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Must Dos Before You List

To make every area of your home tempting to buyers, consider these musts:

Curb appeal:

  • Manicured lawn and planting beds (with mulch added to neaten up less-than-perfect zones)
  • Handsome planters or boxes with colorful blooms
  • Clean, neutral exterior—power wash or paint if needed
  • Smoothly functioning door locks, knobs, bell, and latches
  • New or spotless house numbers and mailbox
  • Good exterior lighting
  • Trash and recycling out of sight


  • Countertops clear of all small appliances
  • Updated hardware
  • Spotless (inside and out) and depersonalized fridge—no magnets, memos, or drawings
  • No visible trash cans or recycling bins

Dining Room:

  • Bold centerpiece on the table—either a large vase, an orchid, or greenery
  • Matching, minimal items in any open or glass shelving pieces, such as a hutch

Living Room:

  • Keep-it-simple furniture. You can’t go wrong with a solid off-white linen track arm sofa and a curved or rectangular coffee table. Avoid overstuffed, patterned, or detailed pieces.
  • Use slipcovers in white or soft, pale colors on any couch or chair past its prime.

Master bedroom:

  • White bedding, with a fluffy white duvet cover. For interest, a gray or blue throw on the bed.
  • Large matching lamps
  • Soft, neutral area rug
  • Minimal clothing in closets (will make them look larger) and no mismatched hangers
  • No exercise equipment, laundry baskets, or other extraneous items


  • Sparkling clean
  • Simple and pristine shower curtain
  • Rolled-up washcloths and fluffy, white towels
  • Simple greenery or single well-groomed plant
  • No personal care or grooming products in sight

Secondary bedrooms:

  • Neatly made bed
  • No toys lying around
  • Nothing with your children’s names visible
  • No posters on the walls


  • Clean, simple, comfortable outdoor furniture

Fire Prevention Safety Week

Every October, the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) observes Fire Prevention Safety Week for families to plan, prepare and think about the importance of fire safety. Of course, every week is a good week to talk about fire safety because you never know when a fire emergency can strike. Here are a few fire safety tips and facts for you and your family to keep in mind.

Did You Know? Fire Safety Facts & Statistics 

  • On average, seven people die in home fires every day.
  • Fire departments respond to an average of 355,400 home fires each year.
  • Cooking appliances are the leading cause of home fires.
  • 65 percent of fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke detectors.
  • It only takes 30 seconds for a small fire to spread.

Kids Fire Safety Tips & To-Dos

Fire Prevention Tips

  • Don’t play with matches, lighters or candles.
  • Stay away from fireplaces and stoves.
  • Never cook or use appliances without adult supervision.
  • Be careful not to plug too many devices into one outlet or power strip.
  • Don’t put clothes, toys or flammable items near heat.

Home Safety Checklist

  • Check to see if each room has a smoke alarm. If not, tell a parent.
  • Look for smoke alarms in hallways or stairwells.
  • Ask your parents to let you hear what your smoke alarm sounds like.
  • Make sure your home’s windows and doors are free of clutter, toys and furniture.

Parents Fire Safety Tips & To-Dos

Fire Prevention Tips

  • Keep lighters and candles out of children’s reach.
  • Test your home’s smoke detectors at least once a month.
  • Keep fire safety equipment in your home. Fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, and escape ladders are common home fire safety items.
  • Identify any fire safety hazards, such as lint left in dryers, plugged in heating appliances, and cleaning your chimney.

Home Safety Checklist

  • Make sure your smoke alarm and batteries are working each month.
  • Get interconnected smoke alarms so when one sounds, they’ll all sound.
  • Create a home fire escape plan that shows two ways out of each room.
  • Practice your family’s fire escape plan at least twice a year.

Making a Fire Evacuation Plan

    1. Find all of your home’s possible exits. Start by drawing your home’s floor plan. Spot at least two exits in each room. Make sure each exit is clear from clutter and easy to open in case of an emergency.
    2. Install smoke detectors in your home. Alarms should be installed in hallways and inside of every bedroom on every level of your home so it’s easy to hear when sleeping.
    3. Be prepared when you hear the alarm. If you hear your smoke alarm sound, leave immediately. When exiting, stay low to the ground to inhale less of the rising smoke.
    4. Keep loved ones in mind. If you have elders or infants in the home, have a plan to get them to safety and assign one family member to help them ahead of time.
    5. Stop, drop and roll. If your clothes catch on fire during an evacuation, Stop, Drop and Roll. Stop where you are, drop to the floor, and roll while covering your hands and eyes until the flames are gone.
    6. Choose a place for everyone to meet safely. Make sure everyone knows how to get there. Call 9-1-1 once you’re in a safe place. Memorize phone numbers just in case you’re not at the meeting location to let family members know you’re safe.
    7. Don’t go back inside. If you left family members or valuables behind, don’t go back towards the fire. When you call, let the dispatcher know so firefighters can handle the rescue. Wait until firefighters say it’s safe to go back to the home.

