The Austin Real Estate Buzz

Tips for Buying, Selling and Living in Austin Texas

Tips Tuesday: Staging your Kitchen to Sell

Kitchen at 3108 Wild Rock Austin TexasOkay, now that your bathroom is staged and ready to sell, it’s time to look at another critical room in the selling process:  the kitchen.

The kitchen may well be the heart of the home, but it’s also a prime place for mistakes and blunders that could hurt your chances of selling your house. Ready to take the next step towards getting your home from “for sale” to “sold”?  Let’s tackle kitchen staging!

1) Clean, clean, clean.  When it comes to selling your house, there is no such thing as overdoing it when it comes to cleaning. Here are some common areas we tend to overlook when it’s time to sell.  But buyers will notice all of these! Make sure you clean:

  • The space behind the faucet set
  • The fan above the stove (include the vent, fan blades, edges and casing.) Even if this area is unseen, greasy smells that linger inside can make buyers turn up their nose at your kitchen.
  • The seals on your fridge and oven
  • The edges of doors on the fridge, dishwasher and oven
  • The area under the knobs on the stove
  • Cabinet doors including edges, tops and the area around the knobs
  • Cabinet and pantry shelves, including the sides and edges
  • Backsplashes and wall areas that adjoin counters or appliances
  • Drain rings and baskets
  • Faucets and faucet handles, including spray heads and the hose that comes out to allow it to spray (yes, people do look!)
  • Floor edges under the counters
  • Door knobs (grabbing a sticky one is an instant buyer-turnoff!
  • The area under the sink, including pipes and such
  • Walls and ceilings

2) Take a whiff! After awhile, it’s hard to notice the smells in your own kitchen.  But buyers will notice all those off smells and odd scents, and that could mean “No Sale.”  Pay extra attention to potential odors from:

  • Disposals (clean it out, then grind up some lemon or lime peel just before showings)
  • Dishwashers — invest in dishwasher cleaner, wipe out catch screens and check drains of odd bits of food
  • Refrigerators and freezers. Now is a good time to eat out!  Or at the very least, make sure these appliances are spotlessly clean.  Then add fresh boxes of baking soda to both.
  • Stoves and ovens.  Greasy smells can linger here, so clean the pans, burners and surfaces thoroughly
  • Kitty boxes.  Keep it spotless.  Change the litter daily if needed.  Or even better, invest in a litter box with a charcoal filter lid, and then clean it every day
  • Curtains. Fabric absorbs odor, so take down and wash any fabric items like curtain, table cloths or placemats.  Not washable?  Remove them, or replace them with new ones.
  • Walls. Yes, your painted walls and ceilings can soak up nasty smells over the years, so give yours a complete wash with a dilute TSP solution (available in the paint department at Home Depot or similar stores).  Or have your kitchen scrubbed and repainted
  • Wallpaper.  Like paint and curtains, smells of grease, cigarette smoke and such can soak in.  If it’s been up for several years, or if someone in your house smokes, consider removing the paper and painting instead.

3) Pay attention to the details. Little things like door or cabinet knobs, scratched stove tops or missing/broken lights can make all the difference in the world. Take photos of the details to see them with fresh eyes, and then replace whatever doesn’t work.

4) Give them space.  No one wants a kitchen that seems cramped.  And no one wants one that lacks enough counter or cabinet space.  Your job as a homeowner is to make the space you have look like more than enough.  Pack away extra dishes, stash non–essential appliances and create empty spaces throughout your kitchen.  Not sure what should stay on counters?  Talk to your Realtor, or wander through some model homes and take notes.

5) Consider something more.  Renovations and updates on kitchens not only offer a great rate of return, but can also push a buyer into making an offer when they’re teetering on the edge.  Check out other area homes for sale, and compare them to your kitchen.  Would a face lift or some new appliances make your home more competitive?  Talk to your Realtor about the average return on kitchen improvements in your area…you may find that it’s worth it to make your old kitchen into someone else’s brand new dream kitchen.

Tips Tuesday: Staging your bathroom to sell

messy bathroom counterWhen it’s time to put your home on the market, you want to do everything you can to make it a buyer’s very first choice.  But did you know that something as small as dirty grout could sour buyers on your home?

Yup!  The very same things we overlook in our own homes can become a deal-breaker when we’re shopping for a new house.  And the bathroom can be one of the worst offenders!   Here’s a checklist of what you need to do to keep buyer’s from crossing your bathroom (and your home) off their list of possibles.

