10 Tricks for Hosting an Open House That Make Buyers Say “OMG, Wow!”

Here’s what you can do to get your home ready for its big reveal.

An open house is their opportunity to give your house a whirl. To wiggle the light switches. To admire the crown molding. To, y’know, awkwardly ask to use the bathroom. (Which, by the way, savvy buyers will totally do — because they’ll want to test how the water pressure holds up when they give the toilet a flush.)

For you, seller, an open house is a chance to throw open the doors. To dazzle buyers with the big reveal. To make someone fall head over heels for your charming abode.

These tricks can help you make your open house a massive hit.

1. Time It Right

Your agent will typically hold an open house for two to three hours between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, when buyers have time and flexibility away from their jobs. To maximize your foot traffic, avoid having your open house during holidays, big community events (marathon days, for example), or unofficial “holidays” like Super Bowl Sunday.

2. Let Your Agent Take the Lead

In your own personal Open House Show, your real estate agent has two roles. To you, they are the director, giving you instructions on how to prepare for open house day, and what to do during the event. To buyers, your agent is the host. They will welcome viewers, introduce your home’s impressive features, and take questions from the audience.

Your job is to make your house look like a million bucks — or more like $300,000, depending on your price range. (Tips on cleaning and spiffing up your home in a moment.)

The job of your agent, an expert on your local real estate market and what makes buyers tick, is to take care of the rest. That will include:

  • Staging your home, or recommending a reputable stager that you can hire
  • Hosting the open house
  • Communicating with home buyers and buyers’ agents
  • Receiving feedback during the open house and communicating that feedback to you

Your agent will also recommend that, actually, you should probably leave while they show off your house to strangers, who will look under your sinks and peek into your closets. Why should you heed that advice? Because it makes good business sense for you.

  1. A home owner’s presence can make it awkward for the buyer. Buyers want to make assessments on their own, without worrying about how the seller might react or try to influence them.
  2. Buyers may have trouble picturing themselves living in the house when the owner is right there, say, serving lemonade in the kitchen.
  3. Sometimes sellers say too much. You might point out something that you think is a nice feature or amenity of your home, when it’s something that might turn off a buyer. (That busy arcade bar down the block may have been your favorite place to meet friends and play Pac-Man during weekends, but it could be a deal breaker for a buyer looking for a peaceful block.) You might blurt out something that could tip your negotiating hand, like how motivated you are to sell (soon!), or that you always wanted to update the retro kitchen — but just never got around to it.

The last things you want buyers to think after the open house is, “This place needs work,” or “This seller is desperate — I have the upper hand.” So, let your agent take the lead. This won’t be their first rodeo. They know the nuanced ways to show your home in its best light so that buyers will oooh and ahhh. They also know how to strategically answer questions from buyers to help set you up for success later, during negotiation.

Your agent can also stage a broker’s open house on your behalf. Unlike standard open houses — where buyers can stop by — at broker’s open houses, only real estate agents and other industry professionals are invited to attend. Generally, a broker’s open is held within the first few days of a house being put on the market. Complimentary lunch is often served as an incentive to get more people to show up.

There are two main benefits of having a broker’s open house:

  1. It gives your listing more exposure.
  2. It allows you to get feedback from real estate agents on your home.

If your house “shows well,” as they say in the industry, the agents who toured your home may recommend it to one (or more) of their buyer clients. If your home doesn’t get rave reviews, your agent will relay that feedback to you, and may suggest improvements before the next open house, such as staging certain rooms.

3. Try Some Simple Staging

You want your home to look its best while it’s on the market — especially during the open house. Many agents say the best way to primp your home for its big day is to stage it.

Depending on what your agent recommends, staging may involve renting new furniture or decor for certain rooms in your home. There are also some easy staging tricks you can try on the day of your open house. Consider displaying a bouquet of fresh flowers in the entryway, setting your dining room table to make it look inviting, or turning on your outdoor sprinklers shortly before visitors arrive to make your lawn sparkle.

4. Clean Like Crazy

When your home is on the market, you need to keep it in showing shape — not only for the open house, but also for any scheduled showings with buyers. Even though you’ve already (hopefully) cleaned and organized your home for its listing photos, there’s a good chance you’ve let clutter or dust pile up again, especially if you have children or pets.

Make sure appliances, windows, and mirrors are fingerprint-free. Clean and organize your closets, cabinets, and under the sinks (during the open house, buyers are allowed to be nosy). Clear every bit of clutter and get rid of it or put it in storage.

Don’t have the bandwidth to do a deep clean? Hire a house cleaning service to do the work for you. A professional cleaning service costs around $115 to $230 on average. If you’re not sure about which service to hire, ask your agent to recommend cleaners.

5. Do a Smell Check

If buyers get a whiff of something funky, they’re going to run — not walk — out of your open house. A week prior to the open house, ask your agent or a neighbor to do an honest, no-holds-barred smell check. Some possible smell solutions:

  • If your house has the aroma of your beloved pet(s), deep clean the carpets, relocate the litter box, and take steps to eliminate all olfactory traces of Fluffy.
  • If the basement is dank and musty, buy a dehumidifier to remove air moisture and run a fan to circulate the air.
  • If the kitchen drain stinks, drop in a cup of baking soda, then two cups of white vinegar. Enjoy the bubbling, then let the mixture sit for 20 to 30 minutes. Finally run hot water for 15 to 30 seconds to flush the odor.

