Selling Your Home

5 Home Staging "Rules of Thumb"

living roomHome Staging has become one of the biggest buzzwords in world of selling real estate, yet many sellers are still perplexed by the concept. "Why do you want me to dismantle my photograph wall?" a client will ask. "It's one of my favorites parts of the house!"

Plain and simple: staging a home allows a buyer to more easily envision himself living in the space. And the more of "your" stuff that's around, the less of "his" stuff he can imagine there.

There are many suggestions I make when I meet with a client about getting ready to sell, but a few are worth noting as Staging Rules of Thumb - small changes you can make that will make your home show better and sell faster.

  1. Don't Overdo It. Many people think of staging as bringing things in - furniture, rugs, accent pieces - but most of the "work" of staging is taking pieces out. The more "available" square footage in a room, the more easily the buyer will be able to see her own furniture there.
  2. Create Conversation Spaces. Sofas and chairs do not need to line the perimeter of the room. Consider furniture arrangements that allow people to easily converse and socialize. Let the buyer to imagine all the lovely entertaining that she can do in your home.
  3. Keep Accessories Tasteful. Small, thoughtful additions can go a long way in making a space feel homey and inviting, especially gentle smells like potpourri in the bathrooms. Best, though, to keep additions neutral; controversial material - like political or religious books - is better off out of plain sight.
  4. Focus on the Main Rooms. Staging is crucial for the Big 4: Living Room, Kitchen, Master Bedroom and all Bathrooms. The other rooms - kids bedrooms, guest rooms, den - can simply be pared down and filled in by the buyer's imagination.
  5. Let a "Blank Slate" Be Your Guide. Your personal photographs and children's artwork is no doubt amazing, but they are just going to muddy the waters when it comes to helping a buyer visualize herself in your home. Put away your personal effects, but please, don't take it personally.

These rules are general so if you're in need of a personal staging consult, don't hesitate to call me. 973-809-5277

My Accessories Are Your Accessories!

IMG_4866Rugs. End tables. Vases. Patio Furniture. The back of my garage looks like an aisle at Home Goods. Am I getting ready for a yard sale?

Au contraire. I'm getting ready to sell your home.

Today's buyers expect a house to be presented to the market in its very best light. No one wants to see "grandma" furniture and doilies when they're house hunting. In fact, buyers sometimes don't respond well to anything that doesn't feel "fresh" or "new."

When I'm with buyers, part of my job is to help them envision what can be done to a house to make it their own. I have a background in architecture and have done several personal renovations, so I am skilled in providing this information as part of my service.

But when I'm with sellers, I need to help them look at their home as a buyer would - which is to say, critically. I maintain a large inventory of staging items that can fill a whole room (if it's empty) or just fill in the gaps where needed.

Most sellers are not able to prepare their home for sale without help. And a good staging can generate more interest and a higher selling price in the market. I employ a professional stager and include one free day of staging with all my listings!

Call me and let's talk throw pillows. 973.809.5277

Relocation, Relocation, Relocation!

Atlas Van LinesOne of the most frequent pieces of feedback I get from my clients is that I'm very knowledgeable about and good at explaining the ins and outs of real estate sales. I think that's probably true, largely because I believe the more people know, the better they are at both buying and selling.

So, today, I want to pass on some information about relocating.

If you or your spouse are making a work-related move, the employer may offer a relocation package. They may offer to pay for your closing costs, pay for your move, even buy your house if it sits on the market too long. Most of the big corporations use a relocation company, like Cartus, which provides various services and resources - one of which is to set you up with one of their contracted real estate agents, usually one from a corporate-owned real estate company.

However, you are not obligated to use their recommended agent or agency.

The reason I mention this is because it's often not made clear to sellers that Cartus will work with any agent, usually with no financial ramifications to the seller. Meaning, if you worked with a real estate agent that you really liked when you bought your house, you can use that same agent to sell your house - even if a corporate relocation package is part of the picture.

This comes as great news to many sellers who have already built a trusting relationship with a local agent. Or to those who prefer to use an agent recommended by a friend.

If you're selling your house for a business move and you've been offered a relocation package, let's talk. I can explain to you how the system works so you can make decisions that make you happy. I've been told I'm very good at that kind of thing! 973-809-5277

Drop or Shop: Montclair's Hillside Swap This Weekend



Sometimes, the biggest obstacle in getting your house ready for sale is figuring out how to get rid of your clutter. This is often not an easy task, but it can be a fascinating one.