Practice the Family Fire Drill

Follow these easy steps to practice your fire drill. Remember to review your family’s plan at least twice a year.

  1. Let your family know that you are going to practice the fire drill.
  2. Explain that when the smoke alarm goes off, everyone should quickly and carefully leave the home and go to the Outside Meeting Place.
  3. Ask everyone to go to a different room and wait for the alarm. After several minutes, set off the smoke alarm by pushing the test button and watch your family’s actions.
  4. When everyone reassembles at the Outside Meeting Place, ask each family member to explain exactly what they did when the alarm went off.
  5. Review any questions.


6 Interior Design Trends That Don’t Cost a Fortune

Find budget-friendly ideas for a home makeover.

Submitted by ScS

The hottest new trends aren’t always affordable. But if you want to give a space an update, rest assured that you can do so on a budget and still be trendy. U.K-based sofa and carpet specialist, ScS(link is external), provides six tips from interior designers on renovations to consider.

1. Traditional prints in modern spaces.

Patterned Prints
Photo credit: ScS

2. Curved sofas.

Photo credit: ScS

Curved sofas have been trending in 2020. This style combines a modern look with a comfy twist that can fit into most design styles.

3. Dark kitchens.

Open Room
Photo credit: ScS

Dark colors are growing more popular in the kitchen. Try this trend on a smaller scale by giving your cupboards a new lease on life. Sand them down, and use wood paint to achieve the color you’re looking for. Don’t forget to use a primer and a top coat for the perfect finish, and try changing up your handles to complete the look. Avoid emulsion or generic paints, as these will be too thick and could become gloopy on the wood.

4. Grandmillennial style

Lots of Light
Photo credit: ScS

A design that’s been a hot topic this year is the “grandmillennial style.” Combine classic looks with a contemporary edge. This look can be tailored to every color palette and preference, and it can be done by making just one or two simple swaps.

Replace your flooring with a traditional patterned carpet (pictured the Roger Feels Richmond design from ScS), which can help transform a space. You can make a smaller commitment to this trend by including fringe accessories and velvet furnishings.

5. Contrasting doors

Moody Lighting
Photo credit: ScS

Crisp white walls and other light tones are complemented perfectly by dark woods. This look can easily be achieved by incorporating darker doors. While changing the doors in your home can sound like an expensive job, it doesn’t have to be. But don’t discard your current doors just to achieve a new color.

Remove the doors, and sand them down until they’re nice and smooth. Before painting, apply a primer and top with a hard-wearing top coat to ensure they’re durable against marks and scrapes. If you’re using black paint, don’t forget to apply two or three layers to achieve the rich look you’re after.

6. Fun bathrooms.

Clean White
Photo credit: ScS

While many are turning to funky tiling and walls, it can be an expensive choice. Instead, incorporate bright, patterned accessories, such as bath mats, shower curtains, and mirrors. Finalize the look with an indoor plant and wall prints.

Millennials Are Fueling Housing’s Rebound

August 31, 2020

Young prospective home buyers in their 20s and 30s who were once reluctant to purchase are now driving the housing market recovery during the pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Even prior to the pandemic, millennial buyers were starting to increase in number, accounting for more than half of all new-home loans early last year. They have consistently stayed above that level in the first months of this year, too,® data shows.

The large size of this generation has prompted predictions that they will make a lasting impact on the housing market. Millennials have now surpassed baby boomers as the largest living adult generation in the U.S., Pew Research Center data shows. The largest segment of millennial births occurred in 1990, so that cohort is turning 30 this year. “We anticipate as they turn 31 and 32, we’ll just see homebuying demand grow,” Odeta Kushi, deputy chief economist at First American Financial Corp., told the Journal.

First American predicts millennials could purchase at least 15 million homes over the next decade.

