MAKING THE MOST OF A MODEST MESS HALL

While some people who are selling their home think a small kitchen is a negative, there are several ways that you can make it stand out and appeal to potential buyers:

Light it up. Darkness can often make smaller rooms feel even more cramped. To open the room up to more light, consider removing all curtains from windows and instead install recessed blinds. You still get the privacy factor, while also allowing your kitchen to have a brighter feel.

Keep the counters tidy. Many people have things strewn about their kitchen counters and cabinets. Think about keeping your countertops clear of all items, including photos, papers and even appliances, to make it seem like the room is larger than it truly is.

Brighten the walls. Sellers should consider making the tone of the wall color in the kitchen brighter. Lighter colors tend to open up a room. They are also much more inviting, enticing potential buyers.

Mounted appliances. Sellers may want to consider mounting appliances on the wall or under the cabinets to create more countertop space, giving the kitchen the appearance of being more spacious. The distinctive and interesting design look could attract more interest during a walkthrough or tour.

5 Home Remodeling Trends Buyers Love

Buyers these days are looking for increasingly functional home design. When investing in a major remodel, remember that while a quick paint job or some new tile will assuredly spiff up the place, truly appealing to today’s buyers means giving some thought to functionality.

Here are three home remodeling trends buyers love—that promise to deliver on your investment.

An open floor plan

The popularity of open floor plans is undeniable, but remember that achieving this trend doesn’t mean additional square footage, it’s more about reimagining the space you have to create that larger kitchen and eliminating the dining room.

ROI: Percent of value recovered from the cost to open up a home’s floor plan is tough to pin down, because construction issues affect final costs. However, a survey by Harris Poll for Trulia reports that 46 percent of today’s homebuyers, regardless of generation, want an open floor plan.

Kitchen storage with personality and purpose

According to a National Association of Home Builders survey, 79 percent of remodelers cite kitchen overhauls as the second most popular renovation project in 2016. White kitchens have seen a resurgence in popularity, with soft grey or deep charcoal accents.

For storage, homeowners want options that serve a purpose. They’re choosing more and deeper drawer banks, eliminating the need for pricey pullout cabinet baskets that make deep base cabinets functional. There’s also a strong emphasis on the kitchen island, which provides additional storage, helps anchor an open floor plan and gives homeowners a spot to express their personal style with creative finishes and countertop materials.

Return on investment (ROI) for kitchen update: 67 percent*

A personally and environmentally superior bathroom  

In a 2016 National Association of Home Builders study, 81 percent of those surveyed gave bathroom renovations the top spot for the most common remodeling project. A strong bathroom trend is replacing that enormous whirlpool bathtub—so popular in the 1980s—with an oversized walk-in shower. Replacing the tub with a shower is not recommended in a one-bathroom home because young couples or families want a tub for their children.

Bigger tiles on bathroom walls and floors are another trend, from 12 by 24 inches up to square or rectangular extra-large tiles measuring 40 by 120 inches.

ROI for a bathroom renovation: 58 percent*

If you need some help figuring out what kind of remodeling trend works best in your neighborhood, a Certified Residential Specialist can help. These CRS real estate agents know their markets better than anyone and can tell you if remodeling your kitchen or bathroom will help your home sell faster and at a higher price point.

* 2015 Remodeling Impact Report, a joint study from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR)

The 2 Most Common Pricing Mistakes

Price is the No. 1 factor that helps potential homebuyers determine which homes they want to view. The right price should attract buyers, allow you to earn the most money possible and help you sell as quickly as possible. However, there is an art and a science to setting asking prices, and many sellers tend to overvalue their homes based on two common factors—the original cost of the property and the cost of home improvements.

1. The original cost of the property does not determine your asking price. Price is determined by today’s market, not by the market in which you purchased your home. Buyers won’t be swayed to pay more for a property just because you paid a lot initially.

2. Home improvements do not necessarily increase your asking price. Improvements can add value to your home, but not all improvements add value equal to what you spent on them. What you saw as an upgrade could be seen by a buyer as a potential future cost. For example, just because you spent $20,000 installing a state-of-the art swimming pool doesn’t mean your home’s selling price will be $20,000 more. This goes for all upgrades. A $7,000 kitchen upgrade doesn’t mean $7,000 should be added to the asking price. Consider this before spending money to upgrade or update any part of a home you plan to sell.

