Shhh…It’s A Secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

QUICK SEARCH

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

Choosing the RIGHT REALTOR!

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

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

In this age of technology, there is no reason not to do some homework upfront, before committing to an agent to handle what is likely your largest business transaction.   You can begin by looking at the qualifications and experience of the agent you are considering.  What certifications do they have? Certifications such as ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative) and CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) require extensive commitment to training by the agent, and training means the agent is best equipped to achieve the very best result for you.  Much of this training requires years of dedication to learning and excellence.  All agents are not brokers, for example.  An Associate Broker’s license takes a minimum of three years commitment to additional learning and hands on experience, which can only enhance your experience with the agent.

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

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

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

FEATURED HOMES 

907 Nevin

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

 

63 Thorn Street

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

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

SPRING HOME SELLING TIPS

With the weather starting to warm up outside, any tips for selling our home?

Spring is in fact on it’s way!  The bright sunshine and warming temperatures will unlock our yards from their winter nap soon and it’s a great time to be focused on making sure the outside of your home looking great for prospective buyers. Curb appeal is critical to attract buyers – if your home doesn’t look great from the street, buyers (who often drive by before making an appointment to see a home) may decide they aren’t interested before stepping inside.  Start with the front of your home and work your way back to your non-public spaces.  On our sunny days, head outside and make sure you have cleaned out your beds from the fall.  Rake out any leaves, trim back shrubs.  Order fresh mulch to be delivered the first week in April.  Keep an eye out for pansies when you are at the store and add them to planters out front.  In early April review your lawn and make sure it is in good shape.  If there are bare spots, have them reseeded.   If you have large trees on your property, make sure they are all healthy and any dead limbs are removed.

This is also a great time to make sure your gutters are clean – gutters full of leaves suggest a homeowner isn’t up on their maintenance.  Also be sure to have your windows cleaned inside and out.  With the sun streaming in through the windows, squeaky clean windows are very appealing to a buyer.   Take the time to put out your outdoor furniture and any warm weather yard items (such as planters).  Be sure patios and porches are well swept.   Step back from your home and see whether your paint is in good shape- – if there are areas that are peeling, have the scraped and repainted.  Be sure the front door is clean and nicely painted.  Remove all seasonal décor (Christmas wreaths and lights).   Ask a friend to stop by and do a quick walk-around for any areas that need attention – a fresh eye is always likely to catch those things you have gotten used to and overlook.

The spring market is in full swing!  Take advantage of the next few weeks and make sure your home is well-prepared for the strongest market of the year! If I can be of any service answering any of your real estate needs, please feel free to get in touch with me.  Real estate is what I do!! Kathe Barge, Call or Text 412.779.6060

FEATURED HOMES

1432 Beaver Road

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

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.

 

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

THE “JOYS” of SELLING

Selling a home can be a trying process.  They say forewarned is forearmed. Any annoyances a seller should be expecting?

Below is a short list of many of the “joys” sellers might experience during the listing process.  Being aware that these are possibilities will hopefully help you take them in good humor if they happen to you!

  • The agent showing your home will miss appointments and not call or show up.
  • Appointments will be made and cancelled at the last minute.
  • Some showings will last about five minutes and some will last 3 hours.
  • There will be a day when I call you and say someone wants to see your house, and you are going to ask me when. And I will say: “Look out your windows, they are sitting outside now”!
  • Agents are going to knock on your door or even drive by, see you in the yard and ask if can they see you house.
  • Agents showing your home will forget to turn lights off.
  • Agents showing your home will let your pets out (best to remove them from your home for showings) or your neighbor’s pet in.
  • Agents will provide unhelpful feedback – buyers buy homes when they attach emotionally to a home and when they don’t, their feedback is often nonsensical.
  • Agents will not provide any feedback – incredibly annoying, I know.
  • The agent on the sign will be in witness protection and not return any phone calls.
  • Expect lowball offers (at least it is a starting point).
  • Things will come up on the inspection that you had no idea were wrong with your home and you will be sure the inspector made a mistake.
  • The buyer will make ridiculous inspection requests.
  • The buyer will ask to bring in contractors for estimates for work they want to do after the closing at the seemingly most inconvenient times.
  • The property might not appraise at what you are selling it for.
  • The closing date on the contract may change.

