Getting Ready to Sell: Cabinets

There is no doubt that most buyers are willing to pay more for a home that is move-in ready and updated.  Property flippers know this, and that’s why they make a large profit by doing the work!

If you are thinking about putting your home on the market in the near future, you can take some steps now to improve your resale value by completing some relatively low-cost updates.

Do you have builder grade oak kitchen or bathroom cabinets? No need to replace them, just paint them.  Look at what a difference it can make:

BEFORE - kitchen cabsAFTER - kitchen cabs

The issue with oak cabinets is that they have a wood grain that will still show through the paint.  So, if you plan to sell in the middle-to-upper brackets for your area, you should consider making a little more effort to “erase” the wood grain.

One option is to use a product like Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations.  The paint is thicker and will disguise the grain more than regular paint.  The kit comes in a variety of different colors, and costs around $75 for up to 40 linear feet.

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The better, albeit more expensive, option is to order replacement cabinet doors.  There are many online providers of replacement doors, costing upwards of $12 per door.  Remember to select paint-grade doors.

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With both of these options, I recommend updating the hardware (knobs, pulls and hinges) to something like brushed nickel.

Right now, there is a huge trend for white painted cabinets.  It goes with most wall paint colors and countertop materials.  Remember, you are updating your home to appeal to the largest pool of buyers, so even if white isn’t your thing, you won’t have to live with it for very long! If you need inspiration, go to http://www.Houzz.com and search “All Time Popular” kitchen photos to see what people want.

 

 

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Is A Discount Brokerage Right For You?

Would you use a discount tattoo artist?

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Looks just like the picture, right?

 

 

How about a discount dentist?

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This won’t hurt a bit!

 

 

Probably not!  Then why would you put one of the largest financial investments of your life into the hands of a discount Realtor?

 

Real estate fees are expensive, so it’s tempting to try to save money where you can.  But what are you giving up in order to get that discount?  Before jumping on the discount brokerage bandwagon, consider these things:

1.  Why would a productive and experienced agent willingly accept less commission?  Perhaps to gain volume.  The more they sell, the more money they will make.  But if an agent has many homes to juggle, what level of personal attention will they be capable of providing to you?  Will they return your emails and calls promptly?  How will they keep track of each detail of your transaction, while also keeping many other transactions straight?  One solution would be to delegate each step of your process to a different junior agent or assistant.  You might have one person running your showings, one to write and negotiate the contract, another one coordinating the home inspection, and yet another one to process your closing.  The transition from one person to the next may feel a little choppy. How well does each department communicate with each other?

For some, it’s better to have one agent from start to finish so that they understand and address your needs, while keeping the process smooth.

 

2. How experienced is the agent?  Another reason why an agent may discount their fees is to gain clients when they are new.  How comfortable are you trusting a transaction of hundreds of thousands of dollars to someone who may not know the market or how to handle certain situations?  Maybe they haven’t developed relationships with other agents or strategic partners, like good lenders, home inspectors, and lawyers.  Who would you rather have in your corner when issues arise, someone new or someone who has been there and gotten their clients through it?

Experienced agents will often save you money in the long run and help you to avoid making costly mistakes.

 

3. What services are provided?  Some discount brokerages have a flat listing fee, but will charge for additional services.  This option is great if you are an experienced real estate flipper or builder and only need an agent to put your listing in the local MLS.  However, if you don’t deal with real estate transactions on a regular basis, chances are that you’re going to need help.

Home sellers:

What are the price trends for your area? How will your home be marketed?  Will you have professional photographs, if any? What websites will your home be featured on? Will you have open houses?  How will you handle showings?  Do you have to be there to let people in?  What if a buyer doesn’t have an agent? Will the agent follow up with the people who have seen it?  When you get an offer, will the agent call everyone to see if there are any additional offers coming?  Are you willing to deal with another agent directly during negotiations?  Will the agent calculate your closing costs and net before accepting an offer?  Will your agent provide you with the necessary materials you are legally required to give to the buyer?  Will your agent advise you during your home inspection?  What if the buyer misses their deadline to respond to the home inspection? Will the agent meet the appraiser at your home to give them the comparables and inform of all your improvements? What happens if an appraisal comes in lower than the contract price, will the agent provide you with assistance? What if a buyer wants to switch loans? What if a buyer doesn’t remove their financing contingency? What if a buyer wants to void the contract? Who will coordinate everything to make sure everything is done properly prior to settlement? Who will provide copies of the contract to the various people who will need it? What if the buyer finds an issue during the final walk-through? Will your agent attend settlement and deal with any last-minute issues?

