October 24th, 2010
Reality Check: Listing Photos Westchester Buyers Are Seeing 10.24.10
Currently there are approximately 4300 single family homes on the market in Westchester, over 900 condos and close to 1600 co-ops.
This weekend there were over 150 Open Houses and who knows how many buyers and investors trolling local listings online, this is a sample of what they are seeing this week.
Appliance doubling as a message center, a household that really, really likes pink, and oh darn, photo UNAVAILABLE!
Additionally we have Springtime on the Hudson; trees, probably somewhere near the Hudson…
as well as some very busy people who apparently needed to leave the room in a hurry…
MLS give you 30 opportunities to showcase your listing. The should be seasonally correct, show the space-not the ‘stuff’-and give perspective that is unique to that property.
Do you really not have time to clear off the fridge, turn on lamps or move the storage bucket out of camera range??
I want to help agents and sellers be more successful, and you need to show a space that people want to see. My offer still stands: claim any of these photos as yours, and I will spend a 1/2 day Staging your property/photos for free. REALLY.
October 24th, 2010
It has been a glorious start to fall…leaves in brilliant reds, oranges and golds. set against bright, clear blue skies. Days are comfortable, but nighttime is getting chilly, so we close the windows, maybe turn on the heat or if we are so fortunate, light a fire in the fireplace.
Two weeks from today Daylight Savings time will end, and in about 10 days the reminders are going to start-change the batteries in you smoke and CO detectors, I suggest not waiting.
Smoke detector laws in New York State have been on the book for some time, but CO detectors became law earlier this year.
CO-carbon monoxide-is produces when any flamable material does not burn completely-this is any type of flammable material: oil, coal, wood, natural gas; even kerosene, propane, charcoal and gasoline.
Colorless and mostly odorless, symptoms include disorientation, and often mimic those of the flu, and the more severe the exposure, the less likely someone is to be aware of their condition, or able to seek help.
Children, pregnant women and the elderly are at the highest risk. Most recent complete data shows there were 42,000 fire and rescue responses to CO poisoning in 2007.
No one is in more homes than real estate professionals, and no one better poised to help carry this message-dare I suggest year-round. We all have AA and AAA batteries on hand (heaven forbid the remotes don’t work!!) so I have started to keep a supply of fresh 9volt batteries in my car, to leave them with each new client consult, and include new detectors as part of my Staging and Decorating proposals.
Perhaps a new CO detector would make a great closing gift?
Local community laws vary and will trump state requirements-where I live in White Plains, part of getting ANY building permit closed is the installation of hard-wired detectors in the appropriate place. Office managers-how about scheduling an official from the local building department to speak of this at your next office meeting?
We all ‘know’ what fire can do, but seeing it first-hand is something else. Last year I was witness to 2 separate fire restorations. One, very close to home, in my own co-op complex; the other was a project I was called into. The former was a roof repair gone horribly wrong, the latter an electrical fire.
Photo on left is entry into apartment, hole in wall is where electric panel was; on right is in bedroom, looking up into bedroom of upstairs apartment.
If you look carefully, above 2nd beam on the left, you may be able to see outlet cover is melted, and soot stains coming out of it
October 20th, 2010
Yes, I admit it, I do read my horoscope from time to time. I’m a Pisces, and yes, I do know enough about the signs and the tendancies to acurately guess someone’s sign about a third-to-half the time.
I don’t make plans by it, really more an amusement, after-the-fact thing, to see what the stars had in store for me that day…
It was with great joy and wonderment I read this:
‘A powerful imagination is one of your gifts. Like a muscle, your creative abilities get stronger the more you use them. You’ll help someone else by dreaming for them the dreams they can’t see on their own.’
WOW-how cool is that?? ESPECIALLY for someone in my field!
Happy Day, fellow fish!!
October 19th, 2010
‘Whimsy’ is one of those words you don’t hear that often. But when you do, chances are there’s no immediate visual, you probably have to take a second and (gasp) focus…
Starting out with a robust “WH” , it transforms, ending with a light-hearted ‘e-e-e-e-e’, the word itself evokes both range and promise.
‘Whimsy’ will make you smile-perhaps even inwardly-but you won’t laugh (it has a lighter touch than ’humor’). It is clever, but you won’t struggle; and it will make you think at your own pace-but not dwell or obsess.
It engages, delights and amuses, and is often unexpected. It captures your attention, and can change the channel. Done well, it stays with you.
Which is precisely why it is such a great tool in both Staging, and in Decorating.
It also cannot be done in a vacuum; for it to be effective you need to understand the motivation behind it, be clear about who your audience will be, and what you want to accomplish.
