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7 Pro Tips To Help Your Home Sell Faster, For More Money

7 Pro Tips To Help Your Home Sell Faster, For More Money

It’s overwhelming to clear and sell a home that’s been occupied for many years—the piles of papers, trunks full of tchotchkes, mountains of miscellany. Nobody knows this more than Glendale, Calif.-based Betsy Wilbur, who professionally “stages” homes for sale. But with a small investment of time and/or money, homes that are set up to sell can reap more rewards than ones that haven’t been staged —and even vacant houses.

Wilbur recalls a recent client, the daughter of the owner who’d lived in a house for 50 years. The home had fallen to “fixer” status. “She was a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of selling the home and didn’t know if she wanted to prepare and stage the home or just sell it as is,” Wilbur said, adding that if there were no changes, the home would have gotten lowball offers from contractors ready to flip it after making cosmetic fixes. “But by doing some simple upgrades and staging the home we could reach another buyer pool—first-time home buyers who could see the potential.”

Betsy Wilbur photo

Betsy Wilbur photo

Wilbur outlined the client’s options, which ranged from $3,500 to $10,000. The clients wanted the works, so Wilbur:

  • Removed tile covering the original hardwood floors
  • Painted interior walls, front door and trellis, bathroom cabinets and shower tile
  • Updated the kitchen floor and light fixtures
  • Provided landscaping for added curb appeal with landscaping
  • Brought in temporary furniture, art, plants and accessories

In the end, the home had 16 offers, and sold in 14 days for $62,500 over asking price–not a shabby return on investment.

Betsy Wilbur

Betsy Wilbur

Which is not unusual for a seller who stages her home. Wilbur says her clients’ properties sell for an average 6.3% over asking price in 12 days. The area average is 97% of asking price and 56 days on the market.

According to the National Association of Realtors, for every $100 invested in staging, the potential return is $400 . Compare that to the average sale price, which is a reduction of 10-20% from asking. So an average home with a $400,000 asking price will be reduced by $40,000 to $80,000.

“Staging can save you from a costly price reduction,” Wilbur says. “A staged home will sell for 17% more on average than a non-staged home, and 95% of staged homes sell in 11 days or less. That is statistically 87% faster than non-staged homes.” 

How Home Staging Works

Home staging is considered a marketing technique that turns the home into something that will appeal to the greatest common denominator or buyers so it will sell quickly. “This involves ‘neutralizing’ the home and portraying a lifestyle that buyers want to have.” Wilbur says. So even though you may love your beautiful and expensive taxidermy collection, not everyone else will, and it can have a negative psychological effect on a potential buyer.

Betsy Wilbur photo

Betsy Wilbur photo

Stagers will use specific techniques to highlight the home’s architectural features , and make rooms feel large and inviting, Wilbur says. The stager will also take into account the target market for the home: Spaces designed for young singles, empty-nesters and families will all look different.

A stager will do a walk-through and make recommendations on which existing pieces in the home will be assets and which should be removed, and come up with a list of high, medium and low budget options for re-design. Stagers will bring in some of their own pieces, or rent them.

7 Simple Rules for Staging a Home

One of the hardest things to do is to get out of your own habits and preferences and into the mindset of a buyer seeing the home in person or on the Internet for the first time. Maybe the TV has always been the focal point for the living room, for example, but for a buyer, the fireplace would need to be highlighted. “When we are getting ready to sell, we want to rearrange that so the room is balanced and furniture is not blocking pathways, windows or great features of the home,” Wilbur says.

She offers these tips for staging:

  • Keep décor neutral: Neutral does not mean boring, but it does mean staying away from shocking colors, and even avoiding all-white and all-beige walls. “I’ve staged some fantastic rooms with deep purple or black walls – it’s all about knowing how to make it work.”
  • Remove personal items: All personal pictures, family plaques, framed certificates, etc., should be packed. “I also suggest packing up anything smaller than a cantaloupe. We want the buyer to envision themselves living there right away, and a house full of someone else’s pictures doesn’t do that.”
  • Never put an empty home on the market: “One of the challenges of trying to sell a vacant home is that buyers can often have a hard time visualizing themselves living there.” When rooms are unfurnished they actually feel smaller than they are; so a buyer might be unsure how to position furniture or if their current furniture will fit.  Buyers also notice more flaws when a home is vacant and might incorrectly assume a home needs a lot of work when it really needs minimal cosmetic updating. Finally, a vacant property can give buyers the impression a seller is desperate, which could result in lower offers.
  • Don’t remodel before you sell: You may think you have great taste in kitchens, but the new owner may not agree. It’s better to spend the money doing cosmetic fixes than worrying about getting the full return on the investment of an extensive remodel.
  • Avoid divisive décor: When staging an occupied home we are always careful to remove religious and political items, as well as any other items that might be offensive.
  • Stay timeless: It’s good to be “on trend” with pops of color in, say, pillows and curtains, but avoid anything that’s too trendy. A stager can help draw the line.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that staging isn’t creating illusions—it’s about revealing truths . “We are simply showing the buyer the potential of the home through simple and inexpensive upgrades,” Wilbur says. “A buyer reaching to the top of their price range might not have additional money for remodeling, so if the home looks ‘good enough for now’ and doesn’t seem like an overwhelming project, then they will throw their hat into the bidding ring, resulting in higher offers for the seller. I had one home where the agent told me going into the project that it was probably going to be considered a tear-down property, but when we were finished it ended up selling for $110,000 over asking price.”

