The Value of a Deep Clean

Do we really have to have our home professionally deep cleaned before putting it on the market?

The short answer is yes, but here is why! When we live in our homes, we don’t see the dirt and the grime build up.  Even if you have your home cleaned every week, it is impossible for a weekly cleaning to keep up with the little things.  And when you want to sell your home, to achieve top dollar, it is important that your home sparkles at the highest possible level.  We are no longer in a market where buyers are happy to get any house.  We have moved back to a more traditional market and that means that sellers must take the time and incur the expense of a deep cleaning to make sure your home is squeaky clean and showing its very best.

Deep cleans are expensive and when done properly take many days of work.  It is unlikely that your weekly housekeeper (if you have one) is going to have the time to clean at this level.  Should you choose to take on the task yourself, you will soon see why deep cleans are costly and time consuming. So what is involved?  In every room of your home, every surface must be thoroughly cleaned.  Light switches and plugs should have all grime completely removed and restored to new, all vent covers (heating, ceiling fans, appliances) must be removed and washed (some may need to be repainted), all lighting fixtures must be carefully cleaned (including removing any glass bowls to clean inside) and should sparkle, all cabinets and drawers should be cleaned inside and out, windows should be washed inside and out including screens and tracks, carpets should be steam cleaned, shower grout needs to be cleaned, mineral build-up should be removed from shower/bath glass and all plumbing fixtures (try CLR and a scrub brush, or Stanley Steamer if the deposits wont budge), fireplaces need to be swept out and scrubbed down (if you burn wood in them, call a chimney sweep for a professional cleaning).  All wood work needs to be washed down or repainted as needed to look fresh.  Any smudging on walls needs to be cleaned or painted away.

Outside your home be sure that all doors are clean and fresh, that your porch/deck is clean (power wash if needed), that all lighting fixtures sparkle and that all patios and walkways are freshly power washed.

You may of course find it helpful to employ additional service providers, such as a power washer, carpet cleaner and window washer to get the job done right! It’s a big task cleaning up after years of enjoying a home, but it will absolutely pay dividends when you go to sell. 

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

    A Market Shift

    We see recent projections forecast a housing downturn.  What do you think? 

    You are correct – Goldman Sachs recently released a paper forecasting that the US housing market will see a downturn. Their reports predicts that new home sales will drop 22%, existing home sales will drop 17% and the housing GDP will drop 8.9% this year and that the decline will continue in 2023. This downturn is attributed to rising interest rates that were implemented to combat inflation.  They have also noted that pandemic trends for second homes are fading.  That said, the report does not anticipate a downturn in prices – just demand – and suggests given other economic factors at play that the market will remain flat for most regions.  

    What does this mean for home sellers?  It means a return to traditional marketing. In other words, home sellers need to anticipate that they will need to take the time to condition their homes for market, stage their homes, and present their homes in an appealing way for buyers. Gone are the days, at least for now, when buyers are so desperate that they are going to buy homes in any condition just to get a home. Sellers also need to anticipate that it may take longer to find a buyer for their home — typically in Pittsburgh most homes would take between 120 and 150 days to sell in traditional market. Home sellers need to adjust their expectations and not anticipate that their home will likely be sold in one week.  It will also be very important to price your home correctly and not take giant stabs at the market just to see if it might stick. It probably won’t stick. Appraisers are starting to doubt valuations on homes and we are starting to see some appraisal failures. For you sellers out there, it will be very important for you to pay greater attention to whom you choose as your listing agent. Marketing techniques and agent experience will become all the more important in generating a successful sale of your home. Take the time to do your research and choose an agent with great experience in all kinds of markets.   

    Buyers – I seriously doubt that this is going to become a buying a free-for-all like we saw back in 2009. There is no anticipation that there is going to be a downturn in pricing in Pittsburgh. But the good news is you may be able to buy a home with less competition and you may even be able to get a small discount. You still need to plan on being well qualified when you go in with your offer.  And again, choosing a buyers agent with significant experience who can help you to understand market trends and where you should be offering will be critical to a successful home purchase. 

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

      Understanding the Home Inspection

      We find the inspection process confusing – do we have to fix everything in the inspection report before we close on our home or just the repairs the buyer requested?

      The home inspection report is the document from which your buyer works to make their repair requests of you.  Some buyers will ask for everything and others will ask for only those items that they think are important. They may let some things go, for example, if they are planning on renovating an area and anticipate fixing those items as a part of the renovation.   

