Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pre-Sale Renovations - Do's and Don'ts

This is a little long, but has some great information!!

Pre-Sale Renovation: Home Seller Do's and Don'ts
By Dan Steward
RISMEDIA, January 25, 2011—You’ve probably seen those depressingly cheery home-themed TV shows: a couple needs to sell their house, they have an outdated kitchen, and a designer comes in and proceeds to convince them to renovate the kitchen into a stainless-steel-clad shrine to culinary greatness—for tens of thousands of dollars. In an ideal real estate market, that would add value, but in today’s market, expensive pre-sale renovations, for the most part, aren’t worth it. The numbers bear this out: In general, a home remodel will cost quite a bit more than you’ll get back when you sell; remodels done in 2010 will only recoup 60% of their price when the house is sold, according to Remodeling magazine's 2010 Remodeling Cost vs. Value survey, done in partnership with the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR).

Two of the areas that potential buyers are often most pressured to remodel before selling are the kitchen and bathroom. Here, we’ll tackle both of those rooms, and let you know what to do—and what to avoid—when considering a pre-sale renovation:

-Don’t put in expensive professional-grade cook’s appliances. You may choose a tricked-out, $10,000 Wolf stove, but the buyer may be a loyalist to Viking. Or, even worse, the potential buyer might be a take-out addict.

-Do, however, service the appliances you have, so that they work perfectly. And, if you have seriously outdated appliances that can be replaced for $1,000 or less (like swapping a dingy old fridge for a basic new one), that’s a good idea. Similarly, if there are any appliances that you lack, which most buyers consider essential, it makes sense to buy one (like a dishwasher—you can get a nice model for under $1,000).

-Don’t replace your cabinetry entirely—even if it’s a little outdated. It’s just too subjective. You might think sleek, white Scandinavian cabinets are the way to go, but you’ll be in a bind if your potential buyer prefers dark wood.

-Do invest in cabinet refacing if your cabinets are extremely outdated. Many refacing companies will give your cabinets a fresh façade for well under $2,000, and it’s a good investment in creating a positive impression of the room without doing a pricey knock-down.

-Don’t go granite crazy. Or marble. Or etched-Murano-glass-accented tile. Spending thousands of dollars on a new countertop and backsplash is downright dangerous, as there are so many different options these days, it’s impossible to find one that will please most people.

-Do hire a professional cleaning company to come in and make what you have sparkle. While this won’t magically make your tile look magazine-spread-worthy, it will certainly make it look a lot better, as discoloration from age often makes tile look even worse.

-Don’t do expensive tub/shower repairs or replacements. Just like with the big-ticket kitchen fixes, this is a matter of taste. If you put in a round jetted tub, what if the buyer wants square? And is an amethyst-crystal steam shower really something everyone will love?

-Do replace dated bath and shower fixtures; this can be done generally quite inexpensively. For instance, if you have a 30-year-old, tiny showerhead, replacing it with a large, rainwater-style model will lend a subtle spa-like quality without costing a lot.

-Don’t replace your smallish vanity with a new, built-in model. A lot of remodelers emphasize the intrinsically relaxing qualities of having all your toiletries, towels and even reading material beautifully organized in one big unit made of high-end wood, marble and chrome. And it is certainly beautiful. But it’s also a risky choice, and a matter of taste.

-Do freshen up the vanity area. Invest in a big mirror and put bright lights over it. And a few hundred dollars spent on a nice faucet is well worth it, as, like the showerhead, it’s a true basic—and updating the basics, in most homes and markets, is all you should be focusing on.

Other tips for redoing your kitchen and bathroom frugally

-Declutter your counters. A disorganized kitchen is a buyer-deterrent. Clean up the counters and pare down countertop items to the essentials—toaster, microwave, coffee pot and not much more than that.
-Keep your pantry and cabinetry clutter-free too. You don’t have to alphabetize your cereals—just know that potential buyers will probably open those cabinets, so they won’t want a ladle falling out on their head.
-Give your kitchen table or breakfast bar some life. It’s simple—placemats, a colorful vase or two and a tasteful flower arrangement will reinforce the idea that the kitchen is the heart of the home.

-If you want to add a little life to the wall, try a simple, straight-lined wood or stainless-steel floating shelf with a few candles on it. It’s an elegant, boutique-hotel touch that doesn’t cost much.
-Toss down a colorful floor mat. Bathrooms are often devoid of color; this is a great way to add that color, and a little warmth.
-Again, clear clutter. Even your beauty essentials shouldn’t be on the counter if you’re in the open house stage.