Which is precisely why I ask a lot of questions of prospective clients.
A long time residential client needed help in ‘finishing’ his newly re-located law office. An aquarium in the waiting room was suggested, but with clown fish. (He’s been a successful RE attorney for over 30 years, his business is largely with people he knows or has been recommended to, and he LOVES irony, trust me, it was him).
Anticipating the maintenance, instead we went with an oversize clock, surrounded by scenic shots of his kid’s college campuses (his idea, great idea, you can see a photo on my website’s B&A).
It’s natural to feel ‘stuck’ when you are starting to contemplate a long-overdue update, or clearing out decades of stuff in preparation for selling a house, but some people get really down on themselves.
I keep a small supply of ‘magic’ wands in the trunk of my car. Inexpensive, from the craft or party store, they are colorful and glittery, some with stars, other with spangles, ribbons, or even diamonds.
If the conversation starts going south- where the client is feeling overwhelmed-if it feels appropriate, I excuse myself and return with one for them, . (Also useful in getting children on board with this whole editing-the-toy-bin-thing).
Rick Whelan, owner and creative guru behind Ditto! Design! is a master of connecting a visual with a soft-sell message.
Last year, during a particularly bad time in the economy, he sent out a newsletter that as a banner (skinny photo on top pf page) showed a cluster of open black umbrellas, with a single sunny yellow one in the middle. (Yes, I aspire to have something approximating that light touch, and yes, yes, he handles all my marketing tools).
Point being-selling, or staying-if your space isn’t sending the message you want, we should talk. REALLY.
October 17th, 2010
Every 3,000 miles, and change the filter too-were the hard and fast rules my dad taught me; it might have been more often than recommended in the owners manuals, but in my family, we tended to keep cars for a l-o-n-g time, so it was sort of an insurance policy, proactive maintenance.
Consumers are now being asked to re-think this marker, and not in the way you might expect.
Advances in manufacturing and technology, and lifestyle changes point to longer time between changes; consumer advocates ask we take a look at our driving style/needs, and follow the guidelines of the owner’s manual to ascertain the optimum time for our cars.
Owner’s manual?! I have driven the same brand of car since 1981, and it’s gotten so I look in the owner’s manual only to find out how to re-set the clock when the time changes… but I took a look, and their recommendations are in the 4500-7500 mile range, depending on your driving style.
Overly-frequent oil changes not only wast money, getting rid of oil before it’s time is a hit to the environment, too-synthetic or natural oil, it still has to ‘go’ somewhere.
Jiffy Lube has started a program recommending people make their own decisions, and Edmunds.com is a site all car people know about. Scroll down to the bottom of the home page and there are a whole host of consumer resources, but for those of us not so inclined to peruse it just for yuks, http://www.edmunds.com/ownership/maintenance/articles/164686/article.html will tell you most anything else you want to know.
October 16th, 2010
These last two changes are unexpectedly satisfying-partially because they are so basic, and so simple.
4. Into the kitchen! Regular readers know I consider everyday cooking to be a real intrusion on the rest of my day, and faux-’easy’ recipes from hmm….rhymes with Meal Dimple…are insulting and annoying, so don’t get your apron stings all knotted up…
It’s known science that many spices promote good health-cinnamon helps lower high blood pressure, ginger aids digestion, hot spices fill you up with flavor (not calories), to name a few.
But they just LOOK so darn good, and with the weather changing and the holidays nipping at our heels, nothing exudes hominess, invites creativity and builds confidence in the kitchen and like an organized spice rack or shelf that you can just reach over to and sprinkle from.
Experts say dried spices lose their effectiveness after 6 months…I think that’s a pretty narrow window (probably researched by the sales arm of the National Spice Council), but it is a fact, their potency does diminish with thyme…ummm, I mean time :>
ANYWAY-toss out any container that is dusty on top, has no discernible scent, or you can’t remember using. Think about the upcoming cooking/eating season, look at some of your favorite cookbooks/recipes and make your list:
Ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice for baking; paprika, cumin, chili powder and curries for soups, stews and chili; dill, oregano, thyme and sage for meat, poultry, sauces and dips. Then go NOT to the supermarket (who knows how long those little jars and tins have been sitting there) but instead www.atlanticspice.com.
This gem of a business is hidden just off Route 6 (bayside) on the North Truro-Provincetown (MA) line. Wholesale, but open to the public, ships anywhere, and spices are just the beginning.
Inventory does not stay long, they do business by the barrel, and sell bottles of spices for about $2.25 each (maybe HALF of what they sell for in the supermarket) and in things you may use in bulk-their minced onion and mixed provance herbs are my favorite-maybe $6.00 a pound? Browse their online catalog, and this season, you will ROCK in the kitchen.
