School:Home Value Ratios

Do you think living in a top ten school district adds value to our homes?

Absolutely! There is no doubt in my mind that living in the Quaker Valley School District, ranked in the top ten in Western Pennsylvania, adds both value and sale-ability to our homes. We are fortunate to live in a district with well state-of-the-art elementary and middle schools and a hard-working board that continue to work to keep the caliber of our schools at a very high level.

How do these impressive rankings translate into more money for you? Families moving into Pittsburgh have been a significant force behind our home sales for decades. Buyers with children almost universally start their home search considering school districts. Our school district not only offers top numbers, but it is small and can afford more personal interactions between families and faculty. This personal touch makes Quaker Valley both unique and a highly sought-after school district for people moving to Pittsburgh.

Relocation buyers are not our only customers. We see dozens of home sales each year to families living in other Pittsburgh communities where the school districts are not as acclaimed looking to improve the educational opportunities for their children. Pittsburgh neighborhoods that seemed fun and exciting to DINKS give way to sensible communities with outstanding schools like Quaker Valley once kids come along.

And yet we are a small community, with limited housing options. As our educational performance continues to shine, living in Quaker Valley continues to be a strong draw for buyers coming from both near and far, and yet we only have so many places to house these buyers. The increased demand for housing in the District has continued to push our housing prices up, and that has become particularly evident in some of our more affordable price brackets, which are feeling less affordable each year.

So yes, absolutely – living in such a highly acclaimed school district is a very important component of housing value and driving more and more families to explore the possibility of living here. Despite our new construction, the very limited nature of our housing inventory, when combined with the strong demand resulting from the excellent reputation our school district has maintained, is continuing to put strong upward pressure on our housing values.


    I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
    Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
    Associate Broker
    401 Broad Street
    Sewickley, PA 15143
    Cell: 412-779-6060
    Office: 412-741-2200 x238

    It’s More Complicated Than It Looks

    We were approached by someone who is interested in buying our home. The buyer has provided us with an unsigned sales agreement as their offer. They are offering 1.5% of the purchase price as their hand money and have not included proof of funds (it is a cash offer).  Are we wasting our time with these buyers?

    The very short answer is yes! For starters, to be a valid offer, it must be in writing and signed. Without a signed writing, you have absolutely nothing to bind the buyer should you decide to proceed. What you received is not an offer at all and you should not give it serious consideration until the paperwork is signed by the buyer.  If there are no agents involved, the buyer needs to hire an attorney to prepare an offer and you will need to hire your own attorney to review it.

    Hand money equal to 1.5% of the offer may or may not be sufficient depending on the individual circumstances. Sometimes that is all a buyer can afford. However, this buyer is supposedly paying cash so there should be no problem with them providing a more substantial deposit. Look for a minimum of 5% in this type of scenario. The hand money is your consolation prize should the buyer decide not to close after all contingencies have been satisfied – if you have moved out, you will need at least that much to compensate you for all of your moving costs.

    As far as proof of funds, I would recommend that you not engage in any substantive negotiations until the buyer has proven that they do have the cash available to close. Talk is cheap, but if they really do have the cash, they will have no problem producing copies of statements showing the cash or a letter from their banker that they have the needed funds.

    Your questions address just a few of the hundreds of complexities involved in getting a home sold and highlight why its really important to engage a full-time real estate expert when buying or selling a home.  Selling your home yourself may sound like a great idea in the abstract but the “for sale by owner” sellers that I have spoken to have regretted not engaging a Realtor to represent them as selling a home is far more complicated than it looks and most ended up feeling like they got the short end of the stick at the end of the day!

    439 Oliver

    Located in one of Sewickley’s most sought after neighborhoods, this home is beautifully remodeled and offers three spacious finished levels of living space, including a main level bedroom suite! Gleaming hardwood floors unify the main and upper levels of the home. The newer kitchen is open to both the dining area and large family room with vaulted ceilings and features brand new granite countertops. Walls of windows overlook the beautiful backyard – French doors open to the private patio. A convenient mudroom provides access to the attached garage. Upstairs there are three bedrooms including the restful master suite with beautiful bath. The lower level includes a finished game room, full bath, fifth bedroom and a spacious storage/mechanics/laundry area. Fully fenced backyard with fire pit. Close proximity to all village amenities and schools. Freshly painted interior…move in and enjoy all that Sewickley has to offer. $689,000    Read More…

    319 Scaife

    Exceptional Sewickley Heights home will take your breath away with its unparalleled beauty. Sited on 5 private acres, it combines the authentic charm of a Sewickley Heights carriage home with modern amenities and stunning design.  Magazine perfect kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances and granite tops opens to a captivating dining room with fireplace and relaxing family room.  French doors open from the gorgeous living room, also with fireplace, onto the sprawling stone terrace, which spills out effortlessly onto the manicured grounds.  Enjoy coffee or wine relaxing under the wisteria-draped trellis. Incredible master suite with three walk-in closets and remarkable custom bath with radiant floors, Victoria and Albert soaking tub and large shower with custom glass enclosure.  Charming enclosed courtyard. Three car attached garage.  $2,150,000   Read More…


      I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
      Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
      Associate Broker
      401 Broad Street
      Sewickley, PA 15143
      Cell: 412-779-6060
      Office: 412-741-2200 x238

      Should I Buy a FSBO?

