredibly annoying nonetheless, Gassett says. For instance, he recalls a seller who took the control box for an underground dog fence.

“In real estate deals, some people take it out on the buyer by nickel-and-diming on stuff,” he says. “Especially if they don’t feel the sale has gone exactly the way they wanted it to, or they have resentment towards the buyer.”

Dooley heard of a seller who removed all the lightbulbs in the house before moving.

“With the amount of money you’re talking about on the sale of a home, I can’t imagine attaching sentimental value to your 60-watt lightbulbs,” she says. “It’s kind of silly.”

The post Hands Off? 5 Rules for What You Can—and Can’t—Take When You Sell Your House appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

5 Surprising Speedbumps That Can Slow Down a Home Sale

5 Surprising Speed Bumps That Can Slow Down a Home Sale


Once home buyers and sellers have negotiated their way to an offer and have a closing date on the books, you’d think they’re totally in the clear, right? Well … not necessarily.

Even the smoothest housing transactions can face a third-act twist no one saw coming. Here are some common speedbumps that can slow down a home sale—and how to avoid them so you can finish right on time.

Past due water bills

“In the hustle and bustle of moving out, many home sellers simply forget to pay their water bills,” says Jeff Miller, co-founder of Maryland’s AE Home Group. On top of that, some counties send out water bills on a quarterly basis, making it difficult to determine the final balance during a 30-day closing. And what may seem like a small blip can actually delay the title company from obtaining a clean lien certificate from the city, which in turn affects the ability for the title to pass hands.

Take-home lesson: Sellers can avoid this issue just by staying on top of their bills—and, as an added safety measure, putting money into an escrow account at the title company for unforeseen last-minute expenses. This allows the title company to handle paying the final water bill, receiving a receipt and obtaining a clean lien certificate. Any money that goes unused is returned to the sellers later on. (If you’re the home buyer, you can also request that home sellers set up such an account.)

Last-minute damage

Allen Michael and his wife were a few days shy of closing on a two-story home that was given the thumbs up by a home inspector. “We pulled up to the house for the final walk-through,” Michael recalls. “And our real estate agent was standing out front—his face was white as a ghost.”

The reason? Turns out a ton of rain fell during the month Michael was in escrow, which, in turn, had caused the two-story home to collapse on itself. “The entire upstairs ceiling had fallen and was on the downstairs floor,” says Michael.

Take-home lesson: Home sellers may be almost rid of the home, but make no mistake—any damage to a home prior to closing is their responsibility. As such, sellers should make sure that their home insurance covers the home right on up until closing … or else a torrential storm, falling tree, or other calamity could hit the home and their pocketbooks, hard.

Meanwhile, buyers should get a thorough home inspection to make sure the house is in good shape—and also make sure that their home insurance kicks in the very day the home becomes theirs. You never know when accidents might happen!

Freebies that are anything but free

Real estate agent Jennifer Ace of New York’s Re/Max Poconos was having a great day after listing her clients’ property. “We received a full-price offer within 12 hours, accepted the offer, and then breezed through the home inspection.”

The problem? The home sellers had originally bought the house through an online foreclosure auction website that offered free title insurance so they could save a bit on closing costs. They took the bait—it was free, after all—but when it came time to sell, the new buyers hired a title insurance company that discovered two unsatisfied liens on the property. As a result, “we had to prepare a contract addendum extending the closing date while we waited to resolve the issue,” says Ace.

Take-home lesson: Sometimes, “free” services may not be up to snuff. With a home purchase, it’s worth paying up for peace of mind that certain things get done right.

Survey issues

Buying a house with a yard and driveway may seem straightforward. But if that home lacks an official document showing property boundaries, it can be a serious curveball when it comes to closing.

“A client of ours put an offer in on a property, started the title work and paid for a survey,” says Bobby Montagne, CEO of Walnut Street Finance, a real estate lender in the mid-Atlantic. The official survey showed that a driveway spanning half of the property for sale actually belonged to the homeowners next door. The original owners of both properties were related, had split a larger property years before, and shared the driveway and garage with no issues. But it was definitely an issue for this new buyer, who put on the brakes.

Take-home lesson: If there are any potential boundary issues—for fences, driveways or otherwise—get a survey of the property done, sooner rather than later, to know where you stand.

Major purchases right before closing

Getting the loan approved by the mortgage underwriter is often the last hurdle for a buyer. “It’s also where the most problems arise,” says Samuel Pawlitzki with Beach Cities Real Estate in Malibu, CA. For example, many buyers don’t realize their credit is usually checked again right at the end of escrow. And if your credit has gone from good to mediocre—due to a large purchase or late payment, for instance—you could lose your mortgage.

Take-home lesson: Buyers should take care to remain financially conservative, without any wild swings in their spending, throughout the entire escrow process—from mortgage pre-approval all the way until the home sale is finalized.

The post 5 Surprising Speedbumps That Can Slow Down a Home Sale appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.