Existing-home sales surged nearly 25% in July, reaching their highest seasonally adjusted annual rate since December 2006, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. First-time buyers comprised 34% of sales in July, up from 32% a year earlier.

The pandemic and low interest rates—which are under 3%—may be offering incentive for more young adults to finally buy. “Millennials, they’re roaring into home buying age,” Rick Arvielo, chief executive of mortgage lender New American Funding, told the Journal. “What the industry’s been talking about for a decade is whether they’re going to follow their predecessor generations in terms of their desire to own homes. … They have the same desires.”

Millennials Help Power This Year’s Housing-Market Rebound,” The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 27, 2020) [Log-in required.]

5 Design Trends Emerging During the Pandemic

5 Design Trends Emerging During the Pandemic

COVID-19 likely will have a lasting influence on home styles.

The pandemic has influenced so many areas of our lives these past few months. It’s not surprising that it’s also affecting the design of our homes. Let’s look at some of the biggest home design trends influenced by the pandemic.

5. The waning appeal of open floor plans.

Open Plan Home

A growing complaint with the open floor plan: It’s noisy. As many people transitioned to remote work, a lack of barriers to buffer noise became a real problem.

The open floor plan combines the kitchen and living space to form one big, open room. It isn’t exactly the best for privacy or concentration. Add in hardwood flooring, and sounds can really echo.

But homeowners aren’t rushing to add walls just yet. Instead, they’re turning to privacy screens to section off areas, or they’re adding in large area rugs or artwork to help absorb noise.

If the open floor plan really wanes in popularity, it will become apparent first in new-home construction and then in home remodeling. In new homes, we may start to see more pocket doors used to close off open spaces, kitchens slightly angled off from the living room, and privacy nooks.

4. More storage, particularly in the kitchen.

Storage Jars

During the pandemic, the nation rushed to stock up on food, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. So, the need for storage became greater. Homeowners added extra shelving to pantries or overflow storage in laundry rooms and garages.® recently called out a new trend: the kitchen island rolling cart. These carts on wheels can be added into your kitchen to add storage and counterspace. Roll them to wherever you need more storage.

3. Gardening as a new favorite hobby.

Gardening Trends

The backyard is getting more attention while we spend more time at home. One re-emerging trend is the “victory garden,” which first started in World War I in response to food shortages.

Homeowners are now planting their own victory gardens. They can be expansive or fit in the tightest of spots, such as a vertical garden or inside a patio container. Homeowners may favor some of the fastest-growing vegetables in their victory gardens, such as lettuce, radishes, carrots, spinach, and bell peppers.

2. Expansive outdoor spaces.

Outdoor Trends

Homeowners are looking to extend their indoor space to the outdoors in multiple ways. The front porch, for example, has become important as a place where you can be outside and connect with neighbors from afar. It’s also a popular backdrop for family photos.

Backyards both big and small also are getting spruced up. Fire pits are particularly popular. Outdoor furnishings are being used to create cozier spaces, and hammocks add to a serene ambience. A pergola can provide a covered space overhead, or homeowners can use an overgrown tree in their yard as a canopy for a small dining space or cozy seating area.

1. The growth of home offices.

Home Office Trends

With more homeowners working remotely, the home office has grown in importance. In fact, many households are finding that having just one home office isn’t enough. The pop-up home office is emerging, turning small closets into an extra office nook or sectioning off corners of a room to add a workspace that blends in with the rest of the space.

As remote work surges, the home office will likely remain important and become a huge selling point in real estate moving forward.

What Greener Homes Are Made Of

apartment constructed with mass timber


TIMBER! The Carbon12, an 8-story, 14-unit condo building in Portland, Ore., is currently the tallest U.S. structure made from engineered wood known as mass timber. The wood is fire resistant and 80% lighter than concrete or steel but just as strong.

What Greener Homes Are Made Of

Tune in to the materials and practices fueling resilient, eco-friendly construction.

July – August




“Being green” has become more than a catchphrase. It’s a filter through which some people, including real estate buyers, are making life choices.

As consumer interest grows in the benefits of eco-friendly, resilient commercial and residential properties, ­REALTORS® are getting the message. In the 2020 REALTORS® & Sustainability Report, 70% of residential agents and 74% of commercial practitioners found that promoting energy efficiency in their listings was somewhat or very valuable. Almost 60% of commercial pros said they are comfortable answering questions from clients about building performance.

In addition to finding properties that meet clients’ wants, savvy real estate pros are paying attention to construction practices and materials that are being used for sustainability features in both new and older structures.