5. Let me tell you about the magical restorative powers of new linens…After the age of 25, the most affordable luxuries are a good night sleep, and a refreshing morning shower.
Because things like sheets, pillows and towels degrade very very gradually, we don’t really notice it…but take a look now. If your linen closet is looking like a patchwork quilt, you are due for an upgrade.
Best news, you can do it very well, and stick to a budget….. I mean, have you been to a Kohl’s lately??
Recently I bought a set of 400 count (the number of threads per square inch) pima cotton(longer threads = smoother, more lustrous product) king size sheets for a client. This season’s merchandise, in a classic color; inc. flat, fitted, and 2 king pillowcases-$120.00 regularly, on sale for $49.00, LESS 15% with my coupon $42.50 when all was said and done.
Pillows can be gotten for $10.00 or less, and if you hit it right, you can get a new set of very nice towels-4 bath, 4 hand, 4 wash for maybe $75.00-I got this same client got new Tommy Hillfiger towels for $6.00 each at Home Goods.
EXTRA FEEL-GOOD POINTS: Most animal shelters are very welcoming of your unwanted linens.
We all have busy days/weeks/etc…having a great front door/neat closets/healthy plants/fresh herbs and spices or even crisp, smooth matching sheets and soft, fluffy bath towels isn’t really going to change that, but you will feel a heck of a lot better about it all, and at the end of the day, in’t that what we really want?
October 13th, 2010
Grungy dishes coming out of your dishwasher, even with the extended rinse cycle? Chances are it’s neither your dishwasher, or the other people in your life that may have loaded it (who, me??)
In July , laws went on the books in 17 states allowing for no more than 0.5% of product be phosphates; it had been as high as 8.5%. Phosphates are what make things really really clean, and dishwasher detergent was the last hold out in the world of cleaning products.
This level of clean comes at a real cost to the environment…when it got into lakes and streams via runoff, algae production goes into overdrive, taking oxygen away from the rest of the ecosystem.
Chemicals in cleaning products has long been a source of health care concerns, so lowering phosphate levels has several things going for it. Hate to buck any efforts to save our planet, so for now am pre-soaking and giving all dishes, especially anything that had oil on it-a once-over with a soapy sponge before it goes in the dishwasher, then shorter cycle, to compensate.
I may get ambitious and do a vinegar and baking soda type thing down the line, but for now-will not be adding more soap, buying another additive, calling the repair company, or (s-h-h-h-h) be so sure I can load the dishwasher better than Doug.
October 13th, 2010
Fall usually arrives too soon, sneaking in the back door while you’re still on the porch kissing summer good-bye…all of a sudden you find yourself indoors again, and WHOA!!-what happened to my house?
Instead of seeing all you haven’t done/should do, or striving to achieve overall semi-perfection…again… and making yourself crazy/cranky/etc in the process, how about taking care of some oft-neglected corners of your home?
Here are the first few of my favorite high-impact, long-lasting, quick fall fix-its that are easy, cost you less than $50.00; I guarantee any of them will elevate your sense of personal well-being, and increase the enjoyment of your home.
1. Paint your front door Don’t remember how I stumbled upon this but am oh-so-glad I did! Susan Herin is an afficianado of all things house and home-oriented, living outside of Atlanta. Between Naps On The Porch is her blog, and whenever I read one of her posts, I am transported to a lovely, gracious world.
On it, Susan hosts 2 different blog parties, Metamorphsis Monday and Tablescape Thursdays, but here is link to an absolutely delightful blog post I found this summer about what the color of your front door says about you. http://betweennapsontheporch.blogspot.com/2010/02/what-color-is-your-front-door.html May we all aspire to red front doors, and thank you Susan for sharing!
2 Get your closets in order. Purge with abandon. Holding on to clothes-things-that don’t suit us anymore is really quite a burden. You’ll find a list of happy recipients for everything from kid’s clothes to old linens on the Good Turns page on my website.
Then, replace your hangers with new, matching hangers. Not going all Joan-Crawford on you here (remember, Mommie Dearest was not fond of wire hangers), but toss all those old and nasty hangers from department stores and dry-cleaners long gone.
Not saying you need new, hand-sewn silk paisley cushioned jobbies; but until you try it, you won’t believe the difference a few dozen decent hangers can make. BBB, Container Store, KMart all have very reasonably priced offerings.
Seal the deal by putting your clothes in color order, light to dark. Scoff if you want, but see how much more civilized you’ll feel.