Home buyers:

Who will find and show homes to you?  Do you know what to expect during each step of the buying process?  Do you have a reputable lender who will get your loan closed on time?  Are you familiar with different loan programs?  Will your agent alert you to possible issues with a home? Will your agent advise you how much to offer, warn you of the risk and opportunities to void the contract? Will your agent attend your home inspection? Will they negotiate with the seller about home inspection repairs? Will they advise you what to do if the home doesn’t appraise? Will you know if you’ve been given all of the materials the seller is legally required to give you?  Will your agent track your deadlines and coordinate with the seller, lender, appraiser, attorney, inspectors, contractors? Will the agent attend the final walk-through and settlement?  What happens if an issue pops up at the last minute?

 

4. Do they have your best interest at heart?  Some discount brokers will list your home either too high in order to get your business and take a listing fee (or keep tacking on those a la carte marketing options), or price too low so that it is a quick sale and they can move on.

A full service agent should take time with you and consider your best interests when negotiating on your behalf.  They know that if they do a good job for you, you’ll use them again and refer them to friends and family.

 

5. What is the quality of their marketing plan?  Not all real estate agents are the same, nor do they spend the same on your marketing.  Will your realtor hire a professional photographer to show off your home in it’s best light, or will they take amateur pictures themselves (or none at all)?  Will they spend money sending postcards to target move-up neighborhoods to announce your listing?  Will your realtor provide a professional quality fact sheet, or just print the MLS listing on copy paper?  Will your realtor spend money to send flyers or advertisements to multiple local brokerages, or host a catered open house to introduce your listing to as many agents as possible?  Are they using the latest technology to advertise your property?  Do they bring in professional stagers or virtually stage your home so that your home will be as attractive as possible to potential buyers?  Are they utilizing social media advertisements to help catapult your listing’s visibility?

I spend more on marketing than most other agents, and my sellers tend to get the highest price in their neighborhood.

 

6.  Do they have resources?  Can a discount realtor help you find the right professional to help prepare your home for market?  Often, experienced, full-service agents know the best contractors who can do the job quickly and save you both time and money.  Would a discount agent run to meet a contractor when you are not able to be there yourself?  If there is a home inspection issue, an experienced, full-service agent probably knows radon, asbestos, plumbing, electrical , HVAC, and other specialists who can give a second opinion when buyers come in with guns blazing.

Full service agents should also know a large network of other agents, within and outside of their own office.  They can help spread the word of your upcoming listing before it even hits the market, and can line up a buyer before you even hits the market.

 

7. Are they local?  Does the agent live nearby?  Do they know the local amenities and school systems that will help buyers see how desirable your home is?  Can they swing by to check on your property when you are not there?  Can they easily show your home to unrepresented buyers who cannot come to an open house?  Are they familiar with local forms and practices?  Real estate differs from state-to-state, even from county-to-county.  An agent who does not know the local customs or is familiar with the differences in the legal contract or disclosures can end up delaying settlement, or worse.  Select an agent who is familiar with your area.

 

I can think of a few more reasons why having a full service agent is better (in most cases) than going with a discount broker, but the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ rings true.  Having a good, reliable agent to care for you from preparing your home for sale to settlement day, will save you time, money, and reduce your stress.

2015 Cost vs Value Report

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Realtors and most HGTV watchers know that updated kitchens and baths sell homes.  But what about other projects?  If you have some money to reinvest back into your home, and are considering which projects will give you the most bang for your buck, take a look at Remodeling magazine’s annual Cost Vs Value Report 2015 report for the Washington DC area.  They compare the average cost for 35 of the most popular remodeling projects with the value that those projects retain at the time of resale.

In the DC Metropolitan area, some of the top performers are:

Replacing your front door with a steel door (113.1% return on investment)

Adding or replacing a wood deck (95.7% return on investment)

Adding a stone veneer accent (95.4% return on investment)

Replacing garage doors (91.4% return on investment)

The magazine seems to indicate that you may not recoup every penny you put into your project, but as a Realtor and former property flipper, we will tell you that you CAN earn back your investment — even profit–from certain repairs.  The trick is to know which items to improve, and to what extent.  Not sure what those are?  Invite a us into your home to get our advice.  Or ask us in the comments section and we’ll give you our opinion!

Median Cost of Rent for a 1-Bedroom in DC

We wanted to share DCist’s article about the high cost of rent in the DC area.  Wouldn’t you rather have that hard-earned money go towards owning a home?  We can help with that!

DCist:

“In the spectrum of cliche D.C.-centric articles, one about how expensive the rent is in a given neighborhood is perhaps the most cliche. And yet, here we are. So without further adieu, here’s a map that looks at the median rent for a one bedroom apartment in each neighborhood* of D.C.

