The High End Market

What is going on with the high-end market in Sewickley? Why don’t there seem to be many high-end sales?

Our high-end market has been slower than normal for over a year now.  Speculation abounds as to why that is the case, but it doesn’t seem that we are alone – sales of higher end homes in many pockets of this country have slowed.  Many attribute that to the fact that our tax system was restructured to  allow for a larger standard deduction and lower marginal rates but at the cost of limiting the deduction for property and income taxes to a combined total of $10,000.  For high property tax jurisdictions such as our own, many commentators believe this has caused a slow-down in high-tax (i.e., high priced) home sales.   I have held out hope that when people filed their taxes this past Monday, maybe they would discover that they are better off under the new system despite the deduction limitation and we would see the property tax fear fade into the background.  I must admit that even as a former tax lawyer I have found the new forms a bit confusing, so I am really hoping we will see some favorable spin coming from tax preparers this week.

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

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

49 Woodland – NEW LISTING
Located on one of Sewickley’s most sought-after streets, with sidewalks to everywhere and within a very easy walking distance to Village shops and restaurants, this home is in impeccable condition and offers an outstanding opportunity for your family!  5 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, garage attached by breezeway, newer slate roof, gorgeous private yard, large eat-in kitchen, two gas log fireplaces and so many more wonderful amenities make this home a Sewickley Village best buy! $1,775,000  See more…

 

 

213 Chestnut Road –  NEW LISTING
Beautifully remodeled Sewickley Village Victorian with four finished levels of living space, sited on a level lot with two car garage checks all the boxes!  Beautifully equipped and remodeled kitchen, wonderfully remodeled baths. Incredibly architectural detailing throughout.  5 bedrooms, 3.5 baths and a two car garage.  Added unique bonus of a lower level gameroom! $825,000.  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

Don’t Get Left Out In the Cold

The polar vortex has left us wondering if there is anything we should be doing to our home to help it survive these cold snaps?

Last week’s incredibly low temperatures left many homeowners in the region with unexpected frozen pipes.  It seems in Pittsburgh we may not build with as much attention to cold air defense as they do in historically colder regions of our country, and these unusually low temperatures catch us off guard.  As we rebound a bit from the extreme cold, however, it is a great time to think about how your home responds to super cold temperatures.  If enough cold leaks in to freeze pipes when we are at single digit temperatures, chances are you are spending a lot of money heating and cooling the great outdoors year round!  A quick energy audit might save you hundreds of dollars in energy bills.

A really cold day is a great time to canvas your home for air infiltration – there is no easier time to find your leaky areas then when cold air is coming into a really warm space.  Caulk cracks around windows and doors to eliminate drafts.  Add weather stripping to doors and windows, and gaskets to plugs and switches on outside walls.  Be sure to check your fireplaces if you live in an old home – decorative fireplaces can be a direct vent out for all of your heat and may require a cap or some insulation if they are never used  (I personally love the spring-loaded top-down dampers – they are super easy to use and keep you air tight when your fireplace is not in use).

If your home’s windows are still single pane, replacing them with a good quality double pane window will also reduce your bills, and assuming you choose a better window (wood clad interior), greatly enhance the value of your home. At a minimum make sure you have storm windows in place.

There are several other things you can do to prevent cold weather damage to your home.  Keep your furnace filters clean so that your furnace operates efficiently and can keep your house up to temperature.  Clean your gutters to avoid ice dams that can cause water to infiltrate and damage the interior of your home.  Make sure all of your water supply pipes are wrapped to help prevent freezing, particularly in colder areas of your home, such as pipes that run through the garage and unheated portions of the basement or crawlspace.  And if we do hit single digit temperatures again, don’t forget to leave the water dripping in the sink at night to prevent water from freezing while sitting in your pipes and open cabinet doors under sinks to keep the warmth of your rooms heating the supply lines!  Enjoy the warmer weather this week – I won’t last forever!

 

439 Maple Lane

Its time to think summer!  It might be cold outside, but come spring you will love the endless hours of family fun you can have in this incredible pool complex!  Heated pool, hot tub and bar will make your new home party central! A top-to-bottom remodel of this timeless Edgeworth colonial, with gorgeous new white kitchen with granite tops open to stunning dining room.  Hardwood floors unify great room, study, entry hall and mudroom. Up to eight bedrooms, 4.5 baths, 3 car detached garage. $1,350,000     See More…

 

319 Scaife

Exceptional Sewickley Heights home will take your breath away with its unparalleled beauty. Sited on 5 private acres, it combines the authentic charm of a Sewickley Heights carriage home with modern amenities and stunning design.  Magazine perfect kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances and granite tops opens to a captivating dining room with fireplace and relaxing family room.  French doors open from the gorgeous living room onto the sprawling stone terrace, which spills out effortlessly onto the manicured grounds.  Incredible master suite with three walk-in closets and remarkable custom bath.  Charming enclosed courtyard. Three car attached garage.  $1,975,000    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

Better Not Wait ‘Til Spring

We’ve been thinking about starting our search for a new home but were wondering if we should wait until more homes come on the market this spring?

The spring market is here (although with the forecasted low temps for this week it may slow things down a bit)! Buyers are definitely buying right now, so if you think a move is in your future, despite the cold temperatures, the time to get started is now! We have seen homes that have been sitting for months go under agreement in the past couple of weeks, some with multiple offers, and our inventory is dwindling.  We still have many nice options available for you to consider, and this is a far better time to buy than March, April or May.

Why, you may wonder?  We have such a severe inventory shortage with lines and lines of buyers waiting for homes to come on the market. Many homes are selling in just a couple of days, before many buyers have a chance to get out and take a look.  As we head into spring this will only get worse. While none of us have crystal balls, there does not appear to be an avalanche of inventory coming on the market in the coming weeks. I expect by March 1st the bidding wars will begin in earnest for well-conditioned, well-priced homes. (As a side note, even with the inventory shortage that we have now had for well over a year, this is Pittsburgh and not California – buyers still exercise a healthy dose of common sense in making their buying choices and don’t tend to overpay – it is still important to price based on historic sales and not exceed recommended pricing by sizeable amounts). If you don’t want to end up in a bidding war, where there can only be one winner and it may not be you, shop now and avoid the crowd!  You may very well get a better deal than you could on the same house in another month!

In doing so, be sure to follow the advice passed on in prior columns (you can refresh your memory on my blog where these columns are posted each week –see www.AskKathe.com).  Be SURE that you are pre-approved so that when you are ready to buy, you don’t have to waste precious time with this necessary step. When you do this, be sure your credit is good or clean up any issues and reestablish good credit. Give me a call so we can get you set up to be notified of all new listings immediately! And if you might consider selling your home, call me today!  We have lines and lines of buyer prospects for your home!

 

244 Thorn Street

New Listing & Home of Distinction -Sited in an idyllic Village neighborhood, this stately brick home offers unparalleled architectural detailing and an exceptionally large home (6765 square feet) with 7 bedrooms, 5 full baths and a large main level with remodeled kitchen as well as living, dining and family rooms plus den! If you are looking for a special home to put your signature on, 244 Thorn Street is ready for your custom touches!   An exceptional Thorn Street value at $795,000.  Read More…

 

49 Woodland Road 

New listing and Home of Distinction -Boasting newer kitchen and baths in the most sought after Village neighborhood, on a gorgeous tree-lined street with sidewalks to everywhere, 49 Woodland offers a unique opportunity for newer construction in the heart of Sewickley Village.  The main level master offers hard-to-find convenience – upstairs 3-5 additional bedrooms offer plenty of space for family and guests. The beautifully remodeled white kitchen opens to the family room and the light, bright sunroom, with 3 walls of windows overlooking the private backyard.  The three car attached garage offers another hard-to-come-by amenity in the Village, as does the finished lower level! $1,775,000  Read More…

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

Getting a Jump on the Market

Now that Christmas is behind us, we are thinking about making a housing change in 2019.  What is the optimal timing?

The strength of our early spring market is always weather dependent here in sunny Pittsburgh! In a “normal” winter our spring market starts in earnest in mid-January. Certainly by February you would want your home on the market if you are seeking a spring sale. Our early spring buyers (January, February and March) tend to be our best, especially following a period of such unheard of inventory lows. There is currently a long line of buyers eagerly waiting for new market introductions – the competition will likely be great in the early months of our new year, maybe even driving in more of the bidding wars we saw this past fall.

Of course, the interest rates have climbed steadily throughout 2018 and that may put a bit of a damper on rising prices in 2019 – but if inventory remains as low as it has been in 2018, the impact should be minimal.  And if we have a rough winter, as some predict, it may slow the start of our spring market.  But of course, we won’t know that until we are in the thick of it.

All things considered, my best advice to you is to give me a call today so that we can design a strategy that is best for your family and your personal goals. Being ready to go in the spring market as soon as it starts to show signs of life, be it January, February or March, will inure to your benefit!

 

111 Skymark

Gorgeous all brick newer construction in wonderful Sewickley neighborhood. 2 acre private lot. Fully-equipped newer kitchen with custom cabinetry, high end appliances including Sub-Zero, Wolf range, double ovens and Dacor warming drawer open to great room and amazing three season porch with impressive stone fireplace. Mudroom access to attached four car garage. Upper level laundry. Incredible master suite w/ spa-style luxury bath plus three additional bedrooms and three additional baths. Fun for all in the lower level with home theater, game room, exercise studio, full bath and indoor “endless” pool. $1,450,000    Learn More…

 

439 Maple Lane

Its time to think summer!  It might be cold outside, but come spring you will love the endless hours of family fun you can have in this incredible pool complex!  Heated pool, hot tub and bar will make your new home party central! A top-to-bottom remodel of this timeless Edgeworth colonial, with gorgeous new white kitchen with granite tops open to stunning dining room.  Hardwood floors unify great room, study, entry hall and mudroom. Up to eight bedrooms, 4.5 baths, 3 car detached garage. $1,421,000     Learn 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

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…

 

Energy Efficient is Key

We need to replace appliances – any recommendations?

When choosing new appliances, my first recommendation is that you choose Energy Star certified appliances for several reasons. First – check with your electric supplier before you shop, but rebates are available from many electric companies (Duquesne Light is one) when you purchase designated Energy Star appliances. Second – you will save money every month on your electric bills. Third – and most important from my perspective – younger buyers tend to be concerned about energy efficiency and often ask for utility bill information on homes they are considering. Energy efficient appliances are a selling point and will enhance the value of your home (don’t forget to point that out when you list!) As more young buyers enter our buying market (and they are buying across all price ranges), this could be an important differentiator for your home.

I still recommend that you choose stainless appliances. While there are many options out there including some pretty interesting colors, I still see buyers responding most favorably to stainless. Sure, they might be harder to care for (you will need a can of stainless polish in your cleaning cupboard), but the look is still quite appealing and “professional.” There is, however, one circumstance when I do not recommend stainless for replacement appliances. If your kitchen has another color appliances (white or black, for example) I do not recommend replacing only one appliance with stainless. If there is one thing buyers uniformly dislike it is mismatched appliances (in color – mixing brands is fine). So if you currently have white appliances and don’t think you will be replacing the other appliances soon, stick with white. Even though white (or black) does not have the same appeal that stainless does, a kitchen with two white (or black) appliances and one stainless is the least appealing of all!

Finally, it is worth noting that it is more the look than the brand that is important to buyers. As much as we all like to think the high end brands are important to people its not what I am seeing on the selling side. If the appliance has a good look, buyers are not stopping to ask what the brand name is! So choose the brand that appeals to you – be it a budget decision or a features decision – and enjoy it while you are still in the home!

 

 

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

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…

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

Selling Around the Holidays

Now that the holiday’s are approaching, should we take our home off the market and give it a rest until spring?

It’s a well established myth that our market slows down over the holidays!  While it might be true that we (happily) transact very little business on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day, the fall and winter months are no less vibrant than most other months!

An historic review of our market here in the Quaker Valley School District reveals, as you might have guessed, that March, April and May are our strongest months for homes going under agreement.  However, when it comes to the remaining nine months, when reviewing a multi-year cross section of data it is clear that they are nearly even in the number of sales that happen each month.  Yes, there are occasionally months like this past September when very few sales are transacted, and we are never really sure why that happens (anxiety over impending midterms perhaps?)  But taking a long term view of the market it is clear that the market is just as strong in November as it is in July.

Additionally, while there are more home sales in March, April and May, there will also be significantly more competition.  We have yet to abolish the notion that spring is the best time to list your home, and so many sellers (who don’t read my articles) are shooting for a “spring” market entry (and often miss the mark as spring means coming on in February, not May!)  If your home is currently on the market, my best advice is to stay the course – there is very little for buyers to choose from right now and there will be offers made on homes in the next few months – yours could be the one that sells!

