Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thinking of improving your home before selling?

There are improvements you can make to your home that will indeed make the house more desirable to potential buyers and will help you sell your house faster and for more money.  But the key to home improvements is knowing which ones to do and which ones to skip.

If you're improving your home for your own benefit, go all out.  But if you are doing the improvements with the thoughts of putting your home on the market, maybe you should reconsider.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am an avid DIY & HGTV watcher!  However, some of the home improvement and selling your house shows appear to be so out of touch with reality that it boggles my mind.  Maybe because most of them are shot in California and Canada? All I know is whatever planet they are on - it's nowhere near Alabama.  I watched a show the other night on HGTV where the folks put $35,000 into their existing home and received an increase of $80,000 in the value of their home.  All they did was finish a basement and update an existing bathroom!  $80,000 - really??

Then there are the flipper shows.  These shows (again mostly in California or Canada) feature folks who buy a house for say $100,000.  They spend about $30,000 on it and then turn around in under a month and sell it for $300,000.  While these shows are very entertaining and even educational, they are grossly out of touch with the reality that most of us have to live with.  I also think these shows give local realtors nightmares. When a realtor gets a first time seller who watches these shows and then goes wild and updates the kitchen, bath and adds a deck and then is unrealistically determined to get double the price they paid for the house 3 years's a nightmare for the realtor.

Suffice it to say, this post will have zero to do with the markets of Canada or California.

Of course, no matter where you live there are improvements you can do to your home that will raise the value and attractiveness of your home.  But sometimes all it will do is improve the attractiveness but not the value.  If you want a quick sell, then improving the attractiveness is a good thing.  Just don't expect to recoup the cost of the improvements in the final price. Below are a few improvements that will likely cost you money in the long run.


Curb appeal is essential to selling your home.  If you can't get them interested in the exterior - they're not going to be interested in seeing the interior.  At the same time, always remember that landscaping is akin to paint colors in that it always boils down to personal taste.  While you may think your water features, statues and expanse of neatly manicured boxwoods scream beautiful - a potential buyer may think it instead screams maintenance and others will think it simply screams ugly.  It's all in the individuals personal taste.   Below is a picture of a home with tons of boxwoods in a formal garden setting.  While this is lovely to look at........imagine how many hours are needed during the growing season to maintain this look. Most house hunters are looking for low maintenance lawns.  They won't mind mowing but spending every weekend trimming shrubs, mulching extensive flower beds or getting algae out of the fountain, is just not their idea of a fun weekend.

Along with fountains, pools are another potential money drain.  The only exception to this rule is when you are the only house in the neighborhood without a pool.  If people are coming to view your home, chances are they are familiar to some degree with your neighborhood already.  They might have driven around it.  They might know someone who lives nearby. Either way, they are going to be aware that every house in the neighborhood boasts a pool - but yours.  That can be a deterrent.  However, if this isn't the case and you add a pool you have just lost 50% of potential buyers because half of the house shoppers won't want a pool due to the cost of maintaining it and the liability issues.  Especially if they have small children or are planning to have them in the near future.  Putting in a pool in this situation will cost you both time and money when  you try to sell your house.


No one wants to buy a house with bad flooring.  At the same time, no one wants to buy a house with wall to wall carpeting or unusual tiling either.  While you as a homeowner may think ripping up carpeting is not that big of a chore, potential home buyers don't want to shell out their life savings to buy a house at full price and then spend even  more money, time and effort to rip out carpeting just to be forced to spend even more money, time and effort to either repair the hardwoods beneath or install new hardwoods.

Same is true of unusual tiling.  You may absolutely love the intricate tile work in your kitchen, bath or sunroom.  But you may just be the only person who does.  I can't imagine it, but apparently someone thought the tile work below was a good wasn't.

If you need to address the flooring in your home before putting it on the market, do a little research and find out what the current trend is in flooring in your particular area.  If it's Berber carpeting then go that route.  But if it's hardwoods - don't install Berber.  If you do - asking price is history.