6. Put Your Pictures (and Valuables) Away

You want your home to feel cozy and inviting, but not like someone specific (you, for example) is living there. Personal belongings such as family photos, awards, and religious art can distract home buyers and make it harder for them to imagine themselves living in your home. You don’t have to go overboard — the idea isn’t to eliminate every trace of yourself — but consider temporarily hiding some pictures and personal effects out of sight during the open house.

There’s a safety element to stowing your personal belongings, too: Though your agent will be at the open house, you’re inviting strangers into your home.

  • Securely store checkbooks, jewelry, prescription medications, family heirlooms, and other valuables.
  • Alert your neighbors to your open house date — as a courtesy, but also to ask that they let you know if they notice any suspicious activity, in the unlikely event suspicious activity occurs.
  • Make sure your agent signs visitors in, so that you have a record of who was in your house. (Bonus: With the sign-in sheet, your agent can follow up with buyers to find out if anyone is interested in making an offer.)
  • Lock windows and doors after the open house.

We’re not suggesting that visitors have any intention other than potentially buying your home. It’s just a good idea, generally speaking, to keep your home secure.

7. Let the Light In

Light doesn’t only (literally) brighten up your space. It also makes rooms look and feel larger. On open house day, open all curtains and blinds to let natural light in. (And in the week before the open house, make sure curtains and blinds are squeaky clean.)

Replace every single burnt-out light bulb in and outside the home — buyers should see a working light every time they flip a switch.

8. Give Your House Some Extra Curb Appeal

Buyers will judge your house on its outsides. So make last-minute improvements to turn up your home’s Landscape upgrades — adding a walkway, plants, edging, patio — recoup more of their costs at resale than even popular interior projects, like kitchen and bath remodels, according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® “Remodeling Impact Report.” curb appeal . Cut the grass, prune the trees, and trim the shrubs. Touch up porch fixtures and furniture with a little paint. Heck, paint the whole porch, if your budget allows. Plant new shrubs or set out potted flowers.

Small, relatively low-budget outdoor enhancements will make your home look all the more enticing to buyers — and can add some last-minute value to its price.

9. Draw Attention to Your Home’s Best Features

After your agent signs in and welcomes buyers to your home, they typically will have some time to wander around on their own. Even though you won’t be there, you can still draw visitors’ attention to features in your home that you’d like to highlight.

Prior to the open house, post (friendly, aesthetically pleasing) signs around the house with calls to action such as, “look down, new hardwood floors,” or “gas fireplace, push this button.” Buyers will likely appreciate the help, and that they’re working with a conscientious seller.

10. Serve Refreshments

Serving warm cookies or freshly baked brownies at an open house is one of the oldest tricks in the book. That’s because it works: Buyers love being greeted with a sweet treat and a cold or warm beverage depending on the time of year. Refreshments also give people a reason to stay longer: No one will rush off because they’re hungry or thirsty.

Your agent may even have relationships with a local cafe or bakery, which might offer snacks for free advertising at the open house.

What to Do During and After the Open House

Once you’ve done everything you can to make your house look and feel amazing to buyers — and your agent is on site to assume their hosting duties — the time during your open house is yours to enjoy. Go to the park, get a three-course lunch, do whatever you like as long as you’re free to take calls.

Your agent may need to get in touch with questions, so make sure you’re available and have good cell phone reception. (A movie, for example, is not a great activity for you during the open house for that reason.)

After the open house ends, your agent will share with you what questions buyers asked and any comments they overheard by visitors. Buyers’ remarks will likely run the gamut, including some that could be negative. (“Why is the closet such a mess,” for example.)

The important thing is to stay open to buyers’ feedback, and to follow your agent’s advice about how to respond. Based on buyers’ reactions, your agent may recommend that you make certain repairs, do some painting, or invest in additional staging before your next open house. Whatever they advise, it’s not personal — it’s just the business of selling your home.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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8 Ways to Get Rid of Awful Pet Smells That Turn Off Buyers

You probably only think you’ve eliminated pet odors. Here’s how to make sure.

If your agent holds her nose, here’s how to get rid of the smell:

#1 Air Out Your House

While you’re cleaning, throw open all the windows in your home to allow fresh air to circulate and sweep out unpleasant scents.

Once your house is free of pet odors, do what you can to keep the smells from returning. Crate your dog when you’re out or keep it outdoors. Limit the cat to one floor or room, if possible. Remove or replace pet bedding.

#2 Scrub Thoroughly

Scrub bare floors and walls soiled by pets with vinegar, wood floor cleaner, or an odor-neutralizing product, which you can purchase at a pet supply store for $10 to $25.

Try a 1:9 bleach-to-water solution on surfaces it won’t damage, like cement floors or walls.

Got a stubborn pet odors covering a large area? You may have to spend several hundred dollars to hire a service that specializes in hard-to-clean stains.

#3 Wash Your Drapes and Upholstery

Pet odors seep into fabrics. Launder, steam clean, or dry clean all your fabric window coverings. Steam clean upholstered furniture.

Either buy a steam cleaner designed to remove pet hair for around $200 and do the job yourself, or pay a pro. You’ll spend about $40 for an upholstered chair, $100 for a sofa, and $7 for each dining room chair if a pro does your cleaning.

#4 Clean Your Carpets

Shampoo your carpets and rugs, or have professionals do the job for $25 to $50 per room, depending on their size and the level of filth embedded in them. The cleaner will try to sell you deodorizing treatments. You’ll know if you need to spend the extra money on those after the carpet dries and you have a friend perform a sniff test.

