Thursday, March 28, 2013

Habits of an Effective House Seller

When we had an open house at our condo recently, we had to clear out of the place for an entire Sunday. We packed Baxter up in the car and decided to go to some open houses ourselves. As we wandered around one house after another, we started to realize that our place was looking damn good.

Of course, we have the benefit of just having to clean up after a dog and two adults in our place. Some of the homes we visited clearly had children in them. Putting our place on the market required a lot of organizing and deep cleaning. Putting a home with children in it on the market must take another level of organization and cleaning.

When we leave in the morning, we put Baxter's things away and run the vacuum since golden retrievers are very talented when it comes to shedding. We then do a quick clean up in the bathroom so the only thing out is a soap dispenser.

BTW, do you love foaming hand soap? It's easy to make your own with dish detergent and water!

We also throw all of our laundry right into the washing machine. I thought I'd regret getting rid of our laundry basket, but I actually like this. When the machine is really full, we sort what's in there, grab our towels from the bathroom, and usually have one or two loads.

Remember when I said that home selling was hell? I really meant that preparing to put your house on the market is hell. Once you have a look established and a routine for your mornings to achieve that look, home selling is kind of nice. I love coming home to our clean, organized home.

This experience has always shown us that we can live without a lot of the things we sent to Marc's storage space. I think we'll be pretty picky about how much "stuff" we bring into our next home.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Home Staging and Selling for Pet Owners

We are animal lovers. We don't just love our dog, we really, really love him. We only stay at Kimpton Hotels so he can travel with us. We are more picky about his food that about ours. He is a factor is many of the decisions we make. I guess we take the responsibilities that come with pet ownership really seriously. So it might come as a surprise that we considered completely hiding all evidence of him when we put our condo on the market.

 I originally thought that any signs of a pet in our home would upset buyers. My plan was to put all of Baxter's things (toy basket, lead/collar collection, bowls, etc.) in my car for every showing. I even considered taking the bells he rings to go outside off the wall (they hang on a hook that has a paw print on it).

Have you ever seen these bells? I taught Baxter to use them when he was 15 weeks old and he's been ringing them ever since to go outside.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that we didn't need to hide the fact that we had a dog. We just needed to make sure our pet items didn't distract visitors or impede their ability to see our space.

Lucky, Baxter's bed is already in a corner because he likes to nap hidden behind a chair. His toy box is also in the same corner. We decided not to do anything special in the living room. That decision was validated when an agent told us she didn't notice the bed or toy box until someone else pointed them out.

In the bedroom, we have been tucking Baxter's stairs under the bed every morning. We usually only do this if we have company coming over.

I never mentioned buying these stairs before. There are plenty of pet stairs around, but I found these at a pet boutique a couple years ago and was impressed that they were made of wood and not too terrible looking. I've contemplated putting different carpet on the steps since the stuff on there is pink.

Anyway, the steps fold up nicely and slide right under the bed so the bedroom feels nice and roomy.

In the kitchen, we've been putting Baxter's food bowl inside the food bin every morning. The bin has always been tucked away in the laundry room. On days when showings have been prearranged, I take Baxter to the office. We'll leave his water bowl on top of the food bin in those cases. If an agent calls during the day and asks to bring a client by, one of us runs home to take Baxter out and put the water bowl in the laundry room.

We didn't take Baxter's bells away and we didn't hide his leash/collar rack in the front closet. We didn't see those as being major obstacles to seeing the place.
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Friday, March 15, 2013

Closet Staging for Real Estate Photos and Our Open House

Having looked at the local MLS listings every morning for years (I love that peek into people's homes!), I've noticed that few listings include pictures of closets. It makes sense. I imagine a lot of people throw things behind closed doors when preparing for listing photos. What's more, the average person's closet probably isn't photo ready.

We have great closets in the condo. There's a walk-in closet by the front door, a laundry room/pantry closet in the kitchen, and two large closets in the bedroom. When I lived were alone, I only used one of the closets in the bedroom and put some random things like the laundry basket in the other one. With Marc here now, we still have plenty of space since he was able to take over that second closet and the others had room for more things.

For our listing photos, I decided to really show off all the great storage here. The closets came with a few racks in them, but there was room to add shelves to the front closet, the laundry room, and my bedroom.

Here's how the bedroom closets looked in our MLS listing:

I started with Marc's closet and as you probably tell by the different lighting, I wasn't able to take pictures of my closet until the evening. This was a big job.

First, I took almost everything out of Marc's closet and added back his duffel bag and a pair of boots. Most of his darker clothes were laying on the bed while I took pictures.

Getting my closet ready for photos took considerably more time. The entire bedroom was full of shoes and clothes. I decided to stick to a color theme for the clothes that would be in the pictures. I picked some blue, pink, and red items to put back in the closet and added a few accessories.

Marc came home at one point and was in shock. He had no idea my closet held so much. After a while, I was able to take some photos and started putting everything back into place.

For showings and our open house, we decided to put at least half of our clothes in storage along with some other items (Christmas ornaments, Marc's bikes, a chair that used to be in the bedroom). We wound up filling our suitcases and 2-3 storage bins with clothes. I also organized all my folded items by color. I didn't board fold like I learned while working at Banana Republic in grad school, though.

Our closets now look like this:

I wish I had thought to take pictures of them before we sent things to storage, so there were before and after photos.