 

1 Ohio River Blvd, Sewickley

Outstanding opportunity to own this signature commercial building with over 4000SF of space. Formerly the popular Schrman’s Kitchens, this property offers great visibility at the prominent intersection of Route 65 and Beaver Road immediately at the entrance to Sewickley Village, with off-street parking for 8-10 cars. This high traffic location is only 2 minutes from I-79 and only 11 miles from downtown Pittsburgh. Surprisingly large inside and suitable for many uses, the two-story space is currently configured with several offices and conference spaces, mezzanine area, additional open areas and two restrooms. An excellent investment opportunity, this is a versatile building with a flexible layout, high ceilings, a multitude of possible uses and an ideal location.  $195,000  See more …

 

1410 Pennsylvania Avenue

Looking for a change of pace?  How about a move into the city? Rare Gothic Revival home on Pittsburgh’s North Side showcasing remarkable architectural features and grand rooms. Meticulously renovated. 11’ ceilings on main level, hardwood  floors, grand staircase, impressive fireplaces and woodwork. Remodeled kitchen with 48” Wolf commercial grade gas range, well-designed and appointed butler’s pantry/mud room. Master suite w/ dressing room is a dream come true! Beautifully remodeled bath includes marble floor, soaking tub, custom shower w/ seamless glass enclosure. Three additional bedrooms and two new baths plus upper level laundry room, game room. Professionally landscaped yard, private back patio, covered front porch. 2 car garage.. $698,000    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

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

The Almost Perfect Home

We have been searching for our new Sewickley home for about 9 months with no luck – there doesn’t seem to be much of a selection and we cant find our perfect home – any advice for a family of weary home lookers?

Sewickley is a small town which makes it a unique and wonderful place to live, but with it’s small town appeal comes a definitely smaller number of homes to begin with and yes, in some price brackets, inventory has been far tighter than it has been in the past. It is beginning to feel like Sewickley is such a great place to live that no one wants to move!

When we moved here 25 years ago from D.C., we had a long list of “must haves” that we searched the greater Pittsburgh area for. Our real estate agent showed us only one home in Sewickley – that’s all that was available in our price range at that time! It met very few of our must haves – it did not have a master bedroom, it did not have a two car garage, it did not have central A/C and it did not have a family room. But it did have tree lined streets and sidewalks to everywhere and that was our #1 criteria, so we bought the home despite all of its perceived shortcomings.

In the intervening years (and in the two Sewickley home purchases we have made since then), I have learned that if one wants to live in Sewickley, he or she will ultimately need to bend on the must haves a bit. Price will not help – no matter what the price point, there are simply no perfect homes. It is important to evaluate each home through a slightly different lens. Consider how close a possible home comes to meeting your needs. If it meets about 80% of your “hope to haves” and if you could change another 10% over time to be much closer to what you hope to have, with the remaining 10% being things you wish you could change but realistically cant and will have to learn to live with, then the home is likely a home run and one you should seriously consider buying. I call this the 80/10/10 rule – and I have observed that once buyers come to terms with this concept, they can finally find their place to call home. Those that hold out for “perfect” – looking for the home that meets 90%+ of their hope to haves – will find themselves sitting on the sidelines as one home after another sells – that needle in the haystack simply does not exist.

And so, for example, if you have found a great home with the space you need that is in terrific condition in a nice neighborhood and with a great yard, but you don’t love the kitchen and you think it is a bit too far from Starbucks, give it another look. 80% is likely a yes. The kitchen (10%) can be changed over time. And you can learn to adjust to the extra ½ mile to Starbucks – its still walkable! My best advice to you is to start looking at homes through this 80/10/10 lens – you may be surprised to find that “perfect enough” has been waiting for you all along!

63 Thorn Street

Expertly remodeled, 63 Thorn paints a modern landscape on a charming traditional palate to create an exceptional home for the millennium home buyer.  Sited on a large lot with fully fenced back yard. The expertly designed and crafted kitchen (which is open to the kitchen) is flooded with light from an entire wall of windows that bring the private backyard into this warm and inviting space.  The dining room has also been opened to the back yard through an impressive wall of windows and doors, and spills effortless out onto the new back deck.  The second level is home to a new master suite with large closet and spa-like private bath.  Four additional bedrooms, two full baths and a convenient second floor laundry room complete the upper levels.  $1,595,000 More Info Here…

219 Orchard

A spectacular Sewickley Village transformation!  Large two-story addition of 1000SF+ incorporates a new large family room, mudroom and luxurious master suite. This complete renovation included all new wiring, zoned central A/C added to the home, 2.5 new baths including a gorgeous master bath, addition of main level laundry and new kitchen featuring abundant white cabinetry topped with Quartz, stainless appliances, and large center island overlooking the large great room. New master suite includes vaulted ceiling, spacious walk-in closet with laundry chute, Fenced rear yard with patio. $599,000 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

Finding the RIGHT DOWNSIZER!

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

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

If you are looking for patio homes, we have a limited inventory in Sewickley, with Elmhurst (nothing available) and Sewickley Ridge (in Aleppo – one available).  However, we do have nearby communities that have wonderful patio homes including options off Nicholson Road in Franklin Park and Ohio Twp, all still in “15143” including Diamond Run, The Fields of Nicholson and Traditions Sewickley Ridge.  We also have townhomes in Sewickley Village (none currently available), some with elevators, townhomes in Sewickley Heights manor, townhomes in Moon overlooking Sewickley and townhomes in Ohio township (still “15143”).  If you are looking for that illusive Village ranch, you may be waiting a while and looking at a large project to bring it up to modern standards.  We often have ranch opportunities outside the Village however.  We also have a nice selection of condos.  If you are hoping to spend a lot of your time traveling, while a condo may seem on the small side at first, it may be all you need if you won’t be in Sewickely all year.  316 Beaver Street has just undergone a smart remodel and offers stylish in-town condos.  The Linden, Brittany and Normandy provide additional options.

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

Early fall can be a very strong market.  We are encouraging homeowners who are considering a move to list this fall!  If your buyer is out there and we can’t find your ideal downsizer, there are the options of a delayed closing to give you more time, as well as an interim rental.  Give me a call if you would like to explore this further!  412.779.6060

FEATURED HOMES

 

319 Scaife Road  –  New Listing

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   SEE MORE….

 

111 Skymark  –  NEW PRICE 

Gorgeous all brick newer construction in wonderful Sewickley neighborhood. 2 acre private lot, beautifully landscaped with plenty of green space. Fully-equipped newer kitchen with custom cabinetry, high end appliances including Sub-Zero, Wolf range, double ovens and Dacor warming drawer open to great room and amazing three season porch with impressive stone fireplace. Mudroom access to attached three car garage. Upper level laundry. Incredible master suite w/ spa-style luxury bath plus three additional bedrooms and three additional baths. Fun for all in the lower level with home theater, game room, exercise studio, full bath and indoor “endless” pool. $1,450,000  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

Choosing the RIGHT REALTOR!

A friend asked me how to pick a Realtor to work with.  Any advice you could share?

Selecting the best realtor for your needs is a very personal process.  Surprisingly, however, some real estate consumers don’t know where to begin.  The internet is such an easily accessible tool for doing your homework before you commit to an agent, and yet so many people fail to take advantage of all that is available to them, and then months or in some cases years later are still complaining at cocktail parties or book clubs about how they are not satisfied with their choice of agent.

In this age of technology, there is no reason not to do some homework upfront, before committing to an agent to handle what is likely your largest business transaction.   You can begin by looking at the qualifications and experience of the agent you are considering.  What certifications do they have? Certifications such as ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative) and CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) 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, which can only enhance your experience with the agent.

Check out their online marketing next.  The majority of Buyers start their search online these days.  How does the agent market her homes?  Check out sites like realtor.com, Trulia and Craig’s List.  Are there visual tours?  What do you think of the photography?  Would you buy the home, or even take a second look?  Be sure to check out online recommendations while on these sites.

Finally, when meeting with the agent, ask for statistics.  How many days does it take her to sell a home on average and how does that compare to the market generally.  How correct is her pricing?  How often does she have to reduce the price of a home before it sells?  Reflect on how she calculated this data.  Is it a guess or does she have the data to back up the numbers?  This will all help you determine the value of the advice you are receiving.

Each of these factors inures directly to your benefit and your bottom line.  So take the time – get to know our credentials, marketing, past performance and recommendations – and make an educated decision when choosing your next real estate agent.

FEATURED HOMES 

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

 

63 Thorn Street

Expertly remodeled, 63 Thorn paints a modern landscape on a charming traditional palate to create an exceptional home for the millennium home buyer.
Sited on a large lot with fully fenced back yard. The expertly designed and crafted kitchen (which is open to the kitchen) is flooded with light from an entire wall of windows that bring the private backyard into this warm and inviting space.  The dining room has also been opened to the back yard through an impressive wall of windows and doors, and spills effortless out onto the new back deck.  The second level is home to a new master suite with large closet and spa-like private bath.  Four additional bedrooms, two full baths and a convenient second floor laundry room complete the upper levels.  $1,595,000   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

BEWARE THE SCAM!

We have been reading about fraud in real estate transactions – is this a real issue we should be concerned about here in Pittsburgh?

Fraud has become a rampant issue in the real estate industry.  In the past 6 months I had several transactions where the parties received what appeared to be legitimate emails from their lenders attempting to reroute funds needed for a closing.  Fortunately, I had educated my clients on the risks and all of them were quick to recognize the possible fraud and no money was lost.  Not all real estate consumers are this lucky, however.  Unfortunately, money lost in these scams is almost never retrievable so its important to educate yourself to the risks and exercise extreme caution around all money transfers in real estate transactions.

The typical scam is one in which the buyer receives what appears to be a legitimate email about their closing requesting information, with the ultimate goal to lure the buyer into wiring the money due at closing to a fraudulent account.  There have been instances where scammers have actually hacked into a lender’s server and are sending emails from a legitimate account. Many consumers nationwide have fallen prey to these scams.

How can you avoid being victimized?  First, be aware that there  is a risk of fraud any time a wire transfer is involved.  If you are planning to use a wire either to send funds or receive proceeds, extreme caution is warranted. Second, send and receive emails to your lender and closing company through a secure email only (and this is not the case with your standard gmail account – lenders and closers have specially protected servers for these purposes).  If you don’t have access to one, ask your lender or closer to send you an email from theirs that you can you to respond to.  Third, always independently verify phone numbers you are calling , either by looking at a business card or prior written document that you received or searching online for a number—do not just call the number you see in an email.  It is preferable to provide and confirm wire instructions over the phone with a trusted human rather than sending them off into cyber space.  Finally, if it seems fishy, it probably is.  Anything requesting partial payments  or making last minute changes is a definite red herring – stop and verify – involve your agent and make sure that what you are responding to is legitimate before making a hasty mistake you might soon regret!

FEATURED HOMES

907 Nevin
New Listing – 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!  $415,000

 

1432 Beaver
Complete architect-designed interior renovation of this elegant Sewickley Village Queen Anne Victorian. Sited on a private 1.7 acre lot in the heart of Sewickley Village.  Meticulous renovation and transformation into a home that works perfectly for millennial families. 5000SFF+. Remodeled kitchen seamlessly incorporates new cabinetry and granite tops while integrating refinished antique glass cabinet doors into the design. Completely redesigned master suite, with sitting area, turret reading nook, luxurious bathroom and exercise room. Impressive development of the lower level incorporates a family room, office, kitchenette/bar area and powder room into the home. $1,200,000

I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
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

Seeking Other Options?

We’ve been patiently waiting for a home in the Village – prices seem to be going up and we still haven’t found anything.  Any advice?  Should we consider Wexford?

We are in the middle of a very long inventory shortage.  April is almost here and we may see more homes come on the market (I sure hope so), but it would take 100+ homes to hit he market in the next few weeks to even begin to address our inventory shortage.  That shortage is region wide – there is no magic to looking in other areas – inventory is low across our entire area right now. That said, why not give some serious consideration to homes in Sewickley that are not in the Village?

Sewickley homes located “up the hill” offer many of the same advantages as Village homes!  Their owners feel a part of our community and can take advantage of our exceptional school district.  But “up the hill homes offer many benefits that are harder to find in Village homes.

  • “Up the hill” homes are typically on significantly larger lots than those in the Village – more space for Fido and the kids to play!
  • As a result of the larger lots, “up the hill” homes typically offer much more privacy – you won’t know your neighbor’s every move!
  • “Up the hill” homes tend to be much newer, which means they have more updated floor plans, larger closets, more and larger garages.
  • Because they are newer, “up the hill” homes tend to require far less maintenance as their plumbing, wiring and HVAC are modern, which means more money for fun things like vacations!
  • In an “up the hill” home your kids can’t wander off into the Village without you being aware!
  • “Up the hill” homes usually offer a much better value – you will get a bigger home on a bigger lot in more updated condition for less money than you could buy in the Village!

Don’t give up on Sewickley – we have many wonderful homes—just broaden your horizons and take a look “up the hill.”  Check out the two below, or call me if you would like to know more! 412.779.6060

FEATURED HOMES

 


300 Chaucer Ct

With its beautiful acre of land in an idyllic “up the hill” Sewickley 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. $750,000. Read More…

 

 

16 Highview Drive

Just in time to plan for your most fun summer yet, 16 Highview offers a beautiful in-ground pool and 3.8 acres of privacy, yet sited in a mature Sewickley neighborhood.  With over 4100SF of living space plus a finished lower level, the home features an open floor plan ideal for entertaining.  Newly remodeled kitchen, 3 car garage, main level bed/bath for guest, walk-out lower level, sauna, wine room, screened porch & more!  Remodeled throughout and ready for immediate occupancy! $695,000.  Read More…

 

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

THE RISING INTEREST RATES vs. HOUSING MARKET

What impact do you think rising interest rates will have on the real estate market?

I can’t tell you how many years the Fed has been warning us that they are going to raise the interest rates, and then nothing happened. But now, it looks like it is finally happening. Less than one year ago, conforming loans with good credit could be procured, on a good day, at rates below 3% fixed. Now they have inched up to 4.25% for conforming loans and 4.75% for jumbo loans. While these are still historically great rates, the days of mortgage interest rates in the 3% range appear to be gone and we are slowly inching toward 5%.

