Friday, February 12, 2016

Three Steps to a Quicker Home Sale

It’s common for sellers to put their home up for sale, and wait…and wait. And wonder why they’re not getting offers.  

Let’s assume that your home is in good shape and that it is clean and staged to appeal to most buyers.
Your Realtor has priced it competitively.
You’ve had showings. And you’re still waiting for a serious offer.
Maybe there’s more you can do. Maybe selling your home faster for a better price is as simple as making friends, or more accurately, nurturing friendships. Here’s what I mean.    
Befriend the Buyer
No one likes a friend who’s needy, demanding or deceptive.

You don’t have to become friends with every prospective buyer, but being friendly will go a long way towards building trust. Generally it’s unwise to meet the buyer, but you can still look like the good guy by being honest about your property in the MLS listing and when you respond genuinely and promptly to any questions or concerns they have.
Be honest in your staging techniques as well. Never hide serious problems behind furnishings or landscaping. This kind of trickery has been known to erode trust between seller and buyer, and often blow the entire deal out of the water.    
Another way to befriend the buyer is to make sure all the necessary paperwork is available and accurate. Buyers are impressed when a home seller has records of repairs and upgrades, user manuals and warranties for major appliances, and receipts from paid utilities and taxes. Not only does it build faith in the homeowner’s thoroughness, but it helps prospective buyers predict their actual costs.
As soon as buyers show interest in a home -- whether they read the specs online, hear about your place from their agent, or see the for sale sign when they drive by -- they form a mental image of you, the seller. You want that image to be favorable.
To that end, keep your home clean and repaired. Cleanliness matters. It makes people feel good. It helps them think clearly. It gives them confidence.     
Make it easy for them to tour the home, even on short notice. Everyone wants a friend who’s obliging.
Neighbors close by can help you sell your home, so don't keep them in the dark.
Be courteous. When you receive an offer, any offer, always counter with your own offer. A friend never rebuffs or ignores you.
You don’t want to reveal too much about yourself, especially anything that could encourage the buyer to chip away at your asking price or make a low ball offer. If you are getting a divorce, or have to move by a certain date, or are nearing foreclosure, that’s none of their business. 
Most people, in the absence of real information, will fill in the blanks with wishful thinking. They want to believe you are an good, hardworking, ordinary citizen wanting to sell your home to them at a fair price.     
Befriend the Realtor
Although selling a home is a little like running a small business, it’s also like cultivating a friendship. You can’t be inconsiderate and expect your Realtor to behave like a saint. Be polite when you talk. Be professional when you make decisions. Take her advice. Show appreciation for her assistance.    
I wrote about more ways to be the perfect client when I wrote about the reasons your home isn’t selling.
Befriend Anyone
The more people know that your property is for sale, the greater the chances that it will sell sooner rather than later.  You don’t have to plaster your neighborhood with posters (in fact, most Realtors don’t want you to circulate your own literature) or email everyone where you work, but you can still spread the word.
Your neighbors will know your home is on the market, but they may not have the details. You can help your agent (and yourself!) by keeping the brochure box out front stocked with clean, dry, printed handouts of your MLS listing.
Some sellers don’t want co-workers to know they are selling their home. If that’s you, examine your reasons for secrecy. If there are valid reasons to keep the matter under wraps, like a confidential transfer within the company, or a pending job offer that requires relocation, or that creepy guy in the mailroom who looks like a stalker, that’s one thing. But if you just don’t like the idea of the people you work with knowing how your house is priced, you could be sabotaging a potential sale.
Harness your social and business networks to let people know that your home is listed. You might even begin spreading the word prior to listing with a Realtor, but make sure you have made any upgrades or repairs you’ve planned. It’s also smart to declutter, clean, and start staging before you invite the neighbors over for a party where you’ll casually drop the fact that you’ll be selling soon. Most people would like to have someone they know and like move into their neighborhood. That means your neighbors can be part of your unofficial publicity committee.

The quicker your home sells, the better. There’s less stress, and less financial obligations like taxes, insurance and utilities. The longer your home is on the market, the more “stale” it looks to prospective buyers and agents alike. Following this three-step path to become a better seller will put you on the fast track to that incoming purchase offer.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

How to Choose Your Real Estate Agent

When I first started investing in real estate, I had no idea how to select a real estate agent. I counted on the advice on friends, and on which agent had the most listings, and even how I liked the way she sounded on the phone.

Although some of my approaches might have worked out okay, I know now that they were just as likely to connect me with an agent not suited to the task at hand. I was lucky in that I eventually found Realtors I loved working with. 