Try to avoid allowing your enthusiasm to impact your better judgment—overpricing is a common mistake that can cost you in the end. If your home is priced too high, you may help sell similar homes in your area that are priced lower, rather than selling your own. Because your home would likely stay on the market longer, you could lose market interest as well as qualified buyers. And the longer your home is on the market, the more likely it is you’ll lose money as a result of making extra mortgage payments, incurring taxes and paying unplanned maintenance costs.

With a mix of real world experience and advanced training, a Certified Residential Specialist has the tools necessary to decide the fair market value of your home based on both the marketplace and personal considerations. Remember, the right price is key to a successful sale, so work with a CRS to price your home accurately the first time.

7 Repairs to Make Before Selling Your House

You want to sell your home quickly and profitably, but you may have a few repairs to make first. But how do you know which repairs are worth doing, and which ones are better left to the buyer? Here are a few tips:

Focus on the exterior. First impressions are lasting impressions, so be sure the outside of your home is clean and inviting. Paint or replace shutters that are faded or worn, update landscaping and make sure your front entrance is welcoming to visitors.

Play it safe. Fix items that are a clear safety risk or environmental issue, such as broken steps, electrical issues, water damage, rotten or chipped flooring or a leaky roof, which can spook buyers. You can save money on large repairs by getting competitive bids from businesses in your community, then your CRS can strategically include the repairs in your home’s listing.

Think small. Minor flaws can be seen as huge problems when potential buyers are examining the space—for every $1,000 of perceived defect, the buyer will ask for a $3,000 to $5,000 reduction of the asking price. Replacing or repairing worn woodwork, caulking in bathtubs and showers, faded wallpaper, marred walls and stained ceilings, loose knobs, sticking windows and broken light switches are all ways to make your home more appealing.

Decide when to go big. Once you know what repairs or upgrades are needed, it’s time to decide what’s actually worth fixing. For example, if your kitchen cabinets are very beat-up or outdated, it may be worth replacing them. However, since buyers tend to tweak cosmetic details to their own tastes, cabinets that are in relatively good shape can be resurfaced instead. Upgrades that are almost always worth it are hardwood flooring, roofing and insulation, which reap 95 percent returns on investment or higher. When in doubt, talk with your real estate agent about features that maximize your ability to sell in your area.

Keep it clean. Buyers may see the surface condition of your home as a sign of what’s underneath. Keep windows, floors, walls and other surfaces clean. Steam clean carpeting and other fabrics, and, if needed, hire a cleaning service to ensure the place is always tidy.

Provide quotes. Items such as energy enhancements or major appliances are best left to the buyer, but you can provide quotes to help them budget if they want to replace or upgrade in the future.

Inspect it. If you are still unsure about some features of your home, consider getting a pre-inspection or talking to a real estate agent about a pre-listing inspection.

When deciding to selling your home, guidance from a qualified real estate agent is invaluable. Not all agents are created equally though, so when you turn to sell, contact a Certified Residential Specialist. These agents have advanced education, training and experience and are certified as the best real estate agents in the business.

The 2 Most Common Pricing Mistakes

Price is the No. 1 factor that helps potential home buyers determine which homes they want to view. The right price should attract buyers, allow you to earn the most money possible and help you sell as quickly as possible. However, there is an art and a science to setting asking prices, and many sellers tend to overvalue their homes based on two common factors—the original cost of the property and the cost of home improvements.

1. The original cost of the property does not determine your asking price. Price is determined by today’s market, not by the market in which you purchased your home. Buyers won’t be swayed to pay more for a property just because you paid a lot initially.

2. Home improvements do not necessarily increase your asking price. Improvements can add value to your home, but not all improvements add value equal to what you spent on them. What you saw as an upgrade could be seen by a buyer as a potential future cost. For example, just because you spent $20,000 installing a state-of-the art swimming pool doesn’t mean your home’s selling price will be $20,000 more. This goes for all upgrades. A $7,000 kitchen upgrade doesn’t mean $7,000 should be added to the asking price. Consider this before spending money to upgrade or update any part of a home you plan to sell.

Try to avoid allowing your enthusiasm to impact your better judgment—overpricing is a common mistake that can cost you in the end. If your home is priced too high, you may help sell similar homes in your area that are priced lower, rather than selling your own. Because your home would likely stay on the market longer, you could lose market interest as well as qualified buyers. And the longer your home is on the market, the more likely it is you’ll lose money as a result of making extra mortgage payments, incurring taxes and paying unplanned maintenance costs.

With a mix of real world experience and advanced training, a Certified Residential Specialist has the tools necessary to decide the fair market value of your home based on both the marketplace and personal considerations. Remember, the right price is key to a successful sale, so work with a CRS to price your home accurately the first time.