 

 

Vanessa McGrady would be thrilled if you’d visit her new blog, www.greenmeansgotravel.com. You can find her on Twitter (@VanessaMcGrady) and learn more about her work at www.vanessamcgrady.com.

Go From an Old Deck to New in 4 Steps

Go From an Old Deck to New in 4 Steps

There’s no secret to deck maintenance—repair the deck, clean it and protect it. But learning tricks the pros use can make the job go faster and the results last longer

decking slide-show

BEFORE: The damage and the appearance were bad enough for the Johnsons to consider ripping the whole thing up and starting over.

Barbara and Phil Johnson, of Mobile, Alabama, faced the same problems other deck owners do. Over the years, the elements as well as their kids and pets took a toll on their backyard deck. The damage and the appearance were bad enough for the Johnsons to consider ripping the whole thing up and starting over.

But before taking that drastic step, they spoke with Danny Lipford, owner and president of Lipford Construction in Mobile, for advice. According to Lipford, the Johnsons’ deck was in better shape than many others. “This area of the country is tough on decks,” he says. “I’m sometimes asked to replace pressure-treated decks that are less than eight years old.” He adds, “Most of these decks are victims of neglect. With regular maintenance, a deck will easily last for twice as long.” The good news is that most decks, like this one, can be rejuvenated for a lot less than the cost of replacement.

Following are some techniques you can use to give an old deck a new lease on life, or to help maintain the look of a new one. For this project, we enlisted George Graf, a lead carpenter with Mobile’s Lipford Construction, and John Starling, owner of John the Painter. Hiring pros is easy on the schedule but hard on the budget—the cost of repairing a 700-sq.-ft. deck is $700, or about $1 per square foot. Restoring a deck yourself will cost a third as much.

A deck rejuvenation project like this can be done in two days, but it’s best to spread the work over two weekends to ensure the wood is completely dry before you apply stain.

 

decking slide-show

AFTER: Most decks can be rejuvenated for a lot less than the cost of replacement.

Step 1: Making Repairs

Begin by inspecting the entire deck. Pay special attention to any part of the deck that is in direct contact with the ground, such as the posts, stair stringers or joists that are at ground level. Graf uses a screwdriver to check for structural damage. “If you can sink the tip of a screwdriver into a post or joist, it means the you’ve got rot and it’s time for a major renovation,” Graf says.

Also, inspect the deck-to-house connection. “Screws and bolts can loosen and rust,” he says. “Without the proper use of spacers and flashing, moisture can cause your band joist to rot.”

Tighten the fasteners that attach the deck to the house, look for any missing, bent or rusted flashing and carefully inspect inside and out for any telltale black stains that suggest moisture is working its way into your home.

Next, look for any cosmetic damage. For example, tap down any popped nails or consider replacing them with screws. For the Johnsons’ deck, Graf used galvanized ring-shanked nails when he replaced a few damaged boards. “Screws don’t pop like nails, ” he says “but we want the new boards to match the rest of the deck.”

Tip: If you need to rip replacement decking to match existing boards, use a tablesaw. Ease the sawn edge using a router fitted with a ⅜-inch roundover bit.

Carefully inspect railings and decking for loose wood. “No one likes to catch a 2-in.-long splinter on the hand or foot,” Graf says.

prying wood

Use a pry bar to pull damaged boards. Remove fasteners and lift the board straight up to avoid damaging adjacent boards.

Step 2: Cleaning the Surface

Here’s the bad news: Every deck should have an annual cleaning. Assuming they have been maintained regularly, most decks can be revived with just a deck cleaner. Some products, like Thompson’s Deck Wash ($10, 1 gal. covers 250 sq. ft.), you mix in a bucket and apply to the deck; others, like GE’s Weathermate ($30, 1 gal. covers 500 sq. ft.), come in containers with integral applicators that you hook up to a garden hose. Once on the deck, most still require a stiff-bristle brush and a lot of elbow grease to work the mixture into the wood.

Always wear eye protection and gloves when working with concentrated chemicals. You’ll also want to protect nearby plants. The level of plant protection depends on the type and concentration of the chemicals you choose. For weak solutions and “plant-friendly” cleaners, you may need to only mist the plants before and after using cleaning. Powerful deck restorers can burn leaves on contact; in that case you should cover nearby plants with plastic sheeting.

For tackling tough stains, use a pressure washer (about $70 a day), which is the best way to remove sun-damaged wood fibers and tackle scrub-resistant stains. Graf recommends using a fan-type nozzle instead of a pinpoint nozzle that can dig into the wood. For removing the mildew, Graf mixes his own cleaning solution (see “Choosing the Right Cleaner,” on the facing page), which he feeds into the intake hose on the washer.