What impact will this have on the market? Typically, when rates increase the market slows. Buying power decreases – a buyer will qualify for a smaller mortgage amount when rates are higher. Even if a buyer qualifies for a loan amount, they may not want to pay the added amount each month attributable to the higher rate. Many buyers are cognizant of how much they don’t have available to spend on quality of life purchases, such as dinners out, when they have larger mortgage payments. This boils down to the fact that they may be unwilling or unable to buy at a price they could have last year, and this could depress housing prices.

However, this is counterbalanced by the fact that we are in a market with record low levels of inventory, so it is highly unlikely that interest rates will have any effect on housing prices in the short run. If anything, rising rates should cause buyers to move quickly and lock in homes and mortgages before rates continue to climb. And this would be the most sensible short-term response to rising rates. Buyers – rates are actually going up! The time to act is now!

FEATURED HOMES

73 Thorn Street
NEW LISTING — A wonderful renovation of this classic Sewickley Village Victorian! Offering modern amenities yet loaded with charm, you cannot beat the central Village location! Original details, including beautiful mantles, handsome moldings and a striking staircase anchor the home in history and balance the newer kitchen with stainless and granite and 4.5 newer baths, creating a home that seamlessly merges the past with the present. In addition to generous living and dining rooms and kitchen open to family room, the main level features a convenient laundry room. The upper two levels are home to five bedrooms plus two dens. The covered back porch is perfect for relaxing on warm evening and flows effortlessly onto the large lawn. Two car garage. Please join me for my open house Sunday, 1-4pm at 73 Thorn Street, Sewickley. $1,225,000

1 Oak Drive
NEW LISTING – Well-maintained brick Tudor-style home close to Sewickley Village. Spacious floor plan. Thoughtfully updated with quality renovations that have maintained the home’s character and original workmanship while including the desired modern amenities. Remodeled and expanded kitchen features custom cabinetry with granite tops, stainless appliances. Convenient mudroom. Three bedrooms including master and two remodeled baths. Lower level family room. Two-car garage, plenty of outdoor space including the charming brick patio! $475,000.  See More… 

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

A VALUABLE PIECE OF ADVICE FOR SELLERS

What rights do sellers have to keep buyers in a home sale agreement, once they put a home under agreement? If the buyer back’s out, do we get to keep their hand money?

Assuming the standard Pennsylvania Agreement of Sale is used to sell a home, a home seller has very few rights to keep a buyer in that agreement.  First, any home inspection contingencies must be satisfied.  Unfortunately, unless modified, buyers have the absolute right to terminate the agreement if there is anything at all on the home inspection that they are dissatisfied with, even if a seller is willing to repair that item or items.  Nothing is more disheartening for a home seller than to put their home under agreement, only to lose the deal because of inspection concerns.  This is a result that can be mitigated by home sellers.  All home sellers can, and should, have their homes pre-inspected to help avoid the inspection termination scenario.  Yes, if the inspector finds issues, they need to be repaired or disclosed.  But this will be the case anyhow once the buyer finds them, and they will!  All too many home sellers adopt the position “we’ll address that if the buyer asks.”  The problem with that approach is that a seller may never get the ask – they may just get the termination letter.

Once the inspection hurdle is overcome, there may be additional contingencies that buyers have to overcome before a seller is close to having a secure agreement.  A buyer may have to get financing, and if they place a mortgage contingency in the agreement and a lender refuses to give them a loan for any reason, they can terminate the deal. The most frequent cause of mortgage issues is a failure to appraise.  An appraisal contingency can be a contingency in its own right, and if a home fails to appraise, the buyer will have the right to terminate the agreement.  In this market of low supply and high demand, some sellers of premium properties are extracting market high prices for their homes and appraisal failures are a real risk.  If this happens, a seller will need to consider whether to reduce the price or put the home back on the market.

Whenever a buyer terminates under a contingency contained in an agreement, the buyer receives a full return of the hand money and the seller’s only recourse is to put the home back on the market.  So sellers, do yourself a favor, pre-inspect your homes.  The $500 you will spend is the best insurance policy your money can be in maximizing your chances for a successful sale!

FEATURED HOMES

108 Grouse Lane

NEW LISTING – Beautifully remodeled colonial on 1.2 acres close to Sewickley Heights Golf Club! Hardwood floors unify both levels of this spacious home. The kitchen has been nicely remodeled.  With three walls of windows overlooking the park-like backyard, the breakfast room is awash in natural light! Glass doors open onto the back patio and deck. Two wood burning fireplaces.  4 bedrooms. Exceptionally well cared for and move-in ready! Open this Sunday 1-3pm.  $725,000.  See More…

 

16 Highview Drive

NEW LISTING – Just in time to plan for your most fun summer yet, 16 Highview offers a beautiful inground pool and 3.8 acres of privacy, yet sited in a mature Sewickley neighborhood.  With over 4100SF of living space plus a finished lower level, the home features an open floorplan ideal for entertaining.  Newly remodeled kitchen, 3 car garage, main level bed/bath for guest, walk-out lower level, sauna, wine room, screened porch & more!  Remodeled throughout and ready for immediate occupancy!  Open this Sunday 1-3pm. $695,000.   See More….

I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
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

WHY YOU NEED A BUYER’S AGENT

We’ve been watching realtor.com and calling listing agents about new listings. Agents keep asking me if I have a buyer’s agent. Why would I want one?

It ‘s a good idea to recognize exactly what a buyer’s agent is to you – essentially an almost free invaluable resource to you in the buying process. You might think you will save money if you don’t have an agent that needs to be paid, but in reality that’s not how it works. The sellers have signed a listing agreement obligating them to pay a commission to the listing brokerage house of an agreed percentage and that percentage does not get adjusted if a buyer does not have an agent. So there is simply no advantage to not doing your research and choosing your own advocate before you begin the buying process.

In a recent study done by the National Association of Realtors, the #1 benefit all buyers put forth for having a buyer’s agent? A buyer’s agent helps her buyer understand the process of buying a home (74% of millennials found this to be true). Buying a home is a significantly more complex process than you might imagine, and if you have a well-trained agent, she should make it look simple. However, if you don’t buy and sell real estate everyday, there are many traps for the unwary.

The #2 ranked benefit of a buyer’s agent? A buyer’s agent points out unnoticed property faults or failures. A full-time agent is in and out of homes on a daily basis and after years of experience has developed a fine-tuned ability to pick up issues that most buyers would never notice, and will hopefully be able to suggest proposed solutions as well. This is no substitute for a home inspection, of course. Third on the list of benefits? The buyer’s agent negotiated better sales contract terms than the buyers could have negotiated on their own. Again, years of full-time experience coupled with a dedication to staying educated in the profession should hone an agent’s ability to give you excellent negotiation advice.

The #4 ranked benefit? Buyers reported that their buyers’ agents improved their knowledge of search areas. This is particularly helpful when you are looking to move to an area you are not very familiar with. Finally, the 5th ranked benefit of a buyer’s agent is that she can connect you to a better (and hopefully more reputable) list of service providers than you might have access to on your own. All of these benefits can be yours without the fee of the commission – all a buyer pays is the small “broker fee” (which is charged to both buyer and seller) of approximately $325! This is a small price to pay for a long list of benefits and expert advice on what may be your largest investment! My question is, why wouldn’t you want one?

Call me!! I can help! 412.779.6060

FEATURED LISTINGS

300 Chaucer Ct

NEW PRICE — With its beautiful acre of land in an idyllic “up the hill” Sewickley 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. $750,000.  See More…


180 Summerlawn Drive

Beautifully remodeled open concept 17 year old home on ½ acre wonderful lot with large backyard in a delightful Sewickley neighborhood close to Village. Four finished levels of living space including finished walk out lower level. Kitchen with new stainless appliances open to family room. Main level laundry. Large master suite. Four bedrooms, 3 full and 2 half baths. Third floor gameroom. New roof. $599,000.  See More…


316 Beaver Street #204

Luxury and convenience seamlessly blend in this chic central Sewickley Village condo. Just steps to the shops and restaurants, this beautifully renovated unit features 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, large living room with built-ins, dining room, family room, eat-in kitchen and private balcony. In-unit laundry plus 2 indoor parking spaces. New hardwood floors unify the living spaces. Secure building. $435,000.
See More…

444 Woodland Road

Privacy in the heart of Sewickley Village! 2.973 Acres with mature landscaping, sprawling lawns, in-ground pool, private patio and natural woodlands that provide a year-round buffer for this magical property, yet Village shops and restaurants are just a few blocks away! Renovate to restore the home’s original relaxed elegance, reminiscent of New England seaside homes. Or replace with your own 21st century home of your design and creation! A rare opportunity in Sewickley! $825,000  See More… 

I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
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

BUYERS ARE AT THE READY!

What is going on in our market?  It seems things are selling fast!

A very brief update on the status of our housing market: as predicted, our low inventory for the past several months has created a log jam in our housing market.   As of today we have only 66 homes in our active inventory, while the norm this time of year is closer to 200!  Dozens of buyers are lined up in every price range waiting for their perfect home to come on the market.  As a result, new introductions in the Village are selling close to or at asking price, and more often than not, without a mortgage contingency.  Many are receiving multiple offers.  Buyers participating in this market feel like it is the California market here in Sewickley!

Why is this happening?  It’s hard to say.  The inventory shortage extends across most of the communities in our area that sit in a top rated school district.  People are just not moving out.  This could be caused by the fact that there are extremely limited options for “downsizing” if you are in your empty nester years.  It could be that Pittsburgh has been steadily growing for years and it is just catching up to us.  It could be that we cut new housing starts too sharply after the recession and we aren’t keeping up with demand.

What should a buyer do in today’s market? First, get yourself fully pre-approved (not just prequalified) if you need a mortgage.  You need to get comfortable with the fact that you might have to waive your mortgage and appraisal contingencies.  Second, be ready to make a very fast decision if a home comes on the market – do not expect that you will have more than a day to decide. It is very much a seller’s market and not a good market at all if you are buying, but if you need a house, it’s the market you are in.  Consider looking “up the hill” – we have some amazing homes available offering great living space at significantly better values.

And once again, if you are thinking of selling, give me a call right away and lets design a strategy to maximize your return in this amazing seller’s market!  Put my  19 years of full-time experience and dedication selling Sewickley’s wonderful homes to work for your personal benefit!

FEATURED HOMES

515 Spanish Tract

NEW LISTING — 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! $1,950,000  See More….

16 Highview Drive

NEW LISTING –   Just in time to plan for your most fun summer yet, 16 Highview offers a beautiful inground pool and 3.8 acres of privacy, yet sited in a mature Sewickley neighborhood.  With over 4100SF of living space plus a finished lower level, the home features an open floorplan ideal for entertaining.  Newly remodeled kitchen, 3 car garage, main level bed/bath for guest, walk-out lower level, sauna, wine room, screened porch & more!  Remodeled throughout and ready for immediate occupancy!  $695,000.  See More…

I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
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

UN-DECKING THE HALLS

If our home is on the market, how long is it OK to keep holiday decorations up?

 

 In this incredibly dark time of the year, festive holiday décor certainly helps to brighten everyone’s day, so if your home is on the market, it is certainly a good idea to tastefully decorate for the holidays.  Even if your home is vacant, a seasonal wreath on the front door is a nice touch to welcome guests.  We have been unusually busy this December, so presentation remains important, even when its cold and snowy outside.

Once we start 2018, if your home is on the market, it is important to have your holiday decorations down and stored as quickly as possible, ideally by January 2nd! Our spring market should jump into high gear as soon as we hit mid-January.  Buyers themselves will have put the holidays behind them and will enter the new year with a new sense of urgency to find their new home.  Once the holiday celebrating has past, decorations quickly look tired, so take them down and store them for another year.  If you enjoy door wreaths, that could remain as long as it is more “wintery” and less holiday.

And don’t forget my other wintertime showings tips – lights on for showings, and use the highest acceptable wattage.  Keep walks and driveways free of snow and ice. If you’re not going to be out or too long, a fire in the fireplace is also a nice idea. Thermostat at a warm, cozy temperature (Buyers will not embrace a home if it feels chilly). Boot mats by the front door to save your floors.

Enjoy the holidays – stay warm and safe!

Time to Downsize?  Check Out These Great Options or Call Kathe For More Information!    Call/Text: 412.779.6060

 

102 American Way —   The living is easy in this absolutely wonderful Sewickley Ridge one-level townhome. Less than one year old and in move-in condition – ready for you to call home!  2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 car garage, open concept floorplan, delightful screened porch. Chic ascetic with white cabinetry, granite tops, hardwood floors. Community clubhouse with pool, tennis, Bocce court, community garden, gym, and meeting/socializing space. Why delay your downsize any longer?   $389,000   See More photos and details….

 

316 Beaver Street #204 –  Luxury and convenience seamlessly blend in this chic central Sewickley Village condo. Just steps to the shops and restaurants, this beautifully renovated unit features 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, large living room with built-ins, dining room, family room, eat-in kitchen and private balcony.  In-unit laundry plus 2 indoor parking spaces.  New hardwood floors unify the living spaces. Secure building. $435,000.   See More photos and details…

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

THE HOME INSPECTION DILEMMA

We are buying a new home.  Can we skip the home inspection and save a few bucks?