If deodorizing doesn’t remove the pet odor from your home, the carpets and padding will have to go. Once you tear them out, scrub the subfloor with vinegar or an odor-removing product, and install new padding and carpeting. Unless the smell is in the subfloor, in which case that goes next.

#5 Paint, Replace, or Seal Walls

When heavy-duty cleaners haven’t eradicated smells in drywall, plaster, or woodwork, add a fresh coat of paint or stain, or replace the drywall or wood altogether.

On brick and cement, apply a sealant appropriate for the surface for $25 to $100. That may smother and seal in the odor, keeping it from reemerging.

#6 Place Potpourri or Scented Candles in Strategic Locations

Put a bow on your deep clean with potpourri and scented candles. Don’t go overboard and turn off buyers sensitive to perfumes. Simply place a bowl of mild potpourri in your foyer to create a warm first impression, and add other mild scents to the kitchen and bathrooms.

#7 Control Urine Smells

If your dog uses indoor pee pads, put down a new pad each time the dog goes. Throw them away outside in a trash can with a tight lid. Remove even clean pads from view before each showing.

Replace kitty litter daily, rather than scooping used litter clumps, and sweep up around the litter box. Hide the litter box before each showing.

#8 Relocate Pets

If your dog or cat has a best friend it can stay with while you’re selling your home (and you can stand to be separated from your pet), consider sending your pet on a temporary vacation. If pets have to stay, remove them from the house for showings and put away their dishes, towels, and toys.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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4 Renovation Myths Reality TV Shows Propagate

Home improvement reality television shows have long misguided consumers about the renovation process. You likely have some clients who are obsessed with channels such as HGTV, and they may have developed some common misunderstandings about the real time and effort it takes to undergo remodeling a home. Fox News recently highlighted several myths these shows tend to generate.

The answer to creating more space is always to knock down walls. Designers on television often make major changes to floor plans to increase the dramatic effect. But the truth is large undertakings such as removing walls aren’t always necessary—or wise. “When someone buys a 1990s-era home—which [usually were] built quickly and on the cheap—we can’t rip out walls,” Teris Pantazes, a Baltimore contractor, told Fox News. “It’s important for a home to have good bones. I have been in this business for a long time, but I’m not an engineer. I still have customers question me, and I see them waste tons of money to verify what I already told them.”

A well-done remodeling project can be completed in a day. Viewers may forget that fitting an entire narrative into a 30- or 60-minute show requires editing out some—or most—of the actual renovation process. Your clients may falsely believe real-life work can be done as quickly as it appears on TV. “The number one problem with real estate television shows is that they significantly shorten the amount of time that almost anything takes for the purpose of advancing the narrative,” says Kevin Deselms, a sales associate with RE/MAX Alliance in Golden, Colo. That can mislead viewers to expect instant results.

The permit process is a simple, insignificant part of the equation. Remodeling, especially when it involves additions to the home, often requires securing building permits from the local government—which can significantly slow the timeline of a project. “HGTV shows sometimes discuss the need for permits, but they don’t often show how this process can slow the entire project,” says Jeffrey A. Hensel of North Coast Financial Inc. Waiting for permit approval can increase time and budget by 50 percent, he says.

For higher ROI, go bigger with renovations. “HGTV shows like to feature flips with full kitchen and bath remodels because the before-and-after shots make for more compelling viewing,” Bobby Montagne, CEO of Walnut Street Finance, told Fox News. “In fact, aspiring fix-and-flippers are often better off doing small-scale renovations that just need carpet, paint, and some freshening up—especially for their first projects.”

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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4 Outdoor Projects That Offer The Most Paybacks

Outdoor projects can help boost a home’s value by up to 10 percent, according to a new realtor.com® report. Outdoor showers, barbecue stations, entertainment pools, and firepits are the top projects that realtor.com® researchers found with the biggest potential increases to a home’s price.

For its research, realtor.com® analyzed listings at its site for summer-related outdoor features in single-family homes listed for $150,000 or more.

An outdoor shower offers the biggest return on investment, according to realtor.com®’s research. Researchers found that homes with outside bathing areas had a 97 percent price-per-square-foot premium. They speculate that such a feature may be appealing since it’s usually found in homes that are near a beach or an expensive property with other luxury amenities.

Researchers also found that homes with barbecue stations are 26 percent more expensive than those without. In Utah, homes with barbecue stations tend to be listed for 58 percent more per square foot than other homes in the state.

Also, entertainment pools—with enough space around them for others to lounge—could give a home a 26 percent increase in its value. In New York state, homes with such entertainment pools were 224 percent pricier per square foot than those without.

Firepits and backyard fireplaces are also proving to be a hot way for homeowners to boost their home prices. Homes with firepits or backyard fireplaces had a 25 percent premium, according to researchers.

“Outdoor features can give a home a special quality in the market,” says Javier Vivas, realtor.com®’s director of economic research. “And anytime you have a unique feature, it can bolster the prospective value of a home.”

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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What You Should Really Know About Browsing for Homes Online

It’s fun! It’s exciting! It’s important to take everything with a grain of salt!

Browser beware, though: Those listings may be seductive, but they might not be giving you the complete picture.