I want to pass along these ten danger signs that an agent isn’t the right fit for you. Once you understand the signals, you’re more likely to connect with an agent who will make your home selling process a smooth and profitable one. 

1. Prices your house wrong

The agent suggests a listing price that is much higher than what other agents suggest. You should be interviewing at least three agents. Too low and you could be leaving money on the table. Too high and the home will sit on the market. All agents have access to the same comps to determine fair market value for your home.

2. Lives elsewhere

The agent lives in another town. He probably doesn’t know your neighborhood as well as someone more local, and it may not be convenient for him to always show the property.

3. Sticky situation

The agent is a friend, relative, or friend of a friend. It’s always best to keep serious business transactions separate from your social or family life. Decisions should be based on facts and reason instead of emotional ties of loyalty or obligation. If you want to hire a friend or relative as your agent, make sure he doesn't wave any of the other flags listed here.  

4. Out of the loop

The agent is not familiar with online marketing. Any agent who does not have an online presence and is not comfortable with ordinary functions like emails, texting and virtual tours cannot compete with the tech-savvy buyers that saturate the market. Find someone who’s up-to-date. Having a working knowledge of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, FaceTime and Skype is a good sign.

5. Lousy photographer

The agent does not make an effort to take good photographs or arrange for a professional photographer. Without good photos, your home will sink to the bottom of the market because buyers usually begin their home search online looking at pictures.  An agent who is a poor photographer is often one that does not endorse home staging, and I guess you already know where I stand on that! 

The Realtor you choose should be able to provide you with both great
interior and exterior photos. Source: Architectural Digest.
6. Poor communicator

The agent is difficult to reach, won’t return phone calls, doesn’t answer all your questions, or won’t explain to you the marketing strategy she plans for selling your home. Communication is key to building a solid, trustworthy, and pleasant relationship. Ask how the agent prefers to communicate, whether texting, phone calls or emails to see if it fits your preference. 

7.  Bad match

The agent typically sells homes that are dramatically above or below how your home will be priced. Look at the listings of the agent and see if the buyers and sellers she usually works with are similar to you. While you’re looking at her listings, read them to determine if the properties are being marketed well. The listings should be inviting and informative.

8.  Wrong Age

The agent is either very young or very old. Younger agents may not have the experience and older ones may not be in touch with what young buyers expect in the way of speed and service. Age alone isn't any reason to skip over an agent because a new agent might be more motivated and an older one might have a long list of people ready to buy, but age should be part of your criteria.   

9. Hobbyist

The agent sells real estate as a part time job. You want a full time agent, dedicated to his job, who can be available when buyers and you need him, and has no conflict of interests. He should also dress and act professional.

10. No magic

The agent and you just don’t seem to have a “good fit.” This one is difficult to describe because it has to do with following your gut. Are you comfortable with the Realtor? Do you feel better or worse after a discussion with him? Does he share his expertise and contacts with you? Do you trust his negotiation skills? Do you feel he’s willing to go the extra mile to help sell your home? Your initial instincts are usually correct.


Once you decide to put your home on the market, ordering my home staging ebook and  hiring the right agent are the next important decisions you’ll make. The wrong agent will slow the sale of your home, fail to find the buyer you want, and make the selling process stressful and complicated. But the right one makes it look easy. So keep these tips in mind when you interview Realtors. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Seven Simple Ways to Upgrade Your Kitchen


A few quality details can elevate the look of any kitchen
Buyers will swoon over a state-of-the-art kitchen. And they will often walk away from a house where the kitchen isn’t what they hoped for.  

You don’t want to be trying to sell a home with a deal-breaker kitchen. But you don’t want to (cha-ching!) spring for a total kitchen remodel either.
The good news is that there are ways to make a less-than-perfect kitchen look lots better without spending lots of money. The secret is to put your dollars where they’ll do the most good.

1. Bright Lighting

Good illumination is important for a clean, modern look and it signals that your kitchen is a serious, functioning space. Get the maximum wattage you can into both your task lighting and your over-all lighting, and make sure your Realtor knows where the switches are.

Budget tip: A statement ceiling fixture, even an inexpensive knockoff or DIY project that started at Habitat, is a plus if your kitchen can accommodate it.  

2. A Fabulous Faucet

Here’s another place where an investment returns itself. An impressive faucet can make an old kitchen look much newer. It doesn’t need all the bells and whistles, but it should be big. Expect to spend between $150 and $300.
Budget tip: Do your homework, be patient, and scoop up one on sale.

A gleaming faucet like this one
will set you back about $100.
3. Newish Cabinets

When it comes to fix-up costs, most of us already know that paint gives you the most bang for your buck. If your cabinets cry out for a quality boost, paint them.