      We have an opportunity to buy a home that we have often admired directly from the owner– any advice?

      There are many possible pitfalls to purchasing a home directly from owner that you need to be aware of before proceeding with this opportunity.  The most obvious one is determining the value of the home.  In my eighteen year career, I don’t  think I have yet encountered a seller who has undervalued their home – the emotions we all attach to our homes after years of loving them make it difficult to be objective about fair market value.  Establishing the market value of any home is a complex process – there are block by block variations in price and many factors that impact value cannot be changed, such as a less advantageous location.  An appraisal is the logical place to start in establishing market value, except that in the absence of an agreement of sale or application for financing, the appraiser is shooting in the dark and will often miss critical differences between homes, such as new baths and kitchens.  Additionally, for sale by owners present an unusual opportunity for emotionally attracted buyers to overpay for a home as there is no market response balancing their attraction – they have a fear-based response that if the home actually hits the market, they will lose out (which rarely happens).  This predictable buyer response is what typically causes unrepresented buyers of for sale by owner homes to overpay for the home.

      Should you feel secure that the seller is realistic in the price they are asking for their home (and feel that you have the skills needed to make that determination), you will need to engage an attorney who will represent your interests in the contract drafting process.  There are many terms in an agreement of sale that are relevant to you as you move through the process – it is not advisable to use internet forms or forms provided by the seller – you need your own representation.  You need to anticipate paying $250-$400 per hour for this assistance.  Because this represents a significant upfront investment on your part that is not required when you engage a Realtor, it would be advisable before reaching an agreement to have the home inspected.  Failed home inspections are the number one reason that any home sale falls apart.  Without Realtor representation on either side, you may quickly learn that the seller’s view of what is an acceptable condition is not acceptable to you.  It is also not realistic to expect your attorney to negotiate with the seller the way a Realtor would – you will be on your own to work out any issues with the seller and the attorney will simply memorialize that in writing for you.

      There are many other ways that we Realtors add tremendous value to our buyer clients through the home buying process that are too lengthy to elaborate on here.  It is unlikely that were you to need a surgery that you would perform it on yourself.  In fact, for most of us it is unlikely we would take on something as simple as a haircut and turn to our trusted stylists to make that a success.  Buying or selling a home is not the easy process we Realtors make it look like – there are many steps along the way that require targeted education and experience to navigate to the best result for you, the buyer – and this service is paid for from the seller’s proceeds, so there is simply no reason not to demand your right to buyer representation!

      As an Associate Broker at
      Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, is ready to answer any
      questions you may have regarding your real estate needs.
      Feel free to contact her at the office (412) 741-2200 x238,
      or on her mobile phone (412) 779-6060.

      Will Our Deal Close?

      Dear Kathe:

      What assurances are there to a seller that if they enter into a contract to sell their home, it will actually close?

      Reaching an agreement on the sale of your home is an important first step to getting your home closed. However, before a seller has any assurance that a home will actually close, several hurdles must be overcome. First, the inspections have to be completed. In most instances, the buyer has the right to terminate a transaction if they learn anything on the inspection that they are uncomfortable with, and in almost every instance, the buyer has the right to terminate if the seller does not agree to make the buyer’s requested repairs. So a seller has no assurances at all that their home will close until the inspection period is complete, which generally takes 21 days.

      The same thinking would apply if the Agreement includes an appraisal contingency – until the appraisal is complete (which also takes 21-30 days), there is a risk that the home will fail to appraise and the transaction will not close.

      If the buyer has a mortgage contingency, then there is a risk until a “clean” commitment letter is received from the lender that the buyer will not get their loan approved, in which case the transaction will not close. Usually it takes about 45 days from the date of agreement to know with any certainty that the buyer has received a loan commitment.

      There is also the rare instance where a buyer never provides the contractually specified deposit money or second deposit money. This is a breach of agreement and if this happens, it’s reasonably unlikely that the buyer will cure that breach and close.

      Finally, very rarely there are buyers who complete all of the steps in the process and just refuse to close. In those instances, the seller is often entitled to the deposit money, but that may seem like a small consolation prize when their home is empty and back on the market.

      Working with a skilled real estate professional will help you to manage the risks and move toward a successful closing. So while the short answer is that there is never a guarantee until the home actually closes, with proper management of the details the risk to a seller of moving out and leaving behind an empty home can be minimized.


      Pocket Listings — Are They For You?

      Dear Kathe, 

      We have noticed that several homes have sold lately before they have hit the MLS. Are these “pocket listings” a good way to sell your home?

      If a home sells before it hits the MLS, as a “pocket listing” as they are often called, it is highly likely that the seller could have sold the home for significantly more money. The MLS exposes a home to a large number of prospective buyers in a very short amount of time. This widespread exposure is what has the potential to drive the price up for the seller.