High End (here and there)

I have viewed tons of houses in my lifetime.  The thing that always blows my mind is when I look at a house and hate everything about it BUT the kitchen.  Or I hate everything BUT the bathroom, etc.  I'm not going to buy a house to get a kitchen.  Not many people will.

People seem to think that as long as they put high end finishes in their kitchen and/or bathroom that potential buyers will overlook anything else.  That's not the case.  If your house isn't consistent in the quality of the finishes, it will just make the areas that aren't high end stand out like a sore thumb.  You want the entire property inside and out to be consistent.  Otherwise you will lose money in the sale of your home.

Better to go with a mid range finish and appliances in your kitchen/bath and then spend the extra money elsewhere maybe in refinishing the hardwoods and adding an outside gathering area to the back yard.  

Warning:  What you consider high end might be what someone else considers trashy.  While the following picture shows a kitchen overflowing with expensive finishes and detailing.....I personally find it gaudy and WAY over done.  However, someone apparently loved it enough to pay for it.

Below are pictures of kitchens taken by Realtors.  While you don't want to over improve....anything would be an improvement to these kitchens.

The photo below shows an over improved kitchen in an under improved house.  I call it over improved only because it doesn't come close to matching the rest of the house.  Not that anyone would want it to match...but you get my point.  Notice how new, modern, neat and clean the kitchen looks?  Now compare it to the living room of the same house......oh dear!  It's as if someone stole the kitchen from another house and plopped it into this one.  I think they should have stolen a living room while they were at it.

Mystery Improvements

Mystery improvements involve money spent in areas that improve the home while not doing so esthetically.  Updating or upgrading the electrical or plumbing systems would be one example of a mystery improvement.  Perhaps the basement leaks and you spend money having that taken care of.   Getting a new HVAC system or tankless water heater are other examples.

While all of the above improves the property, it doesn't necessarily improve the property's value to a buyer.  When a buyer views your property, he or she feels they have a right to expect everything to be in good working order to begin with.  Hearing that the electrical has been newly updated is always great news.  But it's not something that a buyer will be willing to compensate you for.  In a buyer's mind, all the above items are simply a part of normal wear and tear on a property.  It's normal maintenance that any homeowner should do whether they are thinking of selling their home or not.

On the flip side, if you don't do the mystery improvements and you get an offer on your house, the chances are great that their inspector will discover these deficiencies and you will either be asked to pay to have them done anyway or the buyer will want a reduction in price.

So with all of the above in mind, what exactly should you do before listing your house for sale??  My recommendation would be to first attend to any outstanding maintenance issues that an inspector might discover and that would give the buyers leverage in lowering your price (or walking away from the deal altogether).  Then I would worry about the esthetics of your property.

Rather than putting in that new kitchen and bath, I'd work with what I already have and simply upgrade simple things such as the faucet, backsplash, counter tops and perhaps reface the cabinets.  Then I'd make sure the entire property (outside too) is spotless.  Slap a coat of neutral paint on every wall and ceiling and call it a day.  

Before I go please let me stress that if you decide to pretty up the kitchen, back splashes, counter tops and cabinets all go together as one update.  Why people think that they can update the counter tops but leave the old dated cabinets as they are is a mystery to me.  I've seen folks buy new counter tops but leave the old pine cabinets untouched and the torn vinyl flooring just as they found it.  Huh???  If you don't have the money to do all of it - don't do any of it.  For around $250 you can get a kit from Rustoleum that will refinish the cabinets without sanding and for the same price (again from Rustoleum) a product that will refinish your tired laminate counter tops.  So for what these folks paid just to replace their counter tops you can redo both. When people look at this picture they don't see it as "well, at least we can save on buying new counter tops" they see it as "We'll have to toss out the counter tops anyway when we have to replace the cabinets and the flooring".

Hope this was helpful.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Painting for beginners....or those who think they hate to paint....

