Friday, December 31, 2010

Planning to Sell Your House?

If you plan to sell your house, don’t be discouraged by market conditions! Take charge of the selling process and apply these Smart Selling ideas to improve your prospects for a successful outcome:

Preparing To Sell

  • Enlist the support of the entire family and make a full commitment to selling.
  • Prepare to compete by looking at houses on the market in your anticipated price range. How does your house compare?
  • Have a pre-listing home inspection and make any recommended repairs.
  • Consult with a professional stager about ways to make your house appeal to most buyers. Implement basic recommendations yourself and get help as needed.
  • Have the stager return for final staging, including placement of furniture and accessories. (Don’t be tempted to skip this step!)
  • Contact REALTOR®s after your house is completely prepared for sale and ready to be photographed.
  • Your REALTOR® will research houses comparable with yours, including current listings, recent sales and withdrawn listings. Use this knowledge for a reality check to determine your pricing strategy.
  • Price your house realistically from day one. Listen to your REALTOR®’s pricing advice.
  • Participate in picture-taking and carefully compose every shot to show key features at their best.
  • Make the most of the first 30-45 days on the market. This is your best chance to sell at or near your initial listing price.
  • Discuss the feedback your REALTOR® is getting and be willing to make changes.
  • Use the power of the internet and social media. In addition to your REALTOR®’s web site and her company’s web site, be sure your house is listed on other real estate sites, including®, Trulia,, etc. Create a facebook page for your house.
  • Continue to monitor the competition and be prepared to adapt your strategy.

  • Update the list of comparable properties and consider a price reduction if there is little activity after 45 days.

  • Have your accessories reflect the season and keep your house looking fresh.
  • Make the house available for showings when requested – even if inconvenient.
  • Create a showing checklist to be certain the house is ready for visitors and give everyone a job.
  • Maintain the inside and outside of the house in showing condition.
  • Have a flexible attitude and a sense of humor.

Smart Selling Tip: Take charge of the selling process and apply Smart Selling ideas to improve your prospects for a successful outcome in any market.

©2012 Sandy LeRoy and Mary Stephens

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fireplace Fundamentals for Sellers

A fireplace ranks high on the list of amenities that most buyers want, so if you have one, make the most of it.
Be sure the fireplace is in sound condition before you list, especially if you have an older home. If your fireplace has a chimney, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that it be cleaned and inspected annually, and requires an inspection before real property is transferred. In North Carolina, regulations are less strict than the NFPA guidelines, but the inspection is still a good idea. Indications that your fireplace needs attention include dirty glass doors, sooty fireplace logs, difficulty starting a fire, and/or flames that drop out.
Typically, home inspectors aren’t trained as chimney inspectors, so have your chimney cleaned and then inspected by a certified chimney specialist to be certain it’s operating correctly and is properly ventilated. Cleaning fees vary, depending on the condition of the fireplace. The cost of an inspection with a video camera is about $150, depending on what is needed. Flues from a gas or oil furnace or a gas water heater also vent potentially lethal gases, so have those flues inspected too. Being pro-active can help keep repair costs down. The inspector will be able to provide the details about the fireplace that you need for the MLS listing.
If you have a hearth product fueled by gas, call PSNC and have a licensed technician verify that the gas line and connections have been properly installed and are operating correctly. Because of the potential exposure to lethal gases, place a carbon monoxide detector on every level of the house and outside every sleeping area. Although this is a crucial precaution in houses with an unvented fireplace, most houses need at least one carbon monoxide detector.
A fireplace is a natural focal point and plays a key role in marketing pictures. Simple, properly scaled decorative accessories photograph best. They should suit the architecture and décor and be appropriate all year. The MLS sheet should specify if the fireplace is vented or unvented, and whether it burns wood, natural gas or propane. Include the inspection report and the invoices for cleaning and repairs in the marketing binder, as well as the operating manual(s) for all fireplace equipment.
Smart Selling Tip: Have your fireplace cleaned, inspected and repaired, if needed, before you list. Prepare the fireplace to star in pictures.
©2010 Sandy LeRoy and Mary Stephens

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Window Treatments: Friend or Foe?

