Selling Your Home

Removing Your Oil Tank – Just Do It

I was talking to a potential client – someone who wants to sell next year – about how to get her home ready for sale. She was surprised when I advised her to remove her underground oil tank. “It was decommissioned,” she said. “I have the paperwork.”

Unfortunately, that’s not good enough anymore.

The problem with underground oil tanks has always been soil contamination, which is a big risk whether your tank is active or inactive. And mortgage underwriters no longer want to take that risk. In the past, you could do some soil testing around the tank and then decommission it, which entails cutting into the top, vacuuming out all the sludge, and filling it back up with sand or foam. However, if there’s a leak – even a small one – on the underside of the tank, it’s nearly impossible to test for. So, it has become common practice to have the tank removed altogether.

Active tanks carry special insurance, which can typically be transferred to the new owner. However, if a buyer is planning to convert to gas, there are complexities with oil tank insurance, usually requiring the owner to take an intermediate step of switching to an inside tank.

Oil tank removal itself is not usually complicated but, for many reasons, it can be stressful. Your yard will be dug up, which means replanting and restoring the area once the tank is removed. Beyond that, if there has been a leak, the soil must be remediated, and that can be an extremely expensive process as well as a lengthy one, as the Department of Environmental Protection must get involved.

Tank removal starts with a quote from a tank removal/remediation company. Some companies offer “a la carte” service. They’ll remove the tank for $2,000, but if a leak is found, you must pay to remove all contaminated soil. In other cases, you can pay a flat rate – maybe $12,000 – and in the event of a leak, the company assumes the cost of all soil removal.

If all goes smoothly, the removal itself – including securing permits – can be done within a few weeks. (In addition to any landscaping work, the homeowner may be responsible for any permit fees.) But if it is not smooth, remediation can take months – and sometimes over a year – so you want that over and done with before you put your house on the market.

My advice is always to do it sooner rather than later. 

If you want to talk about oil tanks, or anything else you may want to take care of in preparation for a future sale, please 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

It's Tax Appeal Time – What You Should Know

“Should I appeal my tax assessment?”

As the April 1st tax appeal deadline approaches, that’s the question du jour.

Town-wide re-valuations are done every 5 to 10 years in an effort to fairly distribute the tax burden across all property owners according to the value of each property. However, sometimes the system fails. If your home was measured incorrectly or if an extra bathroom was inadvertently added into your assessment, you may be paying more than your fair share in real estate taxes. 

Over-assessment can also be the result of a neighborhood that declines in value relative to other neighborhoods, or a shift in buyer preference for a certain style of house. If you believe you’ve been assessed unfairly, you have the opportunity to challenge your assessment, and this is especially important to do if you’re planning on listing your house soon.

According to Jeffrey Otteau, one of New Jersey’s most respected appraisers, there’s not only a direct relationship between an over-assessed house and its selling price, there’s even a rule-of-thumb calculation you can apply to determine how much it will affect your selling price.

Otteau says that when selling, a home’s value is reduced by 7.5 times the excess valuation. So, for example, if most of the 1,800 SF, 2-Bath houses in the area have yearly taxes of $16,000 and the taxes on your 1,800 SF, 2-Bath house are $18,000, all other things being equal, that additional $2,000 translates to a $15,000 reduction in value in the marketplace.

The key in evaluating your tax burden is understanding how your home – and assessed taxes – compare with similar homes/taxes. I’m always happy to meet with sellers a year (or more!) before they put their house on the market to determine whether it’s worthwhile to challenge their current tax assessment. Call or text: 973-809-5277  

Gratitude for Jodi Aishton (and Pie!)

As Thanksgiving approaches, I (like most) spend a lot of time thinking about food, but even more time thinking about all I’m grateful for. Work-wise, I immediately think of the people who have entrusted me to help them buy or sell their homes. (Thank you!) And my colleagues, who offer advice and guidance when I’m faced with a challenging real estate situation. (Thank you!) And, of course, the friends and former clients who refer me to people. (Thank you!)

But always at the top of that thanking list is Jodi Aishton. I seriously could not get through a single day without her.

My office-mate, Tamima, and I have “shared” an assistant for years. The woman who held that position previously was amazing – 30 years of real estate experience and the ability to anticipate our every need. When she left, we never thought we would find someone to fill her shoes.

Then, about eight months ago, Tamima happened upon Jodi at a fundraising committee meeting at their temple. Back in our office, Tamima said, “I met someone who would be a great real estate administrator -- if only she knew something about real estate.”

If you have ever bought or sold a home, you’re familiar with the vast number of details required to see a real estate transaction from contract to closing. Appraisals, inspections, paperwork sent here and there. Everything needs to happen by a certain time, and Jodi seamlessly manages it all.

She designs our postcards and brochures, gets them printed, coordinates photography shoots and attorney meetings. I am in awe of how she can set up six different Saturday showings that not only accommodate schedules of buyer and sellers, but also plan it all around the most efficient driving route. Working with her is like having our own personal 5-star app!

I know Thanksgiving is a holiday for “family,” but in the short time she’s been with us, Jodi has become family, and I am so incredibly thankful for that. Because of Jodi, I can serve my clients better. And because of Jodi, our office runs smooth as a pumpkin pie. 

(See how I moved right back to food?!)

And speaking of smooth pumpkin pie, The Pie Store on Watchung Avenue makes one of the smoothest.  

Happy Thanksgiving to you and those you cherish.

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

IMG_7529

PING-PONG TABLE CLUTTER!

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.