Taking Care of an Empty House

Often we have listings of homes for sale or lease that are vacant for a few months.  Sitting vacant is probably one of the worst things that can happen to a house.  I make sure I or the owner visit empty listings at least once a week.  Here are some things to be sure to check.

Run the water: Every time I show the home or am checking the home, I run the water in the bathrooms, kitchen, laundry room, etc. and flush all the toilets.  If this is not done sewer gases will accumulate in the drains and when someone occupies the house and starts using the shower or toilet, a very foul odor will permeate throughout the house.

Run the garbage disposal: Some garbage disposals tend to freeze up when not used; run the disposal when you turn on the kitchen faucet.

Toilet lids: Another thing to be aware of is that if the lids on the toilets are closed, mildew accumulates in the toilet bowls and is unsightly for a prospective buyer or lessee.  Put the seats down but leave the lids up is my advice.

Air out the house: Open windows and doors periodically to get rid of that vacant house smell.

Check the smoke detectors: If you hear a chirping noise it is probably one of the smoke detectors needing new batteries; this is an aggravation for people viewing the house as well as being a possible breach of safety.

Be sure to lock all doors: One of my worst fears is that someone will move into a vacant home; it can take years to get them out.  Plus, think of how scary it would be to enter a house and find someone there.

Check the yard: Sometimes, the sprinklers get out of whack and some parts of the yard are not getting any water.  This leaves dead grass areas that are unsightly.

Check the gutters: Take a look at the rain gutters to make sure they are not full of leaves and other debris.  If the gutters are full and there is a rain storm, water will flow over to the edge of the roof and can cause a lot of damage.

Check around the front door: Remove any free newspapers, magazines or door hangers that have been delivered since your last visit.

Check the lights: Most showings are during the day, but some are after dark, and it can be pretty creepy for the agents and their clients if there are some lights that do not operate.  Usually, a light bulb just needs replacing.

 

 

Taking care of your empty house will likely bring a higher price in a shorter time.

 

Is Your Home Ready to Sell?

You waited all winter to sell your home just in time to move during the summer.  You put in the extra work to make your house stand out from all the rest on the market, right?  No matter where you are in the process, review the list below to help you determine what buyers really want and do not want in their future home.

The top three must-haves:

1.  Curb Appeal:  You only get one chance to make a first impression.  Your home should sell to the buyer from the curb.   Buyers should be so impressed that they want to leap out of the car and run inside.

How do you create curb appeal? Show attention to detail.  Your home has to be prettier, cleaner and in better condition than its neighbors.  Start with sweeping the drive, walkways and porch or entry of dirt and debris.  Get rid of leggy bushes, wilted flowers and broken tree limbs and plant fresh flowers in the front garden.  Power-wash the exterior and hand wash the windows and touch up paint around the windows, if needed.  I have trusted tradesmen who can do these things for you, if you prefer.  Replace the door hardware and porch sconces.

2.  Space: The number one reason why people buy homes is to have more room.  Whether they are moving from an apartment or moving up from the home they have, they want to have plenty of space.

If you have a large home, you are golden, but that does not mean you have it made.  You can ruin a buyer’s first impression with too much clutter, so make sure to keep your home picked up so your buyer can see your home’s features clearly and easily.

What if you do not have a lot of space?  Plan to do some storing and staging.  Rent a storage unit and put away all out-of-season clothes, toys, home decorations and accessories.  Clean off all tables and counter tops so you have only the minimum of things you need to operate your home.  Empty closets of anything that is stored and move it to the storage unit.  The small expense you will pay in storage fees you will more than make back from a good offer to purchase your home.

3.  Updates: First-time buyers and single people tend to buy older homes because they are more affordable than buying new.  So unless the buyer is a building contractor, chances are he will want a home that is as updated as possible.

Concentrate on the kitchen and bathrooms.  Replace the most dated features such as counter tops, cabinet pulls and appliances.  Bathrooms are so personal that they can easily turn buyers off.  Invest in new towels and bathmats  (use your old ones and replace them with the new ones when you have an appointment to view your home or for an open house).  Throw out slimy soaps and limp ragged bath sponges.  Replace with liquid shower and bath products.  You can take all the newly purchased items to your next home.

Painting is expected by buyers, but do not repaint the same colors that you chose ten years ago.  Pick an updated neutral like a warm gray instead of beige.  Be sure to choose a color that will complement the architecture and flooring in your home.

The typical home purchased in 2013 had 1860 square feet of living space and was built in 1996, so home buyers are not expecting your home to be a mansion, nor do they expect it to be new, but they do expect to see pride of ownership.  The more updates and repairs that you perform, the more confident the buyers will be that they are choosing the right home.

The top five have-nots:

Make sure your home is free and clear of the following items (instant turn-offs).

1.  Overpricing your home: If you have listed your home at a higher price than recommended you will get negative feedback from buyers.  The worst feedback is silence that could include no showings and no offers.  The problem with overpricing your home is that the buyers who are qualified to buy your home will not see it because they are shopping in a lower price range.  The buyers who do see your home will quickly realize that there are other homes in the same price range that offer more value.