Dan Steward is president of Pillar To Post Professional Home Inspections.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

10 Ways to Spruce Up Your Blog

Here are some GREAT tips to spruce up your blog & its content. Do you have a blog? Let me know the address, I'd love to read it!

10 Ways to Spruce Up Your Blog
By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, January 12, 2011—Social networking is all the rage in marketing these days but as we all know, you could have thousands of friends on Facebook and tons of followers on Twitter, but if you don’t have something relevant to say or any good information to offer, it won’t matter much.

Enter the blog. Blogs are a great way to discuss a point more thoroughly than you could on a Facebook post or a Tweet. While blogging—like all social media—is a constantly evolving platform, there are some basic points that you should always be cognizant of.

Here are 10 tips from on how to improve your blog:

1. DO write about topics that you are passionate about.
When you write about topics that excite you, your writing will communicate a sense of energy that will attract like-minded readers. You'll also be more likely to keep on blogging, and won't abandon your blog after a few days or weeks.

2. DON'T take a too-formal tone.Blogging is a more informal medium than print, and your writing style should reflect that. Blogging allows you to write in a casual, face-to-face tone, as if you were sitting down for a cup of coffee with your readers. One way to begin to develop your blog "voice" is to read blogs that resonate with you and study the ways in which those bloggers choose words that maintain a professional tone while still being warm and accessible.

3. DO edit yourself.Hey, it's your blog, right? You can write a 2,000-word essay on what you had for breakfast, or wax eloquent about everything that is wrong with retail customer service. Don't do it. Once you draft your post, read through it for redundancies, irrelevant anecdotes or anything that isn't vital. You might find that you have enough material for two or three unique posts. Your blog isn't a book; make it lean.

4. DON'T use tired clichés.
A cliché is a phrase that has been coined for so long that it has become boring. An easy way to turn off readers and make them move on to another site is to pepper your posts with clichés like "right as rain" and "easy as pie." Take a minute to prune those phrases out and replace them with something fresh and original.

5. DO spell check your posts before you click "Publish Now."Watch out for common misspellings that won't show up on the spellchecker, such as "your" versus "you're," "their" versus "there," and "principle" and "principal." For extra spelling help, use

6. DON'T forget basic principles of good text layout.Readability is one of the most important aspects of good blog copy. Use line breaks between paragraphs. Use subheads, preferably in bold type. Use italics for emphasis. Your goal is to draw the eye and create a smooth sense of flow throughout your post. Make it easy to read!

7. DO use lists.
Most blog readers skim copy rather than read it all the way through.
One way to maximize your copy impact is to use lists. Bullet lists or numbered lists call attention to important points, and ensure that readers who are skimming will catch the most vital part of your post.

8. DON'T use the same format in every post.Mix it up a little! Some might incorporate lists, while others might be more narrative. Some posts might include a lot of images, while others will be more copy-heavy. Don't do the same thing every time.

9. DO create descriptive headlines that let readers know what to expect from your posts.
One of the best things about blogging is that it allows you to be creative. Problem is, what is clever to you might be confusing to someone else. The best way to encourage more people to read your post is to write a compelling post title, and use subheads throughout your post.

10. DON'T sweat it.
Don't let these guidelines keep you from blogging. The most important thing is to keep writing. If you write with passion and conviction, you’ll be able to connect with other people, and your writing will improve every time you post.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Making that First Impression

Making that First Impression
By Dan Steward

RISMEDIA, January 10, 2011—When getting a home ready to be put on the market, it is crucial that home sellers understand the importance of making a good first impression. While many sellers become overwhelmed with the amount of changes they think must be made before their home is listed, there are only a few areas that really matter.

People decide within 30 seconds of walking into a home whether they might want to buy it, so it’s crucial to make a great first impression. But nobody wants to overspend on anything these days, so it’s important to spend only on those things that really matter.

Based on our experience working with thousands of REALTORS® across the country, here is a check list that you can use with your clients that will make their homes more likely to sell and garner better prices:

Curb appeal. While people spend lots of time on details inside the home—to the point of, perhaps, baking cookies to create a welcoming aroma—too few focus on the real first impression: how the house looks as prospective buyers step out of their car.

Spending a little money on gardening can remove impediments, such as overgrown foliage. The effort can also brighten a home’s appearance and make it much more welcoming. A bit of gardening can help paint a scene, so possible buyers can see their kids playing in the yard or can imagine sitting outside in the evening with a glass of wine.

A survey by HomeGain found that spending $400 to $500 on fresh landscaping can add almost $2,000 to the price of the house.