Which green building practices should you showcase? Which cutting-edge and resilient materials are most popular now? And what’s the potential return on investment? As you share information with clients, consider three factors: location, consumer priorities, and building trends.

Know Your Area

While some things—like low-VOC paint and energy-efficient lighting—are important no matter where one is located, other aspects of green building are more location-specific. Considerations differ for building in, say, Alaska versus Alabama.

As an example, the majority of homes in Tennessee have ­below-ground crawl spaces rather than full basements, notes Alan Looney, president of Castle Homes in Brentwood, Tenn. They can be damp and musty despite vents to the outdoors.

To prevent moisture and increase efficiency, Looney says, owners should seal crawl spaces and floors and then place foam around the foundation. Likewise, it’s useful to bolster the insulation in attics. “By foaming the roof deck and having your mechanical systems in an air-conditioned space, the system doesn’t have to work as hard to cool the entire house,” Looney notes. The bottom line: When you’re serving green clients, you need expertise on the housing stock, as well as the green practices and materials, common in your area.

Priority Setting

Providing a cost-benefit analysis can help determine the payoff for homeowners keen on adapting efficient systems. Looney notes that while underground rain harvesting, geothermal, and solar systems are all options, it can take years to see a return on investment. For instance, a recent geothermal project cost approximately $85,000, Looney explains, whereas a standard air-source HVAC system would have been closer to $45,000. The EPA estimates that homeowners save 30% to 70% on heating bills and 20% to 50% on cooling costs by choosing geothermal over conventional systems. With a 30% tax rebate (a federal incentive that drops to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021), the system will take an estimated 12 years to see a financial benefit.

With so many environmental considerations, how do you help clients sort through competing priorities? Kate Stephenson, a partner at Helm Construction Solutions in Montpelier, Vt., believes the top concern for both residential and commercial ­clients should be air quality. Why? It affects all aspects of life, from the quality of sleep one gets at home to an employee’s ­ability to concentrate at work, says Stephenson, whose com­pany focuses on sustainable project management.

Air quality issues should be addressed when older buildings are retrofitted. “As air leakage is reduced to save energy and improve comfort, adding mechanical ventilation brings in fresh air,” Stephenson says. These systems are most important in kitchens and bathrooms, where air can be stale or moist.

Castle Homes targets another overlooked part of homes for air cleaning: closets. Installing exhaust fans in closets clears the air of chemicals used by dry cleaners.

Eyes on Mass Timber

An up-and-coming construction material with potential to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint is known as mass timber. This category of engineered wood is gaining attention in the U.S. for its resiliency and efficiency—so far, mostly for large-scale construction projects. Mass timber products consist of fibers, shavings, and other thin layers of wood bound together using resin or industrial glues to make large slabs that fit together easily. The layering process makes an engineered wood stronger than traditional wood, as well as fire- and earthquake-resistant.

Though mass timber, also known as cross-laminated timber, was introduced in Europe in the 1990s, the U.S. construction industry is still learning about it. Projects using the material are moving forward, especially in the multifamily sector, but building code and supply issues remain impediments to major expansion. At the start of 2020, the U.S. had 784 mass timber multifamily, commercial, or institutional projects constructed or in design, according to the Wood Products Council.

Industry observers say as familiarity increases and materials become more available, mass timber has the potential to replace masonry, concrete, and even steel as a go-to material for flooring, walls, or entire buildings. It’s also cost-effective, as large prefabricated panels can be assembled quickly at a building site. Akin to giant Lego pieces, the panels are constructed to fit the precise dimensions needed for a project.

“We had to find a way to build smarter with science and innovation to create engineered wood products,” says Scott McIntyre, North American business director for performance materials manufacturer Hexion. The company creates resins for engineered wood products that are environmentally responsible and thermally stable. “In building and construction, we manufacture resins that allow you to use a solid tree,” notes Sydney Lindquist, sustainability leader at Hexion. “Prior to engineered wood products, only about 60% of the tree was used and the rest would be waste.”

A common environmental question around mass timber is whether forests are being cleared to produce it. Lindquist says that’s not an issue. “Sustainably harvested wood is grown very quickly. It’s not a well-known fact that sustainable forestry helps increase new growth,” she says.

Joy Choquette

Joy Choquette is a freelance writer based in Swanton, Vt.

Barn Doors Are a Stylish Space Saver

These sliding doors can free up to 14 square feet of usable floor space.

