Keeping Taxes in the Right Perspective

Are rising property taxes and the cap on the ability to deduct property taxes on our federal tax returns going to hurt real estate sales?

Unfortunately, the changes in the federal tax laws may already be impacting our housing market – the higher end market, most impacted by the $10,000 cap on the deductibility of taxes, has shown noticeable slowing over last year.  Rising tax millage rates are only going to exacerbate the problem, but rising costs have long been a reality of the world we live in and are to be expected.

What we need is a mindset shift, which will be slow in coming.  We all need to step back and look at our tax package as a whole.  Pennsylvania is a comparatively low taxing state when it comes to income tax. Our state income tax rate is only 3.07% — this is impressively low when compared to many other states (note our neighbors in New York at 8.82%, West Virginia at 6.5% and Ohio at 4.997%, and the top taxing state of CA at 13.3%).   What we are saving in income tax, we are paying in part in property taxes and this needs to be kept in perspective before making bold statements about how much property tax one will or will not pay.  Additionally, the $10,000 cap on deductibility of taxes as a cap on the combined sum of property and income taxes, so those in higher income tax states will be hit much harder by this.  We really do still have it pretty good in PA!

When considering property taxes, rather than focusing on what one is not getting, buyers would be well advised to think about what you are getting.  On a $500,000 assessment, the taxes in Sewickley borough would be approximately $41/day.  On a million dollar assessment, they would be approximately $82/day.  Compare this to the cost of hotels that you stay in on vacation! If you enjoy coming home everyday to a home that feels inviting and relaxing to you, if it is a home that your family thrives in and that provides shelter and sanctuary that you love, that seems like a small price to pay, even without the tax breaks. There is a cost to living – the food we eat (a dinner out can cost more than the daily property tax rate), the gas we burn to heat our homes in these unseasonable chilly Aprils, the cell phone bills to stay in touch with family and friends.  Property taxes are just another one of those costs of living.   I think it will be a long time (if ever) before we see that tax break return.  Reframing our thinking about property taxes, keeping in mind the otherwise low taxing state we live in and the intangible benefits that you and your family receive from living in a home that you love, is my recommended course of action!


224 Orchard Lane
JUST LISTED — and Under Agreement!!

Fantastic newer all brick Edgeworth home, with for finished levels of living space. 6 bedrooms, 4.5 baths.  Finished lower level. Open floorplan on main level: white kitchen with granite tops open to family room with wood burning fireplace. Wide-board hardwood floors unify the upper tow levels.  Rare attached garage with large mudroom. Private back yard. $950,000.  See More…


102 American Way
NEW PRICE  — The living is easy in this absolutely wonderful Sewickley Ridge one-level townhome. Less than one year old and in move-in condition – ready for you to call home!  2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 car garage, open concept floorplan, delightful screened porch. Chic ascetic with white cabinetry, granite tops, hardwood floors. Community clubhouse with pool, tennis, Bocce court, community garden, gym, and meeting/socializing space. In Traditions acclaimed over-55 community! Why delay your downsize any longer?   $369,000    See More…



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


When we buy a new home, when can we expect to be able to move in?

The answer to your question varies from state to state.  In Pennsylvania, possession transfers immediately at closing!  How does this impact the buyers and sellers?

Sellers, you must be completely moved out before closing day.  The latest day your movers should come is the day before closing.  You need to be sure to leave enough time to clean the home after they leave.  If you don’t already own your new home and plan to close on it immediately after closing on your old home, you need to plan for your movers to store your things on the moving van overnight.  However, it is generally smart to move out a couple of days before closing, to make sure that you have time to clean and dispose of any items the movers didn’t take.  Its not acceptable to leave things you don’t want behind for the new buyers – if you don’t dispose of them yourself, there is a good chance you will have to provide funds to the buyer at closing to get any remaining items removed.

Buyers, you can start your move in as soon as you pay for the home and finish signing your closing documents!  It is not, however, ok to start moving in before closing or to start making repairs and improvements before closing.  Both of these scenarios create insurance (and other) issues for the seller.  Please plan accordingly – if you need time to renovate before moving in, plan for storing your items with your mover until your work is complete.  Properly advise your movers of the closing time so that they are not counting on starting the move-in early.

Your one hour closing is the time that everything transfers – keys, responsibilities for upkeep, taxes… Sellers must be completely out as of that moment and Buyers may enter once that moment has passed!


137 Sebago Lake Drive 

Absolutely perfect inside and out with stylish design aesthetic. New roof, new gutters, new flashings,  new windows, new landscaping, new sprinkler system, new lighting, new HVAC.  Custom, all brick loaded will amenities. Stunning views of Diamond Run’s 6th fairway & green. 4BR, 4+4 baths, 3 car attached garage, finished walk-out lower level. $895,000   See more photos and details here….

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


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!


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

What’s Up the Hill?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Homes

928 Blackburn Road

928 Blackburn Road

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

300 Chaucer Court

300 Chaucer Court

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


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

Waiting for “Mr. Right”

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

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

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

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

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!

Finding the Right Agent to Represent You!

Dear Kathe,

We have our home listed with another agent and are unhappy with the service we are receiving. We can’t help but wonder what process we should have gone through to find the right agent. Any ideas?

When choosing a Realtor, it’s important to do more research than asking a colleague, friend or service provider who they would recommend. I often help my clients find an agent in the new city they are moving to, and I start online.