Sooner or later in a person's life, they will have to pick up a paintbrush.  Well, maybe not someone like Paris Hilton or Donald Trump, but the rest of the world will inevitably have to paint something at some point.  It might be a wall, ceiling or maybe even a bookshelf.  So before you find yourself cleaning grout with a toothpick just because it delays painting, I'm going to show you how easy this process can be.

Painting is honestly not a difficult job.  There are exceptions as there are to anything, but the vast majority of painting projects are super easy, not messy and leave you with a feeling of accomplishment when it's all done.

There are two major steps in painting that when ignored, rushed or altered will lead to a ruined, messy and horrible finished product.  These steps are:  1. choosing the paint (this step includes paint finish, color, paint type, paint brand and light reflective quality of the paint) and 2. prepping the area for paint.

You can be spot on with your paint choice but skip the prep step and wind up with a big, bad, ugly mess.  You can prep to perfection but compromise on the paint selection and again - big, bad, ugly mess.

I am one of those annoying folks who loves to paint.  Always have.  I'll paint anything and I'll try just about any color.  When I find myself in any store that sells paint, I immediately head to the  "oops" paint section to see what they've got that I might possibly want.  I will also say that I'm pretty darned good with a brush.  But that wasn't always the case - not at all.  I became a good painter when I discovered that to fudge on steps 1 and/or 2 inevitably led to disaster and the expense of hiring a professional to come in and clean up my mess.

I'm going to do this post with painting a room in mind.  I'll get to painting furniture in a later post.

Step 1:  The Paint
You need to be familiar with the room you intend to paint.  How much light does it get at different times of the day?  How bright is that light?  Maybe you get full sunlight in the mornings but diffused light in the afternoon.  Or maybe you have large trees outside your windows and you only get diffused light at best at any time of the day.

There are paint brands on the market today that will tell you what the "light reflective value" is of any shade of their paint.  This is so helpful.  But to be honest, it's pretty easy to figure out on your own.  The lighter the color, the more light the paint will reflect.  The darker the color the more light the paint will absorb.

The current fad in decorating is to say that dark walls don't make a room appear smaller than it is.  I don't know how these designers came up with that idea.  It's pretty much science that the more reflective value a paint has - the larger the space will appear.  Seems like old fashion common sense to me.  However, you should be aware that not all white's reflect the most light.  It all depends upon the sheen and any undertones.

At night you need to be mindful of shadow areas.  Those are the areas within your room that are not completely lit by the lamps that you normally turn on at night.  If you normally don't use the over head light, then don't base your opinion on what the room looks like with it on.  These shadow areas can dramatically change the color of your wall paint.  So if you love the color everywhere else but hate it in the shadow area, your best bet is either pick another color or fill that shadow area with a light cast from a lamp or mirror.  If that's not an option try camouflaging the area with a tall side chair or even a tall plant or statue.

Other things to consider are trim color, ceiling color, artwork, furniture.  Anything that is going to be up against the wall paint color needs to be considered because that color will shadow onto your wall color and the results might not be super attractive.  That would include kitchen cabinetry (if you're painting the kitchen).  Below is a sample area that I did using a light yellow that has a very subtle green undertone.  I painted this next to my built-in china hutch in my breakfast room.  You can see how beige it looks next to the wood.
Next I'll show you another sample area that I did using the same paint but next to white trim.  The difference is pretty amazing.  They really don't even look as if they came from the same can of paint - but they did.

  In the store, beneath their fluorescent lights and without anything else next to it, a paint color will look one way but once you get it home under your lighting and next to your possessions, it can take on a very different hue.  I always recommend buying a sample jar of paint and then painting a square foot section in several areas of your room.  Then live with that for a couple of days.  You will then be able to see how it looks at all times of the day and night.  You will be able to decide if it looks good next to your sofa or against your favorite piece of art.  If it passes this test - head back to the store and buy as much as you need.  If not, time to buy another sample.  This step is so critical.  I have jumped head first into painting a room without painting sample areas and have lived to regret it - and repeat the process in order to correct my mistake.  This step is the main reason folks paint their walls either white or beige.  They think with those two colors, who can go wrong? However, what they don't seem to understand is the simple fact that white and beige can change hues dependant upon lighting and what's next to them as well as any other color can.  If you put white next to another shade of white, you get a dingy white.  In the right (or wrong) lighting conditions beige can appear to be just an off white that has aged really badly.  Ever walk into a room and while your eyes don't see any dirt, dust or clutter - it just doesn't feel clean??  My bet is that room was painted either white or beige and the hues had changed due to the colors touching them or reflecting off them.