      Once you and your buyer agree on a list of repairs, these are memorialized on an addendum.  It is that addendum, called a Change in Terms Addendum (“CTA”), from which you work when completing your repairs. You need not refer to the inspection again unless the CTA references it. You do, however, need to make sure that you do everything on the CTA exactly as specified, so be sure to read it carefully and provide a copy to your contractor(s).  For example, if the CTA says that you will have GFCI outlets installed by a licensed electrician then you need to make sure you hire a licensed electrician, and not your favorite handyman, to make the repair! If the CTA says you must paint to match existing then you need to take a sample of the existing paint to the paint store and color match it – don’t rely on old paint in cans – paint fades with age and it won’t match.  Be very careful to be sure you are complying with the terms of the CTA – if you do not, or if your contractor does not, your closing may be delayed or postponed until the work is done as specified. Along those lines, be sure to review your contactor’s work when complete and make sure that he actually did what you agreed to do on the CTA.  If not, request that he return before it becomes a walk-through issue. 

      And of course, be sure to get paid receipts from all contractors, or if they have not been paid, notify the closing company so that they can be paid at closing.  All repairs must be paid for before ownership changes hands so be sure to stay on top of your bills, and provide receipts to the buyers agent.  

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

        Giving Buyers Their Space

        My home has so many special features.  I think it would be best if I were at showings so I could explain them to prospective buyers.  Is that ok?  

        When you are selling your home, its normal to think that only you can fully convey your home’s fine qualities to a buyer.  This leads some sellers to consider the possibility of being home for showings, so that they can make sure that the buyer prospects appreciate all of the home’s amenities.  While this may seem sensible to a seller, nothing could be further from the truth! 

        When buyers visit your home, it is important that they be allowed the space to imagine the home as their own.  This starts, of course, with home staging, so that the home is not overly personal when the buyers arrive.  But it extends to allowing them to tour the home alone with their buyer agent.  For buyers to buy a home, they must bond to a home.  For buyers to bond to a home, they need to be free to relax in your home and chat with their agent about what they would do to make the home their own.  This will not happen if you are present.  So what can you do to make sure they appreciate your home’s qualities?  Hire a listing agent who will design a custom brochure for your home that is available when buyers visit your home.  Such a brochure is your best ammunition – they can take it home and recall all of your home’s wonderful features and get their questions answered as well. 

        Giving the buyers their space extends to the home inspections as well.  The period during the home inspection is one of normal buyer remorse.  Did we buy the right home?  Will a better home become available?  Allowing buyers the freedom to return to your home alone will allow them to bond again to your home and stay committed to it during the sometimes difficult inspection process. 

        In fact, the only time you should interact with your buyer is at the closing.  From initial showing to return visits, inspections and walk throughs, you should always vacate your home and give the buyers their space! 

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

          Online Home Searches Have Drawbacks

          We’re hoping to move in 2023 and are beginning our search online – is there anything we should keep in mind?

          The majority of buyers will shop online during their search for a new home, and many will actually begin their search there, like yourselves! The internet has made it incredibly easy for buyers to do preliminary research for a new home. It does have its limitations, however, which is where your expert real estate advisor can fill in the gaps.

          Online listings, if managed well by the listing agent, will always look amazing. Wide-angle lenses and professional photographers are employed, as well as photo-editing software and virtual staging, to make a home look as attractive as possible online. It’s worth keeping in mind that pictures may lie – be careful not to screen out potential homes just because the photos aren’t fabulous – rely instead on the wisdom of your agent. If she has listened to your feedback and is familiar with the inventory, she will be your best screen for which homes are better than they appear, and which may be worse.

          Online listings also don’t give you much of a sense of location. While google earth may help with some of this, until you actually drive by a property, you may not be able to tell physical lot characteristics that may be a positive or a negative to you. Online listings also can do little to convey a sense of neighborhood or community. Again, that is where your real estate advisor should be able to fill in the picture for you.

          Finally, online listings are only as good as the agent who enters the data – there may be information about the property that is not entered into the MLS, either by agent oversight or by simple lack of space, that might make a home more desirable to you. Information such as camera security systems, water softener and purification systems and high-efficiency mechanicals may have real value to you and is rarely listed online.  Thus, while online is a great place to start, it’s a great idea to choose your real estate advisor early (and you can also research qualifications on his/her individual website)!

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

            Timeless Updates

            We aren’t ready to move but want to update our home – what are the best choices for paint colors and flooring changes, assuming we may want to move in the next few years?

            New paint colors must harmonize with the rest of your home, unless you plan to repaint the entire interior of your home, so any suggestions need to be taken in the context of what else is going on inside your home. My best suggestion for a currently fairly timeless paint color is Benjamin Moore’s Edgecomb Gray. This color blends with virtually every shade of white that might be on your trim and nearly every color flooring that might be in your home.  It is really more of a greige than a gray and, like a chameleon, changes color a bit depending on what is in the space and what kind of light is filtering in through the windows.  However, if your home is a palette if golds, for example, this color might not be the right choice!  Trending now is white on white (with trim and walls painted the same or nearly the same shade of white), but this is a design style that is best incorporated throughout the entire home, and not just a singular room.  If you have wallpaper in your space, then it’s a very good investment to have it removed (do not paint over it, no matter what the painter tells you) and painted in a color that coordinates with your design aesthetic. Wallpaper overall remains a difficult sell.

