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The staging area most people forget about – outside!

When you’re ready to sell a home, staging is always a good idea. But there’s one space often forgotten – outside! Outdoor living and entertaining areas are high on home buyers’ lists, so we’ve rounded up a few tips for maximizing your outdoor appeal.

The first thing you need to do for patios, decks and any outdoor space is declutter and clean. Store or give away furniture you don’t use, toys, lawn care and gardening supplies, and anything else that makes it hard to walk around your property or makes the space feel cramped or busy.

Thoroughly clean lawn furniture, freshen up cushions and pillows, and get rid of all cobwebs, dead leaves or anything else in corners, around furniture, or stuck to light fixtures. Make sure all landscaping and other outdoor lights are in working order as well, and timers are all functioning correctly.

Finally, remove all weeds or dead plants from landscaping or containers and replace with fresh, colorful seasonal flowers and plants.

Now it’s time to have some fun staging your outdoor areas. Many home buyers will be considering the potential of your outdoor space for entertaining, play time, or just relaxing after a long day. That’s why it’s important to make the outside of your home as appealing as the inside.

Creating outdoor living areas

Homebuyers want to be able to use their yards, patios and porches as extensions of their home. Staging areas outside to function like living rooms, dining rooms, entertainment areas, and even kitchens puts a spotlight on the potential of your home’s outdoor space.

Arrange furniture and add extras to create the ambiance you desire. For outdoor cooking or dining areas, set tables with linens, plates, silverware, glasses and fresh flower arrangements. Create cozy seating areas by adding pillows and cushions to armchairs places ready for a group to sit and chat. Add a center or side table with coasters, wine glasses and candles to make it more functional.

For small spaces such as balconies set up a bistro table and chairs with a coffee set, newspaper and flowers for early showings, or stage it as a cocktail hour for later showings.

Speaking of later showings, if home buyers will be touring your home at dusk, set a welcoming tone by turning on all landscape and decorative lighting, placing flameless candles on your table settings, and lighting gas fireplaces or firepits. (Always be sure to check with your Realtor about any open flames for safety’s sake.)

Whether you’re selling your home, or just want to freshen up the home you love and live in right now, I hope you’ve found some fun ideas you’re excited to start working on. Setting the stage both inside and outside your home for sale is a great way to show home buyers the potential of your home and motivate them to start enjoying it as soon as possible. Have questions, need a free home value assessment? I’m here to help at 703-593-6320.

Essential home maintenance tasks to prepare for winter

posted by: Mike in Home Owner Tips

With Fall around the corner, it’s the perfect time to get your home ready for winter – and for potential buyers. Performing a simple round of seasonal maintenance chores now can save you time, money, and stress when the cold weather comes. And it will ensure your home looks good and shows great when potential home buyers come around.

Fall home maintenance checklist

Clean your gutters: Fall foliage is beautiful, but not so much when it starts building up in your gutters. Depending on how many trees surround your home, you may need to clean out your gutters a few times before the first snow falls. Packed leaves, twigs and dirt will clog your gutters and cause water to back up into your home or dangerous ice dams to form in winter.

Check the chimneys: An easy annual task is to have chimneys checked by a professional and cleaned if needed. Creosote, soot and ash buildup in chimneys that are used often and can block ventilation and cause smoke and dangerous fumes to come back into the home.

Check your roof: Damage from storms, wind and rain, along with natural wear-and-tear, can loosen and damage roof materials making your home at risk for leaks during winter or invading vermin looking for a warm place to nest. A visual inspection with binoculars walking around your home is a good first step, but having a professional check is even better.

Disconnect garden hoses and drain faucets: When temperatures start dropping dramatically, it’s time to head off damage from freezing water in your pipes. Disconnect hoses from outdoor faucets, drain, and put them away for the winter. Turn off shutoff valves on water supply lines and open exterior faucets all the way to drain the lines and prevent them from freezing and breaking.

Pack up your patio: Clean and store all cushions, pillows and outdoor rugs for the winter. Clean furniture and if you won’t be using it during the cold season store it away. Your furniture will last longer this way and keep snow and debris from building up into a big mess you’ll have to clean up come Spring.