This map comes via Zumper.com, a home and apartment rental search site. According to their research, the city-wide median rent for a one bedroom apartment is $2,000, making it the fourth-most expensive market in the nation in the month of February [Insert “Rent is Too Damn High! joke here]

But Zumper’s research also confirms what another report revealed last month: the rent is actually declining. In the last month, one-bedrooms declined by 0.5 percent in February and by 2.4 percent in the quarter. And it’s not just with one-bedroom apartments. All kinds of rentals in D.C. are declining, by 0.6 percent last month and by 2.7 percent in the last quarter.

*Note: this map, omits neighborhoods East of the Anacostia river. Devin O’Brien, the blog post’s author, tells DCist the omission was “nothing deliberate,” but was the first time one of Zumper’s designers put together a D.C. map, “so they drew the boundary at the river.” O’Brien adds that the data for rental prices East of the Anacostia River can be found on the site here. “

The Treatment: Basic Staging

When putting your home on the market, the idea is to de-personalize your space and make it appeal to a majority of buyers.  Choosing a neutral palate will allow buyers to see the potential of your space, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be boring.  Often, a seller will ask me to give them specific recommendations, and they want to do it on a budget.  Here is what I call “the treatment”, a basic starter kit to staging your home to sell.  I’ve tried to make it so that the pieces are things you can use again in your next home.

1.  PAINT.  A gallon of paint will run you $30-40 and covers up to 350 sq. ft..  This makes it one of the cheapest and most effective things you can do to make a big impact.  Buyers might not consciously notice the paint (and they shouldn’t), but they get that subliminal “new car smell” feeling when they walk in.  However, you must take the time to prep your room the right way, because a sloppy paint job is a surefire way to turn buyers off.  They see a bad paint job and 1) automatically conclude that they will have to spend time/money to repaint it the right way, and 2) wonder what other improvements were done improperly.  When buyers see things that they will need to fix, they start deducting dollars from their offer, and often, they inflate the amount that it will actually cost.  So do yourself a favor, do it for them first and do a good job.   I highly recommend hiring a professional painting company, as it will save you time (and time is money)!

As for specific paint colors, here is a link to 12 no-fail paint colors.

Benjamin Moore’s Manchester Tan (HC-81) is a great beige, and goes well with most decor.

Photo courtesy of Houzz.com: Liz Levin Interiors

Manchester Tan by Benjamin Moore.  Photo courtesy of Houzz.com: Liz Levin Interiors

Benjamin Moore’s Revere Pewter (HC-172) is a warm gray (it has beige undertones), and is all the rage these days with the 20-40 year old set.

Photo courtesy Houzz.com:  Beyond Beige Interior Design Inc.

Revere Pewter by Benjamin Moore.  Photo courtesy Houzz.com: Beyond Beige Interior Design Inc.

2.  WINDOWS.  Light sells, so maximize your window power!  Of course, make sure the glass is clean (both inside and out), and consider removing the screens if you have a room that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight.  If you have valences,  throw them away!  It makes your window and ceiling seem small.  When positioning your curtain rod, go high and wide!  Hang the rod about 4-6″  above the window frame (or halfway between the frame and the ceiling molding) to trick the eye into thinking you have more ceiling height.  Hang your curtains 3-6″ inches past the frame on each side to make them appear wider.  I love white curtains; they go with everything and make the room appear brighter.  Ikea’s Merete curtains are $27.99 for a pair, and are long (just make sure to use the no-sew, iron-on hemming tape that comes with it to adjust the length) or Target’s Grayson Grommet curtains $35-45 for the pair (depending on length).

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Ikea Merete curtains

Target Grayson curtains

Target Grayson curtains

3.  BEDROOM.  The issue I see most often is that the bedroom furniture is too large in scale for the size of the room.  Show buyers that you have plenty of space by relocating non-essential pieces of furniture to another part of the home.  If the culprit is your bed, remove the headboard/footboard and leave the mattress on the simple frame.  Then make your bed with neutral, crisp linens.  If you don’t have a headboard, embrace the throw pillow to give your bed some presence.  Generally, anything with the word “hotel” in it is usually a good bet.  When in doubt, opt for white.  Just make sure that any duvets or down comforters have a duvet cover.

Target Hotel 8 Piece Bedding Set in Silver $65-85.

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Anything from Target’s Fieldcrest Bedding line

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Fieldcrest

Anything from Macy’s Hotel Collection

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Macy’s Hotel Collection bedding

Avoid these types of bedspreads, as they are very difficult to keep straight and can look sloppy.

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Avoid this type of bedspread

A nice touch to add to bedrooms is a vase of fresh flowers on the nightstand for a feeling of luxury, and if you have the space, a bench at the end of the bed.

