Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 6/26/2017

An increase in burglaries during the summer months means it’s time to help safeguard your clients’ homes while they’re away for the season or absent while selling. Ooma, a smart home phone and security company, offers six tips for preventing break-ins.

  1. Front door surveillance. Because 34 percent of break-ins happen through the front door of a home, recommend that your clients install a smart doorbell that routes to their phone. Other security options Ooma mentions include two-way speakers that will give visitors the impression the owner is home, or video cameras so your clients can see who’s at the door from their phone.
  2. Secured windows. The second most common break-in location is a first floor window, the access point of 23 percent of burglars. Ooma recommends installing sash locks and wireless motion sensors that will alert the homeowner if a window is opened or broken.
  3. Don’t forget the AC unit. Pushing in a window air conditioning unit is another common break-in method. Suggest motion sensors near the AC unit, or tell your clients to remove the unit while they’re away, Ooma says.
  4. Barring patio and sliding glass doors. Sliding doors should not only be locked, but should also have a barrier bar in the tracks. Ooma suggests homeowners place motion detectors in this area as well.
  5. Leave the lights on. The goal is to make the home appear lived in, even if your clients are vacationing or have already moved out. Ooma recommends smart lights that homeowners can control from their phone, or at the very least, light timers.
  6. Call 911 from afar. A homeowner trying to reach the police from a remote location can take valuable minutes. Home security companies, including Ooma, offer remote 911 calling.





Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 5/19/2017


These days, knowing how to sell a house isn't as simple as sticking a "For Sale" sign on your lawn. Times have changed—and the good news is the market is largely tilting in your favor.

“It’s undeniably a seller’s market," says Linda Sanderfoot, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Neenah, WI. In other words, buyers are demanding homes, but there isn't much inventory on the market nationally. Plus, half of home buyers are worried about rising interest rates and looking to lock into a home soon. As a result, “there is pressure on buyers to submit offers quickly, and to offer full or even above list price,” says Peggy Yee, supervising broker at Frankly Realtors in Vienna, VA.

All of this puts sellers squarely in the driver's seat—which can be a lot of pressure if your GPS is broken and you don't know how to navigate this new world. Consider this your crash course in getting up to speed.

Rule No. 1: Price it right from the outset

While conventional wisdom might suggest listing your house a bit above market value so you can make a mint (or get haggled down by buyers to something reasonable), don't do it. The reason: In today's fast-paced environment, this also puts you at risk of your home sitting on the market, which can make it more difficult to sell.

"If your house is still for sale after a month, buyers are going to assume something’s wrong with it,” says Seth Lejeune, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway in Collegeville, PA.

Moreover, “today’s buyers are savvy,” Yee adds. “They know if a house is overpriced.”

So list it right at market price, which your agent will help you determine. If anything, listing it a bit below market price could also work in your favor by sparking a bidding war which could drive the price up higher than you'd ever hoped.

Rule No. 2: Amp up your marketing

While professional photographs are a must, many sellers are going a step further these days. For example, you might consider doing a video tour, which entails hiring a videographer to walk through your home, camera in tow. The footage is then edited, background music is added, and the video is posted online.

“It gives buyers the sense that they’re walking through the house without even stepping foot inside,” says Lejeune. It may even enable you to sell your home "sight unseen"—which is actually how one in five buyers does it these days!

Social media is another smart component to leverage. Spread the word that your home is for sale by posting your listing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms. Create a post saying: “We’re excited to put our house on the market. Please get in touch if you’d like to schedule a showing. Pass along!” Be sure to include a link to the listing so that buyers can see more. And, of course, make sure your real estate agent is spreading the word on social media as well.

Rule No. 3: Splurge on staging

“Presentation is everything,” says Sanderfoot. And these days, that means hiring a professional home stager, someone who arranges your furnishings in a way that entices buyers to bite. The payoff can be substantial. On average, staged homes sell 88% faster and for 20% more than nonstaged ones. Staging is particularly important if you've moved out, because bare rooms can look empty and sad.

Unfortunately, staging costs can add up. Most home stagers charge $300 to $600 for an initial design consultation, and $500 to $600 per month per room. If you can't afford to stage the entire house, at least make sure the living room and kitchen are professionally furnished, because they’re the most important rooms to home buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ 2015 Profile of Home Staging survey.

Need an even cheaper option? Try pop-up staging ("fake" cardboard furniture that looks real) or virtual staging (digitally altered listing photos). But use these only as last resorts—real is better.

Rule No. 4: Devise a plan for how to handle multiple offers

With how tight inventory is today, there’s a good chance you’ll receive multiple offers. Trust us, this is a good problem to have! Still, if you're blindsided, it can be stressful. To ease that pressure, create a plan for how you’d respond if you receive multiple bids.

For starters, there’s no hard and fast rule on how you should act.

“The decision depends on what’s important to you,” says Yee. For example, some sellers are just looking to accept the best offer they receive and move out fast. Others, however, might be interested in learning how to spark a bidding war to drive up their home's price.