Go over the deck with a stiff-bristle brush to work the cleaner into the wood fibers, and then rinse. The boards should be kept damp in order for the cleaning solution to work effectively. Allow the deck to dry thoroughly before staining.

Choosing the Right Cleaner
There are dozens of deck-cleaning products on the market. Most contain one of the following four chemicals as their main ingredient. Each is effective for different types of stains.

Sodium hypochlorite: This chemical—chlorine bleach—is good for removing mildew but isn’t effective on dirt or other stains. So mix it with an ammonia-free detergent. Thoroughly rinse the deck after using this chemical because it can eat away at the wood, resulting in fuzzing and premature graying.

Sodium percarbonate: When mixed with water, this chemical forms hydrogen peroxide (an oxygen-based bleach) and sodium carbonate, which acts as a detergent. It is good for removing dirt, mildew and weathered wood.

Oxalic acid: This is effective in removing iron stains and the brown-black tannins that frequently occur with cedar and redwood decks. This acid is commonly found in deck brighteners. Oxalic acid isn’t effective against mildew, so you may want to use it after cleaning the deck with a bleach-based cleaner.

Sodium hydroxide: Also known as lye, this is the key ingredient in most finish lifters or removers. Don’t leave it on too long, or it can eat away at the wood.

Be very careful when working with any of these chemicals, especially when they’re in their most concentrated (premixed) form. Wear the proper safety equipment and follow the manufacturer’s directions to the letter. Rinse the surface thoroughly and allow it to dry before refinishing.

DIY CLEANER
Here’s a deck cleaner you can make yourself. Recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory, it’s good for mildew and dirt.

• 1 qt. sodium hypochlorite solution (household bleach)
• ⅓ cup powdered laundry detergent
• 3 qts. warm water

In a 5-gal. plastic bucket, add the bleach and detergent to the water, then brush the cleaner onto the deck. Rinse thoroughly before applying a finish.

Caution: Do not use a detergent that contains ammonia. Ammonia and bleach react to form a poisonous gas.

cutting wood

Trim the replacement boards with a circular saw. Using adjacent boards as a cutting guide is faster and more accurate than measuring.

Step 3: Applying the Stain

Once all of the repairs have been made and the deck is clean, it’s time to apply a protective finish. Clear finishes and transparent stains are fine for new wood, but for older decks, Starling recommends using a semitransparent stain.

“The grain still shows through, but the pigment gives the old wood a clean, uniform color and helps the new wood blend in,” he says. The pigment also provides extra protection from the damaging effects of the sun and will last longer than clear finishes. Unlike paint, stain is absorbed by the wood and does not form a film on its surface, so it will not peel or chip.

Starling uses a sprayer and 2-in. brush to apply the stain. “Spraying is fast, and puts more stain on the wood than rolling or brushing,” Starling says. Most painters and homeowners are better off spraying on a generous coat of stain and then following up with a roller or brush to spread out puddles and work the finish into the wood. Starling, however, uses a modified technique. “Rollers push the stain off the wood and down the cracks,” he says. “I don’t get paid to paint dirt beneath the deck.” Starling sprays on a light coat, most of which is quickly absorbed into the wood. He uses the brush to remove puddles. “If the stain’s too thick, it dries blotchy,” he explains. Starling recycles the excess stain for use on exposed end grain.

Starling recommends starting at an inside corner and working out, applying the stain parallel to the deck boards. To avoid staining the nearby brick, he uses a small piece of cardboard as a spray shield; the brush provides even more control around deck railings and posts.

This 700-sq.-ft. deck required about 5 gal. of stain — almost twice as much as the estimates indicated on the can. Explains Starling, “Old wood can get thirsty. On some decks, I’ll need to apply two or three coats of stain in order to get a uniform finish.”

Subsequent coats should be applied while the first coat is still wet or they will not be absorbed into the wood. Stain won’t peel, but it can wear away, especially in high-traffic areas. Starling recommends applying a fresh coat every other year. A clear water repellent can be applied between stainings for extra protection.

pouring paint

Mesh filters (about $1 each) catch any particles that could wind up clogging the nozzle on the washer.

Step 4: Redoing a Railing

Because the original railing on their deck was in such bad shape, the Johnsons decided to replace it with a maintenance-free railing system. They chose Fiberon, a vinyl-coated wood-plastic composite. It’s available in premade panels or as kits. The Johnsons liked the contrast the white railing offered.

Tip: After cutting the end post flush with the deck using a reciprocating saw, remove the old railing in sections.

For an existing deck or concrete slab, Fiberon makes a surface-mount bracket, as shown below. For new decks, the manufacturer recommends installing the posts before the decking and using metal brackets that attach to the joists. To conceal any minor gaps where the balusters meet the bottom rail, Graf recommends using a mildew-resistant acrylic caulk.

Paint a Candy-Colored Staircase

A secondary staircase becomes a visual treat when painted a handful of unexpected hues

staircase painted in a variety of bright pastel colors
Photo by Jeremy Coulter/Polsky Perlstein Architects

Certain utility spaces in a house generally get overworked and underdecorated. Not so in this Southern California house, where an array of playful paint colors brighten the back stairs, while chunky wood treads and neutral gray trim keep the  look sophisticated.

