Making Your Kitchen More Attractive to Buyers

That doesn’t mean you must do a major renovation. However, you should do what you can to make the kitchen as attractive as possible to buyers.

Here are some ideas:

First, clear the countertops. Put away the toaster and other items. You want to make the entire countertop area seem as spacious as possible.

If the cabinetry is old, you can spruce it up by installing new knobs, handles and other hardware. A fresh coat of paint on the walls and ceiling can also make the kitchen look like it has had a major renovation – but will only cost a few hundred dollars. According to an article on the website HGTV.com. “The fastest, most inexpensive kitchen updates include painting and new cabinet hardware.”

Replacing the countertops is a more expensive renovation, but may be worthwhile if the current counters are old and worn.

Finally, when preparing your kitchen for a viewing, make sure it’s clean and tidy. The garbage and recycling bins should be empty. Buyers will open cabinets, so make sure items on shelves are neatly organized with the front labels facing forward.

There are many other ways to make the most important rooms in your home look great to potential buyers. Call today for more ideas.

Should You Buy the “Less Than Perfect” Home?

You should be looking for the ideal home. You deserve it! But some home buyers become fixated on finding the “perfect” property, and pass too quickly on those homes that don’t quite measure up.

That can be a mistake, because some of those less-than-perfect properties have the potential to become your next dream home.

First, a home that is lacking some desirable features will probably cost less. Those savings may be more than enough to cover any needed upgrades or renovations.

Secondly, if you look at a home in terms of its potential, rather than the features it happens to have now, there will be more properties available on the market for you to consider.

If you’re determined to have a large wrap-around deck for entertaining, for example, don’t cross homes off your list that don’t have this feature. At least not yet. Instead, view these properties with an eye on potential. Is the backyard big enough to accommodate a large deck? How would that deck look if it were added to this particular property? How much would such a renovation cost?

There’s no doubt about it. You want to find a home that has the features and characteristics you want. If you work with me, there is a good chance you’ll find a property that has most, if not all of them.

But, keep an open mind. Sometimes a “diamond in the rough” can – with an upgrade or renovation – become a home you’ll treasure for years.

How To Make Your Home Sale “Smooth Sailing”

In fact, the expression “smooth sailing” comes from a desire for calm waters.

When you sell your property, you’ll want smooth sailing too! You’ll want the experience to be as nondisruptive as possible, while also having plenty of qualified buyers interested in your listing. In the end, you’ll want the transaction to get done without a hitch.

So how do you ensure that happens? Here are some things you can do to help:

Think of your home as a product. Potential buyers are more likely to become interested in a product that looks clean, uncluttered and well-maintained.

Price it right. If your property is listed too high, potential buyers won’t come. If it’s listed too low, you may leave money on the table. (Potentially thousands.) Setting the price will be one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make when selling your home.

Don’t be there during showings. As your real estate agent, I will take buyers through your property and show them all the great features. If you’re there, some buyers may not feel comfortable and may leave before they have had a chance to become interested.

Be flexible. This is especially important, when it comes to showing appointments, negotiations, home inspections, closing dates, etc. It’s okay to be firm on some things, just not everything!

The best tip of all? Use me as your real estate agent and I will make the entire experience of selling your home trouble-free and successful.

In other words, let me help make it smooth sailing!

What is Your Design Style?

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If your new home is a blank canvas and you aren’t sure how to decorate, or you have rooms that you don’t like and no idea how to fix them, you may need some help identifying your design style. Before you do anything else, it’s crucial to know what kind of style you prefer. Use our simple two-step process to identify your personal design style.

Assess and visualize. Go around your house and inventory your belongings. Start with furniture and work your way down to small items. Sort them into three categories: love, it’s OK, and don’t like. Take a closer look at the items you love. What is it about them that makes you happy?

Even if your treasured items don’t appear overtly similar, there may be commonalities. What color or shape are they? What are they made of? What kind of energy do they emit? Where did they come from? What story do they tell?

Name your style. The next step is putting a name to your style.

  • Traditional. A nod to the past, this style typically includes posh fabrics and finishes, neutral colors, curving lines, and lots of symmetry.
  • Transitional. This style mixes traditional and more minimalistic, modern elements.
  • Modern/Contemporary. This minimalist style is characterized by clean lines, bright colors, contrasts like pale and dark wood, and bold art.
  • Eclectic. As the name suggests, this style is about differences. It’s sometimes called global or bohemian and tends to include unique items, layers of fabrics and rugs, different finishes, and an abundance of art.
  • Cottage or casual. This style is comfortable and cozy. Think slipcovers, rustic and natural finishes, and simple fabrics in quiet colors.
    Once you’ve found your style, it’s easy to decorate your home in a way you’ll love. Don’t worry if your style preferences overlap two, or even three, categories. Most people are style hybrids. Start with your dominant style and add accents that suit your other preferences.

