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.

FEATURED HOMES:

302 Beaver Street

302 Beaver Street

Located in the absolute heart of the Village, you can’t help but love the amazing transformation of this historic gem.  Stylish and trendy yet exuding incredible charm, with new kitchen, new baths, new & refinished floors, new HVAC and so much more. Large yard, garage, 4 bedrooms, three finished levels, Pottery Barn aesthetic throughout. Still potential for further expansion and value enhancement! $595,000.

 

 

 

 

608 Broad Street

608 Broad Street

The contractors have just left this newly remodeled gem.  Less than a block from the Sewickley business district and two blocks from the hospital — you can’t get any more convenient than this! 4 bedrooms and 2 full bathrooms, including a dedicated master bath.  New kitchen with stainless appliances.  $389,900

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.