The most difficult part in pulling off this project? Putting together the palette. “One color shouldn’t look like an uninvited guest,” says architectural color consultant Amy Wax. If you stick to colors from a small collection, says Wax, they’ll probably be complementary. Or, if you’re picking from paint-chip strips, go for shades that have comparable density, or depth of pigment—whether they fall at the top, middle, or bottom of the strips—and make sure there’s some contrast between each one. Another approach: Try attaching a single adjective to your selections, such as energetic, historical, or “sweet”—like the intensified pastels at right. If one pick doesn’t fit your descriptor, it likely won’t go with the flow.

Wax advises using an odd number of colors in a seemingly random pattern, as shown. Before you commit, paint a large swatch on each riser and live with the colors for a few days—you may find that in certain lights, some blend too much with their neighboring shades. When you arrive at a combination you’re happy with, it takes just a few quarts of semigloss or satin—scuffs wipe off more easily when the paint has a little sheen—to seriously step up your stair game.

Thanks to: Amy Wax, Architectural Color Consultant

18 Ways to Turn Unused Space Into the Rooms You Need

Why add on when you can add under or over? Give your home bonus rooms without drastically changing its footprint

For the Love of Vinyl Siding

Look beyond the never-to-be-settled debate over siding’s merits/sins. It’s an affordable, energy-conscious update. It can even look good.

vinyl siding
Photo by Kolin Smith
vinyl siding
Photo by Kolin Smith

The Benefits of Vinyl Siding

There are few subjects in the whole arena of residential construction products that draw battle lines as sharply as vinyl siding.

Proponents harp on the fact that it never needs painting, while its detractors insist that houses should never be covered with anything but real wood.

As a building material, vinyl siding is relatively new — it was introduced in the late 1950s as a substitute for aluminum siding. But its reputation was tarnished in the early days when it cracked, faded, buckled, and sagged.

Ongoing changes in the product’s chemistry and installation techniques have improved its performance and furthered its acceptance by builders and homeowners.

In fact, vinyl has captured 32 percent of the U.S. siding market for new homes, with no end in sight to its growing popularity. The reason, in part, is because it’s often (but not always) cheaper than red cedar or redwood and takes less time to install.

A mid-grade vinyl costs about $1.60 per square foot to install, not including the necessary trim pieces, while the installed price of mid-grade cedar clapboard, exclusive of trim and paint, is about 2.5 times higher. (Some premium vinyls cost about the same as the best grade of cedar, but the installed cost is still lower because it goes up faster and doesn’t need painting.)

For many people, price isn’t the issue at all; the real seduction of plastic siding is reduced maintenance. That’s exactly why a wood guy like This Old House general contractor Tom Silva put vinyl on his house 20 years ago.

“I don’t have time for painting,” he explains. “I’d rather spend weekends on my boat.” Of course, with the right maintenance, wood will last indefinitely. Vinyl can’t match that claim because no one knows for sure how long it will last.

Installer Joe Fagone slides a cut-to-fit, 4-foot-long panel of embossed-shingle siding around a window.

All Plastic Siding is Not the Same

Vinyl is a polymer formed during a chemical do-si-do between ethylene gas and chlorine, which produces a fine white powder called vinyl resin. When it’s melted and mixed with different additives, the resulting compound can be as rigid as pipe, as supple as a shower curtain, or durable enough to survive the heavy foot traffic on a kitchen floor.

New, so-called virgin vinyl siding has a greater complement of the key additives that impart flexibility and resistance to UV degradation. Some manufacturers will tout their product as 100 percent virgin (along with a mention of its supposed superiority), but most siding is made with a core of remelted vinyl top-coated with virgin material.

Typically, vinyl siding is extruded through a die, but to produce the deepest patterns and crispest edges, panels must be molded from polypropylene, a more expensive plastic. Molded panels are typically no more than 4 feet long, while vinyl extrusions can be virtually any length.

Rap on a vinyl-sided wall with your knuckles, and it will flex and sound hollow. That’s because, in most cases, only a relatively small area of a vinyl panel is actually resting against the sheathing.

A thin panel, or one without support, is more likely to sag over time. The thinnest siding that meets code is .035 inch thick. Premium siding can be .044 to .048 inch, and a few manufacturers sell .055-inch siding. The thicker sidings tend to be stiffer, and therefore more resistant to sagging, but stiffness depends on other characteristics as well.

Panels with a folded-over, doubled nailing hem and a relatively deep profile tend to be stiffer than others, as do those with narrow “clapboards”: The more bends the better. Although claims are made that thicker siding is also more impact resistant than thin siding, test results suggest that it has more to do with its chemical makeup, which, unfortunately, is not available to consumers who want to compare products.

Thinner, less-stiff sidings can also be sucked off a house when high winds blow. Reading the manufacturer’s warranty should give you a good indication of the product’s ability to handle heavy weather. Some even comply with the 146-miles-per-hour wind code in hurricane-prone Miami, Florida.

