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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Some Fun Things to Do in Austin this February

This is by no means everything happening this month, just a few that I find interesting. There are a lot more events listed on The Austin Chronicle, Austin 360, and the Austin Visitors Center websites.

Don't forget, South by Southwest is almost here!

Feb 7
Harlem Globetrotters
The Erwin Center

Feb 9, 12 - 3 pm
Chocolate Show and Competition (mmmmm...chocolate.....)
Texas Culinary Academy (Events)

Feb 14 - Mar 2
Vecinos, A bilingual comedy
Mexican American Cultural Center

Feb 15 - Feb 16
Beethoven & Strauss
Austin Symphony

Feb 17
AT&T Austin Marathon and Half-Marathon

Feb 27
Michael Buble
The Erwin Center

Feb 29 - Mar 16
Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo

Have Fun!!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Getting Your Home Ready to Sell: Part 2 of 2

Staging Your Home

The purpose of staging a home is to highlight the positive and downplay any negative features of the home. You want to minimize distractions so potential buyers who walk in the door can picture themselves living in the house.

Consider hiring a professional stager. They often have different packages available to fit your budget, from simple adjustments if you are still living in your house to furnishing an empty house if you have already moved. They also have a new eyes. Sometimes when we have lived in a house with things a certain way, we can't see what may be obvious to the stager. It may seem like a lot of work, but the return on investment is well worth the effort.

For example, a 2003 HomeGain survey of 2000 practitioners indicated that staging could increase the sales price of a house by about $2200 to $2800. Simply cleaning and de-cluttering could add $2000 to $2300 to the final price. According to a 2004-2005 StagedHomes.com survey of owners, staged homes sell for ~6.9 % more than homes that were not staged.

(Update: Check out the HomeGain.com, Home Sale Maximizer Tool. It has a great break-down of the average cost and increase in sales price for several of the following recommendations.)

Simply rearranging the furniture can change the entire impression a room gives. If the back of the sofa faces the doorway as you walk in, this blocks the view and the flow of the room, which makes it seem smaller than it really is. You can also remove pieces of furniture to make rooms look bigger. Staging can show potential buyers how to effectively use the space if it is an oddly shaped room.

Clear all surfaces of knick-knacks, artwork, and pictures. It's okay to have a few items, but too many are distracting. I once went into a beautiful house with amazing pieces of art. I was so distracted admiring the art that I forgot to look at the house itself! A good rule of thumb is to remove anything smaller than a cantaloupe. If you have full bookshelves, remove some of those items as well. Use the rule of thirds, 1/3 of books, 1/3 of accessories, 1/3 of open space.

In the kitchen, get as many accessories off the counters as possible. Remove the dish rack, toaster, blender, microwave, etc. It will give the kitchen a cleaner, larger look. If there are some things that you just can't move, either cover it or make sure that it is spotlessly clean.

Yes....buyers will look in your closets, so make sure they are organized and neat. Clear the floor to gain more visual space. Removing items that you do not use on a regular basis will also improve the look of the space. Bedroom closets, linen closets, and pantries are included in this category.

I believe that people are generally good and I never take clients into a house if I have any misgivings, but the safety of your family and belongings is most important. Remove anything that can identify your children or your family to strangers. Hide or remove valuables from the house. This includes personal papers, bills, and jewelry.

Keep pets and pet accessories out of the way, preferably off the premises if your pet is an escape artist or likes to bark. I took my clients into a house that had several dogs. Granted, they were in the laundry room in their kennels. However, there were five (!) small dogs that did not stop yapping. We probably only stayed in the house for 3 or 4 minutes because the barking was so unpleasant. Even if you have a wonderful pet that is friendly and quiet, it is best to minimize distractions that a buyer may encounter. Some people are also allergic or afraid.

Garage and Storage Spaces
Remove what you can and organize what is left. If you have a lot of boxes or extra items, consider renting space at a nearby storage facility (it will also come in handy for the extra furniture and accessories you're taking out of the house). This way you know that your belongings are secure and out of the way. Be careful of odors in the garage. Car smells like oil or rubber are normal, but if your trash cans are in the garage make sure they don't smell up the space.

Get a professional cleaning company to clean your house. This includes having your carpets professionally cleaned. Yes, I know you can clean your own house, so can I. I also know that I cut corners (which usually comes in the form of not vacuuming...can't stand it!), so just have someone come in and do it for you. Potential buyers may not notice if your house is clean. They definitely notice when it is NOT clean.

On a side note, do not use scented candles, potpourri, or incense. Not only are some people allergic, but they may wonder what you are trying to cover up. No smell is the best choice.

As I said, it may seem like a lot of work, but the return on investment is well worth the effort.

If you have any questions on a particular home, send me some photos of the space. I'm happy to offer any advice.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Getting Your Home Ready to Sell: Part 1 of 2

Are you planning to put your house up for sale this year? Here are some simple things you can do to make your home more marketable.

Set aside a couple of hours one afternoon and grab a pad and pencil to make notes. Look at your house critically, the way a stranger would see it for the first time.

Curb Appeal
What impression does your house give when you pull up to the curb in front? Is the paint peeling and the yard unkempt? Or does the house look well cared for with a neat, tidy yard? First impressions mean everything, and potential homebuyers expect the exterior of the house to reflect the interior.

Once you're done making notes outside, move inside. Go through your house one room at a time, making a list as you go. Do any walls need to be repainted? Does the carpeting need to be replaced or will a professional cleaning be enough? Are there any repairs that you just haven't gotten around to? That leaky faucet or broken doorknob may not bother you, but it could be a warning to potential buyers that there has been little or no maintenance done on the house.

The List
When you have finished going through your house, sit down, take a look at your list and start prioritizing. Which things can you do for yourself and which things do you need to hire someone for? Some people love yard work, others hate it. Figure out which one you are and plan accordingly. Same goes for anything inside the house. If you are not a fix-it person and don't know the difference between a phillips and a flathead screwdriver, do not try to do it yourself thinking that you will save a few bucks! You'll just end up spending more money in the long run when you have to hire someone to undo your mistakes and do it the right way. Tackle the tasks on your list the same way you began, one room at a time, and you'll be done before you know it.

It may seem like a lot of effort and money to spend on a house that you are selling, but a couple hundred dollars up front could mean a quicker sale and could end up saving you thousands on your sales price.

Next blog
Getting Your Home Ready to Sell: Part 2 of 2
Staging Your Home

Monday, January 7, 2008

Time to File for a Homestead Exemption

Did you buy a residence in Texas in 2006? If you did, you may qualify for a Homestead Exemption. The major qualifications are:
  1. You must own your own home
  2. You must occupy it as your principal residence on January 1st
  3. Neither you nor your spouse can claim a homestead exemption on any other property
Homestead laws prevent any creditor from forcing the sale of the home to satisfy nonpayment of a debt, with the exception of the mortgage holder, a taxing authority, or the holder of a note created for a home improvement loan. The homestead exemption also reduces taxes by lowering a home's taxable value.

However, the protection is not automatic in Texas, so the homeowner must file an application after January 1st with the appraisal district in order to receive the protection of the law.

Application for Residential Homestead Exemption and more information regarding homestead exemptions can be found with your tax appriasal district.