That perfect split-level ranch? Might be too close to a loud, traffic-choked street. That handsome colonial with the light-filled photos? Might be hiding some super icky plumbing problems. That attractively priced condo? Miiiight not actually be for sale. Imagine your despair when, after driving across town to see your dream home, you realize it was sold.

So let’s practice some self-care, shall we, and set our expectations appropriately.

  • Step one, fill out our home buyer’s worksheet. The worksheet helps you understand what you’re looking for.
  • Step two, with that worksheet and knowledge in hand, start browsing for homes. As you do, keep in mind exactly what that tool can, and can’t, do. Here’s how.

You Keep Current. Your Property Site Should, Too

First things first: You wouldn’t read last month’s Vanity Fair for the latest cafe society gossip, right? So you shouldn’t browse property sites that show old listings.

Get the latest listings from realtor.com®, which pulls its information every 15 minutes from the Ask your agent to send you automated emails from their MLS with new properties that meet your specs. Multiple Listing Service (MLS), regional databases where real estate agents post listings for sale. That means that realtor.com®’s listings are more accurate than some others, like Zillow and Trulia, which may update less often. You wouldn’t want to get your heart a flutter for a house that’s already off the market.

BTW, there are other property listing sites as well, including Redfin, which is a brokerage and therefore also relies on relationships with brokers and MLSs for listings.

The Best Properties Aren’t Always the Best Looking

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. But what they don’t say is a picture can also hide a thousand cracked floorboards, busted boilers, and leaky pipes. So while it’s natural to focus on photos while browsing, make sure to also consider the property description and other key features.

Each realtor.com® listing, for example, has a “property details” section that may specify important information such as the year the home was built, price per square foot, and how many days the property has been on the market.

Ultimately though, ask your real estate agent to help you interpret what you find. The best agents have hyper-local knowledge of the market and may even know details and histories of some properties. If a listing seems too good to be true, your agent will likely know why.

Treat Your Agent Like Your Bestie

At the end of the day, property sites are like CliffsNotes for a neighborhood: They show you active listings, sold properties, home prices, and sales histories. All that data will give you a working knowledge, but it won’t be exhaustive.

To assess all of this information — and gather facts about any home you’re eyeing, like how far the local elementary school is from the house or where the closest Soul Cycle is — talk to your real estate agent. An agent who can paint a picture of the neighborhood is an asset.

An agent who can go beyond that and deliver the dish on specific properties is a true friend indeed, more likely to guide you away from homes with hidden problems, and more likely to save you the time of visiting a random listing (when you could otherwise be in the park playing with your canine bestie).

Want to go deeper? Consider these sites and sources:

Just remember: You’re probably not going to find that “perfect home” while browsing listings on your smartphone. Instead, consider the online shopping experience to be an amuse bouche to the home-buying entree — a good way for you to get a taste of the different types of homes that are available and a general idea of what else is out there.

Once you’ve spent that time online, you’ll be ready to share what you’ve learned with an agent.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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5 Awesomely Easy Landscaping Projects

Landscaping next to a home's drivewayImage:

It’s your yard — yours to do with as you wish. And while that’s great, that doesn’t mean you have to be one of those people who spends every spare moment in their yard, sprucing it up.

But, still, your landscaping could use a little something. But something easy.

Here are five totally doable projects that your budget will barely notice, but your neighbors definitely will:

#1 Add Some (Tough) Edging

Rigid flowerbed edgingImage: Paul Gerritsen/Shutterstock

Tell your grass who’s boss with edging that can stand up to even the crabbiest of all crabgrasses.

But don’t make the mistake that many homeowners make of buying the flexible plastic stuff, thinking it will be easier to install. It’ll look cheap and amateurish from day one.

Worse, it won’t last. And before you know it, you won’t be able to tell where your garden bed ends and your “lawn” begins.

Instead buy the more rigid, tough stuff in either fiberglass, aluminum, or steel.

Tips on installing edging:

  • Lay out a hose in the pattern you want.
  • Sprinkle flour or powdered chalk to mark the hose pattern.
  • Use a lawn edger (or spade) to make an incision for the edging.
  • Tap the edging into the incision with a rubber mallet.

The cost? Mostly your time, and up to $2.50 a square foot for the edging.

#2 Create a Focal Point with a Berm

Berm built in front yardImage: Jon Jenks-Bauer

Plus, they’ll give you privacy — and diffuse street noises. What’s not to like about that? Especially if you live in more urban areas.

For most yards, berms should max out at 2-feet high because of the space needed to properly build one.

They need a ratio of 4-6 feet of width for every foot of height. That’s at least 8 feet for a typical 2-foot high berm. So be sure you have the room, or decrease the height of your berm.

Popular berm plantings include:

  • Flowering bushes, such as azaleas
  • Evergreens, such as blue spruce
  • Perennials such as periwinkle
  • Tall, swaying prairie grasses
  • Lots of mulch to keep weeds away

Soil costs a whole lot less in bulk — $20 / cubic yard vs. almost $70 for the same amount in bags from a big-box store. Even with a delivery fee, you’ll come out ahead. The cost?  Usually less than $300, depending on how big you make it, how much soil you need to buy to get to your desired height, and what plants you choose.

#3 Make a Flagstone Wall

Aim to build a wall no more than 12 inches tall, and it becomes a super simple DIY project — no mortar needed at all!

