Real Estate and The Holidays

Our home is on the market – is it ok to show it decorated for the holidays or should we take it off the market?

Buyers who are shopping during the holidays are some of the most serious buyers we see each year – most people don’t bother spending their precious holiday time looking at homes unless they have a need to buy. So keeping your home on the market over the holidays is generally a good idea!

Decorating for the holidays while your home is on the market is also not a bad idea – homes often look their best decorated for the holidays – as long as a few basic guidelines are followed. Briefly stated, when decorating this holiday season, keep your decorations more neutral and reasonably simple.

Start by taking a more minimalist approach. You may have bins and bins of holiday decorations like I do, but when your home is on the market, its best to leave some of those decorations packed away. Choose decorations that have less of a religious theme. Snowmen, evergreen wreaths, poinsettias and nutcrackers, for example, have broad appeal. Be careful that the decorations that you do choose compliment your décor.   You may have changed the color scheme in your home since buying your holiday decorations and it’s important that they don’t clash! Don’t over-decorate the exterior of your home either. A few well placed, tasteful strands of lights or an attractive evergreen wreath can add sense of warmth to your home, but keep your inflatables packed up!

If you bring in a tree, make sure it doesn’t overwhelm the room. This year a tall, skinny tree might be the best choice so that the room doesn’t feel small. And of course, consider using decorations to highlight some of your home’s special architectural features, such as using candles to draw attention to an attractive fireplace.

When showings are scheduled, a brewing pot of mulled cider or a plate of freshly baked cookies is not only seasonably appropriate but will go along way toward creating an inviting feel for your buyers. And don’t forget – even if you normally keep your thermostat down, be sure to turn it up for showings so that buyers are comfortably warm!

601 Academy Avenue, Sewickley – NEW LISTING!!

Stunning remodel of this signature Sewickley Village home!  Huge rooms, beautiful new white kitchen, remodeled baths and unparalleled architectural interest combine in a home you will enjoy living in and a location you will absolutely love!  Located in one of Sewickley’s most popular neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and sidewalks to everywhere.  Amazing, flat and private yard, detached garage with finished space above! $1,675,000

 

49 Woodland Road

Boasting newer kitchen and baths in a sought after Village neighborhood, 49 Woodland offers a unique opportunity for newer construction in the heart of Sewickley Village.  The main level master offers hard-to-find convenience – with 3-5 additional bedrooms upstairs. The beautifully remodeled white kitchen opens to family room and sunroom, with 3 walls of windows overlooking the private backyard.  The three car attached garage offers another hard-to-come buy amenity in the Village, as does the finished lower level! $1,625,000.

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

Shhh…It’s A Secret

We are ready to put our home on the market but are private people and would prefer not to have the home in the MLS. Could you just show it if you hear of a prospective buyer?

I may be repeating myself here, but in this hot spring market, it really is an important message. There is simply nothing more powerful for driving in a high offer for your home than listing it with a real estate agent who is fully engaged in the marketing and selling of your home! Yes, you did ask a realtor, so you probably expected that answer, but here’s why.

First, Sewickley loves a secret sale. Everyone loves knowing what no one else knows yet, and buyers feel really special if they get the first chance at your home. But that secret sale is unlikely to drive in your best offer. What credibility do you as a seller have for pricing your own home? All homeowners love their homes and most feel they are worth more than the comparable sales. A real estate agent with a proven track record for pricing homes correctly is going to add an air of credibility to your asking price.

Buyers at secret sales will also automatically go for the “you don’t have a realtor” discount. In other words, you are saving nothing by not listing your home with an agent – the buyers will discount their offer to you based on what they think you would have spent in commissions. So your net will be the same (at best) as if you did have a realtor and yet you don’t have an advocate on your side helping you through all of the tricky scenarios that come up in selling a home.

Secret sales are also just that – they are not publicized city wide. There could be a buyer in the South Hills waiting for a home like yours and without a full market press, they will probably never find your home and may buy another, frustrated that “nothing” is on the market.

But most important of all – buyers at secret sales don’t feel the market pressure that a real estate agent can bring to your home. If there is a potentially interested buyer and they see your home marketed absolutely everywhere, they will assume that there are many other buyers out there and they are more likely to succumb to the pressure of the market and perceived competition and pay you more. If it is a secret sale, they can take their time, think carefully, and ultimately will either talk themselves out of buying altogether or talk themselves down in price. Neither is a good answer for you.

So don’t take any chances – if you are serious about selling, list your home with an experienced full time agent and engage the power of our larger market to drive in your best deal. Give me a call today and we can develop a strategy that is tailored to your specific  needs and goals!

 

1486 Beaver RoadNEW LISTING –  Incredible opportunity to own a nearly new home in Sewickley Village! Within easy walking distance of Village shops and restaurants, this custom designed and built home checks every box! The open floor plan is ideal for both entertaining and daily living. The two story great room

with impressive stone fireplace is open to the well-equipped magazine-perfect kitchen! Convenient main level laundry, attached 3 car garage,  finished walk out lower level, main level features a second master. 5 bedrooms, 4.5 baths. $850,000.  See more…

 

22 Woodland Road – NEW LISTING – Located in Sewickley’s premier neighborhood with tree lined streets and sidewalks to everywhere! Spacious custom built brick colonial on large, park-like lot. Hardwood floors unify main and upper levels. Outstanding amenities include NEW slate roof, main level laundry, attached 2 car garage, finished lower level, private back patio, park-like backyard, gorgeous 4-season sunroom, two gas log fireplaces, large rooms, exceptionally well maintained throughout.  A fabulous opportunity to buy this incredible location.  $1,000,000  See more…

 

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

New Year! New Home!

We’re hoping to move in the New Year 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 real estate industry has come such a long way in the 20 years since I started in this business. Back in what feels like a different century (perhaps because it was), we used bulky multilist books that were delivered every other week to find homes for our clients. Now you can access the entire nation’s real estate inventory on national websites such as realtor.com in the comfort of your own home!

The internet has made it incredibly easy for buyers to do some preliminary research for a new home. It does have its limitations, however, which is where your expert real estate agent 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 professional 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.

Online shopping is a great way to familiarize yourself with the market, but connecting with a Realtor who is an expert in the area of interest to you is your best course of action once your curiosity grows more serious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

515 Spanish Tract

Stay fit & have fun year round – the new indoor pool at 515 Spanish Tract is masterfully designed to harmoniously blend with the home and its surroundings – low maintenance, chemical free copper ionization filtration system takes the work owning a pool!  Simply spectacular renovation of the home – it nestled on 7+ private acres in close-in Sewickley Heights.  Expansive windows bring the stunning natural surroundings into every room. Open floorplan, with new kitchen, baths, flooring, windows, roof, generator… four outdoor venues to enjoy the beauty of the location from.  Turn-key ready for you! $1,850,000

Read more…

 

141 Beech Ridge Drive

Spectacular 22,000+SF estate nestled on 8 private acres in Sewickley. Remarkable newer custom construction.  Newly painted interior. Half-court indoor basketball court, full racquetball/squash court, complete locker room facilities including sauna, 60’x30’ heated in-ground concrete salt water pool w/ stone waterfalls, patio w/ outdoor fireplace, 6 bedrooms, 5 full & 4 half baths, 9 fireplaces, 6 garage spaces, two kitchens, wine room, roof-top observation deck, new home theater.  Simply remarkable! $3,900,000  Read more…

 

The Importance of 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

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!

 

907 Nevin

Fantastic remodel at a great price! Top to bottom renovation to this adorable Village home! 4 bedrooms, 3.5 new, stylish baths, 3 finished levels, new 2 car garage. Incredible open floorplan unified by new hardwood floors.  New kitchen with white cabinetry, granite tops, stainless appliances. Doors open to large and inviting, private rear deck.  Move right in and enjoy! $399,000  SEE MORE…

 

 

625 East

625 East Drive is the opportunity of a lifetime! Nowhere else in Sewickley Village do all of the elements of the ideal Village experience merge so beautifully in one home! Tastefully remodeled, elegant yet comfortable! Located on one of Sewickley’s finest streets. Built and maintained with impeccable attention to every detail. Richly appointed throughout. Beautiful kitchen loaded with amenities. Private study with richly molded walls and handsome wood-burning fireplace. Family room/morning room with arched windows flood the room with light. Restful owners suite with luxurious his and hers baths. Amazing dressing room with mahogany center island is loaded with storage and anchors this stunning space; walls of mirrored custom closets affording incredible storage ring this impressive room. Four to five additional bedrooms, three laundry areas, finished lower level with game room and home gym. Two-car garage with bonus room above. Beautiful, private grounds with large stone patio. $2,800,000   SEE MORE…

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

Moving On Before Moving Out

We are thinking about selling the home we have lived in for more than 20 years but it seems like such a daunting task.  Do you have any advice?

If you are like most people who live in their homes for multiple decades, you have undoubtedly collected a lot of treasured memories in the form of physical objects.  Your son’s first “big boy bed,” your daughters first bike.  The furniture from your first apartment that you saved, certain one of your children would want it some day.  Whatever it is, a move to a smaller home means that you are going to have to part with much of what you have collected.

For starters, you need to give some thought to how much you will be downsizing.  If you are planning to move from a 4000 SF home to a 1500 SF condo, you have a lot of clean-out to do.  If you are moving from 3800SF to 3000SF, you will not need to dispose of as much.  I do recommend that you start your clean-out right  away.  Your home will show much better if it is emptied of your “collections” and presents in a more minimalist way.

If you need help, a professional home organizer is your best first step.  An organizer can help you break down the process into manageable pieces and formulate a plan for the coming months.  You should anticipate that the process will take several months, maybe even a year.  Whether you use a professional or not, you should review all of your belongings to determine what you really NEED for your next adventure, and discard the rest.  If you have items that hold treasured memories, consider photographing them and creating a “Memories” book on a website such as winkflash  where your memories of these items can be compactly stored in a photo book.

Even if your move is years away, now is a good time to get started on those areas of your home that you don’t regularly use anymore, such as adult children’s rooms.  Pack up their favorite things in Rubbermaid bins that you can easily send to their new residences someday and re-home the rest!

For all of your “no longer needed” items, there are so many wonderful charities that will take them, and in addition to getting a home ready to sell and easily moved, you will get a tax deduction as well for your benevolence!  If you need help finding these organizations , or a professional organizer to get you started, feel free to give me a call!

 

 

907 Nevin

Fantastic remodel at a great price! Top to bottom renovation to this adorable Village home! 4 bedrooms, 3.5 new, stylish baths, 3 finished levels, new 2 car garage. Incredible open floorplan unified by new hardwood floors.  New kitchen with white cabinetry, granite tops, stainless appliances. Doors open to large and inviting, private rear deck.  Move right in and enjoy! $399,000  More Info Here…

 

 

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 More Info Here…

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

Pricing for “The Unique Factor”

In your May 11th article your Tip #12 was “when it is priced right, it will sell.”  Our home is on the market, has not sold and we feel it is priced right.  Is this maxim always true? 

The short answer is that it is not always true.  Some homes just take longer to sell than others.  If your home is “quirky” in its market, then it may take longer to sell, even if it is priced correctly. By quirky I do not mean dated décor or with deferred maintenance you have not yet completed. What I mean by quirky is, for example, if you are trying to sell a 2 bedroom home in a market that is nearly uniformly 3+ bedroom homes, that could slow down its resale.  In Sewickley, if you have a home “up the hill” it will always take longer to sell than the same home in the Village or the same home in the North Allegheny School District.  When buyers think Sewickley the overwhelming majority think “Village” and it takes longer for them to discover and understand the value of living “up the hill.”

However, if your home is located in the Village, has been on the market for several months and is under $1.5M and has not sold, it is likely it is overpriced.  We have a tremendous backlog of buyers looking for homes in the Village. It does take time for buyers to view and assess the possibilities of a home, but certainly not months.  As a general rule of thumb we like to say that if a home has had 13 showings with no offer or if it has been well-marketed for 13 weeks without an offer, an adjustment must be made to draw an offer.  The three time-tested factors that determine sale-ability of a home are price, condition, and location.  Location cannot be changed but does have a big impact on price.   In Sewickley, even a block can dramatically impact whether a home sells quickly or not.  Condition can be adjusted and I suggest you read some of my prior articles on my Ask Kathe blog at www.kathebarge.com for important information on what buyers expect in today’s market.

The final factor is of course price.  Depending on the price range your home is in, even a small adjustment can result in renewed interest in the home.  Additionally, it is important to consider where your competition is priced and selling, and this is a continually moving factor.  Other home owners may underprice to be “the chosen one” and you may be faced with the choice of either reducing to match their price or understanding that theirs will likely sell first.   Additionally, if you have received constructive feedback regarding either deferred maintenance of dated décor, you will either need too adjust your condition or your price.