I wouldn't have believed this a few years ago, but as someone who has recently down-sized, I now know you can sell almost anything. The Montclair area has a Sell/Swap page on Facebook and between that and Craig's List, I have sold (I kid you not) used garbage cans, a banged up file cabinet, and an old radiator. One time a guy bought a used fan from me and paid me in eggs from his backyard chickens!

Of course, you can always take advantage of Bulk Waste Day and put your oversized belongings curbside once a month. But I'd often rather relegate something that still may have a useful life to someplace other than a landfill. In addition to the Facebook Swap and the local Freecycle listings, and apps like Wallapop and Letgo, Montclair has an in-person swap a few times each year at Hillside School. You can drop off clothing, bikes, books, sports equipment, or baby equipment on a Friday afternoon and come Saturday morning, every item is displayed and free for the taking to whomever shows up to "shop." This "tradition" began seven or eight years ago and is one of my all-time favorite means of decluttering. And, coincidentally, there's a Hillside Swap planned for this weekend!

If you have things to get rid of, you can drop them at the Hillside School gym, 54 Orange Rd, Montclair on Friday, October 16 from 4:00 - 6:30 p.m. Items are available to take on Saturday, October 17, from 9:00 - 11:00 a.m. You don't need to "drop" in order to "shop," and vice versa. I try to make this a regular event in my decluttering arsenal. It helps keep my environment more manageable, and will (I hope) help my neighbors in need as well.

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.)

Glen Ridge is Hot, Hot, Hot!!!

I talk about Montclair here a lot because, well, I live here, and sometimes Glen Ridge - our lovely neighbor to the east - does not get its due.

The great thing about Glen Ridge is that it's small and quietly awesome. Close enough to Montclair (and Bloomfield) to benefit from all the restaurants, art offerings, park space and activities, but also a little haven unto itself, with its own country club, gas-lit streets and engaged community.

It doesn't surprise me at all that Glen Ridge ended up in Realtor Magazine's top 12 hottest zip codes in the entire country. It's magical. Some of my favorite things: First, the Freeman Gardens - a tucked away little rose sanctuary that is delightfully meditative; Fitgerald's pub, a great place for brunch or a beer; and finally (this is sort of a "thing" of mine), the way the town deals with refuse. I just recently found out that not only does Glen Ridge have a monthly designated day where residents can put bulky, unwanted items out on the curb for pick-up, they actually have an online register where you can list the items you're discarding, so people can come by and pick up stuff that might be useful to them. It's called the Glen Ridge Freecycle Program, and for inveterate yard sale junkies, it's nothing short of inspired.

So, yay for you 07028! I'm sorry I neglect you sometimes. You certainly don't deserve it.

*Photo from Glen Ridge town website.

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

The Montclair Real Estate Agent: A Seller's Not-So-Secret Weapon

Whether you are selling due to a job transfer, a newly empty nest, or a new baby, it's crucial to list your home with a local Realtor. Every local real estate market has its own unique culture; a Realtor unfamiliar with your area's customs and quirks and will be at a disadvantage.

For example, I deal often with Glen Ridge and Montclair real estate, so I am thoroughly knowledgeable about the Montclair real estate culture. Standard practices here include delaying showing a property until after the Realtor Open House, and holding a Public Open House on the Sunday after the Realtor Open House. We also generally use GSMLS (Garden State Multiple Listing Service) lockboxes, so that the owner does not have to be home for each showing. If a property garners multiple offers, these offers are typically due on the Tuesday or Wednesday after the Public Open House, and they are delivered to the seller's agency in a sealed envelope.

In my years as a Realtor, I have seen numerous houses sit unsold for months on end. Often, the homeowner has listed the property with an agent from another town, or even another county. Don't make this  mistake; only a Realtor from your community can present your home to its best advantage.


Glen Ridge Home For Sale: 5 Things You Never Want to Say to a Buyer

Your agent told you not to be present when your house is being shown - but somehow you end up in the same room with the prospective buyer.  Maybe you went out for coffee to give the buyer some privacy but came back to find that they were still there.  Perhaps you were gonna leave when the buyer got there but it started to rain cats and dogs so you thought  "I'll just stay out of their way in the basement" instead.