How to build an easy flagstone wall:

  • Dig a trench a couple of inches deep and wide enough to accommodate the flagstones.
  • Fill with pea gravel and/or sand and tamp to make level.
  • Lay out the flagstones to see their shapes and sizes.
  • Stack the smaller stones first.
  • Save the largest, prettiest flagstones for the top layer.
  • Backfill with gravel.

Choose a stone of consistent thickness. Flagstone might be limestone, sandstone, shale — any rock that splits into slabs.

The cost? About $300 for stones and sand (a ton of 2-inch-thick stone is enough for a wall 10 feet long and 12 inches high).

How To Build a Stone Wall

Video: Stoneyard.com

#4 Install a Path with Flagstone or Gravel

There’s something romantic, charming, and simply welcoming about a meandering pathway to your front door or back garden — which means it has super-huge impact when it comes to your home’s curb appeal.

You can use flagstone, pea gravel, decomposed or crushed granite, even poured concrete (although that’s not easy to DIY).

A few tips for building a pathway:

  • Allow 3 feet of width for clearance.
  • Create curves rather than straight lines for a pleasing effect.
  • Remove sod at least 3 to 4 inches deep to keep grass from coming back.
  • If you live in an area with heavy rains, opt for large, heavy stones.

The cost? Anywhere from a couple of hundred bucks to upwards of $500 depending on the material you use, with decomposed granite being the least expensive, and flagstone (also the easiest of the bunch to install) the costliest.

How to Build a Flagstone Walkway

How to build a flagstone walkway.

#5 Build a Tree Surround

Installing a masonry surround for a tree is a two-fer project: It looks great, and it means you’ve got less to mow. Come to think of it, it’s a three-fer. It can work as extra seating when you have your lawn party, too!

All it takes is digging a circular trench, adding some sand, and installing brick, cement blocks, or stone. Just go for whatever look you like best.

The trickiest part is getting an even circle around the tree. Here’s how:

  1. Tie a rope around the tree, making a loop big enough so that when you pull it taut against the tree, the outer edge of the loop is right where you want the surround to be.
  2. Set your spade inside the loop with the handle plumb — straight up and down. Now, as you move around the tree, the loop of rope keeps the spade exactly the same distance from the base of the tree, creating a nice circle.

Then build the tree surround:

  • Dig out a circular trench about 8 inches deep and 6 inches wide.
  • Add a layer of sand.
  • Set bricks at an angle for a saw-tooth effect or lay them end-to-end.
  • Fill the surround with 2 to 3 inches of mulch.

The cost? Super cheap. You can do it for less than $25 with commonly-available pavers and stones. 

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Fix Layout Problems Without Changing Walls

open floor layout in home

It’s no secret that builders, developers, and architects have favored open-plan layouts in the past decade or two. Bigger kitchens that spill out into family and dining rooms are the new norm, and the aesthetics and healthfulness of outdoor living space often extends inward, thanks to seamless glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows.

The shift toward openness is due to several factors. Technological advancements in construction permit longer open spans as steel has replaced wood in supporting headers or beams, says Orren Pickell, whose eponymous building firm is located outside Chicago. Also, he notes that an open plan adds a feeling of greater square footage without having to actually add physical space to a home’s footprint.

Sandy Owens, CRS, with RE/MAX Commonwealth in Midlothian, Va., credits a cultural move toward less formal living and entertainment spaces as a reason for the popularity of the open plan. In casual, multipurpose rooms, larger TV screens can be mounted and visible from several vantage points inside the room and out, says Connecticut architect Duo Dickinson, author of Staying Put: Remodel your House to Get the Home You Want (Taunton Press). Newer audio equipment has also enabled sound to be heard throughout larger spaces.

However, after years of clamoring for more open-plan layouts that resemble cool artists’ lofts, the pendulum seems to be settling in the middle with a desire for both striking airiness and cozy corners. Owens says many homeowners who have actually experienced living in reverberant, fishbowl-type spaces find that level of transparency doesn’t always work well. They often want at least one quiet nook or separate room that’s designated tech-free, what “we used to call the living room,” says designer Susan Brunstrum, owner of Sweet Peas Design in Chicago. And Pickell notes that many may feel stressed out by being able to see their messy kitchen from every room on the main floor.

But adding or subtracting walls can be expensive in existing homes. Dickinson notes that putting up full or partial walls is usually less costly than taking one down, but the cost increases if the wall incorporates HVAC ducts, electrical wiring, or plumbing. And while a partial wall may seem like an easy compromise, they generally require support at each end. Removing all or part of a load-bearing wall can cost three times as much as removing a partition (a wall that carries no weight), says Dickinson. “But beware,” he adds, “since even walls that don’t support roofs or floors above may carry ceiling framing, so costs need to be scoped out before demo begins.” If a header—the horizontal beam that is inserted overhead to support a big span when walls are removed—is required, the cost may run to $20,000, depending on length. Homeowners also should keep in mind ancillary costs, such as laying and patching flooring, that comes with such projects.

As real estate pros know, it’s almost impossible for a listing’s layout to work for everyone. Your clients will need to decide how much openness they want and whether they want to be able to reconfigure space again as their needs or tastes change. These ideas for opening up closed spaces and separating layouts that are too open range in complexity, price, and permanence, but they’ll give you a solid ground from which to help buyers and sellers decide on a space that can work for them.