Service fire extinguishers: Fireplaces, firepits, and candles are all a part of the season, and a good reason to make sure you’ve got fire extinguishers in good working order placed carefully where they might be needed. It’s also a good idea to review how to use a fire extinguisher with every member of the household that might have to use it.

What do I need for my home inspection?

If you’re selling a home and are preparing for an official home inspection, there are a few things you need to set the stage for a stress-free experience. First, let’s talk about what will happen. A licensed professional will perform a visual inspection of the structure and components of the home. The purpose is to determine if there are any items not performing correctly or safety concerns. Any issues found will be noted in a written report.

Some of the systems that are usually inspected include heating and air conditioning, plumbing and electrical systems, roof, windows and doors, foundation, basement, and garage.

The first thing to do when preparing your home for sale for an inspection is to make sure it looks its best, inside and out. Check for minor repairs that you or a handyman can accomplish such as loose carpet, disconnected gutters, missing shingles, and leaky faucets.

Some of these might seem minor but fixing them now not only means you’ll have less to worry when the inspection is done, it also shows the inspector and the buyers that you’ve taken good care of your home.

Next, clean your house top to bottom. This may seem like a no-brainer, but so many homeowners forget to do this. A clean home makes a good first impression on the home inspector and sets the stage for the entire process.

In addition to small repairs and cleaning, here are a few more things to consider before the big day:

  1. Make room: Check with your Realtor, but it’s usually a given that items like the furnace, air conditioner and water heater will be inspected. Be sure to clear away any clutter and leave plenty of space for the inspector.
  2. Leave utilities connected: The inspector will test things like the stove, dishwasher, furnace and air conditioning so be sure they have power, even if the house is empty.
  3. Leave keys and remotes: Be sure to leave keys or remotes for anything secured in the home the inspector will need access to, including garage door openers, electrical boxes, exterior building access, etc.

Should I attend my home inspection? Home inspections are usually a time when buyers tour the home at leisure with the inspector and their agent, so it’s best to give them the space to do so. If the buyer’s agent has a question they can reach out to the selling agent, so best practice is to make sure you are available for calls or texts if there are any questions.

Arlington, VA Real Estate

How home technology can help sell your house

When it comes to making your home for sale more attractive you already know that curb appeal and staging are great for boosting your home’s appeal. But if you’re looking for something that will really make your house for sale stand out home tech is the way to go.

A fresh coat of paint and new flowers are great, but today’s homeowners are expecting a little more. Studies have shown that more and more potential homebuyers are looking for preinstalled smart-home tech when they are home shopping. This includes devices and systems such as smart thermostats, smoke detectors, garage door controls, home security cameras, doorbells and locks.

The good news for sellers? A lot of this kind of tech can be installed quickly and easily by the homeowner and without spending a lot of money. Even better, these small investments have the potential to catch the attention of home buyers and increase the home’s perceived value in their eyes. Ready to get started? Here are a few ideas for smart home-tech upgrades that are easy to DIY.

Smart thermostat

Forget about having to take a walk to the hallway every time you want to adjust the temperature. Smart thermostats come with everything from remote apps you can use on your phone to voice controls and can be installed by following manufacturer’s step-by-step instructions. There are a lot of versions available that list for under $200, are easy to program for energy-saving, and make life much more comfortable for the whole home. You can check out CNET’s recommendations for the best smart home devices for 2018 for ideas by clicking HERE.

Smart smoke detectors

Peace of mind goes high tech with smart smoke and carbon dioxide detectors such as ones offered by Nest Protect, Kidde and First Alert. These detectors send alerts to your phone if they detect smoke and can even tell you when the battery is running low to avoid middle of the night sessions trying to figure out which one is beeping. For recommendations, check out LifeWire’s article about the best smoke detectors of 2018 HERE.

Video doorbell

While the idea for Ring’s video doorbell originally fell flat on The Shark Tank a few years ago, since then America has voted with their dollars to make businesses like Ring into billion-dollar success stories. These products add a sense of security to homes by putting a camera right at the front door. When it detects motion, or someone presses the doorbell, it sends an alert to a smartphone and saves a video clip of the activity to the cloud. Many models can connect wirelessly to allow homeowners to talk to the person at the door through the speaker no matter where they are. Most models can be had for under $200 and can be installed by homeowners without hiring an electrician.

