Improving Home

To Stage or Not To Stage?

Bessida Before 2 Bessida After

In my opinion, this should not even be a question. According to the Real Estate Staging Association, "Professionally listed staged properties look better, spend 73 percent less time on the market, typically sell for more money, end up on buyers' 'must see' lists, are perceived as 'well-maintained,' and have fewer concessions requested of the seller."

Plus, who doesn't love a good make-over?

Staging is not decorating. In fact, in many ways it's actually un-decorating. It usually involves decluttering, repairing and (unfortunately) depersonalizing a home so that a prospective buyer can easily envision themselves living there.

Sometimes it requires eliminating odors from pets, cooking, or mothballs. Or freshening up the landscape - trimming or removing overgrown bushes (especially important in a walkable suburb!). Also, although not really staging, there are "fixes" that are best done before putting a house on the market, such as removing underground oil tanks or removing asbestos pipe-wrap.

Some homes can be staged in a day but others take weeks or months of planning, sorting, storing and executing.

I consider staging an activity with few downsides and huge potential returns. Probably the worst you can say about staging is that it can be a little sad to make your home look its very best only to pack up and leave it. I had one client who didn't want to spend money refinishing floors when they moved in and only went to the trouble to do it when they put the house on the market. "I can't believe how much better our house looks now!" I remember her saying.

So if you're thinking of selling in a few years, you may want to start in on some of those repairs or touch ups now, while you have time to enjoy them.

(And now for a moment of shameless self-promotion: The before and after photo above is a home that sat on the market with two different agents for a combined 728 days. Neither bothered to stage the house. When I took over the listing and staged it, the house sold in 45 days.)

Axes to Grind/Knives to Sharpen - Montclair Watercooler Offers It All

Montclair Watercooler Digest Number 8046 arrived in my email on Monday at 7:49PM. It contained questions and answers about water bill rates and a question about ease of parking at a nearby commuter park and ride. Also, someone found a pair of glasses on Church Street, someone else was looking for a good employment agency to hire temps, and various people needed a professional carpet cleaner, a contractor to build a deck, and a line dance teacher. Someone was selliOil and Waterng a car. Someone else lost a cat. Then found it.

I also learned about a free film, a Coffee and Conversation, and more than I ever could imagine about solar panel installation.

The Montclair Watercooler is a Yahoo group that started 15 years ago and now has almost 3,700 members and a Facebook Page. To me, this online group functions like a big backyard barbeque where people drift in and out of conversations about every imaginable topic, gathering information and sharing what they know. Sometimes the conversations get heated, sometimes they warm your heart. I remember once after a terrible storm, a member of the group offered his Wet-Vac to anyone that needed to pump their basement. People created an online queue and passed vacuum along, one to another. There's also a member who occasionally offers to sharpen people's kitchen knives - for free. That spirit abounds here, making the Watercooler both invaluable and beloved -- and another one of the things that makes this community so special.

Making Improvements to Your Montclair Home? Save Your Receipts!

I just came across this article the other day and wanted to share it. Clients (past, present and future) regularly consult with me on how much value they may see in a home improvement project when they go to sell their home. The answer is often a double-edged sword, as I remind them that improvements that increase the value of a home can also increase the owner's tax liability.  Your capital gains tax liability (based on how much more your sale price is than your buying price was) is complex, but can often be offset by the cost of the improvements you made to your home while you owned it. My advice -- always -- is, whatever you do, save receipts.

I love when a reputable news source like the New York Times runs a piece like this, mostly because the information is so comprehensive - containing valuable links and answering almost every question that may come up.

For example, simply the listing of what we can deduct is very helpful: "...decks and patios; landscaping, including sprinkler systems; pools; a new roof or siding; insulation; and kitchen remodeling. Some smaller and perhaps surprising things are there, too: installation of utility services, which could include any fiber charges from Verizon for FiOS or money you paid to the person who hard-wired your Apple TV to your cable modem. Each additional electrical outlet should count, too. Also, you can add in many legal, title and recording fees (plus transfer and certain other taxes) from your closing."

I especially like the suggestion to photocopy "thermal receipts," as they can fade over time.

I'm always happy to answer questions about improvements, so please feel free to call upon me -- for all your real estate needs! 973-809-5277

Tax Appeals Due April 1 !!

tax season

I pride myself on being with my clients for the long haul. Not just showing properties and taking someone through the sale, but also helping them get acclimated to the town. The schools, the arts scene, the night life, the outdoor recreation - this area has so much to offer (truly SO MUCH) that I often feel like I get to know some of my clients better after they're settled in and they call on me for info.

