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Dear Doug

April 1, 2011 by Contributor filed under Columns No Comments

Dear Doug: What is the “hottest” month for sales? What improvements enhance a property, and which are a waste of time and money?-Kathleen, Hamilton

Dear Kathleen: Springtime is the hottest time to sell your house–when flowers are blooming, trees have greened up, and colorful potted plants greet potential home buyers Contrast that to a bleak, icy day when snow has been pushed aside a narrow path to the front door. See the difference? A home can have a welcoming aura, if presented in the best light. When you plan to meet someone for the first time, do you get dressed up and pay attention to detail, or just go as you are? You get the idea.

And, for the second part of your question:

Paint, Carpet, and Cleaning are the top three improvements that enhance property. If you do nothing else; clean, paint, replace old carpet, then clean again.

Following close behind, is De-cluttering. Get rid of Stuff to give your home a clutter-free appearance which will make your home seem lighter, brighter, and more pleasant.

Another cheap fix is Landscaping. Add colorful flowers to the front walkway or porch. Put a hanging basket of flowers to greet new home buyers. Add new mulch and edge the driveway, but don’t spend thousands on that exotic bush that no one will notice.

When it comes to major improvements, I’ll start with what I wouldn’t do if you’re goal is to sell your home right away:

–I would not redo the entire kitchen. It’s too subjective, and too expensive just to sell a house.You may want to replace appliances if they are too old, but it’s more cost effective to just clean well, then price the house accordingly.

–I wouldn’t add a garage if you lack one.

–No digging a swimming pool.

In short: I wouldn’t add any major projects just to sell a house-. My rule of thumb is to spruce up what you have, spending the least amount for the biggest impact. Occasionally, homeowners facing stiff competition may need to amend this advice a bit, to stay competitive. If you are considering adding granite countertops, for example, look at your neighbors. Do they all have it? Would you really stand out? If your answer is yes, you may want to take the plunge. Likewise, if you have a basement with the plumbing roughed-in for a bath, and the walls and sink are in, I would add the toilet. I would not add a complete bath!

So, good luck with the improvements, Kathleen, and send me any questions you run into as you get your house ready to go!

Dear Doug: Why is it so hard to get “free” information on foreclosed properties?-Glen, Fairfax

Dear Glen: You can call a Realtor like myself to provide free info on any foreclosure that you want to know about. Why? So I can educate you on that particular foreclosure, then sell you on why they can be a great deal to buy. Is that “free?” Yes! As a Realtor, if I know you’re working with another Realtor, I would keep it very brief. But, if you’re trying to learn about foreclosures, and I think I can begin a successful business relationship with you, I’ll give you all the “free” info that you desire–and I’ll invite you to bring any friends who want to learn, too. We would review the whole foreclosure process, depending on what you wanted to learn. If you’re just gathering info on foreclosures for a school paper, I would still give it out for free–but with the hopes of educating you and closing future deals with you and your friends. Why? Because people all need a place to live. I find that even if the free advice seeker is not ready to buy something now, he/she will will take notice of a Realtor who takes the time to answer questions. So, get in touch with a Realtor, and I’ll bet you’ll get all the “free” info that you’re looking for. Go ahead, make that call!

Dear Doug: Are you seeing a trend toward people renting rather than buying?-Leslie, Purcellville

Dear Leslie: I am seeing a strong demand for rentals. Why? Well, you have to ask: Where are the people going who are facing foreclosure and short-selling their houses ? They can’t buy, since they’ve either nicked their credit or completely destroyed it. No lender will touch them, so they have to rent. In addition, we see recent college grads looking for housing, and relocating buyers attracted to this area by a fairly strong employment base.

Also, it’s more difficult these days to get mortgages. Banks are being more stringent about qualifying people. Those who would prefer to buy are being forced into the rental market.

With this increased rental demand, landlords like myself are seeing a dramatic increase in rental prices, which I really can’t complain about!

So, who is buying, you may ask? Relocating buyers with relocation packages provided by their companies. Also, long-time renters with steady job who are seeing severe price drops over the past 3 years. Some of them can now buy for less than they can rent in some places. For example, a recent client of mine–a relocating government employee–chose an $1800 townhouse to rent. When I showed her that she could buy the townhouse and save a few hundred dollars per month, she was quite surprised! ( Incidentally, she rented anyway because she wasn’t sure she wanted to live there for the next 5 years.)

Douglas Frank holds a BA degree in English from Rutgers University and is a licensed realtor with over twenty years experience. Doug works with Prudential Carruthers Realtors in Fairfax, Virginia. He also has his Home Improvement License and owns a number of investment properties including houses, townhomes, and condos. Doug and his wife and two sons live in Fairfax, Virginia. Opinions expressed here are … only opinion!

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