Smart lock

Another way to boost the security of your front door (or any door for that matter) is to install a smart lock. A company called August offers several versions of smart locks, with options for under $200 as well. Functionality includes remote auto-lock and unlock and the ability to monitor door activity from anywhere. You can also create temporary guest passes for handymen or visiting friends and family.

Smart garage door opener

Every homeowner has had that moment where you leave the house, drive down the block, and then think to yourself, “Did I remember to close the garage door?” Smart garage door controls can answer that question with the tap of an app, much easier than driving all the way back home again. The garage door is used in many homes much more than the front door, yet it’s often overlooked by tech aficionados at first. But once you install a smart controller, you’ll see how easy it is to open, close and monitor activity remotely. Some versions also monitor time and temperature in the garage and offer motion-sensitive lighting for quick trips in and out. You can find options from makers like Chamberlain, LiftMaster and Ryobi and learn more in this article on CNET.

At the end of the day, you can probably install most of the tech we’ve mentioned here for around $1,000. When you’re ready to list your home for sale, make sure your Realtor has access and knows how to demonstrate the tech to dazzle prospective buyers while you remain confident that this small investment will give a great return in catching people’s eye and truly making your home stand out from the crowd.

Arlington, VA Real Estate

6 signs it’s time to sell your home and move to a new one

In the beginning you really loved your home. But lately you’re feeling like maybe it’s time to sell and move on. Is it cabin fever? Or are you really ready for the next step? Here are 6 signs that it’s time to make a move to your next perfect home.

Six Signs its Time to Sell your Arlington, VA home

#1: You need more space

One of the most common signs it’s time to sell your home and buy a new one is when you realize that you’re outgrowing your space. Time passes and life changes, usually bringing more stuff with it. Kids, pets, furniture, new jobs, new hobbies, working from home…all of these can add up to making you feel pretty crowded in your current home. If you’re not sure, take some time to declutter – maybe by cleaning out a lot of the old you’ll find you have room for the new. But if that doesn’t work, it’s probably time to call a Realtor.

#2: Your home feels too big

Just like a smaller starter home can start to feel too tight for your growing needs, a home that’s too big can also be a sign it’s time to move on. If you’ve recently retired, your kids have moved out and you’re empty nesters, or you just really feel like downsizing is the right thing to do, a Realtor can help you explore how selling your home and buying a smaller one might be the right move for giving you a little more freedom in your life.

#3: Your neighborhood is changing (and not for the better)

Another reason you might want to start shopping for a new home is a growing sense of dissatisfaction with your current neighborhood. More restaurants and shopping in the area may have changed the traffic patterns, make your area feel more congested, or attract a different kind of crowd. Neighbors you loved when you first bought your home may have all moved away leaving you with strangers or tensions that make your street feel not so welcoming anymore. Or maybe things like construction, flight patterns or other changes in the area are getting on your nerves. No matter what is turning you off, you should love the location you live in as much as your home. Added to that, changes in the neighborhood could affect your home’s value, so it’s a good idea to talk to a local Realtor to get the whole picture.

#4: Your home feels like a money pit

If your home is starting to need more and more repairs, your neighborhood has become more upscale, or the bills feel like they are piling up with new HOA fees, increasing utilities and more, it might be time to sell and find a more affordable home. A local Realtor can help you compare your current situation to downsizing or moving to a new area to decide if it’s the right move for you.

#5: You’ve got great equity

Instead of a money pit situation, you might have the great position of realizing that your current home’s equity has appreciated to a sizable sum. If you dream of a bigger home or a better neighborhood, it might be a good time to put that equity to use.

#6: Your job situation has changed

Transfers, new offices, or even new jobs mean that your commute can change. And that means that the comfortable 20-minute commute you’ve enjoyed for the last few years can suddenly turn into a stressful, white-knuckle 60-minute drive in heavy traffic that negatively affects your home life as well. Commuting to and from the office can take hours out of your week, add stress to your life even when you’re at home, and even affect your health. Depending on how permanent your new commute is, moving closer to your job might be what you need to get back those hours of your life you’re now spending on the freeway.

Arlington, VA Real Estate

How decluttering makes selling a home easier—and less expensive

Decluttering is good for the soul, they say, but did you know it can also increase the attractiveness and value of your home when it’s time to sell? If you’re planning to move soon, decluttering is a great way to streamline your living conditions and increase your home’s attractiveness, while potentially decreasing expenses and stress when it’s time to pack and move.

