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
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238

The Inspection “Hot Potato”

As a home seller, are there inspection type items that we are simply going to be stuck addressing?

Who can forget the old childhood game – pass the hot potato?  The object, of course, was to not be holding the hot potato when the music stops.  We have our fair share of “hot potatoes” in real estate too, and just like in the childhood game, someone always gets stuck holding the hot potato.

You may wonder, what are these hot potatoes of which I write?  Years ago, it was radon.  If you were selling your home and it had radon levels in excess of the EPA limit of 4.0 pCi/L, you got stuck paying the remediation bill (usually less than $1000) because a buyer isn’t going to agree to buy a home with a radon problem.  That hasn’t changed, but if a home has sold in recent years and ever had radon, chances are it has been remediated.

Next, the media exploded with stories of illness caused by mold in homes and suddenly, sellers were faced with mold inspections.  There is the very bad black mold (Stachybotrs), but honestly, all molds have the potential to make you sick.  As you can imagine, buyers aren’t going to buy a home with a mold problem either, and once again, the seller bears the cost of remediation and often, the cost to solve the cause of the mold problem as well. The cost can be several hundred to several thousand dollars.

These days, the hot potatoes have expanded to include two tricky electrical issues.  Pushmatic electrical panel boxes are very expensive to maintain and the manufacturer is no longer in business.  Most buyers will require a seller to replace these panel boxes – the cost per panel is generally $1500+.  Knob and tube wiring is the other big hot potato for homes built before 1930.  Rewiring an entire home can range between $10,000 – $20,000 and so many homes retain this original wiring.  Most insurance companies will no longer issue new insurance policies on homes with this antiquated wiring.  Therefore, if knob and tube wiring is discovered on an inspection, the cost of the rewire also generally falls to the seller – very few buyers are willing to buy a home (at least not unless they are getting a substantial discount) if it has knob & tube wiring present.

If you own a home with one of these hot potatoes – radon, mold, pushmatic panel or knob & tube wiring – things that years ago wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow – you should expect that when you go to sell your home, you will be stuck with the cost of getting rid of the hot potato, if you haven’t already done so!

907 Nevin

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

319 Scaife

Exceptional Sewickley Heights home will take your breath away with its unparalleled beauty. Sited on 5 private acres, it combines the authentic charm of a Sewickley Heights carriage home with modern amenities and stunning design.  Magazine perfect kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances and granite tops opens to a captivating dining room with fireplace and relaxing family room.  French doors open from the gorgeous living room, also with fireplace, onto the sprawling stone terrace, which spills out effortlessly onto the manicured grounds.  Enjoy coffee or wine relaxing under the wisteria-draped trellis. Incredible master suite with three walk-in closets and remarkable custom bath with radiant floors, Victoria and Albert soaking tub and large shower with custom glass enclosure.  Charming enclosed courtyard. Three car attached garage.  $2,150,000 More Info Here…

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


We’ve been watching 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


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
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238


What impact do you think the proposed federal tax legislation will have on homeowners?

For those of you who are unaware, the proposed tax legislation makes several changes to itemized deductions that will impact many homeowners.  First, the property tax deduction will be limited to $10,000.  In Sewickley borough, if your tax assessment is above approximately $350,000, you will see an increase in your federal income tax as a result of this itemized deduction limitation.  Additionally, while existing mortgages are grandfathered, interest will only be deductible on new mortgages of less than $500,000.

The National Association of Realtors believes these new changes could put home ownership out of the reach of many and nullify the home ownership incentive for all but the top 5% of our nation.  Home ownership is already at a 50 year low nationwide.  For many Americans, a home is the largest investment they will ever own.  Studies have also shown that at the end of the day, the net worth of a homeowner is, on average, a shocking 45 times greater than that of a renter, demonstrating how important it is to incentivize home ownership so that Americans have the needed nest egg when they retire.