  • Clutter. Is your counter top covered with makeup, is the shower or tub lined with shampoo and soap bottles or is your towel rack overflowing with used towels?  Sort it out, throw away what you can, and limit what you leave out. Use pretty undersink baskets or  bins with lids to control what you need to keep on hand.
  • Storage. Open all the cabinets and closets in your bathroom.  Do they look spacious?  Well organized?  If not, pack away half or more of everything in them.  Ideally your bathroom storage should be at least half empty when your house is for sale.
  • Cleaning. Before a single buyer comes through, your bathrooms need to sparkle.  That means every inch of grout cleaned, every corner and edge scrubbed, and every surface shining.  Use lemon oil to make chrome fixtures shine, and invest in some Magic Erasers to deal with woodwork and cabinet fingerprints. Make sure mirrors are free from water splatters or streaking, too.
  • Smells.  It’s the bathroom, so there’s no way around this one.  It can smell bad.  Your job is to make it smell good. Use infusers (vanilla is always a good choice), use bleach to remove any mildew-y smells from showers and tubs, and clean out the hamper every day (and before every showing! Trust me on this one!  It can get awkward when a buyer opens that cabinet and dirty unmentionables fall out!)
  • Accessories. Now is the time to bring out those pretty soaps no one ever uses and the fingertip towels you’ve ordered the kids to never touch.  Don’t have those kinds of things?  Head over to T.J. Maxx or Homegoods and pick up some.  It’s worth the few dollars you’ll spend when your bathroom looks pulled together and welcoming.  Not sure what to buy? Ask your Realtor.  They know what works and what detracts from a potential sale.
  • Lighting.  Invest in natural daylight bulbs for all your bathroom fixtures.  It’s hard to sell someone on a house when they look in the mirror and see themselves looking pale or yellow.  Sure florescents are greener and more energy efficient…but this is about sales. So go with the pretty lights for awhile.

Your Realtor can tell you if you need to do more to your bathroom to make it a sales asset. Renovations, new fixtures or even some paint or tile might be needed in your bathroom.  But even if you do a major overhaul, the tips we listed are must-do’s for every bathroom in a house for sale.

Watch for more tips next Tuesday when we tackle another room!

News Monday: California is using Robo-signing settlement to help state, not homeowners

falling cash money California’s decision to use $411 million in settlement money from robo-signing settlements to pay off the state’s general fund deficits has homeowner and real estate advocate groups crying foul.

States were urged to use the money to help homeowners save their homes from foreclosure, but California opted to apply the entire windfall to the state itself.  And California isn’t alone in this. Texas is also planning to divert 100% of its $134,600,000 piece of the settlement to the state’s general fund, with zero going to foreclosure support programs.

Overall, sources report that over 40% of the money distributed to states so far from the $2.5 billion dollar settlement has already been diverted from foreclosure programs, and is being used by states to enrich budgets for other departments and programs!

So how do you feel about this?  Should states be required to use the settlement money for foreclosure prevention and reduction programs?  Chime in and share your thoughts…I’d love to hear.  And maybe a few calls to the Governor’s office might be in order, too!

Friday Funnies Five tips on how NOT to stage your home

TGIF!

It’s almost one of those wonderful (almost) summer weekends.  Some of you may have big plans for the next few days…maybe some time on a boat or at the beach, maybe a hike in the mountains.

But if you’re getting ready to sell your house, odds are you’re going to be spending the weekend getting ready for buyers.  And that means staging.

Before you welcome your first prospects, here are a few tips on what NOT to do (but real home sellers have!).

1) Closets are for stuff, right?  Everyone knows that staging means cleaning up all the little stuff around the house.  Lots of articles tell you to get a storage unit, but heck, there’s room in the closets for a few more boxes.  Go ahead and stuff your junk in every closet in your house.  When buyers open them, they’ll see just how much of their stuff they’ll be able to jam inside!

2) Let buyers get to know the real you.  Everyone knows they’re buying a house from a real person, so why not share some of who you are with home shoppers?  Leave personal details in sight, like medicine bottles on the counter, political fliers on the coffee table and doctors’ appointment cards on the fridge door. The more personal, the better!

3) Cook with aroma right before showings.  Home cooking makes a house feel like a home, doesn’t it?  So welcome potential buyers by cooking with lots of onions and garlic. Or maybe a fish dinner.  For a finishing touch, boil some cabbage.  Yum, yum!  They’ll be fighting to place offers on your home!

4) Moving is messy.  Everyone knows that moving is a lot of work, and houses get messy when people are moving in or out.  So no one will mind if you skimp on the cleaning.  After all, why pay to have carpets cleaned or walls painted when the buyers will probably change everything anyhow.  People will appreciate your sensible attitude.

5) Save energy.  Low wattage bulbs and cheap florescent fixtures save money and use less electricity, so make sure your home is as energy efficient — and dim — as possible. Buyers won’t mind squinting to see into rooms — besides it’s a great way to hide those full closets, dirty carpets and stacks of magazines.  Who says being green isn’t beneficial?