Over the years I’ve helped a lot of clients improve the staging and first impression factors of their homes for sale with a few simple decluttering tips. If clearing out the clutter seems a little overwhelming at first, I’ve rounded up a few of my best tips to help you get started.

What do I need to declutter and organize my home for sale?

FIRST, don’t tackle everything at once. Choose one area and keep it small to start with. (Hint, the garage should not be your first stop!)

NEXT, get started with the sorting. Have a trash bin and bags designated for donation, storage or selling near at hand. Start by getting rid of everything that can be thrown away. Then sort out what can be donated, and what should be stored. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you haven’t looked at it, used it, or thought of it for more than a year, it needs to go. (Unless it has sentimental or financial value, then you need to store or sell it).

NOW it’s time to start organizing. Here’s a secret – clutter doesn’t mean you’re a messy person. In fact, most of the time it’s probably that things are just in the wrong place. Look at what’s left in the space you’re working on and find the right home for everything. Coats and outdoor gear goes in a specific closet. Kids’ toys go in their rooms, hampers or baskets in play areas. Laundry items belong in the laundry room. Sports equipment in the mud room. Homework, paperwork, and mail in its designated location. Bathroom products and toiletries should be stored in drawers and under the sinks, not scattered over the counters.

FINALLY, here’s one decluttering tip that really makes a difference – getting the cords under control! In today’s modern home there are a lot of cords to deal with – charging cords for phones, tablets, gaming devices, Bluetooth headsets, speakers, and more. Now add in computer cables, monitors, smart TVs, lamps, lighted mirrors, toaster ovens, under-counter lighting, etc. and the cord clutter can get out of control. Fortunately, there are a lot of easy-to-use and inexpensive devices that help corral cords in one area or merge similar functions (like charging) into one device. Check your local home improvement or office supply store, Amazon, or even Pinterest for ideas.

Once you’ve gone through each room of your home, it’s amazing how much more you’ll enjoy your newly decluttered living space. And when it’s time to put your home on the market, potential buyers will see the space, beauty and potential of your home instead of the mess on your counters.

Arlington, VA Real Estate

How to turn your home into a place of peace & relaxation

With more and more Americans focused on wellness, a new home trend is emerging – finding ways to put some more “om” in your home. From Zen gardens to meditation rooms, homeowners are creating unique spaces both inside and out perfect for getting away from it all.

If you like the idea of creating a relaxing retreat in your home, here’s a few ways I’ve seen friends and clients here in Arlington, Virginia make it happen.

Relaxation / Zen Gardens: As research continues to show that nature can boost healthfulness, the idea of creating relaxation gardens at home has gained some serious traction. Garden retreats don’t have to be large. In fact, a small footprint makes them easier and less costly to create and maintain. Chose a location where privacy, noise and light levels, and the view are favorable for creating the right atmosphere. Beyond that, the details will be very personal according to who the garden is for. Pinterest is a great place to start for ideas, and touring local botanical gardens and nurseries is too.

Firepits and Indoor Fire Features: Firepits with comfortable seating outdoors are very popular these days and provide a great place to unwind. Indoor fire features and fireplaces can also be used inside a home to provide a place for people to “unplug” by focusing on the flames as a sort of meditation technique.

Yoga / Mediation Sanctuary: Doing yoga at home is becoming very popular but figuring out where to lay out your mat with no distractions can be hard. Pushing furniture out of the way in the living just isn’t cutting it anymore. That’s why many people are turning guest rooms or unused spaces into private studios for a more focused practice. The beauty of yoga retreats is their simplicity. All you need to get started are yoga mats and props, muted lighting and soothing paint colors. Aromatherapy, plants and Bluetooth speakers can also add to the mood.

Traditional Libraries: One recurring theme throughout all of these ideas is the concept of removing technology to unplug from the stresses of the daily world. Old-school libraries are still a popular choice for homeowners wanting a space that’s comfortable, peaceful and where they can surround themselves with the things they love.

The important thing to remember when creating your own personal retreat is that you know what’s best for you. Remember that this space is all yours. When you take time to create a dedicated relaxation zone in your home (or backyard), the experience will be more fulfilling and calm only a few breaths away.