3. Do some interior landscaping Cultivating indoor greenery was a novel thought in 1652, when Sir Hug Platt, an English country gentleman and horticulturist first wrote about it. Designing greenhouses and conservatories-bringing the outdoors in- quickly became a pursuit of the privileged. Happily, you need neither a staff or a trust fund to pursue this now.
Plants can scrub the air of certain harmful chemicals, as well as adding oxygen, now that our windows will be kept closed, it’s time to take care of our friends.
Replace plants that are not well, re-pot the overgrown, cut back the straggly, and fertilize them all. New dirt will add nutrients, and by supporting the base of the plant with a higher mound of dirt, you encourage new roots to form, and stregnthen existing roots.
Paperwhite bulbs should be available soon. Buy a bag-maybe $6.00 for 8?-place them in a bowl, supported by a layer of pebbles and add enough water to come to the top of the pebbles, and prepare to marvel. As the days get shorter, you’ll find new life unfolding-not to mention the wonderful scent-to be a wonderful boost.
NEXT: Viva la cucina, and sweet dreams!!
October 8th, 2010
A Surprise Post-Script
Apropos of my post from maybe 2 hours ago, and courtesy of my extroidinarily very thoughtful friend Sharon, here is link to recent NYT article on bringing in furniture to better sell an empty apartment.
Interestingly, I had just somehow, somewhere, already seen part of a TV interview with John Gomes about this very same apartment…really, there can’t be two apartments like this in NYC, can there? The faces on the potential buyers (when seeing both the before and after) told the whole story.
On a totally different note-if you happen to read this today, October 7th, go to Google and see an absolutely delightful 32 seconds of Google Doodle-video. Happy Birthday, John Lennon, wherever you are.
October 8th, 2010
Staging a property is first and foremost a business decision. Lots of buzz in the media-OH YES, it’s a great idea...just don’t see a heck of a lot of confidence-or comfort- in many of the agents I meet and speak with.
LOTS of different ways a property can be Staged-or prepared for sale-and that doesn’t mean how many different walls the sofa can go on.
I’ve prepared properties by way of providing a detailed written checklist for the homeowners for several hundred dollars, and overseen $60K worth of needed updates (paint, carpet, floor refinishing, landscaping, etc) while using all the existing furniture. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and a good Stager will do their homework. .
Staging is a creative service, but consider finding the right one for you in the more traditional manner, via a job interview. Last post were questions agents and sellers should ask a Stager, here’s some questions I ask at first meetings:
For the listing agent
1. Tell me about the neighborhood, and this property. Why is it special, why would it be in demand, who will likely be looking at it? Real estate is hyper-local, let me think of ways to reinforce what you and your seller know to be attractive to buyers.
Recently sold a high-end condo in White Plains…pet-friendly in the big city was a drawing card, finishing touches included a great dog dish, treat canister on the counter, and a leash on the doorknob.
Did they buy a $475K condo because of a cute bowl? Not conciously, BUT pet lovers are a large, specific and very passionate market, it got their attention in a way other units did not.(kind of like this picture), they might have been able to see themselves here more easily…yes, new owners have 2 dogs. Come on, say it with me now, a-w-w-w-w-w.
2. How does this fit into the local market? Tell me about the comps, and your strategy. Do you consider your price aggressive, accurate or negotiable? The more you can tell me about what you’re thinking and why, the better. I’m not competing with you, or looking to second-guess you. YOU are the real estate expert, I want to come up with solutions that will compliment, and support your plans.
3. What are your client’s needs, motivations and plans? Staging success is generally commensurate with a seller’s motivation. NOT looking for any confidential or overly specific info, but often you’ll have unique insights the seller is not even aware of.
If your seller MUST sell by a certain time, has a specific amount of funds to spend, or need to get a certain price for the house, let me know. Updates with a high ROI, seasonal buying cycles and carrying costs are some of the things I factor into my recommendations.
1. What do you know about Staging? What’s the history here: Have you ever had the house on the market before? Tell me what you did, what happened. If I know where you’re coming from it’ll save us both time and energy. Opening up the discussion levels the field and can lead to new insights.
2. If we set a strategy of what needs to be done, how is the work going to get done-who will be doing it? A motivated seller is key, but so is being realistic about your time availability and expertise.
Washing windows, cleaning out closets and clearing off the kitchen counter is do-able for most; more ambitious projects like painting, power-washing, or replacing a fixture are things that might best be left to professionals. Even if you have the ability, do you have the time? 2 or 3 weekends tied up in painting could be wrapped up in days by professionals, ,and your house would be marketable that much sooner.
3. Let’s talk about your resources. Resources DO NOT always mean money. Resources could be friends or relatives who could help paint and clear out, it could be a neighbor with furniture they’re not using, you could belong to-or look into joining-a barter club, where you could trade say bookkeeping skills for someone to fix your roof.
