Improving Home

5 Things That Drive Me Nuts About HGTV

As someone obsessed with houses, I turn on HGTV all the time. And many of my clients spend time watching various shows as well. It doesn’t take long after stepping into a kitchen – whether with a buyer or a seller -- for the conversation to turn to renovations. And for the misinformation to take over.

Don’t get me wrong – I like HGTV. But many of those shows depict home buying and renovation in a completely inaccurate way. For me, these are the five biggest offenders: 

1. Renovation Costs Are Too Low – Believe me, I would love for a kitchen renovation to cost what’s quoted on Love It or List It. But the truth is, an older kitchen, gutted and being brought up to code, is almost always more expensive than my clients have been led to believe by the television show. Usually, by a lot.

2. The Value-Add Is Too High – I have clients who are convinced that if they spend $85,000 on a bathroom renovation, it will increase the value of their home by $115K. In my experience, the opposite is true. Unless you are a contractor or can do most of the work yourself, you will not recoup the money you invest on finishing a basement or renovating a kitchen. Of course, you should do the renovation to improve your home for you. But don’t expect it to be a money-maker. 

However, there are two projects that are always worth investing in: fresh paint and refinished floors. Even if they cost more than HGTV may suggest, newly done walls and floors make a house feel clean, fresh and inviting.

3. Project Duration (and Inconvenience) Is Underplayed – Through the magic of television, clients are lulled into believing that a renovation can be done in six weeks. Six months is more accurate, and even that is often optimistic. Again, this is not to say you shouldn’t create your dream kitchen. Just know that projects often take much longer IRL than characterized on TV.

4. Selection Process is Oversimplified – In House Hunters, a buyer is shown three houses and asked to pick one. The host never says, “I’m sorry, you’ve been outbid. Again.” In fact, there are no bidding wars at all – one of many TV omissions that make home buying appear more straightforward than it typically is. 

5. Agents Are Depicted as Simple-Minded – Although I try not to take it personally, there are way too many instances where real estate agents are depicted merely as the person who has a key to the front door. I would say about 20% of an agent’s job is showing houses. Most of the job entails working out problems related to easements, oil tank remediations, title issues, and closing logistics.

Finally, HGTV – as delightful as it is – doesn’t spend anywhere near the amount of time talking about the quality of life benefits you may want to look for once you walk out your new front door. For example, how living in a walkable suburb contributes to a person's good health and fosters a sense of community. I think I could host a show like that!

But in the meantime, I’m happy to just talk about it with my clients. If you’d like an amazing and realistic sense of what Montclair, Maplewood, Glen Ridge, South Orange, West Orange, Verona, Cedar Grove and Bloomfield have to offer, please reach out: 973-809-5277

My 5 Tips for Clutter

Clutter is a topic that my clients and I can talk about for hours. 

It’s no secret that one of a real estate agent’s first directives to a potential seller is “Get rid of the clutter.” This is obviously easier said than done.

I just came across some research studies that tie an organized, uncluttered home to feelings of well-being, particularly in women. I have definitely found this in my own life. A few years ago, I downsized and had to deal with a lot of my stuff for the first time in a long time. I like “things,” so since then, I have had to adopt some new habits to keep may spaces streamlined. I can personally attest to the fact that, in stressful times, a calm, organized environment can act as a salve.

Here are some of my suggestions for getting started on your own Decluttering Journey.

1. Binge Watch Marie Kondo on Netflix – I know many roll their eyes about her, but she has been a motivator for many of my clients. I read her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a few years ago, but the TV show seems more relatable. People can see their own “issues” in the stories of her clients and are inspired to overcome them.

2. Read The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson – I have not read this book yet, but my mother was Danish and essentially lived by the philosophy, “Don’t leave a big mess for your family to sort out after you pass.” Mom would come to visit, happily toting my old soccer trophies from seventh grade. She didn’t want them and neither did I. Sometimes we hold onto things thinking our children will want them in their future. And oftentimes we are mistaken.

3. Declutter By Time Rather Than By Area – Sometimes, just the idea of decluttering an area – the closet, the pantry, the basement – can feel overwhelming. Some people have luck with allotting successive amounts of time to an organizing project. I might set my timer for 30 minutes and then tackle whatever I can get done with the linen closet in that time, giving myself permission to spend ONLY 30 minutes today and come back to it for more 30-minute intervals during the week.

4. Hire a Professional – My assistant, Jodi,  is a professional organizer and she has been a life saver in helping people who cannot find the time to declutter on their own. I actually use several different organizers, each with their own super-power, so I can pair a client with the organizer that will best suit them. One organizer is so lovely and patient, she will listen to a client's every anecdote about each teacup as they goes through the cabinets.

5. Stage to Stay – Many think of professional stagers as people who bring things into a home to make it look a certain way. But most of “staging” really involves taking things away. When a house is going to market, there is usually a time-line and an urgency for staging. However, if you just want to make your home more streamlined, stagers are a wonderful resource for simplifying spaces. Again, I use different stagers for different clients, depending on their needs.

Most of us own at least twice as much “stuff” as we need. Not only does decluttering make a house present better, it makes the owner feel better – so much so that, on a few occasions, my clients decided they liked their home so much more they wanted to stay there for a few more years!

If you want to talk clutter, give me a call: 973-809-5277

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.