The sliding barn door can be a statement piece and open up precious floor space when rooms are tight. Making the space for a swinging door moot, you also can give the barn door a trendy hue, such as blue or green, to make it a focal point in your décor.

Blue Barn Door
Johnson Hardware

The sliding barn door grew in popularity during the farmhouse trend in recent years. But even though farmhouse décor is showing some signs of waning, the barn door is sticking around because it’s a solution for saving space. For example, in a kitchen pantry or a playroom, homeowners can gain precious wall space and square footage by swapping out a swinging door for a mounted gliding door.

Barn Door With Chalk Board
Johnson Hardware

With no door swing to account for, sliding doors can add up to 14 square feet of floor space. It allows for more flexible furniture arrangement and opens up spots for extra shelving.

But one complaint of these sliding doors is that closing them tends to be a bumpy, unsteady, and noisy experience. Companies are coming out with new wall-mounted sliding door hardware that allows these doors to be opened and closed more smoothly. For example, the company Johnson touts that its wall mount hardware gently slows the door’s travel speed to softly pull it into the fully open or fully closed position. The hardware works similarly to a cabinet door closer and allows doors to open and close more quietly and securely.

Wood Barn Door
Johnson Hardware (pictured above: 2610SC Soft-Close Wall Mount Sliding Door Hardware)

Simple 5-Step Guide to Concrete Painting

Painting a concrete floor in a home's basement
Image: Carolyn Lagattuta/Stocksy United

Painting concrete surfaces requires more skill, tools, and time than throwing a coat on drywall. Here’s how to do it right.

Concrete painting is trickier than painting most surfaces: It breathes, transports moisture, and sucks up paint.

While you can paint drywall in a day or two, you’ll need a week or more to finish painting concrete. Continue reading below for tips — plus costs — on how to paint concrete surfaces:

1. Clean the Concrete

Cleaning concrete is a vital first step because the porous surface tends to trap dirt, grease, and oil.

1. Remove dirt and grease with trisodium phosphate ($6.30 per quart concentrate), or choose a more Earth-friendly cleaner like Krud Kutter’s pre-paint cleaner ($10 for 32 ounces).

2. Yank off vines and moss growing on the foundation. Use a pressure washer to finish off remaining roots and dirt.

3. Remove efflorescence, a white powder that forms on moist concrete. Try Krud Kutter Concrete Clean & Etch ($8.50 for 32 ounces); if you need more cleaning muscle, try phosphoric acid masonry cleaner ($27 per gallon).

2. Strip Old Paint

Strip peeling or blistering paint indoors with a wire brush ($3 to $5), a paint scraper ($10 to $20), and lots of elbow grease.

Outdoors, get rid of old paint with a power washer (rents for $40 to $75 per day).

3. Seal Interior Concrete

Water moves easily through porous concrete, so sealing interior walls is necessary to prevent moisture from seeping in, promoting mold growth and that cold, damp basement feel. Use a masonry sealer, such as ThoroSeal, that also patches cracks ($35 for a 50-pound bag).

Carefully follow directions for mixing, applying, and curing the sealer. ThoroSeal, for example, requires two coats; the manufacturer recommends curing for five to seven days before applying the second coat.

4. Prime the Concrete

Concrete primer, called block primer, fills pores and evens out the surface. For exterior foundations and walls, use exterior-grade block filler, such as Behr’s Concrete and Masonry Bonding Primer, which also is good for interior concrete ($17.98 per gallon). Primer dries in two hours; wait at least eight hours, but no more than 30 days, to paint.

5. Paint the Concrete

Masonry paint (also called elastomeric paint or elastomeric wall coating) is a good choice for concrete painting because it contains binders that contract and expand with the concrete. Exterior house paint can crack and peel on concrete.

Masonry paint ($20 per gallon) can be tinted and is much thicker than exterior paint. Apply it with a masonry brush ($5 to $8), a high-capacity (3/4-inch or higher) roller, or a texture roller ($5.50).

Some masonry paint is thicker than exterior paint and contains fine particles that can clog air sprayers. If you want to spray-paint cement, ask your local paint store for a product that will work well in a sprayer ($300).

No matter how you apply paint, let it dry for a day between coats. You’ll probably need two to three coats, so check the long-range weather forecast before you begin.


Author placeholder photo


Pat Curryis a former senior editor at “Builder,” the official magazine of the National Association of Home Builders, and a frequent contributor to real estate and home-building publications.