My predicted impact on our local housing market is that it will soften prices over $350,000.  Without the benefit of the tax deductibility of property taxes over $10,000, mid-market buyers will qualify to buy less than they can today, and it will have a downward pressure on prices overall.  With the severe inventory shortage we have right now, this is not likely to be immediately evident, but it will likely impede the long-term growth rate.  The cap on the deductibility of interest on new mortgages over $500,000 will have a much larger impact on the market overall.  Homeowners with large mortgages will be disinclined to make the “choice” moves we are so accustomed to here in Sewickley, because a move will mean they lose the deductibility of a significant amount of interest on their grandfathered mortgage.  This will only exacerbate our inventory shortage as homeowners will be likely to just “stay put” and take advantage of the deductibility of interest on grandfathered mortgages.  Additionally , for homes priced over $550,000, buyer affordability will drop further as carrying mortgages over $500,000 will be noticeably more expensive, with the potential of exerting further downward pressure on market appreciation.  Its hard to know how any of this will help us, but then, I am not an economist – I must be missing something!


7 Harvester Court
Want more space between you and your neighbors? Your search is over!  This custom-built all brick colonial is sited on a nearly 2 acre lot, in a quiet, private neighborhood.  Just renovated, it features 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.  $775,000.  Learn more…

180 Summerlawn Drive
Beautifully remodeled open concept 17 year old home on ½ acre wonderful lot 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 great room.  New roof. $599,000. Learn more…

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


We have been sitting on the sidelines for a while now waiting for a home that meets our wish list to come on the market – what’s coming this fall?

You might be surprised to find out, you are one of dozens of prospective buyers sitting on the sidelines waiting for their ideal home to come on the market.  USA Today recently reported (as shared on my Facebook business page, Kathe Barge Howard Hanna Sewickley) that we are nationally at a 20 year low in available housing inventory.  What is going on you might ask?

USA Today reports that the Baby Boomers are to blame! Seventy-eight percent of Boomers own their own homes, and 85% of them have no intentions to move within the next year.  This is tying up a significant portion of potentially available housing inventory.  Why aren’t Boomers moving?  Stated reasons range from being happy where they live and not wanting to uproot their lives, to having inadequate choices in empty nester inventory to escalating prices that make scale down homes more and more expensive.  Boomers are reportedly less interested in destinations like Florida and Arizona these days and are choosing to stay in the homes and communities where their family and friends are.

In Sewickley, we have very few opportunities for scale down housing, and so Boomers are remaining in their homes.  As a result, our inventory continues to dwindle and there are very few new introductions.  There will likely be a few relocations as we move into the spring market, but with the low inventory and huge backlog of buyers, I expect pricing will be high and bidding wars probable.  To be successful in this housing market, if you define success as actually getting a home and moving, you are going to have to accept a few key premises.  First, you need to reevaluate your wish list and see what compromises you are willing to make.  We still have many nice homes on the market – they may not be a perfect match for you, but could you make one work?  You are more likely to receive a discount on a home that has been on the market.  Second, if you decide to wait and a home comes on the market that is a good fit for you, be prepared to act fast and bid high. Complete the preapproval process now so that your offer is as strong as possible.

Our market is a steady one and I do expect we will see some new introductions as we move into fall, but your best recipe for success is one that includes reevaluation of the current inventory, compromise, fast action and generous, well crafted offers.


Lot D Sycamore Road

Build your own dream home in the Quaker Valley School District! Close to the Village, last remaining lot —  ½ acre  –  available in this newly created subdivision.  Utilities are available at the street. Sewickley water tap-in fee has been paid by the seller. Bring your own builder!  $77,500





1008 Beaver Road

Less than .5 miles to central Sewickley Village yet sited on private 4 acre lot. Inside, discover a modern  home with beautiful finishes. Stylishly remodeled kitchen w/ Subzero fridge, Viking professional range, charming butler’s pantry. With six bedrooms, two home offices, a formal study, cozy family room with fireplace, living room with semi-circular bay window, sunroom, enormous recreation room/gym, and a 2 attached car garage (and much more!), this home is a show stopper!  $1,950,000

As an Associate Broker at HOWARD HANNA REAL ESTATE SERVICESKathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, is ready to answer any questions you may have regarding your real estate needs.  Feel free to contact her at the office (412) 741-2200 x238or on her mobile phone (412) 779-6060.

Understanding Realtor-ese!

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

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

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


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
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.

What’s Up the Hill?

We have been looking for our dream home for a long time in the Village and we cant seem to find the right combination of features in a home – either the yard is too small or the home needs too much work or its too close to the neighbors or there is no garage – any advice? 

Yes!  Look “up the hill”!  I have yet to understand why more buyers don’t look outside the Village. Yes, the walkability to the Village center is nice, but realistically how often do you do that?  I live in the Village, and am usually in a big hurry and drive where I am going! And I see many residents who live up the hill who drive down, park and enjoy the Village by foot more than I do! There are many many advantages to buying “up the hill” that make it worth considering this option.