Arlington, VA Real Estate

What to ask listing agents at an open house

When you’re ready to buy a home, an open house is a great opportunity to get first-hand information in a short amount of time. Once you get through the front door, though, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. The house will be staged beautifully, smell great and there’s a friendly agent pointing out all the lovely details. But no matter if you’re touring a home in Waco, Texas or Arlington, Virginia, it’s important to have a few questions ready to ask to help guide your decision. That’s why we gathered the following short list of the best questions you can ask to decide if you should make an offer or just keep looking.

Q: Have there been any changes in the price of the home?

Knowing the history of the asking price of the home can tell you a lot of different things. If there have been multiple drops in the price, this could be a flag of possible issues, making it a good idea to look more carefully at the home before you make an offer. It could also help gauge if the seller is flexible, motivated and able to come down in price or not.

Q: How long has the house been on the market?

While this is information you or your agent can easily find on your own, asking the listing agent this question opens the door to a more detailed discussion that can give you a peek into the seller’s motivation as well as a advantage if you decide to make an offer. If a home is listed for too long, it can become harder to sell, which can give you bargaining power

Q: What are the comps in the neighborhood?

If you are just starting out on your home-buying quest and haven’t worked with a Realtor yet, this is a good question to open dialog with the listing agent. Understanding the values and sales statistics of the immediate and surrounding areas helps you to know if the home you are looking at is priced fairly and worth a closer look.

Q: Has the house has any recent renovations or upgrades? HVAC, roof, electrical, etc.

Asking questions about big-ticket items in a home such as the HVAC system, roof, electrical and plumbing will give you a better understanding of how well the home has been taken care of and any potential large expenses that could come up in the future. Knowing if the home you’re looking at has recently upgraded any or all of these systems can be a big factor when you’re deciding on your offer.

Q: Have there been any offers on the home?

If you think this is the one, it’s good to know if there’s any competition. Listing agents are often all too excited to let you know that one or more offers have been made because it can spark a bidding war and drive up the final sale price. On the other hand, if you know that the home has been on the market for quite some time and there have been no offers, it’s worth a deeper look to find out if there are any issues. Not very many offers doesn’t necessarily mean problems with the home, however. Sometimes it can be a simple as the owner passing on an offer when the home first went on the market as they hoped for more, and then kicking themselves when no more came in.

Q: What is the neighborhood like?

Location, location, location is one of the foundational mottos of real estate for a reason. The homes you are looking at are more than what you see on the tour. It’s a good idea to tour the neighborhood of a home that’s caught your interest and ask the listing agent to share details about the people who live around you and the dynamics of the neighborhood that would affect your quality of life and fit your lifestyle.

Q: Where is the nearest Starbucks?

OK, we’re joking here, but only a little. Asking questions about things like the nearest stores, shopping centers, restaurants, schools and places you visit every day can give you a good idea if this home is a good fit for you and your family. Not only is this a good way to help choose the right neighborhood, it’s can also be an indicator of how well the home will hold its value. (To learn more, read “Surprising Factors that Affect Home Values.”).

If you want to buy a home in Arlington, VA or the surrounding area and are ready to start your search, please feel free to give me a call. I can help you narrow your search to areas and homes that fit your vision and guide you in finding the best values and best fit for your unique needs. Give me a call at (703) 593-6320 or email me at mike@mikesellsvirginia.com for ideas, information, free resources and all the help you need.

Arlington, VA Real Estate

Six ways to prepare for buying a home

Ready to become a homeowner? When it comes to purchasing a home, there are a few things you can do before you start touring open houses and finding a local Realtor to guide your search. Applying for a mortgage puts a spotlight on your finances, so making sure they are in good shape is important for helping the process go smoothly once you do put an offer on a home. Here are six ways to get yourself (and your finances) in tip-top shape for buying a home.

#1 Build a solid credit history

One of the first things a lender looks at is credit history. To build a good credit history, you’ll need a history of paying off debts, like car loans or credit cards, plus paying bills like rent and utilities on time as well. This signals that you’re a responsible borrower.

#2 Check your credit

Your credit score can have a significant impact on your ability to buy a home. A low credit score can negatively affect how much money a lender is willing to loan you, as well as your interest rate. If you haven’t lately, request your credit score through one of the official agencies online. You are able to get one free one per year.

