Selling

Don't Buy A House For Your Furniture

Not long ago, I showed a couple a house that was perfect in every way. Perfect size. Perfect location. Perfect price. They were visibly interested as they moved from room to room. When we got back in the car, I was waiting for one of them to ask what I thought they should offer. Instead, the woman said, “I don’t think this house is for me. My armoire isn’t going to fit.” 

I understand someone being attached to a piece of furniture with great sentimental value, but this wasn’t that. It was just a cabinet she’d bought to keep sweaters in.  

“Donate it,” I suggested. But to some, this is unthinkable.

Like most people, I love most of my furniture. But buying and selling houses reminds me that the real goal in house shopping is to find a home for you. Not your furniture. 

Many of the houses in the areas I show most often – Montclair, Glen Ridge, the Oranges, Verona, Cedar Grove, Livingston, the Caldwells – have unique layouts, quirky shaped rooms, or architectural details that could be enhanced (or diminished) by the right (or wrong) piece of furniture. When clients say they’ve had a hard time finding a home for their 94-inch sofa, to me, the solution is simple: buy the furniture that the house needs. Not the other way around.

I had a client who was selling a house with a long, skinny living room. I had my stager come in and replace his living room furniture with pieces that enhanced the space. He said, “I’ve lived here for 20 years and had no idea how to furnish this room. Until now.”

I had another client who was moving from a 7-bedroom house in Montclair to a 3-bedroom condo in West Orange. “I’m not taking any furniture with me,” she said. I was inspired by her attitude, as I know that sometimes not wanting to let go of our furniture is really a metaphor for not wanting to let go of our old house. She moved in with all new furniture and everything she bought was exactly the right size and proportion for her new space. And guess what? It looked amazing!

One thing I hope I can always offer my clients – both buyers and sellers – is the ability to offer perspective on which things are actually worth worrying about in a home sale. And which, like furniture, are often not worth a second thought. 

Photo: This unusually narrow living room, with its off-center fireplace, never looked quite right to the homeowner, until our stager set up furniture that was the right scale for the space.

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

5 Biggest Client Complaints

It’s been a long time since I sat in Real Estate School classes, gulping down the many facts and rules and equations necessary to get my licensure. But like any job, many of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an agent were not taught in the classroom.

They were taught to me by my clients – buyers and sellers, alike.

Yes, agents have to know the most up-to-date information about oil tanks, and yes, it’s handy to have a list of great vendors for clients – from floor finishers to structural engineers. However, there are a few things that may be more important, and I know that because clients have come to me with these complaints about their previous agent. Here are the top five:

  1. "After we signed the listing papers, our agent handed us off to others." One client told me she never saw her agent again after her house was officially listed. Instead, she was assigned to a listing manager, a stager, and various office assistants. There is nothing wrong with having an assistant follow up on details. However, I consider my listings my direct responsibility, and I make sure to be in touch with sellers regularly throughout the marketing and sale of their home.
  2. "My listing agent would schedule house showings and then no one showed up." To be fair, buyers often change plans, even after a seller has filled the morning tidying, stashing kids’ toys, and relocating a pet to the neighbor’s. It's understandably annoying to ready a house that no one comes to see. If a buyer cancels, I consider it my first responsibility to let the seller know  – whether they are my clients, or theirs is a home was going to show my buyers. Having sold my own house recently, I am very attuned to the effort that goes into a showing.
  3. "The agent who was showing me houses didn’t know the town." It’s easy to show homes in your own town, especially if you’ve lived there awhile. However, if agents are showing homes in an unfamiliar town, they have to do their homework. A good agent should be able to tell you distances to grocery stores and have a working knowledge of commuter options. I live in Montclair, but spend a lot of time in Glenridge, Cedar Grove, South Orange, Maplewood and other nearby Essex County suburbs for the sole purpose of providing my clients with the most accurate information possible.
  4. "I felt constant pressure to increase my bids." Buying a home can be stressful and, in my opinion, an agent’s job is to try and reduce that stress. Not add to it. We should provide data, insight and knowledge. We should not make a client feel insecure about a bid (which, apparently happens a lot). My only agenda with my clients is that they find the home that suits them best. 
  5. "My agent never answered my calls." I will confess: I do not answer the phone while driving, but beyond that, I respond to my clients – calls, texts, and emails – immediately or, at least, quickly. That’s just good business.

So, as you can see, I’ve learned a lot over these 14 years. If you want to put me to the test, I’d relish the opportunity. Then again, maybe there are a few things I could learn from you too!

Call or text:  973-809-5277  If I'm driving, I'll call you back!

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

Montclair: Walkable and Skateable

As I write this, the snow is falling outside my window, blanketing my bluestone patio and starting to coat the bushes in the backyard. It will snow for hours, and it will be beautiful.