What’s the condition? Conversely, not making repairs can cut the price of the house. The issue can be partially addressed just through eyeballing. Sellers should look for cracks, damaged paint and so on, trying to imagine the impression that buyers will have.

Sellers should also commission a home inspection, so they have their own view of the state of their home, before the buyers’ inspector begins aggressively looking for problems. Sellers who have their own report are better able to push back both about the extent of any issues and about the likely cost of fixing them.

Even if buyers aren’t turned off entirely by what they see as disrepair, they typically ask for $2–$3 off the price for every $1 of repairs that they perceive are needed, so it’s crucial for sellers to know that, say, the roof needs to be replaced. That way, the sellers can spend the $5,000 themselves rather than face a buyer demanding $15,000 off the price of the house.

Finding the right assistance. There are loads of services that help with staging, repairs, and so on—so many, that clients are often confused about which to use. Realtors often provide their expertise here and refer clients to businesses. That approach works great for many, but some want assurance. That’s relatively easy to provide these days, based on a little checking on search engines. Clients should also be encouraged to post queries on their Facebook pages, asking friends both to suggest businesses to use and businesses to avoid.

Dan Steward is president of Pillar To Post Home Inspections.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Maintenance Must-Dos

By John Frank | February 2008
First-time buyers often don’t know much about home maintenance. You can help by giving them a maintenance schedule that’ll prevent small problems from turning into big headaches.

Our maintenance checklist was compiled with the help of Lou Manfredini, Ace Hardware’s home improvement spokesperson and star of the “Mr. Fix-It” show on Chicago’s WGN-AM radio, and Frank Lesh, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors and head of his own home inspection company, Home Sweet Home Inspection Co., in Indian Head Park, Ill.

Change your furnace filters monthly. “It’s so easy to do but so critical,” says Lesh. Clogged filters decrease furnace efficiency and can cause breakdowns.

Drain your water heater at least once a year. Sediment will drain out along with the water from the water tank. Removing sediment can prolong the heater’s useful life.

Clean the coils. If you have baseboard heating units that use hot water, clear dust from the coils inside the units to maximize heating efficiency. Clean dust whenever you see it accumulating. If you have a hot water boiler/furnace, you should also oil the pump inside the furnace twice a year, says Lesh. Look for the three spots on the pump designated for oiling.

Check your circuits. Test the performance of the circuit breakers in your electrical circuit box twice a year by flipping them off and back on. If you have a circuit that keeps shutting off with normal daily electrical use, call an electrician. A faulty circuit breaker could indicate a short in the wiring inside your walls.

Watch out for drips. Check under sinks periodically to look for leaks or water stains that might indicate leaks. Catching a small problem early can prevent water damage. Use a plunger to clean out sinks and tubs whenever water doesn’t drain normally.

Be aware of life spans. Water heaters, furnaces, roofs, and other key components of your home should be replaced before they fail, based on their average useful lives. Here’s a general ballpark of the life span for key components:

•Exterior house paint: 5-10 years
•Furnace: 15-50 years
•Roof: 13-15 years
•Water heater: 7-15 years
•Wood deck staining: 4-7 years

Keep the wet out. Water is a major enemy of your house. Check each season for signs of water damage to your home. Flashing, the metal pieces used to seal the areas between roofs and chimneys and around doors and windows, are especially vulnerable to damage by wind or age. Loose flashing can let water seep under a roof or inside walls, which in turn can cause mold.

Get to the bottom of things. Check your home’s foundation for cracks or gaps that could let in water or varmints. Also look at the ground around your house. As homes age, they often sink slightly below the surrounding ground. This settling lets water puddle against the foundation and possibly damage it, notes Manfredini. Doing major landscaping work also can cause changes to the ground’s pitch that let water flow toward the house.

Look up. Chimneys take a great deal of weather abuse. Visually inspect them each year for signs of loose mortar or loose or missing bricks. Have the insides of chimneys cleaned every two to three years. Also check your roof for loose shingles or dangling gutters.

You can reach the staff of REALTOR® magazine via e-mail at

Kansas City Restaurant Week 2011

Looking for a way to try out some new restaurants in Kansas City AND support a local charity?? Kansas City Restaurant Week 2011 is right around the corner!!

Kansas City Restaurant Week
2011 Kansas City Restaurant Week
presented by Jackson Family Wines

Friday, January 21 - Sunday, January 30

A dining experience benefitting Harvesters - The Community Food Network
10% of the cost of each meal purchased from KC Restaurant Week menus will be donated to Harvesters in an effort to fight hunger in the Kansas City area. In 2010, this event raised more than $55,000, providing some 275,000 meals to our neighbors in need.