Strategies to Close Up Wide-Open Space

  • Build in an architectural feature. If construction seems like the best solution, homeowners can consider building a bookcase, banquette, fireplace, soffit, glass door, or column into the home instead of a wall. In one project, Pickell repeated stone used on the exterior of a house in columns in a kitchen. It extends from the counter to the ceiling, setting off the area without obstructing views. Other strategies he’s used to make an area more intimate include lowering ceilings; installing beams, coves, or coffers; and adding an interior glass door that keeps the line of sight open between areas but still dampens sound. Los Angeles designer Lori Gilder, owner of Interior Makeovers, often suggests banquettes to section off an eating space, rather than adding a table and chairs, which tend to float in the middle of a room.
  • Dickinson notes that newer gas or gel capsule fireplaces are easy to vent and don’t require a chimney, making them simpler to place and less costly to install than with traditional log-burning fireplaces of years past.
  • Differentiate areas with flooring, paint, and wallpaper. Changes in material, color, or texture on a floor, wall, or ceiling are more visual than structural but still can fool the eye into thinking there’s separation. Deep intense hues that some manufacturers are debuting as their 2018 Colors of the Year—Sherwin-Williams’ rich oceanside blue and Benjamin Moore’s deep barn-red caliente—help make rooms feel smaller and more nurturing. Certain dark wallpapers and paneling have a similar effect. The upside is that these choices can be changed fairly easily to reopen space; the downside is that they won’t deflect noise as well as structural changes.
  • Use furniture to create vignettes. This also doesn’t involve a permanent, structural redo, just positioning existing furniture to suggest a distinct room within a larger space. Simply pulling sofas, chairs, and tables away from walls and setting them atop an area rug can accomplish the intended effect. An edgier option could include floating curtains from the ceiling rather than at windows and doors.
  • Use light effectively. Lighting can make a big difference in how open or closed rooms appear. With the advanced controls LEDs and smart fixtures offer, homeowners can adjust bulb color and temperature (lower and warmer light conveys small, intimate space, while cooler and brighter lights accomplish the opposite). Recessed lights are a more permanent, costly option but new longer-lasting, energy-efficient LEDs help keep costs down in the long run.

Methods for Opening Up Separated Rooms

  • Remove doors, walls, and cabinetry. An easy, affordable solution—even for DIYers—is to remove doors and jambs, then patch and paint so there’s a clear view between adjoining rooms, says Maria Elena Holguin with Robb & Stucky Interiors (though homeowners should save the doors for future buyers who may want them restored to their former location).
  • Raise the ceiling. Raising a roof is “crazy expensive—starting at $50,000 and up from there,” says Dickinson. A more affordable approach to add height and openness is to raise angled ceilings when there’s a pitched roof. This option can range from between $3,000 and $6,000, Dickinson says. However, he cautions that adding insulation, lighting, and HVAC can double that cost. “You’ll need an experienced builder or architect. For larger projects, these professionals would bring in an engineer,” Dickinson says. Before any major change is done, your clients should consider having a plan drawn to visualize the possibilities and drawbacks.
  • Install skylights or add windows. Less involved, these treatments can still make a room feel larger and more open. But the price can add up quickly. Nathan Kipnis, principal of Kipnis Architecture + Planning in Evanston, Ill., suggests three, five, or six windows, depending upon the room. “One will bring in light and ventilation, but won’t open up the space sufficiently,” he says. Kipnis likes to group several windows in a grid, and perhaps adding a transom above. A project like this may run clients anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 just for the windows, plus several thousand more for the structure around them. But even just two windows can run far higher. Oldenburg reported a recent project where just two windows cost around $20,000, mostly due to the need to punch openings out of a brick facade. Skylights themselves may run between $1,000 and $1,500 each, according to Kipnis, but the ancillary costs vary there too. “If you need to rework the structure, then it will add $5,000 to $10,000,” he says.
  • Blur room lines with furniture groupings and design choices. Separate rooms can feel more like one entity if lines are intentionally blurred between them. The trick is to use floor materials, wall colors, and even furniture groupings to bridge the spaces, says Mary Cook, principal of Mary Cook Associates, a national commercial interior design firm based in Chicago. Be sure to use furniture that’s finished on all sides since it’ll be viewed from all around, advises Kipnis.
  • Use mirrors. Reflective surfaces that extend vertically up to ceilings and horizontally along entire walls have an effect of opening up space and allowing light to bounce around more freely, says Dickinson. Even using mirrors along smaller expanses—say on bookshelves or backsplashes—can help.
  • Go light and repeat. One of the reasons white remains one of the most popular colors in design is that it opens up space more than deep intense hues and woods do. And today there are literally hundreds of white and off-white paint shades to consider, as well as light beiges and grays. Repeating the same wall, ceiling, and trim color offers an even more effective approach.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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You Only Think It’s True: 10 Myths Costing You Time & Money

Save your cash for more important things, like, you know, your mortgage.

You can’t swing a tool belt without hitting a website or TV network offering tips on taking care of your digs. Save money by watering your lawn at night! No, water it in the morning! No, dig it up and replace it with a drought-hardy meadow!

Throw in the info you pick up from well-meaning friends and there’s a sea of home care truisms out there, some of which can sink your budget.

Myth 1: Stone Countertops Are Indestructible

Fact: Even rock can be damaged.

Marble, quartz, travertine, soapstone, and limestone can all be stained. Regular household cleaners can dull their surfaces over time. And marble is maddeningly fragile — it’s the prima donna of stone.

It’s easy to scratch. It’s easy to stain. Here’s the worst part: Mildly acidic substances like soda, coffee, lemon juice, even hard water will eat into marble, creating a cloudy, dull spot in a process known as etching.

