Monday, April 21st, 2008

Five Smart Backyard Tips

Americans are on track to spend more than $40 billion on backyard improvements this year. A smart move, since a study by the University of Michigan found that consumers value a landscaped home 11.3% higher than the same home without good landscaping. But how do you make sure your money is well spent? Here are my best tips:

1. Make a five-year plan

Everything doesn’t have to be done at once. Plantings mature at different rates, and you can add new features each year.

2. Test your soil

Savvy landscapers have a saying, “Plant a $50 plant in a $100 hole.” You can get your soil tested by contacting your county agricultural agency. They’ll send back the results along with instructions on what you’ll need to add to improve it.

3. Don’t forget an irrigation system

If you don’t have the time or interest in watering yourself, consider an irrigation system to keep your plants looking good. It’s expensive, at least $3,000 for your basic midsize yard, but potential buyers will love it.

4. Hire a professional landscape designer

They charge $50-$75 an hour. You can pay them for the design only and do the installation yourself.

5. Check for a name on the pickup truck

If you are using landscapers, be aware that 75% of landscaping trucks have no name on the side — which almost always means they’re not insured.
Monday, April 7th, 2008

The 10 Best Ways to Lose Your Buyer

According to the latest National Association of Realtors (NAR) report, sales of existing homes increased for the first time in February by almost 3%. But sales prices are down 8.2% from a year earlier. If you’re thinking of selling your home in today’s highly competitive market, you need to avoid the following mistakes:


1. Hosting an open house is one of the most popular ways to let people know that you’re home is for sale. There are, however, certain instances when they can be a big mistake.

Hosting lots of open houses is not good. Very often open houses are used as an expression that you are doing something, or hosting something special. It’s an event. If you have an event that constantly happens, it loses its allure. They have to be well planned and there should be a reason for them, like a considerable drop in price. If they are not well utilized, they can be a waste of your time, and reduce excitement and expectations. Also, you tend to have a lot of timewasters coming, which can make your home look like a shopworn and unwelcoming.

2. When you’re selling your home, ensuring it is always available for showings can be inconvenient. When it comes to setting appointments, sellers often make the mistake of being inflexible.

Compared to any other age group, generation Y buyers are the most likely to purchase a home in the next two years. They’re young professionals under 30 who work long hours and have limited spare time. Not showing your house in the evening is like sending away a big chunk of your market.

3. Don’t hang around like a bad smell during the open house; it makes buyers uncomfortable. Buyers need to see themselves living in your home. With you there, watching their every move, you make this leap of imagination all but impossible.


4. A major mistake sellers make when they put their house up for sale starts with their language. How would you feel about a seller, or real estate broker who says, “the price is firm”?

It conveys many things in one breath. It says, that they are unreasonable. It also says that their home is overpriced. Most importantly it says that they have laid out an “unwelcome mat”.

5. Negotiating can be really stressful, especially when it deals with something as important as what your home is worth. A big mistake sellers make is not considering every offer presented, even the low ball, and possibly insulting offers.

The way people bid has nothing to do with the property itself, so you need to allow for people’s differing styles. You should consider every bid, and offer a counter bid. You should never take a bid personally, it isn’t meant that way. Granted, there are wise guys out there but more often than not the bidder will move up, they just want to get the ball in the air as low as they can.

6. Many sellers refuse the first offer, which can also be a big mistake. First bids often create a sense of confidence in the seller. They think that if one person has bid, there will surely be more and better bids to follow. The very first bid is often the best one you will get. Whatever the bid is, however low you think it is and however insulted you might be, you need to consider that you may not get another hat high.


7. We all have it, that leaky faucet, or the doorknob on the back door that needs repair. If you’re selling your home you need to know how much these minor things matter.

Buyers have something you don’t have; a fresh pair of eyes. They see things that you don’t see anymore. Make every possible change you can make. If you don’t you will pay dearly. The buyer will want to be compensated for every little defect and will negotiate your price down, essentially getting you to pay for those repairs yourself anyway, but by their terms. It is better to have everything fixed beforehand when you can control what it is going to cost.

8. We all take pride in our homes, we like artwork on the walls and we like to be surrounded by photos of people we love. In fact we think these things give the house plenty of appeal to visitors. This is a mistake when it comes to selling. People need to visualize how they can make the space their own. Get rid of your photos and replace the art you have with something more neutral.

9. A big mistake sellers make is having a home that looks more like a dungeon than a place you’d actually want to live. We get comfortable, we close the blinds, our lampshades get old and dirty and our windows blacken with dust. Before you let any potential buyer into your home you need to let in the light. Go crazy: clean the windows, replace the lampshades, up the wattage of your light bulbs, pull the curtains down – remember, the lighter the better.