Leave the doors hanging. Clean them with TSP and sand them smooth. Brush around the hinges and roll the rest with a whizz.

Skip the cabinet interiors but add new white shelf liners. With the right paint and prep, even laminates can be painted.

Budget tip: Primer is cheaper than semi gloss paint. So, make your first coat a stain-blocking, quality primer, then sand lightly again, and top coat with a good semi-gloss acrylic. The primer will save you money and give you better coverage in the end.
4. Handsome Hardware

If you’ve had the same knobs and pulls in your kitchen for 20 years, maybe it’s time for a makeover. Hardware is part of the kitchen’s jewelry. Bring home one sample and see what it looks like before committing to a full count. Browse online to see what’s trending and perfect for your kitchen’s style. If the present ones are top quality, remove them, clean them and replace.

Budget tip: If you have visible hinges that don’t make a style statement, a good carpenter can install hidden hinges to create a sleeker appearance. The visible holes for old hinge screws will have to be patched, so replacing hinges works only if you’re painting your cabinets.  
Older cabinets were often custom built on site of solid wood. 
Updating quality workmanship isn't necessary. Photo: Southeby's.
5. Statement Countertops

Yes, countertops are a major investment, but buyers can be fussy about them.

Check what your competition has and try to match the quality in your own kitchen. If the standard is granite and you have old laminate, you could be losing serious buyers.

If the idea of spending money on new counters bothers you, consider the impact it will have on your home’s desirability, and factor into your decision what it costs each month to maintain your home while it’s on the market.

Get prices for granite, quartz, solid surface, concrete and even wood. Some countertop suppliers will throw in a complimentary sink to sweeten the deal.

Budget tip: Put a high end surface on just an island or just the sink area and call it “custom styling.”        

6. Matching Appliances
Although you might get away with unmatched counters, major kitchen appliances that match will give a lackluster kitchen some credibility. Stainless steel isn’t a requirement any longer now that many people are disenchanted with the upkeep.

So, depending on your market, functioning appliances that look new and match could be “good enough.”  

Budget tip: Some appliances can be painted with epoxy paints (refrigerators) or have a reversible front panel (dishwashers).

7. Gourmet Touches

These are less important than the other upgrades I’ve listed. But they will definitely earn you extra credit. If you own a big, bright KitchenAid mixer or a fancy espresso machine, don’t hide them away unless your kitchen is so tiny they would add visual clutter. Other touches might be a stocked wine rack (fill the emptied wine bottles with water and cork them), a beautiful cutting board, or a retro blender. 

Budget tip: Visit a restaurant supply house and buy some pots or other cooking essentials that have that popular commercial look. Even second-hand items look good because those things are built to last!   
Make Selling Your Home a Priority

If your kitchen is functional but leans too much towards builder grade or old fashioned, it could be preventing you from getting offers. These upgrades will add that touch of luxury buyers expect.

Sure, a fancy range hood, a trash compacter, custom tiled backsplash, wine chiller, roll out shelving and other wish-list perks would be nice, but unless they are already in place, adding them probably means you’re over-fixing. Just budget your costs so you meet or beat what homes in your price range are offering.
Of course, maintaining your home’s major systems –electrical, plumbing, roofing, flooring – is more important than cosmetic additions to the kitchen. I am going to assume that your home is already safe and sound. Having a home inspection done before listing your home is a wise move.

Although you may have to spend some cash to check off all items on this list, money spent on a minor remodel in a kitchen typically returns 80 to 100% -- a better return than money spent in other areas of the home. So, go ahead, gussy up that kitchen!
You can get more DIY tips for selling your home in my $4.99 eBooks.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Outdoor Decor in Five Easy Steps

A staged home depends on some seasonal touches to make it look loved and tended.

But when your home is for sale and the winter holidays approach, I know you have your hands full.

That’s why I wanted to share with you how easy it can be put together an outdoor arrangement that spans the seasons, one that greets Realtors and their clients with something festive. 

The secret’s in the formula.

It’s one you can apply to any floral arrangement when you want it to make a real statement at the front door or from the curb. 

Step One: Start Big

Start with a large container. And the perfect one is the jumbo pot that housed a display of your summer flowers. Retire those annuals and remove any bulbs you want to save for next spring.

Leave the potting soil in the container, and leave any perennials that will winter over. A pot with personality is ideal, like a wine half barrel, a brass spittoon, a faux-finished plastic pot, or a lined wicker basket. Put it where it will give you the most curb appeal all winter. 

Paint your container if it needs refreshing or if you want to change it with the seasons. The same container can be black or brown in the fall for example, then gold or red in December, and maybe white for a fresh start in January. 

