Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

It’s not peak selling season, but these smart strategies will help you make sure your home looks good even when the weather is dreary.

By Jerold Leslie of TheStreet

The fall home-selling season is a lot like the college football season — both normally end around Thanksgiving, but a smaller postseason keeps going long after that.

“It used to be that spring and summer were the hot times to buy or sell houses, but people are much more mobile now. If you want to sell your house these days, you don’t
necessarily have to wait until spring to put it on the market,” says Brad Knapp, a National Association of Realtors regional vice president and an agent with Henkle Schueler & Associates in suburban Cincinnati.

True, most would-be homebuyers and sellers in colder climates still call it quits from late November until late February or so.

But Knapp says consumers who face job relocations, divorces or other situations
requiring an immediate move keep the market humming all winter long.

“There are fewer buyers and sellers in the marketplace during the winter, but they’re
all serious buyers and sellers,” he says. “They all have a sense of urgency or they wouldn’t be in the market at all.”

But how can a would-be seller attract a buyer when there’s ice on a home’s walkway, snow covering the flower beds and little natural light to make a place look bright?

Here are five things Knapp says homeowners must do if they want to heat up the chances of selling a property this winter:

1. Set a realistic price

House hunters expect discount prices in the winter, because they know that any
homeowner who lists a property during the period really needs to sell. So Knapp
recommends that sellers list their homes at realistic prices to begin with —
without any extra “air” for haggling.

“We’ve been in a buyers market for so long now in most of the country that buyers are trained tolowball,” he says. “The best way to avoid that is to price a home accurately in first place.”

2. Advertise with snow-free pictures

If possible, you or your agent should commission your home’s advertising photos before it snows. If that’s not feasible, make arrangements to have a photographer come out the first time the snow melts — even if it’s just a brief winter thaw.

You can also have a photographer digitally alter photos to take out snow, but proceed with caution. Too much digital editing can open you or your agent up to allegations of deceptive advertising.

3. Maximize curb appeal

You always want your home to have good “curb appeal” — a nice appearance that’s apparent from the moment a would-be buyer pulls up to the curb — but winter snow and gloom make that tough.

To make the most of your home’s wintertime look, Knapp recommends making sure all autumn leaves and any dead tree branches are gone. Keep your home’s driveway and paths free of snow and ice and put a nice, clean doormat in front.

“You home might not have the same beautiful landscaping that it does in June, but you can at least make sure the property looks halfway decent,” Knapp says.

4. ‘Stage’ the interior for winter

A good real-estate agent or professional home stager can help you make your home’s interior look warm and friendly no matter how dreary it is outside. Knapp says you should start by decluttering the home, putting as much stuff as possible away — preferably in offsite storage — to make your home look clean and roomy.

Also remove all family photos, sports memorabilia and the like so would-be buyers can picture themselves — not you — living in the home. And don’t go overboard with holiday decorations if you’re listing your home in December.

“It’s OK to put up a Christmas tree, but you might not want the fake reindeer and Santa Claus in the yard this year,” Knapp says, adding that you should take all decorations down by Jan. 2.

Additionally, make sure to fix broken windows, squeaky doors or anything else that needs repair long before any showings.

Lastly, Knapp recommends baking cookies or an apple pie shortly before house hunters
arrive. This will give your home an inviting smell when would-be buyers come in from the cold.

5. Have good interior lighting

You always want your home to look as bright as possible to potential buyers, but sparse winter sunlight can make that a real challenge.

Maximize all available lighting by having your home’s windows professionally cleaned — inside and out — before you put your place on the market. Don’t forget the storm windows.

Also consider replacing 40-watt bulbs with 75- or 100-watt versions — and put all lights on before every showing. “I know that’s going to drive up the electric bill, but you want to make sure there’s plenty of light,” Knapp says. “You don’t want an agent who’s not familiar with the home showing it to a client and having to paw around to find the light switches.”

 

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

 

Winter’s doldrums got you down? Grab a screwdriver and a hammer and fight back with easy home repairs that’ll raise spirits and get your house ready for spring.

Accomplishments — even little ones — go a long way toward a sunny outlook. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy, quick home repair chores you can do when you’re mired in the thick of winter. For max efficiency, make a to-do list ahead of time and shop for all the tools and supplies in one trip. On your work days, put the basics in a caddy and carry it from room to room, checking off completed tasks as you speed through them.

What to look (and listen) for

In each room, look around and take stock of what needs fixing or improving.
Focus on small, quick-hit changes, not major redos. Here are some likely
suspects:

1. Sagging towel rack or wobbly toilet tissue holder. Unscrew the
fixture and look for the culprit. It’s probably a wimpy, push-in type plastic
drywall anchor. Pull that out (or just poke it through the wall) and replace it
with something more substantial. Toggle bolts are strongest, and threaded types
such as E-Z Ancor are easy to install.

2. Squeaky door hinges. Eliminate squeaks by squirting a puff of powdered graphite ($2.50 for a 3-gram tube) alongside the pin where the hinge turns. If the door sticks, plane off a bit of the wood, then touch up the paint so the surgery isn’t noticeable.