      A “pocket listing” is more like a secret sale. The agent you are dealing with may have a buyer that is willing to buy your home, but if it’s that easy, chances are you could have received more money if the general public had a chance at your home, and a bidding war could have possibly ensued. If an agent is being straightforward with the seller and discusses the strategies involved with using the market pressure of the MLS to drive in a higher price, it’s a rare seller who will willingly leave money on the table.

      So why do we occasionally see these seemingly “secret sales” taking place? Some sellers perceive these pocket listings as a good thing – some don’t want to be hassled with multiple showings, some don’t want the general public to know their home is available for sale. Some agents choose this strategy because they want to keep all of the commission for themselves and that only happens if their own buyer is the successful bidder. If a seller’s goal is to maximize financial return, however, a pocket listing, or accepting an agreement of sale before the home is marketed in the MLS, is rarely the best strategy.

      So no, my 17 years experience indicates that a pocket listing is usually not in a seller’s best interests. The highest returns I have seen sellers achieve occur in scenarios when they have used strategies to maximize the excitement within the buying community through proper pricing, excellent conditioning and staging and full MLS exposure.

      Should You FSBO?

      Dear Kathe: We will be selling our home within the next year. We are telling our friends with the hope that we can find our own buyer and sell our home ourselves. Do you see any pitfalls with our strategy?

       I am a real estate broker.  What do you think the answer will be?  You absolutely should not try to FSBO your home!  But why not?  Because it is not in your best interests.  You will be better off if you hire an experienced, full-time agent to represent you.  Here’s why:


      1. You will not end up with more money if you sell your home yourself.  If its that easy to sell yourself, chances are you underpriced your home.  And if that’s the case, you would have been better off with it listed in the MLS – with the incredible amount of marketing we bring instantly to your home, if you are willing to price it that reasonably, we could have likely generated a bidding war.


      1. The buyer will negotiate a price that gives him the full benefit of the fact that no commission is being paid.  In other words, if your home could have sold for $500,000 through an agent, your buyer will expect to only pay 94% of that or $470,000.  You may be thinking “that’s ok – I am no worse off than if I had hired an agent.”  But why put yourself through the hassle when for the same net, you can have our expert marketing and negotiating working for you?
      2. You have no one looking out for you.  How do you know if the price they are offering is fair?  How do you know if the terms are appropriate – is the hand money high enough, for example.  How can you be certain that they are really qualified to perform?  How will you respond when the inspector produces a laundry list of deficiencies, as they always do?


      1. FSBO homes have no urgency.  The way we generate bidding wars and nice realizations for our sellers is to create a sense of urgency by marketing your home everywhere instantly.  FSBOs simply don’t have the same urgency and the longer a buyer can think about your home without worrying that someone else will snap it up, the less likely they are to buy it.


      Just like you wouldn’t operate on yourself to try to save a few bucks, it is unwise to try to sell your own home.  Even trying will “burn your market” and make it difficult for us to put into place an effective plan once you decide you have had enough.  Start with a well thought out strategic plan—every house is different – every seller’s needs and motivations are different – there is no one size fits all when it comes to selling a home.  Buying and selling homes is far more complex than we make it look.  Don’t skimp when it comes to professional advice.

      Have You Really Thought This Through?

      As the market has improved this spring, Sellers are occasionally considering selling their homes themselves, without the advocacy of their trusted agent.  The rationale seems the same – save the commission.  And yet, while a commission is in fact not paid, it is paid in reduced realizations.  You see, buyers are very savvy – they know what the market will bear and if you, the seller, do not have to pay an agent, they expect to realize the benefit of a reduced  purchase price.  Buyers also know that if they can get you to start to walk down the FSBO road with them, you will be unlikely to back out even if they are less than reasonable because you will fear losing the deal you appear to have happening and will be very unsure about whether there will be another buyer.  It is a rare day that we see FSBOs actually achieve a net sales price greater than what we, agents with the power of big advertising dollars and years and years of strong negotiating experience, can achieve.  So in the end, your net sales price is the same, and yet you have to deal with all of the tricky little details yourself.  Details like making sure you actually have a valid contract (not as simple as it might seem), to working your way through financing and inspection issues, to working to make sure you close on time.  All of the jobs that we, the agents do – attending to every last detail to make your transaction smooth sailing – you must now handle on your own – and yet you are getting nothing for your effort because your net is no higher, and may be lower, than we agents could have achieved.  If your house is “hot” enough to bring a FSBO buyer to the table with minimal or no advertising, imagine how much excitement we could generate with the power of our advertising behind your home – these days, a bidding war is even possible!

      Statistically, FSBO transactions also fail to close more often than brokered transactions.  So if it is important to you to close (and you are not just fishing for an offer if someone happens to come along), consider this as you decide how to proceed.

      I can cut my own hair to save a few bucks – but it wont look as nice as it would if I went to the salon – I can paint my own walls (try to ignore the messy spots) – I can invest my own money (and watch it stagnate) – I can suture my own wounds (and end up in the ER with an infection).  I can do almost anything – but not as well nor to as successful an end as someone with years of experience.  The same is true for real estate.  Years of transactions and we, the trained professionals, make it look easy.  Before you don your real estate cap, take the time to think it through and ask yourself whether you are absolutely certain that you will actually come out ahead on your own.  Statistics are clear that you will not.