One siding, Wolverine Millennium, comes with a “won’t-blow-off” warranty, and its literature states that it will withstand 180-mph winds, when nailed properly.

Photo by Kolin Smith

A panel of polypropylene siding slips into a grooved “corner board” of the same material. Panels expand and contract with temperature changes and shouldn’t be installed tight to trim pieces.

While wood siding is fastened tightly to the house, vinyl siding literally hangs from nails driven through horizontal slots at the top of a panel’s nailing hem. The reason for the loose nailing has to do with the vinyl’s (and polypropylene’s) need to expand or contract as the temperature changes: A 12-foot length of plastic siding can expand as much as 5/8 inch with seasonal temperature swings. If nailed tight to a wall, it can buckle on hot days.

“The worst thing you can do is nail vinyl tight,” says Tom Silva. To ensure that the panel is free to move, the nailheads shouldn’t contact the hem, but should be left about 1/32 inch proud. Conversely, if nailed too loosely the panels will rattle noisily whenever the wind blows.

Vinyl’s tendency to move means that panels can’t be butted tight to trim, either. Quality-conscious installers leave about 1/4 inch of clearance (3/8 inch in temperatures below 40°F) at the end of panel courses; at corners and door and window openings a trim piece called J-channel covers and conceals the resulting gap. Other proprietary trim pieces, made by manufacturers to fit their own brand of siding, include soffits, rake boards, and crown moldings. All help to improve the appearance of an installation, giving it a more custom look.

In addition to J-channels, one characteristic that distinguishes vinyl from other siding is its overlaps. While lengths of wood (or cement) siding meet in an unobtrusive butt, vinyl panels must be overlapped by about 1 inch wherever they meet, resulting in telltale vertical lines. The thicker the vinyl, the more obvious the overlap. Compounding the problem, most vinyl siding panels are molded to represent double or even triple widths of clapboards. This slashes installation time dramatically, but it also makes panel overlaps even more visible. A good installer will orient overlaps away from dominant views, for example, by running the siding from a back corner to a front corner. On the front of the house, panels should be installed so seams are least visible to someone approaching the front door.

Contrary to what many people expect, vinyl is actually less likely than wood to trap moisture, Tom says. “There are tiny weep holes in the butts of the panels. And because it’s hung loosely, air can move behind it.” Just make sure your siding contractor first installs flashing and either housewrap or builder’s felt, just as he would under wood siding.

Every quality vinyl siding job starts with the contractor. Dont hesitate to ask potential installers for their certifications — most of the large manufacturers certify installers in proper installation techniques — and for the names of satisfied customers. Also check complaint lists established with local and state business associations, as well as with state contractor licensing boards.

Photo by Kolin Smith

Siding is nailed loosely through horizontal slots in the hem at the top of each panel. Tightly nailed plastic siding can buckle on very hot days. The L-shaped clip under the nailing slot hooks into a channel in the butt of the panel above.

Not Entirely Maintenance Free

To keep vinyl siding looking its best, it should be washed periodically to remove the mold, mildew, dirt, and chalky oxidation that collects on the surface. Tom uses a soft-bristle brush and a bucket with a 30/70 mix of vinegar and water. (If that doesn’t do the job, the Vinyl Siding Institute suggests mixing 1/3 cup laundry detergent, 2/3 cup powdered household cleaner, 1 quart liquid laundry bleach, and 1 gallon water.) He just brushes it on, working from the bottom up, and gently hoses it off. Tom discourages homeowners from using a power washer on their siding; the high-pressure equipment is likely to drive water behind the panels.

Repairing a damaged panel is simple. With a zip tool and a flick of the wrist, Tom simply unhooks it from the ones above and below, then pulls out the nails. A new panel can then be snapped in place, nailed, and rehooked. The biggest problem is matching the replacement to the surrounding pieces, which will undoubtedly have faded. “What I’ll do,” Tom says, “is replace the damaged piece with some siding from a less conspicuous part of the house.” Then he replaces that piece with the new, unfaded length.

All vinyl siding will fade somewhat. After 10 to 15 years, the change can be significant. When that happens, or if you simply want to change its color, vinyl can be painted, as self-defeating as it may seem. (Check with the manufacturer first; many companies void the warranty if siding is painted.) Wash the siding first, and use latex paint, which will flex with the vinyl’s movement. But don’t count on changing a pale-yellow house to hunter green; dark colors absorb more heat than lighter ones and can cause panels to expand too much and buckle. (For that very reason, vinyl’s color palette is limited to lighter shades.)

Tom is well aware of the fact that plastic siding draws strong opinions from his clients. “It’s pretty hard to convince someone who wants vinyl to use wood siding instead, and vice versa,” he says. “Some people like it and some don’t, just as some people like Fords and some prefer Chevys.” Whether vinyl siding is good or not depends a lot on the quality of the product and the installation job. “Would I put it on my house again, if maintenance issues weren’t a factor? Probably not,” Tom says. “I really prefer wood.” But he really, really doesn’t like to paint.