“Spill a glass of wine on a marble counter and go to bed without cleaning it, the next morning you’ll have a problem,” says Louwrens Mulder, owner of Superior Stone in Knoxville, Tenn.

And while stone counters won’t crack under a hot pot, such direct heat can discolor quartz or marble, says Mulder. So be nice to your counters, no matter what they’re made of. And note that the best rock for your buck is granite. “It doesn’t stain or scratch. It’s tough because it’s volcanic rock,” Mulder says. Which means it can stand up to all the merlot and barbecue sauce you can spill on it.

Myth 2: Your Smoke Detector’s Test Button Is Foolproof

Fact: The test button doesn’t tell you what you really need to know.

Yes, check your smoke detector twice a year. But all that test button will tell you is whether the alarm sound is working, not if the sensor that detects smoke is working. Pretty key difference there.

The best way to check your device is with real smoke. Light a long, wooden kitchen match, blow it out, and hold it near the unit. If the smoke sets off the alarm, it’s working. If not, replace the batteries. If it still doesn’t work, you need a new smoke detector. And replace those batteries once a year anyway, because dead batteries are the No. 1 reason smoke detectors fail.

Myth 3: Gutter Guards Are Maintenance-Free

Fact: You gotta clean gutter guards, too.

Gutter guards keep out leaves, but small debris like seeds, pine straw, and flower buds will still get through.

Gutter guards can lessen your work, though — sometimes a lot. Instead of shoveling out wheelbarrow loads of leaves and other crap twice a year, you might just need to clean them every two years. But if there are lots of trees in your yard, once a year might be necessary.

Myth 4: A Lemon Is a Great Way to Clean a Disposal

Lemons ready to be added to a disposalImage: Anne Arntson for HouseLogic

Fact: While wanting to use natural cleaners is admirable, all of them will damage your disposal and pipes over time.

The lemon’s acidic juice will corrode the metal parts of your disposal. The mixture of salt and ice contains metal-eating acid, too. The coffee grounds are abrasive enough to clean the gunk off the blades and make it smell like a cup of americano, but they’ll accumulate in pipes and clog them.

The best natural cleaner for your disposal is good old baking soda. It’s mildly abrasive so it will clean the blades, but it’s a base, not an acid, and won’t damage the metal. Best of all, a box with enough baking soda big enough to clean your disposal twice costs less than a buck.

Myth 5: Mowing Your Lawn Super Short Means You’ll Mow Less Often

Fact: You might not have to mow as often, but your lawn will look like awful.

Cut that grass under an inch high, and you’ll never have to mow again because your grass will die. Mowing a lawn down to the root — a screw-up known as scalping — is like cutting all the leaves off a plant.

Grass blades make and store your lawn’s energy. Removing more than 1/3 of the length of the blade will leave your grass too weak to withstand weeds and pests. It also exposes the roots to the sun, causing the lawn to dry out quickly. Leave 1 to 3 inches of grass above the roots to keep your lawn lush.

Myth 6: CFLs Cost Too Much, and Are Dangerous

Fact: CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) have come down in price since they first hit the market and don’t contain enough mercury to cause any harm.

You can buy one now for as low as $3. And replacing one incandescent bulb with a CFL will save nearly $60 a year for the lifetime of the bulb, says Consumer Reports. CFLs last an average of 5 years, so one bulb can save $300. A houseful of them, say 20, will save $600 each year.

And CFLs are a safe option. They actually lower your exposure to mercury indirectly, because they use 70 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs. That means the coal-fired power plants that spew 340 million pounds of mercury into the air each year won’t have to run as long to keep our houses lit. Fewer toxins, lower power bills. What’s not to love?

Myth 7: A Trendy Kitchen Re-Do Will Increase My Home’s Value

Avocado green kitchenImage: Tate Gunnerson

Fact: Décor trends come and go as fast as viral videos.

Remember those Tuscan-style kitchens with mustard gold walls, ornate cabinets, and medieval-looking light fixtures that were the must-have of the late ‘90s and early aughts?

Today, they’re as dated as flip phones. Instead of remodeling in the latest look, which costs $22,000 on average, try repainting in on-trend colors, which costs $1,700 on average. If you do opt for a full remodel, choose elements like Shaker cabinets, wood floors, and subway tile, a timeless style you’ll love 10 years from now.

Myth 8: A Contractor Recommendation From a Friend Is Good Enough

Fact: Good contractors have more than just your buddy to vouch for them.

Your neighbor’s rec is a good start, but talk to a couple of sources before you hire anyone. Check the contractor’s reviews on Angie’s List or other online rating sites.

Ask a local building inspector which contractors meet code on the properties they inspect. Ask the contractor for the names of past clients you can talk to, how many other projects they have going, how long they’ve worked with their subcontractors, and if they routinely do projects the size of yours.

Look at this as a job interview where the contractor is an applicant and you’re the hiring manager. Make them show you they’re the guy or gal for the work.

Myth 9: Turning Off Your AC When You Leave Saves Energy

Fact: Turning off the air conditioner when you leave could actually cost you money.

That’s because when you turn it back on, all your savings will be lost as the unit works overtime to cool your hot house. A better way to save on utilities is to turn the thermostat up or down (depending on the season) 5 to 10 degrees when you leave, says home improvement expert Danny Lipford of todayshomeowner.com.