An important part of the home-selling process is showing it to prospective buyers. Unfortunately, that means tidying up even more frequently than you normally would, so buyers can focus on the house’s features rather than your household items. While it may not be possible to keep your home completely mess-free when you have children, below are some tips for keeping the chaos to a minimum:

Under-bed storage. If there’s enough space under their beds, encourage kids to keep their rooms tidy with rolling plastic or rattan storage bins. Then, use an oversized comforter or quilt—or strategically placed blankets—to hide the bins from sight.

Built-in storage. It may be impossible to keep things from leaving kids’ rooms and entering the living room. Utilize furniture with built-in storage, such as ottomans, or clear a drawer in the entertainment center specifically to tuck away any roaming toys, games and other items.

Baskets and trunks. If you don’t have much built-in storage or discreet space to take advantage of, consider buying decorative trunks or baskets with lids that you can place around your home.

Suitcases. If you need to store toys in the back of a closet, put them in suitcases that you can easily roll and move rather than bulky plastic bins. Suitcases are also a more discreet storage option than bins when buyers glance inside the closet to gauge how much space is available.

Donation. While your kids may feel attached to every toy, stuffed animal or plaything they own, it might be time to downsize the collection. Suggest that they start a donation pile, so that their unused items can bring joy to other kids instead.

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Are You Prepared To Do These 5 Things to Sell Your Own House?

It’s a question thousands of homeowners ask themselves every year: Should I try to sell my house myself? If you’re considering putting your own house on the market, keep in mind that selling your home can be a long and difficult process. Before you choose to go it alone, consider that you have to be able to successfully do all of the following:

1. Pricing your home—so you don’t leave money on the table. That means going beyond the usual homework of pulling comparable properties in your area. You need to understand current market conditions and trends, availability and cost of financing to assign your home an accurate value, meaning the highest price a ready, willing and able buyer will pay.

2. Marketing the listing—to the right people. As an independent home seller, you’ll be in charge of holding open houses, working to ensure your home gets good word-of-mouth exposure, as well as developing and paying for advertising, including photographing and posting pictures of your home to popular listing websites.

3. Showing your home—to everyone. Your life could be overrun by home showings, between appointments and drop-ins, and you’re responsible for screening the “buyers” from the “lookers” (curiosity-seekers are common at self-listed homes).

4. You’ll have to negotiate a sale—that doesn’t shortchange you. Negotiations present another challenge, as you try to resolve any doubts your buyers might have, work to keep their interest high and make a final agreement as quickly and efficiently as possible.

5. You’ll need to draw up a contract—that makes no mistake. A contract is a binding legal agreement, so every independent home seller should pay an attorney or other qualified legal representative to preside over the process.

A Certified Residential Specialist would do all that (and more) to sell your home faster and for the best price. Selling your own home takes a lot of know-how, and making even a small mistake can be costly. Think of the services a CRS provides as an investment—one that repays itself in the efficient sale of your home.

7 Reasons to Stop Renting

Owning a home is the American dream for many, giving people the satisfaction and pride of having a place to call their own. But that’s not the only reason to consider giving up your rented space. In addition to gaining more living space, homeowners enjoy the benefits of independence and a sense of achievement.

No question about it, homeownership is a big investment, but in the long run, it’s an investment that pays for itself many times over. Here’s how:

1. Homeownership often costs less per month. In some places, rent is still affordable, but in many places, it’s higher than a comparable mortgage, especially when you consider that mortgage interest and property taxes are tax deductible. There’s also less cost variability over time, as long as you take out a fixed-rate mortgage.

2. Homeownership offers more value for your money. While a rental property is an expense, a home you own is an investment. Homeownership allows you to build up equity over time, so even though up-front costs may seem higher, buying a home is a better value in the long run.

3. Homeownership adds stability to your living situation. As a renter, you’re subject not only to rising rents, but also to building sales and changes in renters’ rights laws. When you own, your home belongs to you until you decide you’re ready to move.

4. Homeownership allows you to benefit from mortgage interest. When you own your home, you can deduct mortgage interest from your income tax. That benefit goes to your landlord if you rent.

5. Homeownership allows you to deduct real estate taxes. Just like mortgage interest, real estate taxes are deductible if you own your home, while that benefit goes to your landlord if you rent. Local tax benefits are also available in many areas.

6. Homeownership gives you a better credit history. A major indicator of financial responsibility and stability, homeownership gives you the chance to build a strong credit history. Depending on your rental situation, your landlord may not report your on-time rent payments at all, meaning it won’t help you build good credit.