First, I look for agents who do a lot of business in the area my client is moving to. How many listings does the agent have? I look at her sold listings on Zillow and see how many she has sold, both in the area and in the price range my clients will be buying into to make sure she has the experience they will need.

I then look at her individual website for her certifications and qualifications. These credentials require extensive commitment to training by the agent, and training means the agent is best equipped to achieve the very best result for you.  Much of this training requires years of dedication to learning and excellence.  All agents are not brokers, for example.  An Associate Broker’s license takes a minimum of three years commitment to additional learning and hands on experience. If you are buying or selling a Signature home, there is an even higher level of training available to an agents such as Distinctive Homes Specialist.  Christie’s Great Estates Specialist.  These programs add yet another level of  skill and expertise to an agent’s repertoire.

I like to say “a monkey can stick a sign in your yard.”  It takes years of training and experience though to sell real estate while making it look smooth and easy.  By earning credentials, we learn how to price optimally, how to market strategically, how to use the latest technology for your benefit, the complex ins and outs of our lengthy Agreement of Sale (the intricacies of which are just waiting to ensnare the inexperienced), how to negotiate for success, how to navigate the rough seas of inspections and how to close on time.  Every one of these skills inures directly to your benefit and your bottom line.

I also look to see how developed her website is (is it more than a simple blurb) and how many reviews/ quality of reviews she has on Zillow. This gives a sense of how committed the agent is to the business.

Finally, I interview the prospective agents to determine marketing plans, detailed knowledge of the area and their personal market statistics.   So take the time – get to know our credentials – and make an educated decision when choosing your next real estate agent.

Picture This… Why You Need a Survey

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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



Should I Buy First or Sell First?

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

Selling with Old Mechanicals

Dear Kathe,

We have a very old (25 years) furnace.. It is still working well and we don’t have the cash to replace it. We are planning to sell our home next year. What advice do you have?

A 25 year old furnace is a very old furnace, well beyond the useful life expected of such equipment. If a buyer makes an offer on your home and then finds out how old your furnace is, there is a very high likelihood that they will be asking you to buy a new furnace as part of their inspection response. There are a few things you can do to set yourself up for a positive outcome.

First, when you complete your seller disclosure, be sure to write on the document that the furnace is past the end of its useful life and may need to be replaced soon. Price your home accordingly and be sure that your agent highlights to buyers agents that you have priced your home at a lower price point because of its older mechanicals. This will prevent the buyer from expecting you to buy them a new furnace – they should take the age of the furnace into account when making their offer.

Second, put a home warranty on your home when you list it. This will provide coverage to you should the furnace break while you own the home and will give the buyer 12 months of coverage should anything happen in their fist year of ownership (and it is renewable).

Finally, consider buying a new furnace. Many contractors are willing to accept payment at closing if you make arrangements for this upfront. With a new furnace you can ask more for your home and are more likely to draw more enthusiasm form the buyers who do see your home.

Partnering for the Sale

Dear Kathe,

 Our home has been on the market for a while – we are getting a fair amount of traffic but so far, no offers. We are concerned that others are selling and ours is not. What are your thoughts?

 Selling a home is a partnership – a realtor cannot waive a magic wand and make a home sell. An agent’s initial primary job is to make sure that your home is well advertised and to provide honest advice and feedback about condition. If you are getting a reasonable amount of showings, then that’s a good sign that the marketing is working well. Hopefully, you have gotten feedback from these showing and have taken steps to overcome any perceived drawbacks. Some things can’t be overcome – if a buyer needs an extra bedroom or garage, there isn’t much to do about that, but if there are concerns that you can address, be sure that you do.

Take a quick tour of your home, invite a neighbor over for a look or visit other open houses to make sure your home is presenting as well as your competition. Take staging to a new level. If you have checked all of the typical boxes (no wallpaper, neutral carpets throughout, neutral paint, no clutter, removing personal items such as family photos and religious décor…) take the time to consider what else YOU can do to help improve the chances of an offer. If your rooms don’t look open and spacious, remove more items to a storage facility. Did you remember to clean your windows this spring? Dirty windows can make a home very dull inside. In this heat, have you been watering your landscaping so that it is alive and thriving? How about your lawn? Green or dead? Have you removed the signs of your own wear & tear – are switch plates and walls clean and smudge free? Have you de-cluttered too much making your home sterile? Pottery Barn is still the easiest look to sell—make sure that while your home is reasonably free of personal items such as family photos, it has some warmth – fluffy white towels in the bathrooms, attractive throw pillows on couches and beds… Unsure of what you need? Bring in a home stager for some professional advice. Remember, selling a home is team work – you need to be doing your part!

Finally, price must constantly be evaluated. Keep in mind the oldest rule of thumb in the book – 13 weeks or 13 showings – if you still don’t have an offer, its probably price. Yes, improving condition can improve price. But if you are getting the showings and you aren’t drawing an offer and can’t make significant changes to the home to overcome objections, you must reduce your price, or be very patient waiting for what could be years for that one buyer to come along.

A Pre-inspection is Your Best Offense!

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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


My Crystal Ball is Out for Repair!

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

Where Did All the Color Go?

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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

Pocket Listings — Are They For You?

Dear Kathe, 

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

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

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

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

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

The Pace of the Sale

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contingency – Buyer’s Side

Dear Kathe,

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

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

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

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

What Does “Paper Separately” Mean Anyway?

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

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

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

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

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