And the best option? “Install a programmable thermostat,” he says. Even better, buy one you can control remotely with your smartphone and adjust the temperature before you get home. Because thermostats you have to touch are so 1998.

Myth 10: Permits? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Permits

Fact: You do.

Let’s say your neighbor’s brother-in-law, Cecil, is an electrician. Cecil can rewire your kitchen in a weekend because he won’t inconvenience you with a permit. Should you hire Cecil? No. Building codes protect you. From Cecil. Getting a permit means an inspector will check his work to make sure he didn’t screw up.

Plus, if your house burns down in an electrical fire and your insurance company finds out the work was done without a permit, they won’t cover your loss. Check with your local planning or building department to find out if your project needs a permit. If it does, get one.

Leanne Potts is an Atlanta-based journalist and serial home remodeler. She’s tackled five fixer-uppers and is working on a sixth. She’s written about everything from forest fires to dog-friendly decor and spent a decade leading the digital staff of HGTV.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Realtors® Midyear Forecast

WASHINGTON (May 17, 2018) – A stronger economy, wage growth and an improving job market are expected to march home sales and prices higher in 2018, but low supply and weakening affordability will tamper the rate of increases, according to speakers at a residential real estate forum during the 2018 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors®, presented his 2018 midyear forecast and said despite headwinds a moderate and multiyear increase in home sales is likely ahead. After accelerating 3.8 percent in 2016, existing home sales rose only 1.1 percent to 5.5 million in 2017 and are forecast to finish 2018 at a pace of around 5.6 million (up 1.8 percent). He projects 5.7 million sales for 2019.

“Overall fundamentals remain solid, driven by a growing economy and steady job creation, which will sustain home sales in 2018 slightly above last year’s pace,” said Yun. “The worsening housing shortage means home prices are primed to rise further this year too, hindering affordability conditions for homebuyers in markets across the country.”

Yun said the widespread shortage of homes for sale is the major factor limiting sales from being higher. While home sales have risen modestly since the start of the year, Yun said without more supply to fully satisfy demand and alleviate the upward pressure on prices, contract activity is likely to remain flat and will more or less continue sideways through the end of the year.

Total housing inventory at the end of March was 1.67 million existing homes available for sale, which is 7.2 percent lower than a year ago (1.80 million). Inventory has trended down steadily for the past five years, said Yun, and the country is now experiencing the lowest inventory levels in a generation; unsold inventory is at a 3.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 3.8 months a year ago.

Yun was joined onstage by Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com®, who agreed there is an acute shortage, especially of affordable inventory. According to realtor.com® data there are 250,000 fewer starter homes, those priced under $200,000, now than there was two years ago, in May 2015. Millennials, boomers and investors may all be going after the same affordable inventory of homes, so competition is great, said Hale.

“There is reason for optimism ahead though. We are starting to see new listings grow in recent months; the inventory shortage isn’t over, it took us years to get into an inventory rut, so it’s going to take us years to get out of it, but we do see signs of a turnaround,” she said.

Home price growth, up 48 percent from 2011 to 2017 and likely to rise an additional 4 percent in 2018, is far outpacing income growth, up only 15 percent during the same timeframe. Increased home prices on top of rising mortgage rates – Yun anticipates rates will rise to 4.6 percent in 2018 and 5 percent in 2019 – puts affordability at a six-year low, according to NAR’s Housing Affordability Index, and will likely continue to fall in coming months.

“Challenging affordability conditions have prevented a meaningful rise in the homeownership rate after having fallen to a 50-year low a few years ago,” said Yun. “To increase homeownership, more home construction is needed, which could be boosted by delivering regulatory relief to community banks, removing the lumber tariff, re-examining stringent zoning laws and training more workers for the construction industry.”

On the topic of homeownership rates, Jessica Lautz, NAR’s director of demographics and behavioral insights, presented findings during the forum from her thesis from Nottingham Trent University: “Is the Dream Still Alive? Tracking Homeownership Amid Changing Economic and Demographic Conditions”. According to Lautz’s doctoral work, the affordability crisis has impacted some segments of homebuyers more than others, specifically African American and Hispanic/Latino buyers and those with student debt.

Student loan debt has risen dramatically and is a massive barrier to homeownership, said Lautz, and it is delaying home purchases among millennials who are paying their debt by a median of seven years. Her research found that consumers with student loan debt who were successful in buying purchased a home costing 17 percent less than those without any student debt.

“The homeownership rate amongst some ethnic groups hasn’t rebounded since the recession, and the ongoing affordability crisis has hampered potential buyers under 35, especially those with student debt, from accessing mortgage credit and making home purchases,” said Lautz.

Yun said consumer optimism that now is a good time to buy a home has fallen the past two years, according to data from NAR and other industry consumer sentiment surveys. While the lack of supply and challenging affordability conditions is chipping away at homebuyer optimism, Hale said buyers aren’t giving up their dreams of purchasing a home. New survey data from realtor.com® found three-fourths of recent shoppers started their home search in 2017 and are still in the market in 2018.

“Buyers know it’s tough, 35 percent of shoppers anticipate a lot of competition, but they remain optimistic, and more than 70 percent expect to close in 2018,” she said.

Yun said affordability conditions would improve measurably if homebuilders increased their production of homes, especially in the affordable price ranges. He forecasts starts to come in around 1.3 million in 2018 and reach 1.4 million in 2019, but that is barely above year-ago levels and well below demand.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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