FEATURED HOMES:

Lot D Sycamore Road

Lot D Sycamore Road

Only one lot remains in this new subdivision in Osborne!  The lot is .46 acres – build your Sewickley dream home – a unique opportunities in Sewickley! Bring your own builder! Pre-paid Sewickley tap in fee conveys with the lot.  $77,500

 

 

 

 

300 Chaucer Court

300 Chaucer Court

With its beautiful acre of land in an idyllic “up the hill” neighborhood, you can be moved in to host warm weather fun this summer! Throw memorable parties at this turn-key Sewickley home! The large deck and covered stone patios spill onto the manicured lawn, with sport court, outdoor bar, covered ping pong area and Rainbow playset. Inside, a stylish aesthetic seamlessly unifies the three finished levels. 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, 3 car garage. $799,000.

 

As an Associate Broker at HOWARD HANNA REAL ESTATE SERVICESKathe 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 x238or on her mobile phone (412) 779-6060.

Understanding Realtor-ese!

Why don’t realtors use plain language to advertise their listings?  How are we to be able to translate what they write so that we know what a home really has to offer?

The first step in selling a home is marketing that home, and sometimes the brutal truth is just not going to attract a buyer.  We figure that if we can at least get you to explore the possibilities, that there is a chance of a sale.  “Cozy” sounds much more appealing than “small”, “motivated seller” is less alarming than “the seller needs a sale now” and “awaits your vision” is far more intriguing than “this place needs a complete overhaul.”  I’ve included a translation guide to some of our more popular phrases to aid you in understanding “realtor-speak” as you peruse our listings!

  • Complete Renovation: the home has had a top to bottom overhaul and nearly everything is new within the past few years
  • Mature Landscaping: large trees, but it could border on overgrown
  • Secluded: there is no one anywhere to be found
  • Historic: old, with windows that don’t open, don’t stay open, don’t shut or don’t lock
  • Original: everything is at least 50 years old
  • Investment Opportunity: you’re going to need to gut this one to the studs
  • Needs TLC – another complete rehab needed
  • Custom Window Treatments: early 90s, expensive, teal or rose colored draperies
  • Must see Inside: zero curb appeal
  • Bonus Room – no one knows what to do with this space
  • One Car Garage – you might get your Suburban in, but forget about opening the doors once inside
  • Up & Coming Neighborhood – this home is next to the train tracks
  • Desirable Neighborhood – you’ll be paying more for this house because people love the neighborhood
  • As Is – inspect before making your offer – the seller won’t be fixing anything
  • Unique – you might have a hard time reselling this one
  • Close to the Village – a 10 minute drive by car
  • Walk to Village Shops – might be possible, but who has time?

FEATURED HOMES:

17 Linden Place

17 Linden Place

 

Central Sewickley Village neighborhood sited on a level lot with large fenced backyard and patio.  Hard-to-find four car garage with one bedroom apartment above is ideal for nanny, in-laws or rental income. Nicely remodeled interior with neutral décor, three finished levels of living space including large gameroom on lower level!  $750,000

 

 

 

7 Harvester Court

7 Harvester Court

 

Looking for a home delivered to you on a silver platter?  Your search is over!  This custom built all brick colonial was just renovated with 3 new luxury baths, newer kitchen, new roof, new HVAC, new deck, new paint in modern aesthetic and more. Totally turn-key for you and your family! 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, 3 car garage, finished walk-out lower level, nearly 2 acre lot. $775,000

As an Associate Broker at
HOWARD HANNA REAL ESTATE SERVICES,
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.

Twelve Real Estate Tips You Should Know

You give a lot of advice each week – any way to sum it up quickly for those of us who need the Reader’s Digest version?

 

I recently came across a posting on one of my favorite Facebook pages that I shared on my Facebook business page (Kathe Barge Howard Hanna Sewickley)  that I think does an outstanding job doing just that for sellers!  Quoted from The Lighter Side of Real Estate, the following are words to live by if you are selling a home, presented in a brief, easily remembered format:

 

“Twelve Things You Should Know About Real Estate:

  1. A Home is Worth What a Buyer is Willing to Pay
  2. Updates May Not Increase the Value, But They Increase the Chances of Getting it Sold
  3. Cleanliness is Godliness
  4. Curb Appeal is the First (and Strongest) Impression
  5. Pet Odor and Clutter Leave the Longest Lasting Impressions
  6. Neutral Paint and Décor Will Always Appeal to the Masses
  7. Cheap Fixes or Updates Will Result in a Cheap (Low) Offer
  8. Everything is Negotiable
  9. Time is of the Essence
  10. Location Location Location
  11. Buyers Notice Things They Want to Change Before They Notice Any Updates
  12. When Priced Right It Will Sell”

Keep these principles in mind and apply them when selling your home and its sure to be a success!

FEATURED HOMES:

309 Quaker Road
$799,000

Picture perfect, modern aesthetic is combined with historic charm in this beautifully remodeled Sewickley Village home.  With 5 bedrooms, 4.5 baths, newer white kitchen, mudroom, main level office, 2 car garage and fenced backyard, this fantastic home is in impeccable condition throughout!

 

 

 

928 Blackburn Road
$1,050,000

This immaculate Sewickley Heights home was transformed from an historic barn just two decades ago!  On a private 5 acre lot backing to the Allegheny Land Trust, the main home features 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, an expansive great room with soaring ceilings and woodburning fireplace.  On the lowest level are the original stables with 4 stalls, but this space would also be perfect for other farm animals or vehicles.  The property also conveys with a renovated guest cottage with 3 BRs, 3baths.

 

 

As an Associate Broker at
HOWARD HANNA REAL ESTATE SERVICES,
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.

Selling During the Holidays

The holidays are here and our home is on the market – any tips for selling during the holidays?

The holidays can be a challenging time to sell your home – the number of people looking for a home is much lower than almost any other time of year. But those who do look around the holidays are usually very serious buyers and so it is worth making sure that your home presents as well as possible.

Start with a good fall cleanup! It’s definitely time to put your yard to bed! Make sure your yard is well raked and all dead plants removed. Curb appeal is even more important in colder months when the landscaping is less lush and appealing to a buyer. Make sure gutters are cleaned and everything outside is looking crisp.

Make sure you keep your thermostat up for showings – walking into a cold house for a showing can be a real turn-off. Warmer homes will cause buyers to linger when its cold outside – which will allow them time to admire your home’s wonderful amenities.   And of course, with as gray as Pittsburgh can be in the winter, be sure all of your lights are on for showings (and that you have working lightbulbs in all of the lights). Its also a good idea to put a few lights on timers if you are away so the home always looks cheerful from the street.

Holiday decorations always add cheer to a home, but be careful not to overdo it! Keep your decorations this year on the more minimal side, and try to avoid religious themed decorations. Be sure that you de-clutter BEFORE you decorate and also be sure that your decorations coordinate well with your décor scheme. And of course, avoid large inflatables in your yard!

Finally, don’t forget that if it snows, you must keep your driveway and walk clear of snow so that the buyers can easily get inside

The Million Dollar Question!

Do you have any thoughts as to how the election will affect our housing market?

That is the million dollar question these days!

The quick answer: in the long run, I don’t expect it will have any effect. Real estate is very local. What happens in one part of the country often has nothing to do with what happens elsewhere. Pittsburgh tends to be a more cautious market. Our prices don’t escalate quickly and they also didn’t plummet after the recession. We have seen a very slow and steady upswing in our prices and I expect that to continue – because it is slow and steady, as Pittsburgh has always been.

Our sales have, however, came to a near standstill in recent weeks. But the elections are over and we have a new President elect – so where does that leave us?

When it comes to the real estate market, it really doesn’t matter who you voted for or what you think of the election results – it is common when there is an anticipated change in leadership for our real estate market to slow down. And so I expect, as has happened in prior leadership change years, that our real estate sales will be very slow from now until after Inauguration Day. Cautious Pittsburghers will be interested to see who is chosen to fill cabinet positions and what plans are laid out for the coming years. Home purchases are a big event in most people’s lives and they will want a greater sense of certainty before they make a big change like a new home. And then I fully expect, as has been the case with other elections, that normalcy will return to our market.

Because I expect the next three months to be slow in real estate sales, I do expect that will lead to a pent up demand and a strong spring market. If you are thinking of selling, now is the perfect time to put together a plan for selling your house this spring. The election is over and you can be certain one thing will not change – I will still be here selling houses for you!

Finding the Right Agent to Represent You!

Dear Kathe,

We have our home listed with another agent and are unhappy with the service we are receiving. We can’t help but wonder what process we should have gone through to find the right agent. Any ideas?

When choosing a Realtor, it’s important to do more research than asking a colleague, friend or service provider who they would recommend. I often help my clients find an agent in the new city they are moving to, and I start online.

First, I look for agents who do a lot of business in the area my client is moving to. How many listings does the agent have? I look at her sold listings on Zillow and see how many she has sold, both in the area and in the price range my clients will be buying into to make sure she has the experience they will need.

I then look at her individual website for her certifications and qualifications. These credentials require extensive commitment to training by the agent, and training means the agent is best equipped to achieve the very best result for you.  Much of this training requires years of dedication to learning and excellence.  All agents are not brokers, for example.  An Associate Broker’s license takes a minimum of three years commitment to additional learning and hands on experience. If you are buying or selling a Signature home, there is an even higher level of training available to an agents such as Distinctive Homes Specialist.  Christie’s Great Estates Specialist.  These programs add yet another level of  skill and expertise to an agent’s repertoire.

I like to say “a monkey can stick a sign in your yard.”  It takes years of training and experience though to sell real estate while making it look smooth and easy.  By earning credentials, we learn how to price optimally, how to market strategically, how to use the latest technology for your benefit, the complex ins and outs of our lengthy Agreement of Sale (the intricacies of which are just waiting to ensnare the inexperienced), how to negotiate for success, how to navigate the rough seas of inspections and how to close on time.  Every one of these skills inures directly to your benefit and your bottom line.

I also look to see how developed her website is (is it more than a simple blurb) and how many reviews/ quality of reviews she has on Zillow. This gives a sense of how committed the agent is to the business.

Finally, I interview the prospective agents to determine marketing plans, detailed knowledge of the area and their personal market statistics.   So take the time – get to know our credentials – and make an educated decision when choosing your next real estate agent.

Should I Buy First or Sell First?

Dear Kathe,

We want to downsize but are not sure how to go about that process – do we buy our new home first or sell our current one first? 

Your question touches on one of the trickiest scenarios in real estate – sell first or buy first? The answer is different depending on an individual’s circumstances. Buying first is usually the best choice – you can take your time finding the perfect next house. And you can move out of your current home before listing it for sale, which will allow you to stage and present the home without clutter and without the hassle of having to tidy up for showings. However, buying first requires a few things. You must qualify to own two homes at once. You must have a down payment for your new home in a savings account, or an existing home equity line in place on your current home that will allow you to pull out the cash you need for a down payment. And you must be okay with the concept that you may be carrying two homes for an undefined amount of time.

If you do not qualify to own two homes at one time, do not have the required down payment for the new home, or are just too nervous about owning two homes for an undefined amount of time, then your only option is to sell first. It’s a good idea before putting your home on the market to get pre-approved for your new home purchase (you want to be sure you qualify before selling yourself out of your existing home) and to start looking online for new home possibilities. When you get an offer, you may need to act quickly. The buyer for your home is unlikely to be able to wait for you to figure out what you are going to do next. If you need to wait to figure that out, you may lose the buyer. Additionally, to purchase a new home, that seller is likely going to expect that you have already moved through inspections on your current home and have a solid deal. Therefore, you will want to agree to a longer closing date on your current home to give you time to get through the inspection negotiations and select a new home. Of course, there is always the option of renting if you cant find the right home!

It is tricky, but with proper strategic guidance it can be accomplished smoothly and successfully.

Selling with Old Mechanicals

Dear Kathe,

We have a very old (25 years) furnace.. It is still working well and we don’t have the cash to replace it. We are planning to sell our home next year. What advice do you have?

A 25 year old furnace is a very old furnace, well beyond the useful life expected of such equipment. If a buyer makes an offer on your home and then finds out how old your furnace is, there is a very high likelihood that they will be asking you to buy a new furnace as part of their inspection response. There are a few things you can do to set yourself up for a positive outcome.

First, when you complete your seller disclosure, be sure to write on the document that the furnace is past the end of its useful life and may need to be replaced soon. Price your home accordingly and be sure that your agent highlights to buyers agents that you have priced your home at a lower price point because of its older mechanicals. This will prevent the buyer from expecting you to buy them a new furnace – they should take the age of the furnace into account when making their offer.

