Windows, Air Conditioning and Insulation: The Best Investments When Selling

Another beautiful spring in Northern Nevada.

Another beautiful spring in Northern Nevada.

The weather is beautiful, the days are longer and buyers are on the prowl, so now is the time to make your preparations for the busy summer selling season. Buyers aren’t just looking for new paint in more competitive markets, but also upgrades that distinguish your house from every other house on the block. These upgrades will coincidentally give you the best ROI as well. But don’t take my word for it, REALTOR magazine has compiled the best upgrades to invest in:

1. Replace windows

If home owners’ houses felt drafty this past winter and they have single-pane windows, there’s a good chance those were one of the culprits. But replacing them all can be costly — $400 to $500 per window, plus $100 to $150 for installation, according to home improvement expert Tom Kraeutler of The Money Pit. Whether that’s the place to spend dollars should depend on how long home owners plan to stay put or what houses listed in their neighborhood offer if they’re selling. “If they’re the last ones with old, rotting-wood windows, that negative may affect buyer attention,” Kraeutler says. This year’s “Cost vs. Value” report from Remodeling magazine pegs the payback for vinyl windows at 71.2 percent and for wood windows at a similar 73.3 percent. A less costly alternative can be to add storms, caulk, weather strip, or rim joists in a basement. Contractor Paul Eric Morse of Morse Constructions Inc. in Somerville, Mass., suggests gradually replacing windows in any room that owners remodel to make the cost less prohibitive.

2. Install a new heating system and change filters

If a seller’s furnace and boiler were on their last legs this past winter, it may be time to install a new one, or at least provide sellers with a credit toward new equipment. Any choice should carry an EnergyStar label for best results. Existing systems still in good condition should have filters checked monthly and replaced when dark and clogged, a DIY project. For great energy efficiency, Morse is installing more heat exchanges that provide both heat and air conditioning and can be less costly than a new central air system with new ducting and a new furnace.

3. Clean air conditioning units

Before summer temperatures rise and HVAC pros are swamped, advise home owners to clean coils and change filters so their system doesn’t have to work as hard. They should also have drain lines cleaned, so moisture is eliminated, says Douglas Tompkins, with Pro-Air Heating and Cooling in Newburgh, N.Y. If they haven’t had air conditioning, now’s the time to weigh choices of a central system, heat exchange, or room units.

4. Install more insulation

A home’s first line of defense to stop cold or hot air — depending on the season — should be the attic, according to most contractors. An energy audit can determine how much more is needed, if they already have some. Seattle-based contractor Ron Rice, of Your House Matters, suggests adding more than the minimum 8 inches required by most local codes — up to 16 inches. For cold climates, installing electric or hydronic radiant heat under bathroom and kitchen floors will provide comfort next season.

5. Switch out inefficient appliances

Sometimes appliances are no longer smart to repair. The determining factors for that should be their age and the cost of repair versus replacement. Here, too, top choices carry an EnergyStar label. If home owners need to replace most of their kitchen equipment and have a limited budget or plan to move, Rice suggests they prioritize and first switch out the range, followed by the refrigerator, dishwasher, and microwave — in that order.

6. Repair or replace roofs, gutters, and downspouts

Because of the tough hurricane season last fall and the winter blizzards, roofing contractors in many parts of the country have been busy. Morse recommends that those needing new roofs consider architectural asphalt shingles because of their long warranties (often 50 years), affordable prices, and attractive appearances that work with many house styles. In addition, many contractors have the equipment and experience to install roofs of this material, as opposed to metal. He also recommends that home owners have gutters and downspouts cleaned come spring so that water can flow through them; gutters should be angled away from a house to stop water pooling around a foundation and seeping into the basement. Gutter covers can be helpful but often don’t eliminate all debris.

7. Paint

Damage often shows up at this time of year, especially in climates where there’s been a lot of snow melting or winter rains, Morse says. Use the time to reassess your color choice for better curb appeal. Even changing the front door’s color can make a difference.

8. Prune trees

Cutting limbs that may have been damaged during winter and that might fall on a roof or allow squirrels to enter a house is smart, and it can be a cost savings later on. Called “thinning out,” this method gets excess foliage trimmed to allow more natural light into a house—and cut down on artificial illumination, says Sacramento, Calif.-based landscape designer Michael Glassman. “It opens the tree so you don’t have dead spots in the interior and lets the tree take advantage of air flow rather than chop off the top,” he says. A certified arborist will know the best ways to do this without removing too much of a canopy, which is useful for privacy and shade.

9. Mulch plantings

Along with fall, spring is a key mulch time. Mulch helps plants thrive by holding back weeds, retaining moisture so soil doesn’t dry out, and adding a tidy look, Glassman says. Use bark, shredded fir, leaves, straw, or grass clippings.