10. Pets are a big no-no when it comes to sellers. They are like the ugly in-law nobody likes; they have to be taken away, or hidden. As much as buyers smile and say, “cute dog”, they are gritting their teeth and don’t want the dog in the way when they are looking at a new home. Also, animals leave odors in your home. People think a house with animals is less clean, even if it’s not. If you can hide or ditch the pets, do.scaping trucks have no name on the side — which almost always means they’re not insured.
Friday, April 4th, 2008

Get a steal of a deal at real estate auctions

Before you bid, find out what you need to purchase a good property

Foreclosure filings in February are up 60 percent from a year ago. That’s 223,651 homes that received foreclosure filings last month. Nevada, California and Florida have the highest foreclosure filing rates in the nation. In the past year, 1,000 Florida homes have been auctioned. In one of the largest auctions in history, 500 homes will be auctioned off next week in Florida and last for six days. Even Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino attempted to auction off his Florida home last month, and Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch is in default and scheduled for auction this May.

The Senate came to a tentative deal on Wednesday to help homeowners facing foreclosure and buyers who are buying foreclosures. In the biggest gift in U.S. history, the Senate has agreed to give a $7000 tax credit to any person who buys a foreclosed home.

Auctions can be a quick way to come out with a steal of a deal, but they can also eat your wallet alive if you’re not prepared. Here are a few things to think about before going to an auction:

Don’t buy in an area that’s drenched with foreclosures

If the market is full of Foreclosures, it’s a safe bet the values of the properties are still going down. It is better to wait for the market to stabilize a bit before jumping in there.

Research the public schools

In family areas, like Summit Park, New Jersey, how good the schools are determines value more than any other factor. You can find free school reports online at

Inspect the property prior to the auction

Some auctions will allow an inspection a few days prior to the auction; some only the day of, some not at all, and some even allow a contingency for inspection after the auction.

Bring a contractor with you to the inspection

A contractor can estimate the cost of repairs (like roof damage, broken windows, and electrical repairs). You need to know if the saving you will make is enough to cover the costs of a renovation.

Even if you’re not allowed in, check out the property with a realtor

A local broker is in the best position to tell you what the home is really worth and has recent sales data from the local MLS.

Ask for the right to rescind the contract

Most auctioneers will give you a three-day review period. Without it, you can be held responsible for 25 percent of the cost of the house if you don’t close.

Ask if there’s a “reserve amount”

If there is a reserve amount placed on the property the owner has the right to refuse your bid, if it’s below the reserve. So even if you’re the winning bidder, you may still not get the house. An “absolute” auction means a deal’s a deal, regardless of price.

Check prices of comparable homes online

Look for homes in nearby or similar areas with the same number of bedrooms, baths, and amenities. You could also shop the market yourself, so you get a very clear idea of what properties are selling for. This will not only give you peace of mind, it will also give you confidence when you get to that scary auction.

Get pre-qualified for a mortgage

Most auctions mandate it, and if you’re unable to get financing after you win the bid, they can still hold you responsible for 25 percent of the cost of the home.

And for the big day when you’ve finally plucked up the courage to ahead and so it remember to:

Bring pictures of the properties with detailed information

You don’t want to get mixed up and bid on the wrong property in the heat of the moment!

Decide on your maximum bid before you go

If you’re competitive by nature, it’s too easy to get carried away and pay more than you wanted to. List the properties you are planning to bid on and write down how much your maximum bid will be. You will base this figure on the research you did when scoping out the market.

Bring a bank check or cash

Most auctions require a 5 percent deposit, and do not accept personal checks.

Wait out the bidding war

When several bidders are outbidding each other, hold back your bid until the action cools down. Otherwise, you’ll just add fuel, and possibly thousands of dollars, to the fire.

Bid on the properties at the top of the list

The first few properties typically sell for the cheapest price, because most people “wait to see” what the properties sell for before jumping in.

Dress like a millionaire and stand close to the auctioneer

Other bidders will assume you’re from the bank and will stop bidding when you speak up.

Find out if there’s a “buyer premium”

It’s an optional 5-10 percent the auction house can charge you if you hold the winning bid.

Try to be confident when you get to the auction, if you have done your research and you have set your maximum prices, nothing very terrible is going to happen to you and you may just walk out the proud owner of some bargain real estate.

Resources to help you in your foreclosure hunt:
: America’s largest auction company, lets you search their auctions for free and bid online at The National Auctioneers Association has a Real Estate MLS Listing online where you can see auctions all over the country for free You get a free one month trial, but you have to enter your credit card information and remember to cancel before the end of the month. Otherwise, they will charge you $50 a month. Works the same way as RealtyTrac. You need to buy a $20 subscription per month to see the available properties.

USA Today: They recently added a listing of upcoming auctions to their ‘Deals & Destinations’ sections on Fridays and ‘Money’ section on Tuesdays.