            As to flooring, real wood floors remain the best investment you can make. They are timeless and easy to refinish if they become worn or if the buyer prefers a different color. I highly recommend choosing a medium tone brown, not too yellow, red or dark and preferably in ¾” thickness.  If engineered wood floors are what your budget requires, choose one that the manufacturer indicates can be refinished at least once, and keep a few extra pieces on hand in case you damage any through normal wear and tear. Bamboo is another great option and there are on-line suppliers that offer a variety of shades in ¾” planks – it is very resilient, environmentally friendly and installed can look like hardwood. I do not recommend that you choose the latest trend, “LVL” (luxury vinyl flooring), for anything beyond the basement level of your home. These are plastic floors, and if your home will likely sell for over $500,000, these floors will not be appreciated on the main or upper levels. Finally, carpet in a neutral tone plush (no berber, no mixed colors) is acceptable as long as they are clean and stain free.  If you stain them during the remaining time in your home, you would need to replace them again before you sell your home.

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

              A Kitchen Re-Do with ROI

              We are thinking of remodeling our kitchen. Any advice for us if we want to be making good choices for resale?

              As much as we would all like to be creative, when it comes to the “hardscapes” of your home – the things that are difficult to change – if resale is even a remote possibility for you, or if you want to be sure to get a high return on your investment (most people expect 100% which is not always realistic), its important to make “mainstream” choices that the buying public as a whole loves!  How do you figure that out?  Pay attention to what sells quickly in our market.  Watch some HGTV.  Check out Pinterest! Here are some easy rules to follow!

              The most popular cabinet color by far is white! Yes, I know, everyone has been saying for the past two decades that white is on its way out, and that is just not true!  Can you choose natural woods?  Sure. Will it generate the same excitement on resale?  It will not.  Yes, it will resell, but probably not as fast or for as much as white.  Colored cabinets?  If you pick the right (think trendy) color and are selling soon, that can work well.  But if you stay in your home for 10 more years, the color you chose may no longer be in vogue and may be a challenge to resell.

              The most popular flooring in a kitchen is hardwood.  Can you choose tile?  Yes, but it will feel dated more quickly, so choose carefully.  Bamboo, cork and upscale vinyls are far less popular but can be good choices, depending on the price point.

              Countertops?  Either granite or quartz are the most popular choices – either will sell well, but choose the color carefully.  Right now lighter color palates are in style for countertops.  Avoid Formica unless the property is lower end.

              Appliances?  Choose stainless.  Brand is less important.  It is the look that is key.

              Lighting? Here is where you can show some of your personal style.  Buy economically but not cheap.  Lights are very easy to change, so if styles change, it’s a very simple way to give your kitchen a facelift before you sell.  The same is true for paint, although wallpaper should be avoided.  Yes, the design industry claims wallpaper is back in style, but as far as buyers are concerned, nothing has changed!

              QUICK SEARCH

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

                Selling It Empty

                We plan to move out of our home before we put it on the market.  Any thoughts on selling an empty home?

                Some homes definitely sell more readily vacant – my last home was one of them – and so I definitely do not dissuade sellers from emptying their homes before selling them, but there are some important tips to keep in mind! 

                If you are emptying your home, then empty it.  Do not leave behind the items you don’t want.  Do not leave behind soaps, shampoos, chemicals, lawn fertilizers… Empty is empty.  So please plan on a complete clean out.  If you need help finding people to help dispose of items, give me a call!

                It is critical to be sure that once your home is empty, you bring in a handyman to make sure that everything is in good order.  Holes should be patched and touch-up painted, scuffs eliminated, carpets and windows cleaned, all lightbulbs working … When there is no furniture to look at, the condition of the home is all the more important.

                Make sure you have a plan for upkeep of your empty home.  The yard must be regularly maintained, including weeding, leaf and snow removal.  The interior tends to be easier to keep up, but do be sure you arrange for a periodic quick clean.  It is also a good idea to hire a neighbor or friend to check your home regularly to make sure that there has been no crisis at your home (such as a broken water pipe).

                Be sure to keep your home properly conditioned (warm enough in the winter and cool enough in the summer). I have actually seen mold grow inside a home when sellers do not keep the air conditioning running in warm weather in their vacant homes – this will cost far more to clean up than the air conditioning bill!  Finally, consider putting lights on timers so when buyers drive by in the evening, your home does not appear dark and unloved!

                Selling a vacant home is not a bad thing, but it is important that you follow these tips to be sure your home is presenting well to prospective buyers!

                QUICK SEARCH

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

                  Make it an Easy Walk Through

                  How do home sellers protect themselves from big walk through bills from a buyer? 

                  Buyers conduct a final walk through right before they close on a home.  This is probably the first time they have seen your home vacant.  If they find conditions they aren’t expecting, you can expect a bill at the closing or a last minute request to remedy the condition.