First, yard sizes are almost always larger.  There is generally far more room for the kids or pets to play, more room for gardens, more room for a pool, sport court or auxiliary garage for overflow cars.  Larger lots mean there is more space between the homes, so while you still have neighbors, you cant hear them sneeze inside their home, which is the case for some Village residents!

Homes “up the hill” universally give you more value for the dollar.  They are generally larger homes in better shape for notably less money.  You can spend less, have a smaller monthly mortgage payment, and get more space! Homes “up the hill” are also generally newer homes, so if they require updating, the scale of the project is usually smaller and more of a cosmetic nature.  And because you are dealing with newer homes, the cost of any projects is usually less because you are not having to deal with old wiring and plumbing or structural problems.  And the overwhelming majority of “up the hill” homes have garages.

You might also be interested in knowing that the tax millage charged in the “up the hill” boroughs is notably lower than the millage in Sewickley borough – there is a real premium paid on a daily basis in property taxes for the privilege of being within ½ mile of Village center.

It’s hard to imagine what’s not to love about our wonderful “up the hill homes.” Larger, newer homes on larger lots with peace and tranqulity. So you have to drive 5 minutes to the Giant Eagle as compared to the 3 minutes Village dwellers drive.  It seems like a more than sensible trade-off  for all of the advantages offered by our “up the hill” communities.

Step outside the box and venture “up the hill” this Sunday when we will have many of our listings open!  You may be surprised at how enticing the “up the hill” homes are!

Featured Homes

928 Blackburn Road

928 Blackburn Road

Located “up the hill” on a private 5 acre lot backing to the Allegheny Land Trust but less than 1 mile from I-79!. This immaculate Sewickley Heights home was transformed from an historic barn just two decades ago!  Main home features 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, expansive great room with soaring ceilings and wood-burning fireplace. The property also conveys with a newly remodeled guest cottage with 3 BRs, 3baths. $1,050,000

300 Chaucer Court

300 Chaucer Court

With its beautiful acre of land in an idyllic “up the hill” neighborhood, you can be moved in to host warm weather fun this summer! Throw memorable parties at this turn-key Sewickley home! The large deck and covered stone patios spill onto the manicured lawn, with sport court, outdoor bar, covered ping pong area and Rainbow playset. Inside, a stylish aesthetic seamlessly unifies the three finished levels. 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, 3 car garage. $850,000.


As an Associate Broker at
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, is ready to answer any
questions you may have regarding your real estate needs.
Feel free to contact her at the office (412) 741-2200 x238,
or on her mobile phone (412) 779-6060.

Twelve Real Estate Tips You Should Know

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


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


“Twelve Things You Should Know About Real Estate:

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

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


309 Quaker Road

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




928 Blackburn Road

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



As an Associate Broker at
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!

Why Buy Now?

Dear Kathe,

Why should we consider buying now? Isn’t it better to wait until spring?

This fall, the market has been a bit sluggish, perhaps led by election anxiety, and now the holidays are quickly approaching. We are, however, expecting a very strong spring market. The millennials are expected to make a huge impact on our housing market this spring. Over 50% of home purchases are projected to come from first time home buyers. Many millennials are moving into their first homes, many are moving out of apartments and/or out of cities to a more “family friendly” environment. Sewickley , a walking community that has become so very popular in millennium America, is well positioned to see the impact of that surge.

This expected demand is going to put incredible pressure on our spring market. It is anticipated that prices will be increasing and bidding wars will become commonplace. All of this suggests that now is the absolute best time to buy if you are thinking of moving! There are very few people who buy this time of year, as most are too preoccupied with getting ready for the holidays. While inventory is lower than it will likely be come spring, the absence of many buyers gives you a much better chance to strike a good deal. Why pay over asking price in a bidding war come March when you could negotiate a discount now? Rather than putting yourself at a competitive and financial disadvantage, start the home search process now.

And of course, if you are thinking of selling, carve out some time this fall to prepare yourself for a spring introduction in January/February. Market trends show that the sale surge happens in March, not April, so you should be getting ready now! If you will be selling a starter home (which here can be up to $500,000) and are well prepped and well priced, you should expect a positive market response and maybe even a bidding war!

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!



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.


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.

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 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!

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.

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.

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!

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…