That said, “sometimes the highest offer is not always the best offer,” says Sanderfoot, adding that you need to consider each offer's full terms, including contingencies, closing window, and the buyer's financing.

By determining exactly what's important to you in advance, you’ll be able to make an easier decision if you get a deluge of offers (hey, in today's market, it can happen).






Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 5/11/2017

You’ve seen every house on the market and you’ve finally found the spot you can't wait to call home. In fact, you’ve mentally decorated it and planned your new life, down to the barbecues and block parties you’ll have with your awesome new neighbors. Sweet!

Slow down there, dear buyer. As you know, you still have one giant hurdle to overcome: You've got to make the offer that wins the house. And in a highly competitive housing market, that can be easier said than done. Don’t blow your chances with any of these common home offer mistakes.

1. Dragging your feet

If you love a property, the worst thing you can do is wait to make an offer. Of course, you're allowed to have some feelings of uncertainty—after all, this is likely the biggest financial decision of your life. But the longer you vacillate, the greater the chances you'll set yourself up for failure.

"Time kills deals," says Andrew Sandholm of BOND New York Properties, in New York City. "Dragging your feet means you could wind up paying more in a bidding war situation or missing out on the property all together."

Not only should you be emotionally ready to pounce, but be logistically ready as well. That means pulling together all of your paperwork—bank statements, pre-approval letter, and any documents supporting proof of funds—while you're house hunting.

"Get everything ready so we can act fast when we find a home you love," Sandholm says.

2. Offering your max pre-approved amount

Today’s sellers are often besieged by multiple suitors, and the successful buyer will be one who's prepared for a bidding war. The best way to arm yourself for battle is to make sure you've got a strong financial arsenal. That means getting pre-approved (do this now, if you haven't already) to show a seller you're financially prepared to buy a home—their home.

But when you make an offer, beware of submitting a price that exactly matches the amount you were pre-approved for, says Chuck Silverston, principal at Unlimited Sotheby's International Realty in Brookline, MA.

“Many buyers come in with a pre-approval for the exact offer price, but when you’re competing against other offers, including cash offers, you want to show financial strength,” he says. “An exact pre-approval could make a listing agent nervous because not only does the buyer not have any wiggle room to negotiate, but they might no longer qualify if interest rates rise.”

"In this market I often advise buyers to look at homes under their max loan amount," echoes Denise Supplee, a Realtor® with Long and Foster Real Estate in Doylestown, PA. "When you have to bid against multiple offers, they will need some room to go up, and if they are at their maximum amount, that may not happen."

3. Using an obscure lender

Also consider using a well-known local mortgage lender or bank, suggests Realtor Megan Tolland, with Realty Executives Boston, who often sees online pre-approvals from out-of-state lenders or unknown online entities.

“Agents, and therefore sellers, are generally more comfortable with a local lender they know,” she says.

4. Lowballing

Trust your agent and bid accordingly—even if it means offering a little more than you think you could get away with. If you lowball the seller in the hope that it'll spark a negotiation, it could backfire—especially in a seller's market.

“A lowball offer that isn't backed up with math or comparable sales data is disrespectful and could turn off the seller and possibly mean you will miss out on the property completely,” Sandholm says.

5. Waiving the inspection contingency

“I don't care whether it’s new construction or even your mom’s house you’re buying from her—get it inspected,” says Joshua Jarvis of Jarvis Team Realty in Duluth, GA.

An inspection is the only way to uncover potential flaws that could cost major cash to fix. And if you waive the inspection contingency in your offer, you stand to lose your earnest money if you back out.

6. Letting outsiders sway your offer

When you're buying a home, you probably want a second opinion. And probably a third, fourth, and maybe even 10th. We totally get it. But beware of letting these people—who mean well but haven't seen the many, many other homes you've seen—influence your offer.

"The 'adviser' does what they think is best and tries to protect the buyer and usually slams the home," Jarvis says. "Unfortunately, they don't have the education in seeing the other 10 homes or understanding the market."

If you're going to rely on outside advice, Jarvis says, then ask that the person accompany you through as much of the process as possible.

7. Not selling yourself

Wait, isn’t it the seller who, you know, does the selling? It might not sound quite fair, but in a seller’s market, you want to make sure you—the buyer—look as good to the seller as that picture-perfect house looks to you, Silverston says.

And it's not just about looking good on paper. In fact, Silverston says, the offer process begins the moment the buyer steps through the door at the open house or showing.

“In today's highly competitive environment, the listing agent is trying to determine which buyer will be the easiest to deal with,” he says.

That’s why buyers should avoid pointing out defects, asking a lot of nitpicky questions, or even insulting the owner’s taste by discussing changes they want to make.

“Basically buyers who act less than enthusiastic will see themselves at a competitive disadvantage when sellers are comparing multiple offers,” he says.

And, don’t forget to help seal the deal with a love letter—a personal touch could be enough to boost you to the top in the seller’s mind.





Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 4/26/2017

Cool, Calm and Crisp

Growing cucumbers can be a wonderfully rewarding adventure. No veggie tastes fresher than a cucumber cut right off the vine. The more quickly you harvest your ripened cukes, the more that will grow in their place during the season. 