Window treatments can make a powerful decorating statement that adds to your family’s enjoyment of your house, but they also can be a drawback when you sell. If the design, color and materials aren’t popular today, or if they’re suitable only to a specific décor, or if they’re not positioned correctly, your house won’t photograph or show well. However, attractive (not necessarily expensive) window treatments with broad appeal, can add value and style to your house.
Before you list, evaluate the window treatments in each room.
· Are there expensive, custom window treatments that you plan to leave? Be certain the design, color and pattern are sufficiently neutral to appeal to nearly everyone. If so, describe them in detail for your marketing binder. If they’re too specific or dated, make changes.
· Selling is different from living in your house. If you chose opulent drapes, they might overwhelm the room and distract buyers. Focus attention on the house, not your décor. Change or edit window treatments, as needed.
· Is there more than one layer of window treatment, such as blinds, a shade or sheers, plus heavier fabric drapes? Remove any layer that is more decorative than functional for a simpler look.
· Are some window treatments coordinated with paint colors in rooms that are now being repainted? If so, remove or change them.
· If you remove any hardware, be sure to fill the holes and repaint.
· Some window treatments serve an important function such as privacy, security, screening an unattractive view, or energy efficiency. If that’s the case, but they aren’t attractive, replace existing window treatments with functional, simple, color-coordinated ones.
· Are the window treatments clean and in good condition?
· Are the window treatments hung correctly to:
§ make ceilings look higher and rooms look more spacious?
§ allow maximum light to reach the interior?
§ showcase the window?
§ correct the proportions of the window in relation to the wall?
If you’re not sure how well your window treatments are working, call a professional stager.
Sometimes the answer is simple and cost-free, like repositioning a drapery rod. Your stager can help you evaluate the window treatments in your house and suggest ways to make the most of your budget.
Smart Selling Tip:
Evaluate the window treatments in your house before you list. If you need help, get advice from a professional stager.
©2010 Sandy LeRoy and Mary Stephens

Friday, December 10, 2010

Selling Property With A Well

When you’re selling property with a well, be aware that many buyers have no experience with wells and may be prejudiced against having one. To create buyer confidence about living with a well, be certain that the water from your well meets quality standards and provide detailed information about the well and its equipment.
Well water should be tested every one to three years for the presence of bacteria and nitrates. Annual testing is best because even if a well is properly sited, constructed and maintained, groundwater travels and may pick up pollutants elsewhere that can reach the water supply. You can have your water tested by your County Environmental Health Department, a private laboratory or by a home inspector. Obtain a list of certified labs from the Cooperative Extension Service. If you have a water filter, remove it before you test the water. After the test, install a new filter.
Before putting your house on the market, have a home inspection that includes the basic operation of your well and its equipment, such as the pressure tank, filter and water softener. The inspector will turn on the water taps and note any concerns about water pressure and flow. If there are problems, consult a well drilling company or a plumber and resolve any issues. If it’s above ground, detail the well head and change the insulation so it looks clean and presentable. If your well needs repair or you want to close an abandoned well, a County permit may be required.
Marketing Materials
To make buyers more comfortable with the well, provide information about water quality, how the system operates and how to maintain it. Mark the location of the well on your property so that buyers can find it easily and become familiar with it.
Create a section in your marketing binder for detailed information about your well and equipment, including the original permit and other records, if available. Include the following:
  • Home inspection.
  • Water quality test results.
  • Maintenance receipts.
  • Property survey noting the location of the well and the well equipment.
  • Well equipment manuals.
North Carolina Cooperation Extension Service
NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Smart Selling Tip:
When selling property with a well, test the water quality before you list. Provide details about the well and its equipment, and include maintenance information in your marketing materials.
©2010 Sandy LeRoy and Mary Stephens