How could I know specific ways to help you get your house sold if I don’t know more about you?? Take the time, and have that conversation. You will get comfortable with Staging by first being comfortable with the Stager.
October 7th, 2010
October 3rd, 2010
How To Interview A Stager
Staging someone’s house is a fairly intimate undertaking, getting it to look good is just the beginning.
As more and more sellers must stay in the house until it closes, Staging it, then keeping it looking that way can represent a real lifestyle change. For that to happen, there needs to be motivation and commitment, and at the root of that is having a good relationship.
Sellers want to know who is going to be touching their stuff, and agents frankly should be sure this person will be a good representative of them and their business, and be a team player.
Staging is not a new trend, but it’s not one everyone is familiar with; many wonder how to even get started. To have a successful Staging experience, here are some questions I’d suggest agents and sellers use to start the conversation.
1 Tell me, how did you get into doing this? (There are many different hats a Stager wears in the course of a job, this will tell you exactly what’s in their toolbox)
2 Why do you like it? (Getting a home ready for sale, especially one that needs a lot of clearing out can be challenging, you want someone who loves what they do and can always see the light at the end of the tunnel)
3. What were some of your more challenging situations, and how did you handle them? (whether they were challenged by a person or a space, what and how they answer will tell you a lot)
4. How do you handle getting along with so many different personalities? (A variation on the old stand-by, you want to open the door and see if and how they choose to walk through. Again, this shows attitude, character and judgement).
5. How would you handle_____ (Pick your own most outrageous or uncomfortable scenario, and put it in the form of a general question. A house that smells bad? Spouses in an ugly divorce? Art in questionable taste? Bugs? Meddling relatives? Just like Miss America, their poise as well as their actual answer both count.)
Notice “the M word”has not been mentioned. DO NOT, repeat DO NOT make money part of the initial conversation. Getting to know the person/situation is not a sales ploy; here is why you’ll get the most accurate info, so you can make your best decision.
First: Because more needs to be known about what needs to be done, and who is going to do it. If there is no discussion/agreement on that first, all you’ve got is a number: unhelpful at best, wrong at worst.
Second: If you and your client have an unpleasant experience, you will never, ever, ever remembered what you paid-or thought you saved.
Lastly: If you don’t like/trust/respect the person, why would you ever want to find out how much it would be to hire them??
NEXT: What to expect when a Stager interviews YOU
October 2nd, 2010
Have been a furniture and furnishings gal from way back: At age 9, I persuaded my parents to paint the stairway and upstairs hall ceiling yellow and orange (hey, it was the late 60′s) I also moved my bedroom furniture around A LOT.
Went to a school known for fashion, but took every Interior Decorating elective I could. At 21, on a dare, I interviewed for, then accepted a position as a Decorator at Ethan Allen. I discovered dealing with furniture, furnishings, people and their homes was both fun, and surprisingly profound.
About 3-1/2 years ago I read an article in the local paper about an organization called Furniture Sharehouse. It was a furniture bank that collected unwanted furniture in good condition, and redistributed it free, to clients of various Westchester agencies.
The plan had been to profile their Grand Opening, but that April 2007 weekend, a nor’easter slammed the East coast, dumping almost 8 inches of rain in Westchester, flooding much of the Sound Shore area. So instead, the story told of how 65 families who had lost everything were furnished out of a tent in Harbor Island Park by this Furniture Sharehouse organization.
Kept that article for 2 reasons: first as a referral for clients who wanted a good home for their unwanted or unneeded furniture; second, because I thought…’one day, I might want to be a part of that’. Guess what? http://www.vimeo.com/9747580
In 1943 Abraham Maslow proposed what he called his Hierarchy of Needs. Simply stated, an individual could grow, evolve, and deal with larger, more challenging issues only once their more basic needs were met. Don’t want to get all preachy here, but if you’ve read this far, maybe even watched the video, you get it.
Home is where we all start from. Help someone get their space together, you make an immediate and concrete difference in their life, it’s that simple.
Furniture Sharehouse is a year round operation, and is fast closing in on their 1000th Westchester family served. Later this month (10/22) is their inaugural fundraiser, to be held at the Larchmont Yacht Club; Saturday 10/23 is the next furniture drive, held in Armonk as part of their town-wide Zero Waste Day.
The web site has all the details, www.furnituresharehouse.org and your donations of furniture (including pick ups), time, talents, supplies or funds can all be processed thru the site. Remember-we all can do something, ‘just’ spreading the word among your friends, neighbors, family, colleagues and clients is huge.