10. Replace lightbulbs

When it comes to artificial light, most contractors recommend switching burned-out bulbs to LEDs, which last longer than incandescents, consume less energy, and have come down in price — now often just $10. Quality has improved, too, and they’re dimmable and available in colors.

One more thing: Before you hire anybody to take on work, get a written estimate. Better to be safe than sorry.

 

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Northern Nevada Is Building It’s Way Back

Things are looking up for Nevada real estate–thankfully!–as evidenced by the uptick in building permits, housing starts and median home prices in 2013. Building permits authorize the construction of new structures on a specific lot and housing starts calculate the number of new homes constructed. In 2013, the Reno/Sparks area saw a 60% increase for single-family housing permits and a 601% increase in multi-family housing permits according to the National Home Builders’ Association. 

Prices also increased according to the Northern Nevada Regional MLS: 

• The fourth-quarter median sales price was $222,000, a 20 percent jump from the October-December period in 2012.

• The December median sales price was $229,500, representing a 23 percent rise from December 2012.

1/22/14 RGJ

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It’s great to see that our community is recovering and that people are realizing the value in home ownership again. 

What Buyers Are Looking For in 2014

Buyers are already out this year looking for their next dream home prompted by low interest rates, more equity based sales, and warm winter weather. These are trends I’ve begun noticing with my clients and I have three words for you: upgrades, upgrades, upgrades.

walkway

Paver

Countertops

Updated bathroom

 What they want to see: Good condition houses, new paint, newer carpet, pavers, updated kitchen and bathrooms.

What they don’t want to see: Dirty, foul-smelling, cluttered fixer-uppers and overpriced homes without upgrades.

Buyers are smarter now; they’re doing their research before they view their first home and know what they want. If you don’t have much to invest in upgrades for your house, the most cost effective ways to add value are a fresh coat of paint, new carpeting and a clean looking front yard. Keep in mind these are trends I’m noticing this year, but every buyer is different and the buyer for you is out there somewhere!

Updated kitchen

Winterizing 101

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A view from the Crum Team House

You’ve prepared the menu for Thanksgiving this week, you’ve bought the ingredients, set out a schedule and know exactly how many–or few–stores you will hit up on Black Friday, but still you feel like you’ve forgotten something. Okay, your response is more likely to be cranberry sauce than winterizing your home, but still many homeowners forget to do proper annual maintenance checks that will save them time and money during the winter months when both are precious commodities. Below are some checks that I always recommend to my clients and a few suggested by Zillow.

Vacant Homes: If you own a vacant home or plan on taking a trip during the winter months, make sure to keep your house at a balmy 45 degrees to prevent pipes from freezing.

Storage: Don’t forget to put away patio furniture, cushions, hoses and cover BBQ’s and AC units to prevent damage from the elements.

Weatherstripping: Cold air can seep in through those little gaps between your door and the door frame, quickly reversing any effort you take to heat your home. Weatherstripping covers the sides and top of the door and a sweep fills the space between the threshold and door bottom. Hardware stores and home centers sell numerous products in metal, foam, rubber and plastic for this purpose and many can be installed in an afternoon.

Windows: This may be another area where additional weatherstripping or caulk is needed to fill any visible gaps, though that still might not be enough remediation to prevent drafts. While windows add much needed winter light, they can let out a lot of heat — up to 12 times more than a wall if they’re single pane. Blinds can keep a little heat in, but heavier shades or curtains will minimize heat loss.

Fireplace: Fantasizing about a cozy evening in front of the fire? Your romantic night might be cut short if your fireplace hasn’t been serviced. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that chimneys are swept at least once a year.

Furnace: It’s also recommended that furnaces be serviced once a year. A heating system can break down at the most inopportune time is it’s not serviced. Worse, it can pump carbon monoxide into a home or eventually stop working. While a furnace service can run up to $100, the cost benefits are undeniable, considering the cost of a major fix or replacement.

Ducts: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a home with central heating can lose between 10 and 30 percent of its heated air before that air reaches the vents if duct work is not well-connected and insulated, or if it must travel through unheated spaces.

Pipes: Frozen pipes are a royal nuisance, but with a little effort, many instances can be prevented. The best way to tackle these is to wrap pipes that run the exterior of the home with heating tape. Turn off the water and drain the remaining water at the inside valves. You can also purchase insulated covers for additional prevention.

Median Home Prices Rising in Reno/Sparks

Home prices still rising in Reno/Sparks.

Home prices still rising in Reno/Sparks.

Home prices in the Reno/Sparks area have increased by 26.8% in the third quarter of 2013 to $224,800 according to the National Association of Realtors. While much of the rest of the economy continues to stutter, real estate in Northern Nevada is chugging along. In September there was a 5% increase in existing home purchases from last year, although sales slipped from August by 21% which can be attributed to the seasonal drop off of sales according to the Reno/Sparks Association of Realtors.