Second, put a home warranty on your home when you list it. This will provide coverage to you should the furnace break while you own the home and will give the buyer 12 months of coverage should anything happen in their fist year of ownership (and it is renewable).

Finally, consider buying a new furnace. Many contractors are willing to accept payment at closing if you make arrangements for this upfront. With a new furnace you can ask more for your home and are more likely to draw more enthusiasm form the buyers who do see your home.

Partnering for the Sale

Dear Kathe,

 Our home has been on the market for a while – we are getting a fair amount of traffic but so far, no offers. We are concerned that others are selling and ours is not. What are your thoughts?

 Selling a home is a partnership – a realtor cannot waive a magic wand and make a home sell. An agent’s initial primary job is to make sure that your home is well advertised and to provide honest advice and feedback about condition. If you are getting a reasonable amount of showings, then that’s a good sign that the marketing is working well. Hopefully, you have gotten feedback from these showing and have taken steps to overcome any perceived drawbacks. Some things can’t be overcome – if a buyer needs an extra bedroom or garage, there isn’t much to do about that, but if there are concerns that you can address, be sure that you do.

Take a quick tour of your home, invite a neighbor over for a look or visit other open houses to make sure your home is presenting as well as your competition. Take staging to a new level. If you have checked all of the typical boxes (no wallpaper, neutral carpets throughout, neutral paint, no clutter, removing personal items such as family photos and religious décor…) take the time to consider what else YOU can do to help improve the chances of an offer. If your rooms don’t look open and spacious, remove more items to a storage facility. Did you remember to clean your windows this spring? Dirty windows can make a home very dull inside. In this heat, have you been watering your landscaping so that it is alive and thriving? How about your lawn? Green or dead? Have you removed the signs of your own wear & tear – are switch plates and walls clean and smudge free? Have you de-cluttered too much making your home sterile? Pottery Barn is still the easiest look to sell—make sure that while your home is reasonably free of personal items such as family photos, it has some warmth – fluffy white towels in the bathrooms, attractive throw pillows on couches and beds… Unsure of what you need? Bring in a home stager for some professional advice. Remember, selling a home is team work – you need to be doing your part!

Finally, price must constantly be evaluated. Keep in mind the oldest rule of thumb in the book – 13 weeks or 13 showings – if you still don’t have an offer, its probably price. Yes, improving condition can improve price. But if you are getting the showings and you aren’t drawing an offer and can’t make significant changes to the home to overcome objections, you must reduce your price, or be very patient waiting for what could be years for that one buyer to come along.

A Pre-inspection is Your Best Offense!

Dear Kathe,

Friends of mine just had the sale of their home fall through because of a home inspection. How can that be prevented?

 Yes – sellers should have their home pre-inspected before listing to prevent these kinds of issues! Finding a buyer and agreeing on a purchase price is only one small component of a real estate transaction and yet it is often all that sellers focus on.  What happens between then and closing, however, is often the more difficult part of the process.  Issues with a home uncovered on an inspection often cost a seller thousands in unexpected repairs and when sometimes even result in a terminated transaction.  Inspectors are incredibly thorough (sometimes even finding problems that aren’t problems) and so every home seller should anticipate that the home inspector will find deficiencies and that the buyer will expect correction.

All home sellers should seriously consider having their homes pre-inspected.  For as little as $250 – $500 for a basic pre-inspection you will quickly have an insiders view of how a buyer’s inspector will assess your home.  Use the inspection as a maintenance check list – find a handyman to come in and fix all of the little things so that they don’t come up again on a buyer’s inspection.  If there are larger items that you do not have the ability to repair, such as a roof nearing the end of its useful life, get an estimate or two for the repair or replacement.  Note the issue on your disclosure and include a copy of the estimate.  This should prevent you from having to credit the buyer for the repair later – buyers are supposed to review the disclosure and take any disclosed items into account in making their offer to you.

Of course, if your inspection is good or just has a lot of little items that a handyman can fix, attach the handyman’s receipt showing the repair provide a copy of the inspection in the house for buyers to see with a note indicating that the home has been pre-inspected and repaired and that they buyer can buy with confidence knowing that they are buying a house in great shape!  In a town full of older and aging homes, this will really help your marketing!

So before you list your home – consider a pre-inspection.  It will give buyers the confidence they need to move ahead with a purchase, may combat concerns that there are likely problems that would lower their initial offer to you, and will hopefully result in a smooth transaction once you do have your home under agreement.

 

Is It Really Love at First Sight?

It sometimes surprises me that homes which look great on paper – well priced, good condition – do not sell, and I often wonder why not?  After reviewing statistics, the question often remains.  All the data suggests that the home should have sold.  So why then is it not sold?  This can be a very difficult question for frustrated sellers and their agents.  Recent studies show that greater than 60% of buyers (both men and women) know whether a home is right for them the first time they walk in the door – they just have a “gut instinct.”    This is consistent with what I often tell home sellers – more often than not, people are guided by emotion in making their buying decisions and emotions are rarely something we as professionals can reduce to a clear-cut action plan.

What does this “emotional buying” mean for you, the home seller.  First and foremost, it means that “first impressions die hard” – you will probably only get one chance at a buyer.  Revisiting prospects later with news of a kitchen update, home staging or offer of a carpet allowance is usually a complete waste of time with respect to those buyers – they saw your home, had a negative gut reaction, and moved on.  The focus needs to be, instead, on buyers who have yet to have that “first impression.”

If you are not yet on the market, it drives home the message once again – the message I have been sharing for years now – it is critical to enter the market ready to create an emotional “wow.”  Partnering with a home stager, many of whom offer reasonably priced consultations, gives you the best chance of meeting current market expectations.  An experienced agent should be able to give you some suggestions as well.  Many of the basics I have covered in the past include:  remove all wallpaper and paint with a neutral color palate; replace colored wall-to-wall carpeting with neutrals or, if possible, remove entirely to expose hardwoods; declutter and remove personal effects.  The trick comes in not sterilizing décor too much – it’s important for the home to still create a warm and inviting feeling – just not one that feels too dated or too personal.  Feel free to give me a call if you would like advice on how to best create the “wow factor” in your home.

Do Your Floors Tell a Story?

Dear Kathe, 

We live in a somewhat dated home we would like to get ready to sell — we have older caret and flooring — an advice of what direction we should head in when updating?

These days, the trend in interior design is to unify interiors.  Flooring is seen as a base on which to build a room.  The most universally liked flooring style is one that remains the same throughout an entire level of a home.  Unlike the 70s & 80s, when the trend was to choose a floorcovering for each room, these days it is far more popular to just pick one (or at most two) per level.  You will therefore often find that the entire main level is hardwood.  The entire second level may also be hardwood, but it could also be a neutral unifying carpet.  The design scheme then builds off this neutral base, perhaps layering on area rugs to add personal style.

In light of these trends, nothing dates a home faster than if there are a multitude of different floor coverings on one level.  It could be that each bedroom has a different color carpet.  It could be that there are four different materials on the main level – tile in the kitchen, marble in the foyer, hardwood in the family room and carpet in the living and dining rooms.  These floors all tell a story – the person who chose them was seeking a specific look in each individual room.  Those days are gone, the person has likely moved on, but the floors still hint of stories past.  Interestingly, when buyers visit homes like these they cannot usually pinpoint what they don’t like – they just say “its not for me,” or maybe “its too dated.”  What they can’t usually put their finder on is that they are missing the harmony that generally comes from unified floor coverings.

What does this mean for you, the home owner?  As you update your home, keep your floor coverings uniform throughout a level (up to two choices per level are usually ok).

My Crystal Ball is Out for Repair!

Dear Kathe,

How much more “life” do you think our spring market has left in it?

My crystal ball is out being repaired so I’m afraid my response will need to be a best guess, without it’s reliable aid! In all honesty, what the market is or is not doing in a given week or season is never more than a guess. There are certain norms that we have come to count on: the spring market is stronger than the fall market; homes in the Village sell faster than homes “up the hill,” which often require more patience. But being able to predict how long buyers will continue buying in any season, or how many buyers companies may transfer in, or how many buyers will accept the jobs they are offered and actually come to Pittsburgh, choosing Sewickley as their home base, is impossible to predict with any certainty.

And of course, there is the added uncertainty of what impact a Presidential election has on our market – historically it often slows around election time. It’s been a strong spring market. Buyers have come in waves – there was a huge surge in the March. Sales have been strong in certain brackets and not in others, but that could change on a dime. We saw a small surge “up the hill” but that market has quieted again.

To answer your question, I expect sales to continue along their usual patterns, with a reasonable number of sales in June and some in July as well. We are in our final push of families who need to be in for the school year. I expect that things will slow as they always do in August when most people desert Sewickley! Usually things pick back up again in October. If your home hasn’t sold yet, there is still a chance it could sell this spring, particularly if its well conditioned and priced perfectly. If you are thinking about listing in the future, it’s the perfect time to give me a call and develop a strategic plan for entering the market in the months to come!

Where Did All the Color Go?

Dear Kathe,

Why does it seem that almost every home we view online is so neutral? What happened to all the color?

 I recently reviewed a portion of a local market in the mid-price ranges and interestingly, almost every home that is under agreement has zero wallpaper and is painted in a neutral color palate (including beiges, grays, greiges and a few other nearly neutral tones). Only one of these homes had any true color on its walls, and that home took nearly a year and several price drops to go under agreement.

Professional home stagers have been counseling for years to remove all wallpaper before putting your home on the market –asking someone to buy a home with wallpaper is as personal as asking them to buy someone else’s wedding dress. No matter how beautiful, it’s rarely done and appeals to very few. Stagers are also quick to recommend neutralizing your paint palate. While there are some warmer neutrals, these days the cooler neutrals like gray and greige are the more popular tones with the buying public. Even having a more colorful child’s room can be a big turnoff.

It seems the selling public has in large part heeded this advice. The homes that are actually selling for the most part have been stripped of their wallpaper and painted in a more current, more neutral paint palate. Absent a compelling reason to choose a home that is not “sale ready” such as a severely discounted price, buyers are far more likely to overlook other “road blocks” to a sale such as a lack of a garage than they are to look past a personalized and colorful decorating scheme.

Does this mean that we must all live in color-free homes? Of course not! Your home should reflect your personality and your personal furnishings undoubtedly tie your color choices together. But it is important when we move toward a customized design scheme to remember that when its time to sell, part of the cost of selling will be repainting these spaces back to a more neutral palate!

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.

The Pace of the Sale

Dear Kathe,

Why do some homes seem to fly off the market and others take years to sell?

Location. Price. Condition. These are the three most important factors that go into how long a home is on the market. Unique attributes and depth of market segment would be fourth and fifth!

Location is really where it all begins. If your home is in an easy to sell location, the market will be far more tolerant of imperfections in other areas, such as wallpaper or a slightly aggressive price. Location is sometimes relative to a particular buyer – their work address may make one part of town more desirable than another, but generally speaking, buyer excitement about properties rises and falls with address.

Condition is also a very important factor in pricing. Homes that look like they are straight from the pages of a Pottery Barn catalog tend to sell more quickly, and tend to bear higher prices than are sometimes warranted. Those that are dated, with older wallpaper and carpeting, for example, tend to sit – unless, of course, they are in a hot location and deeply discounted, in which case our stable of “flippers” will be ready to buy with cash and close quick for the opportunity at a profit when they renovate.

Price is the easiest of all factors to change. If priced well, even less popular locations and homes that have condition challenges can sell quickly. But if you are trying to match the price of competing sales that were in better locations, better condition or with more amenities, you may find your home takes far longer to sell.

Finally, you may have a home with unique features. A home with no off-street parking can be a challenge to sell at any price point, and it is a matter of being patient and waiting for the right buyer who appreciates the home’s other attributes. You may not have a master bathroom. You may not have any green space in your “yard.” You may have a kitchen barely big enough for one. You may have only two bedrooms. There are many factors that could lengthen time on the market even with perfect condition and price. And of course, depth of the market segment is relevant as well. The higher you go in price, the fewer qualified buyers there will be and the longer your home will take to sell.

My Magic Wand

Dear Kathe,

Our home is on the market and not sold – where are the buyers this spring? How can we get it sold?

 Our spring market has seen some very unusual fluctuations.  In some weeks there have been surges, with several houses going under agreement in a week, and other weeks have been quiet.  The one million dollar price range has been hot for the first time in a couple of years.  The under $300,000 market is also moving very well.  If you’re home is in the “middle” then yes, it’s been slower than expected and it’s hard to know why.  Speculation has included the election, of course, as well as cutbacks in some oil and gas companies.