Home Improvements to Tackle Now

modern living room

The coronavirus has grounded many businesses, but the home improvement industry is thriving. Here are projects homeowners can take on safely to make their lives more enjoyable.

June 5, 2020


decorated bedroom

© Troy Campbell for Fein Zalkin Interiors

As homeowners continue to stick close to home, they’re spending a lot of time pondering their surroundings.

“After homeowners have been staring at their walls day in and day out, they’ve come to realize what they want to keep, redo, and buy new,” says Jenny Zalkin, partner at the Miami-based Fein Zalkin Interiors.

REALTOR® Magazine asked home professionals to recommend a variety of improvement projects and renovations that can be accomplished now, during the pandemic, without a lot of contractors or other design professionals working in close quarters. Their suggestions fall into four main categories that you can share with your clients.

Complete the work in progress. If your client already started work on their house but paused due to the coronavirus outbreak, they should focus on having it completed. With states opening back up—typically in phases for different types of businesses—tradespeople can return to finish jobs by putting extra safety procedures in place. Beatrice de Jong, consumer trends expert for Opendoor, says her builder has restarted work on a room in her Los Angeles home after putting up a temporary wall in her open floor plan so that they are never in the same space.

Corinne Corbett, a designer with Affordable Granite and Cabinetry, which temporarily shuttered its Fishkill, N.Y., kitchen and bathroom showroom, is now seeing clients by appointment only. “It’s a way to control the flow of foot traffic into the showroom. Staffing is still staggered, and some continue to work from home,” she says.

While work is proceeding, Corbett says clients should prepare for jobs to take longer than usual due to the backlog home product manufacturers and distributors are facing after being closed for several weeks.

To cope during the pandemic, professionals like architect Mark A. Sullivan with JZA+D in Princeton, N.J., became adept at conducting business without much in-person contact and the arts of social distancing, wearing masks and gloves, and following all requirements. Despite still having less work than usual, Sullivan’s firm continues to prepare for approval of permits and budgets, so they can quickly ramp up as COVID-19 cases go down.

in-ground swimming pool

© Jimi Smith for Howard Roberts Liquidspaces

Get exterior upgrades on the priority list. Almost anything that needs to be done outside a home or in a yard can be tackled safely, but it’s up to the professionals to decide what work they feel comfortable performing, whether they have staff to help, and if materials are available.

Howard Roberts, owner of Liquid Inc. and Liquidscapes, a full-service pool, landscape design, and build firm in Pittstown, N.J., has continued to handle large projects such as swimming pools during the pandemic. Interest has soared as people have been confined to their homes, he says. However, since mid-March, he started asking clients three critical questions: “Are you still comfortable proceeding with your project from a health standpoint? Are you OK with our company working on your premises but in a safe manner? Are you still comfortable spending the money to finance the project with the current economic conditions?”

Roberts requires payment up front to secure dwindling inventory due to manufacturer stoppages, even if the materials won’t be used for several weeks or months. Clients have been helpful, he says, by allowing his company to store materials on their sites. “Situations are in constant flux with many contractors, subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers affected in one way or another by the pandemic. It’s a roller coaster,” he says. “We approach each job and day knowing things may change.”

back of home with outdoor room and yard

© Marc Nissim / Harmony Design Group

Landscape architect Marc Nissim, owner of Harmony Design in Westfield, N.J., is working on residential exteriors but has his crew keep a 6-foot social distance from one another on site. Nissim’s staff also travels to jobs solo and wears masks if they need to be close, Nissim says. “It’s a good time for our firm to prune, edge, weed, plant, mulch—almost anything outdoors,” he says.

Like Roberts and Corbett, Nissim is facing challenges procuring materials. He’s also telling clients they’ll need to be patient when securing approvals and permits from building departments because many still have shorter hours.

Homeowners can always ask companies what they’re are doing to maintain safety. “When we meet with homeowners, I call or text when I arrive rather than knock on a door so there’s no physical contact,” Nissim says. “We maintain social distance if they want to come outdoors and meet. If they prefer to remain inside, we talk on the phone while I walk the yard and point out anything I want to explain.”

patio space with dining area and water feature

© Michael Glassman / Glassman & Associates

When the pandemic hit in March, most of landscape designer Michael Glassman‘s work stopped, and the staff at his eponymous Sacramento, Calif.–based firm stayed home. Glassman suddenly found himself with time to use his training in custom pruning of unusual plants, such as Japanese maples. “I sent out a letter, offered clients a reduced rate, and I was swamped. I booked nine in the first hour,” he says. He also found that many suppliers of hardscape materials, such as tile and stone and outdoor furniture, were offering discounts to attract business.