FEATURED HOMES

7 Harvester Court

Tired of looking at one “project” after another for a home that is “move in ready”? 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. Get more details and see more photos…

141 Beech Ridge Drive

Spectacular 22,000+SF estate nestled on 8 private acres in Sewickley. Remarkable newer custom construction.  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, 5 bedrooms, 5 full & 4 half baths, 9 fireplaces, 6 garage spaces, two kitchens, wine room, roof-top observation deck, new home theater.  Simply remarkable! $4,500,000  See More Photos & Details…

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

KEEPING YOUR HOME SHOW-READY!!

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

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

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

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

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

FEATURED HOMES

178 Backbone

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

 

102 American Way

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

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

Pricing for “The Unique Factor”

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

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

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

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

FEATURED HOMES:

Lot D Sycamore Road

Lot D Sycamore Road

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

 

 

 

 

300 Chaucer Court

300 Chaucer Court

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

 

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

Who Represents You?

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

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

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

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

New Years Resolution #1

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

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

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

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

Selling During the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Million Dollar Question!

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

That is the million dollar question these days!

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

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

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

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

Selling Your Vacant Home

Dear Kathe:

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

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

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

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

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

Should I Buy First or Sell First?

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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.

Do Your Floors Tell a Story?

Dear Kathe, 

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

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

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

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

My Crystal Ball is Out for Repair!

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

Where Did All the Color Go?

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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

Pocket Listings — Are They For You?

Dear Kathe, 

We have noticed that several homes have sold lately before they have hit the MLS. Are these “pocket listings” a good way to sell your home?

If a home sells before it hits the MLS, as a “pocket listing” as they are often called, it is highly likely that the seller could have sold the home for significantly more money. The MLS exposes a home to a large number of prospective buyers in a very short amount of time. This widespread exposure is what has the potential to drive the price up for the seller.

A “pocket listing” is more like a secret sale. The agent you are dealing with may have a buyer that is willing to buy your home, but if it’s that easy, chances are you could have received more money if the general public had a chance at your home, and a bidding war could have possibly ensued. If an agent is being straightforward with the seller and discusses the strategies involved with using the market pressure of the MLS to drive in a higher price, it’s a rare seller who will willingly leave money on the table.

So why do we occasionally see these seemingly “secret sales” taking place? Some sellers perceive these pocket listings as a good thing – some don’t want to be hassled with multiple showings, some don’t want the general public to know their home is available for sale. Some agents choose this strategy because they want to keep all of the commission for themselves and that only happens if their own buyer is the successful bidder. If a seller’s goal is to maximize financial return, however, a pocket listing, or accepting an agreement of sale before the home is marketed in the MLS, is rarely the best strategy.

So no, my 17 years experience indicates that a pocket listing is usually not in a seller’s best interests. The highest returns I have seen sellers achieve occur in scenarios when they have used strategies to maximize the excitement within the buying community through proper pricing, excellent conditioning and staging and full MLS exposure.

The Pace of the Sale

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Magic Wand

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

First Impressions Die Hard

Dear Kathe –

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

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

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

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

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

Timing is Everything

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

Should I Take a Break?

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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

Squeaky Clean Sells!

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Value-Driven Market

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Sales

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting It All Right!

Dear Kathe:

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

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

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

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

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

Selling With Fido

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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

Should You Pre-Inspect?

Dear Kathe,

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

 

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

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

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

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

Adding a Second Bath

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

Have You Used Up the Value in Your Home?

Dear Kathe: We’ve lived in our current home for 16 years and have kept up with maintenance but haven’t done much else – how much remodeling do we really have to do before putting it on the market?

 

You’ve lived in your home long enough that you have probably “used up” a lot of the value that you bought with your home and will need to restore some of that value if you hope to protect your original investment.