Step Two: Build a Base

Lay on a couple of wreaths. This jump-start creates a base and adds importance to the arrangement. The wreaths could be real or artificial. Just lay them on the lip of the container or on the soil.

If you plan to locate the container on the porch or other protected area, you’ll have more leeway with what your wreaths are made from. Burlap, felt, fabric, or straw wreaths need shelter from the elements, but wreaths made from real or artificial greenery, tinsel, grapevines, twigs, plastic, or metal can handle any weather. 

I started the Christmas decoration with a tinsel wreath and a plastic Della Robbia wreath. 
I let the vinca vine that was still growing in the pot peek out from the center,
and I wired some pine cones onto the bottom wreath.
Step Three: Add Height

You need something tall to make your statement piece. It needn’t be weighty or fancy or expensive or rare. Branches are perfect. Professional decorators, florists and homestagers keep an arsenal of sticks, branches and poles to use this way.

If you have access to woodlands, take a hike and bring your pruners. You’re bound to find pretty limbs that are suitable au natural or spray painted. Craft stores and craft departments sell bamboo, willow, tall grasses, and twiggy stuff, all reasonably priced.

Insert your branches or sticks into the potting soil to anchor them firmly. If the branches are fresh and real, cut the stems at a sharp angle and poke them in so they can absorb moisture from the soil and stay fresh longer.

Your large items could also be a trellis, tuteur, obelisk or other garden construction. Even garden poles or a tomato cage inverted to make a pyramid can provide that structure your container garden needs. 
Here's a bird's eye view of the bamboo garden stakes inserted into the soil to make a teepee.
    
Step Four: Fill In

While taking that walk in the woods or when pruning your own landscape shrubs, look for greenery that can fill in the center of the display. If real greenery isn’t available, use the faux stuff. Yes, real and fake can co-mingle!

You can begin the season with a potted mum, switch to ornamental kale around Thanksgiving time, and add silk poinsettias for Christmas. If you live in a mild climate, you have more options for incorporating plants like succulents, ferns, pansies, and potted bulbs like amaryllis and paperwhites.  

The two kinds of greenery I wound around the
garden stakes were both artificial. Why not?  
Step Five: Find Details

Finish your work of art with some smaller items that define the season. Look through your props for those that will withstand some months outside. These will be the details that put your display over the top. You can change these as the season progresses.

Pumpkins, gourds and other autumnal objects give your container the right spin that will take you through Thanksgiving. After that you can replace them with red bows, glittery ornaments and whatever else you discover when you dig into your holiday decorations. Come January, just remove the obvious holiday trinkets and go for a fresh, wintery look built around pinecones, and greenery, or whatever might be blooming in the more southern states. Add an ornamental birdhouse or some ceramic animals for some whimsy.

Another detail that adds drama is lighting. You can tuck a spotlight into the arrangement, or place one where it will illuminate the area at dusk. A string of lights is another possibility, wrapped around the sticks, wound around the container, or nestled in the foliage.

Mixing in details like these snowflakes and this ceramic bird will give 
your holiday decorations a custom look instead of something off-the-shelf.
Additional Tips

Many sticks are free!  After I gave these crepe myrtle branches 
a coat of red paint they remind me of underwater coral formations.  
When working on your container, place it on a bench or low table. You’ll do less bending and have a better view of what you’re creating.

If you’re selling your home and you’ve already decluttered as part of your homestaging, I don’t want to encourage you to stockpile decorating items.

But if you are a professional stager, a builder or real estate investor, I encourage you to schedule your décor purchases to save money. Buy decorating supplies on sale after the holidays. And look for marked down décor props during the year at places like Michaels, Target, Walmart, TJMaxx, Hobby Lobby, and home improvement centers.      

You can always spray paint ordinary decorations like wreaths, branches, leaves, pumpkins, lanterns, ornaments, bows, and even silk plants to match the season. Why not utilize silver gourds, red birdhouses and glitter-encrusted branches at Christmas, the same items that were part of your autumn arrangement?

Bows make a big difference. If you plan it right, just changing the bow to match the season and replacing a real plant with a faux plant will fast-track you to the new season.

Remember that selling your home means selling your location. Remind prospective buyers of what’s appealing about your locale. Include seashells and driftwood in your arrangement if you live by the sea, tropical flowers if you live in the South, or skis and sleds if you live where it snows.
If your effort doesn't look attention-getting enough, elevate it.
Place your container on something stable like this plant stand,
or a stool or pedestal. You'll be surprised at the impact added height makes.  

Here is the same container as my Christmas display,
now holding an autumn arrangement.  