Sadly, real estate agents don’t have magic wands that we can wave to make a buyer appear for your home.  If it’s been on the market for more than a few weeks it’s likely the local prospects have seen it and determined that its not a fit for them.  The most likely buyer is someone currently outside the area, and there is just no predicting when a company is going to relocate someone who might be looking for a home.

 Therefore, what you must do is make sure it is the best choice in the price range when a buyer does arrive on the scene.  It is important to make sure that it shows perfectly – there is a lot of competition – other sellers who really want a buyer as well.  I have written many articles that you can find on my blog at www.kathebarge.com that cover critical topics like de-cluttering and staging, and updating your home.  It might be time to bring in a professional stager.  It might be time to update paint colors, freshen any dated carpets, update lighting fixtures or baths. Many of these things can be done very cost effectively and could give your home the edge with the next buyer through town.

 It may also be time to have a professional appraisal done of your home, both to check to make sure that you have it priced competitively and to give any buyer prospects confidence that the value is there.

 In the end, homes with completely updated features and current design palates continue to be the first ones to sell.  If that’s not your home and changes aren’t possible, then review price, do the best you can to stage and de-clutter, and then be patient.  Buyers can be very fickle – your buyer will come!

Where Did They Get THAT Price!?

Dear Kathe,

How do we decide how to price our home? We know buyers like to negotiate!

Deciding on an asking price is a challenging task, particularly in Sewickley.  Interestingly, in Pittsburgh’s North Hills, sellers realize much closer to their asking price, often 97% and higher.  However, if a property is overpriced in the North Hills, buyers will simply write the property off – low-ball offers are not made.  In Sewickley, however, we have developed the unique tradition of negotiating fairly heavily on the sale of a home.  In prior years, the average realization was only 89% and offers often start as low as 80% below asking price.  So how is a seller to price a property?  If a seller prices 20% over the price a home is likely to sell for to allow for negotiating, it is likely to be seen as “overpriced.”  If the seller prices only 2% over likely sales prices, many buyers will factor in the large discounts we often see and bring in inappropriately low offers.  Developing a strategy for both pricing and marketing is therefore critical to make sure that a home is both well received and does not sit and get stale on the market.

If you’re facing a deadline due to job relocation or other reasons, then you need to price competitively, even more competitively than expected in today’s market.  You’ll need to list at significantly less than your competition.  And keep your commission higher as an incentive for a quicker offer.  That may seem tough to stomach, but it’s better than continuing your monthly loan payments or the hassle of trying to find tenants to rent your home and of being a landlord for a year or more.

If your home has been listed for some time, but not generating interest, you may need to lower your price.  Of the three elements that sell a home – price, location, and condition – price is the one you’ll have the most control over.  Review your listing company’s programs and marketing, making sure that you are taking advantage of all of them.

Make sure your home shows better than its competition.  Its condition should outshine all of the other listings in its price range.  Take time to de-clutter, store off site what you can live without, stage and make sure you attend to all of the little maintenance projects you may have been putting off.

In the end, Sewickley statistics show that if your home does not have an agreement on it within 75 days of the listing date, you will not achieve 90% or more of your original asking price.  This makes the original list price a critical decision and also makes it clear that after 75 days, it is absolutely essential to reevaluate your price in light of market feedback and price.

The Long Wait Until Closing

Continuing from last week:

Dear Kathe,

We’re first time home buyers – where do we begin? 

At this point in our journey to your new home, hopefully you have resolved any home inspection issues that you have and your financing is in process.

There are many pieces to the home financing puzzle that you will not see and some that you will.  Financing has gotten quite tight now and you will need to be prepared for a high level of documentation required by the lender.  They may ask you to document sources of deposits.  They may ask you to document other expenses you are responsible for.  They may need copies of letters of employment or bonus guarantee letters.  Be prepared to respond quickly to any and all requests.  While you are addressing these requests, the lender will order an appraisal to confirm value of the home.  There is a range of reasonable in which a home may sell – the lender is simply trying to make sure that you are in that range.

Once your loan is approved you begin the long wait until closing.  If you had a particularly delayed closing, you will begin to wonder if you are supposed to be doing something else.  The next steps happen right before closing.  You will set up your insurance coverage on the home with your insurance agent a few weeks in advance.  Coverage options vary widely so you will want to work with an insurance agent who will thoroughly review all of your options with you.  About a week before, you will need to call the utility companies to move the utility bills to your name.  If you forget to do this, the utilities will simply be turned off and it will cost you more to get them turned back on again.  For water and sewer, you will need to show up in person to get them connected, so be sure to schedule that in to your work schedule.  Finally, the day before closing you will do your walk through to make sure the home is as you expected it would be.  If the seller accidentally removed something you thought was to remain or forgot to make a requested repair, now is the time to raise those issues.  Once you close, so does your window of opportunity to resolve any last minute concerns with the seller.

On the day of the closing, you will spend about an hour signing many documents and presenting a cashier’s check for any balance you owe above and beyond the mortgage.  Once that is completed, you will receive the keys and may begin the happy process of unpacking into your new home!

Negotiations Begin!

Continuing from last week:

Dear Kathe,

We’re first time home buyers – where do we begin? 

If you’re following along each week, by now you have been pre-approved for a loan, selected a Buyer’s Agent, looked at and selected a Property, made an offer and are negotiating for your new home!

The process of negotiating for a home is one of give and take.  Your Buyer’s Agent should be able to explain negotiating norms in the areas in which you are interested.  For example, in our North Hills communities, Sellers price their homes more tightly and they generally sell in the range of 98% of list price.  If you bring an offer at 90% of list price, you may not even get a response.  In Sewickley, there is often a bit more flexibility.  Keep in mind, however, that price isn’t the only concern.  Closing date is important – if you can’t get the date you want, you may need to pay for temporary housing and storage of your things.  Inclusions are important – if a Seller starts removing things from the home, they are things you may need to spend money to replace and this may affect what you are willing to pay for the home.  You must keep all of this in mind as you try to negotiate to a final Agreement to purchase the home.

Once you and the seller reach a deal, both parties sign the Agreement and you are officially “under agreement.”  At this point, the contract takes over and specifies exactly what you must do next.  Your Buyer’s Agent should lay all of this out for you in easy-to-use timelines.  This is absolutely critical – if you miss deadlines, you could lose your deposit money in some scenarios.  You generally have 1-2 weeks to apply for a mortgage.  Do not delay.  The lending process is quite complex these days – there will be a lot of detailed information requested – this will take you time to compile.

At the exact same time that you are applying for your mortgage, you will also be inspecting your new home (yes, it will be very busy for a few weeks).  More on inspections next week…

Who Left Toothpaste in the Sink!!

Dear Kathe,

It’s snowing outside – hard to imagine this is a good time to list our home. When is it a good time to get our home on the market? Any last minute pointers?

The holidays are behind us and we are ready to start a new and exciting year.  Just two weeks old, the 2016 real estate market is already abuzz — ahead lies the promise of another great year.  If you thought we were in the slow real estate season then you thought wrong!  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Pittsburgh’s inventory levels have never been lower for longer and there has never been a greater opportunity to sell your home.  Homes that are coming on the market now are moving fast.  In prior articles I have discussed the importance of readying your home for sale and there could be no better time to dig out those articles and start getting your home ready to sell.  The spring market has started — there is no doubt and there is no time to lose!  In the next few articles, I will focus on the details of getting your home ready to sell, so be sure to check in each week.  This week I will address your bathrooms.

Bathrooms are a key component to selling a home.  It is critical that they be both clean and as updated as possible.  Clean is less obvious than you might think.  In addition to the basics, grout should be clean (consider renting a steamer), tubs and showers should be caulked.  Everything should be in good working order.  Commodes should be firmly bolted down, lids should match the toilet, sinks should not drip, drain stoppers on sinks and tubs should properly close and all plumbing hardware should be in good condition and should not be significantly tarnished or corroded (if they are, you can replace them with a reasonably inexpensive fixture).

The bathrooms should also be as updated as possible.  It doesn’t have to cost a lot to give a bathroom a fresh look.  Remove all wallpaper and paint in a color that is reasonably neutral and brings out the best in the tile.  Change lighting fixtures (there is a huge selection of inexpensive bathroom lights online) and cabinet hardware if it is dated.  Consider painting old cabinetry either a shade of white or black.  Replace old mirrors, or repaint their frames for an easy update.  New tile and granite tops may be necessary to bring out the full value in your home if it is in a higher price bracket, but for many homes this level of expense is not necessary to create a fresh, updated and welcoming look.  Take the time to take this list into each of your bathrooms for a detailed review (or call me and I will be happy to walk through with you and help you with this review) and it will pay dividends this spring in a fast and lucrative sale.

New Year? New Home!

Dear Kathe,

We’re hoping to move in the New Year 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 real estate industry has come such a long way in the 17 years since I started in this business. Back in what feels like a different century (perhaps because it was), we used bulky multilist books that were delivered every other week to find homes for our clients. If you were in good with your agent, she might lend you a coveted book to take home and peruse! Now you can access the entire nation’s real estate inventory on national websites such as realtor.com in the comfort of your own home!

The internet has made it incredibly easy for buyers to do some preliminary research for a new home. It does have its limitations, however, which is where your expert real estate agent can fill in the gaps.

Online listings, if managed by a top agent, will always look amazing. Wide-angle lenses and professional photographers are employed, as well as photo-editing software, 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 professional 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, high-efficiency mechanicals and timered vacation/Christmas lighting may have real value to you and is rarely listed online.

Online shopping is a great way to familiarize yourself with the market, but a local real estate expert is your best course of action once your curiosity grows more serious.

Seeing is Believing

Dear Kathe,

How important do you think it is to have a visual tour as part of marketing a home in today’s home selling environment?

Visual tours are an essential part of every home sale. National Association of Realtor studies show that nearly half of all home buyers start their search online, and almost all buyers will ultimately make online shopping a part of their home buying process. So while print media remains an important piece of any marketing campaign, it is critical that your online presence be top notch.

A premier online marketing campaign begins of course with professional quality photos. Wondering how important this really is? Spend an hour perusing the local listings online and check out the difference between the photography of agents who clearly employ a professional and those who do not – those with professional photos really stand out!

Once online, the more time a buyer spends viewing your home, the greater likelihood they will develop an interest in coming to see it. We consider every online viewing the same as an in-person showing – it is the initial visit by which a buyer will give your home a preliminary thumbs up or thumbs down.  A visual tour is an important piece of that online viewing – with a visual tour available, a buyer will spend more time considering your home. By augmenting text and voice narration, the agent can give the buyer even more information about your home, which will hopefully peak their interest in coming to take a look. Visual tours are also easily shared with friends and family. These days, buyers are eager to know what their most trusted circle thinks – and having a beautifully presented visual tour will make it easy for them to solicit that support.

The internet is a tremendous asset to home sellers when used effectively. Not only does it allow you to cast a wider net and be seen by exponentially more prospective buyers than ever before, but it allows the buyers to make an initial decision about whether your home is a contender, which saves everyone a lot of time. When done well, a visual tour can help put your home on the list of contenders, and ultimately help make it the chosen one!

Does Your House Say “BOO”?

Dear Kathe,

With Halloween approaching, I am wondering what tips you might have about selling a vacant home – it seems they can be a little spooky?

It is certainly important, whether your home is inhabited or not, that you keep your home from looking like a haunted house, at Halloween and throughout the rest of the year! Most buyers are driven to buy by their emotions – a scary looking house from the curb is not going to create a warm feeling for your buyer prospects. Keep your lawn mowed and your shrubbery trimmed – winter is approaching so its definitely time to do your final mow and yard clean-up. Beware of faded or chipping exterior paint – if your home suffers from this problem now is definitely the time to book a painter for spring. Also make sure that your windows are clean and in good repair and your sidewalk and driveway are also in well-maintained condition. These are important tips for all homes, and will go a long way to create a warm feeling from the curb.

Vacant homes do need additional thought if they are going to present well to buyer prospects. They must always be clean – dead bugs should not be apparent – a quick clean twice a month should be adequate. All light bulbs should be working, bright and not the kind that are slow to warm up. Leaving a light on a timer in a couple of rooms is a good idea – if a buyer has a strong interest they will often drive by at night and you don’t want your home to look dark and scary. Keep your home at a reasonable temperature – walking into a 55 degree home is not the least bit appealing on a cold day – programmable thermostats can help you keep your bills down. Condition is absolutely key in a vacant home — if buyers aren’t distracted by your things, they are far more likely to notice everything wrong with your home.   If you have moved out, be sure you have moved everything out – it can be disturbing to a buyer to see that you have moved out but have left closets or cabinets full of your things. Finally, ask your agent whether you should have your home professionally staged – its not cheap, but professional staging helps to make a house feel more like a home to your prospective buyers.