Carpeting is a really good example. I’m sure you are aware that colored carpeting must be replaced with neutrals, but even the most neutral of carpets should be replaced if they are 16 years old. Even if you don’t have pets and absolutely never eat or drink outside the kitchen, avoiding spills that could stain, after 16 years your carpets will have had more than a lifetime of use and the value that might have been there when you bought the home is long gone. In fact, the old carpets might even have a negative impact on price, even if there are not visible stains. The buyers will assume that they need to be replaced and will deduct their view of what that will cost from what they are willing to pay you for the home. Several of the “big box” stores have affordable neutral carpets in stock for quick delivery and installation, making this aspect of prepping a home for market reasonably straightforward.

You should also consider whether you have used up all of the realistic useful life that might have remained in your mechanicals. For example, if you haven’t replaced the water heater in 16 years, then even if it was new when you bought it, you have used up all of its value – it has outlived its expected useful life. It would probably be a good idea to replace it with a new water heater – you benefited from 16 years of use from the old one – when you replace it you should think of it as simply restoring the home to its functionality before you used its systems for the past 16 years. The same can be said for furnaces – while their useful life is longer than a hot water heater, if its pushing past 20 years old, buyers are not going to look favorably on it. In fact, as you can imagine, this thought process can be applied to anything with a predictable useful life, such as kitchen appliances and roofs.

How much remodeling you will need to do after living in the home for 16 years will depend on how quickly you want to sell it and how aggressive you want to be on price, but the higher the price you hope to achieve, the more “pre-listing” remodeling you should do, returning old mechanical systems to a full life expectancy for the new owner.

How to Declutter!

Dear Kathe,

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

It Starts at the Bottom!

Dear Kathe: After renovating our 100+ year home inside and out, all that remains is our basement. Our stone foundation is in decent shape.  How important is it (or worth it) to clean this space up and how far should we go?  Would I get the return on my money?

 

A basement often reveals more about a home than any other part of your home. It is therefore, more important than you might think that your basement present well.

Most of what needs to be done to basements doesn’t need to be very expensive. Your basement should be easy to access. Whether you are staying or selling, excess clutter is not your friend –if you have a damp basement, it will harbor mold. Clean out now while the weather is still nice! Your basement must be dry. If your basement just feels humid, then you must run a dehumidifier 24/7. If you have ever had water seepage in your basement, you will need to solve the problem. The quickest, easiest and most common fix is to make sure your gutters are kept clean, your downspouts are properly diverted at least 3 feet away from your foundation and that when it rains, water does not drain toward your home (in which case you would need to add soil to change the slope around your home). If that doesn’t work, you will need to invest in a professional waterproofing company.

Your basement should be light and bright – adding a few extra bulbs to the ceiling is something easily done inexpensively that will dramatically improve the feel of your basement. A fresh coat of paint on the floor will also help and is cheap to do (use porch floor paint). Glass block windows are a good investment – they are not very expensive and they add extra security and protection against termites and water intrusion to your home (I recommend including a vent block in each window so you still have the ability to circulate some air). Cleaning up old and unused wiring and plumbing is also a good idea if you have a handyman who can do it cheaply for you – it will certainly make inspections go more smoothly.

Getting your basement up to basic safety and code standards will also save you on inspections down the road. You should have a smoke detector near the furnace, any plugs should be GFCI outlets and if your basement connects to the garage, the door connecting them should be a steel door.

Some of the more expensive fixes are unlikely to yield much of a return. Some people choose to spray their ceilings black – it’s a fun effect but unless the basement is being finished, it is unlikely to yield dividends. Others choose to parge their walls – this actually makes a sandstone foundation look much better, but unless you can do it yourself, it can be expensive. I do not recommend painting walls with dryloc, however. Paint is food for mold and this might only cause more problems!

The Curse of Wallpaper

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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

How Important is Technology?

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

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

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

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

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

It Takes a Village

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

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

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

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

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

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

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

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

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

Differentiators

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

 

In this age of technology, there is no reason not to do some homework upfront, before committing to an agent to handle what is likely your largest business transaction.   You can begin by looking at the qualifications and experience of the agent you are considering.  What certifications do they have? Certifications such as ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative) and CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) require extensive commitment to training by the agent, and training means the agent is best equipped to achieve the very best result for you.  Much of this training requires years of dedication to learning and excellence.  All agents are not brokers, for example.  An Associate Broker’s license takes a minimum of three years commitment to additional learning and hands on experience, which can only enhance your experience with the agent.