Friday, December 3, 2010

Selling An Older House - Part Two

Whether you’re selling an historic house, or one that’s simply “older”, a key part of your marketing strategy is to create buyer confidence that the house is in sound condition and reduce concern about surprises. Have a seller’s home inspection and implement the recommendations. Prepare a marketing binder that includes the inspection report and copies of any repair bills. Provide a survey and research the deed to be certain it’s free of encumberances. Describe updates you’ve made and details of energy-efficient features. Include utility bills for the past year. Furnish a list of tradespeople who’ve worked on the house. Provide a home warranty for the buyer’s peace of mind. Your house will compete more effectively against newer ones and encourage buyers to consider preserving our architectural heritage.
If you’re selling a truly historic house, there’s a special story to tell. Prepare a separate binder with pictures and stories, if available. Provide the name of the architect and describe the style of the house, including any unique elements, so visitors will appreciate their significance. Describe features that have made the house enjoyable for your family. Effective pictures are crucial to on-line marketing. Edit your belongings and carefully compose each picture to highlight the best features of the house, including close-ups of significant details. Before you take pictures, replace any items that won’t convey, like a chandelier, with something attractive, properly scaled and suitable to the house.
Pricing an older house, especially an historic one, presents special challenges because of the lack of truly comparable properties, either recent sales or current listings, whether priced realistically, or not. Pricing older or historic homes is a blend of art and science, but a current appraisal is an essential starting point. To establish a range of recommended listing prices, your REALTOR® will look at a number of factors, including the appraisal, the current tax value, the location of your house, sales of similar houses in your neighborhood and in a wider radius during the past year (if any), the condition and cosmetic appeal of your house and the competition. The knowledge and experience of your REALTOR® in evaluating each of these factors is invaluable.
Smart Selling Tip:
The marketing plan for an older house should create buyer confidence in its condition and showcase its unique charm. Rely on the expertise of your REALTOR® to evaluate the factors that determine a suitable listing price.
©2010 Sandy LeRoy and Mary Stephens

Friday, November 26, 2010

Selling An Older House - Part One

Many buyers prefer the charm and character of older houses, but they have understandable concerns about the condition of the property. These include the possibility of large, unexpected expenses if a major component or system should fail, or the need to invest a significant amount of money to bring the house up to date. Fortunately, there are many steps sellers can take when preparing an older house for sale, to create buyer confidence and make the house more appealing.
Creating Confidence
Sellers must prove that the house is in good condition, so the first step is to have a home inspection. If the inspector finds any problems, have the repairs made before the house is listed. Never plan to sell “as is”. Include the inspection report and repair receipts in your marketing materials. Provide a one year home warranty to reduce concerns about unexpected expenses. Other issues that can affect buyer confidence include the presence of radon, lead-based paint, or materials that contain asbestos. If you’re aware of these hazards, you must disclose them, but remember that these hazards can be mitigated.
It’s essential to have no signs of deferred maintenance, inside or outside. Landscaping and hardscaping should be well-designed and in good condition. Trees and shrubs should not be so overgrown they’re no longer in scale with the house, or block light from entering the interior. If you don’t know how to create better curb appeal, have a consultation with a landscape professional. If you have a septic system or a well, you need to prove that they’ve been maintained and are in good condition.
Creating Appeal
Even when your budget doesn’t allow major updates, there are many things you can do to make your house more appealing and photogenic. A good first step is to edit your belongings down to the essentials so that you can see if the paint looks tired, or if cosmetic repairs are needed. With fewer belongings, buyers can see the features that make older houses so appealing. If you don’t know where to begin, consulting a professional stager is inexpensive and will generate creative ideas to set priorities and make the best use of your budget.
Smart Selling Tip:
Prepare an older home for sale by taking steps to create buyer confidence that the house is in sound condition. Consult with a professional stager for guidance on creating cosmetic appeal within your budget.
©2010 Sandy LeRoy and Mary Stephens