I’m Your Agent, But I Don’t Do Windows!

Dear Kathe:

What is reasonable to expect a real estate agent to do for you when selling your home, and what is not?

This is an outstanding question posed by a recently closed home seller. Clarifying listing agent responsibilities up front is an outstanding way to keep the consumer/agent relationship a happy and productive one. Homes don’t always sell quickly and the relationship can be lengthy!

It is reasonable to expect your agent to be well versed in the market you are in. She should be familiar with all comparable sales and competing listings and should have visited most of them personally. She should be able to describe their differences to you so that you can understand how your home realistically compares to others. She should also have an understanding of our market cycles and be able to explain when your home is most likely to sell, and how many days on average it takes to sell a home like yours.

It is reasonable to expect that your agent keep your home well advertised. You should expect professional quality photos and a full saturation of the internet, which drives most home sales these days. It should appear in print media as well and be occasionally open to the public, although sales from open houses are rare. It is reasonable to expect periodic market updates and feedback reports – monthly is the most common that I see among my colleagues.

If your home is vacant, it is reasonable to expect periodic property checks. Bi-weekly is appropriate, but I do provide weekly checks for my vacant listings. It is also reasonable to expect your agent to have enough community connections to be able to provide referrals for work that needs to be done.

It is important to remember that an agent’s job is to market your home, and ultimately, to negotiate a contract for the sale of the home. The home does remain your home, however. Therefore, it is important for you to be a continued partner in its sale. A real estate agent cannot maintain the property for you and cannot contract for you to have it done, but hopefully can refer you to service providers. Additionally, as much as we wish we did, a real estate agent does not have a magic wand to miraculously produce a buyer for you or a crystal ball to know when that buyer will come along, although sometimes we are able to sell homes so quickly that you might think we do. We must all work within the market that we are in and stay the course with consistent advertising, price reviews and condition adjustments as needed to get a home sold.

First Impressions Die Hard

Dear Kathe –

We’re getting our home ready for the spring market – we don’t want to do too much to get it ready because we’re sure the buyers will want to do projects to make it their own. What do you think?

Recently I was showing a lovely home that was, for the most part, picture perfect, in my professional opinion.  And yet when my client walked into a room with a cream colored carpet on the floor, she couldn’t miss the glaring rust stain on the carpet.  At that moment, the positive vibes she had been feeling instantly turned negative and the home was surprisingly crossed off her list.

This drove home the point once again of how critically important it is for sellers to make sure their homes really are picture perfect and if at all possible, to not leave obvious projects for the buyers.  Buyers really are this critical these days and so unless you have a hot commodity that you are willing to sell at an obviously low price, it is well worth your time to make sure there is nothing that could turn a buyer off.  If you were buying a used car and saw a big scratch on the side panel, would you stop and wonder what else is wrong with the car?  Would you dig deeper than you otherwise might, searching for other deficiencies?  Would you expect the dealer to give you a big discount because of the glaring issue?  Would you be thinking that you would prefer to repair the scratch so that its done to your satisfaction? What if the dealer had taken the time to repair the scratch, so the car looked good as new?  Would it have affected your perception of the car and its desirability to you, the used car buyer?

The same analysis applies to the sale of used homes and yet sometimes, sellers don’t seem to see it that way.  Experience shows that your home will sell faster and for more money if it is properly conditioned for the market before it hits the market.  This does not mean leaving projects for the next owner. Yes, they will want to make the home their own and yes, they may undo some of what you have just done. But they wont even consider making it their own home if they start off feeling like there is work that must be done.

So do yourself and your bank account a favor.  Hire the agent who walks carefully through your home and makes a “to do” list for you of what you need to do to get your home sold, not the one who sweetly glosses over all those things you have seen on HGTV are “no nos” for home sales.  Hire a home stager (they are quite reasonably priced).  And then, take their advice and eliminate all of the objections possible before a buyer walks in the door.  Don’t be the place that “needs a lot of work” — be the one that is “wow, they have really done a lot of work.”

Timing is Everything

Dear Kathe,

Is now a good time to list our home for sale?

August is typically a quiet time in our real estate market, and this August is proving to be no exception. Buyers are distracted with last minute vacations or getting their kids back to school! However, a quiet market is not a dead market. For new introductions, there is still a reasonable number of buyers looking for homes. Just last week I listed a home and sold it in 3 days! The buyers had been looking for months and this home checked all their boxes!

If you’re ready, market entry is typically best right after Labor Day, once we really have closed the book on summer. I would not wait for the spring market to roll around. There are more buyers in the spring market, but there are more homes on the market to compete with. Our inventory is at a record low in most price ranges. Homes that are market ready will continue to sell well through the fall.

Market ready is the key, as it always is. I cannot overstate the importance of doing your homework upfront. If you’re new to my column, check out my blog on my website for back columns about readying your home for sale. Briefly, low cost must do’s include decluttering (and storing off-site if possible), repairing all damage/wear and tear, and giving the house a top-to-bottom (including basement and garage) scrub down. The next level of preparedness includes removing wallpaper, repainting in a current color palate and replacing worn or colored carpets with new neutral carpeting. If you’re not ready, you will either need to discount the price or take the time to prepare your home. If you’re not ready now, plan for a spring market entry in February and get to work! If you are ready now, give me a call and let’s get going – its been an exceptionally strong year! Interest rates remain low –it’s a great time to make your move!

Should I Take a Break?

Dear Kathe,

My home has been on the market for quite a long time and has not sold. Should I take it off the market and give it a rest so that it doesn’t seem so stale?

The best course of action to take when a home has been on the market for a long time and hasn’t sold depends on why it hasn’t sold to begin with. For example, if you have a very unique home, it may take a long time to find the buyer looking for your unique features. If you take your home off the market, you may miss out on that one buyer seeking a home like yours.

If your home is located in a challenging location, such as next to a perceived detriment, then taking your home off the market may cause you to miss out on the one buyer who doesn’t perceive the neighboring feature as a detriment. If, however, the buying public perceives your price to be too high, then removing it from the market for a rest is highly unlikely to change that perception, unless your “rest” spans several market cycles! The risk with waiting for the market to “catch up” with what you “need” out of your home is that you don’t have a crystal ball –prices could go up or down and you could end up waiting a long time for the same price you could get today.

And of course, if your home has not sold because of condition, the passage of time isn’t going to change that and may even make it worse. Consider how large a renovation you are willing to take on in order to get your price. Stripping wallpaper and repainting, for example, might be a good start, but if you have dated kitchens and baths, it’s not going to do much to change the buyer perception of a “dated” home.

In the end, there is rarely a scenario when taking a home off the market for a “rest” ultimately yields a better result for a seller than staying the course. In fact, we have many examples of recent sellers who tried to do just that and have ended up with lower offers than they had just a couple of years ago. So my best advice to you is to reevaluate your home for possible problems that are easy to fix like too much stuff, reevaluate price to make sure it is realistic and in line with recent sales (consider an appraisal to be sure), stay the course and then work with the offer that you do get.

Squeaky Clean Sells!

Dear Kathe,

What about this year’s spring market has surprised you?

I have been surprised by an interesting trend in real estate this year – I have actually had buyers choose homes based on how clean they are! And we aren’t talking about whether the home is broom swept clean. In these homes you could literally eat off the floors! There is no doubt that Mr. & Mrs. Clean live in these homes. Buyers have actually looked past their “must haves” and have chosen homes because they are so incredibly clean!

So what is incredibly clean to today’s discerning buyers?   Decluttering is step one. Renting a storage facility or getting a pod is a great first step. After that, every inch of a home needs a good scrub down. Every light needs to be cleaned, every baseboard scrubbed, air returns and bath vent fans cleaned, carpets professionally cleaned (or replaced if they don’t look new again after cleaning), every smudge on the walls and cabinets removed (which may require repainting – and please make sure any touch-ups are NOT noticeable). Check every light switch – make sure they are crisp – if they are dingy looking, have them replaced. Air filters on furnaces should be changed. Worn floors need to be touched up or refinished. Grout must be completely clean – if you cant get it to look like new, hire a professional steaming company to steam your grout and then reseal it with grout sealant. Refrigerators and ovens should be spotless. Closets should be tidy and well staged. Light bulbs should all be working. Crystal chandeliers should be polished.

And of course outside, all landscaping should be well trimmed. Walks and driveways should be edged. Porches and patios should be swept and in great shape. Windows and futters should be clean. Garages should be swept out and well organized.

Sound like a lot of work? It is – super deep cleaning is no fun. But this spring we have certainly seen sellers who have taken their cleanliness to the next level rewarded for their efforts!

Why Hasn’t My Home Sold?

Dear Kathe,

It seems like its been a busy spring market – why hasn’t my home sold? Any advice?

At Howard Hanna, we have just finished the busiest May that we have seen in the history of our company! If your home has been on the market for the entire spring cycle (at least since April 1st) and has not sold, then its time to review the listing and develop a new plan going forward.

The first factor in selling a home is location, and it’s the one you can’t do anything about. Currently, Village homes are in higher demand than those outside the Village, and certain locations in the Village are perceived to be more desirable than others. But you can adjust condition and price to account for location.

Condition and price go hand in hand and, if your home hasn’t sold, one or both probably need to be adjusted. You can read many past articles on my website about how to condition your home so that it actually sells – remove all wallpaper, paint in a current color palate, neutralize/freshen carpet, update lighting and plumbing fixtures, remove signs of wear and tear, declutter (pack in advance what you plan to move with you and donate the rest) and stage your home for success. It’s a simple formula and yet it always surprises me how often I show homes where this basic formula for success has not been followed. Yes, it often requires a home seller to invest even more money into their home to recoup their original investment. But you have likely used and enjoyed your house for several years and it’s a rare day that a buyer wants to be a product that feels well used, at least not without an appropriate “used” discount.   If you can’t be objective, and who can be about their own home, calling in a home stager is the fastest way to unbiased advice on what it takes to get your home sold. A home stager doesn’t just move your furniture around — she can give advice on paint and carpet colors, what needs to be packed up and what wear and tear needs to be repaired.

Price is the easiest thing to adjust, and if you aren’t in a position to adjust condition, adjusting price may be your only option. There is a price at which every house will sell, even one that is not well conditioned for the market. Finding the right price can be a challenge. It’s hard to know how much to discount for a challenging location, a challenging feature (or lack thereof, such as no garage) or updates that buyers perceive are required. Touring competing listings at open houses will help you to understand your competition, but the most valuable data comes from understand the homes that have actually sold and why. Having an independent appraisal done is another excellent way to get an objective opinion on value.

If your home hasn’t had an offer this spring, then its well worth your time to take a serious look at condition and pricing and make any suggested improvements before the slow days of summer set i!

Secret Sales

Dear Kathe,

We are ready to put our home on the market but are private people and would prefer not to have the home in the MLS. Could you just show it if you hear of a prospective buyer?

I may be repeating myself here, but in this hot spring market, it really is an important message. There is simply nothing more powerful for driving in a high offer for your home than listing it with a real estate agent who is fully engaged in the marketing and selling of your home! Yes, you did ask a realtor, so you probably expected that answer, but here’s why.

First, Sewickley loves a secret sale. Everyone loves knowing what no one else knows yet, and buyers feel really special if they get the first chance at your home. But that secret sale is unlikely to drive in your best offer. What credibility do you as a seller have for pricing your own home? All homeowners love their homes and most feel they are worth more than the comparable sales. A real estate agent with a proven track record for pricing home correctly is going to add an air of credibility to your asking price.

Buyers at secret sales will also automatically go for the “you don’t have a realtor” discount. In other words, you are saving nothing by not listing your home with an agent – the buyers will discount their offer to you based on what they think you would have spent in commissions. So your net will be the same (at best) as if you did have a realtor and yet you don’t have an advocate on your side helping you through all of the tricky scenarios that come up in selling a home.

Secret sales are also just that – they are not publicized city wide. There could be a buyer in the South Hills waiting for a home like yours and without a full market press, they will probably never find your home and may buy another, frustrated that “nothing” is on the market.

But most important of all – buyers at secret sales don’t feel the market pressure that a real estate agent can bring to your home. If there is a potentially interested buyer and they see your home marketed absolutely everywhere, they will assume that there are many other buyers out there and they are more likely to succumb to the pressure of the market and perceived competition and pay you more. If it is a secret sale, they can take their time, think carefully, and ultimately will either talk themselves out of buying altogether or talk themselves down in price. Neither is a good answer for you.

So don’t take any chances – if you are serious about selling, list your home with an experienced full time agent and engage the power of our larger market to drive in your best deal.