2.  Smells: Smells can come from a number of sources-pets, lack of cleanliness, stale air, water damage and much more.  You may not even notice it, but your agent may tell you something has to be done.  There is not a buyer in the world who will buy a home that smells unless they are investors looking for a bargain.

3. Clutter:  If your tables are full to the edges with photos, figurines, mail and drinking glasses, buyers’ attention is going to be more focused on breezing through your living room without breaking any glass figurines than in considering your home for purchase.  Too much furniture confuses the eye and makes it really difficult for buyers to see the proportions of the rooms.  If they can not see what they need to know, they move on to the next home.

4.  Deferred maintenance:  Deferred maintenance is a polite euphemism for letting your home fall apart.  Just like people age due to the effects of the sun, wind and gravity, so do structures like your home.  Things wear out, break and weather and it is your job as a homeowner to keep your home repaired.  Buyers really want a home that has been well-maintained.  They do not want to wonder what needs to be fixed next or how much it will cost.

5.  Dated Decor:  People want your neighborhood, but that does not mean they want a dated-looking home.  Just like they want a home in good repair, they want a home that looks updated, even if it is from a different era.

Though I am in the business of selling houses, I know it is no easy task to move.  You will receive daily calls from agents to show your home, you will be asked to leave your home during open houses; you will really have to “put your life on hold” until it is sold.  The objective should be to limit the marketing time by making sure your home is the best it can be.

Tax Implications When Selling a Home*

Home sellers used to be penalized when they sold a home, paying huge capital gains taxes on their next tax return. However,the United States government saw fit to change that taxation process with the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997.  Now, many people qualify for no capital gains at all, depending on their income and tax situation. Take a look at some sample situations that can help you to avoid tax-related headaches and stay ahead of the financial curve. Single Owners – If you are a single homeowner, you are not required to pay capital gains unless the profit is higher than $250,000. You can figure out your profit by subtracting the sold price from the original price paid.  From that figure, you can also deduct any major household improvements made over the years, including an additional room or in-ground pool installation. For most homeowners, their profit is conservative, allowing them to pocket the money or put it toward a new property.  Married Homeowners – Because a home may be larger for a married couple, the government stipulates that up to $500,000 in profit is acceptable to avoid taxation. However, there is a significant tax rate when profits are above the $500,000 threshold.  In general, your tax rate is around 20 percent.  For example, your profit is $600,000. You need to pay a 20 percent tax on the $100,000 above the threshold. As a result,you owe $20,000 in taxes alone.  Time Constraints – You must pay capital gains only if you lived in the home for less than two years. For most homeowners, this time constraint is not applicable.  As long as you remain in a home as a primary residence, you can technically sell and buy a home every two years without paying capital gains.  For families trying to grow their family and wealth, this tax relief is a welcome sight. There is no limit to the amount of times you can buy or sell with no tax liability.  Special Circumstances – The government recognizes that there are extenuating circumstances that must be accounted for.  If you bought a house and were transferred to a different state by your employer within one year, for example, you are exempt from paying capital gains.  Other issues, including long-term government or private company duties, free you from paying taxes as well. Documented health problems, such as suffering from cancer, allow you to skip taxes if you must move before the two-year limit. If You Owe – It is best to contact a tax professional.  He can look over your personal situation to find out the tax cost.  In general, tax professionals take the sold price and reduce it with documented capital improvements and depreciation costs.  You can also deduct some of the closing costs to lower your tax liability.  However, high profits mean higher taxes overall.  Selling a home is much easier than it used to be. Go over your personal situation when considering selling prices. Receiving a conservative profit on your home is helpful when it comes to tax liability.

*I am a Realtor, not an accountant or attorney; this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace your consulting with a tax professional.

Household Problems You Can Solve

There are problems around the house that you should certainly call a professional to fix, such as a leaking roof, but here are some solutions to common problems that you can fix on your own:

Problem:  Countertop scuff

You will need a crayon, a spatula knife, and a microwave-safe bowl.  Pick the crayon whose color comes closest to matching your countertop.  Peel off the paper, place it in the bowl and place in the microwave.  Pour the hot, melted crayon onto the scuff mark and work it into the indentation with the spatula knife.  Scrape off the excess with the spatula knife.  The crayon mixture will harden and dry quickly, erasing the countertop flaw.

Problem:  Loose cabinet hinge

You will need wooden matches, wood glue and a hammer.  Remove the cabinet hinge screw.  Dab wood glue on a match and stick it into the screw holes.  Tap it in with the hammer.  Break off the match part that is sticking out.  Let the glue dry for about four hours.  Twist the screw back into place.  The match piece will create a new solid base for the screw.

Problem:  Squeaky floor

You will need talcum powder.  Sprinkle the powder over the squeaky section and sweep it into the cracks.

Problem:  Stained bathtub

You will need cream of tartar, baking soda, lemon juice and a soft cloth.  Combine equal amounts of cream of tartar and baking soda with enough lemon juice to make a paste.  Rub the mixture into the stain with your fingers or a soft cloth.  Let it sit for a half hour, then rinse well with water.