As of early June, Glassman and his staff are back at work fulfilling requests that have ramped up as homeowners invest in beautifying their yards for a staycation summer. “Many clients are now comfortable going to a nursery with me if we socially distance and meet outdoors,” he says. “Everyone wants work done yesterday.”

Start new interior projects with some adjustments. Real estate agent Barbara St. Amant with Atlanta Fine Homes, Sotheby’s International Realty in Atlanta, suggests that homeowners use the time to make their lives more enjoyable. Quick updates that add value and help with a sale include changing hardware pulls and knobs in kitchens, modernizing light fixtures, replacing worn carpet, and neutralizing wall colors.

hallway and dining room

© Van Inwegen Digital Arts for Kaufman Segal Design

Homeowners can get inspiration from interior design magazines and websites. Chicago designer Tom Segal of Kaufman Segal Design mails area publications such as Luxe Interiors + Design to clients to offer ideas “and relieve boredom,” he says. He provides some caveats. “I wouldn’t have a client select a chair or couch if they or I haven’t sat in it since comfort remains key,” he says. “But I can pick fabrics and wallpapers for a space I know.”

While many clients were hesitant about spending money at the beginning of the pandemic, Segal now finds that more are returning to their typical budgets. However, he says it’s harder to read clients’ reactions when working with them virtually. “If I show a $10,000 rug, I might see an eyebrow raised in person and know it’s too much, but I may not catch that online,” he says. This makes verbal and written communication more important than ever, Segal says, encouraging homeowners to be clear about what they like and don’t like.

Zalkin and her business partner Josh Fein have continued to work since the start of the pandemic, but they initially focused on clients whose homes they know. “I can’t make good choices without knowing a space’s scale,” Fein says. They suggest that clients take inventory of their home and write down notes on what they want to change. “What we continue to see is a lot of clients wanting to convert a room into a home gym or home office because they’re using their homes more during this period,” Zalkin says.

Since stay-at-home orders have eased in their Florida market, Zalkin and Fein are getting back out and visiting properties in person as long as clients are comfortable having them in their homes. “We wear masks and socially distance,” she says.

Corbett’s firm used social media outreach to take on new virtual consultations, and because of that, new clients are now reaching out to the firm to complete the work. “We looked at clients’ kitchens or bathrooms via FaceTime or Zoom and had homeowners take rough measurements. Then we looked at vendors’ websites together and developed a rendering that could be emailed,” she says. For those who now want to proceed, the firm is moving forward by conducting accurate field measures in their homes and finalize choices, she says.

Become a DIYer. Even if homeowners don’t consider themselves handy, they might want to try some easy DIY projects while they wait out the pandemic. Chicago sales rep Jennifer Ames of Engel & Völkers sees the silver lining in this time at home. “The market has slowed but it’s not shut down, and there’s never been a better time to get most projects done than now.” She suggests that homeowners go through their house and toss or give away what they don’t want since most nonprofits aren’t accepting donations right now because of the virus.

One project that might appeal to homeowners is painting a room, a piece of furniture, or cabinets. Experts say to start small and look at YouTube tutorial videos for help. Some explain how to measure walls and ceilings to calculate the right quantity of paint. Homeowners can also find websites that list supplies, such as The Crazy Organized Blog, which suggests brushes, tape, drop cloths, rollers, a ladder, and more. Most paint manufacturers offer color chips or bigger cards for purchase so homeowners can test colors on their walls, and many home improvement stores are open for business or offer curbside pickup.

Two DIY tasks that Fein and Zalkin suggest are to rearrange a gallery wall of artwork or photos or move around furniture that’s been in the same place a long time. Start with a room you feel is stale or move artwork from room to room and change it up to make a space feel different and fresh while bringing in new colors,” Zalkin says. “Even moving a chair can give it a fresh look.”