Photo by Kolin Smith

Plastic siding is quick to install. The seven-man crew from Hansen Home Designs trimmed and sided this 3,200 square-foot house in less than two days. Photo taken April 4, 2002.

Re-siding with Vinyl

Much of what appeals to us about older historic houses, apart from their architectural style, is the graceful moldings, well-proportioned trim, subtle shadow lines, even the slight irregularities in the spacing of the siding — testaments to the skills of this country’s housewrights. But in countless slipshod re-siding jobs, where vinyl is slapped up over the existing shingles or clapboards, these details have been obliterated, making the facades of handsome gingerbread houses as plain as sheet cakes. “I’ve seen a lot of cases where they’ve sawed off moldings, window trim, cornices, even knocked them off with hammers,” says Tom. “It looks worse than terrible. And it takes away what makes old houses special.”

For those contemplating having a house re-sided, Tom recommends finding a contractor who specializes in old-house work, not just in vinyl siding, and insisting that all the architectural details remain in place. “Run J-channel around them and butt the siding into it,” he says. “Of course, it takes more time and money to do it this way.” A proper paint job may make more sense, if that’s the case. Sometimes, re-siding jobs are sold as a way to “tighten up” the house and reduce energy bills. The installers simply nail up a layer of foil-faced foam before the vinyl goes up. Tom doesn’t think much of this practice. “The foam panels are only 3/8 inch thick; they don’t add much R-value,” he says. “You’d be better off packing the walls with blow-in cellulose.” The final word: If you have any doubts about its effects, don’t put vinyl siding on your old house.

Saving For A Down Payment

Saving for a down payment can pose one of the biggest challenges for potential home buyers.Indeed, “a down payment is often the largest single payment a consumer makes in their lifetime and saving for it isn’t easy,” says Corey Carlisle, executive director of the American Bankers Association Foundation. “However, with a few changes, consumers can put themselves on track to make their home ownership dream a reality.”

Read more: How Long It Takes to Save for a Down Payment

In honor of American Housing Month, the American Bankers Association Foundation recently featured several tips to help consumers cut their household costs and start saving for a down payment.

Determine how much you need. Find out how much you’ll need for a down payment. From there, create a budget by figuring how much you can realistically set aside each month. Then, you can set a timeline.

Create a separate savings account. Separate a savings account that is just for the down payment. Make monthly contributions automatic.

Find ways to reduce your monthly bills. Check your car insurance, renter’s insurance, health insurance, cable and Internet plan rates. See if there are any promotions that could help you save money by revisiting your contracts.

Investigate state and local home-buying programs. Several state, counties, and local governments offer first-time home buyer programs that offer down payment assistance. Find out if you’re eligible for one.

Celebrate. Set smaller savings goals as you work up to the larger goal. For example, if you need to save $30,000, celebrate — such as with a nice meal — every time you hit the $5,000 saving milestone. “This will help you stay motivated throughout the process,” ABA notes.

Source: American Bankers Association

What Every Seller Needs to Know About Closing – Houselogic 4/18

Closing time. The end of the road. The last hurrah — and hurrahs are in order.

If you’re here, then you’ve found a buyer, negotiated home repairs, and are ready to move out — and on. But before you can make this sale official (and get paid!), you still have a few items to cross off your list.

Here, we’ve laid out everything you need to know to have a successful settlement.

Closing Is the Final Step

Closing, or “settlement,” is when both parties sign the final ownership and insurance paperwork, and the buyer becomes the legal owner of the home.

Typically, closing day takes place about four to six weeks after you signed a purchase and sale agreement. During this window, the buyer’s purchasing funds are held in escrow until all contingencies, like the home inspection contingency and appraisal contingency, are met.

Your agent will be able to answer questions and offer support through closing. Here’s what to expect from the process, start to finish.

Before You Close, You’ll Have a Final Walk-Through

Most sales contracts give the buyer one last chance to do a walk-through of the home within 24 hours of settlement. This is their chance to check that the property is in good condition, and to make sure the agreed-upon repairs were completed.

In most cases, no problems arise at this stage of the transaction. (If something is amiss, your agent can walk you through it.) The final walk-through mostly gives buyers peace of mind knowing that you, the seller, have adhered to the conditions of the sales contract and home inspection-related repairs.

Related Topic: Sell a Home: Step-by-Step

Follow These Steps to Prepare for the Final Walk-Through

To help ensure that the walk-through goes smoothly, take these six steps ahead of time to prepare:

Step #1: Clean house. Your home should be spotless for the final walk-through. Assuming the buyer is taking ownership on closing day, you should be fully moved out at this point. But moving can be messy. After purging, packing, and moving, you may want to do one more deep cleaning.

Step #2: Leave owner’s manuals and warranties. Make the buyer’s life easier by providing all manuals and warranties you have for home appliances. Print physical copies and put these documents in one place for the new owner. If you have receipts from contractors for repairs, leave them with the manuals.

Step #3: Provide a vendor list. Give the buyer contact information for home contractors or maintenance companies that you’ve used in the past. These vendors are familiar with your home, and the new owner will appreciate having a list of servicers they can trust will take good care of their new home.