Getting It All Right!

Dear Kathe:

 I heard my neighbor’s home is sold and the sign never went up. Is the market really that hot? How does this happen?

The short answer is yes, the market really is that hot! We absolutely are selling some homes before the sign installer can get to the house! In fact, just this weekend, that happened to one of my listings! I would like to congratulate my clients (and column readers) Krista & Ryan on their one day sale of their home on Thorn Street! They didn’t just call 1-800-Ask-Kathe, but they actually took my advice, which was probably a little shocking out of the gate. They installed two completely new bathrooms and removed all of the old carpet from their home before entering our spring market. And they were handsomely rewarded for their hard work with a lucrative sale to the first buyer prospect who viewed their home!

I have to admit, I have been falsely accused on rare occasion of “strong arming” my sellers into investing money that may not need to be invested to get a home sold. Like many of you, I pay careful attention to our market and what I see is that those who don’t do the hard work up front are those who languish on our market. Prepping for market is not a guarantee of a one day sale – there still has to be a buyer out there looking for a home like yours. But not prepping is almost a guarantee of no sale, unless you price at a deep discount (or happen to own that rare home with a main level master on a prime street that I am always in a desperate search of).

So what did Ryan and Krista do so right? They started by calling me to get a road map! They decluttered. They staged. They installed two completely new bathrooms just weeks before coming on the market. They removed everything dated and presented a home that was clean, crisp and in a current design palette. There were no signs of wear and tear. There were no unfinished projects for the next owner to complete. And then they priced their home exactly in the range of reasonable.

Those of you who read my column each week could probably write it by now! What is the recipe for achieving a fast, lucrative sale in this market? Declutter. Stage. Update. Eliminate signs of wear and tear. Eliminate wall paper, worn or colored carpet. Choose a current design scheme if at all possible. Its hard work, but Ryan & Krista are the proof, yet again, that it works!

Selling With Fido

Dear Kathe,

What advice do you have for pet owners hoping to sell their homes?

I am a dog lover.  In fact, there are two canine members of my family.  60% of Americans own a pet, and 40% are dog owners.  As a dog lover and owner and lover I am  aware that not everyone loves pets.  If I am a home seller, this is particularly important to keep in mind.  It is critical when selling your home to remove any any all evidence of Fido!

What exactly does this entail?  Smell should be your first concern.  If you live with a pet you are probably used to the smell and don’t notice it, but your buyer will.  Carpets should be professionally cleaned and deodorized to remove any possible smell.  If any smell lingers after that, you probably need to change the furnace filter and quite possibly have the ducts cleaned.  If you are still living in the home it is critical to keep all your pet things clean – launder blankets regularly, keep crates wiped down, empty litter boxes every day and give your dog a weekly bath.  I can’t stress this enough.  Any smell at all could kill your chances at an offer.

Cleanliness should be your next concern.  If your home is vacant, after you move out make sure there is no evidence of a pet having lived there.  Make sure there are no hair balls hiding in corners or behind doors.  Clean or replace air return grills as they have likely become laden with pet hair and dander, resulting in a dirty look.  Clean the vent cover on the bottom of refrigerators as well – they are often clogged with pet hair.  If you are still living in the home, you must address all of the above as well as making sure that physical evidence of a pet disappears during a showing.  Pack up toys and beds and tuck them in a discrete location.

Finally, if at all possible, remove the pets themselves for all showings for the best chance of selling the home.  While Fido is likely cute as can be, many people are either fearful or allergic – why take any chances?

Bidding Wars are Back!

Dear Kathe,

One of my friends sold her house with multiple offers last week. We are planning to buy a new home this spring – are we going to find ourselves in the middle of a bidding war?

 

It is true that some of our inventory has seen multiple offers in the past couple of weeks!  Even with multiple bids, however, buyers are still cognizant of value and sellers who bought or refinanced their equity out in earlier years may not yet see a return to those value levels.

Why are we seeing multiple bids?  As I have mentioned in previous articles, our inventory is down substantially.  Our typical inventory sources have been slow.  Corporations cut back tremendously on relocations post-2008 and have transferred fewer employees in recent years.  Trade-ups or trade-downs have decreased significantly, in many instances because sellers can’t find anything to move to.  And so it becomes a vicious circle.  At the same time, the lag in inventory introductions has been going on for quite a long time, so many buyers are just plain tired of sitting on the fence and are beginning to compromise on their criteria for a new home.  When a new home comes on the market and is well-conditioned and properly priced, or when a home that has been on the market for a while has a price reduction, they spring into action, often resulting in multiple bids.

So what do you do if you are one of those buyers sitting on the fence, waiting for your perfect home?  You need to have educated yourself on our market so that you recognize value when you see it.  You need to be working with a buyer’s agent whom you feel has a thorough knowledge of the market and can correctly advise you on value.  And when that home does become available, you need to make the best possible offer.  Weaker offers contain terms such as long inspection periods, long mortgage approval periods, low hand money amounts, delayed closing dates, home sale & home appraisal contingencies and low offer prices.  If a home is new to the market or recently had a price reduction, you need to assume it will sell at or close to asking price – if that’s not a price you are willing to pay, stand back – perhaps another buyer will see the value.

As for sellers, you need to follow the advice laid out in my earlier articles.  Make your house that shiny penny, price it right, and you could receive a full price plus offer in less than one day!

The Sneak Peek May Kill You

Dear Kathe –

We are relocating this spring. As soon as I told my friends we were moving, a few had friends who want to see my home. What’s the best way to handle this?

Sewickley is a small town and most folks are well intentioned.  When word gets out that you are selling your home, you will undoubtedly receive calls that neighbors or friends have your “perfect buyer” – could they just get in and take a peek before you list your home?

This may sound very tempting to you.  The thought of not having to stage your home, never mind the savings you are already be adding up in your head from not paying a real estate commission, may seem too good to resist.

Don’t do it!  There is no surer way to ruin what may possibly be the best buyer prospect for your home than to let them in early.  Think about it as if you were the buyer for a moment.  Are you more likely to buy and buy high if you have all the time in the world to mull over the purchase?   Probably not.  You are far more likely to talk yourself out of buying, or at a minimum, buying at a high price.  How about if there are several other buyers all looking at the home on the same day?  The pressure is on – if you like the home, you know you have to buy.  This scenario is far more likely to yield a seller a higher price in a shorter time.

In my 16 years in real estate I have seen this scenario play out hundreds of times.  While true across all market segments, it is particularly true for Sewickley’s homes, where the buying pool may be incredibly deep.  In markets like we are in now, if there is one anxious buyer for your home, there are probably several.  Our inventory is uncharacteristically low.  Don’t sell yourself short.  If you are really concerned about your bottom line, then don’t limit yourself to just a buyer or two.  Hire an agent such as myself who specializes in strategic selling, bar the door, turn away the “sneak peekers” and when we open the floodgates, we will drive in more money for you!

Why Pittsburgh?

If you are not from Pittsburgh and are looking for a new city to call home, give Pittsburgh a closer look!  Pittsburgh has something for everyone (click here to watch video)!  Pittsburgh tops the list in 2014  for offering social mobility and affordability for millennials (click here to read more)! The Economist ranked Pittsburgh the most livable city in the US in 2014 (click here to read more)! Forbes magazine also ranked Pittsburgh America’s most livable city (click here to read more)!  Pittsburgh ranks as one of America’s hottest cities for 2015 (click here to read more)! Pittsburgh ranked #8 in the US and top 50 in the world for highest quality of living (click here to read more)! Pittsburgh ranked first overall as a Top America’s City of the Future (click here to read more)!

 

And what a great place to invest in real estate!  Zillow ranked Pittsburgh the healthiest real estate market in the US (2014)(click here to read more). Pittsburgh is also ranked among the world’s best real estate investments (2014)(click here to read more)!

 

Still not ready to call Pittsburgh home?  Come see for yourself!  Conde Nast ranked Pittsburgh the #3 vacation destination in the world (2014)(click here to read more).

 

Pittsburgh! A surprisingly ideal city to call home!  Call Kathe at 412-779-6060 to find out more!

How Much is Enough?

Dear Kathe,

 We have noticed that some homes have a lot of photos online while others are more sparse. Shouldn’t you post as many photos as possible when you are trying to sell your home?

 

Real estate agents may now enter 25 photos for each of their listings into the MLS.  Is more necessarily better?  Probably not.  Photographs should not be uploaded unless there is absolutely no chance that they will turn off a buyer.  Yes, a certain photographic presence is expected, but it is quite possible to go too far.

As a general rule, I do not include photos of subservient bedrooms, for example.  It’s a rare day that a photographer can get a great angle to make a small bedroom look spacious, and if it’s a child’s room, its likely “busy” with all of their things.  It is simply too easy to turn buyers off with these types of photos.  Children’s rooms may be brightly colored, and a buyer could reject even viewing the home as a result, thinking “that’s a project I don’t need.”  Prospects may also not have children and may feel “that’s a home for a family, and that’s not me.”

Photos that showcase your furniture rather than the room is in should also ne avoided.  Buyers are not buying your furniture – the photos must offer enough depth to each room that it is the room prospective buyers are viewing and not your stuff.  Use a wide-angle lens or skip photographing the room.

Do not post any photos showcasing pets or clutter. As cute as they are, many people suffer from allergies and one look at a pet in a photo may cause them to screen out your home.  Remember, these photos are what the world is using to decide whether they should come and view your home – you don’t want to lose prospects because you didn’t tidy up in advance or left clutter about – they may fear that the whole house will look that way.

Have a friend review your photos online and ask her to be brutally honest – if there is anything that could turn a buyer off (rooms that look tiny, photos showing a lot of wallpaper, photos showing strong wall colors, photos showing dated bathrooms), ask your agent to take them down.  If you get buyers into your home, they may forgive things that would have turned them off in a photo because they otherwise love your home.  Don’t lose them before they even get in the door.  Less may very well be more.

“What’s My Home Worth?”

Can you give me some general guidelines for figuring out what my home is worth? How much appreciation can we expect when we sell our home? 

This question comes up all the time.  At Starbucks.  At the Giant Eagle.  And of course, at a listing appointment.  It’s the topic of many conversations.  Home value is something that seems to always be on everyone’s mind.

If you study the trends in our area and have owned your home for 7 years or less, the answer is easier than you might guess.  Generally speaking, when you own a home, you are using that home and as a result, its components are less valuable when you sell the home than when you bought it.  If you bought your home in 2008, your roof has now been used and has 7 years less life on it, as does the water heater, the refrigerator… If you did absolutely nothing to your home and there was no market appreciation, you would expect your home would be worth less seven years later because everything has less life left in it.

However, our market does appreciate, very slowly.  In most cases, there is enough appreciation to offset the amount of value you have “used up” during your ownership.  However, if you have done absolutely nothing to the home – haven’t replaced, refreshed, updated or improved anything, then unless you bought your home prior to 2007, you probably wont sell your home for much more than you bought it for.   What if this isn’t you…?

If you have kept  your home updated, you will be entitled to some appreciation.  In situations where homeowners have actually made improvements beyond routine maintenance – perhaps having been remodeled the kitchen or bathrooms, or added a patio or deck, they can generally recoup their investment.  So the rule of thumb in establishing value is really quite simple if you bought your home less than 8 years ago.  Start with your purchase price.  Add in any improvements that you made that are beyond typically expected repairs and maintenance, deduct the cost of any urgent maintenance or repair items that you have ignored and that will get you reasonably close to what the market will bear for your home.  Of course, if you transformed a home – bought a home that needed a ton of work and turned a diamond in the rough into a diamond, if you were careful with your budget it is quite possible that you could make a handsome profit as well.  And if you bought your home greater than 7 years ago?  Appreciation can start to play a greater role in value and the analysis will require a very close look at comparable sales.

 

WHAT’S MY HOME WORTH?

Should You Pre-Inspect?

Dear Kathe,

A friend in California tells me that all home sellers pre-inspect their homes before listing them, but that’s not something I hear a lot about here in Pittsburgh. Do you recommend a pre-inspection to home sellers?

 

Issues with a home uncovered on an inspection often cost a seller thousands in unexpected repairs and can sometimes even result in a terminated transaction.  Inspectors are incredibly thorough (sometimes even finding problems that aren’t problems) and so every home seller should anticipate that the home inspector will find deficiencies and that the buyer will expect correction.  To make the home selling process as smooth as possible and avoid finding themselves in the position of having large inspection bills or worse yet, a “dead deal,” sellers can have their home pre-inspected.

