Can you Take it With You?

Our home went under agreement quickly!  When we moved in we installed expensive hardware that we really love (door knobs, switch plate covers, towel rods, etc.). We would like to take it with us.  Can we substitute other items before we close?

Absolutely not! First of all, with a quick sale you likely got a high price or your home and when a buyer is paying top dollar, it is not appropriate to start pulling things out of your home!  Additionally, any item that is affixed to your home with a screw, nail, etc. must convey with your home unless you have specifically excluded it from your agreement of sale.  Unless you raise this question during negotiations and your buyer agreed prior to signing the agreement, the items must remain with your home.

 

About 20 years ago I represented a buyer of a home that was remodeled with high-end Restoration Hardware items – cabinet knobs, towel bars… After we agreed on a price but before closing, we returned to the home to discover that the sellers had removed the expensive Restoration Hardware items and installed baseline builder items from Lowes.  This was not what my client had seen when they toured the home and not what they had agreed to purchase.  The seller ended up providing a $7000 reduction in the purchase price to make up for the items that had been switched.  I’m not sure if the buyer ever replaced the items – what is relevant was that the removal of the high end items made the home less valuable.

If you find yourself heading toward a closing and you are just realizing that there is something affixed to your home that has sentimental value that you forgot to exclude, you can certainly ask your buyer if they would agree to a substitution – most buyers will allow removal of a sentimental item if you replace it with a like value item.  Absent buyer consent or upfront exclusion, all affixed items must stay.  Items that are occasionally inappropriately removed include:  appliances, doorknobs, switch covers, towel bars, curtain rods, mailboxes, attached shelving and TV wall mount brackets.  Mirrors that are attached must stay. Those hanging on hooks can be removed if you have to have them (although most buyers do expect them to remain).

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

    Appraisal Contingencies

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

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

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

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

    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

      2020 Year In Review

      Now that 2020 is coming to a close, do you have any reflections on the year in real estate?

      2020 is a year we will all be happy to see in the rear view mirror, and that day is coming soon! In March, we were all worried that the pandemic would result in a major down turn in real estate, and for a couple of months, the market barely had a pulse.  But when we moved out of the “red” zone, the market came crashing back like nothing we have ever seen before.  While there was a huge influx in inventory that resulted from the near zero level of new listings in the “at home” months, there was an even larger crush of buyers looking for a new home, and the summer months were plagued with bidding wars at many price points.  The lower price ranges saw significant appreciation as buyers vied for an opportunity at an affordable home in our school district, but even the two million dollar market saw more sales than it had in several years.  In most years, our market slows down in August, but not this year. As we head toward the holidays, we don’t have the extreme over-supply of buyers that we saw this past summer, but many homes are still selling fast and for top dollar. 

      As we move into the new year, buyers are getting anxious.  We are seeing minimal new inventory (not unusual this time of year) and they are justifiably anxious about whether there will be a nice selection in the spring.  Being “stuck” at home, many homeowners have taken the opportunity to fix up the home they live in, and there is a real possibility that more people may be staying put for 2021 and enjoying the fruits of their labors. In the coming months, buyers will need to be prepared to compromise on their must haves and act fast if they see something that meets most of their wish list.  And of course sellers, please reach out to me right away if you are thinking of selling this spring.  Interest rates are low, prices are up and demand is high – there has never been a better time to sell.

      As 2020 comes to a close, I wish you all a fabulous holiday season. It has been my great pleasure to work with so many in our community during this unusual pandemic year and I am looking forward to continuing to do so in 2021, a year we all have high hopes for! The Herald will not be published over the holidays, but you can check out my website, www.AskKathe.com, for continued real estate advice every week!

      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

        What’s Your Contingency Plan?

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

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

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

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

        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

          Seller Beware!

          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 we assume they have the money – its 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 contract, 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 assuming they have the money to buy it, 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 question addresses just a few of the hundreds of complexities involved in getting a home sold and highlight why it’s really important to engage a full-time real estate expert when buying or selling a home.  Most buyers expect the seller to discount a home 6% when there is no Realtor involved, so there is rarely a benefit to a seller from being unrepresented.

          601 Academy Avenue, Sewickley

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

           

          49 Woodland Road

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

           

           

           

           

          QUICK SEARCH

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

            The Importance of Full Disclosure

            We had some prior water leakage in our basement but its been dry for years – do we need to disclose that in our disclosure?

            We live in a community of older homes and there are likely skeletons hanging in most of our closets (if not on our front porch this time of year), and yes, it is important to fully disclose the history of your home.  In some cases, prior water leaks may lead to mold development that you may or may not be able to see and it is important for buyers to be able to evaluate this possibility.  But in any event, the problem could recur and if you fail to disclose and the problem recurs, you could find yourself in the middle of a lawsuit for fraud.