The fall display began with a painted grapevine wreath
and a foam wreath loosely wrapped with burlap.

The sticks providing height are willow branches from Walmart. 
The cost of about $6.50 was worth it because they're versatile props.


The pumpkin centerpiece could have just as easily been a potted mum,
cluster of gourds, or a scarecrow. I don't like scary things for homestaging.

About as scary as my homestaging gets is a scared cat. The silk flowers,
another pumpkin and a gourd are all that's needed for this easy display.

Selling a home is stressful, but you can simplify some of your homestaging tasks by following advice like this and other tips in my homestaging $4.99 ebooks http://diyhomestagingtips.blogspot.com/p/ebooks.html  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Seven Ways to Turn Off Buyers

You don't have to break the bank to make buyers love your home.
Home buyers are a picky lot.

Most of them have long wish lists, strong opinions, high expectations, and tight budgets.

Let’s just say that it’s easy for them to name deal breakers and find ways to whittle away your asking price.

Your job is to remove the hurdles to a purchase offer and a good selling price.

If you’re unsure what hurdles your home might present, scan this list of the seven big ones – the obstacles that most buyers can’t ignore, along with my suggestions for the best fixes.

1.Outdated Kitchen

Your kitchen doesn’t necessarily need all top-of-the-line stainless appliances, tile flooring, brand new cabinets, and granite counters. But it can’t have a microwave from the last century mounted over your stove, butcher block laminated counters, a carpeted floor, and no dishwasher, if you want your home to sell quickly for a price you like.

Real estate experts agree that remodeling your own home just so you can sell it doesn’t make economic sense. Making it bright and contemporary does make sense.

Here are some fixes to consider if your kitchen needs a facelift. Paint dark cabinets white. Replace obsolete appliances with new ones without changing the plumbing or floor plan. Add inexpensive but stylish cabinet hardware. Make sure the kitchen looks as roomy and functional as possible.

Remember, too, that “clean sells,” especially in kitchens.

2. Outdated Bathrooms

Cleanliness is even more important in bathrooms. Do your baths have crusty old faucets, dated light fixtures, wall mirrors with bad edges, wallpapered walls, and a pink Formica counter over a particle board vanity?

You might be thinking, "The buyers can replace all this with what they like." Yes, they can, but they will ask for a discount or give you a very low offer. Any price discount they ask for will be based on their own high estimate, higher than what you could get by shopping around for the best deal. 

Bath and kitchen remodels are not cheap, so any way you can update on a shoestring without sacrificing quality, you’re on track. The smaller the space (I'm looking at you, powder rooms), the more realistic it is to update it economically.

New faucets, shower curtains, towels, light fixtures, mirrors -- they all have big impact for the money spent. Depending on your home's price and the local market, it may pay to install a new vanity, sink, and countertop, or new flooring. Keep the plumbing where it is, and pay attention to current trends.

Any bath can look more modern when you choose classic accessories. Restoration Hardware.
  
3. Dark rooms

Rooms appear dark because there's not enough natural or artificial lighting, or perhaps because there are too many dark surfaces in the room. 

So, you'll be smart to replace any lighting fixtures that don't illuminate enough. Then, install the highest wattage bulbs recommended. Add additional lights and lamps or add sun tunnels to dark rooms. 

Welcome sunlight by staging with window treatments that don't obstruct light. Wash windows inside and out. Trim trees outside that create shade around windows. Choose wall paint colors that reflect light. Finally, remove, repaint or re-cover dark furnishings. 

4. Offensive Smells

When your potential buyer gets a whiff of anything unpleasant, it could signal a “thumbs down” to your property. Scents hold power. They create strong emotional responses, for good or not-so-good.

Here's some suggestions that might help. Discover the source of bad aromas and solve that problem. Make sure the filters on your HVAC system are clean. Deal with the cat box regularly. Fix leaks under sinks that make cabinets smell moldy. Limit smoking to outside. Take garbage and soiled diapers outside daily. Use natural fragrances to telegraph that your home is fresh and desirable.

It's easy to make your own diffusers using essential oils to scent your home. 
5. Dirt.


Nothing is more offensive to more buyers than a grimy house. In fact, many small defects can be overlooked when a home is spotless. Cleaning is also the most economical step you can take to prepping your home for sale.

A home on the market can't be too clean because you will be competing with properties that sparkle. A once-over isn’t good enough. A deep cleaning and detailing are what’s called for. After that's done, it’s a matter of maintenance. You might even learn to love living in your staged home. 

6. Walls That Need Work


Interior walls take up lots of visual space. They’re the first thing to meet buyers’ eyes when they enter a room.