I do not recommend that you skip a home inspection, even with a new home.  Please keep in mind if buying a new home that no matter how nice and reassuring the builder or his realtor representative are, they do not represent you!  I have on many occasions witnessed a builder trying to gloss over obvious deficiencies with new homes.  You need a home inspector to carefully assess your new home so that you aren’t burdened with repair bills later for improper conditions that existed at the time of your closing. While the inspector is there, it’s a good idea to get a pest and radon inspection in addition to a general home inspection.  Both pests and radon are commonplace and can be significant – its wise to know what you are dealing with before you move in.

However, do not make the mistake of assuming that all home inspectors are equally skilled at their profession. Some inspectors gloss over many areas of concern and take a VERY big picture approach, which, while generally not alarming, can also be very unhelpful as you plan for your future improvements to the home.  Others can be incredibly harsh and point out flaws that are inaccurate or irrelevant, leading you to over-react. Before booking a home inspector, do your due diligence – make sure they are ASHI certified  and read their online reviews (as you I am sure you did when you chose your Realtor).

Finally, once you move in, keep in mind that it is recommended that homeowners have their homes professionally inspected once every ten years.  The mere passage of time can take a toll on a home, and better that you find problems and correct them before they become big problems. Repeating pest and radon inspections at that time is also a good idea – they are also best addressed sooner rather than later.  If you have any questions about whether you should be getting your home inspected, please give me a call!  412.779.6060

RECENTLY SOLD — represented buyers.
Click the photo to see more of my past sales history!

 

I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
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

KEEPING YOUR HOME SHOW-READY!!

Fall is upon us!  Any tips for presenting our home well in the fall market?

Fall can be such a wonderful season here in Pittsburgh, but sometimes sellers forget that they need to take a fresh look at their home to make sure it is still presenting at its best as summer ends.  Start with your yard.  It’s the first thing a buyer sees! Make sure you have trimmed away all of Summer’s dead blooms and that your garden beds are looking ready for their long winter’s nap.  Put down fall fertilizer so your yard looks great again this coming spring! Be sure to give your lawn its final mow, and as we move into fall, keep your leaves raked! 

Don’t forget to keep your gutters clean – if your home is actively on the market, you may need to do it more than once – you don’t want a buyer to see clogged gutters and mini-trees emerging! Give porches and patios a final thorough cleaning.  If your windows aren’t really clean, get that done too – as we go into our grayer time of the year, its really important to get as much sunshine inside as possible!

Inside, check all of your lightbulbs and make sure they are all at the maximum possible wattage and in good working order. As days grow shorter, it will be important for your home to be bright and cheerful inside. Clean out your garage.  You will need it once snow flies, and you won’t want to be out there in 30 degree weather! Be sure that if you choose seasonal decorations like mums or wreaths, that you remember to rotate them as we move through the season so that you reflect the current season!

And of course, if you know now that you want to list in the coming Spring season, which kicks off in January, give me a call now so we can get photography done while there are still leaves on the trees!

FEATURED HOMES

178 Backbone

Stone and timber seamlessly blend in this California-style contemporary.  Beautifully sited on a 7 acre wooded lot, this striking home melds perfectly with its natural surroundings.  Walls of windows flood the home with natural light. Two authentic stone turrets add to the romance this home evokes.  The end result is an exceptional custom built home that will stand the test of time. Comfortable and relaxed, it is a home you will love coming home to.  6 bedrooms including main level suite, 4.5 baths, 3 car garage. $895,000.  See more photos and get more details here… 

 

102 American Way

The living is easy in this absolutely wonderful Sewickley Ridge one-level townhome.  Located in Ohio Township’s highly popular and sought-after Traditions at Sewickley Ridge community, it is less than one year old and in move-in condition – ready for you to call home!  2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 car garage, open concept floorplan, delightful screened porch. Chic ascetic with white cabinetry, granite tops, hardwood floors. Why delay your downsize any longer?   $389,000  Get more details and see more photos here

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

Understanding 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.

Don’t Miss Out!

We just lost out on a home that we loved.  Is the spring market really that hot already?

In a word, yes.  The market took a sudden uptick last week, signaling the official beginning of spring in our real estate world. And yes, several properties went under agreement after receiving multiple offers.

Are you one of the many buyers sitting on the sidelines of our real estate market for some reason?  Now is the time to get serious.  It might look like homes have been sitting.  You might think there is no rush. Why are you sitting on the sidelines? Thinking there is a possibility that the “perfect” home will materialize?  Expecting that the home that has been siting for a while isn’t going anywhere?  Speculating that if you wait long enough the seller will drop the price?  These ideas may end up costing you a home that you might have really enjoyed when another more serious buyer swoops in from nowhere and buys the home out from under you.  It happens all the time in the spring market.

There is no perfect home, and if there is, it will be priced well above market because it is what every buyer is waiting for.  Should that home materialize – and we all know what it is – new kitchen and baths, attached garage, central Village, large yard, Pottery Barn gray & white aesthetic, in perfect condition with no projects remaining – there are dozens of buyers at every price point just waiting for it.  There will be a certain bidding war and you will pay top dollar if you want to win.

As inventory continues to be at record lows as we move into the spring market, sellers are far less motivated than they were last month to give you a good deal.  They are weeks away from our typical spring crush, and all indicators are that this will be our strongest real estate year yet.  If you are waiting for a price reduction this time of year, not only are you risking losing the home, but you are likely costing yourself money as sellers become less flexible in the spring market.

Don’t lose out on a home you are excited about by moving too slowly and making the incorrect assumption that the home will be there waiting for you when you are ready.  If you are serious about a move and have found a home that could work for your family, step forward with confidence and make that home your own!

Featured Homes:

108 Colonial Drive
$224,500

A fantastic opportunity for single family living at an affordable price in the top-ranked Quaker Valley School District, 108 Colonial Drive is nicely updated, with spacious rooms and a modern aesthetic.  Living & dining rooms, eat-in kitchen open to family room w/ wood-burning fireplace, enclosed porch, 3 bedrooms, 2 car garage. Stunning views of the Ohio River Valley.

330 Ferry Street
$299,000

Central Sewickley Village is hot! And at 330 Ferry Street you can be just blocks from the heart of the action.  Move-in ready, but still offering excellent investment potential, there are up to 5 bedrooms.  Nicely remodeled kitchen includes stainless appliances and granite tops. Convenient mudroom.  Fenced backyard. Off-street parking. Covered front porch.  A great value!

 

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.

Should I Buy a FSBO?

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

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

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

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

 

Featured Homes:

329 Centennial Avenue
$558,000

329 Centennial Avenue defines the modern concept of an open floorplan.  The top to bottom renovation of this classic central Village home has created a home that is a joy to live in and entertain in. Incredible outdoor space includes the walled private courtyard, patio that spills out onto the large, fenced and flat yard, and hot tub! One car garage plus off-street parking for two. Charming and pristine, it is just blocks from the heart of the action in Sewickley Village.

349 Backbone Road

Just the “right” size inside and out, this classic brick cape cod checks every box.  4 bedrooms, 2 full remodeled baths, remodeled kitchen with granite/ stainless appliances, hardwood floors throughout, 2 car garage, spacious yard, charming covered side porch perfect for your morning coffee.  With the YMCA this close, there is no excuse for skipping your work-out! $425,000.

 

 

 

 

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.

Waiting for “Mr. Right”

Will there be more homes coming on the market soon? We’ve been looking for a while and it doesn’t seem like there are many homes available.

Our inventory of available homes has never been lower! And yes, there will be more homes coming on the market soon. I have many wonderful homes almost ready to enter the spring market – sellers working hard to make their home appealing to you. But don’t expect an avalanche – I fully anticipate that there will be fewer than usual homes coming on the market this spring. And with the coming of the spring market there will be many more buyers, much more competition, and a rise in the prices realized by sellers. The window is almost closed for buyers to be able to get a good deal this spring from a seller anxious to sell. Buyers will soon find themselves in bidding wars, in many cases for homes they could have purchased a month earlier at a discount.

Will your perfect home be one of the ones coming on the market in the coming weeks? There is always that chance, but if you are looking for that historically charming Village home that has 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, a two car garage with modern kitchen and baths, a gray/greige color palette, and a yard big enough for fun… get in line! There is a large crowd of people waiting for that product and you are well advised to be pre-approved by a lender and ready to put in a strong offer very quickly, with no guarantee you will be the winner. Another reasonable alternative is to reconsider what we have on the market – there are many terrific homes that with a little effort, could be your dream home.

Why is inventory so low? Here in Sewickley, our community’s popularity is growing every year. The school district continues to garner accolades and rank highly and the secret is out – this is a super cool and fun place to live that is really close to both Pittsburgh and the airport. Why not Sewickley? So as more people try to find a spot here and fewer people depart, fewer and fewer homes are available for sale. The scarcity of homes will continue to put upward pressure on prices. And of course, if your priority is a home in Sewickley, you may just need to consider where you can compromise to make your dream a reality!

Who Represents You?

Can we choose a buyer’s agent even if we have seen homes with the listing agents?

The answer is an unequivocal yes! As a buyer, you are absolutely entitled to choose your own representation in a transaction. It might be that the listing agent is in fact the individual that you feel will best represent you – approximately 1/3 of my transactions involve dual agency, and they proceed smoothly for all parties. But if you have been looking at homes or going to open houses and find the perfect agent for you in that process, it is fine to engage that agent as your representative even if you have seen homes with other agents.

It is of course in your best interests to ultimately select and work exclusively with a buyer’s agent. Your buyer’s agent should provide a personalized high level of service to you. When viewing homes, you should expect your buyer’s agent to provide you with information about the home, neighborhood and community to help you in your decision making process. You should expect your buyer’s agent to provide you with an analysis of comparable sales, develop a negotiating strategy and help you analyze and negotiate the home inspection. These are important benefits that you will receive when you engage a buyer’s agent that cannot be provided in the absence of that relationship.

Many buyers use open houses and viewings with listing agents as their opportunity to interview agents and determine who will best represent them as a buyer’s agent. This makes complete sense if you do not have a prior agency relationship that you were pleased with. Transitioning between homes is a very personal process that can, for some, also be very stressful. For many of us, it also involves the purchase and/or sale of our largest asset. The importance of due diligence, reference checking and interviews cannot be overstated when choosing your real estate representative, and once you have made that decision, it is important to communicate that to other real estate agents when interacting with them. I will be hosting an open house this Sunday, 1-3pm, at 30 Wilson Drive in Ben Avon Heights and next Sunday, February 5, 1-3 pm at 1008 Beaver Street in Sewickley – stop by, check out these amazing homes, and if you don’t already know me, I would love the opportunity to meet you!

New Years Resolution #1

If there was one thing you would advise us to do to our home this year, what would that be?

Whether you are planning to sell your home this year or not, the best thing you can do to your home this year is a home inspection! We all live in our homes but rarely take the time to stop and give them a careful look. Weather beats up the outside of our homes year round. Caulking fails, flashing fails, paint peels and exposes wood to rot. We forget to clean our gutters on a regular basis – gutters and downspouts fill with decaying debris, causing water to back up into our homes and cause mold problems. We forget to have our furnaces serviced and fittings loosen and cause condensate to leak and rust our furnaces. The list goes on and on. Simply living in and not doing a regular check up on your home, you are leaving it open to the possibility of major repair bills later and major depreciation in your investment’s value. A home inspection will give you a to do list of projects to tackle throughout the year to keep your home in great shape and maintain its value!

You may not think about this until you go to sell your home. Some of the wear and tear may be obvious to a buyer, who will typically have checked out every available home, be able to see signs of your “benign neglect,” and pass on yours because of its comparatively negative condition. Even if a buyer doesn’t’ notice at first, there is no doubt that a home inspector will notice! After working hard to get your home sold, you may find yourself in the all too common situation of being presented with a long list of inspection requests that you need to complete in order to hold your deal together, or worse yet, a buyer who backs out of your deal because the house needs “too much work,” leaving you in the position of having to fix everything and start all over again. A homeowner should expect simply keeping a home in acceptable condition will cost them $3,000 – $10,000 a year, depending on the size of the home – some years wil be more if its time for a major project, and some less. If you’re not investing this, chances are someday you will when you are faced with a long list of inspection issues.

The first thing on my household resolution list this new year is a home inspection and I suggest you add it to the top of your list as well. Give me a call if you need the names of reputable local inspectors.

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!

Selling Your Vacant Home

Dear Kathe:

We may move out and leave our home vacant and for sale – is there anything special we should know?

First and most importantly, you must consider your insurance coverage. If you have a loss and you have not notified your insurance company that you have vacated the home, they may deny coverage for your loss. Some companies may not provide coverage for your vacant home and you will need to switch insurers. Some will provide coverage for a limited amount of time, and some will provide coverage as long as you leave your furniture in place. However, most will deny coverage for any loss related to water, so whenever you leave a home vacant for any amount of time, its important to turn the water off at the main. If its winter time, you should consider having a plumber professionally winterize your home.

Second its rarely a good idea to leave a home totally empty. Some homes do show better without the owner’s furniture, but even in those cases its important to leave bathrooms, the kitchen, fireplace mantles… staged so that the home feels loved and inviting to prospective buyers. Be sure to have a few lights on timers – buyers often drive by homes at night and you don’t want yours looking haunted! Of course, there are professional home stagers that can help you with any level of staging, whether its working with your existing furnishings, accessorizing bathrooms and the kitchen, or bringing in new furniture to fill the empty space.

You should have a house keeper who comes monthly to keep the home fresh and bug free and a yard service to keep the yard freshly mown and free of weeds, as well as leaves rank and snow shoveled. Finally, you should be sure to keep the temperature set at a comfortable temperature – in the winter no lower than 60 degrees and preferable 65 degrees.