Outdoor work offers homeowners more DIY projects, particularly now that weather is warmer. St. Amant suggests pressure washing patios and walks and laying pine straw or other mulch in freshly planted gardens. Other easy projects that increase outdoor curb appeal include replacing house numbers and light fixtures. Painting a front door can add a new pop of color—and it doesn’t require much setup or planning, says Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams, which offers how-to videos on its website. Good colors to make a door stand out, she says, are rich blues (such as the company’s Oceanside SW 6496) or corals (Begonia SW 6599). For a more classic, elegant look, she recommends navy (Naval SW 6244) or true black (Tricorn Black SW 6258).

stone backyard fire pit with seating area

© Belgard

More time-consuming but still doable DIY projects include edging borders, installing planter beds, or assembling a fire pit, says Joel Raboine, director of residential hardscape for Belgard, an Atlanta-based manufacturer that sells kits. “Many view the finished spaces as places they’ll now use day-to-day rather than reserve for company,” Raboine says.

Because of the virus, Doug Santini, owner of Northern Dutchess Botanical Garden in upstate New York, advises homeowners to take a plant list with them when they shop to curtail time spent around others. His website offers all kinds of garden tips, but his most useful advice may be: “Don’t stop gardening. It helps center and relax people.”

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

Staging Tips for Small Rooms

By Justin M. Riordan, Spade and Archer Design Agency(link is external)

When selling a house, small rooms can lead to big problems. Staging can be the key to making a small room look functional and help entice buyers to put an offer on your property.

Living Rooms – Proving your living room can fit a full size sofa is of upmost importance. A love seat is an immediate red flag for most buyers as one cannot lie down on a love seat. To make a full size sofa fit in your small space opt out of using end tables. Instead consider floor lamps, which can be pressed right up against the side or back of the sofa. By removing the end tables, you can reduce the overall space needed for the sofa set-up by up to 48 inches.


Photo credit: Spade and Archer

Bedrooms – Scale is the key here. Use the largest bed possible that still allows all the doors in the room to swing freely. Avoid pressing the side of the bed up against the wall. Instead, opt for a nightstand on each side of the bed. Use a “Hollywood” metal frame under the mattress with a wall-mounted headboard. By eliminating the footboard and side rails, the overall size of the bed is greatly reduced while still providing a good reference point on the scale of the room. A bedroom that could fit a full size bed with a bulky frame headboard and footboard can easily fit a queen with a metal frame and wall-mounted headboard.

Justin_bedroom Photo credit: Urban Outfitters

Never, ever use a platform bed in a small room. By lowering the bed and adding the platform, you actually can end up making the room feel smaller. This is most certainly not what we are looking for here.

Dining Rooms – We all know the kitchen is the heart of the house. If that is true, then dining rooms are the lungs. The kitchen is useless if there is no place to sit down and eat the wonderful food made there. The staging of the dining room is highly dependent on the size of the house. If a house has three bedrooms, you must include an eating area for a minimum of six people. Look at it this way: With three bedrooms, the potential buying family will have two adults and two children. They will also want to be able to entertain at least two other people at a time. Two kids plus two parents plus two guests equals six seats.


Photo credit: Spade and Archer

The key here is using a dining set that is small enough so that people can walk around the set once it is in place. Using armless dining chairs makes this issue easier to deal with. Armless chairs can be placed three on one side and three on the other verses two on each long side and one captain at each short side. A larger piece of art can be placed on the wall over the table to anchor the dining set. This set-up would be similar to a booth layout in a restaurant.

Bathrooms – Most bathrooms are small. It is the very nature of bathrooms. They tend to be the smallest rooms in the house. The least expensive way to deal with a small bathroom is to paint the entire bathroom white with white fixtures, linens, and accessories. By removing contrasts from the room, it simply appears clean and functional. A single piece of colorful art placed preferably above the toilet can add a single focal point for the room and thus pull the eye away from the size of the bathroom and toward the art. Adding lots of color and contrast to any bathroom will serve to make it feel smaller and dirtier. Do not, ever, paint any bathroom green, yellow, brown or red. (Trigger warning… this is gross.) These are the colors of mold, urine, feces and blood, not the things we want to think about when we are shopping for our new bathroom in our new home.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Justin Riordan, LEED AP, is founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency(link is external) based in Portland, Ore. As the creative energy behind Spade and Archer, Riordan fuses his formal training as an architect with his natural design savvy to create beautiful and authentic spaces for clients. Prior to opening Spade and Archer in 2009, Riordan practiced interior architecture and interior construction for 12 years, bringing an esteemed skillset and diverse background to home staging. Since founding Spade and Archer, he has personally prepared more than 2,100 homes for market.