            Required disclosures are of course not limited to water issues. The disclosure is going to want to know about the history of your roof and gutters, the history of any wood-boring insects that have affected your property, the history of any structural issues or issues with your driveway…, the history of any fire or ice damage, the history of your remodeling, the history of any property flooding, the history of any hazardous substance testing (mold, radon, lead), and of course the current status of all elements of the property.

            The disclosure is your friend. Properly worded, even the most scary problems can be disclosed and managed.  And if you are aware of the issue (past or present), properly disclose it and take it into account when pricing your home, you can sell your home knowing that the issue is not going to raise its ugly head in the future! I am more than happy to help you with that when you are ready to list your home! Not thinking about moving any time too soon? Be sure to keep a file of all of the repairs you have made over the years so when you eventually do sell you can refer back to your file and easily disclose the items you have repaired over the years. Keep in mind, the more of the skeletons in your closet that you disclose, the lower the bills from inspection related items will be and the lower the risk will be of the buyer calling you later with undisclosed historic issues!

            213 Chestnut Road

            Beautifully remodeled Sewickley Village Victorian with high ceilings, open floorplan and fabulous original architectural detailing.  Wonderful newer master suite with stylish newer bath.  Four finished levels of living space including lower level gameroon. Flat backyard, two car detached garage.  A very easy walking distance to Village shops and restaurants. $795,000

             

             

            518 Irwin Drive

            Exceptional opportunity to own one of Sewickley’s landmark homes! Recently remodeled with a current design aesthetic, this notable home is architecturally impressive and yet incredibly comfortable for today’s lifestyles.  Outstanding main level space includes a huge kitchen open to a large family room, spacious “homework room” adjacent to the kitchen, and living room, dining room and den.  Finished lower level. 6 bedrooms, 4.5 baths PLUS a nanny/in-law suite.  Incredible yard with room for a pool.  So close to all Village amenities and yet giving you the perfect amount of privacy.  $2,700,000.

            QUICK SEARCH

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

              Can I Take It With Me?

              I spent a lot of money on my lighting fixtures and really don’t want to leave them in my home when I sell it – can I take them with me?

              This question comes up more often than you might think! Sometimes the fixture is a family heirloom or was a gift for a special occasion.  Maybe it has followed you from home to home and you can’t imagine a home without it.  Maybe you just absolutely love it.  Or maybe it was very expensive and you just don’t want to leave it behind.

              Whatever the reason, you absolutely can take a favorite fixture, keeping in mind some important guidelines.  First, the best thing you can do is to remove the fixture before listing your home and replace it with a stylish but not to pricey replacement.  If you are like nearly every seller out there, you will want top dollar for your home and that will be much harder to achieve, so be sure to find something that is stylish – I can help with that.  It is far better that the buyer never see the fixtures you want to keep – they might attach to them and removing them after the buyer has seen them could jeopardize the entire deal.

              Sometimes, however, it is not possible to remove the fixture before listing the home.  Occasionally fixtures are too big or fragile and require special crating to move them. If this is the case with your fixture and there is no way it can be removed in advance of listing your home, it is critical that you disclose this upfront. It should be listed as an exclusion in the MLS and in the property brochure. Hopefully with upfront disclosure the buyer will not attach and you will be able to remove them before you close.  You will need to cap the fixture outlet of course – you cannot simply leave the wires hanging out of the ceiling!  Be certain before you sign an Agreement of Sale that the fixture is clearly listed as exclusion.

              Leaving the lights up and listing them as exclusions is clearly easiest for you, but keep in mind that if you are expecting a premium price for your home, a buyer may balk at you stripping lights from the home.  For this reason, removing the lights pre-listing and replacing them with stylish choice is the best alternative!

              188 Sweetwater Drive

              Kiss old house “problems” good bye and still live in Sewickley!  Sound too good to be true?  Check out 188 Sweetwater Drive.  Only 6 years old, this wonderful home is sited on an awesome half-acre lot at the end of a cul-de-sac in a fabulous Sewickley neighborhood!  Incredible outdoor spaces include Trex deck, patio and two firepits, all backing to natural woodlands. Three finished levels include huge finished lower level with full bath.  Gorgeous design aesthetic throughout unifies this incredible open floorplan.  4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, 3 car attached garage. $569,000.