Leaving a home vacant certainly makes showings easier, but it does require some extra attention to make sure the home does not feel abandoned and remains appealing to prospective buyers!

Will Our Deal Close?

Dear Kathe:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Picture This… Why You Need a Survey

Dear Kathe,

Should we get a survey in connection with our new home purchase or can we rely on the seller’s old survey?

Often buyers do not order a survey of their new home and while this saves a buyer at least $400 – $500, ordering a new survey when you buy a home is a good investment.   Surveys are valuable because they will show you whether there are any boundary issues with the property that might be expensive to fix later. For example, the neighbor may have built his new shed slightly over the property line. Getting that fixed might strain neighbor relations and cost you money. Better to let the current owner handle it before closing. Surveys can also reveal undisclosed easements across your property. You might find out that the neighbor has the legal right to have their driveway on a piece of your property or that the neighbor has a right to use your driveway to get to their property.   While you may be ok with shared use, it is certainly something you want to make an informed decision about and not something you want to find out after the fact.

Surveys are also valuable because they show you where you can build and where you can install items such as decks, patios, pools and sheds. These can be expensive to undo if you make a mistake and end up on your neighbor’s property – better to make an upfront investment in a survey and get it right the first time. Surveys are essential if you are planning to install a fence or invisible fence. In these situations its actually an excellent idea to have the surveyor return to “stake” the property line so that you are certain you don’t put your fence on your neighbor’s land.

Finally, without a survey, at closing your title insurance company will issue a policy with “survey exceptions,” meaning that if you later find out there is an issue, the title insurance policy will not pay to resolve the issue. In order to get the best possible title insurance coverage, it is important to get a new survey.

When you are moving toward closing on your new home your settlement company will ask you whether you want a survey and I recommend that you respond yes!

 

 

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.

Prequalification or Preapproval? Which is Right for You?

Dear Kathe,

We are planning on buying a new home in the coming months? Should we get prequalified or preapproved for a loan? What is the difference?

Its always important to make one of your first steps in buying a home a conversation with a lender. Pre-qualifications are easy – you just pick up the phone and tell the lender your income and amount you have available to put down towards the purchase, they check your credit and issue a preapproval letter. However, this does not hold much clout with the seller.

A preapproval is a much more rigorous process. Basically, you apply for the loan without having found a house. You give the lender all of the documentation they think they need and they out it through the loan underwriters. This is much more time consuming – these days lenders require quite a long list of documentation and explanation to approve a loan. However, this is something you will have to go through anyhow when you are ready to buy, so its not a bad idea to get it done upfront.

The preapproval process will also save you potential heartache later. Sometimes buyers are surprised at what gets in the way of a loan, You may have child support or student loan debt, for example, that you don’t think to mention in the very simple prequalification process that lowers what you can afford on a monthly basis. It would be unfortunate to find your dream home only to go through the loan approval process and find out that you don’t qualify to buy it. Additionally, sellers strongly prefer preapproval letters from buyers because they know lenders have taken a thorough look. A preapproval letter will make your offer much stronger, which could be important if more than one offer is received.

Keep in mind that whether you go through the prequalification or the preapproval process, this does not bind you to a specific lender. Once you have a home under agreement, you are free to shop rates and costs to choose the best lender for you.

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.

 

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!

The Fine Art of Negotiating

Dear Kathe,

How much negotiation should we expect when buying a home?

Some homes sell for 100% of asking price, even months after they have come on the market. Others sell for 25% off ask. How does a buyer even begin to know how much to expect to “negotiate off” the asking price of a home?

Community practices are a good place to start. In the North Hills, for example, homes typically sell for very close to asking price – if a home is priced too far above what the market will bear, buyers simply sit and wait for sellers to reduce. In Sewickley Heights, on the other hand, large discounts are commonplace.

It’s also important to consider how long a home has been on the market since it’s last price reduction. If it’s been a few months, there may be more room to negotiate.

The time of year and market activity and other important factors. In the spring market, homes are far more likely to yield higher realizations. This has been a very hot spring market – if you are buying this time of year and looking for a large discount, you may be disappointed.

Listing agent pricing styles are also relevant – some agents price to allow for large amounts of negotiation and others prefer to choose a price very close to market value in an effort to engender more enthusiasm about a home –knowing the agent’s average realization will help you determine the best approach to take if you actually want to be successful in your negotiations.

Finally, and most importantly, its important to review and understand the comparable homes, including price per square foot and neighborhood particularities. If a home is priced at or below the price at which comparable homes in similar locations have sold, it’s highly unlikely a deep discount offer will succeed.

Before you determine how much to offer and how you will approach your negotiations, ask yourself how much you want to own the home. If you are dreaming about raising your family there and your goal is to actually own the home, take a realistic look at the above factors before diving too deep with your offer.

Contingency – Buyer’s Side

Dear Kathe,

Is it possible to buy a new home contingent on selling our current home?

It certainly is possible to make an offer on a new home contingent on selling your current home! However, an offer with a home sale contingency is not a strong offer. You are asking the seller to stop marketing their home in the hopes that you will sell yours, which can feel like a big gamble to the seller. If this is the direction you need to go in, there are some important tips to keep in mind.

  • Sellers are more likely to consider your home sale contingency if their home has been on the market for a long time with no other interest, if we are in a slow market season (fall) and they are unlikely to have any other serious interest in the short term, and/or if you are offering them a very high price which makes it worth taking a chance on you. If you want your offer with a home sale contingency to succeed, make them an offer at or close to asking price.
  • Sellers are more likely to consider your home sale contingency if your home is already on the market and you can show that it is priced well for a quick sale and is getting significant showings. If you want your offer with a home sale contingency to be accepted, don’t list your current house at a top-of-the-market price.
  • Sellers are more likely to consider your home sale contingency is you choose the type of contingency that allows them to actively market the home to other buyers. Of course, from your perspective you would prefer to lock the house up, but that is unlikely to happen. The right to continue marketing contingency at least allows you to know that you can buy the home at an agreed upon price as long as you get yours sold before another buyer comes along.

Of course, two better options include getting your home on the market and sold so that you can make an offer contingent only upon it’s closing, or exploring options with a mortgage broker that would allow you to make a non-contingent offer.

The Cost to Close

Dear Kathe,
Is a seller expected to help pay for the buyer’s closing costs and if so, how much?

Sellers often contribute to buyers’ closing costs in lower price ranges and in first time home buyer situations. Typically buyer closing costs are not less 3% of the cost of the home and may be as much s 6%. Buyer closing costs include expenses such as transfer taxes (1%), lender fees, title insurance, property tax proration, homeowners’ insurance premiums and pre-paid mortgage interest. These fees can add up quickly. Sometimes buyers do not have enough cash saved to be able to pay their required down payment and their closing costs as well. They may be very well qualified to buy in that their salary is high enough to afford the monthly payment, but they just don’t have enough cash saved.

When this happens, buyers will look to sellers for help in paying the closing costs that the buyer would normally have paid. This is normally expressed as a percentage of the purchase price. For example, the buyer might ask the seller to pay 3% of the purchase price toward their closing costs. The seller is automatically netting 3% less in this scenario, before they pay their own closing costs which normally range between 7% – 8% of the sales price.

Before you jump to the conclusion that sellers often won’t agree to contribute toward a buyer’s closing costs, stop and look at the greater picture. Normally sellers who help with closing costs are receiving 100% (or very close to that) of their asking price. On the other hand, it’s a rare day that any listing sells for 100% of its asking price, and the average “realization” before seller expenses in Quaker Valley School District is less than 90%. So paying 3% in closing cost assistance but getting a 100% (or close) offer might be your best deal!

What Does “Paper Separately” Mean Anyway?

Dear Kathe:
When you buy a house, what sorts of things can you paper separately so it doesn’t show up as purchase price? I know of a $1.5M sale that was recorded for $1.3M, for example.

There are times when a buyer may want to reflect a lower price on their deed than what they may initially be willing to pay for a home. There are several ways that this can be done if that is your goal. One option for a buyer wishing to reflect a lower deed price is for the buyer to offer to pay the seller’s commission. For example, if the seller of the home you seek to buy is offering a 6% commission and you are planning to offer $500,000, if you offered to pay the real estate commission of $30,000, you could reduce your offer price, which is reflected on your deed, to $470,000.

At the time of closing, a buyer and a seller each pay a 1% transfer tax in our area. You could also offer to pay the transfer tax that the seller would otherwise have paid, in my example being $5,000, and reduce your offer accordingly, in this case to $465,000.

Finally, if you are planning to buy any of the personalty with the home, you can schedule that separately as well. For example, you may have asked the seller to include in the sale their pool and ping pong tables as well as all of their custom draperies and central vac equipment. You may feel these items are worth $20,000 and offer to buy these items separately from the seller, thereby reducing the offer price in this case to $445,000.

With these three cost allocation methods, you will have reduced your deed price from the $500,000 you were willing to pay to $445,000 offer price which will be reflected on your deed, plus $55,000 in allocated costs. Of course, to do this you would have to have the cash on hand to pay for the allocated costs plus your planned down payment – banks will not consider the amount you pay for any such allocated costs as part of your down payment. In this case, you would likely need at least $150,000 cash on hand to utilize these cost allocation strategies. Accordingly, these strategies only work for homeowners who have saved large sums of cash that they are willing to invest in their homes.

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…

Get Thee to a Buyer’s Agent

Continuing from last week:

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

Hopefully after reading my article last week, you were motivated to get serious about buying a home and began the process.  As I discussed last week, you should be saving your down payment, keeping your credit in excellent shape, getting pre-approved by a recommended lender and researching and selecting a Buyer’s Agent.  So what’s next.? The fun begins!

Your Buyer’s Agent should set you up to receive new listings via email as soon as they become available.  To streamline the process, it is a good idea for you to pre-screen these homes before going to see them.  Check them out online and on google earth, do a drive by to make sure there is nothing that you would object to that is readily apparent.  Once you have done your initial screening, go to see the home as soon as possible.  Our inventory is at record lows.  If you love a home you can be sure that there are at least a dozen other buyers considering the home and you will need to be ready to make an immediate offer.  Along these lines, it is important that you have developed a relationship with your Buyer’s Agent and trust her judgment.  When the right home becomes available you may have to pay full price to get it, and you need to be working with someone you feel you can trust on those decisions.  In this market there is rarely time to test out the seller if it is a great house and is well priced.

When making the offer, allow about 2 hours to go over the contract with your Buyer’s Agent.  You will want your agent to review the details with you and there are many decisions you will need to make when writing the offer.

You will need to work with your agent to decide how much to offer initially, how much hand money to put down, a closing date, the mortgage terms you plan to apply for and time periods for inspections.  You will list the items that are in the house that you expect to stay there, such as dishwashers, refrigerators and window treatments.  There are many other custom terms you may want to include – you may want to include an appraisal contingency.  You may be looking for the seller to address certain deficiencies that you noted while walking through, such as cleaning gutters.  All of the things that are important to you about the home must be written into the contract or they will not happen in the future.  Oral agreements are not binding when it comes to the sale of property.  Your Buyer’s Agent has hopefully paid close attention to everything you noted while viewing the home and will make sure that the Offer reflects all of your wishes.

Once you have signed the offer (and no, you can’t just make a verbal offer – as mentioned above, everything concerning land must be in writing) the offer will be presented to the seller and you will begin negotiations with your seller.  Stay tuned as the process of buying your home continues to unfold next week…

 

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Dear Kathe,

We are planning on buying a new home in 2016 and are waiting to see what comes on the market this spring. Is there anything we should be doing while we wait?

With such little inventory and so many buyers in the market, when a property comes on that you are interested in, you must be really ready to buy. Bidding wars will become commonplace this spring and if you want to win, you must be the strongest buyer the seller considers. What does this mean?

First and foremost, it means having your financing in order. Contact your mortgage broker today, before you start looking at homes. But do more than just run your salary and social security number by him. Ask him to start the approval process and trouble shoot in advance any issues he might see. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that just because you have a good job and pay your bills on time, getting a mortgage will be easy. Lenders have tightened up on their lending ratios – you may be surprised to find out that you have too much debt outstanding and need to pay off car loans or old student loans before you will be approved for a mortgage. Do that before you enter into a contract to buy a home.

What if you have a home to sell? Sit down with the mortgage broker and see if there is anyway that you can buy without selling. Home sales contingencies are rarely accepted by sellers and when they are, they are highly unlikely to work out. Putting a home sale contingency on a home just marks the home to the public as a “wanted” home making it more likely that your offer will drive in another offer from a buyer. Why do all the work so someone else can buy your dream home? Strategize to find a way to buy without selling, even if it means eating macaroni and cheese. Sound too risky to you? Then get your home on the market right away and be prepared to rent for a few months if the home you love isn’t on the market when you are ready to buy.

There are many strategies we can use to make you a strong buyer in our unusually strong seller’s market. Give me a call and we can put an action plan in place for you to be the winning buyer when your dream homes comes on the market!

Brass is Back?!

Dear Kathe:

Is brass making a comeback?

I’m not an interior designer, but yes, after many years of all silver, all the time, brass is starting to come back. However, the brass that is “in” is not the shiny brass from 15 years ago. The new brass color that is gaining popularity has a softer, non-shiny texture, not the glossy brass of days gone by. Does this mean we all need to run out and change our silver out for the new “soft” brass? Absolutely not! Silver tones are still fashionable, but if you have a house full of shiny brass, it may be possible to replace some of it with the newer brass finish and blend the new with the old to create a harmonious look, for a more trendy look without a total overhaul.