Now that you know what NOT to do…

Next week, I’ll be starting a new room by room series of articles on staging your home.  Every few days, I’ll offer tips and ideas for creating the best look for your home when you’re preparing to sell.  Don’t miss these great ideas especially if your home is in a down market.

300 Texans without power today. Are you prepared if it happens?

thermometer for high heat preparedness in austin texasKXAN is reporting that 300 customers are without power today, when temps are expected to hit the mid to upper 90’s.  What would you do if your power was out today? With the extreme heat we have here in Central Texas, it’s not just a question of comfort…it’s one of safety too.

Lots of people have emergency preparedness plans for cold weather or hurricanes or tornados, but did you know extreme heat can be just as deadly as any of those weather emergencies?  That’s especially true if you have ill or elderly residents, or small children.  Even pets can be at risk if the air conditioning fails on an typical Austin summer day when interior temps could quickly exceed 100 degrees if power failed.

Being prepared can make the difference when it comes to extreme heat and power outages. Some steps you can take include:

  • Buy a few battery or solar powered fans, and let everyone in your home know where they’re stored
  • Have a room A/C unit on hand and a gas powered generator ready to power it.  Keeping one room cool can provide a safe oasis  until power is restored
  • Have a plan of action to move residents, including pets, to a hotel or friend’s home until power is restored
  • If your home uses a well pump or other electric-based pump for water,  make sure you have enough bottled water on hand to last at least a day or two for drinking, washing, and cooking
  • Store some basic food that can be eaten even if power is out.  Protein bars, packets of pudding or jello, and the good old stand-by PB&J are all good choices, but you can add your family’s favorites.  If it’s canned, make sure you have a non-electric can opener stored with the food.  (And yes, I have seen that situation arise!)

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer! It’s also the peak of home buying and selling here in Austin. If you’re thinking of buying your dream home (or your very first home!), or are ready to sell, give me a call and let’s talk about how I can make your home buying and selling easier!

Top 10 tips for getting your house ready for summer (Part 2)

swimming pool on Austin Real Estate BuzzGetting your house ready for summer now means you’ll have more time to enjoy it once the days get longer and the kids are out of school. I hope you read our first five tips last week…here’s the rest of the 10 things you need to do to get your house ready for summer.

6) Pool check-up.  If you have a pool, you want it to be in tip-top shape for summer fun.   So now’s the time to schedule an inspection of your filter and pumps to make sure everything is in working order.  Make sure you have a good water testing set, and that you have the chemicals on hand to keep your pool’s water fresh and clean.  If you use a pool service, make sure you’re still on the schedule for summer to avoid any mix-ups and missed swimming days.

7) Check your windows for leaks. We don’t have much of a winter here in Austin, but summers more than make up for it.  Now is the time to check your windows and doors for gaps that could send your air conditioning right out the door….and your bills through the roof!  Not sure how to spot leaks?  Call in a pro to do the check for you.  Even small leaks can cost big money, so odds are you’ll save a lot more than you’ll spend on the inspection.

8) Check your lawn and patio furniture for wear or damage. You don’t want a guest falling through a patio chair.  And no one wants to find that the table umbrella won’t stay up when you’re ready to serve lunch.  Check your chairs and table legs for cracks, and give cushions a once-over for tears, stains or mildew.

9) Clean your fridge and freezer condenser coils.  Refrigerators have to work harder in hot weather, so you need to protect the compressor by keeping coils clean and free of dust and grim.  Coil cleaning brushes are cheap and easy to find at home improvement stores, so grab one and use it before summer heats up.  And while you’re at it, clean out that dryer vent, too.

10) Check your attic insulation.  You don’t want the heat of the sun making your A/C work harder than it has to, so now’s a good time to check the insulation in your attic.  Experts generally recommend about 8 inches of R-25 insulation in attics in the Austin area.  If the insulation in your attic is compressed or damaged, have it replaced before the 100+ temps get here!  You, and your energy bill, will be glad you did!

Friday Funnies: You know it’s the wrong house when….

you know its the wrong house whenWhen you’re looking for a new home, there are probably lots of things on your “Want” list. But what about your “No way in heck!” list?  Sure, there are small things that make a house the wrong one…but here are some great big signs that you might want to run, not walk, to a different house for sale!

So, with no further ado, You know it’s the wrong house when….