Most people want a home to be move-in ready, and when they see things like wallpaper, unusual or bright paint colors, wall stencils, stripes, murals, or faux finishes, what they see is work for them.
I give you tips on doing a good paint job here, here. and here.

If any of these wall treatments sound like your home, there are DIY remedies. Removing wallpaper can be an uncomplicated project. You should then patch and paint your walls a color anyone can like.

If painting is beyond your skillset, and you decide to hire a painter, ask what you can do to prepare the rooms to make the job easier (saving you money). Sometimes, just emptying a room, or clustering the furniture and offering to replace outlet covers after paint is dry can save you some cash. 
  
7. Poor Floor Plan

Real estate appraisers use the term “functional obsolescence” to describe certain undesirable situations.

Examples are a bedroom that can be accessed only by walking through another bedroom, a bathroom that's the first thing people see when they walk in the front door, a bedroom that’s too small to accommodate anything but a bed, or a door that swings into (rather than out of) a small room like a bathroom or closet.  

What you can do: If the floor plan is bad, you can often minimize or fix it with corrective furniture arrangement. If you can't easily fix the problem, you may choose to get a price quote from an experienced builder to determine what it would take to make it right, since deficiencies like these will reduce the appraised price of your home.

You can stage rooms to distract from what can be considered problem areas like dormer rooms and windowless or closet-less rooms. You should return rooms to their original use. In other words, stage your bedrooms as bedrooms, not an exercise rooms or a home office. Stage your dining room as an eating and entertaining area, not homework central. You can read more about how to fix awkward floor plans in my $4.99 furniture arrangement eBook.

If your home has been on the market and you’re not getting offers (of course it’s staged, right?), or if you are just now prepping your home for the real estate market, I hope you’ll be able to use this list of the seven things that bothers buyers the most, and use it to better understand your home’s cash value.

Make it easy for buyers to love your home. You’ll get a better price for it, and in less time. 


Top Photo: Better Homes and Gardens 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

12 Ways to Stretch Your Floral Dollar

Becky is one of my best friends. She lives in San Francisco.

For as long as I have known her, she spends an hour every Saturday at the wholesale flower mart. 

It's her special treat to herself.

She has a very modest budget yet returns with bunches of colorful and fragrant flowers that she uses to create arrangements for her own apartment. Every room gets flowers!

There’s nothing quite like what fresh flowers can do for a room. Most home stagers depend on faux plants and flowers for the sake of convenience and economy. But it’s summer now. 
 
In summertime, many homeowners have flower beds or gardening friends with abundant blooms, so adding real flowers to your interiors might be easy and economical. 
 
In addition, at this time of year supermarkets and florists are more likely to have locally grown flowers that are priced lower than ones flown in from places like Holland, South America or Hawaii.

So let’s take advantage of summer’s offerings, and delight the people touring your home with a vase or two of natural floral arrangements.

You can spend less than $5 for a bouquet at your grocer’s and make it last two weeks or more if you know how. Just follow these dozen tips I’ve learned from Becky, from trained florists I know, and from what I’ve experienced and studied.

Even a simple arrangement of fresh flowers breaths life into a room, any room. Photo: Decorare
Handle with care. Keep your store-bought flowers cool and treat them gently. 
Carry them upside down to protect their stems. Photo: Gardenista.

Life Extension for Cut Flowers

1. Buy flowers when they have just arrived at the retailer (or wholesaler if you are lucky to live in a place like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, or Seattle). Examine the flowers, stems and leaves carefully and don’t buy anything that looks even a little limp, faded or browned.

2. Buy flowers that were grown locally instead of flowers that have been transported from other states and countries. They will cost less, last longer, and be environmentally friendlier.
.
3. Buy from a florist or floral department with a high turnover to get fresher flowers. If you usually purchase from the same source, ask when deliveries come in.

At week's end I stripped the leaves from the
alstromeria  pictured above (combined with calla lily
leaves and achillea from my garden). After I shortened the stems 
I had a new arrangement that lasted another week.
4. When you bring the flowers home, diagonally cut an inch off the stems and place in cool water.

5. When you arrange your flowers, first wash your vase well with hot soapy water to be sure it is very clean. Rinse it well to remove any residual soap.

6. Then use clean water in the vase, and change the water every day. Research and most pros tell you that a change of water does more to prolong floral life than packaged preservatives or homemade remedies using things like aspirin, soda, vinegar, bleach or pennies.

7. Make sure no leaves are below the surface of the water.

8. Cut a little bit off the stem end when you change the water daily.

9. Choose flowers that last a long time, like carnations, alstromerias, fressias, gladiolas, gerberas, Oriental and Asiatic lilies, daisies, lisianthus, roses (purchased as buds), birds-of-paradise, and mums.