All home sellers should seriously consider having their homes pre-inspected.  For as little as $350 – $500 for a basic pre-inspection you will quickly have an insiders view of how a buyer’s inspector will assess your home.  Use the inspection as a maintenance check list – find a handyman to come in and fix all of the little things so that they don’t come up again on a buyer’s inspection.  If there are larger items that you do not have the ability to repair, such as a roof nearing the end of its useful life, get an estimate or two for the repair or replacement.  Note the issue on your disclosure and include a copy of the estimate.  This should prevent you from having to credit the buyer for the repair later – buyers should review the disclosure and take any disclosed items into account in making their offer to you.

Of course, if your inspection is good or just has a lot of little items that a handyman can fix, attach the handyman’s receipt showing the repair and provide a copy of the inspection in the house for buyers to see with a note indicating that the home has been pre-inspected and repaired and that they buyer can buy with confidence knowing that they are buying a house in great shape!  In a town full of older and aging homes, this will really help your marketing!

So before you list your home – yes, you should consider a pre-inspection.  It will give buyers the confidence they need to move ahead with a purchase, may combat concerns that there are likely problems that would lower their initial offer to you, and will hopefully result in  a smooth transaction once you do have your home under agreement.

Adding a Second Bath

Dear Kathe,

 My house, a traditional American four square, currently has 1.5 baths with 3 bedrooms on the second floor and two rooms on the 3rd floor (one used as an office and the other a playroom/family room).  I really want to add a master bath on the second floor but this would reduce our bedrooms on that floor to two and I’m worried about future resale.  Thoughts?

 The answer to this question is not so simple. There are many factors that must be considered, the first of which is the likely sales price of your home. At a certain price point, 2 full baths will be required – in Sewickley Village, that price point is likely in the range of $400,000 and above. If you expect your home to sell above this price point someday, you are going to have to figure out how to get a second full bath in your home (and not in the basement)!

The third floor is the most obvious and most frequent place to create a master suite in these scenarios. It would probably be difficult to sell a home with only two bedrooms on the second level, particularly if the two remaining bedrooms on the third floor have to travel down a set of stairs to use the bathroom. Third floors can be reconfigured to create private master suites, leaving three bedrooms on the second level which can be used for a variety of purposes. There is a negative that must be considered, however. Sometimes homes with third floor master suites can be challenging to sell because the home owner doesn’t want to have to walk up two flights of stairs to get to bed each night. If you get to a price point where the most likely buyer is near or past “middle” age, you may find that a third floor master limits your marketability. Third floor masters can also be perceived as a weakness by families with very young children, although with the advent of video baby monitors, this may be a lesser issue for young parents.

Given the limitations of third floor masters, they still receive my vote in light of the circumstances. Assuming you hope to sell your home for more than $400,000, a second full bath will be a necessity, and a third floor master suite is the most sensible way to attack the issue. Just make it as luxurious as possible so that when you go to sell your home, the buyers are so impressed with what they see that the extra flight of stairs seems like a minor inconvenience to get to their private oasis!

How to Declutter!

Dear Kathe,

I read your article last week about home staging and de-cluttering and we do have a lot of stuff – not sure how to begin to de-clutter. Any tips?

 

When you are surrounded by a lot of stuff and it all seems important to you, it can be hard to know where to begin the clean out. As our days get shorter and the weather gets chillier, this is the perfect time for an inside project for de-cluttering and there are many ways to get started!

Start with all of the broken things you have piled up waiting to repair. From shoes with worn soles to pants with popped buttons, there are probably many things that have been waiting a long time for you to fix them. If you were out shopping today and wouldn’t buy the item again new, now is the time to part ways. While you are at it, this would be a good time to round up all those clothes you thought you might wear “someday.” If it’s been more than a few years, that someday is probably not coming. Saving clothes that used to fit with the hope of them fitting again? Give them to charity – if that day does come, you will deserve the treat of a new wardrobe, not outdated clothes.

Consider whether you can make the cubic square footage of what you are savings less. Children’s artwork, papers and tests are the perfect example. I have made a habit of saving a couple of key pieces in an accordion file for each year of school, have photographed everything else, and have included the photos in the file. Your children will be far more appreciative of a small file of momentos of their youth than boxes and boxes of stuff. The same can be said for documents. Scanning documents to a flash drive or external hard drive is a far more space efficient and organized than keeping the actual hard copies.

Holding onto things because you think they are valuable even though you are no longer using them? Chances are they are worth close to nothing. TVs and computer equipment are so quickly obsolete that in most cases, your old equipment’s highest and best value is as a charitable deduction. Old furniture also yields very little in the used goods market. There is no sense in considering what you have invested in the item – that money is long gone – if you aren’t using it, don’t love it or can’t repurpose it, let it go – many charities will even pick up at your home!

Finally, find a new home for things you have never really liked, the gifts you received that you were afraid you might offend someone by disposing of (the gift giver will never notice its gone), and inheritances that are not particularly meaningful to you (it took me years to part with the pewter pitcher that I inherited and had no use for). Do a reality check. Is your exercise bike more than a place to hang laundry? If its been collecting dust all these years, you won’t use it – why kid yourself? What else do you have that is more of a reflection of forgotten New Year’s resolutions? Add them to the charity donation! Follow these tips as you attack your clutter and you will be de-cluttered in no time!

The Curse of Wallpaper

Dear Kathe,

 We watch a lot of HGTV and aren’t sure what is the most important thing to tackle when getting our home ready for the market.

Presenting a market ready home is the most important thing you can do to help your home sell quickly and for top dollar. Market ready is not, unfortunately, necessarily what you would choose if you were staying in the home and will not necessarily reflect your personal tastes. In preparing your home for market, it is important to keep in mind that you are moving and prepare your home for the tastes of your most likely buyer. The price point of your home will give you a good idea of who that buyer will likely be and that will help you and your agent strategize as to modifications necessary to attract that buyer.

The one thing that is reasonably universal across all price points is the general dislike of wallpaper, and so the most important thing you can do to prepare your home for market is to remove all of your wallpaper (including borders) and paint in a current color palette (which does not necessarily mean beige, but could include grays and greiges). Wallpaper is so very personal – I liken it to asking someone to wear your wedding dress – it is just not something that many people will want to do. There will be some buyers who might tolerate your wallpaper, but the likelihood is that most buyers will view it as too much work to take it down and move on to another home where they don’t face the issue. It is therefore prudent to remove your wallpaper and give yourself the greatest chance of a sale with the most buyers possible.

The paint color you choose to paint in (and please, do NOT paint over your wallpaper!) is also key. It is not advisable to choose paints that complement your furnishings (you are moving, remember?). It is very important to avoid choosing colors that could possibly be viewed as dated (such as peaches, pinks, burgundies, teals). Gray is a great choice. Not a gray person? You might change your mind if you saw how fast homes painted in a gray palette sell and how much over market buyers will pay for a gray palette universally applied throughout a home. Greige and shades of beige work well too.

So yes, we understand that your wallpaper works perfectly with your décor scheme. But we also know that the vast majority of our buyers don’t want it – so prepare yourself for success – take your wallpaper down before you enter the market and paint in a current and reasonably neutral color palette.

How Important is Technology?

What are quickly changing world we live in!  You probably haven’t stopped to reflect upon the fact that just over ten years ago, real estate was still being sold from those big books that looked like phone books.  We agents would flip through the pages in search of prospective homes for our buyers and listing agents had to get creative to get the word out about new listings while we waited for the next addition of the book to arrive!

Today, 90% of buyers use the internet to shop for their new home.  While more buyers (40%) found the home they eventually purchased through their agent as opposed to finding it themselves on the internet (35%), most buyers actually started their search on the internet several weeks before contacting an agent.

The availability of information to home buyers has slowed down the home search process – the opposite of what you might have guessed.  Because there is so much information that buyers can discover about homes on the internet, the typical home search has nearly doubled in length as buyers take time to do their due diligence.

While Buyers rank Realtor’s as the most useful source of information (81%), Buyers are heavily influenced by the materials available on the internet about a home. Among the most important items buyers seek and expect to fin on potential listings are multiple photos (84%), detailed property information (82%) and virtual tours (63%).

What does this mean for you when you plan to sell?  Gone are the days when a sign in the yard is all you needed.  In order to stack up well against competing listings, your home needs to present well to prospective buyers on the internet.  Wonderful photos, a lot of relevant and helpful information and a visual tour are all key in drawing buyers to your home and maintain their interest long enough to request a showing.  So before you list your home, check out your prospective agent’s other listings and see how they stack up against the competition.  Make sure you trust your home sale to an agent who is using technology to your best advantage

Make More Money! Watch TV!

If you follow my column, you have undoubtedly noted my near-weekly mention that our market is hot and our inventory has never been lower.  It certainly couldn’t be a better time to sell.  You may in fact have just heard that your neighbor’s home sold for top dollar in record time.  How do you make that happen?  Start by watching more TV!

Surprising advice, perhaps, but TV sets our style expectations and our aspirations of how we want to live our lives.  Your potential buyer is watching TV and then coming to your home and expecting to see what the saw on TV.  Want to make the most money?  Meet their expectations!

This is easy to do if you also watch a healthy dose of HGTV .  There you will quickly find the latest trends and tips on how to achieve them in a cost-effective manner.  You will see what home designers are pushing and know what buyers will be looking for in your home.  House Hunters is a particularly good show to learn from.  You will get insight into buyers’ thought processes – you will get listen in on their conversations and take note of the factors that affect them in both  positive and negative ways.  Armed with this information, you will be ready to spring into action and create a home that buyers are instantly attracted to.  And why are they attracted?  Because they saw it on TV!

As a full-time real estate broker, every day my job lives like an episode on House Hunters.  Through countless hours listening to my clients as they evaluate potential homes, I am easily able see how HGTV has greatly impacted the home selling process.  Those sellers who choose to take to heart the lessons espoused on HGTV are rewarded with more money in less time.  They create instant attraction by making their homes appear as if they were pulled straight from an episode of HGTV.   So whether you plan to sell next month or next year, start watching more TV, put the advice into action and pocket more money when you sell!

It Takes a Village

Our spring market has been quite interesting.  Some homes have flown off the market in just days, yielding the sellers great satisfaction and peace of mind.  Those homes fall into a surprisingly predictable pattern.  Most are under $350,000, although there have been exceptions.  Most are in the Village – Sewickley Village remains a strong draw for buyers.  And most that sell quickly are offered by sellers who have done the heavy lifting in preparing their homes for market.  And yet we have many wonderful, well priced homes that have not sold.  Most of these are not in the Village.

Conversely, in the North Hills, homes are flying off the market consistently in just days, often with multiple offers.  There are lines of buyers waiting for homes in the North Allegheny School District while we have terrific options available here, often at better prices, just waiting for their new families.  It is certainly frustrating to sellers when their homes do not sell quickly.  And its hard to figure out why.  The most likely rationale is that the North Allegheny School District is ranked in the top three in Pittsburgh – Quaker Valley is top ten.  The buyer profile these days trends toward people who give paramount importance to rankings.

What these buyer prospects are not hearing is why ranking is not everything, and it will take this Village to spread that word.  Most of you own a home here and will benefit from the continued increase in real estate values.  To protect your investment, it’s important that you share information about our town when you are talking to friends and colleagues outside of Sewickley.  If you have kids in our schools, point out what makes our smaller school district the best choice – how many more opportunities are available to the kids when they don’t have to compete with 800 other children for everything – how much our teachers and administrators care and are able, given the small size, to know the children and families as individuals.

Spread the word about what a unique and special place Sewickley is to live.  Whether you live in an older home in the Village, or up the hill in something newer, we are all part of one community here.  The ability to stroll through town – enjoy a meal, shop the galleries, participate in May Mart or the House Tour or Sewickley Unleashed, just to name the most recent few – makes Sewickley special.  Our neighbors care about and help each other.  We work side by side to raise money for causes.  There are very few places like Sewickley in all this country.

Realtors are clearly the most direct connection to incoming buyers and we tell the Sewickley story daily.  But we are not the only connection.  With the help of this Village we can jump start some of the more sluggish parts of our market and make Sewickley, not just the Village, the hot place to live in Pittsburgh.  It will only help you in the long run as your property values increase.  So spread the news about what makes Sewickley (and our schools) special to you!

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

It all starts with a picture.  Your future buyer’s first impression of your home starts (and may end) with a photograph.  The vast majority of homebuyers will choose the homes they want to see from photos on the internet.  Therefore, it is very important when selling your home to make sure it is well presented in photographs.  To start, when you list your home and photos are taken, be sure that all rooms look magazine perfect.  For photographs, condition can be easy to fudge.  You can’t see dust in a photograph, and you can hide your clutter out of the camera’s sight.  But do take the time to move or store the evidence of your daily living.  Clean off all countertops (kitchens and bathrooms). Remove refrigerator magnets.  Remove all evidence of pets (including Fido himself). It can be amusing to check out listings online and see how many sellers and/or their agents do not put their best foot forward in photos.  A quick scan of the MLS shows rooms photographed with the goodwill pile right in the middle of a room, unmade beds, glasses out on countertops, garden objects strewn around the yard, showers laden with bathing supplies, overflowing hampers, pillows askew and toys laying about.  Not the best of first impressions.