#3 Reduce credit card spending

Your credit score plays a big part in your mortgage application process. The better your score, the most likely you are to be approved at a lower interest rate. A big part of credit scores is determined by something called your utilization ratio. (All credit card balances ÷ total credit limit on all cards = utilization ratio). The lower your utilization ratio, the better. If your ratio is high, try to put extra money toward paying down balances. And definitely reduce spending on credit cards as well.

#4 Build up your savings account

Boosting your savings is very important, and we’re not talking about just for a down payment here. Mortgage lenders like to see that you’re not living paycheck to paycheck. Best case scenario is to have 3 to 5 months’ salary set aside, which will make you a much better loan candidate.

#5 Avoid large purchases

Avoid making any large purchases, such as buying a car or booking an expensive tropical vacation, just before you buy a house. When you apply for a mortgage, lenders will be looking closely at your financial history and can get nervous if they see big-ticket purchases that might affect your ability to you’re your monthly payments in the future.

#6 Avoid job hopping

Employment history and a steady income are two of the biggest factors lenders look at when evaluating you for a mortgage. If you plan on purchasing a new home sometime in the next year or two, a steady job with reliable income on the books looks best to lenders. If you’re offered something you just can’t pass up, however, you don’t have to put off your home search. Just be prepared to show extra documentation.

Arlington, VA Real Estate

Advice from experienced home sellers

In today’s market, it’s highly unlikely that the first home you live in will be your “forever” home. Changes in employment, families, and lifestyle make it no surprise that the average American moves more than 11 times during their life. Meaning it’s highly likely that you’ll sell a home more than a few times yourself and will want to get the best price possible. Experienced home sellers know that there are a lot of details that can make a big difference when it comes to attracting buyers and increasing profit potential. So the next time you’re getting ready to sell your home, be sure to consider the following:

Don’t list too fast

If you’ve got time to plan ahead before you list your home for sale, do so. Once the decision has been made to sell, it’s understandable that you’d want to get your home listed as quickly as possible. However, taking the time to set the stage for the best home sale experience is one of the most important steps in the sales process. After all, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and a great first impression is something that can translate to actual dollars.

It’s never too early to talk to your Realtor. They can help you decide what can be done to improve your home’s value and attractiveness for potential buyers. Take the time to paint, store away clutter, get repairs done, freshen up the landscaping, and maybe even do some home staging.

Use images that catch the eye – and make the sale

When the National Association of Realtors surveyed home buyers to choose what was most important in their home search process, home buyers said online pictures were more important than price, description, or location. Working with an experienced photographer who can take images of your home that are attractive and show it off to its very best is essential in today’s real estate market. Most buyers look at homes for sale online first, making up their minds about what homes they will even look at by the images they see online. If your house is gorgeous, but your photos dark and blurry, you risk losing potential buyers before they have a chance to enter the door.

Set the right price

Correctly pricing a house can be confusing for sellers. Finding the right balance between pricing it high enough to allow for more profit, versus low enough to attract sellers, is a tricky balancing act. This is another situation where working with an experienced Realtor who is familiar with the area and has access to information like local comps will help you set the right price. A correctly-priced home has the potential to receive multiple offers early in the process. Plus, you might also have a chance of receiving more than the asking price, with multiple buyers willing to negotiate with increased offers.

Know your “wow” factor

Identify what makes your home stand out from others for sale in your community and use that information in your marketing to catch attention and draw buyers your way. It could be award-winning schools, jaw-dropping landscaping, impressive views, and extras such as home offices, crafting rooms, or outdoor spaces.  The special characteristics and features of your home for sale might be just the thing to catch the right buyer’s eye.

Be flexible for showings

If you turn down requests for showings because they are not convenient, you might be turning away a buyer on the verge of making an offer. Showings often take place when buyers aren’t at work – which means weekends and evenings throughout the week. Time is tight for everyone these days, and busy buyers sometimes won’t take the trouble to reschedule if they are not able to see a home at their convenience. Have the house ready at all times, and a plan for quickly vacating when the next call comes in.

If you’re ready to buy, sell, or learn more about the real estate market in Arlington and the surrounding Northern Virginia area, I invite you to give me a call at 703-593-6320. (Email’s good too at mike@mikesellsvirginia.com).