Choosing a Lot: It’s All About Location

One of the first choices homeowners face when building from the ground up is choosing the location of their new house. How exactly do you go about picking a lot on which to build?

Let’s examine the process of lot selection, whether you’re building a custom home or a tract home.

Tract homes.  When you decide to build a home in a subdivision, the street layout, along with the corresponding lot sizes and shapes, will have already been decided by the developer. Based on those shapes and sizes, homeowners will choose lots that can accommodate the size and configuration of their floorplans. For instance, if a homeowner wants a side entry garage, a cul-de-sac lot with a pie shape likely would not work.

The developer may have further constraints on lot choice to avoid having identical homes being built next to each other.

Also remember that not all lots will be priced the same. Larger lots, cul-de-sac lots and lots that back up to a green belt of undeveloped land are typically very popular so builders will attach a “lot premium,” meaning buyers will pay more for those lots.

Don’t automatically assume a premium lot is right for you. Cul-de-sac living, for instance, isn’t for everyone. And corner lots, while roomier and having only one bordering neighbor, are typically at the intersection of two streets, meaning more traffic. Do your homework on a lot with a green belt of undeveloped land behind it. Find out how that land is zoned and if any plans have been proposed. Your peace and quiet may disappear (and your property value diminished) if a highway or shopping center is built right behind your house. Check with local zoning authorities to verify sales information.

Custom homes. When searching for a lot on which to build a custom home, the choices open up a bit. So-called “orphaned” lots in established neighborhoods are one option. First, determine if the lot will work for the type of home you wish to build. Oftentimes, these leftover lots have issues, such as grading problems. Also consider whether your house would “conform” or fit well with the existing homes in the area. Would the style of the home be approved by the homeowners association? Would you be “over building” in a neighborhood of more modest-priced homes?

If you’re considering a rural area, be sure to check prices on such things as wells and septic systems because city services aren’t likely available. You may also have to investigate the cost of running gas and electricity to the land.

Your Best Home: Bathroom Edition

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It’s probably no surprise that when we scoured surveys of people’s favorite rooms, their bathrooms didn’t top the list. Most people want their bathrooms sparkling clean with a spa-like feel, but that can be a challenge with this utilitarian space. Whether you’re planning on selling or staying put, here are several tips to transform your blah bathroom into the oasis you’ve always wanted.

Clean and caulk. Clean all bathroom surfaces until they are free of mildew, soap scum, and other residue. (Tip: Vinegar is an excellent multipurpose product for removing buildup.) If the caulk around your sink, bath, or toilet is stained or torn, remove it and re-caulk. It’s time-consuming, but that sparkling shine makes a huge difference.

Get creative with storage. Most of us use a variety of products in our bathrooms. All these items can be unsightly and create a cluttered look. Hide these items in plain sight by stashing them in decorative lidded boxes and baskets. Matching containers for liquid soap, cotton balls, and other items create a cohesive look.

Make small updates for big impact. If your bathroom could use an update, but you’re not looking to renovate, try these small upgrades for major impact. A fresh coat of paint is an inexpensive option. Changing out fixtures such as towel bars, faucets and knobs, or cabinet hardware can go a long way toward giving your bathroom a new look. And don’t forget about lights and mirrors. A beautiful light fixture can add much needed illumination and ambience, and framing or replacing a builder-grade mirror is a simple way to upgrade.

Set the scene with scent. In a bathroom, scent is crucial when going for that oasis-like vibe. Plumbing can collect odor-producing residue, so you’ll want to clean those drains. If you use a room spray, choose one that deodorizes. For those opposed to sprays, try a jar of bath salts or a small arrangement of aromatic candles but don’t go overboard. A little goes a long way here.

Splurge a little. Pamper yourself and your guests with a few spa-level accessories. Plush, white towels, specialty soaps and a gorgeous houseplant all evoke that spa atmosphere.

A Septic System: What Is It and How Do I Live With One?

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Homeowners in a rural setting typically pump their water from wells and remove their household waste with a septic system. While pumping water is an easy concept to grasp, many potential home buyers have little knowledge about septic systems, how they work and what it takes to maintain one. Here’s a primer.