Friday, November 19, 2010

How Price Ranges Affect Potential Buyers

Setting the listing price for your house is a strategic decision with many nuances. One of them is positioning the house in the correct price range. The price range for each house is based on factors such as size, age and location, condition and cosmetic appeal, recent sales of comparable properties, and the competition. Price ranges move with the market. Sellers should monitor activity in their chosen price range to remain positioned correctly to compete. Today, this realistic approach is vital, especially for motivated sellers, and includes being willing to make price adjustments, as needed.
Although some sellers hope to test the market and begin with a listing price outside the REALTOR®’s recommended range, this could be counter-productive for several reasons, including:
  • Sellers could unknowingly force the house into competition with superior properties.
  • Buyers who shop on line, and today that’s over 90%, quickly learn how to determine if a house is priced correctly. They won’t consider those that don’t measure up.
  • REALTOR®s are reluctant to show an improperly priced house.
  • Sellers lose the benefit of prime selling time in the first thirty to forty-five days when interest is greatest.
  • The number of buyers who can qualify for a loan decreases as the price increases, so the pool of buyers is smaller.
  • Even if an offer is received, the house might not appraise at or near the purchase price, and the deal will collapse.
Buyers use price ranges when they look for a house, whether they shop on line, or ask a REALTOR® to select properties to visit. They usually test ranges in increments of $25,000 because, until they look at properties, buyers don’t know what their money will buy. Their preferred price point usually falls near the middle of their range, but since buyers want the largest possible pool of houses from which to choose, they view houses priced a bit lower or higher. If a listing is priced above the high end of their range, it falls into another “search category”. Those buyers won’t see it unless they change their range of acceptable prices, and in most cases they won’t because of the large inventory of properties in their range.

Smart Selling Tip:
When setting your initial listing price, consider the effect that price ranges have on buyers. Be certain the price reflects its current value so it can compete with other properties in that range.

©2010 Sandy LeRoy and Mary Stephens

Monday, November 15, 2010

Move Management

Most of us dread the prospect of moving. There’s a lot of work to do, and you need to make hundreds of decisions, some more difficult than others. You also must begin dealing with your belongings while the house is being prepared for sale, making that project even more complex. Imagine that you’re a busy executive with a family and a demanding job, or you’re an older couple making a move with no family nearby to help. Daily life is already challenging and now you’re faced with selling your house and moving. Where can you get the help you need? The answer for many families is to rely on the services of a move manager.

What is Move Management?
Move managers are specialists who assist with the practical and emotional aspects of relocation. Generally move managers work on an hourly rate and offer an array of services designed to reduce the stress of moving, produce quality results and ensure a smooth transition to your new home. Move managers will offer the following services – and more:

* Develop an overall strategy, based on your goals and timetable.
* Help you determine what things will go with you.
* Arrange to dispose of the rest, according to your wishes, by donation, consignment, gift, estate sale, on-line sale, etc.
* Have your house prepared for sale using the services of a home inspector, professional stager and tradespeople, as needed.
* Assist in hiring a REALTOR®.
* Hire and supervise packers, cleaners and movers.
* Customize the furniture plan for your new home.
* Unpack and arrange your belongings.
* Disconnect and transfer utilities.
* Disconnect and set up electronic equipment, including televisions and computers.
* Provide “age in place” services for those who wish to remain at home.

Skilled move managers are much more than project management specialists. They’re caring and empathic, atuned to the emotional challenges their clients are facing, and dedicated to helping them through a difficult period. Check qualifications and references before hiring a move manager. You’ll have a very close working relationship, so be certain that you’re comfortable with her style and have a clear understanding of how she charges for her services.

Smart Selling Tip:
Move management services are the answer for those who aren’t able to handle a move by themselves, or for members of the family who want to help, but can’t be there.