Nearly every paint company has a different word for shiny or not shiny.  I leave all that up to the person in the store mixing my paint.  I have decided keeping up with that information is just something that my brain doesn't need to retain.  I tell the guy (or gal) I want shiny or I don't want shiny and he/she takes it from there.  You need to also let them know if this is going to be used in the bathroom or kitchen because you will want scrubbable & moisture tolerant paint in those areas.  Trim is another area that requires a tough paint finish that you can scrub without it coming off.

Brand.  Where to begin?  There are literally hundreds of paint brands on the market these days.  This is the area that folks either save money or waste money.  Please believe me when I tell you that just because it's cheaper, it doesn't mean you're going to save money by buying it.  I've said it once and I'll say it again.  In this world you usually get what you pay for.  Cheap paint usually equals color that fades, scuffs up easily or even thins over time leaving areas where the sheetrock is obviously peeking through the paint.  Cheap paint comes off your wall with the slightest amount of scrubbing.  If you bump your sofa onto a wall that has cheap paint you can rest assured there will be a large black scuff mark.  It also takes 3 times the amount of paint to get a good solid coverage so while the cheap paint may have cost $10 a gallon you wound up having to use 3 gallons and 3 times the work to get a good coverage so why not spring for a $30 per gallon paint and only have to paint it once??  Cheap paint simply will not last long.  If you use the $10 per gallon paint within 6 months to a year (max) you will have to repaint your room while the $30 per gallon paint should last 2 to 3 years or even longer if you wipe it down regularly.

Step 2:  The Prep Work

Remember this - paint will not stick in areas that have dust, dirt or any kind of oily residue on them.  It will look like it painted over those things really well - at first.  As the paint begins to dry it becomes heavier.  At this point, the dust or dirt will pull away from the wall due to the weight of the paint on top of it and it will either form a bubble or fall away completely leaving an unpainted spot.  The paint will simply slide off the oily residue spots.  Again, leaving an unpainted spot on your wall.  Also, grime left on the wall before painting, will change the color of your paint in that area.  So first thing to do is to clean your walls before you paint them.  You don't have to break out the scrub brush, rubber gloves and bleach water.  Just take a broom or dust mop and go over every inch of your wall beginning with the top and working your way down.  Once you've done that, look closely at your wall.  If you see a dirty spot that your broom didn't take care of, use a scrub sponge to get rid of it.  Tip: never use an SOS pad or any other type of metal scrubber because the metal will flake off and embed in your sheetrock or plaster leaving that area a different hue than the rest of your wall once painted.

While you are cleaning your walls, look for any nails that are backing out of the wall, holes, bowing or any other issue that will ruin your finished product.  Take care of those now rather than later.

Once your wall is clean and any repairs needed are done, it's time to tape it off.  I had a professional painter once tell me that the difference between a professional and an ameteur is that a professional never tapes - he doesn't have to.  Well, I must be a quasi-professional because sometimes I tape and other times I don't.  It all depends on what I'm painting and how calm I am that day.  The whole purpose of taping is to prevent the paint from leaving the intended area and getting into areas that you don't want painted that particular color.  It is also a way to get a straight edge quickly.  I always tape any glass areas and/or hardware such as hinges, door knobs, electric outlets, etc.  Not because I'm a bad painter but because as the day wears on and I become more tired, I tend to slop the paint on a bit willy nilly. Accidental splashing and/or dripping can, and most often does, occur.  This causes me more work.

The picture above is a perfect taping job.  Note that tape is also covering your electrical outlets and light switches.  This is very important.  Nothing says bad job like paint on your outlet or light switch.  Remove the covers and tape up the rest.  Next photo will show you how to tape windows in preparation for painting.