                  What kinds of things might come up?  There are many things that can cost you money at a walk through.  Here are a few.  If you have any damage to your floors (even if it was there when you bought the home) and you failed to list the damage on your disclosure, and it wasn’t obvious when you walked through your occupied home (under rugs or furniture), you can expect that the buyer will expect you to pay for the repair/replacement when he discovers the issue, which could be a significant expense.  What should you do? Disclose. Disclose. Disclose! When you list your home, take the time to make sure your disclosure lists every possible condition issue with your home.

                  If you leave anything behind that isn’t attached or specifically included, you should anticipate you may be required to call a last minute hauler to remove the items.  If the items were there when you bought the home, that’s no excuse.  The house must be empty when you leave unless you have the buyers’ specific consent to leave the items behind.

                  Forget to cut the grass in a few weeks?  You could be asked for a credit to have the lawn mown.  Forget to clean the house?  If its not at least “broom swept clean” you could be paying a cleaning fee.  Forget to complete your inspection repairs or forget to check the work and make sure it’s done correctly?  You can’t rely on the contractors to get it right – you must check the work – if they didn’t finish or did the wrong thing, you will likely have to pay for the repair again.  Accidentally remove an inclusion such as the TV wall mount bracket?  You may have to pay for a new one.

                  Take the time to make sure the home is exactly as you would want it were you moving in and be pro-active with your buyers if you discover any issues on your move out to avoid any closing table surprises.

                  QUICK SEARCH

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

                    Going Neutral

                    Is it necessary to neutralize our home to sell it and what exactly does that mean?

                    If you watch HGTV or read my weekly articles, you likely know how important it is to neutralize your home before you sell. But what exactly does that entail? Paint color is obvious. Your home is far more likely to sell for top dollar if its painted in a neutral color palate. This does not mean your home must be nothing but white. It does, mean, however, that you should remove most strong colors in favor of “colored” neutrals – colors such as harvest beige or light gray. A colorful room or two is fine as long as the color was chosen in the past couple years (trends in color change quickly, but when you live with a color daily and are not in the design business, you probably don’t realize when a color is no longer “in”)

                    Neutral colors in floor coverings is also key. Colored carpets are extremely difficult to sell. Be careful with ceramic tile –when it goes out of style, it is painfully obvious that you have dated tile and its expensive to replace. However, neutralizing a home goes beyond paint color and floor coverings. Consider the age of your most likely buyer. Buyers these days in their 20s, 30s and 40s as a general rule favor clean lines to florals. If you have floral drapes, silk flower arrangements or large floral prints on your upholstery, this could be a real turn off to a buyer even though these items do not convey with the home. The impression says dated even if the structure itself is not. This is pretty simple to address, however. Pack these things up – you are moving – get a head start. Drapes are great for decorating but unless they are very recently installed, they are unlikely to help your sale – most buyers prefer to see your windows. Slipcover furniture if it’s fabric trends toward yesteryear’s design styles.


                    Neutralizing also goes to removing personal effects – family photos being the most obvious. And of course, its important to neutralize odor. If you have pets, keep litterboxes perfectly clean and pet beds, blankets and toys frequently laundered. Have a friend double check – you should not be able to tell you have a pet when you enter your home. If you smoke, don’t smoke inside. If you like to cook with spicy food, avoid it while your home is on the market. If musty odors emanate from your basement, run a dehumidifier 24/ 7. If your refrigerator stays with your home, make sure it is clean smells fresh. Whatever the source of odors, remove them — your home should be odor free.

                    A neutralized home may seem impersonal to you, but try to remember, you are moving! While it may not be your style, it is far more likely to attract a buyer and a good price!

                    QUICK SEARCH

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

                      Downsizing Options

                      We are thinking of downsizing, but can’t find a place to go.  Any ideas on how to approach this transition?

                      If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines this spring waiting for your downsizer to come on the market, you may be feeling disappointed right now.  We continue to have an extreme lack of inventory, and have for years in this particular category.  Here are some options for those of you who want to downsize to consider:

                      If you are looking for patio homes, we have a limited inventory in Sewickley, with Elmhurst (one available) and Sewickley Ridge (nothing available).  However, we do have nearby communities that have wonderful patio homes including options off Nicholson Road in Franklin Park and Ohio Twp, all still in “15143” including Diamond Run, The Fields of Nicholson and Traditions Sewickley Ridge.  We also have townhomes in Sewickley Village (one currently available), some with elevators, townhomes in Sewickley Heights manor, townhomes in Moon overlooking Sewickley and townhomes in Ohio township (still “15143”).  If you are looking for that illusive Village ranch, you may be waiting a while and looking at a large project to bring it up to modern standards, or paying a high dollar amount, as some of our smallest but well done homes are selling in the 700,000s.  We often have ranch opportunities outside the Village however.  We also have a nice selection of condos.  If you are hoping to spend a lot of your time traveling, while a condo may seem on the small side at first, it may be all you need if you won’t be in Sewickley all year.  For those with larger budgets, the new condos on Centennial are a very nice option. 316 Beaver Street and the Linden have undergone a smart remodels and offers stylish in-town condos.  The Brittany and Normandy provide additional options.