Waste water.  In rural areas, it’s up to homeowners to dispose of their household waste through a septic system. Usually gravity fed, the system drains from the house through a pipe at some degree of downhill slope toward a large tank buried underground near the house. The tank is a water tight box with a capacity of 1,000 gallons or more.  The drainage coming from the house goes in one side and water flows out the other. Inside the tank, oils and grease will float to the top, solid wastes settle to the bottom and water called effluent drains into a system of buried perforated pipes that make up a drain or “leach field,” where the soil absorbs it and microbes eat the waste content.

The drain field must be capable of adequate drainage of the effluent water, and bedrock cannot be too close to the surface. Before buying  a piece of property, have the soil examined by the county health inspector to make sure it will support a standard septic system.  The inspector will conduct what is known as a percolation or “perc” test to determine the absorption rate of the soil for a leach field.

In most areas of the country, the system must be installed by a government-approved company and during construction the system must be inspected by the county health department.

A basic gravity fed drainfield system will cost $5,000 to $10,000, depending on where you live. If you must have an alternative system due to poor soil conditions, the cost can be as much as $15,000.

Maintaining your system. On a day-to-day basis, homeowners living with a septic system must use precautions to keep drain fields from clogging. Grease and household chemicals should not be poured down the drain. Sanitary napkins and tampons should not be flushed down the toilets. “Septic safe” easily degradable toilet paper should be used. On some systems, a “grinder pump” may be needed to turn solids into a slurry capable of flowing from the house to the tank. Homeowners must still take precautions, however, because a motor burn-out can be a $3,000 repair.

The size of a tank will depend on the number of bedrooms in your house, using a two-person per bedroom formula. Maintenance of the septic system is an ongoing cost. Typically, a septic system disposal company should be hired every two to three years to clean out the solid waste build-up.

Demystifying Your Real Estate Contract

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Buying a home will likely be the biggest investment you ever make. So it makes sense to take the time to understand the fine print in those long and confusing real estate contracts. A good agent will help guide you through the process, but save yourself time, money and anxiety by knowing these key terms and phrases.

Making an offer. It should go without saying but all offers should be in writing. Oral agreements offer ZERO legal protection.  Put the offer in a written contract and make sure it’s signed by both parties. Chances are the offer will be met with a counteroffer. It might take one round of counters or it may take several to finally agree to a price and the other terms of the contract.

Earnest money deposit. An earnest money check is a promise from the buyer to follow through with the terms of the contract. This tells the seller you’re a serious buyer and have the money to purchase the home. Usually the amount of the earnest money deposit will be 1 percent to 2 percent of the purchase price but this can be negotiable. Laws vary from state to state regarding who holds the earnest money, but is oftentimes held in an escrow account by the listing firm or an attorney’s office. Never make the earnest money check out to an agent. The check is a major part of your contract. If all goes well during the purchase, the earnest money deposit will be put toward the down payment and closing costs. If things don’t go well, the earnest money check may be returned, which brings us to our next point.

Due diligence period. This is absolutely the most important period in the contract. The due diligence period provides the buyer an option to terminate the sales contract, and in some states an option fee is paid directly to the seller. A set amount of time is negotiated between the buyer and the seller, usually between two and four weeks. A bad inspection, an unfavorable appraisal, or a bad feeling in your stomach — it doesn’t matter what the reason is, the buyer is free to walk away during this time. The earnest deposit will be refunded to the buyer. However, the seller keeps the due diligence fee.

During the due diligence period, it’s important to get the home inspected and appraised. Even a new construction home should have an inspection. The inspection will reveal any repairs the house needs. Use the due diligence period to negotiate who pays for what in the inspection report. Asking the seller to fix everything on the list is a sure way to kill a deal. Be reasonable and figure out what needs to be addressed before you move in.

If a buyer backs out after the due diligence period expires, the seller is typically entitled to the earnest money.  Again, rules differ from state to state so make sure you know where you stand beforehand. The most important thing during due diligence is to be proactive. Quality inspectors and appraisers are difficult to book at the last minute. It’s the buyer’s responsibility to get these scheduled quickly.

Final walkthrough. Schedule a final walk through of the house a few days before closing to make sure the owners have left the house as you remember it. Note any repairs that haven’t been done as promised. Make sure any items they promised to leave behind are still there. Have the movers damaged any walls or floors? Do the appliances still work?