The new year started cold. I don’t mind the cold, as long as I have a warm house with a fire to return to. Still, my first thought was: “How long until spring?” I’m not a big “resolution” maker, but one thing I want to try and do more of this year is notice what’s beautiful, and take the time to really take it in.

As I was driving past Edgemont Park yesterday, I did just that. 

Situated in the center of Montclair, Edgemont is one of the beautiful year-round gems of this town. Majestic trees, renovated playground, big fountain in the middle of the graceful pond. But when it gets cold — very cold — it turns into something right out of the Saturday Evening Post.

The pond doesn’t freeze solid every year, but when it does, it’s magical. The ice becomes thick enough to skate on and suddenly, the park is transformed. People come from all over town to skate Edgemont Pond, gliding past the statue or zipping around with hockey sticks, aiming at one of the goals that someone has hauled over in their SUV.  There have been years when the town provides hot chocolate on the bank of the pond — the type of memory many of us have from when we were kids. The type of memory many of us dream of for our own children.

I used to live right across the street from that pond. In fact, I taught all three of my children to skate at Edgemont. One thing I’ll admit, however, is that sometimes I took that magical view for granted. I love my new home, but my backyard is not a Norman Rockwell. 

Some clients are reluctant to put their homes on the market in the winter. They think their house will show better in the spring. But the cold has its own beauty, and there are plenty of great reasons to list before the spring thaw — the main one being less competition in the marketplace. If you’re thinking of selling — or buying — right now, give me a call. I’d love to take you through more of this beautiful place and time.

Photo credit: Michael Stahl at Portraits by Michael Stahl

 

Is There Really A Shortage of Homes For Sale in Montclair?

You may have heard tales of frequent bidding wars in Montclair and Maplewood due to a shortage of inventory. However, the truth is, there's plenty of inventory to go around. In this case, “shortage” doesn’t necessarily refer to “number of homes” as much as it does to “what a buyer is looking for.”

I’ve written here about the misconception that sellers often have about what is “valuable;” this discrepancy between perception and reality comes into play regularly when some of us try and sell our parents’ china sets or old books. Generally speaking, today’s buyers don’t want Old Stuff. And when it comes to houses there are certain things they’re looking for: smaller spaces, new renovation, and walkability.

Unfortunately, not all the homes in these towns are small and “steps away from everything.” But this does not necessarily mean a seller won’t be able to sell or buyer won’t find a satisfactory home.

Smart sellers need to understand their customer base and do what they can to increase the appeal of their home – even if their home has been fine for them the way it’s been for 25 years.

And smart buyers need to be open to hidden opportunities and value that might not be evident from a simple walk through – for example, understanding the “value” of a location beyond merely how many steps it is to the nearest coffee shop.

A good real estate agent will help you find what you say you’re looking for – whether that means getting the price you hope to get or being able to check all the boxes on your wish list. A great real estate agent will educate you and make you smarter about a town or a process that you may not be so familiar with. That’s my job. I do it every day, often 7 days a week.

Whether you’re ready to buy or to sell, allow me to share my expertise with you.

QUESTION: My best friend just got her real estate license. Should I list with her?

handshakeI read somewhere that the average person is friends with 5 real estate agents. If that’s true, the good news is you'll have 5 people you know and trust who can help you buy or sell your house. The bad news is you can really only work with one of them.

The other bad news is that most newbies don't last very long in the business. The attrition rate is high, with 87% dropping out in the first 5 years. And of the agents currently working, most of the real estate “business” that you see around you (an estimated 80%) is being conducted by the top 20% of the agents in the area.

Listing with a friend can be a high-pressured situation, especially if he or she is new to the business. Of course, you want to help them but the truth is, they are learning the ropes on your largest financial asset – and that’s something you need to be aware of going in. Because an agent’s “education” can hit a seller in their wallet.

We’ve all gotten the call from someone we adore: “Hey, I just got my real estate license!” But it’s still wise to ask ourselves: Of the 5 real estate agents you may know, who's still learning on the job? Who's getting ready to drop out because it just isn’t as easy as it looks? Who's in the 80 percent, struggling to put together a few deals a year?  Who's selling real estate only on weekends and after their day job on Tuesdays?

I can tell you from my 13 years experience and over 200 homes I’ve sold, the more you’ve “seen” in real estate deals, the better equipped you are to service your clients. Contact me to learn more about what I can do for you whether you're buying or selling. 

Your Questions Answered: What's the Deal with "Teams"?

People often ask me to explain how “teams” work in real estate agencies, and what it means for them as clients. The short answer is, it depends what kind of team it is.

“Small Teams”
Many agents discover that, while they may be great at educating clients about homes and negotiating deals, they are not as well-suited to the administrative work. So once they become established enough, they quickly hire an assistant to take on non-sales tasks. This is great for the agent, freeing her up to do more face-to-face client work. And it’s great for the client, because the support person is usually very detail- and deadline-oriented. This arrangement is technically a “Small Team”, however it’s usually not referred to as a “team” at all because even though there may be several people working on the client’s behalf, there is only one “public-facing” agent.  