©2010 Sandy LeRoy and Mary Stephens

Monday, November 8, 2010

Staging Diary: Highland Lake #2

Too Much Accenting
Sometimes small color changes can make a big difference, and in this house it's been very true. The first time I walked inside, I was greeted by a pair of bright white closet doors directly opposite the front door. Because of the high contrast with the wall color, they distracted my eye from seeing how large and attractive the living room is. The solution: repaint them in the wall color so that the visitor's eye will flow into the room and not stop at the closet. The solution worked so well we're going to use it on some other closet doors and create a simplified, more attractive and less "chopped up" impression.

Another example is the railing and brackets on the stairs to the second floor. Initially the railing was painted white with the rest of the trim, and the brackets were a standard "gold tone". Now the brackets are flat black and look like wrought iron, the railing is painted in black semi-gloss enamel and the baseboards and vents are painted in the wall color. A ho-hum necessity has become an attractive feature, a utilitarian detail has "disappeared" and the distracting baseboards that drew the eye and lowered the ceilings now look unified. Best of all, the cost was minimal.

Correcting with color also produces dramatic results on the exterior. Roger is painting the vertical banding boards that originally were painted white, in the wall color. The result will be more beautiful, harmonious and photogenic, a strategic necessity when you're selling.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Wonderful Compliment for Roger

Today we received a very special thank you note from Lita and Daryl Stum. Roger hasn't seen it yet, and I can't wait to show it to him. In the meantime, I'm happy to share it with you:

"Roger, thank you so very much for your excellent work. It is a rare pleasure to be able to work with a craftsman like you. We enjoy our home even more because of your work: you took what we loved and made it even better. You are meticulous, quiet and unobtrusive (even when working in plain sight!), and always pleasant. It was truly our pleasure to have you in our home, and we look forward to completing more projects with you in the future. If you ever need a reference, we would be most pleased to recommend you. Thank you again, Roger. Sending you our best,

Lita and Daryl Stum

Flat Rock

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Words Worth

The late John Horlivy was a teacher who was married to my friend Jean for a time. He and Jean moved to Milwaukee, so I didn't have a chance to get to know him very well, and I didn't hear much of him after the divorce.

The other day I learned of John's death on October 17th through an email that directed me to a memorial website where there was a link to John's blog, called Words Worth. It turns out that John loved words, especially the ones he found "curious, odd or puzzling", and he shared what he learned about them on his blog.

Visiting the memorial website and reading the blog made me wish that I had known him.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Staging Diary: Highland Lake

There's a lovely Victorian house at Highland Lake in Flat Rock that will be listed next Spring, and this is the first in a series of posts about the work that is being done to get the house ready for market.

Sterling Property Services entered the picture when I was asked to do a staging consultation, and one of my first recommendations was to get a seller's home inspection to determine if there were any condition issues that needed to be addressed. Dale Hansen of Advantage Inspection did the inspection, and fortunately he found no serious problems. (His report will make an excellent marketing tool.)

However, Dale noted that some of the exterior trim does need to be repaired or replaced. I suggested that the whole exterior be repainted as the dark red siding has faded significantly, and the wrong things (like downspouts, banding boards and the lattic below the porch) have been painted in the white trim color, causing the exterior to look "choppy" instead of harmonious. In addition, the front door and porch colors aren't flattering to the red, so it's time for a new color plan. With repairs and fresh paint in dynamic colors, this Victorian lady is going to be fabulous.

Roger was chosen to do the repairs to the trim, and all the painting and other cosmetic work, inside and outside. So far he's pressure-washed the house and started caulking cracks in the siding and trim. Using a combination of epoxy wood patch and a wood consolidant, he's also begun repairing the trim, and so far he doesn't think it will be necessary to replace any boards. Exterior painting will proceed as the weather permits, and when it's rainy like today, he'll be working on interior projects. They're a whole other story, and the details follow.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Water World - Day 38

Here we are on day 38 or so of our water damage event. The house is torn apart and a lot of our stuff is in cartons, especially things from the kitchen, family room, living room and dining room. There's damage downstairs too, but thankfully most areas are intact, including my office.