                      Perhaps you would consider a new adventure for your downsize?  We have had many local families move into the city, with some cool options to choose from.  If you are really looking to shake up your life, and don’t have a need for our school district, moving into the city might be a fun avenue to explore.

                      Early fall can be a very strong market.  We are encouraging homeowners who are considering a move to list this fall!  If your buyer is out there and we can’t find your ideal downsizer, there are the options of a delayed closing to give you more time, as well as an interim rental.  Give me a call if you would like to explore this further!

                      QUICK SEARCH

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

                        The Basement Tells More than You Know

                        After renovating our home, all that remains is our basement. How important is it (or worth it) to clean this space up and how far should we go?  Would I get the return on my money? 

                        A basement often reveals more about a home than any other part of your home. It is therefore, more important than you might think that your basement present well. Most of what needs to be done to basements doesn’t need to be very expensive. Your basement should be easy to access. Whether you are staying or selling, excess clutter is not your friend –if you have a damp basement, it will harbor mold. Clean out now while the weather is nice! Your basement must be dry. If your basement just feels humid, then you must run a dehumidifier 24/7. If you have ever had water seepage in your basement, you will need to solve the problem. The quickest, easiest and most common fix is to make sure your gutters are kept clean, your downspouts are properly diverted at least 3 feet away from your foundation and that when it rains, water does not drain toward your home (in which case you would need to add soil to change the slope around your home). If that doesn’t work, you will need to invest in a professional waterproofing company.

                        Your basement should be light and bright – adding a few extra bulbs to the ceiling is something easily done inexpensively that will dramatically improve the feel of your basement. A fresh coat of paint on the floor will also help and is cheap to do (use porch floor paint). Glass block windows are a good investment – they are not very expensive and they add extra security and protection against termites and water intrusion to your home (I recommend including a vent block in each window so you still have the ability to circulate some air). Cleaning up old and unused wiring and plumbing is also a good idea if you have a handyman who can do it cheaply for you – it will certainly make inspections go more smoothly.

                        Getting your basement up to basic safety and code standards will also save you on inspections down the road. You should have a smoke detector near the furnace, any plugs should be GFCI outlets and if your basement connects to the garage, the door connecting them should be a steel door. Some of the more expensive fixes are unlikely to yield much of a return. Some people choose to spray their ceilings black – it’s a fun effect but unless the basement is being finished, it is unlikely to yield dividends. Others choose to parge their walls – this actually makes a sandstone foundation look much better, but unless you can do it yourself, it can be expensive.

                        QUICK SEARCH

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

                          Inspection Expectations

                          What kinds of items would be viewed as “hot buttons” for home buyers on inspections? 

                          If you are a home seller, there is an ever increasing list of items that you will be expected to address if any are discovered on your home inspection.  Given that, if you are thinking about selling your home, it would be a good idea to determine if any of these conditions exist at your home and remedy them prior to listing your home.  Items that sellers are generally expected to address these days include:

                          Radon:  if your home exceeds 4.0pCi/l, you will be expected to remediate the radon, even if it was a low reading when you bought the home.  Radon varies over time. The estimated cost for a system is approx.. $1300.

                          Mold:  If there is mold anywhere at all, you will be expected to have it remediated. Basements and attics are the most obvious places mold hides out, but be sure to check showers and under sinks.

                          Electrical:  If you have knob and tube wiring, you will likely be paying for it to be removed and replaced, unless you price your home with a rewire in mind and disclose its presence. If your home has any Pushmatic brand electrical panels, buyers will also expect those to be replaced.

                          Broken Seals:  if you have thermopane windows, doors or skylights in your home, buyers will expect you repair the broken thermo seals.  This is evident because the windows have a cloudy look to them.  There are a few companies in Pittsburgh that can do this reasonably affordably. 

                          Septic/Sewer:  Sewer lines are the newest “must do” inspection.  If a buyer finds roots in your sewer line, at a minimum you will be expected to clear the roots from the line, but if they are bad you will be expected to line or replace the line.  This can be extremely costly so I highly advise that you camera your own lines in advance of selling and get them in good shape.

                          You can be certain that if any of these conditions exist in your home, you will be expected to remedy the condition unless you disclose its presence and price accordingly. 

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

                            Demystifying the Inspection

                            We find the inspection process confusing – do we have to fix everything in the inspection report before we sell our home or just the repairs the buyer requested?