This time of year is especially busy as the market starts to explode with listings, and also as the deadline looms for filing tax appeals. Many of my clients call on me for comps - one of the many factors involved in filing an appeal. The deadline for filing is April 1.

I'm also happy to talk to my clients about what kind of improvements will yield the best return when it's time to sell. Some folks worry that they're asking me for too much extra customer service. Hardly. In fact, that's what I've built my reputation on!

Solar Panels on my Montclair Home

I've always liked the idea of solar energy: it's non-polluting, infinitely renewable, and available domestically. Now, thanks to a 30 % federal tax credit  and the ability to sell SRECs (solar renewable energy certificates) to power companies, it's also financially feasible. So I am having solar energy panels installed on my roof.

As part of the solar panel system, I also needed to install 3 inverters in my home. Inverters convert the solar energy produced into usable voltages; Call me weird, but I really enjoy going down to my basement to watch them count up the kilowatts of energy being generated.

The panels are just about done; once I have the final approvals in place, they will generate around 1/3 of the electricity I need to run my house. This project has not been cheap, but I expect to recoup the cost in around four years. After that,  it will provide me with an annual cash flow of several thousand dollars. Putting solar panels up is a win-win situation: I will ultimately save money while I do my small part to save our planet. It's something that anyone with a south facing roof can do - There are even free options if you don't have the cash to pay for the panels.  If you'd like to know more about it email me or read more on the piece from Baristanet.

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    Selling Your Montclair Home? 9 Low-Cost Upgrades to Increase Your Home's Value

    Some of my seller clients spend several months and thousands of dollars upgrading a home before putting it on the market.  But for homeowners who are short on time and cash, there are some very effective smaller  projects that will increase value and reduce time-on-market.

    1. Expose hardwood floors..  There is a decided preference for hardwood floors in Montclair. Worn carpet is a real turn off to buyers and they often fret about what might be underneath.  With a hammer and a sharp knife,  carpet removal is an easy and free DIY project to raise the value of your home.

    2. Paint rooms in a light neutral color with white or off-white trim. Montclair's 1920s colonials look fresh and modern with this simple combination. Wall paper and dark colors can be an obstacle for some buyers and a new coat of paint is one of the best investments you can make for $25.

    3. Hire a professional cleaning service right before the home goes on the market.  Even if you're a clean freak and consider your home to be spotless, a professional cleaner will do things that are not part of your routine and make you home sparkle like never before. Cost: $100 to $300.

    4.  Have the windows washed by a professional.  Most services will do inside and out as well as the storm windows.  Have them remove the screens from windows that you usually don't open.  Shiny windows and a clear view let in more light and make a world of difference. The cost should be about $6 per window.

    5. Power wash your house, front steps and deck- and the gutters too. Moss and dirt make a house look uncared for.  You can buy a small washer for under $200 or rent one for $50/day.  Or hire a professional for about $500.

    6.  Remove dark, heavy drapes and vertical blinds and replace with wood blinds or sheer curtains - or just leave the windows bare if privacy is not an issue.  Let as much natural light in as possible.

    7. Spruce up the bathroom with a new, high quality, white shower curtain. Recaulk the shower and tub.  Replace the toilet seat if it is yellowed or worn.

    8. Refresh the front door with a new coat of paint in a complementary accent color.  Replace the mailbox, house number and door hardware to update the look.

    9. Hire a landscaper to do a "spring clean-up" of the yard, even if it's summer or fall.  Professional crews employ equipment and skills that most homeowners don't have. It's like doing a deep cleaning of your front yard. Having last season's sticks, leaves and yard debris removed will boost your curb appeal and your home's value.

    Victory Gardens In Montclair, Verona, and Glen Ridge

    After closing on their bank-owned Colonial in Verona, one of the first "improvements" Bil and Ashli made was to add a vegetable garden to their backyard. They are predicting a prolific harvest of beans, onions, tomatoes, and Chinese sweet potatoes, of which they only eat the greens.

    With 40,000 shade trees in Montclair, some gardeners have found that the backyard is just too shady to grow vegetables. A front yard flower and vegetable patch, however, is always an option, and can even replace the entire front lawn, giving the house a verdant and functional appeal. Robin of Glen Ridge has replaced her front lawn with a beautiful and bountiful combination of flowers and edibles. In her garden of Eden she grows rhubarb, cucumbers, beets, lettuce, squash, and herbs.

    Montclair resident and food writer Laura has a front yard garden that is bordered by stones and integrates flowers and vegetables in the European fashion. This design, which runs along the path to her front door, works especially well because it welcomes visitors into her pleasant home and busy kitchen.

    As for me, I have also established my raised-bed garden in the front yard, the only place that gets consistent sun.