What is photographed is equally as important.  Your online presence is what will influence a buyer to choose to see your home, or not.  Sometimes less is more.  If it is hard to get a good angle on a room to make it look spacious, better to leave it out.  Photos using a wide-angle lens will greatly aid in showing the whole room and conveying a spacious feel.  If your agent does not use a professional level camera, you may need to request a professional photographer do the photography in order to present the rooms in their best light.  Close up photos are rarely helpful, unless an architectural element is being highlighted.  Be sure your kitchen and yard are included – two key items for a buyer – if they aren’t pictured online, buyers will assume there is a problem that you don’t want the public to see.  On the other hand, do not include photos depicting what buyers may perceive as issue – leave out children’s rooms with bold paint colors (or repaint them first) and rooms with strong or dated wallpaper.  You want to be certain that you don’t give a buyer a reason online to not come and see your home!

Your home’s pictures can make or break your listing.  They need to present your home honestly (buyers feel deceived if they get to a home and it is not as pictured) but in doing so, need to present it in the best possible light.  Be sure to take the time to adequately prepare your home for photographs, and review them periodically to be sure they reflect current condition.  You may only get once chance at a buyer prospect – be sure your home shines in its photos!

Do You Need to Disclose the Ghost in Your Attic?

We live in an old town, with homes dating back to the early 1800s.  With old homes comes a lot of history, and sometimes a ghost story or two.  If your home has a history of paranormal activity (real or imagined), or someone has died in the home, do you have a duty to disclose that to potential buyers?  While approximately half of our states do require disclosure of paranormal activity, as of yet, Pennsylvania is not one of those states.  However, a case in Delaware County where the seller failed to disclose a murder/suicide that happened in the home may change that in PA.

Many other states have adopted far more comprehensive disclosure laws.  In our neighboring New York, paranormal activity must be disclosed.  In California, any death in a home in the preceding three years must be disclosed.  And in Massachusetts, the law is even more comprehensive, requiring disclosure of paranormal activity, as well as whether the home was ever the site of a felony, suicide or homicide or whether someone with HIV ever lived in the home.

Our disclosure simply asks whether there are any material defects, which is defined as anything that could significantly impact value. Material defects would clearly include any major problems with the physical structure, as well as pending tax assessments and disputes over property boundaries with adjoining landowners.  But what about those ghostly apparitions or eerie cries in the night?  According to a well-known California appraiser who specializes in diminution of value, a well-publicized murder can reduce value by 15% – 35%.  Does a ghost reduce a home’s value and need to be disclosed?  Right now, the answer in no in Pennsylvania, although sellers wishing to avoid lawsuits would be well advised to disclose anything that could be seen as stigmatizing a property, including paranormal activity and deaths in the home.  For some buyers, value actually increases with the prospect of living among ghosts.  But before disclosing the ghost in your attic, be sure there isn’t a rational explanation for what you are experiencing.

Buyers, if you don’t want to move into a haunted home, what can you do to protect yourself in the absence of required disclosure?  You can start with the internet – do a thorough search of the property address and sellers’ names.  That will likely turn up information on any more recent concerns with the property.  Some recommend burning sage to rid the home of spirits, and if all else fails, you can always call Ghostbusters!

Many many thanks to my clients, neighbors and friends for your confidence in me and my business,  for choosing me as your real estate agent and for referring me to your colleagues, family, neighbors and friends.  I am honored to be included by the Pittsburgh Business Times as one of Pittsburgh’s top real estate agents, and ranked as #1 in Sewickley! Thank you!

Give Buyers Their Space

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!

The Goldilocks Principle of Pricing Your Home

We all know the story of Goldilocks – be it the porridge being too hot, too cold or just right, or the beds being too big, too small or just right, or the chair being too hard, too soft or just right, the wining combination was not an extreme but the “just right” spot in between.

The same is true when pricing homes, and in particular, Signature homes.  Price them too low, and they fly off the market, most likely far below a price you could have achieved.  Price them to high and they sit for months or years.  The trick is finding that sweet spot in the middle that will drive in an offer in a reasonable time, maximizing your return.

But how to find this sweet spot?  If I could invent an App for that, I would be rich!  Zillow has tried, but their zestimates are often hopelessly flawed for unique communities like Sewickley, and particularly for our Signature homes.  A computer in a remote location simply cannot translate all of the high-end amenities you may have added to your home into a realistic number.  Human judgment is required.  And yet your agent may not have the most objective opinion – you may be friends, for example, and he may not want to hurt your feelings.

That is where the appraiser comes in.  Having your home pre-appraised may be  your very best course of action.  For approximately $350, you can have an objective analysis that will not only allow you to most accurately price your home, but will allow you to say to buyers “this home was priced based on an independent appraisal.”  That will carry a lot of weight when buyers are assessing how realistic your price is and usually drives in a price close to the appraisal.  Please do note, this appraisal must be independent of a refinance – it must simply be done for pricing guidance for it to be truly objective.  But if you take the time to get it “just right” out of the gate, after the buyers have tried on all the “too highs” yours will be the one they pick!

A Master Plan

Our spring/summer market exceeded all expectations this year.  Our inventory remains low and the number of homes selling have increased dramatically – all good news for home sellers.  If you have been sitting on the sidelines thinking about selling, as the fall approaches, it is an excellent time to get your home on the market.  We have fewer homes enter the market in the fall, meaning less competition for you.  However, even in a strong market with low inventory, it is important to go into the market with a master plan and not just throw a sign in the yard and hope for the best.  A successful sale starts with a master plan and a partnership between agent and homeowner.  We must partner together to get your home sold.  A great listing agent works hard to market your home, but only you must supply the highly saleable product.  So what ‘s your role in the plan?

First, start packing right away.  Your plan is to move and your treasures will all need to get boxed up anyhow.  Move them to a pod or an off-site storage facility – no need to raise objections from buyers if there appears to be inadequate storage space.

Have your home pre-inspected and repair what is uncovered as deficient by the inspector.  This will impress a buyer that you have taken the time to make sure the home is in good condition for them.

Bring in a staging expert to put the finishing touches in place – you only get one chance to make a first impression – make it a good one!

Finally, listen to feedback, from both agents and buyers, and act on it..   Buyers generally will not buy projects, unless of course you want to fire sell your home.  So if any objections have been raised (wallpaper, paint colors, old roof, overgrown landscaping, too much clutter, dated décor), you must deal with them if you want your home to sell.

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.

Should You Pre-Inspect?

Dear Kathe,

Friends of mine just had the sale of their home fall through because of a home inspection. How can that be prevented?

 Yes – sellers should have their home pre-inspected before listing to prevent these kinds of issues! Finding a buyer and agreeing on a purchase price is only one small component of a real estate transaction and yet it is often all that sellers focus on.  What happens between then and closing, however, is often the more difficult part of the process.  Issues with a home uncovered on an inspection often cost a seller thousands in unexpected repairs and when sometimes even result in a terminated transaction.  Inspectors are incredibly thorough (sometimes even finding problems that aren’t problems) and so every home seller should anticipate that the home inspector will find deficiencies and that the buyer will expect correction.

All home sellers should seriously consider having their homes pre-inspected.  For as little as $250 – $500 for a basic pre-inspection you will quickly have an insiders view of how a buyer’s inspector will assess your home.  Use the inspection as a maintenance check list – find a handyman to come in and fix all of the little things so that they don’t come up again on a buyer’s inspection.  If there are larger items that you do not have the ability to repair, such as a roof nearing the end of its useful life, get an estimate or two for the repair or replacement.  Note the issue on your disclosure and include a copy of the estimate.  This should prevent you from having to credit the buyer for the repair later – buyers are supposed to review the disclosure and take any disclosed items into account in making their offer to you.

Of course, if your inspection is good or just has a lot of little items that a handyman can fix, attach the handyman’s receipt showing the repair provide a copy of the inspection in the house for buyers to see with a note indicating that the home has been pre-inspected and repaired and that they buyer can buy with confidence knowing that they are buying a house in great shape!  In a town full of older and aging homes, this will really help your marketing!

So before you list your home – consider a pre-inspection.  It will give buyers the confidence they need to move ahead with a purchase, may combat concerns that there are likely problems that would lower their initial offer to you, and will hopefully result in a smooth transaction once you do have your home under agreement.

The Trail to a Sale, Part II

Last week I talked about how hot our spring market has been.  To take advantage of this market, sellers must do their part in getting a home sold.   While we are in a hot market, gone are the days when you can get away with sticking a for sale sign in the yard, a lock box on the house and watching the offers roll in.  Too much HGTV!  Buyers expect every home to look like it could be in a magazine and sellers who take the time to meet these expectations fare exceptionally well.  Last week I talked about the exterior of the home, which is critical if a buyer is even going to consider the home.  Once in the door though, the interior must present equally as well.

Getting the interior of your home ready for a buyer can be a real challenge for a seller who has lived in and loved their home for years.  I was once criticized for wanting my listings to be “perfect,” but let me ask you – if you could spend $5,000 and make $25,000 more on your home sale, was that a worthwhile use of your time and resources?  Of course, home sellers never know what they might have gotten if they had failed to make the recommended improvements.  And those who chose not to do the hard work will never know what they might have gotten had they improved their home.  So what do you do?  You need the advice of an experienced agent who knows exactly which improvements will pay for themselves. You also need to hire an experienced home stager who can help you to best present what you do have.  And finally, once you engage these professionals, as painful as it may be, you actually need to take their advice.

I personally learned this lesson the hard way.  I marketed my own home in 2008 for 18 months.  I was a big fan of color and that was obvious in my home.  My home finally sold one month after every wall inside had been repainted a warm neutral color and I had it professionally staged, including a furniture and accessories package.  In the end, the sale was well worth the effort!

Where to start?  With the wallpaper!  A Pittsburgh favorite in years past, most buyers have an extremely negative reaction to wallpaper – it is so personal that, no matter what the designer brand name, it is like asking someone to wear your wedding dress.  It needs to come down.  Paint can be in a warm neutral color tone (white is not necessarily a good choice) but should not be “loud.”  Nick knacks need to be packed up and stored, ready to move to your new home.  Windows may show better without drapes.  Kitchens and baths may need “freshening” and if you have a lot of furniture, some of it may need to find a temporary home in a storage facility to open up the rooms.

Great condition sells homes.   Feel free to call me and we can develop a strategy now for making a strong introduction into the market!

The Price is Right!

Deciding on an asking price is a challenging task, particularly in Sewickley.  Interestingly, in Pittsburgh’s North Hills, sellers realize much closer to their asking price, often 97% and higher.  However, if a property is overpriced in the North Hills, buyers will simply write the property off – low-ball offers are not made.  In Sewickley, however, we have developed the unique tradition of negotiating fairly heavily on the sale of a home.  In Edgeworth last year, the average realization was only 89% and offers often start as low as 80% below asking price.  So how is a seller to price a property?  If a seller prices 20% over the price a home is likely to sell for to allow for negotiating, it is likely to be seen as “overpriced.”  If the seller prices only 2% over likely sales prices, many buyers will factor in the large discounts we often see and bring in inappropriately low offers.  Developing a strategy for both pricing and marketing is therefore critical to make sure that a home is both well received and does not sit and get stale on the market.

If you’re facing a deadline due to job relocation or other reasons, then you need to price competitively, even more competitively than expected in today’s market.  You’ll need to list at significantly less than your competition.  And keep your commission higher as an incentive for a quicker offer.  That may seem tough to stomach, but it’s better than continuing your monthly loan payments or the hassle of trying to find tenants to rent your home and of being a landlord for a year or more.

If your home has been listed for some time, but not generating interest, you may need to lower your price.  Of the three elements that sell a home – price, location, and condition – price is the one you’ll have the most control over.  Review your listing company’s programs and marketing, making sure that you are taking advantage of all of them.

Make sure your home shows better than its competition.  Its condition should outshine all of the other listings in its price range.  Take time to de-clutter, store off site what you can live without, stage and make sure you attend to all of the little maintenance projects you may have been putting off.

In the end, Sewickley statistics show that if your home does not have an agreement on it within 75 days of the listing date, you will not achieve 90% or more of your original asking price.  This makes the original list price a critical decision and also makes it clear that after 75 days, it is absolutely essential to reevaluate your price in light of market feedback and price.