The important take away here is that more than anything, consistency sells. When working on your home, whether it is to prepare it for market or remodeling just to live in with a possibility of a sale some day, choose a theme and stick with it. Home buyers always respond more positively when an entire home “sings the same song.” For example, if you use silver tone metals, use them everywhere – in the lighting, faucets… throughout the whole home. If its burnished bronze, make it all that. Selling difficulties start when one bath is silver and the next is brass.

If you have hardwood floors, unify the stain color. One room should not be light and the next dark. Unify carpet colors (its fine to use a berber in one area and plush in another, as long as the color tones are the same). Every room does not have to be painted the same color, but the colors should complement each other and flow together. If you use grays and greiges, for example, then having a gold living room might feel out of place. Having an overriding design theme that carries through your entire home, whatever it is, will make your home more appealing to buyers, and bring you a faster sale for more money. And so yes, its true, brass is making a come back and if done correctly, can be used to create a trendy feel in your home.

 

Bidding Wars and How to Win!

Dear Kathe:

A friend of ours lost in a bidding war for a home – if we find ourselves interested in a home that everyone else is also interested in, how can we win?

 Our market is getting hot right now and bidding wars are starting to happen once more.  Buyers, there are a lot of important lessons to be learned here.  The first and most important is that it is always better to avoid a bidding war!  If you see a home that you like, do not delay!  Our inventory levels are at historic lows and there are too many buyers entering the buying pool.  Don’t sit by the sidelines over-analyzing.  Make an offer!

Lesson two:  if you find yourself in the unenviable position of being in a bidding war, ask yourself:  What price is it at which, when you see the home sale amongst the sold transactions in the Sewickley Herald, will you say “darn, I would have paid that price.”  If that’s the way you feel, that’s what you should be offering.  Consider at what price, when you read the Sewickley Herald, you can sleep at night, knowing you “would never have paid that much for that house.”  Offer just below that price, and know that you gave it your all and will, in fact, be able to sleep at night if someone else wins.

Lesson three:  do know that a request from the seller for your “final and best offer” does in fact mean your final and best offer.  There will probably be no second chances.  Refer to step two above in determining that price, and then do not pull back thinking you will be leaving money on the table if you offer significantly more than the other bidder.   You will be enjoying the home for years to come and it just won’t matter when you are the one inside and not the one driving by outside, pining about the one that got away!  So give it your very best shot!  Do not assume that you will be given a second opportunity to improve your offer either – offer your best offer out of the gate to increase your chances of success.

Sellers, a special message for you:  bidding wars are starting to happen once again, but if you want to be the subject of one, you must still prep your home perfectly and price it realistically.  Today’s buyers are very savvy and while prices are inching up, it’s a slow and steady rise and sellers who prepare their homes (see my blog for advice on what to do) are the most highly rewarded!

A Continued Response to Last Week’s Question…

When it comes to selling a home, success is in the detail.  Attention to details in the contract is critical.  But so is attention to detail in the preparing your home for sale.  Last week I focused on the type of details you don’t want to overlook in prepping your bathrooms for a buyer’s eye.  Today I turn my focus to the kitchen.  Your kitchen is absolutely key to the sale of your home.  A buyer may not decide definitively that he will buy your home on the main level, buy he very well may decide he won’t buy your home on the main level.  That’s why it’s so important that the main level of your home sparkle, and the kitchen is the most anticipated component of that level.

Like bathrooms, the kitchen should be as clean and updated as possible. Again, a good detail cleaning is where you should start.  Clean inside of cabinets and drawers (buyers do open them).  Get rid of or store items you don’t use all of the time – it is important that it appear that you have plenty of storage space – crowded cupboards give the wrong impression.  Clean the outside of cabinets as well.  Polish all stainless appliances with stainless steel polish and keep them that way throughout the listing.  A can on stainless steel wipes will make this very easy for you.  Make sure floors (including corners) are squeaky clean – if your floor is tile, be sure the grout looks clean.  Kitchens are high traffic areas, so be sure your woodwork is in great shape.  Double check baseboards and touch-up paint anything that is beginning to look dingy.  It goes without saying that any wallpaper needs to come down.  Any walls reflecting wear and tear should also be repainted.

Be sure your light bulbs are the highest wattage possible so that your kitchen looks great on even our grayest of days.  Dust off all light fixtures and of course, replace all burned out bulbs.  Clean your refrigerator and your oven.  Remove everything from your countertop except a few decorative type items.  It’s a great idea to clean out a cabinet or a drawer so you have a place to stash things when you find out you are having a showing.  Take everything off the front of the refrigerator and from its top as well.  If you have very old appliances and you live in a higher-end home, replacing those appliances may be worthwhile to fully maximize the value of your home.  Another item to evaluate in higher end homes are countertops.  These days granite is typically found in any home listed over $450,000.  If your home has ceramic or Formica tops, granite will likely aid in selling your home faster and for more money.  Less expensive improvements that can also pay dividends include updating cabinet knobs and lighting fixtures.  This should get you off to a great start in creating a kitchen every buyer will love – if you would like a custom evaluation of your own kitchen, please feel free to give me a call!

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!

Talk is Cheap

Dear Kathe:

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

The very short answer is yes! For starters, to be a valid offer, it must be in writing and signed. Without a signed writing, you have absolutely nothing to bind the buyer should you decide to proceed. What you received is not an offer at all and you should not give it serious consideration until the paperwork is signed by the buyer.

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

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

Your questions address just a few of the hundreds of complexities involved in getting a home sold and highlight why its really important to engage a full-time real estate expert when buying or selling a home.

 

Too Early For Spring?

Dear Kathe,

We’re getting ready to put our home on the market this spring and have read all of your prior articles on staging – any new do-it-yourself ideas to maximize saleability?

Now is the perfect time to be readying for Spring – our Spring market starts in January so you have a couple of months to make final preparations. I cannot say often enough how important it is to stage your home – those that are stage sell quickly and for top dollar.   For those of you who have completed the primer course in home staging and have de-wallpapered, de-cluttered… here are a few more great ideas!

Expose your windows. Pittsburgh can be gray enough. Take down window treatments (yes, even custom ones unless they are less than 5 years old) and always show your home with the blinds up. It’s important that your home feel light and bright to prospective buyers and not dark and cave-like.

Expose your wood floors. Buyers love hardwood floors. If you have old wall-to-wall carpeting over hardwood floors, remove it and expose the wood. If you have area rugs, unless they are the latest trend and are measurably adding to your design, roll them up and store them.

Do a “super quickie” on your kitchen and baths. Even replacing old lighting fixtures and cabinet hardware will go a long way to making a space feel more updated. The big box stores have a large selection of reasonably priced choices. The safest choice these days is silver tones, but burnished bronze is also well-liked.

Buy new white towels and other white accessories for your baths (and don’t use them so they stay fluffy). White brings a sense of cleanliness to a bathroom.

Finally, when you have a showing scheduled, leave all of your lights on in anticipation of the showing. Light, bright & squeaky clean is a great formula for getting your home sold!

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.

TRID regulations – Patience Please

Dear Kathe,

You have previously written about the new TRID lending regulations. How do they impact me, a prospective home buyer?

 The theory behind the new TRID regulations is to protect the mortgage consumer in a real estate transaction by increasing disclosure and privacy requirements. The reality of these regulations is that while they may add slightly more protection, they will also increase the burdens on everyone including you, the borrower. All parties to a real estate transaction that involves a mortgage will need to be more patient – it will become more difficult to close in less than 60 days and all parties need to anticipate that, while lenders adjust to the required processes, deadlines (including closing dates) might be delayed. Here are the new items on your to do list if you are a buyer in a transaction with a mortgage.

You will need to make sure that your home inspector gives you a bill for your home inspection and that you get it to your lender as soon as the inspection has been completed.   The lender now has the responsibility of correctly disclosing every cost involved in your purchase and the inspector bill is their proof of those costs.

You will need to arrange for your homeowners insurance right away and get your lender your insurance agent’s contact information promptly – no more last minute calls to your agent to get coverage. Again, your lender must have this information to comply with TRID required disclosure timelines – you do not want to delay your closing because you waited too long to get your insurance.

The privacy laws do not allow your lender to supply the closing statement to anyone other than you. If you want your agent or your closing company to be able to double check the numbers to make sure you are being charged the correct amount, you will need to be the one chasing down your lender to get this and then providing a copy to your agent and closing officer for review.

It will be a period of learning and adjustment for all of us. Realtors should have a process in place to help get their buyers smoothly through these new hurdles.

Is Your First Buyer Your Best Buyer?

Dear Kathe,

 Is your first offer your best offer?

It’s an age-old adage in real estate – your first buyer is always your best buyer.  How true is this, and what does it mean for you, the home seller?

 As much as we all love our homes and are absolutely certain they are worth more than a buyer is often willing to pay, it is almost always true that your first buyer is your best buyer, and well worth trying to make it work with.  After sixteen+ years in real estate, I can share experiences all day of sellers who let buyers move on, only to ultimately take a lower offer.  For example, I had a listing priced at $350,000.  The first offer, received in only one week, was for $325,000.  The seller wouldn’t budge.  60 days later, a remarkably short period of time, the second offer came in an topped out at $320,000.  Again, the seller wouldn’t budge, now holding out for the earlier $325,000.  Another 60 days passed – at this point both the first and second deals would have been closed and the seller happily freed from his mortgage obligations.  This time, the buyer topped out at $317,000 and this time, the seller had the good sense to grab it, netting $8000 less and closing 120 days later than he would have had he gone with his first buyer.

 This scenario is all too common, and yet, despite the sound advice from those of us who do this every day, history continues to repeat itself.  If you have an offer out of the gate, it doesn’t mean that you priced your home too low.  There is a certain energy that surrounds a new listing.  Buyers panic a bit when a new home enters the market, certain that if they like it so does everyone else.  This panic will drive them to pay more and keep their terms cleaner than a buyer who comes along later.  If you are one of the lucky sellers who gets this early offer, do not second guess yourself or your agent – a better price is never found than one that happens as soon as a home comes on the market.  Grab it and be happy that your home is sold!

 Working with your buyer is also important during the home inspection.  Inspectors are extremely thorough these days and buyers have high expectations about condition.  If you are lucky, the buyer will let some issues go.   But many buyers will require that you address 100% of inspection issues.  If you have to put your home back on the market because you don’t want to make repairs, you will be required to disclose all issues and can be almost guaranteed of a lower offer next time around.

So yes, it is true.  Your best offer is most likely from your first buyer – do what you need to do in order to make the deal work!

Top Schools, Top Value

Dear Kathe,

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

 Absolutely! There is no doubt in my mind that living in the Quaker Valley School District, ranked in the top ten in Western Pennsylvania, adds both value and sale-ability to our homes. In fact, if you missed the news, US News and World Report recently ranked Quaker Valley High School as the #6 high school in the entire state! That’s an impressive ranking for our small town and equally small school district.

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

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

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

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

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.”

How Our New Lending Laws Will Impact You!

Dear Kathe,
What impact will the new lending laws have on us as future home buyers?

This is a huge topic that I have attended day long seminars on! On October 1st, new laws will take effect that will impact the way that we all buy and sell homes. Its complex and will take some getting used to, but its important to keep in mind that all buyers and sellers should plan to close their transactions in no less than 60 days, unless the buyer is a cash buyer. Stacked closings, where the sellers close on their home and immediately close on their new home, will, at least until we adjust to the new rules, become much trickier.

To start, much of the terminology has changed. Lenders are now called Creditors. Borrowers are called Consumers. The Good Faith Estimate is no more – it has been replaced by the Loan Estimate – this is what your Creditor gives you to set forth the loan terms. The HUD-1 is also gone. It has been replaced by the Closing Disclosure. And the closing/settlement is now called the Consummation!

The most cumbersome change is that the Consumer must receive their Closing Disclosure 3 days prior to closing. It is generally considered that this requires sending the Closing Disclosure 7 days in advance of closing. To meet these deadlines, Consumers will need to be very prompt in making their loan application and all of getting their documents to the Creditor. If documents are delayed, underwriting will be delayed and the above notice requirements may not be met. If these requirements are not met, your closing will be delayed.

It is recommended that walk-throughs go to a two-step process. A preliminary walk through is recommended 7 days in advance of closing to make sure the seller has complied with all terms of the Agreement of Sale. Sellers – this means that you will need to make your inspection repairs well in advance of closing. Buyers, your agents will need to remind Sellers through their agents to be sure they leave all appliances, clear all personal effects and debris from the home… A second walkthrough is recommended for immediately before closing, but if there are any issues that affect value (such as an appliance that was removed from the home), this will cause a lengthy delay in the closing. Therefore it is critical that all parties know and understand their obligations under the contract.

The new laws are complex – be sure to choose a real estate professional who is well educated on these changes to make your real estate transaction is as smooth as possible. Check back next week for more information on how these new laws are affecting all of us.

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!

Choose Your Lender Wisely

Dear Kathe,

My friend’s closing on her existing home was delayed and she ended up having to delay her closing on her new home, and was stuck with all of her stuff on a moving van and unable to move in to her new home. How can these major inconveniences be avoided?