7. Homeownership helps you build a retirement nest egg. If you’re married and filing jointly, you can enjoy tax-free profits up to $500,000 from the sale of a primary residence that you have occupied for two of the last five years. If you’re single or married and filing separately, you can enjoy tax-free profits up to $250,000. When you’re ready to give up renting, a Certified Residential Specialist can help you achieve your dream of homeownership. With a mix of real world experience and advanced training, a CRS has the tools necessary to help you find the right home.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Selling Your House

The home-selling process is a complex one, and can be full of opportunities for you to come out on top—or for buyers to score the upper-hand. While you can’t predict everything that could botch a sale, there are a few common mistakes you need to avoid.

Mistake #1: Overlooking repairs

Making repairs before selling is a must, or you are guaranteed to lose money. “Things that are safety issues or big-ticket items are always a focus,” says Amy Broghamer, a Certified Residential Specialist and owner of the Amy B. Sells Team with Keller Williams in Cincinnati, Ohio. These include electrical issues, water damage, rotten or chipped flooring, or a leaky roof. Broghamer recommends getting a pre-inspection to uncover necessary repairs that might spook buyers and cause them to lower their offer or back out of the deal.

Mistake #2: Overpricing your home

Buyers are going to compare a sale price to other homes in the area, so your home should be priced competitively. CRS REALTORS® can provide a comparative market analysis to help establish a competitive price. Experienced agents also have their own system for helping you price your home.

Mistake #3: Over-sharing with buyers

Another costly mistake is having too much communication with potential buyers, says Nancy Braam, CRS, with RE/MAX Whatcom County Inc. in Bellingham, Washington. If you are emotionally invested in your home, you may end up giving away too much information. Braam advises that you either make yourself scarce during showings or think carefully about what you disclose to buyers.

“Think of it this way: anything you disclose about your motivation is asking the buyer to offer less,” Braam advises. “Staying out of the way is the best way to preserve what negotiation advantage you have.”

Instead, have an experienced CRS agent there to represent your interests and negotiate for you.

Mistake #4: Poor staging

Both a cluttered home and an empty home will be unappealing to buyers, so proper staging and curb appeal are important. “Finishing off minor handyman items, like replacing rotten trim and adding a fresh coat of paint, go a long way toward a quick sale at the highest price possible,” says Danni Springfield, CRS, ABR, Lead Agent with The Springfield Group of Keller Williams Legacy in San Antonio, Texas.

A majority of buyers are shopping for homes online these days, so Springfield’s team brings in professional staging and photography services.

Mistake #5: The wrong attitude

This includes both patience and setting expectations too high. Not every prospective buyer will submit a bid—some are just window-shopping or are interested in a nearby home. Remembering that browsers are part of the home-selling process will help keep disappointment at bay.

It’s also important to remember that once you do receive an offer, you should take it seriously. “When we list the house, we should never think of it as a ‘first’ offer, but as potentially the only offer. That way we treat each offer with the respect it deserves,” says Kim Laforet, CRS, associate broker with Coldwell Banker Hubbell BriarWood in Lansing, Michigan.

Want to avoid these mistakes? Talk to a CRS agent when selling your house. Due to their advanced training, education and verified experience level, a CRS is truly the best real estate agent around.

Increase Your Home’s Value With These 4 Outdoor Improvements

A 2016 National Association of REALTORS® report on the impact of remodeling outdoors showed the importance the outdoors is playing in the way buyers see your home. According to the report, outdoor remodeling projects add value to a home on resale, while also making homeowners who plan to stay in their homes happier.

With outdoor fireplaces or fire pits and comfortable seating, small gathering spaces are poised to overtake larger backyards as the most sought-after way to spend time outside while staying at home.

Make Sure Your Outdoor Spaces Are Marketable

Because outdoor spaces have to be tailored to the needs of the buyer, it’s important to find out what the typical buyer in you area wants before opting for something that’s trendy, rather than useful, says Sharon Breslau, CRS, an associate broker with Westwood Metes & Bounds Realty, Ltd. in upstate New York.

Many buyers are going for the trendy intimate spaces, says Brad Allen, CRS, ABR, a managing partner with The Art of Real Estate in South Carolina, adding that this is particularly pronounced if they come with any kind of added entertainment area.

That can mean a deck with a great dining setup, or it could mean a pool, depending on the buyer, Sloan adds.