“Named Teams”
Named Teams are typically bigger and advertise themselves as a "team." This structure is often comprised of an experienced lead agent (whose name is in the "team name"), one or more less experienced “buyer’s agents,” and an administrative assistant. Sometimes the lead agent will handle mostly sellers and the newer agents may handle mostly buyers, especially those looking in lower price ranges.

The newer agents are provided prospective buyers and mentorship from the lead agent and in exchange, any clients they bring to the “team” become the “property” of the lead agent. As a buyer or seller, this type of team may or may not be beneficial to you – it largely depends on the experience level of the specific agents handling your business and the ability of the lead agent to oversee the quality of the team’s work.

“Family Teams”
This might be a husband and wife team, a mother-son team, or a man and his nephews. The implication is: we’re family, so we’re close and work well together. Sometimes that’s true. But these “teams” can often form because a successful agent is trying to help out a loved one who’s in transition (unemployed, new to the area, etc.). And in those cases, a client isn’t always getting someone who’s fully committed to this very service-oriented business.

Pros and Cons
There are definite advantages in working with a team. Namely, that people are usually doing the jobs they are best suited for. The main disadvantage is the confusion around not having a “single” person accountable for your business. Who do you go to with a problem? The administrator? The lead agent (whom you may never have met)? The person showing you around?

In my opinion, the agent/client relationship is more important than who or how many are on a “team.” If you’re looking to buy, look for an agent who can educate you about every aspect of the process: the market climate, the town, the neighborhoods, renovations and remodeling, and the context in which to determine the value of your purchase.

If you’re looking to sell, seek out an agent who is knowledgeable about the town’s real estate culture, is an experienced marketer and pricing strategist and one who can also guide you through the difficult process of getting your house ready for market.

And, if on top of all that, you find an agent who understands a perspective that can add even more value to your purchase or sale – say, the walkability perspective – well, that person may be your MVP. :)

 

Free Consultation For Down-Sizers

TypewriterOnce upon a time, I lived in a big house by the park. It was the perfect place to raise my children. Then one day, with my children older and beginning to leave home, my house seemed too big for my life. So I moved to a smaller place.

This is not an original story. Most people will tell this story one day, or one just like it. It’s common for people to downsize. But the difference these days is that it’s become more difficult to get rid of our “stuff.”

I came upon a blog post the other day – “Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff” – and it was as if someone looked into my mind and recounted many of the conversations I’ve had with my seller clients. People get ready to move themselves, or their elderly parents, and discover that all those “valuable” belongings – books, china, heirloom furniture, art – that they’re finally ready to part with, don’t have anywhere to go.

I happen to enjoy the activity of figuring out “what's next” for possessions that don’t serve me any longer. But many of my clients do not!

I offer my listing clients a free 4-hour consultation with a professional home organizer who will help them decide what to keep, what to throw out, as well as arrange for appraisals, donations, and even online sales.

Once upon a time, it used to be so easy to find a new home for our “stuff,” and now, not so much. But the real story is this: if you have the support of someone who is both knowledgeable and likes the process, you can enjoy those happily-ever-after moments that arise when your lifestyle and your possessions are once again in sync.

Contact me to get started today!

What Millennial Home Buyers Are Looking For

open kitchen

When I moved to this area, close to 30 years ago, it was all about the detail. Whether a home was big or small, most of us were looking for craftsmanship -- a house with good bones. And this area is brimming with them!

But this generation of buyer isn’t looking for the same things most sellers were looking for when we purchased our houses decades ago. So, if you’re a seller who is considering doing some work before listing this season, you can really increase your home’s “appeal” by paying attention to what today’s buyers care about most.

If you’re going to renovate, open spaces are more desirable than lots of smaller rooms. For example, an open kitchen is a big draw. But it doesn’t need to be a big, fancy kitchen! Millennials seem to prefer cleaner lines and more light over fussy architectural details. Bigger windows, not bigger moldings!

In fact, it doesn’t have to be a big house at all. Millennials would rather have a home office than a formal dining room. They're drawn to things like energy efficiency, low VOC paint, smart tech accoutrements (WiFi-enabled lights, thermostats, locks, and garage doors). And, need I say it – walkability!

Also, the lower the maintenance, the better. Examples would be Hardie Board siding vs. wood clapboard exteriors, or Trex for decking over wood. This crop of buyers want to spend their weekends entertaining friends, not staining the deck.

I’ve been helping sellers prep their homes for years. I have a background in architecture and a passion for construction details. If you want to get ready for market, I’m delighted to partner with you in any way you need. 

And if you’re looking for a home in a great, walkable suburb, I can help you turn whatever you find into the home of your dreams!