Back-to-back closings do raise the possibility of delayed closings and moving vans sitting curbside waiting to unload. When there are multiple transactions lined up on top of each other, if one in the line-up fails to close on time, it will affect everything in line behind it. Ideally, transactions would not be back-to-back, but this only works if buyers are paying cash out of existing accounts or have sufficient resources to carry two homes, so that the new home can be closed independently of the closing on the old home. But even if transactions are not stacked, closing delays can still occur, causing unhappy buyers and sellers, because lenders aren’t ready.

So how can these inconveniences be avoided? Selection of your lender and closing agent are absolutely critical. There are a lot of people out there who would like your mortgage and closing business. Many may even be your friends, neighbors or family members. But the relevant question, in addition to rates and fees, is whether they close on time every time. This is where you really need to rely on your agent’s expertise. Even consumers who move frequently only engage in the mortgage process once every few years. A busy agent is dealing with lenders daily. We know who stands behind their word and will not let you down, and who will not. A well-intentioned but poor performing lender can cost you significant unhappy delays – make a careful choice up front.

It is also crucial that you get your lender all of the documentation that he needs immediately at the time of mortgage application. You don’t want to be part of any delay. Finally, even once you have turned in all of your paperwork, its important to check in with your lender weekly, daily the week before closing, until they tell you that they have the “clear to close.” The old saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is never truer than when it comes to closing your mortgage loan – stay in close touch with your lender!

The rules surrounding lending and closing mortgages is about to change again, in October. In an effort to protect consumers, the process will be getting even more cumbersome and delays should be anticipated. Your careful choice of your service providers will become even more critical!

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!

The Reality About Seller Repairs

Dear Kathe,

We are in the process of buying a new home, and had agreed with the seller for a credit of $5000 for repairs related to inspection issues. Now our lender is asking what the credit is for and sending an appraiser back out. What is going on – this didn’t happen the last time we bought a home?

As the years pass post-2008, it seems that lenders are getting more and more restrictive with their lending rules. At first, they just didn’t want to know about repairs, so buyers and sellers started moving repairs to side addendums and providing un-named credits for items the seller didn’t want to fix. Lenders seem to have caught on. They now want to know why money is being credited back post-agreement – it’s a fair question.

From a lenders perspective, they are financing a home that has an appraised value. For example, if you are buying a $500,000 and it appraises for $500,000, the lender agrees to loan you money with the assumption that if you default, that is what the house is worth. If there is something wrong with the house (a failed roof, for example), and you get a credit for it, then the house (with its failed roof) really isn’t worth $500,000 after all, and there are no guarantees that you will take the credit and put on a new roof. If a credit is being offered to a buyer to cover inspection issues, the lenders now want to know why so that they can assess whether the items affect value, and they want to send an appraiser back out to make sure that the home is worth what he said it was worth now that the deficiencies have been revealed.

This is not only going to slow transactions down and possibly delay closings, but it raises the possibility of appraisal failures. For example, if the roof really is bad, the house may no longer appraise. It is probable that our ability to offer credits for inspection issues is coming to an end.

All of this might sound complicated, but there is one very easy take-away. Inspection issues will need to be fixed prior to closing by the seller. Sellers, its important to keep this in mind — if there are inspection deficiencies, you are probably going to have to actually fix them. Don’t want to be blindsided by a long list of issues four weeks before closing? For many reasons, the best course of action is to pre-inspect your home and make repairs upfront.

Put Your Best Floor Forward

Dear Kathe,

We are remodeling our kitchen – what type of flooring should we install?

The most important thing to consider when choosing a new floor for your kitchen is what is going on on the rest of your main level of your home. It is a critical and yet often overlooked rule-of-thumb that the most easily sold homes do not have more than two types of floor coverings per level. The trend decades ago was to customize flooring to the room. The living room might have been green carpet to coordinate with the living room furniture, the dining room might have been blue carpet to work with the custom drapes. Today that is no longer in vogue and for a home to feel updated, and not subject to the “dated home discount” it’s important to unify the floor coverings within the home. Floors are no longer considered an important opportunity for you to express your sense of style – that is better done with area rugs and other items that are easily removed from the home. So when you are choosing a new floor for your kitchen, first consider whether you have the opportunity to unify (or move toward unifying) the flooring in your home.

Hardwood floors are by far the best choice you can make for your kitchen floors. There are two basic types – finished in place and factory finished. Factory finished floors are the easiest – they come out of the box pre-finished and just need to be installed. However, finished-in-place hardwood floors have far greater durability and a much more classic look. You do have to endure the sanding & staining process inside your home, but the costs are roughly equal and in the end you have a far more saleable floor. Avoid trendy choices in wood – while hand scraped or hickory may be trendy today, it will quickly feel dated. Stick with traditional oak floors (of any board width), as styles change the most you will have to do is update the stain color – a far easier task than completely replacing the floors.

Many people choose tile for their kitchen floors. This is not a choice I would recommend however. Tile is the quickest floor covering to feel dated and the hardest to change once it is dated. Its also cold on your feet, anything you drop is likely to break and it can be a challenge to keep grout clean and crisp looking. Other trendy choices include cork and laminate. Laminate in particular is not a good choice for a higher end home.

In the end, finished in place oak remains the best choice for your kitchen (and for the rest of your home!)

It’s a Value-Driven Market

Dear Kathe,

If its such a hot market this spring, why are so many homes still on the market?

In some parts of our country, a hot market is defined by homes that hit the market and sell almost instantly with multiple offers in excess of the asking price. That is not how a hot market is characterized here in Sewickley. Here, when we have a few homes that sell in the first week of their listing, and when those sellers realize in excess of 95% of their asking price, we consider the market to be “hot.” In a Sewickley “hot” market, not every home will sell quickly or for a high realization.

Even in our best market, Pittsburgh is a very value-driven city. In other words, buyers here are concerned about whether a seller establishes value and whether the data suggests that the value will be there should they resell the property in the next 2-3 years. Value can be conveyed in many ways. Establishing your basis in the property by providing detailed information about your improvements will help a buyer understand the value you are offering. Correct pricing will also help establish value – its very important to price your home by applying the proper dollar per square foot range to your documentable square footage.

For example, if your home needs some updating, applying a square foot value that has been established for a totally redone home is not going to convey value to a buyer. There are many other factors that will influence a buyer’s perception of value, such as quality of work completed at the property (a handyman special is not only obvious, but likely devalues your home) and the quality of the amenities (higher end appliances will create a higher feeling of value, for example).

In the end, even in a hot market, Pittsburgh buyers keep a level head about themselves and are going to be looking for value before they prepare an offer on a home. If a home has been on the market for the entire spring and has not sold, or if it has received offers that were below what the seller feels the home is worth, there is a high likelihood that buyer perception of value does not align with the asking price and some kind of an adjustment will be required.

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!

Making Sense of Property Taxes

Dear Kathe,

 April 15th always reminds me of taxes, and how high our taxes are here. Is this a disadvantage when it comes to selling homes in this area?

I always counsel my new clients relocating here from other states that property taxes are something that need to be viewed as part of an entire budget. Yes, our property taxes seem much higher than in many other regions of this country, and yes, upon first look, it can be a deterrent. But my advice to out-of-towners is to consider how much they pay each year in all forms of tax.

In Pennsylvania, we only pay a 3.08% income tax rate and here in Sewickley, we add on top of that an additional 1% on earned income only. We currently have no sales tax on food and clothing. We also have very low car registration fees at only $36/car. In some states, income tax alone can be as much as 8% – 9%, car registration fees/yearly taxes can exceed $550+/car and they do impose sales tax on food and clothing. If buyers are counseled to look at the big picture, more often than not they find that they are actually saving money when they move to Western PA, despite our high property taxes, but it does take a skilled realtor to get them over this hump.

When dealing with local buyers, property taxes are a much bigger issues. When moving up, buyers definitely have to consider taxes – they wont be getting any new income tax breaks by just moving across town. Of course, Uncle Sam does subsidize a portion of your property taxes by allowing you to deduct them on your federal tax return, so they are technically only costing you a portion of what you are paying. Whether buying or selling, its important to take the time to make sure that your taxes are in line with the market value of your home – if they are not you should appeal them so that inappropriately high taxes don’t become an even larger deterrent to a purchaser.

Gray is Hot!

Dear Kathe,

If you were going to repaint the interior of your home with an eye toward selling, what colors would you use?

 

There is no doubt that the MOST powerful color in selling homes right now is the fifty shades of gray! Were I choosing a paint palate most likely to drive in the highest dollars in the least amount of time, I would choose gray, greige and beige.

Last year I sold a home that had been appraised twice by two reputable appraisers in preparation for listing the home. The entire interior was painted light gray and the home sold within a week (and despite its older kitchens and baths) for more than $100,000 over the highest of the two appraisals. A proven testament to the power of gray!

I work full time + and watch buyers every day as they respond to the homes that they see – their responses are rarely analytic and are more often emotional – show them a gray house and they want to buy a home that meets none of their “must haves.”

Sometimes sellers object: I don’t like gray. Pittsburgh is too gray as it is. Gray wont look good in my home.   I have yet to see a home where a carefully chosen shade of gray/greige doesn’t make the home sparkle. And as to personal taste – try to remember, you are moving. The market has spoken and the market we are in loves gray.

A few words of caution. One gray room is not going to do it. For the power of gray to work, the palate must be consistently applied throughout the home. Additionally, you must be very careful to choose the right shade of gray. I just toured a home where the shade of gray chosen for the walls clashed with the woodwork – gray will not work its magic in that case. And yes, this can be an expense. But if you are asking the question, you must be seeking the truth and yes, sometimes that is expensive. Homes with other color palates do sell, but in 2015 Pittsburgh, gray is the most powerful color you can choose if you want to sell your home!

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?

Millennials — It’s Time to Get in the Home Ownership Game!

Dear Kathe,

We’ve been out of school for a few years, have been great savers and are thinking about buying our first home, but with the recession not so far behind us, it seems like a risky proposition. Any advice?

The millennials, as they are known, are a very risk adverse generation, having watched first-hand as many family members lost their jobs and/or their homes in the last recession. It’s not hard to understand why they have been the slowest generation to embrace home ownership as part of the American dream. But as scary as it might seem to take that first big step, home ownership remains one of the best investments you can make, and the sooner you get in the game, the sooner you will start making measurable progress toward achieving your financial goals.

Keep in mind that most of the housing losses from the 2008 recession were due to the immediately proceeding banking practices that are now far behind us. People were allowed to borrow without proof of ability to pay, to start with, and many used their homes as ATM machines, financing cars, vacations and college educations on their presumed housing appreciation. Today the lending laws are much stricter in an effort to prevent another crisis, and so you can be assured that if a lender has qualified you for a particular loan amount, you have passed some of the strictest standards and are more than well qualified by any objective standard to get in the housing game.

Owning a home will always be a far better choice than renting. It’s a rare day that owning what you are renting wont cost you less every month, and you are building equity (money you get back when you sell someday) with each payment. If you compare how much it costs you to own a home over 30 years, versus how much it would cost you to rent that home over 30 years, you will always have spent less money and in the end, you will have an asset that you own and can resell if need be. In addition, owning a home gives you certain federal tax breaks that renters don’t get, which further reduces the actual cost to you of owning a home. Home owners also lock in their housing cost for as long as they own that home. So while your $2000 rental payment will go up each year as your landlord increases the rent, how much you spend for a mortgage is locked in for as long as you own your home. Stay there 30 years and you will still be paying the same mortgage payment that you are paying today! No landlord will give you that deal!

This is complex, no doubt, and I would be happy to meet with you to go over the numbers in person, but there is no doubt that its never too early to get into the home ownership game!

Repair Before You List!

Dear Kathe, Sometimes it seems like everything is breaking around our house and we get behind on repairs. Isnt there some level of wear and tear buyers of “previously enjoyed” homes are expecting to have to accept?

 

The process of selling and buying a home involves many fine lines. How far do you take preparing your home for sale? Do you really need to address all of the items suggested by your agent, the home stager or the home inspector who did a pre-inspection? Do you really have to attend to everything your family has broken or worn out over the years? Anything that could come up on an inspection, if you know about it, really must be repaired or disclosed. My vote is repair. Even with items that are very obvious, when an inspector gets involved, he may blow the issue out of proportion and something that might have cost you $1000 to repair before you listed ends up costing you $3000 on the inspection request. If its something an inspector might find, you can bet he will find it and you will be expected to cover the cost of repair anyhow, so you might as well repair upfront.

Many buyers actually get quite nervous during the home inspection (also known as buyers remorse). If you happened to have gotten one of these buyers, it is possible that they could walk away from your deal if the inspection concerns feel too weighty to them. After you actually receive and negotiate the offer, the last thing you want to do is lose the buyer over items that you could have fixed but didnt think anyone would notice or care about! In today’s market, they notice, they care. Sometimes they are willing to let you pay for the repair. Sometimes they just walk. Dont take any chances. If you suspect it is likely someone would seek a repair, get it done!

Buyers, as much as I advocate for sellers to take care of the wear and tear items on their homes, it is important for you to be reasonable on your inspection requests as well. If you see an item that needs to be fixed while you are touring the home, take that into account when you make your offer and do not revisit it on the inspection. Inspection requests are supposed to be for items you didnt know about and didnt have a chance to adjust for in making your offer. Again, its a fine line buyers also walk in deciding what are fair and appropriate inspection requests of a seller.

Should You FSBO?

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Now Is Always The Best Time!

Dear Kathe,

When is the best time to buy in the spring market? We have seen a couple houses we like, but what if something better comes on the market?