Closing. Barring last-minute problems with financing, closing day should run smoothly. Bring proper identification, along with a bank check for the down payment. Be prepared to sign multiple copies of the closing documents and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Once the deed has been recorded, you’ll receive that coveted set of keys to your new home.

7 Things to Ask Before Tackling a Landscape Project

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Thinking about adding a new garden, patio, or water feature to your home? Whatever you have in mind, a good landscape design project can enhance your home’s appeal, offer you more space to enjoy, and even increase your home’s value. But before you get started, ask yourself these questions.

How will the space be used? Good projects balance form and function. Maybe you want a place to entertain guests on summer evenings, a quiet space to commune with nature, or a safe and exciting place for your kids to play. The right design will depend on your goals.

What’s your style? Is it modern, traditional or rustic? If you don’t already have a style in mind, browse home and garden magazines and websites. Just don’t forget about the style of your home. Your landscape should coordinate with your home and vice versa.

What are your limitations? In other words, don’t get carried away. Keep in mind your personal budget for the project, local codes and regulations, homeowner association rules, and the specific characteristics of your property. In some cases, you may need to have work approved or permitted before you can begin.

What works best in your environment? If you are new to your home, take some time to get to know your yard. Identifying shady and sunny areas will help you choose the best kinds of plants and where to place seating. Take note of wet areas or places where water runs off quickly. You also may need to think about ways to reroute excess water. The size, shape, and soil quality of your property will also influence what you do.

How much work are you willing to do? Small projects can be rewarding for the DIY-er, while others may be best left to professionals. Also, the work doesn’t end after installation. Ask yourself how much maintenance you want to do. Know your skill level and how much time and effort you are willing to commit to the project and its upkeep.

Do you need help? If you can afford one, a landscape designer or landscape architect can be an amazing resource. These professionals know the best plants and materials to use, and can create a beautiful design that meets your needs and preferences. They are especially useful if you have problems with your property such as water drainage concerns or grading issues. If you’re installing hardscape, such as walls or patios, a stonemason will ensure proper construction.

What does the future hold? Landscapes evolve over time. Plants are living things that grow and spread. When you make your initial plans, be sure to consider the mature size of your plantings. Do you have enough space? Will roots cause problems down the road?

Potted Plants Are Perfect for Outdoor Winter Staging

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When flowerbeds become barren in the winter, it’s the perfect time to use potted plants to add much-needed curb appeal. Finding plants that can add interest and color to the front of your home while withstanding cold temperatures can be challenging. Here are a few winter favorites that will make your container gardens –and your home — look fantastic.

Hens and chicks succulents are a cool-season favorite. These plants look sort of like an artichoke, and come in a variety of colors, including the classic bright green with purple. They grow best in full sun, which also helps maximize their color. Hens and chicks species are very easy to grow. With the right light and very well-drained soil, they’ll do well and look great.

Violas and pansies aren’t just for spring and fall. These hardy plants can survive temperatures as low as 20°F and keep flowering. In even lower temperatures, damage may occur, but typically the plants bounce back. They are available in almost every color of the rainbow. To grow, place your violas or pansies in full sun and well-drained soil. Tip: Don’t let them dry out or they’ll stop blooming.

Red twig dogwood is a stunning specimen that provides a colorful architectural element in containers. In winter, this shrub features multiple stems of blazing red branches. Place this dogwood in full to partial sun and water one a week. Water more frequently as temperatures rise, and you’ll be rewarded with white flowers in summer.

Thread-branch cypress is a false (dwarf) Japanese cypress that makes a wonderful addition to potted arrangements. Its foliage is yellow-green to golden in color with soft needles that appear lacy and weep down from branches. Place your cypress in full sun and water once weekly (more often when temperatures get hot).

Ornamental kale might make you think of salad, but with rich green and purple vegetation, this plant will bring texture and color to your winter containers. These cabbages grow up to two feet tall and form large rosettes of purple, pink, white, or yellow. The color becomes brilliant in cold temperatures and lasts until spring. For best results, plant ornamental kale in full to partial sun, provide regular water, and fertilize biweekly.

Golden sword yucca is an evergreen that grows in clumps and has blade-like leaves with green and pale stripes. It offers an interesting texture contrast in containers and is easy to grow. Clumps can grow up to three feet tall, and in the spring, spikes of fragrant white flowers grow up to five feet tall. Plant yucca in well-drained soil and place in full sun. Once established, this plant doesn’t need much watering or other care.