Problem:  Drywall hole

You will need wire screen, a pencil, a joint knife, masking tape, sandpaper and drywall compound.  Cut the wire screen two inches larger than the hole.  Tie one end of the string to the pencil and thread the other end through the middle of the screen; bend the screen, and insert it and the pencil into the hole.  Pull the string until the screen is flat against the hole ( the pencil will help push the screen flat against the drywall) and hold it taut while you apply the drywall compound.  Tape the string to the wall to hold the screen in place as the compound dries.  Cut the string when dry.   Sand and smooth the compound with the joint knife.

Problem:  Torn window screen

You will need clear nail polish.  Slather the nail polish over the hole in the screen, both inside and outside.  Let it dry and no more bugs will sneak in.  (This is my favorite!)

Secrets for Selling Your Home

Selling a house is a complicated process, no matter how good the real estate market is.  Whether you are a first-time seller or not, you will probably have a bunch of questions.  What is closing?  How much paperwork am I going to fill out?  How can I get the best price for my house?  How can I sell my house and buy a new one at the same time?

Secret #1: The kitchen comes first.  You are not actually selling your house; you are selling your kitchen-that is how important it is.  The benefits of remodeling your kitchen are endless and the best part of it is that you will probably get 85% of your money back.  It may be a few thousand dollars to replace counter-tops where a buyer may knock $10,000 off the asking price if your kitchen looks dated.  The fastest, most inexpensive kitchen updates include painting and new cabinet hardware.  Use neutral-colored paint so you can present buyers with a blank canvas where they can start envisioning their own style.  If you have a little money to spend, buy one fancy stainless steel appliance.  Why one?  Because when people see one high-end appliance, they think all the rest are expensive too and it updates the kitchen.

Secret#2: Take the home out of your house.  One of the most important things to do when selling your house is to de-personalize it.  The more personal belongings in your house, the less potential buyers can imagine themselves living there.  Get rid of at least a third of your things; put it in storage.  This includes family photos, memorabilia collections and personal keepsakes.  Consider hiring a home stager to maximize the full potential of your home.  Staging simply means arranging your furniture to best showcase the floor plan and maximize the use of space.

Secret #3: Audit your real estate professional’s online marketing.  92% of home buyers start their house hunt online, and they will never even get in the car to come see your home if the online listings are not compelling; compelling means pictures.  Listings with more than six pictures are twice as likely to be viewed by buyers as listing that had fewer than six photos.  Be sure to ask your agent to only include attractive pictures and this means no ugly pictures of the toilet with its seat up.

Secret#4: Renovate wisely.  The average remodeling payback in the past ten years has dropped from 82% in 2003 to 60.6% this year, according to Remodeling Magazine. Bringing up the rear are a dedicated home office and adding a sun room.  Topping the list are steel entry-door replacements followed by fiber-cement exterior siding.  Sellers routinely underestimate the positive impact of simple home improvements such as repainting and minor fix-ups.

Secret#5: Sweeten the deal.  Another way to make the home and deal more attractive to buyers is to offer things or terms that might sweeten the pot.  For example, sellers that offer the buyer a couple of thousand dollars credit toward closing costs, or a credit for the purchase of new flooring receive more attention from house hunters looking at similar homes.  In a down market buyers are looking for a deal, so do your best to make them feeling they are getting one.

Secret#6: Make all necessary repairs.  Even minor things, such as a leaky faucet or chipped paint on a baseboard, can suggest to buyers that you might not be maintaining the house well in other ways, too.

Secret#7: Focus on curb appeal.  First impressions matter.  A house with chipping paint, overgrown bushes and patchy grass will not make a good impression.  You may have to spend money to make the exterior of your house more appealing, but it is money well spent if it gets potential buyers in the door.  If your house is in good shape on the outside, buyers will see it as one less thing they have to spend money on once they move in.

 

Housekeeping Tips

Over the years of my career in real estate, I have learned some interesting housekeeping tips that you may not know about:

1.  Shower door cleaning: When I was in the process of getting my own home ready to market, I was trying to remove soap scum from my shower doors and failing at the task.  I gave up and called a tradesman to replace the doors.  The contractor told me how to clean them and I must share this information because it really works.  Spread shampoo (one without any conditioner in it) on the glass surface; rinse it off; and behold, it works like a charm!

2.  Cleaning sinks, tubs and toilets: There is a miracle product called “Bar Keepers Friend” that can be purchased at Home Depot, Lowes and other such stores.  All I can say is you will be amazed at how this product works.

3.  Maintaining hardwood floors: Usually, just dust mopping is adequate, but when the floors really need more help, I recommend using Murphy’s Oil Soap,  diluted as directed on the bottle.  Damp mop, but do not soak the floors.  Do not let the solution sit, but dry the floor immediately.  I get a towel and “skate” over the floor with it.

4.  Taking care of badly scuffed hardwood floors: One home I was helping an owner get ready for the market had hardwood flooring.  In one of the hallways the floor was really scuffed up.  The owner said he would probably have to re-do the floor, and expensive undertaking.  A quick, very inexpensive fix is to use Old English Scratch Cover, that comes in different shades.  I asked my client’s cleaning lady to try it; the floors looked like new; the home sold within a week.