 

As they say in The King and I, “now is always best time!” And in all seriousness, if you know you want to move this year and have identified a home that you like, there is no reason to sit on the sidelines one minute longer! Right now, our market is only beginning to wake up. Sellers who have endured the typical “holiday dry spell” are eagerly awaiting spring buyers and you are far more likely to get a better price now than if you wait until more buyers join the marketplace, adding greater competition. No matter your price point, there is never a “perfect” house – if its 80% great, it’s a home run from a housing perspective. So if you are waiting to see if a “better” house comes on the market, you will most likely be disappointed. All homes involves some level of compromise. Additionally, new introductions tend to be priced higher than homes that have sat through the holidays, and not only are you unlikely to get a deal, but you might end up over paying as more buyers enter the market and bidding wars become more prevalent.

 

If beating the spring market rush and getting a good deal on a home that has been waiting for the spring market to begin aren’t reason enough to make an offer, mortgage rates have also dropped a bit, which will pay off in savings month after month for the next 30 years (or until you move again!) Rates are now hovering around 4%. If rates increase 1% as you sit on the sidelines waiting for that “better” house, you will pay significantly more. For example, if you are planning to take a $417,000 30-year mortgage, the payment could be as much as $327 more each month and over the life of a 30 year loan, you will pay in excess of $117,000 more in interest.  By sitting and waiting rather than acting now, you are costing yourself money – a lot of money.

 

Hedging your bets and thinking rates will drop a bit?  There is absolutely no reason to do this.  Many lenders offer no-cost refinances.  If rates drop, you can refinance to a lower rate with no cost to you.  You can have your cake and eat it too – if you buy now you can hedge your bets against the likely rate increase and take advantage of a good deal in the pre-seaon, and if rates happen to drop, you can take advantage of a no-cost refinance to capture the lower rate! Call me today and we can strategize about how to get you into your new home in this pre-season!

Should I Rent or Should I Buy?

Dear Kathe:

 My wife and I are new doctors and ready to get our own place. We were thinking about renting for a while – how long should we rent for before buying a home?

 

The rent versus buy decision most often comes down to how much money you have saved. If you have a lucrative job, qualifying for a mortgage at today’s low interest rates is rarely the issue. But coming up with a down payment might be.

If you make $200,000 per year, at current interest rates, and assuming you are not carrying any debt, you could qualify to buy a home for approximately $850,000. That is probably much higher than you imagined. The monthly payment would be approximately $3500/month (principal & interest) with 10% down. But you might find the 10% (or $85,000) down to be the stumbling block and feel renting is your only option.

Renting a nice apartment or small home/townhome would typically cost you $1800 – $2000 each month. That adds up fast – not only don’t you get the opportunity to deduct the mortgage interest that you pay on your tax return each year (thereby lowering the amount of taxes that you owe) but rental payments are all cash lost to you – you are not building any equity that you can recoup someday when you buy. And if you are willing to spend this much each month on rent, you could pay the same amount each month for a mortgage on a $450,000 home if you have the 10% down (which is a much lower $45,000)!

Lenders do typically require 10% down however, unless you use a specialty product like an FHA loan. So if you have no savings, the chances are that unless you can get a “gift” from a family member or incredibly generous friend, you will need to rent until you can amass some savings. However, it is a wise decision to get into homeownership as soon as you can. Even if you buy significantly below what your income qualifies you to buy, just getting in the housing game will save you tax dollars and help you build equity for another home in the future when your savings more closely matches your income. Why pay rent for your landlord to increase his equity in the home you are renting.? With low interest rates, now is the ideal time to explore exactly what it will take to get you in a home of your own!

 

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!

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.

In Search of Perfect

Dear Kathe,

We have been searching for our new Sewickley home for about 9 months with no luck – there doesn’t seem to be much of a selection and we cant find our perfect home – any advice for a family of weary home lookers?

Sewickley is a small town which makes it a unique and wonderful place to live, but with it’s small town appeal comes a definitely smaller number of homes to begin with and yes, in some price brackets, inventory has been far tighter than it has been in the past. It is beginning to feel like Sewickley is such a great place to live that no one wants to move!

When we moved here nearly 21 years ago from D.C., we had a long list of “must haves” that we searched the greater Pittsburgh area for. Our real estate agent showed us only one home in Sewickley – that’s all that was available in our price range at that time! It met very few of our must haves – it did not have a master bedroom, it did not have a two car garage, it did not have central A/C and it did not have a family room. But it did have tree lined streets and sidewalks to everywhere and that was our #1 criteria, so we bought the home despite all of its perceived shortcomings.

In the intervening years (and in the two Sewickley home purchases we have made since then), I have learned that if one wants to live in Sewickley, he or she will ultimately need to bend on the must haves a bit. Price will not help – no matter what the price point, there are simply no perfect homes. It is important to evaluate each home through a slightly different lens. Consider how close a possible home comes to meeting your needs. If it meets about 80% of your “hope to haves” and if you could change another 10% over time to be much closer to what you hope to have, with the remaining 10% being things you wish you could change but realistically cant and will have to learn to live with, then the home is likely a home run and one you should seriously consider buying. I call this the 80/10/10 rule – and I have observed that once buyers come to terms with this concept, they can finally find their place to call home. Those that hold out for “perfect” – looking for the home that meets 90%+ of their hope to haves – will find themselves sitting on the sidelines as one home after another sells – that needle in the haystack simply does not exist.

And so, for example, if you have found a great home with the space you need that is in terrific condition in a nice neighborhood and with a great yard, but you don’t love the kitchen and you think it is a bit too far from Starbucks, give it another look. 80% is likely a yes. The kitchen (10%) can be changed over time. And you can learn to adjust to the extra ½ mile to Starbucks – its still walkable! My best advice to you is to start looking at homes through this 80/10/10 lens – you may be surprised to find that “perfect enough” has been waiting for you all along!

To Stage or Not to Stage

Dear Kathe:

I’ve heard a lot about having my home professionally staged – I think my home is well decorated – is it something I need to do?

 Home staging is more about marketing a home and less about interior design. Your home could be beautifully decorated and poorly staged. The distinction is critical if your main focus is getting your home sold. Interior design is often about creating a home that reflects you personally and showcases your personal effects. Home staging is about decluttering, neutralizing and showing off your home’s best qualities. It is after all, your home that you are selling, and not your stuff!

Home staging consultations generally cost less than $200 and are well worth the investment when you consider the size of the asset you are selling and your hoped for gains. Home stagers often stage hundreds of homes each year and are very familiar with how to tweak a home to make it as appealing as possible to today’s buyers. We’ve all heard stories about home sellers in California who pack their entire homes up and bring in a new home of rented furniture to stage the home to sell. Home staging does not have to involve renting expensive furniture. It is sometimes an excellent idea however—if you bought your “dream home” and didn’t have time to furnish it with furniture appropriate to the home’s value, for example, renting furniture is likely a sound investment and will give the home the feeling that it is of a higher caliber. Most of the time, however, a home stager will work with what you have, although some of it may find its way into storage for the duration!

Offended at the concept of stripping your decorating from your home? It is important to keep your end goal in mind – you are moving. This is not about impressing the garden club ladies! It’s about showcasing your home so that prospective buyers appreciate all that it has to offer. A home’s positive attributes are often missed buyers when they are too busy focusing on your stuff. Whether they like your stuff or not, you want them admiring your home – not what you have in it. Home staging is designed to make your home – that which you intend to leave behind – sparkle – a stager eliminates, rearranges and augments to enhance the impression buyers have of your home. So yes, no matter how beautiful your décor, I strongly recommend a home stager, and working with your agent as you implement what she recommends!

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!

It’s Not Worth What You Think

There are many factors that go into determining a home’s value.  The first, most important thing to keep in mind, however, is that it’s not what you think.  To rephrase, what you think the value should be, or what you think you need to get for the home to either recoup your investment, reimburse you for time spent renovating, or get you what you need to move to your next home is not a factor in determining value.  A home will sell for what a buyer thinks the home is worth – not what a seller thinks its worth.  So how do you determine that number?

Value is determined first and foremost by comparable sales.  What other homes have recently sold for is the most relevant gauge of what the market will bear for your home.  If you haven’t been in the homes, however, you will need to rely on a professional to make the comparison for you.  Factors to be considered include size of lot, usability of lot (flat is better) and location of the property both in town and as it relates to other homes (currently, closer to the center of the Village will bring more money, across the street from a home in disrepair, less).  Also considered are above-grade square footage on the main two floors (finished lower levels and third floors add some value but generally not at the same square footage price as the main two levels) and configuration of rooms (do you have an eat-in kitchen, a family room open to the kitchen, a dedicated master bath).  Finally amenities are considered.  How many garages do you have and are they detached, integral or attached (the most valuable)?  How long ago was your kitchen and bath updated?  Under 10 years?  Do you have stainless and granite?  Have you removed all of your wallpaper?  All of your brass?  All of your colored carpets?  Homes sell every day with dated amenities, but their existence definitely affects price.  When looking at other homes that have sold, it is important to have a realistic understanding of how your home really compares to those homes.

The investment you have made in the home also has some relevance.  If you have made significant improvements (beyond a fresh coat of paint and new carpeting), there is a high likelihood that you will be able to recoup your investment.  It is important to prepare a detailed list of those improvements to substantiate value to potential buyers.

Other homes currently available for sale, however, are not a particularly relevant factor to look at.  Many of our homes sell for substantially less than the sellers were originally asking, and while our average community realization is 89% of asking price, there are homes that have sold at nearly half of their original asking price.  Competing listings are only relevant to determine how much competition you will have – not how much your home will sell for.

In the end, its what a buyer thinks, based on where other homes are selling and how yours compares, that will determine where your home will sell, and all of the marketing in the world will not change that reality!

Your Dream Home Awaits You!

The warm weather is waking up the dreamer in all of us it seems! Thankfully, we all have a different idea of the perfect home, which keeps our market moving twelve months a year.   Buyers are not all waiting for that one special home.  They are waiting for their special home – but special comes in so many different shapes and sizes.  Nonetheless, when thinking of selling, you will have a much better chance of selling your home quickly and at a higher price if you improve and decorate your home in a way that appeals to more buyers.  Most homeowners settle into their cozy homes and forget all about trends and what’s hot in the market, and so it often comes as a shock when its time to sell and they have fallen behind the times in either amenities or style.

Want to know what’s in style with today’s home buying crowd?  Pick up a Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware catalog and that will give you a quick lesson on color palates and designs that are “in.”  Of course, the lower you price your home, the further you can stray from current trends and still capture a buyer.  But assuming you are like most of my clients, it’s sometimes easier to inventory what’s “out.” As realtors, this is a difficult message to share with your clients – the message is not that you do not have a lovely home.  But in selling homes, one must first accept that you are leaving that home and then seek to minimize potential buyer objections while maximizing the “wow” factor.

With that in mind, here is my 2014 short list of the “gotta gos” – if you have these in your home, you are well advised to invest to sell:  brass anything (particularly lights, knobs & plumbing fixtures), non-neutral carpeting, shag carpeting, wallpaper (unless applied sparingly and in the last 5 years), bold paint colors (except used sparingly), stained woodwork (except in dens), paneling, dated lighting fixtures, non-neutral bathroom tiles and tubs, wooden toilet seats, linoleum flooring (except in lower price brackets) and formica countertops (except in lower price points).

Looking for inspiration?  It’s your lucky day!  The Sewickley House Tour is just two weeks away.  Its theme this year is Your Dream Home Tour – for just $35 you can tour seven amazing homes on Friday, May 2nd, Saturday, May 3rd, or both (ticket is good for both days) and be inspired by the unique vision of each of these seven homeowners!  And all proceeds benefit children’s causes in Western Pennsylvania! Tickets can be purchased in Sewickley at the library, Dollar Bank, Sewickley BMW, Penguin Bookshop and Jewel Thief.  Don’t wait! Quantities are limited! And while none of these seven homes are for sale, they will surely inspire you to go home and recreate your dream home, or start your search to buy a new one!

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!

Don’t Jump Off the Cliff!

A lot has been said the past few weeks about the impending financial cliff and the negative impact it may have on the economy.  If Congress doesn’t act, the Bush tax cuts will expire and tax rates will increase on all American taxpayers.  At the same time, spending cuts will go into effect and a second recession is predicted to be the result. Some fear this will plunge our housing market into another downturn.  This anticipation of a second possible disaster seems to have paralyzed some home buyers, at least for the moment.

While I don’t have a crystal ball, what I do know is that the Pittsburgh housing market made it through the last recession reasonably unscathed and we have every reason to expect to be able to weather any oncoming storm equally well.  Many articles have been written about the strength of the local economy, and of the stabilizing impact the natural gas industry has had on the region.  Like the economy, the housing market is very localized.

Right now, we have a tremendous back log of buyers.  There are lists of people waiting for the right home to become available.  If you are a possible home seller, now is not the time to be wringing your hands in worry over a predicted downturn.  Instead, now is the time to heed all of the advice from my prior articles – get your home cleaned out, fixed up, staged, price right and on the market in the next 2 months.  The spring market is almost here.  It promises to be a good one for us locally despite all of the national concern.  If you want to move, don’t sit on the sidelines paralyzed with fear.  Our local real estate market is showing signs of great strength and stability.  Feel free to call me and we can set in place an action plan to get your home sold this spring!

And if you are a homebuyer, there is much speculation about where interest rates might be going.  While we don’t know for sure, what we do know is that rates are great right now – so take advantage – have no regrets – make your move now and lock in years of low mortgage payments – you’ll thank yourself later!