10. Place the vase where it will be away from heat vents, direct sunlight, or other hot spots.

11. Revamp the arrangement at week’s end, downsizing to a smaller arrangement.
Nowhere is it written that you cannot mix real flowers with faux flowers! 
I gave these three stems of pink roses that
cost $4 a boost from some dollar store fakes.
12. Enlarge or extend the lifespan of your purchased bouquet with flowers or greenery from your own gardens and landscape. You can even mix silk flowers with fresh flowers (a technique I learned from seeing giant floral displays in a hotel lobby.)

Try these methods and I think you’ll discover how much mileage you can get from a well-chosen bouquet. You’ll be able to add a fresh vibe to your staged rooms without breaking the bank. Thanks, Becky!

If you order any of my info-packed $4.99 eBooks you'll learn other fashionable and thrifty ways to stage a home. They're indispensable whether you are staging your own home, or if you are studying to become a professional home stager.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Help Your Home Sell Itself When You Take a Vacation

Your home can look inviting even when you're not there.
But you might be attracting trouble, as well as buyers.  
When your home is for sale and you want to take a vacation, you’re faced with two kinds of challenges.

The house needs to be secure but not look like a fortress.And it needs to stay tidy even though no one is home maintaining it.    

A gal I know – we’ll call her Janelle -- staged her own home and it looked beautiful. Then she took a week off to cruise the Caribbean.

When she returned she was surprised to find that while she was gone neighborhood kids had been sneaking into her home at night to party. A watchful neighbor noticed the activity and called local police, who insisted that she press charges for breaking and entering.  

It’s the kind of thing that can happen to anyone who is away from home for more than a couple days.

You deserve a getaway, so here are the simple things you can do to protect your home, not worry about it, and help it maintain that fluffed up look.

Before You Leave 

Keeping your home safe from troublemakers should be a primary concern. Some of these tips are obvious, but are still worth repeating.

Look occupied. Stop the mail. Choose between having a neighbor save it for you, or notifying the postal service to hold it. 

Go bright. Put timers on lights. I’m a big fan of timers. I use two kinds. For random lights like lamps in the entryway or bathrooms, I like the ones that go on and off at irregular intervals. For predictable lights, like lamps in a family room or bedroom, I use the ones that you program to come on at believable times, from dusk until 10 or 11p.m. 

If you use a weekly timer, you can vary the times from day to day for a more convincing illusion. An analog radio set to come on for an hour in the middle of the night can deter a troublemaker, too. Of course, if you have a security system that is programmed to tinker with your lights, all the better.
Some valuables are safer hiding in plain sight. Devices
like this container are called "diversion safes."
You can buy or make them. Photo: Diversion Safes.  

Hide valuables. Thieves, should they find a way to get inside, know where people customarily store things of worth.

The first place they look for small valuables is the master closet. So, think outside the box, and consider places like your cleaning closet or laundry room, using containers that look ordinary and generic.

Hide prescription medicines, jewelry, cash, debit and credit cards, flash drives, and personal information like bank records, school notices, billing statements, and tax returns.

For thirteen different DIY ideas on where to hide articles in your home, visit diyncrafts blog.
Stay low. Don’t announce or post about your trip on social media until you are back home. Remember that the more people know about your absence, the greater the likelihood of a break-in.

Maintain appearances. Make sure the exterior of your home doesn’t look neglected. Hire a lawn service (or neighborhood youngster) to mow the lawn, sweep the steps or driveway, service the pool, or do whatever else will give the appearance that your place is occupied. Someone should pick up deliveries at your door or circulars stuck in mailbox. Encourage neighbors to use your driveway or parking space while you’re gone.

A Home Alone Needs Attention

An untended home can become a problem on its own. A water heater malfunctions.  A tree branch falls on the roof. A screen door blows open. A pipe bursts.

Many communities offer police drive-bys for people away from home. Check with your local law enforcement agency, homeowners association, or neighborhood watch group to see what is available. If anything is amiss they should have a contact number for you.

Stay safe. Unplug unnecessary electric appliances, except the ones you put on timers. This could protect your home from an electrical fire or power surge. Pull the plug in the big stuff, like TVs, but also for your toaster, your coffee maker, and other small appliances. Unplug any electric fragrance diffusers, too (another argument for homemade natural fragrances using essential oils).
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, opening
window treatments will give your home more
light and a more convincing occupied appearance. 

Grant access. Give your house or condo key to a neighbor or friend. Hopefully, this is the person who will water any houseplants and check to be sure things are as they should be.