                            The home inspection report is the document from which your buyer works to make their repair requests of you.  Some buyers will ask for everything and others will ask for only those items that they think are important. They may let some things go, for example, if they are planning on renovating an area and anticipate fixing those items as a part of the renovation. 

                            Once you and your buyer agree on a list of repairs, these are memorialized on an addendum.  It is that addendum, called a Change in Terms Addendum (“CTA”), from which you work when completing your repairs. You need not refer to the inspection again unless the CTA references it. You do, however, need to make sure that you do everything on the CTA exactly as specified, so be sure to read it carefully and provide a copy to your contractor(s).  For example, if the CTA says that you will have GFCI outlets installed by a licensed electrician then you need to make sure you hire a licensed electrician, and not your favorite handyman, to make the repair! If the CTA says you must paint to match existing then you need to take a sample of the existing paint to the paint store and color match it – don’t rely on old paint in cans – paint fades with age and it won’t match.  Be very careful to be sure you are complying with the terms of the CTA – if you do not, or if your contractor does not, your closing may be delayed or postponed until the work is done as specified. Along those lines, be sure to review your contactor’s work when complete and make sure that he actually did what you agreed to do on the CTA.  If not, request that he return before it becomes a walk-through issue.

                            And of course, be sure to get paid receipts from all contractors, or if they have not been paid, notify the closing company so that they can be paid at closing.  All repairs must be paid for before ownership changes hands so be sure to stay on top of your bills, and provide receipts to the buyers agent.

                            A home’s value is set by the market.  Value is always determined by what a buyer is willing to pay for your home.  Many factors come into play in setting that value.  Market value reflects quantitative factors such as:  # bedrooms, # bathrooms, # garages, placement of garages (attached or integral), lot configuration (large and functional back yard?  Cliff lot?), location of the home generally, age of roof, age of mechanicals.  Market value also reflects more qualitative items:  how updated is your home, and is it all new, or just refreshed?  What is the floorplan (open concept?) What are your wall colors?  There is always a range that value will land in, which we call the range of reasonable.  There is no ONE price at which a home will sell.  If there are many buyers seeking a home like yours, it will sell at the top of the range of reasonable.  If there are not, it will take longer to sell and may sell a bit lower in the range.  What the market does not consider in setting a value of a home is what you need from the home.  In 2008, many homeowners had used their homes as ATMs and withdrawn large sums of money for educations, vacations and cars.  When the market softened, there was not enough equity for them to be able to sell their homes and not be in a short sale situation. This fact, that a homeowner over-extended themselves on mortgages, is not the least bit relevant to market value.  The market is also not going to consider what you plan to do next.  If you plan to move to Los Angeles to be closer to family and are finding that the Pittsburgh market is not going to yield you enough to be able to buy in L.A., you will need to turn to other investments to make up any difference.

                            We are in a very robust market – your home is far more likely to garner more now – whatever that may be – than it could have in the past.   Forecasters are also suggesting that values will soften by year end.  My crystal ball is out for service, but what I can tell you is that every hot market eventually softens.  Waiting out the market so that you can get a price that the market is unprepared to deliver at this time may have you waiting many, many years, and during that time you may need to invest even more in your home in order to deliver to the market what it needs in order to deliver an acceptable sale to you. 

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

                              Using an Appraisal Contingency

                              With all of the bidding wars happening in this hot market, should we put an appraisal contingency in our offers?  

                              Appraisal contingencies are added to agreements when buyers are concerned that their offer may be over market value.  If you are getting a mortgage, they really aren’t necessary if you are putting 20% or less down on your home.  Your bank will need your new home to appraise so that your debt percentage is not greater than 80%.  If it doesn’t appraise, you will either have to throw in more cash or reduce the sales price of the home, or the bank will refuse to fund the loan.

                              If you are paying cash for your home, or have a small planned mortgage, your only protection from over-paying is to insert an appraisal contingency into your offer. If the home fails to appraise, you will have the option of terminating the agreement if you choose, or possibly re-negotiating the price.  While this may sound like a fool-proof option, when we are in a hot market, with limited inventory and limited options for buyers, the goal is to reduce the number of contingencies to make your offer more appealing, not to add more! When evaluating whether they want to take their home off the active market to work with your offer, a seller will weigh all of the components, and an appraisal contingency weakens your offer as it is one more hurdle the seller must overcome before they can proceed to closing.

                              There is a definite risk that in a hot market you could overpay for a home.  Homes are in some circumstances selling for tens of thousands of dollars in excess of the list price. Unfortunately, this may be what it takes to get a home.  Inserting an appraisal contingency will only weaken your offer and could cause you to lose a bidding war. The best course of action if you want to win is to ask your agent to prepare an analysis of comparable sales and use that to determine your best offer, leaving out the appraisal contingency and hopefully succeeding in your bid to buy a new home.

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

                                Understanding the High-End Market

                                It seems that high end home sales continue to lag as compared to the rest of the market.  Thoughts? 