Always lay something on your floor.  My personal favorite is a canvas tarp.  The reason they're my favorite is because not only do they not slip beneath your feet but you can wash them and reuse them many many times. You can also use plastic garbage bags or the plastic painter's sheets.  I like to tape it to the floor so it doesn't move around and to prevent any spilled paint from slipping beneath it.

When to take your tape off?  I've heard as many folks say to wait until the paints dry as I have those who say take it off while the paint is still wet.  I imagine this is a matter of personal preference.  My preference is to take the tape off before the paint dries but not while it is still super wet.  I have tried it both ways and my way makes for less peeling of the paint.  Sometimes when you wait until the paint has cured (meaning once it's completely dry), when you remove the tape, the tape will peel away some of your paint.  I have never had this happen when I take it down wet.  Either way you always want to go slow and pull the tape at an angle.  It only takes a matter of minutes before you have this technique mastered.

The picture below shows crooked lines.  This was not caused by the removal of the tape but rather the bad application of the tape.  Always lay your tape on the wall, go over the edge closest to where you're going to paint with a flat edge such as a spackle applicator.  This will push out any air bubbles and make sure your tape is properly adhered to your wall.  Then taking a lightly loaded paint brush (not a roller), brush paint all along this edge.  Now when you roll close to the tape, no excess paint will leak under your tape.
Below is what happens when you pull the tape off too quickly, not at an angle or after it's completely dried.  Not attractive.

If your walls are new sheetrock or if they haven't been painted in a long time, it's always recommended to use a good primer before painting.  Your finished product will last longer and look better.  Always get your primer tinted the same color as your chosen wall color.  This will allow you to skip a second coat in most instances.

Now, where to begin painting?  Again, this is a matter of personal preference.  I prefer to frame the area I intend to paint so I cut first.  Cutting is where you take your brush and paint all the edges first.  Then I use my roller to fill in the middle.  Once that's done, I go back over my cutting again to make sure it all blends in well.

Last, let me warn you that just because you put a ton of paint on your brush or roller, it doesn't mean that you will finish the job faster.  What it usually means is that your paint will glob leaving bubbles and it will drip leaving drip marks and messes on the floor.  You want your brush or roller to have enough paint to do the job but you don't want it to be dripping full of paint.  It's far better to do 2 coats than 1 coat that bubbles.

See the picture below as an example of what happens when you overload your paint brush or roller.

Below is an example of getting in a hurry and applying way too much paint in one particular area.  Always allow the first coat to dry before adding a second coat or bubbles may be your result.  If you get bubbles, use a sanding sponge and lightly sand the affected area until you have removed all the bubbles.  Then wipe the area with a dry cloth and repaint.  It's your only option.
Dry time versus cure time?  Dry time is the amount of time it takes for the paint to be dry to the touch.  Meaning it's not sticky and no paint comes off on your fingers when you lightly touch the wall.  This means it's dry enough for a second coat.  It does not mean that the paint has cured.  The amount of time it takes for the paint to dry varies greatly with your physical location and the weather at that particular moment at your location.  In Arizona you can do the second coat as soon as you've finished the first one.  In Alabama, you need to wait at least a couple of hours before testing dryness.  Alabama has far more humidity than Arizona so paint takes longer to dry.  Also, if it's humid outside or raining, allow extra dry time.  If the temperatures are below 50 - allow for extra dry time.

The paint is cured once it has had ample time to dry all the way through.  Every manufacturer will have a slightly different cure time.  Usually the time is written on the can but if not, ask the person assisting you in the paint center.  They should be able to help you with this.  My personal rule of thumb is 2 days.  I don't put anything up against the painted area or hang any artwork for a full 2 days - 3 if it's been very humid or raining.

So.  Now you're up to speed on all the particulars of painting a room.  Remember, it's only paint.  If you mess it up the first time (or the second) simply sand down any obvious imperfections and paint it again.