Once we have approval of the major repair estimates by our insurance adjuster, a preliminary check will be issued, payable to us and our lender. We can't keep the money and use it to pay for the repairs. That's too easy. The check must be sent to the lender's property claims department in California so they can set up an account and give us bits of money now and then as repairs progress. They will be inspecting every step of the way, and must approve the result before the final amount is released.

When we have the first payment, I can schedule the work which will begin with ripping out the kitchen down to the walls (cabinets, island, appliances, countertops, sink, etc.) so the floor can be ripped up, the kitchen tented off and the subfloor treated for mold. All the baseboards on the main level that Roger painstakingly refinished last winter will have to removed with tweezers, labeled and stored. With luck the pieces will come out intact so they can be re-installed. Then the new floor can go in. After that, the kitchen cabinets can be reinstalled, assuming they don't have hidden damage, as well as the appliances and sink, then a new countertop will go in. (The old Corian one will be destroyed when it's removed.)

There's a lot more to it than I've told you, and I don't know if I'm eager to start or dreading the mitigation and repair process. Luckily for him, Roger gets to be at work most of the time when things are happening. Just don't ask how our three cats are taking all this. As for me, the experience has refreshed my empathy for all our clients who have to put up with temporary inconveniences when we're there working, especially when we're doing interior painting projects that take time.

Roger and I are making the best of our situation because we're well aware of being luckier than people in Haiti or New Orleans who lost everything. At least we have insurance and we can stay in our home.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere - Part 1

It's been nearly two weeks since the water line to the icemaker in our refrigerator failed in the middle of the night. Before we found the problem, water flowed for hours, ruining the hardwood floors on about 75% of the main level of our house. The water (which is still trapped between the floor and subfloor) also went to the lower level. When it reached the workshop it soaked Roger's computer, printer, monitor, etc., and his desk. So far we know that it also soaked the ceiling and a wall in the office bathroom and closet, plus the ceiling and a wall in the adjoining room. We still don't know the full extent of the problem, but we're getting closer to finding out.

The first restoration company I called was a nightmare to deal with. From the beginning I was under serious pressure to sign a blank document that they described as a "word order, not a contract". However, it called for me to pay them for their unknown, unpriced work within a specified period, or pay 1.5% per month interest. I think that if something looks like a contract, smells like a contract and someone intends to hold you to it, it WAS a contract.

I refused to sign it until the adjuster came and looked at the extensive damage, especially since I didn't know if I had insurance coverage. The restoration people didn't like this one bit, and the story goes on from there. They failed to drain one of their massive dehumidifiers before bringing it in the house, so it dumped dirty water on a carpet in the entryway. Then their truck took out a one foot section of a very nice stone retaining wall along our driveway, which fortunately Roger noticed right away. They've promised to pay for the repairs and I've sent them an estimate, but we'll see.

I'm now in the expert, professional hands of the people from Servpro who've been responsive, helpful and kind. My project manager Josh Hughey is the best, and he's been here for hours every day to make sure things go smoothly. Today a huge portion of our house is in the process of being emptied, including everything in the kitchen (cabinets, sink, appliance, island, etc.) so that the hardwood floors can be torn up and mitigation can begin. Then new floors have to be installed. Significant work also has to be done downstairs, and we're finding more problems every day.

It's all a big mess, but Roger and I are getting used to our little disaster zone. We're living in the bedroom, with a temporary kitchen in the laundry room, and for the moment I can still use my office.

Stay tuned...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Staging Props from the Garden

I'm always looking for free or inexpensive props to use for staging, and this time of year my garden is a great resource. I use Design Master metallic spray paints on dried flowers, seed heads, panicles and beautifully-shaped branches, then mix them with seasonal silk flowers to create arrangements that are beautiful, versatile and very long-lasting.

There's a vase of dried switch grass (Panicum 'Rotstrahlbusch') and one of Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) on my desk. I sprayed both grasses with Antique Gold years ago, and they still look pretty good... The panicum is well-behaved in the garden, but I have to harvest the Sea Oats in self-defense before the seeds can travel.