Kansas City Restaurant Week, presented by Jackson Family Wines, returns for the second year. Diners can enjoy delcious and budget-friendly meals at participating restaurants during the 10-day event. Select from multiple course prix-fixe menus, with lunch for $15 and dinner for $30.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Getting on a Plan with Your Finances

For Your Clients: Getting on a Plan with Your Finances
RISMEDIA, December 30, 2010—New Year's Day is the traditional time for setting resolutions. But make them too lofty or unreasonable and by Valentine's Day, you will wonder what went wrong. GreenPath Debt Solutions trainers Megan Bridgett and Aimee O'Brien, offer up some simple and attainable ways for you to get financial goals in line in the first sixty days of the New Year:

On January 1, when you are still excited about your New Year's resolution, coordinate a family meeting. "It is important to keep all members of the family involved in the decision making process," said Bridgett. For instance, children can help save the family money by simply turning off lights when they are not in use and monitoring cell phone usage and charges.

January 1st-14th: Brainstorm on both your short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals could occur within the next three to six months, and long term could be within the next few years. Try to make sure to keep them SMART:

Specific - Try to be as specific as possible. For instance, if your goal is to "save money," try to make it specific by saying "I want to save money in order to buy a new car."
Measurable - Another tip is to make the goal measurable. One way to do this is to identify an amount that you would like to get to.
Attainable - If goals are not attainable, you will easily be discouraged and will maybe give up.
Realistic - You will want to make sure that you are being realistic. For instance, if I had a goal of "Never eat lunch out while at work," this might not be realistic or possible. But if I changed it to "Eat out lunch once per week while at work," I am far more likely to stick with it.
Timely - Think of a time frame and a deadline for the goal to be accomplished. This will help you to stay focused and motivated.

The month of January: January 1st come up with a projected budget of your monthly expenses, breaking them into different categories: Groceries, clothing, entertainment, dining out, utilities, household bills, debts, etc.

"Then, for the month of January, hold on to every receipt," said O'Brien. Each week, go through the receipts together, and place them in to the different categories that you have identified. Each month, tally up the totals, and compare what you have spent to what you had projected. "People tend to spend ten to twenty percent over what they anticipated and projected spending," said O'Brien. This will help you to identify areas to adjust or cut back.

The month of February: Start making some cutbacks. "Think of areas that you feel you can cut back on, and identify how much you can cut back by," said Bridgett. "Make sure to stay realistic with this and do not cut out everything. Gradually make these changes to keep yourself motivated and excited."

Keep tracking your expenses. Use a notebook and compare at the end of the month. Any money that was saved possibly put in a family bank account. "Share the results with the family, so that they are a part of this accomplishment," said O'Brien. Each month, have another family meeting and celebrate your successes by doing something fun together as a family. This celebration does not have to be expensive. It could be renting a video and having "Movie Night."

Get through the first 60 days of attaining your goals and tracking your progress, and the next 300 days will find you saving, budgeting and tracking your way to financial success in 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

10 Tips to Banish Mold From Your Home

Follow these 10 tips to drastically reduce the mold in your home:

1. Call in a home inspection professional to assess water-damaged areas.

2. Keep humidity low. Humidity levels should be under 40% in order for mold to stop its forward march.

3. Replace any carpets and furniture that have ever been significantly damaged (i.e., saturated in water), even if they look OK on the outside.

4. Carpet in the bathroom or basement? Don’t even think about it. And if you have it, get rid of it.

5. Use an air-conditioner during the summer. We know it’s not cheap to run the A/C, but if it’s in the budget, even setting it to 80 degrees when it’s 90-plus outside, will help. Use fans to circulate A/C most effectively.

6. Dust and clean furniture regularly, and vacuum carpets at least once a week (make sure your vacuum has a HEPA filter).

7. Provide adequate ventilation in hot areas. The kitchen and bath are two of the highest-risk rooms for mold. Install exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom.

8. When you’re shopping for house paint for big or small painting projects, ask the sales rep about mold inhibitors you can add before painting.

9. Does your central air system have a fan from the Ford Pinto era? If so, replace it with a high-performance electrostatic air filter. Your local HVAC technician can help withy this.

10. Don’t neglect areas underneath the house—have a professional drain and ventilate all sub-basement areas, especially crawl spaces.

Charles Furlough is vice president of Pillar To Post Home Inspections.