Step #4: Check for forgotten items. Do one more check throughout the home to make sure you’re not leaving anything behind. One exception: You may want to leave unused or leftover paint cans in the colors currently in use within the home — but confirm with the buyer first.

Step #5: Turn off water shut-off valves. The last thing you want before closing is a flood. With the buyer’s permission, turn off your house’s main shutoff valve 24 hours before closing.

Step #6: Lock up. Until settlement is complete, you’re legally responsible for the home — meaning you’d be liable if there’s a break-in before closing. So, the day before settlement make sure to close window coverings and lock the entry doors. If a house looks un-lived in, it’s a welcome sign to burglars. It’s a good idea to leave a porch light on, or to set an interior light to turn on and off with a timer.

If the final walk-through reveals an issue with the house, don’t panic. The standard protocol is for the buyer’s agent to immediately alert the listing agent that there’s a problem. Then, both parties work together to solve it. Typically, either the closing gets delayed or there’s additional negotiation, such as monetary deduction of the sales price. In other words: There are options, and your agent can help you through this.

Up Next: The “Closing Disclosure”

Let’s assume the final walk-through is smooth sailing. (Woo-hoo!) What happens next?

You’ll get info about your closing costs from the title company.

Meanwhile, the buyer’s mortgage lender must provide the buyer with a Closing Disclosure, or CD, three business days before settlement. This is a formal statement of the buyer’s final loan terms and closing costs. As the loan borrower, the buyer is entitled to a three-day review period to see if there are any significant discrepancies between their CD and Loan Estimate (LE) — a document buyers receive when they apply for a loan. The LE outlines the approximate fees the buyer would need to pay.

In most cases, there are no major differences between the CD and LE. However, if certain closing costs differ by 10% or more between the estimate and the disclosure, the buyer’s loan has to go back to the mortgage lender so that cost differences can be reviewed. If that happens, closing is usually delayed until the issue is resolved.

Expect to See These People at the Closing

The closing typically takes place at the title company, attorney’s office, or the buyer’s or seller’s agent’s real estate office. (Unless you live in a state that allows for electronic closings — eClosings — with remote notaries. In that case, the involved parties can opt to sign documents digitally.)

The list of legally mandated In conventional closings, sellers may be able to skip the proceedings. Instead, your attorney may act as your rep and you might pre-sign transfer documents.attendees will depend on your state, but usually you’ll be joined by:

  • Your agent
  • The buyer
  • The buyer’s agent
  • A title company representative
  • The loan officer
  • Any real estate attorneys involved with the transaction

Remember to Budget for Closing Costs

Closing costs can vary widely by location, but you’ll generally pay closing costs of 5% to 10% of the home’s sales price. So, on a $300,000 home, you can expect to pay anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 in closing costs. In most cases, these costs are deducted from your proceeds at closing.

Closing costs for sellers typically include:

  • The commission for the listing agent and buyer’s agent
  • Transfer taxes or recording fees
  • Loan payoff costs
  • Unpaid homeowner association dues
  • Homeowner association dues included up to the settlement date
  • Prorated property taxes
  • Escrow, title, or attorney fees

Be Sure to Bring These Things to Closing

At the closing you should have:

  • A government-issued photo ID
  • A copy of the ratified sales contract
  • House keys, garage remotes, mailbox keys, gate keys, and any pool keys
  • A cashier’s check, or proof of wire transfer, if your closing costs are not being deducted from the sales price. (Yes, it’s OK to use a cashier’s check — especially if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of a wire transfer, which can take time to clear. With a cashier’s check, you’re guaranteed the money you need for settlement will be there at closing.)

Don’t Forget to Dot These I’s and Cross These T’s

Before you rush off to pick out paint samples for your new place, remember to do these two steps that are often overlooked by sellers:

Transfer utilities. Don’t want to pay for the new owner’s utility bills? Coordinate with the buyer so that utilities — including not only gas and electric but also water and cable — are transferred to the buyer on Once you know the title has officially transferred, then cancel your homeowners insurance. You don’t want to be without coverage (what if a pipe bursts?!) until the deal is legally finito.closing day.

Change your address. You obviously want your mail to be sent to your new home. Setting up a forwarding address will also ensure that you can be reached if there are any post-closing matters. You can file a change of address with the U.S. Postal Service here.

Finally: Celebrate!

At last, your home is officially sold. Congratulations! Give yourself a pat on the back — and then start settling into your new phase of life.

Why You Should Sell Your Home in 2018 – U.S. News

Homeowners looking to sell should consider 2018 an opportunity to cash in. (Getty Images)

If you haven’t given much thought to selling your home this year, you might want to think again.

Real estate information company Trulia commissioned a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, conducted by Harris Poll, to get a feel for expectations and plans for housing and homeownership in 2018. The survey results show 31 percent of respondents expect 2018 to be a better year for selling a home than 2017 – and just 14 percent expect it to be worse.

Despite the enthusiasm, only 6 percent of homeowners surveyed plan to sell their home in 2018.