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

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

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

The Dog Days of Summer

We have just moved through an incredibly strong spring market.  In May, for example, in zip code 15143 we put 38% more homes under agreement than we did last year at the same time.  We are now in the expected decline of late summer, dropping from a high of 36 homes under agreement in May to only 10 homes under agreement in July (well below the 20 we had last July).  In response to a very strong spring, more sellers have entered the market, although inventory levels have remained reasonably stable.  Historic trends predict that inventory levels will dip slightly in December before we start the cycle all over again next April.

Sellers have already perceived the drop in the summer market and are anxious if their home hasn’t sold.  Buyers, if you sat on the sidelines all summer, or are just entering the market, now is the best time to act.  Sellers are correctly wondering  if they will have to carry their home through the winter.  If they were ever going to be motivated, now would be the time.  You also have significantly less competition – far less chance of ending up in a bidding war.

Sellers, if you are actually motivated to sell and not just testing the market, it is critical that you adjust your price to market.  We have a tremendous amount of overpriced inventory – it is most likely that homes that have not sold  because the market does not match price to existing condition.  That is not true in every case – there are some unique homes that just require waiting for the right buyer, but if your home has been on the market for more than 60 days without an offer, you are probably priced too high or have conditions that must be attended to.  If you are getting feedback and the conditions are correctable, correct them!  If you do get an offer, even a low one, work with it!  At this time of year, sellers must balance price, condition and patience.  Sure a higher price might be achieved – if you are willing to wait it out until next April.  But in the dog days of summer, if you must go and have tested the market already, then your only remaining options are condition or price adjustments.

A Master Plan

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

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

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

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

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

Have You Really Thought This Through?

As the market has improved this spring, Sellers are occasionally considering selling their homes themselves, without the advocacy of their trusted agent.  The rationale seems the same – save the commission.  And yet, while a commission is in fact not paid, it is paid in reduced realizations.  You see, buyers are very savvy – they know what the market will bear and if you, the seller, do not have to pay an agent, they expect to realize the benefit of a reduced  purchase price.  Buyers also know that if they can get you to start to walk down the FSBO road with them, you will be unlikely to back out even if they are less than reasonable because you will fear losing the deal you appear to have happening and will be very unsure about whether there will be another buyer.  It is a rare day that we see FSBOs actually achieve a net sales price greater than what we, agents with the power of big advertising dollars and years and years of strong negotiating experience, can achieve.  So in the end, your net sales price is the same, and yet you have to deal with all of the tricky little details yourself.  Details like making sure you actually have a valid contract (not as simple as it might seem), to working your way through financing and inspection issues, to working to make sure you close on time.  All of the jobs that we, the agents do – attending to every last detail to make your transaction smooth sailing – you must now handle on your own – and yet you are getting nothing for your effort because your net is no higher, and may be lower, than we agents could have achieved.  If your house is “hot” enough to bring a FSBO buyer to the table with minimal or no advertising, imagine how much excitement we could generate with the power of our advertising behind your home – these days, a bidding war is even possible!

Statistically, FSBO transactions also fail to close more often than brokered transactions.  So if it is important to you to close (and you are not just fishing for an offer if someone happens to come along), consider this as you decide how to proceed.

I can cut my own hair to save a few bucks – but it wont look as nice as it would if I went to the salon – I can paint my own walls (try to ignore the messy spots) – I can invest my own money (and watch it stagnate) – I can suture my own wounds (and end up in the ER with an infection).  I can do almost anything – but not as well nor to as successful an end as someone with years of experience.  The same is true for real estate.  Years of transactions and we, the trained professionals, make it look easy.  Before you don your real estate cap, take the time to think it through and ask yourself whether you are absolutely certain that you will actually come out ahead on your own.  Statistics are clear that you will not.

Should You Pre-Inspect?

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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

The Trail to a Sale, Part II

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

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

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

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

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

The Price is Right!

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

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

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

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

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