                                Our high-end market in the Quaker Valley School District is moving more slowly than the rest of the market, and this is particularly apparent when homes under $1 million are selling fast and at premium prices.  Speculation abounds as to why that is the case.  Many attribute that to the fact that our tax system was restructured several years ago to allow for a larger standard deduction and lower marginal rates but at the cost of limiting the deduction for property and income taxes to a combined total of $10,000.  Our property taxes are high in Western PA as compared to many parts of the country and that will impact expensive homes, with the possibility of the highest taxes, the most.

                                Buyers may need a general mindset adjustment. As a whole, our income taxes in PA are lower than the majority of states.  Our earned income tax here in Sewickley is only 1%, compared to 3% in the city of Pittsburgh. We do not have sales tax on clothes or food as many states do.  So while our property taxes may be on the high side, we are in a far better position overall than many residents of metropolitan areas with similar advantages to Pittsburgh.  Property taxes are just a cost of living, and if your bucket list includes the amenities of a higher-end home, the taxes are what they are.  The sooner our marketplace accepts this reality, the sooner our higher end homes will start selling again!

                                However, other high-end Pittsburgh markets are selling more readily than ours and while this article is not a political commentary, the reason most often cited by high-end buyers choosing against Quaker Valley is the school situation.  No one likes controversy – why move into it if you don’t have to?  If we can make unified forward progress, that may buoy our high-end market.

                                In the meantime, our middle and lower end market segments are moving fast and often with many offers.  Homes in these segments that are priced appropriately for condition and amenities are often selling with multiple offers, and in a very short amount of time.  These market segments are accelerating quickly in their pricing.  Waiting for the home to show up on your Zillow search is likely going to be too late.  If a move is something you’ve been considering, give me a call and we can strategize on how you can best meet your needs in this complex market we find ourselves in! 412.779.6060

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

                                  Protecting Against Overpaying

                                  How do you guard against overpaying in this competitive market? 

                                  You have a good reason to worry about prices in the market that we are in.  Currently it seems that prices have risen at least 10% in some price brackets since the new year.  That’s an incredible amount for the Pittsburgh market which typically appreciates at the rate of 1 to 2% per year. That increase is not being seen a crossed all price brackets – the million dollar plus market has as a general rule seen less. However, the majority of our homes are still seeing multiple offers and the prices are still coming in over the asking price.

                                  Given the current state of the market, there is a high likelihood that those participating in some of the more intense bidding wars going on right now are going to end up overpaying for their homes. If they remain in their homes for 5 to 7 years, however, that should not be an issue. We should see enough market appreciation in a 5 to 7 year period to make up for any premium that might be paid in the current market. 

                                  If you are getting a mortgage, the appraisal required by the mortgage company provide some level of protection. However, most appraisers are trying to make their appraisals come in where the market is presently, so that doesn’t exactly protect you from the “bubble” we may be experiencing. Additionally, if you are involved in a multiple offer situation, to be the winning bidder you will probably have to offer some level of “appraisal gap coverage” meaning that you agree to accept the appraisal at a lower number than the purchase price, should that occur.   So, you will not benefit from the typical protections afforded by an appraisal.

                                  In the end, the answer to your question is that if you are buying in this market, you are just going to have to come to peace with the fact that you may need to do what appears to be overpaying in order to get a home for you and your family. However, in the end, even if the market does settle down a bit, as long as you are not planning to move in the near future, the market will eventually catch up with any premium you might have to pay.

                                  QUICK SEARCH

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

                                    Impact of Interest Rates

                                    How are rising interest rates impacting home sales? 

                                    Rising interest rates are definitely impacting buyers.  Many buyers are having to step down their affordability levels and focus on homes that are less expensive homes than those they might have considered three months ago.  If you are a buyer and have been looking for more than a month, it’s a good idea to check in with your lender and request a new pre-approval and cost estimate so that you can be comfortable with what your payments will look like at the higher rates. 

                                    For most sellers, however, the rising interest rates are not impacting home prices. We continue to sell homes astonishingly quickly and at record prices.  The pool of buyers considering a home may be different, but their number is not less.  At the present time, it does not appear that the notable increase in interest rates has impacted our market in the “affordable” ranges at all. 

                                    However, the high-end market (over $1.5M) has always been much more susceptible to broader market factors such as interest rate increases.  There has been a notable (and hopefully temporary) decrease in high-end activity in recent months and rising interest rates may be playing a key role in that decline (along with the volatile stock market and other concerning world events). If your home falls into our high-end market, you may need to exercise patience with our market as your time on the market will likely be more in line with historic norms as compared to the current “flash sale” market we are experiencing in the $1.3M market and below.

                                    QUICK SEARCH

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

                                      Waiving a Home Inspection

                                      The market is so hot right now and we aren’t having any luck getting a home – should we waive home inspections? 