[Read: Selling Your House? Here’s What to Do With the Windfall of Cash.]

Real estate information company Zillow echoes these sentiments in its predictions for 2018, expecting inventory shortages to continue to drive the housing market. With too few homes on the market to meet buyer demand, prices increase and would-be buyers can’t afford the price or down payment needed to submit a winning offer.

If you’re a homeowner and have been thinking about selling, what are you waiting for? You may not consider 2018 to be your year to sell, but here are four reasons why selling in the next 12 months could be more beneficial than you think.

Buyers are chomping at the bit. Eager homebuyers have been frustrated over the last few years, experiencing low inventory in most major markets, which is pushing them to start home shopping earlier in the year to try to beat out the competition and ensure they’re not missing out on any available properties.

Even before the clock struck midnight on New Year’s, people were already getting a head start on looking at buying or selling a home in 2018. Real estate information company HomeLight saw a 25 percent traffic spike on its website on Dec. 26, with continued high rates of traffic through the first part of the new year.

“Folks have generally turned their attention away from the holiday and time with family and friends, and moved onto the new year and what they want to accomplish,” says Sumant Sridharan, chief operating officer of HomeLight. “And for many people, that tends to be where they want to live.”

The best time to sell your home is traditionally between March and June, Sridharan notes, while warmer climates may see a longer time frame because they’re not restricted by weather. But cold weather isn’t keeping interested buyers from starting their home search at the start of the year. The fact that buyers take the day after a major holiday to start looking for new home means the traditional selling season could be even hotter.

And while the last couple years have proven beneficial for sellers, seeing many homes sell for asking price or above, it won’t last forever. Zillow predicts home builders will begin looking to construct more entry-level homes to meet demand later this year. If you wait too long to put your home on the market, you may find yourself competing with new builds that haven’t been a part of the market in large numbers since before the recession.

[Read: Will You Be Able to Get a Mortgage in 2018?]

Interest rates are low … for now. For both the buyer of your home and your own next home purchase, low interest rates can help make a transaction possible. In the second week of January, the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 4.17 percent, according to NerdWallet. Mortgage rate averages reached more than 4.4 percent in 2017, but closed the year out just below the current rate.

While mortgage rates aren’t expected to spike significantly this year, they are forecast to increase overall. The Mortgage Bankers Association predicts 30-year fixed-rate mortgages will rise to 4.6 percent this year, and it expects rates to rise to 5 percent in 2019 and 5.3 percent in 2020.

While increasing interest rates are a sign of a good economy, they can squeeze out some potential homebuyers from the market. The current low rates can serve as a catalyst for many potential homebuyers to get moving sooner rather than later. But as interest rates continue to rise, you’re less likely to see as many bidding wars – which is welcome news for buyers but not sellers.


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How the New Tax Law Will Affect Homeowners

Could the changes to mortgage interest rate and property tax deductions make you want to sell your home?


You can move to find cheaper property taxes. The passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at the end of 2017 means a few significant home-related tax policy changes for the 2018 calendar year: Mortgage interest rates are only deductible up to $750,000 in debt and property taxes are only deductible up to $10,000.

While these limits don’t affect all homeowners, people who live in counties and cities with high property taxes are likely to feel the financial hit when they file taxes in 2019. If your household is going to struggle without the deductions you’ve had previously, it might be time to look elsewhere.

“For most of the world, I think it really creates a consideration of where I want to be and how I want to be there,” says Cody Vichinsky, co-founder of Bespoke Real Estate, based in Water Mill, New York.

Vichinsky expects housing markets in coastal states to be most impacted by the tax reform – and more specifically in the counties or towns with high-ranked school districts because their property taxes tend to be higher. While homeowners with school-age children may see the education factor weigh heavier than the financial burden, “You’re going to see an exodus out of these neighborhoods for people who don’t need to be there anymore,” he says.

You certainly shouldn’t have a hurried reaction to a policy change with an asset as large as a house, but also keep in mind that if you’re looking for the maximum price on your home, the longer the new tax law sinks in, the more likely it is to change feelings toward pricier neighborhoods in coastal markets.

“We do expect, potentially, in the longer term there may be lower demand at the higher price points because the tax [incentives] just aren’t there,” Sridharan says.

[See: 11 Popular Home Updates That Are Worth the Cost.]

Renovations today won’t come back in full next year. Zillow’s 2018 predictions include the expectation that most homeowners will focus on renovations and updates this year rather than selling. If you’ve got remodeling on your schedule for the year, be sure it’s an update for you because it’s unlikely that renovations will have a 100 percent return when it comes time to sell.

“You’re going to get one shot at this,” Sridharan says. “Ultimately the additional money you’re going to spend to make your home look amazing is going to be far less than the amount of money [a buyer will pay].”

The key to taking advantage of the seller’s market this year is not taking the tight inventory for granted. Buyers will still expect effort from sellers in preparing a property for sale. While they may be willing to overlook a dated kitchen, it’s the clutter, deferred maintenance and lack of curb appeal that can still kill a deal. If you do decide put your house on the market, take the process seriously, and you’re likely to see ample interest.