Whatever the case - it happens.  Sometimes the buyer and seller meet face to face.  And here's where you can really screw things up by saying the wrong thing. The 5 things you should never say to a buyer:

"This is a great neighborhood for kids" You don't know what the buyers' circumstances are.  Maybe they don't like kids. Perhaps they aren't planning to have kids.  It's possible they would like to have kids but can't.  You run the risk of offending them, making them sad or simply turning them off to the house. You also run the risk of violating federal fair housing laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of familial status.

"Let me show you the house"  This seems innocent enough.  You think you might be able to point out a few things that the buyer's agent missed, like the extra long nails you used to construct the deck.   This is all just noise and distraction for the buyer.  Allow the buyers to take in the house in a visual way, imaginging their own belongings in the house.  By talking too much or giving too much detail you will interfere with their ability to fall in love with your house.

"If you buy the house we'll throw in the BMW" You may be thinking it's a great incentive, but actually it can mess up your potentail buyer's chances for getting a mortgage.  A mortgage is a loan that uses real estate as collateral. If the lender believes some thing other than real estate (for instance a BMW) is being wrapped in to the loan they may not approve it.

"This is a very safe area"  First of all, why give the buyer even the slightest notion that he should be concerned about safety (don't point out your deluxe alarm system either).  Second, "safe" is a subjective term. It's difficult  to define this for someone else. The better thing to do is hand the buyer a piece of paper with the local police telephone number and encourage him to call for himself.

"We already bought another house "  You will be showing your hand and encouraging low offers.  This is akin to saying "I'm desperate to sell- I don't want to end up with two mortgages"  As a seller, you need to disclose any physical defect that you may know about in your house, but you don't need to disclose your motivation to sell.

How Not to Sell Your Montclair Home

For all homeowners tired of advice  from realtors on how to sell your home, here is something different--a list on how not to do so.

Ten Things Not to Do When Selling Your Montclair Home

1. Price your home with "room to negotiate." Sellers think that the more they ask for, the more they will get; study after study has shown that this is not the case. It is ultimately the buyer, not the seller, who decides the price. Pricing your home "slightly higher than what it's worth" will only serve to keep potential buyers from even looking at your house.

2. Take too long to respond to an offer. Potential buyers read a lot into your actions; they will think you are not interested in their offer and thus turn their attention to other prospects.

3. Refuse to counter a low-ball offer. You can't take it personally; this is a business transaction. Come down a little bit in your asking price just to keep a dialogue going. And if another offer happens to come in, you now have some leverage on both ends.

4. Follow buyers around, pointing out your house's charms. Buyers need to be able to visualize themselves and their belongings in your house. They need to make an emotional connection first; your chatter is a distraction.

5. Contact buyers directly. There are too many opportunities for miscommunication and misunderstanding if you do so. This is what real estate agents and lawyers are for.

6. Convince yourself that it's not worth painting the house because the buyers will want their own colors. This is a classic case of being penny-wise, pound-foolish. If your goal is to sell your house, remember that you only get one chance to make a good first impression. A neutral color and a fresh coat of paint are always best.

7. Refuse to address home inspection issues because your house is "as-is." If  problems such as mold, asbestos or termites are discovered during an inspection, the buyers will expect you to fix them; In this market, with so much inventory to choose from, buyers do not have to accept a house with major a safety issue. Moreover, once a problem is discovered, you are legally required to disclose it to all potential buyers in the future.

8. List your house as an "office exclusive." Unscrupulous agents may try to convince you that only the agents in their particular office are trustworthy; this is an attempt to keep other agents from getting the sale (and the commission). Obviously, the more agents trying to sell your house, the better - go with an agent who will "multiple list" your house.

9. Make your house difficult to show. Many homeowners are conflicted about selling, so they limit the days/hours that agents can get into their home. If agents can't show your house, they can't sell it.  Your house must be competitive not only in price and condition but also in ease of showing.

10. Try to conceal problems you know exist. First of all, this is fraud. Secondly, whatever the problem is, it will ultimately be found. A freshly-painted basement, for example, immediately suggests to a home inspector an attempt to cover up water damage.