Head Start

Cucumbers are very sensitive to cold and should be planted when soil temps reach about 60 degrees in a spot that receives full sunlight. If you’re worried the weather hasn’t warmed up enough yet, you can start them inside using a heating pad and/or a sunny windowsill.

Creating Cucumbers

Because cucumber plants can be a “bush” or “vine” variety, the plant spacing needs will vary. Bush types have been bred to take up only 2 to 3 feet, with extremely short vines, while vining cukes can run between 6’ – 15’.

Space Cadets

Cucumber seedlings should be planted a minimum of 12” apart if trained up a trellis, and three feet apart if they’ll be growing without a support. Cucumber seeds need to be planted one inch deep and lightly covered with soil, in a well-drained part of your garden. 

You've Got Options

Depending on your space, they can be left to sprawl across the ground, or trained up a trellis for best air circulation.  

Watering Worries

Prune away the lower leaves of your cucumber plants in order to avoid airborne disease. Cucumbers need between 1 to 2 inches of water per week, delivered at the root of the plant. Causing water stress while the plants are flowering can result in bitter tasting fruits. In hot weather, make sure you adjust your watering schedule accordingly.

Moving On Up

Cucumber plants shoot out tiny thin tendrils, which wrap around other plants—and each other. This is how they climb up trellis and netting. Looking for an excellent companion plant? Cucumbers play well with beans, corn, radishes and pollinator plants like nasturtiums.

Got Milk?

Powdery mildew fungus is a popular enemy when it comes to gardening. To ward off this pesky problem, spray a mixture of one part milk and one part water on your plants about every 10 days or so.

Beautiful Blossoms

Each female flower that appears on your cucumber plant has the potential to become a cucumber. Male flowers, as seen here, tend to appear first, and often in clusters. 

Busy Bees

In order to bear cucumbers, the flowers must then be pollinated by industrious and irreplaceable bees. Consider planting bee-friendly flowers, such as nasturtiums or marigolds, near your cucumber plants in order to keep those bees coming around. 

Countless Cukes

In 2010, over 57 million cucumbers were produced worldwide. There are three main categories: slicing, pickling and burpless. Within each group, the varieties seem endless. 

Lemon Cucumbers

These vining sweeties are as easy to grow as the more common types of cucumbers. They’re never bitter and make a flavorful and colorful addition many recipes. Harvest just as they begin to turn yellow to avoid them having too many seeds. Should mature in around 65 days.

Pick Your Pickle

Although pickling cucumbers tend to make the crispiest pickles, you can actually pickle any variety. Whether you enjoy your cucumbers right from the garden or preserved with tangy seasonings, it’s safe to say: homegrown is best. 


 





Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 4/25/2017

For some buyers, the bathroom is a deal breaker. So if your listing includes these fading bathroom trends, you might have a harder time selling it. Realtor.com® notes some fads you may want to suggest your sellers change before putting their home on the market.

All-white bathrooms: They're tough to keep clean, so this trend is definitely reaching its end. "White tile and flooring can stain very easily, and any little mark glares at you from across the room, tainting the crisp, clean concept of an all-white look," says Tonya Bruin, CEO of Canada-based To Do-Done Handyman Services. "I have so many homeowners coming to me now to ask for these white baths to be torn out and replaced with a more varied color design." To offset an all-white look without a complete overhaul, paint one wall a different color or add colored towels and a bath mat, Bruin suggests.

Too many funky colors: However, you don't want to be too bold with your color scheme. Mustard, salmon, and avocado, for example, aren’t the most desirable colors in a bathroom. "Colors like these tend to look tacky and make your bathroom feel like it's stuck in the 1980s," says Scott Allis with Miracle Method, a bath and kitchen refinishing company. Go for a more muted palette for your listing, such as a mix of three colors in a 70/20/10 distribution. "Use the most neutral color for 70 percent of the walls, floor, and tile, a rich contrasting color for 20 percent of the look, and then an accent shade for the last 10 percent," says Bee Heinemann, an interior design expert at Vant Wall Panels.

A big bathtub: Design magazines may celebrate the luxurious standalone bathtub in the center of a bathroom, but it doesn't always work in reality. "This elaborate, oversized fixture is far from practical and actually has low resale value," Heinemann says. Bathtubs are used less often than showers, and if there's at least one bathtub in the home, there's no need to spotlight one in another bathroom. For bathroom remodels, designers recommend investing in a quality water-saving shower.

Subway tile and nickel finishes: Subway tile and cool finishes such as nickel and chrome are on their way out, designers say. Instead, "large format tile is a good way to go, as are mini mosaics and geometric tiles," says Nicole Rojas, a designer with Tellus Design in Southern California. Also, brushed gold and even black finishes are gaining popularity. "The silhouette is still clean and streamlined," adds Bea Pila, author of Sacred Spaces for Inspired Living. "But these newer tones add an element of modernity and sophistication."







JoAnn M. Drabble