Maintaining Your Home

How To Adopt a Homeowner's State of Mind

Over the summer, I got a call from clients after the home inspection. “There are roots in the sewer pipes!” they said, panicked and dejected.

“That’s not uncommon,” I said.

“Should we pass on this house and look for another one?”

No. No. No.

As a longtime homeowner, it sometimes surprises me how home repairs can seem so ominous to new buyers, and how easily they can get cold feet. Coming from an apartment, this couple had no idea that clearing the sewer line is a typical aspect of owning a home in a town full of old trees.

Buying a home is an event. Maintaining a home is a process.

With a Maintenance Mindset, you can just assume that there will always be something to contend with. A new roof. A leaky pipe. A squirrel in the attic. A crack in the plaster from settling. A tree that falls in a storm. Appliances need repairing and bushes need pruning. Everyone deals with this stuff. It’s all part of owning a home.

For example, I just had a fence put up to keep my cats in the yard. The workers didn’t construct it properly, and within six months, one section of the fence separated and my cat was again able to get out of the yard. This was especially frustrating because during their installation, I had pointed out this potential problem and suggested a way to avoid it. However, the fence installers did not take my advice, and now they need to come back and fix it. When I was a new homeowner, I’d have found this entire process — getting stuff fixed and fixed again — overwhelming. Now, it’s simply another call to make, another thing to check off my list.

All houses need maintenance. And if you’re buying a new home, there may even be things your home inspector points out that need maintenance right away. Don’t worry — this is not uncommon. I have enough experience to let you know what you actually have to worry over as far as home repair goes, and I have many resources that can make what might seem like gigantic challenges into manageable tasks. I help buyers and sellers make molehills out of mountains every single day. And I’m happy to do that with you, too!

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

Five Tips for Your Yard That Will Add Appeal When You Sell

If you own your own home, you know that landscaping can be expensive. This is one of the reasons that sellers who attend to their exterior – as well as their interior – add more than just curb appeal. They add actual value to their home.

Obviously, a backyard with terraced bluestone patios and a custom brick pizza oven offers that much-coveted Wow Factor. But there are plenty of small improvements that can make a big difference in how even a modest house shows on the market.

Here’s my top advice for clients – whether they’re listing their house next month or making landscaping decisions for the next ten years.

Stay On Top of Trees – Get your trees inspected regularly and deal with any that are dead or dying. West Orange now requires a tree inspection in order to get a certificate of occupancy before a home sale. If they find any dying trees or large dead limbs, they will require that you take them down. This may become a practice in other towns as well. Regular care can greatly improve the health of your trees.

Keep Foundation Plantings Small – Besides obscuring the house, tall or expansive plantings around your home’s foundation often limits the natural light that comes into your rooms. If you have foundation plantings that are overgrown and blocking windows, I usually advise having them removed before listing. Trimming rarely works unless you’ve pruned them back yearly. No one wants to hear this advice, but it makes a huge difference. If you’re considering tall plantings for privacy – on a busy street, say – you’re better off with a hedge by the sidewalk.

Make Your Walkway Night-Friendly – Homes are often shown after dark, so you want to make sure your buyers can find their way easily and safely to your front (and back) door. If you’re on a budget, there’s no need for either extravagant flood lighting or even hiring an electrician. Places like Home Depot carry solar powered lanterns that you can stick in the ground yourself.

Don't Worry About Planting Bulbs – If you’re planning to list in the spring, you might envision your house with dozens of tulips or daffodils brightening your front beds and be tempted to spend a lot of money on bulbs for the occasion. However, unless you’re happy to tend the garden, I usually say, don’t bother. Bulbs look great when they bloom, but their majesty is not only short-lived, they look pretty awful on their way out. Also, it’s hard to coordinate an open house with the weekend the tulips are in their prime. Instead, find some flowering plants that you can put in the ground as needed.

Clean Beds, Dark Mulch – This simple advice can truly transform the exterior vibe of a house. Edging your beds and applying fresh mulch signals that a yard is being tended to. And dark mulch provides a pleasing aesthetic. 

If you’re considering selling in the next year and want to do an exterior walk-about, give me a call. 973-809-5277

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

Fallen Branches in Montclair, NJ - Who Pays?

Driving around town this past week, I've seen a huge number of Montclair homes that were hit hard by the snowstorm of October 29. Drooping power lines and downed trees are unfortunately a common sight these days. Power lines are obviously a matter for PSE&G to deal with; trees, however, may be your responsibility.

If one of your trees falls on your own property, it is your responsibility to get it to the curb; the town of Montclair will then remove it for you. Any damage to your home is also your responsibility--call your insurance company.

But what if a neighbor's tree falls on your property? In an article on the website Houselogic.com,  DC-area author Ann Cochran explains that you should still contact your own insurance company.  The cost of removing it is your neighbor's responsibility only if you can prove that he knew that the tree was at risk of falling (due to disease, e.g.) and did nothing about it. In the case of a freak snowstorm, this is unlikely.

The same logic applies if one of your trees falls onto your neighbor's property. Cochran recommends doing nothing until you hear from your neighbor's insurance company. Removing the tree is your responsibility only if your neighbor can prove that you knew it was a hazard and did nothing about it.  Having said that, it's always neighborly to offer to remove the branches - even if legally, it's not your responsibility.

Property damage is very upsetting. Knowing your rights and responsibilities as a homeowner is a good way to prevent it from escalating into a neighborhood dispute.