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Target Threshold Extra Long X Bench

4. BATHROOMS.   Bathrooms can make a big impact with a few minor updates.  The idea is to transform it into a spa-like retreat.  Paint it a neutral color.  Throw away furry toilet seat covers and U-shaped floor mats. Stack some white, fluffy towels on the edge of your tub, or hang on the towel bar.

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Stage your bathroom by stacking some towels on your tub

Place a candle on the counter.  Here are some other areas to address:

Vanity – If you have a wooden vanity in good condition but it looks a little dull, rub some Murphy’s Wood Oil on it to try to bring back the luster. If your vanity is looking more worn, consider undertaking a small DIY project that will definitely get you the return on investment.  Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations kits are sold at Home Depot for around $75 and require no stripping, no standing, and no priming.  I think that both white and espresso are modern and look good with most counters.

Lighting – If you have a light bar, consider replacing it with a more updated sconce fixture.  You can often find good deals at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Costco for less than $50.

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Light bars: just say no

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Hampton Bay 2-Light Chrome Vanity Sconce, $24.88 at Home Depot

Shower –  If you have a brass framed glass track shower door, which just screams 1980s, it’s simple to remove the frame.  Then, get a tension curtain rod and hang a fabric shower curtain (just make sure you have a plastic or vinyl shower curtain liner on the inside to prevent getting your fabric curtain wet).  Here are some shower curtains I like from Target:

 Threshold Color Block Shower Curtain – Black/White, $19.99

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Threshold Diamond Dot Geo Shower Curtain, $24.99

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Finally, give your whole bathroom a good cleaning.  Limit the products you display on your bathroom counters…I like to keep hand soap, a hand towel and a candle on the counter and hide everything else.  The same goes for the products in your shower.  If you’re like me, you have multiple bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body scrub, and shaving cream all over the place.  For the showing period, try to fit everything in a bath caddy.  If your grout is discolored, I’ve heard Polyblend Grout Renew, $11 at Home Depot, works wonders even though it takes a little time to apply.

5. LIVING SPACES.  Again, make sure that your furniture fits the scale of the room and remove any unnecessary clutter.  Also, scale down on the personal photographs or collections you may have displayed.  The goal is for the buyer to picture themselves living in your home; you don’t want them focusing on who YOU are.  You may feel like since you’re neutralizing everything, your home may feel bland.  Punch it up with some accessories!  Mirrors, throw pillows, rugs, fresh flowers and plants, throw blankets and art are affordable ways to add color and texture to your space to give it a finished look.

6. OUTDOOR SPACES. If you have a yard, this is a huge selling feature, so show it off!  Do a general clean-up by weeding, removing leaves, trimming bushes, and add mulch to flower beds.  It’s a great idea to plant some seasonal flowers in pots (or pumpkins, or small evergreens) near your front door, and hanging an american flag out front is great way to add curb appeal.

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Simply mowing your lawn and keeping bushes and plants trimmed goes a long way to adding curb appeal

If you have a back yard or deck, create an entertainment area.  I love setting up a fire pit/chiminea area with a few seats surrounding it.  If you don’t already have outdoor chairs, you can find plastic adirondack chairs for about $20 each (Walmart, Wegmans, Target, Ace Hardware).  You could even use hay bales or tree stumps (just call a few tree trimming companies to see if they can save you some from one of their jobs).

Photo courtesy of Houzz.com: ACM Design

Photo courtesy of Houzz.com: ACM Design

You can buy a fire bowl from Target or Home Depot for around $100 or less, or you can create one with some stone pavers.  Obviously, you don’t want to put a fire source on a wooden deck, so instead, buy some lanterns and set up a cluster of candles on a table.

Borrby Lantern from Ikea, $14.99

Borrby Lantern from Ikea, $14.99

Threshold Jar Candle Holder in Seeded Glass from Target, $8.99-$16.19

Threshold Jar Candle Holder in Seeded Glass from Target, $8.99-$16.19

If you have a deck, some outdoor furniture will go a long way!  I love using outdoor rugs, string lights, and a table/chair set to create an inviting conversation area.

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Look how string lights and a small table transforms a tiny side yard into a charming and valuable space. Work your space! Photo courtesy of http://thisisbrickandmortar.com

If you live in a townhome where your deck is right next to your neighbor, you can even build a curtain partition for privacy.  Ikea sells curtain wire that you can mount to a simple wood frame. Outdoor curtains are widely available and conjure up a cabana feel.

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Staging before and after: an indoor/outdoor rug, all weather drapes, and a nice conversation area. Photo courtesy of HGTV.

If you’re selling your home in the DC Metropolitan area, please invite the Dawn and Kris Team over for some personal staging advice.  We can tell you which improvements to make to help you sell.  We also love shopping, so we can help you select items that will look great in your home.