Maintaining Your Home

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.