Sellers still have a lot to gain from listing even in the winter because  of several factors; demand is high and inventory is low with only 3.4 month’s of inventory in August (6 months is considered normal), buyers are still looking for good deals and probably being motivated to act now because of rising interest rates. According to Realty Today and  USA Today, the average 30-year mortgage rate jumped to 4.35 percent this week from 4.16 percent the last week and the 15-year mortgage rates also went up to 3.35 percent from 3.27 percent.

What will get you off the sidelines and buying or selling in the next few months?

Median Sales Price

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Make De-cluttering Less Detestable

De-cluttering doesn’t have to give you a headache.

Many people shrink at the thought of organizing, de-cluttering and throwing out their unwanted or needed stuff, but when it comes to moving or showing your house, it becomes a necessity. Believe me, few buyers can overcome the initial impression of a unkempt house where they have to side-step clutter left and right and packing will become that much easier when there’s less of it to do. If it’s been 10 years since you’ve used that drum set or if you’re holding onto those old gift baskets just hoping they’ll become useful in the future, the following tips from REALTOR Magazine are for you.

1. Study the entire house. Sellers shouldn’t tackle every room in one fell swoop. Go room-by-room, starting at the front door. Sellers should pretend they’re seeing each room for the first time, says Kammie Lisenby, CEO of The Organizing Experts in Seattle. The goal is to make rooms resemble those in a hotel, says professional organizer Katrina Teeple, owner of Operation Organization in Los Angeles.

2. Make piles. Sellers should organize piles as they clear each room — for example, stack items to keep, give to family or friends, donate to a charity, sell online, get hauled away, and consign. They should bear in mind the size of the home they’re moving to, their degree of sentimental attachment, and the financial value of each item. It’s best to put highly personal items aside in the keep pile, such as family photos they don’t want buyers to see during showings, says Lisenby.
Tip: Sellers could offer a buyers’ allowance to do their own decorating, says Barry Izsak, owner of Arranging It All in Austin, Texas, and former NAPO president.

3. Create a spreadsheet. A master list of what rooms will require organizing tasks can be helpful. This will also aid in prioritizing expenses, such as home improvements, paint, and staging elements. To play it safe with finicky buyers, sellers should go neutral in paint and decor, says Teeple.

4. Empty closets. Often becoming a graveyard for all the belongings home owners don’t know what to do with, clean, spacious closets are a coveted feature among buyers. Izsak suggests eliminating anything not worn or used in the last two years. Aim to dispose of 50 percent of wardrobes since most people only wear 20 percent of their clothes 80 percent of the time, he says. The remaining items should be stored on uniform rods, or in labeled, see-through bins, says Teeple.

5. Clear off counters and bookcases. Get rid of books that won’t be reread, particularly now that so many people read online. Add a few home decor items for sparkle. When in doubt, follow the “rule of three,” a mantra among home stagers, by clustering items into threes to create visual appeal. The final effect should reflect a neutral style.

6. Inspect the home’s exterior. Depending on the time of year, sellers may need to hire a professional to clear leaves, snow, or ice, so that they don’t hide a home’s features. Messiness and wear and tear on the outside indicates to buyers that the inside hasn’t been cared for well.

7. Check curb appeal all around. While the front yard is key to making a good first impression, more home owners spend time out back, so sellers should be sure lawns, shrubs, trees, and amenities like a fence and air conditioning condensers are maintained.

8. Spruce up the kitchen. This is the home’s most popular gathering spot and another place where everything gets dumped—backpacks, car keys, cell phones, etc. The rule of three applies here, too. Don’t stuff anything into a pantry or cabinets; get rid of it if it hasn’t been used in a few years. Also, clean out the refrigerator and freezer.

9. Make bathrooms spotless. Not every seller has a spa bathroom to unwind in, but clean grout, tiles, shower door, and vanity can make a big difference in an average bathroom. Clear out the prime real estate of a medicine cabinet, add crisp white or other neutral towels, fresh soaps, and a plant, Teeple suggests.

10. Purge basements, attics, and garages. These are a home’s purgatories—where stuff goes to never see the bright light of day, says Izsak. Anything that’s been moved at least twice and not opened needs to be reassessed, says Chris Seman, president of Caring Transitions in Cincinnati, a relocation service. Separate the items to be stored in see-through bins to reveal their contents; do so by categories, such as holiday decorations; and be sure bins are labeled clearly and have lids to keep out pests.

11. Professionalize an office. With more home owners working from home, a separate room or corner for an office can boost sales appeal. Have sellers clear up paper piles and file documents—but remember, most home owners only reference 5 percent of their files, says Seman. The work area should include good illumination, a comfortable chair, and clean equipment, says Izsak.