Comfort counts. Remember that people can be touring your home with an eye to buying it. Set your temperature where it will be comfortable but not waste energy.

Open curtains. Leave your window treatments open. People on vacation will often pull all draperies closed, but from the outside this isn’t the look of an occupied home. And from the inside, your home looks darker to prospective buyers.  Yes, people can look in, but you’ll have already hidden or removed things of value. 

Tell some people. Make sure your real estate agent knows you’ll be away from home. Depending on the nature of your relationship and the length of time you’re away, your agent may be the person you ask to do periodic checks of the home to be sure it’s up to snuff. People touring your home should not be told that you are absent.

Find a caretaker. Consider having a housesitter live in your home while you vacation. This plan is especially helpful if you have pets that don’t like kennel boarding or staying with friends. A housesitter can maintain the perfect staged but lived-in appearance if you choose the right one  Here are tips on finding a housesitter

Schedule check-ups. People on home tours sometimes sit on beds, leave closet doors open, turn on lights, and even use toilets. It should be the job of your listing agent, housesitter, or friend to periodically walk through and make sure nothing has been messed up or is malfunctioning.   

Stay connected. Although it’s nice to go totally offline when vacationing, you’ll need to be reachable when your home is listed. Questions could arise that only you can answer or problems pop up that only you can solve. When you are staged to sell, that sweet purchase offer might be emailed to you while you are relaxing on the beach!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Q & A about Furniture, RE Agents, and Who Stages


Painting old furniture is one way to bring a home up to date.
Q: My husband wants to list our house with an old college buddy of his who is a real estate agent. I think there are other real estate agents who are more experienced.  Also, I don’t like to mix friendship with business. Any advice?

A: I’m in agreement with you. Unless there are other reasons you would choose this agent above all others, I’d use all the persuasion you can to convince your husband to choose a real estate agent based on some of the conditions and qualities I’ve blogged about in the linked post.

If your husband is convinced his friend is The One, I’d still interview the guy – in an informal way – to give him the message that business is business, to express your expectations, and to ask questions about how he plans to market your home.

Q: We are moving out of our home before it sells and I will be staging it with furniture we can live without temporarily in our new home. We have a baby grand piano that I could have moved now or later. Do you think a piano is a good piece of furniture for staging, or is it too specialized and personal?

A: A piano sounds like a terrific item for staging, especially if it is as attractive as a baby grand. Since you’re moving some of your furniture, I assume there’s space for it. If a piano were old and beat up, or if it crowded the rest of the room, I would have second thoughts about staging with it. Good luck with your move!
A big room especially calls for big furniture. Like a piano! Photo by Jolin Collins.

Q: Most of my furniture is old. Not antique old, just inherited pieces that are middle-of-the-road quality. Some match and some don’t. Do you have ideas for making my home look more (how else can I say this?) expensive?

A: It’s a common situation. Here’s what I suggest.

Separate any matching sets of furniture. If you have pairs of matching nightstands or end tables or chairs, use the pairs in the same room, but break up anything like a 5-piece bedroom set.

Can some of your older pieces be painted to give them a more casual look? People used to live more formally, but today, people’s homes reflect a more fun approach to decorating, so painted pieces don’t carry the stigma they once did.

Third, I would find some noticeably contemporary accessories, like a sleek new lighting fixture, a Lucite tray, pillows showing off a trendy design, an abstract painting, or a fashionably padded headboard. These touches add a fresh, new feeling to the décor.

Finally, I would make sure that any nonessentials that look old-fashioned be kept out of sight. If your home is historic or a traditional Craftsman style or mid century modern ranch, and can support some retro touches, that’s one thing. But otherwise, old window treatments, obsolete electronics and dated small appliances make a home look stuck in time, or the property of people who don’t have money to spend on their home. People want to buy a pampered house.

What not to do: create a bedroom that looks like a furniture store ad. Boring!
Q: Where I live, people don’t stage their homes when it’s time to sell. It seems to be a practice more for cities and suburbs, not rural areas like where we are. Now that we’re getting ready to sell, I wanted to ask your opinion on staging my house. Won’t I look silly?

A: Let’s clarify one thing. A well-staged home does not look like it’s been fussed with. It looks like the home of people who are clean, organized, and financially comfortable.

I say, go ahead and stage your home to make it more attractive than the other homes that are for sale in your area. Make any repairs, clean and declutter everything, create a feeling of spaciousness, and you’re golden.

My opinion is that every home is staged, whether it’s intentional or not, on the market or not.

You'll find more answers to staging questions in my three $4.99 eBooks on DIY Home Staging, No-Sew Window Treatments, and Furniture Arranging.

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