                                      You are correct –the market under $1million is very fast paced right now, and in many instances, the winning bidder has waived home inspections.  That does seem to be what it may take to “win” right now but I cannot recommend that you make that choice.  Now several months into the “waive inspections” craze we are starting to hear stories about the expected fallout from this hasty decision.

                                      From the seller’s perspective, I highly recommend that you have your home pre-inspected and repair or disclose the relevant items.  While an inspection might cost you upwards of $500, it is money well spent toward a smooth closing.  If you have pre-inspected your home and provide the report to prospective buyers, you are doing your part to make sure your buyer is well-informed.  In the absence of a pre-inspection, I do not recommend that you accept an offer from a buyer who has not inspected your home.  I have started hearing from home inspectors that disgruntled buyers are seeking post closing inspections to find problematic items and sue the sellers for failure to disclose. You don’t want that to be you. If you have not pre-inspected, we can discuss strategies to allow a buyer’s inspection and still protect you.

                                      From a buyer’s perspective, as we all imagined would happen, the post-closing stories are starting to mount about buyers who purchased without an inspection and are now having all sorts of forseeable issues – roofs leaking, furnaces failing… If you are going to make this risky choice, you need to do so knowing that you will be assuming the risk of potentially tens of thousands of dollars of issues The contract specifically states that your inspection is your opportunity to find issues – if you waive that, you will be fighting an uphill battle to recover against anyone. Before you make an offer without an inspection contingency, you really do need to ask yourself if you are prepared to absorb those costs!

                                      QUICK SEARCH

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

                                        Don’t Make a Stink About Sewer Inspections



                                        Our neighbor just had to replace their sewer line – is that a common home inspection repair?
                                         

                                        Sewer lines have become as radon was 20 years ago – today’s hot button for home buyers. In some boroughs (Mt Lebanon, for example) the borough now requires that before a home seller can transfer ownership, the sewer line must be scoped and must be without issues. Here in the Sewickley area, we do not have any boroughs imposing any such requirement on home sellers yet, but many buyers today do have a scope performed of the sewer line as part of their home inspection. And yes, if issues are discovered, they do expect the seller to remedy them. If a sewer line needs to be replaced, the cost will likely be between $5,000 and $10,000.

                                        Sewer lines are not something we think about on a daily basis. As long as we don’t have back-ups, we assume that all is well with the line. But this is not necessarily the case. With older homes, sewer lines were made of terracotta pipe and this can break easily and can also be easily infiltrated by tree roots. If you live in an older home and haven’t replaced your sewer line, there is a good chance you have some issues.

                                        Paying for a sewer camera test is not anyone’s idea of a good time, but if you are contemplating a sale of your home, it is probably a smart, pro-active thing to do. If you discover a problem in advance, there may be some cost-effective options for you to solve the problem without a full replacement of the line. Sewer lines can often by lined with a plastic liner. Tree roots can often by removed by hydrojetting. If you wait for a buyer to perform the test, you may get stuck with a full new line — the buyer might not accept one of the compromise options. So its best to explore the sewer line now, before it becomes an issue, and make any needed corrections.

                                        QUICK SEARCH

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

                                          Security Camera Do’s & Don’ts

                                          We have security cameras in our home – is it ok to leave them on when we show our home?

                                          Video recording is permitted, except in areas where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a bathroom. In those areas, you may not record.  Audio recording is much trickier, and most security cameras these days record video and audio.  In the state of Pennsylvania, audio recording requires the consent of all parties being recorded.  Therefore, the best practice, to protect yourself from any legal consequences, is to disable audio recordings of your showings.  This does not mean that you cannot listen in – you can!  It means you cannot make an audio recording of the showing.

                                          Some sellers are just curious and want to know what people are saying about their homes.  Some won’t be able to figure out how to disable the audio recording component of their system.  In those cases, it is important that you prominently disclose that the property has video and audio surveillance. This needs to be done in a conspicuous way – you should post a notice at your entry door as well as someplace immediately visible on entry – I create a fun little sign with a smiley face that says “smile – you’re being recorded. Property is protected by audio/video surveillance.”  When people enter your property having viewed the signage, it is deemed implied consent to the recording. It is also important that you make sure that your Realtor clearly indicate that there is audio and video surveillance in the MLS Realtor comments as well as in the lockbox instructions, if applicable.  Do not forget to fully disclose your cameras to your agent (this should be done the first time your Realtor comes over, as recording anyone without their consent is illegal – not just the prospective buyers!) Over-disclosure is a good thing when it comes to recordings!

                                          If you are a buyer, you should of course assume that every property you view is protected by audio and video recording and be sure to keep your comments to yourself until you are back in your car (many homes have extensive exterior surveillance as well as interior surveillance, so talking near the home is generally not a good idea!)  Keep interior conversations positive, but don’t say more than you would want to say directly to the seller in advance of submitting an offer!

                                          QUICK SEARCH

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