  1. The “Days on the Market” column is too small for all the digits
  2. “Exorcism schedule”  is included in the seller’s disclosure
  3. Doors to some rooms are locked, with a sign that says “Do not open until after the sale.  Surprise!”
  4. When you arrive to see the house,  you discover that the FBI is waiting to walk around with you, “Just in Case”
  5. The Realtor asks for your next of kin before they open the front door
  6. The “Not Included in the Sale”  list mentions electricity, water, roof…
  7. The house next door has three large Greek letters on the front  — and residents, er um, “asleep” on the lawn
  8. You have to remove the “Crime Scene” tape to enter the house
  9. It’s described as a great place for “An energetic do-it-yourself type who can see hidden potential”
  10. The first words out of the Realtor’s mouth are “You’ll get used to the smell…”

Have a “you knew it was the wrong house” story of your own?  We would love to hear it!  Leave us a comment and give us your own tale of house-hunting woe!

Top 10 tips for getting your house ready for summer (Part 1)

man getting house ready for summer with screensIt may still be chilly in some parts of the country, but most of us are feeling summer’s heat approaching.  It’s time to break out the lawn chairs, camping gears and beach blankets, and to make that all-important trip to the mall to buy…gasp!…a NEW BATHING SUIT!

But did you know your house also needs to get ready for summer? Sure, it doesn’t have to face the embarrassment of dressing room lighting, but it really does have challenges of its own.  And addressing them is all up to you. Ready?

Here’s the first half of our top 10 list of things you need to get your house ready for summer:

  1. A/C check up: Unless you’re in Florida, Southern California or a few other states where winter and summer are pretty indistinguishable, odds are your A/C has been off for months.  Before you crank it up again, get a qualified service company to do a check up on your system.  A few dollars now could keep you from sweltering in August!
  2. Stock up on A/C filters: Every summer, my A/C’s odd-sized filters would be out of stock in my local home store, and I would end up running all over town to find some.  Stocking up on filters now will not only prevent the empty-shelf syndrome, it will keep you changing them more often.  After all, they’re right there in the garage instead of on your shopping list. An A/C with clean filters works better, costs less and is less likely to need service.
  3. Do a test run on your sprinklers: Before your lawn is looking more brown and crunchy than green and lush, make sure all the sprinklers work well and that your whole yard has coverage.  Test the timers, too.  With water restrictions here in Austin, Texas and in many other parts of the U.S., you don’t want to miss a once-a-week watering because of a faulty timer!
  4. Check your hoses for leaks: Whether it’s for watering those new flowers, covering a spot of lawn your sprinklers miss, filling a pool or cooling down the kids, you will need a hose or two over the summer.  But winter storage, especially in dry and/or cold climates can crack hose material.  Make sure yours work without a leak before you have a yard full of kids and a hose than can’t hold water!
  5. Look over your screens: Whether you take your screens down for winter or leave them up all year long, now is the time to check them all for holes, loose edges and rips.  Sure that might look like a small hole to you, but to a hungry mosquito, it looks like a wide-open invitation.  Skip the Calamine lotion and fix or replace all your screen now.

Whether summer has reached you yet or not, be assured it’s on its way.  Getting your house ready for summer now could save you headaches later on. Stay tuned for more tips on Monday.

Now, back to that dressing room…. noooooooooooooooo!

Friday Funnies: The five biggest mistakes home sellers can make

It’s Friday (TGIF!) so let’s slip into the weekend with a little fun.

I’ve gathered a list of the top 5 mistakes home sellers can make.  Now before you start reading, I have to give you one warning.  Yes, these are funny — but all of them have REALLY happened!  You just have to wonder what people were thinking…never mind.  Read them first, giggle a bit, and then….make sure your home selling mistakes won’t end up on my next list!

Ready?

  1. Let the dog great home buyers at the door. What makes a home shopper feel more welcome than a full-on paws up greeting from the family lab?  Want to make sure it’s even more effective?  Make sure the dog’s paws are wet or muddy before you open the door.  Oh the words you will hear!
  2. Tell the potential buyers everything.  Of course you have a disclosure and it’s accurate. But why stop there?  Be sure to tell the potential buyers all about the quirky plumbing the last owners installed or the neighbor’s habit of mowing his lawn at midnight.  Throw a bunch of one time events or problems too, just to round out the picture.  For a finishing touch, talk about how much you can’t WAIT to get out of the house for good!
  3. Share personal details about your life in the house. Buyers really do want to know where your three year old threw up all over the living room.  Or just how you know that the bedroom is really soundproof.  It’ll make them feel like a part of the family, right?
  4. Skimp on cleaning.  You’ve had to keep this house clean for years.  But now you’re selling now, so why bother to keep everything spotlessly clean?  As soon as it’s sold, they’ll have to clean it themselves anyhow, right?  And besides, buyers are looking at big stuff like room sizes and swimming pools.  They’ll never notice that crud in the corner of the shower or the fingerprints on the doorways.
  5. Leave your er, um, personal effects in sight.  From undies to… Need I say more?  Hey it’s still your house, after all!  Why should you cramp your style?

So how about you?  Do you have a “what were they thinking?” seller’s mistake to share?  We’d love to hear!

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