               

              518 Irwin Drive

              Exceptional opportunity to own one of Sewickley’s landmark homes! Recently remodeled with a current design aesthetic, this notable home is architecturally impressive and yet incredibly comfortable for today’s lifestyles.  Outstanding main level space includes a huge kitchen open to a large family room, spacious “homework room” adjacent to the kitchen, and living room, dining room and den.  Finished lower level. 6 bedrooms, 4.5 baths PLUS a nanny/in-law suite.  Incredible yard with room for a pool.  So close to all Village amenities and yet giving you the perfect amount of privacy.  $2,700,000.

              QUICK SEARCH

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

                Sound Advice for Sellers

                Why have so many deals fallen apart this spring?  We watch the market and see homes that sell and then come back on the market – what is happening?

                You have unknowingly picked up on one of the flaws in the Pennsylvania Standard Agreement for the Sale of Real Estate.  In the inspection contingency contained in this agreement, the buyer has the unilateral right to terminate the agreement of sale if they find any condition in a home inspection unsatisfactory to them.  It does not have to be a major defect as it did in prior years.  It does not have to be a safety related concern.  It does not have to rise to a particular threshold of cost to repair.  ANY condition whatsoever that they find unsatisfactory – a scratch on a floor, a dented garage door, a stain on a carpet  — and they can terminate. They do not need to give a seller an opportunity to repair the item – they can just say “sorry, we don’t want your house.” They get their hand money back and the home is back on the market.

                Unfortunately, this year buyers have begun to abuse this right to terminate, treating it like an option to buy a home.  And when they do this, it stigmatizes the home for future buyers. I have seen deals terminated for items as simple as non-operational dimmer switches and puddles in the driveway, without giving the sellers the opportunity to repair.  In other words, these are not serious buyers, and something they liked more probably came on the market.  They terminate, wasting everyone’s time and energy.

                This is a terrible trend, but sellers, you don’t need to sit back and let this happen.  When negotiating an offer on your home, you can negotiate any term, and you would be well advised to indicate that buyer’s right to terminate before even asking the seller to repair should be stricken from the agreement.  The buyer is still protected because they retain the right to terminate if the seller refuses to make the desired repairs, but this solution provides a more appropriate playing field for all parties.

                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.

                  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.

                   

                  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!

                  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!

                  On the Road to Closing

                  Dear Kathe,

                  As we prepare to close on our home, can you give us a road map of how we need to present the home to the buyer for closing?

                   

                  Its important that when you vacate the home, you leave it as the buyer saw it, minus your personality, of course. A quick checklist would include:

                  Leave nothing behind that isn’t attached, unless it is specifically included in the agreement of sale. This includes paint, old building supplies, gardening supplies and garage/basement appliances. If you don’t have written permission to leave it, it needs to be removed prior to the buyers’ walk through.

                  Leave everything that is attached. If you forgot to exclude in the agreement of sale something that is attached, it stays. This would include the obvious, such as the toilets and lighting fixtures, and the less obvious, such as mirrors anchored to walls (those on hooks can go unless specifically included) and other decorative objects that are actually screwed or bolted to the wall. Draperies can go (unless specifically included), but their rods stay. If you are unsure, check with your real estate agent.

                  Your home must be free of debris and “broom swept clean” which means that while it doesn’t need to be disinfected from top to bottom, it cant have any dirt or debris that could be removed with a broom. To be courteous, you should also leave the lawn freshly mown and the yard reasonably tidy (and free of 1’ weeds!)

                  Your property must remain in the condition it was in at the time the buyer saw the home. If something breaks between the time of the inspection and the time you close, it is your responsibility to repair it.

                  Finally, be mindful that the disclosure does ask you if there are any conditions that would materially affect value, and also asks you whether there are any defects in floor coverings. If, when you are removing area rugs, you find that the floors below are badly worn (or perhaps you have plywood infill under an area rug) and you failed to disclose this, the buyer may view this as a failure to disclose and expect a last minute check from you to pay for the repair. If you had a large piece of furniture in a room and did not paint behind it, and when you remove it the room is suddenly two different colors, you should repaint the room or be prepared for a buyer request for a check for the cost to repaint as this might also be viewed by the buyer as a failure to disclose a material condition.

                  Before you leave take a quick look at your home and ask yourself if the home presents in a condition that, were you buying, you would be happy to be closing on. If the answer is yes without reservation, you are probably ready to close!

                   

                  Who Works for You?

                  Realtors are commonly called “agents,” but why?  Real estate is practice under the “law of agency,” which means that one party, the “agent,” represents the interest of another, “the principal.”  How does this really apply to you?