Bring the Outdoors Inside

The outdoor space itself isn’t the only way to experience the outdoors—how the inside interacts with the outside matters, too, Breslau says.

“Windows and doors are the eyes looking out of the house, so what do you see when you look out? Do you see a bush, or do you cut that bush down and suddenly you can see the yard and a nice hill or meadow?” Breslau says. She recommends giving thought to how the inside and the outside correspond, because a property holds more appeal if buyers like both.

Homeowner Test #1: —Can you walk all the way around your house without running into an obstacle? If so, great! This allows more light inside. If not, can the obstacle blocking your path be removed? Look for ways to open space directly around the house

Foster Year-round Outdoor Living

In warm climates, outdoor spaces can be used all year without issue. Allen currently is working with a new-construction buyer who plans to install a 14-foot-wide accordion-style sliding door that will open her basement recreation room straight onto her patio and pool.

And outdoor kitchens or fireplaces on porches are useful in all warmer-weather climates as long as they’re covered to protect from rain, Sloan says.If you’re a homeowner in the northern latitudes, you may have to think outside the box to get more use out of your outdoor spaces, Breslau says. Three-season screened-in porches allow people in colder-weather areas to enjoy the outdoors for at least a little longer in the spring and fall, but to make those spaces year-round, all you need is some insulation and a gas heater to bump up usage in the winter season.

Create a Private World

Outdoor areas are great for having fun and relaxing, but if neighbors are too close by, they can also invite unwanted guests into the activities.

Privacy concerns are leading some homeowners to find creative ways to keep their outdoor areas out of the public eye, especially in areas where zoning regulations restrict fencing.

“A lot of people use bushy trees like giant green arbor vitae or Leland cypress,” Allen says. “I have also seen sellers install lattice-style screens on the sides of their decks and porches.”

Breslau also suggests having landscapers plant anything that grows big, “things that are hedgy and easy to pop in that add a little more privacy,” including rose of Sharon or jasmine, or anything viney on a trellis that can shield the sight of any neighbors.

“Privacy means something different to every person who you ask,” Breslau says.

Homeowner Test #2: If you’re standing on your deck at your house, can you see the neighbors? Are they off in the distance, or are you totally alone and can’t see anyone at all?

Breslau also suggests using fountains to mute noises, especially a busy road in the distance. That adds another level of privacy.


HOW TO Recognize a Qualified Buyer

Offers can be exciting, but unless your potential buyer has the resources to qualify for a mortgage, you may not really have a sale. Your real estate professional will try to determine a buyer’s financial status before you sign the contract. But it’s good for you to know what buyers with follow-through potential looks like.

They are prequalified—or even better, preapproved—for a mortgage.
Such buyers will be in a much better position to obtain a mortgage promptly.

They have enough money to make a down payment and cover closing costs.
Ideally, buyers should have 20 percent of the home’s price as a down payment and between 2 percent and 7 percent of the price to cover closing costs. If they plan to make a smaller down payment, they will need to purchase mortgage insurance, through either a government guarantee program or a private mortgage insurer. Their ability to provide earnest money in a timely fashion will be an indicator of liquid reserves.

Their income is sufficient to afford the home over the long term, too.
Ideally, buyers should spend no more than 28 percent of their total income to cover the principal, interest, taxes, and insurance associated with the sale (often abbreviated as “PITI.”)

They have good credit, which they are monitoring and maintaining.
They will have recently reviewed their credit report and have actively worked to correct any blemishes or errors found.

They’re not managing too many other debts to take on a mortgage.
If buyers owes a great deal on car payments, credit cards, and other debts, they may not qualify for a mortgage.

QUESTIONS TO ASK – About Property Tax

It’s natural for the sale price of a home to loom large in your mind. But don’t forget to look at what your property tax bill might be.

What is the assessed value of the property?
Assessed value is generally less than market value. A recent copy of the seller’s tax bill will help you determine this information.

How often are properties reassessed in this area?
In general, this will happen annually, but properties in areas of slower growth may be reassessed less often.

When was the last reassessment done on this property?
Most significant tax increases on an individual property can be linked to when that property was last reassessed.

Will the sale of the property trigger a tax increase?
Depending upon where you live, the assessed value of a property may increase based on the amount you pay for it. And in some areas, such as California, taxes aren’t allowed to increase until the property in question is resold.

Is the tax bill comparable to other properties in the area?
If not, it might be possible to appeal the assessment and lower the rate.

Does the current tax bill reflect any special exemptions for which I might not qualify?
For example, many tax districts offer reductions to those individuals 65 and older.