3. Creaky floor boards. They’ll shush if you fasten them down better. Anti-squeak repair kits, such as Squeeeeek No More ($23), feature specially designed screws that are easy to conceal. A low-cost alternative: Dust a little talcum powder into the seam where floorboards meet — the talcum acts as a lubricant to quiet boards that rub against each other.

4. Rusty shutoff valves. Check under sinks and behind toilets for the shutoff valves on your water supply lines. These little-used valves may slowly rust in place over time, and might not work when you need them most. Keep them operating by putting a little machine oil or WD-40 on the handle shafts. Twist the handles back and forth to work the oil into the threads. If they won’t budge, give the oil a couple of hours to penetrate, and try again.

5. Blistered paint on shower ceilings. This area gets a lot of heat and moisture that stresses paint finishes. Scrape off old paint and recoat, using a high-quality exterior-grade paint. Also, be sure everyone uses the bathroom vent when showering to help get rid of excess moisture.

6. Loose handles or hinges on furniture, cabinets, and doors. You can probably fix these with a few quick turns of a screwdriver. But if a screw just spins in place, try making the hole fit the screw better by stuffing in a toothpick coated with glue, or switching to a larger screw.

Safety items
You know those routine safety checks you keep meaning to do but never have the
time? Now’s the time.

7. Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. If you don’t like waking up to the annoying chirp of smoke detector batteries as they wear down, do what many fire departments recommend and simply replace all of them at the same time once a year.

8. Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. You’re supposed to test them once a month, but who does? Now’s a great time. You’ll find them around potentially wet areas — building codes specify GFCI outlets in bathrooms, kitchens, and for outdoor
receptacles. Make sure the device trips and resets correctly. If you find a faulty outlet, replace it or get an electrician to do it for $75 to $100.

Another good project is to replace your GFCIs with the latest generation of protected
outlets that test themselves, such as Levitron’s SmartlockPro Self-Test GFCI ($28). You won’t have to manually test ever again!

9. Exhaust filter for the kitchen stove. By washing it to remove grease, you’ll
increase the efficiency of your exhaust vent; plus, if a kitchen stovetop fire breaks out, this will help keep the flames from spreading.

10. Clothes dryer vent.  Pull the dryer out from the wall, disconnect the vent pipe, and vacuum lint out of the pipe and the place where it connects to the machine. Also, wipe lint off your exterior dryer vent so the flap opens and closes easily. (You’ll need to go outside for that, but it’s quick.) Remember that vents clogged with old dryer lint are a leading cause of house fires.

11. Drain hoses. Inspect your clothes washer, the dishwashers, and the icemaker. If you see any cracks or drips, replace the hose so you don’t come home to a flood one day.

12. Electrical cords. Replace any that are brittle, cracked, or have damaged plugs. If you’re using extension cords, see if you can eliminate them — for example, by replacing that too-short lamp cord with one that’s longer. If you don’t feel up to rewiring the lamp yourself, drop it off at a repair shop as you head out to shop for your repair materials. It might not be ready by the end of the day. But, hey, one half-done repair that you can’t check off is no big deal, right?

Monday, January 30th, 2012

As the first month of the year trots onward, so do home buyers. They posted increased activity levels compared to the same week in 2011. Seller activity slowed compared to last year, however. Inventory declines effectively positioned many local markets into a more balanced state – particularly toward the end of last year. Increased seller activity in the coming months could slow or even reverse that trend. Don’t fret. Not only is an increase in new listings perfectly normal for this time of year, but improved absorption rates and seller concessions could begin to stew into seller confidence.

In the Twin Cities region, for the week ending January 21:

  • New Listings decreased 8.2% to 1,092
  • Pending Sales increased 29.0% to 730
  • Inventory decreased 23.2% to 17,822

For the month of December:

  • Median Sales Price decreased 6.5% to $145,000
  • Days on Market decreased 2.1% to 141
  • Percent of Original List Price Received increased 1.7% to 90.6%
  • Months Supply of Inventory decreased 33.7% to 4.7

Click here for the full Weekly Market Activity Report.

From The Skinny.

Posted in The Skinny |
Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that mortgage applications increased more than 23.0 percent from the week prior. The fine print stated that most of the increase was driven by refinancing activity, given record low rates. Residential construction data also provided glimmers of hope. By now, many have surely noticed that the supply-demand balance is changing. What some may not realize is that this is a leading indicator, while home prices are a lagging indicator. Price appreciation is the final phase of recovery. Excess supply is down–in some areas, it’s way down. Purchase demand in most areas strengthened throughout the second half of 2011. For sellers, it’s less scary out there. For buyers, it’s still a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

In the Twin Cities region, for the week ending January 14:

  • New Listings decreased 5.2% to 1,216
  • Pending Sales increased 28.4% to 728
  • Inventory decreased 23.8% to 17,690

For the month of December:

  • Median Sales Price decreased 6.5% to $145,000
  • Days on Market decreased 2.5% to 140
  • Percent of Original List Price Received increased 1.7% to 90.6%
  • Months Supply of Inventory decreased 35.6% to 4.6

Click here for the full Weekly Market Activity Report.

From The Skinny.

Posted in The Skinny |
Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Posted in The Skinny |