                  If you are a seller, you enter an “agency relationship” with the agent you choose to be your real estate advocate at the time you sign your listing agreement.  At that point, the agent you chose must act on your behalf, with your best interests in mind, to find a buyer.  And so does every other agent out there.  In Pennsylvania, buyer agency exists in written form only, so until a buyer actually signs a buyer agency agreement with a broker, all agents represent the seller’s interests.  Yes, buyers must be treated with honesty and fairness, but this does not mean they are represented.  The seller’s interests must always come first.

                  So what if you are a buyer?  This is probably sounding less than favorable right now.  All the sign or ad calls you have made – the open houses you have attended – the properties you may have screened without officially having your own buyer’s agent – the agents you were dealing with all represented the sellers and had a duty to put the sellers’ interests first.  That is great when you are the seller, but as real estate transactions have become more complex, buyers need representation too.

                  And so evolved buyer agency agreements in the state of Pennsylvania.  Buyers now have the right to demand an agency relationship where their interests must be put first by the agent.  To have this, buyers must sign a written agreement where they agree to work with only one agent and whereby the agent is bound to put that buyer’s interests first.  With a written buyer agency agreement in place, buyers know that an agent is representing their interests and must fulfill the obligation to faithfully serve them.

                  If you are a seller who has done your research, chosen the agent best qualified to advocate for your interests and have signed a listing agreement, you have representation.  If you are a buyer, you should do your due diligence – research agent qualifications – seek references  – and then sign a buyer agency agreement.  Know who is representing you, and don’t leave home without them!

                  Don’t Lose the Forest for the Weeds

                  We are indeed in quite an interesting market.  Some homes are selling quickly and at top dollar.  Others are real steals.  To real estate professionals, its usually obvious which will sell high and which will not.  If sellers take the time to fix up and stage their home, doing critical things like removing all wallpaper and colored carpet, there’s a good chance the home will sell high and fast.  Can’t part with your personal touches?  Then unless you have a clone out there, you may be in for the long haul.

                  Once an Agreement is together, however, both buyers and sellers need to keep things in perspective.  Buyers, if you got a great deal on a home, then the inspection should be more about major things that you could never have known about.  And sellers, if you got top dollar for your home, you should expect to be very generous on your inspection resolution with your buyers.  You do need to expect that a buyer paying close to asking price will expect the inspection items to be addressed by you unless you had disclosed them on the Disclosure.

                  The Disclosure is a Seller’s friend.  What you disclose is supposed to be outside the scope of inspection requests.  These are items that the Buyer should be taking into account when making their initial offer to you.  Therefore, when filling out your Disclosure, you will want to review it carefully with your agent to be sure it is thorough.  Inspectors do not miss anything these days, so it will be far less of a financial blow to you if you make note of all possible items up front.

                  Of course, a pre-inspection may be your best approach for a smooth transaction for all parties.  While you will spend approximately $300 up front, it will help you see your home through your future buyer’s eyes and will give you a chance to repair or disclose the issues before they possibly destroy your deal.  Remember, if buyers and sellers can’t come to a resolution about inspection concerns, the deal is terminated and both parties move on.  Sellers, you obviously want to sell or you wouldn’t be undergoing the joy of preparing your home for showings.  Keep the big picture in mind and understand that unless you are giving your home away, your buyer will expect you to fix what you didn’t disclose.  Don’t like the sound of that?  Pre-inspect so you know what you will have to address upfront.

                  The Toilet Stays!

                  Many of you have said I should write a book about all of my real estate stories, and 14 years later, they are really starting to pile up.  But this week’s story I just had to share.  This week I accompanied my buyers on a walk-through of their new home only to discover that the Seller had taken the master bathroom toilet with him when he moved out! Hard to imagine, I am sure.  No, it wasn’t handed down from great-grandma causing an emotional attachment, but it was a $1500 Toto toilet.  And so the question of fixtures comes into play.

                  When you sell a home, you sell with it everything that is “affixed” to the home.  Affixed items include any item that is attached with a  nail, screw, bolt or is wired in.  Mirrors handing on a hook can be detached and moved with you.  Mirrors attached be a screw must stay.  Shelving that is affixed to the wall must stay – free-standing units that are not screwed in any way to the wall can move with you.  Lighting fixtures stay – they are hardwired into the house (although free standing lamps can move with you). It’s a reasonably obvious standard, but before you list your home for sale, its critical that you walk through the home and assess what is attached.  If any of the attached items are things you want to take with you, it’s best to replace them before a buyer ever sees your home.  Believe it or not, sellers have lost deals over chandeliers that buyers just had to have and they couldn’t leave behind.  If the seller had removed the chandelier to begin with, it would not have become and issue and the sale may have gone through.  If there are items you plan to take and you absolutely cannot remove them in advance, then you must list them in the sales contract as exclusions.