12. Get rid of belongings. Now it’s time for your sellers to rethink what to do with everything in piles. Here are some upsides and downsides to these decisions:

  • Sell or auction through an online vendor like Craigslist or eBay or at a flea market. Downside: It may take time to get the desired price.
  • Leave at a consignment shop to get stuff out of a house now. Downside: Proceeds get shared, and it may take a while to sell.
  • Give away to family, friends, or a nonprofit such as freecycle.org. Some communities let residents leave stuff outside their house with a sign, “Take it!” Upside: It gets rid of things fast.
  • Have a group haul it away such as 1-800-Got-Junk?Upside: This avoids driving it to a dumpster.
  • Donate to a charity. Upside: It gets out of a house, helps someone in need, and provides a deduction. Fill out IRS Form 8283 if total exceeds $500.
  • Organize a yard sale. If time is of the essence, the seller could hire a professional who sets up tables, takes money, and gets rid of what doesn’t sell. Downside: Proceeds get shared.

13. Don’t repeat collector mania. Once you move into your new home with fewer possessions, purchase carefully.

Fall in Love with Reno/Tahoe

Fall in Reno

Fall in Reno

It’s fall y’all and as we put away the Halloween candy and costumes, start contemplating Thanksgiving or try to avoid the subject all together and slowly watch our waistlines expand, I thought I’d compile a list of all the other things to look forward to in the fall around the glorious Reno/Tahoe area. You can hardly walk a block in downtown Reno during the summer without running into some kind of parade, concert, food festival, fun run etc. etc., but in the fall there are plenty of things to do too. Below is a list of events in November that should appeal to everyone in the family, and I’ve included links to the appropriate website to find out more information.

For an even more exhaustive search of events, concerts and things to do visit the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority website here.

So what are you’re favorite things about fall in Reno/Tahoe? Mine has to be the first snow fall at the lake as seen below.

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Lake Tahoe, Westshore

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Sunnyside Resort

Winter Is Coming… So What Does That Mean for Buyers and Sellers?

winter photoWinter is coming and even though we’ve had some glorious weather for the past couple weeks, the threat of the cold and snow are looming around the corner. Many people assume the fall and winter are slow times in real estate, but in reality, sellers who decide to stick it out will often find buyers who are more serious in their real estate search, not scared away by cooler weather and often have a move-in date in mind. Buyers will also find sellers this time of year are very motivated and more likely to negotiate than fair-weather sellers. The bottom line is don’t be discouraged if your house is on the market because there are determined buyers out there still on the hunt. Here are some tips from REALTOR Magazine for making your property looks it’s best during the fall:

·     The most obvious tip: rake up leaves on a frequent basis;

·     Inspect your gutters regularly and remove any leaves that get trapped;

·     Carry on weeding garden beds and walkways;

·     Remove all annual flowers that are no longer blooming and plants that are past their “best before” date.  Dead vegetation gives the impression of a home not cared for;

·     If you’re experiencing a warm, dry fall in your area, you’ll still need to irrigate your lawn (according to local by-laws of course);

·     Fertilize your lawn before the ground freezes (unless you’re lucky enough to live in a year-round warm climate).  This will give your grass a head start in the spring.  However, check with your local garden center first to find out if this is the right course of action for your particular environment;

·     Readjust the timers on outdoor lighting displays since it now gets dark earlier;

·     Give your gardens some liveliness by planting fall flowers such as chrysanthemums. Choose a color that compliments the exterior of your home;

·     Redesign your urns and flowers pots – it’s time for a fall theme;

·     Add some vignettes. Sometimes, it’s the little things that produce the most attention.  My personal favorite for generating anticipation in potential buyers is to create a simple fall vignette on the porch. Pumpkins add a punch of color and provide a warm, welcoming look when blended with something interesting like a couple of antique lanterns, for example.  Be careful not to add too many items to the vignette or it will appear too cluttered.

What Does the Government Shutdown Mean for the Housing Market?

This is not helping...

This is not helping…

As we enter the second week of the government shutdown (insert expletive or groan here) some parts of the housing market are feeling the effects of the inactivity. When people ask me what this means for the housing market especially in Reno/Sparks, I can say there might be delays in the process and the following:

  1. Lenders can delay some loans because they rely the IRS to verify a person’s income and, of course, the IRS is shut down, however, many lenders have the individual bring in their tax returns with the intention of verifying it with the IRS once the shutdown is over.
  2. Furloughed government employees may have to put the break on buying a house with no guarantee of when they will be payed next, and if they’re already in escrow, a delay may force them to pay a penalty to the seller.
  3.  People using USDA or some VA loans are out of luck–until the government re-opens, they will have to wait on loan approval.

Despite all this, most loans are going through because so much of it is automated. How is this shutdown affecting you?