                  Buyers, when you decide to buy a home, it is reasonable to assume that certain things will stay behind.  Yes, vanities, dishwashers, garbage disposals – all of those type items should be obvious to all.  But if there are specific things you want, be sure to have your agent include them in the agreement of sale.  Things like curtains, refrigerators, wine refrigerators, washers, dryers, ceiling fan remotes, mirrors on hooks all need to be specifically included or they wont be there when you close.  But don’t worry – the Toto toilet will be there, or will be replaced by the seller in advance of closing – it’s a fixture and it must stay!

                  It Starts and Ends with the Contract…for Sellers

                  The real estate contract is what makes a real estate transaction work.  If you want to sell your home, you need some kind of document that binds the buyer to your home so that they don’t just walk away, leaving you holding a home you just moved out of and unable to close on your new home.  It is equally important to the buyer – they need a document by which a seller is actually bound to sell their home so that the buyer is also not sitting on the curb waiting to unload the moving van and unable to get the seller out (and yes, real estate is specific performance – if you sign a contract to sell, you must sell).

                  But these days I have noticed a trend away from respecting contracts.  For some reason, people seem to have forgotten that what they sign in a real estate deal is in fact legally binding.  I have seen blatant disregard for contracts from both buyers and sellers – this week I will focus on the sellers.

                  Sellers, if you include something on your disclosure, it is important that you actually leave it behind for the buyer.  The stove and dishwasher are obvious, but what about garage door openers?  When you are listing your home, take the time to be sure that you correctly list what is included – misplace a garage door opener and you are contractually required to buy a new one for the buyer.

                  If you agree to fix something during an inspection negotiation, then yes, you must actually get it fixed. Its not ok to have the buyer show up for the walk through and find out you haven’t taken care of the agreed upon repairs.  What you signed is legally binding – do what you said you will do or be prepared to give a hefty last minute credit to the buyer.  If you do get the items fixed, pay your bills!  These repair bills are not the buyers’ responsibility and its also not ok to agree to make a repair and then stick the buyer with the bill.

                  And remember, the contract requires that your home be in the same condition it was in when the buyer made you the offer.  If you break something, you will need to fix it prior to closing.  At 11 pages, it is a lengthy document but it is important that you understand what you have agreed to do.  We can’t all be attorneys, so be sure to hire a realtor that you have confidence will thoroughly explain what you have signed and help you to be a good seller and honor all of its terms!

                  The Disclosure — Your Best Insurance Policy

                  If you have bought or sold a home in the past 15 years then you have come across our (now very lengthy 6 page) Seller Disclosure.  The Disclosure is the document where, as required by law, the seller discloses what they know about the property that they are selling.  Sellers – the Disclosure is your friend – it is your best insurance policy against future problems in the deal or lawsuits after the fact – take the time to fill it out completely.

                  Right now, if you are like most home owners, you are probably thinking “I maintain my home – its in great shape.”  Or maybe “its an old home – old homes have problems – that’s what you get when you own an old home.”  You might be surprised to learn that what you know and fail to disclose could present future liability to you.

                  What might you not be thinking of?  The list is endless – some quick examples  follow.  Ever have water leak into the basement that you thought you fixed?  The disclosure asks if you have ever had water enter the basement.  Even if it seems fixed, you must still disclose that it happened – failure to do so could result in a lawsuit if the problem recurs when the buyer moves in.  How about windows that are painted shut, don’t stay open or have broken seals?  Failure to disclose these sorts of issues can cost you thousands when the home inspector inevitably finds them – if you disclose them upfront, the buyer cannot object to their presence later.  How about bathrooms that do not have exhaust fans to the exterior?  Bathrooms, kitchens or garages without GFCI plugs?  Staircases without handrails? Cracked pavement in sidewalks or driveways?  Non-fire rated doors leading into attached garages?  All of these things seem like non-issues when you live in a home but if not disclosed, can cost you thousands in inspection repairs.

                  And don’t forget disputes (or what could become a dispute).  Is your fence just a little bit over the property line?  Disclose, or you could find yourself having to pay to move the fence prior to closing.  Do you have liens against your home, such as tax or contractor liens?  Failure to disclose could cost you thousands in compensatory damages to your buyer if the closing is held up as the closing company tries to address the liens and your buyers find themselves having to store their belongings and live in a hotel.

                  If you are selling your home, it’s a good idea to sit down with your experienced real estate agent and make sure you have thought through all of the possible items that need to be disclosed.  If  you take the time to be thorough, it is your best insurance policy against future problems.