If you've sold a home, did you stage your closets? Do you think it's important to show closet spaces in MLS listing photos?
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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Preparing for Open Houses and Visits from Buyers

Almost immedidately after posting the pictures I took for our MLS listing on Facebook, a friend asked if our condo looked the same all of the time. I'd love to say everything is always put away and things are nearly organized every time we walk out the door, but the truth is we're normal people who do normal things. The mail sometimes gets left on the counter. Clothes don't always get put away. Dishes get left in the sink.

There are a few practices we've worked into our morning and evening routines so that our little home is always ready or nearly ready for a visit from a real estate agent and their clients. I thought I'd start a "Preparing for Open Houses" series to share what we've done and maybe a few more ideas will come out in the comments.

First of all, we've started adding flowers to our grocery lists. We usually get flowers as a treat. Marc brings them home as a surprise sometimes and I'll pick up some hydrangea or tulips now and then. During tulip season, I have a hard time staying away from the flower section at Whole Foods. The tulips they sell come from Stevensburg, which isn't too far up the highway from Charlottesville (the tulip producer up there, Fresh Tulips USA, got profiled in the Washington Post a while back).

The condo has only been on the market for one Friday, but our flower sprees started when I took photos, so it'd been a few weeks.

I've been buying a few inexpensive mixed bouquets along with tulips and distributing them around the condo. The mixed bouquets often have a few hardy flowers along with a couple that might fade quickly. I keep recombining to keep everything looking nice.

On the bar, I put a little vase with our basket of cookies, the marketing piece, and our agent's cards in a little tray.

I'll be making another batch of cookies for the open house this weekend. If you know someone in Charlottesville looking for a condo in a great location, convenient to the University (especially the hospital) and downtown, send them our way!

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

We're Having an Open House!

I didn't know if people had open houses in condos, but I guess they do! Our realtor had scheduled an open house at our place this weekend. I'm pretty excited. We've had 2-3 showings every day since the brokers' open house last week. I imagine there are some people who don't have agents yet who might want to come check the place out.

If you are someone you know are in the market for a great condo in Charlottesville within walking distance of the University and downtown, send them my way. I'm not going to post my complete address, but I'm happy to share it by email.

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Friday, March 8, 2013

On the Market, Week 1

The condo's been on the market for a week, but the snow storm that hit the mid-Atlantic took a lot of people off-line Wednesday and Thursday. So, this has been a pretty easy week. Since the brokers' open house on Tuesday, we've enjoyed our squeaky clean home without much interruption.

My thoughts might change after a while, but I've decided that living in a home on the market is a little bit like living in a store. I don't mind it at all...yet.

I've taken to checking out the MLS daily now and I'm amazed by the pictures on some listings. There are two other condos in my area on the market. The listing for one only shows pictures of our clubhouse, pool, and two closeup pictures of counters in the model unit that was here in 2005. The other listing, for a smaller unit, only has one, exterior photo.

When I took the photos for our listing, I took pictures of what I'd want to see - a walk through the condo, with images taken from multiple angles, and all closets shown. I'm always trying to imagine how my things would fit in a house I see on the MLS and it's amazing that many listings don't let you do that because they only show bits and pieces of rooms.

Any thoughts on what it's like to live in a home that's on the market? How about your take on MLS photos?
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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Treats for the Brokers' Open House

Yesterday, I mentioned that you could probably see several brokers' open houses on Bravo or HGTV every weekend. It's clear that those vary from place to place. The agents on Bravo's real estate shows are usually selling multi-million dollar properties and their brokers' opens look like swanky parties. I think Charlottesville open houses tend to be a little more modest. Still, I wanted to do something special and a little unexpected to make our condo memorable.

I purchased cookie cutters from Williams Sonoma a while back with plans to use them on table numbers for our wedding. The table numbers were fun to make, but we wound up doing something else. I felt a little silly having the cookie cutters and I'm glad I found a way to finally put them to use.

I originally wanted to put our address on the cookies, but the cutters only come with letters. W-S let me down. I played with a few different messages, then bounced ideas off Marc and our agent. We arrived at simply putting the name of our neighborhood on the cookies.

The name of the neighborhood itself wasn't too specific, so I decided to put the cookies in bags and add a tag with specific information about our unit. I used an Avery product that was pretty infuriating to manipulate, but around 1 AM on the night before the open house, I got the labels printed. I'm blocking out some info in the pictures below. The front has a picture of our living room with the address and the back of each tag has our MLS number, the real estate agency's logo, and our agent's contact info. 

 I'm really happy with the finished product!

Since those cookies were a favor for agents to take home, I also made a batch of cookies for everyone to eat while visiting. Our realtor seems pleased!

Is this a little over the top? Sure. But I had fun with it.
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Monday, March 4, 2013

Home Selling is Hell

We've all watched real estate TV and think we know what selling a house is like. Between Bravo and HGTV, we can probably see half a dozen brokers' open houses and general open houses each weekend.

None of those really prepared me for what it has been like selling a house. Perhaps it's because I'm a blogger and a bit of a perfectionist, but I wrote a solid page of projects that had to get done by the time the condo hit the MLS. We've organized, we've patched nail holes, planted boxwoods outside, cleaned the patio, freshened up the paint, and we've organized cabinets and closets. It's exhausting! Thank goodness we only had to organize and make things pretty.

I'm thankful that I staged and took pictures two weeks ago so we don't have the added pressure of a photographer showing up. It's also nice to have a "goal" picture to get back to.

This weekend, this is what the dining area looked like as we tackled all of those little projects:

By tomorrow morning, everything will be back to staged. It might mean another night of very little sleep, but it'll be worth it knowing that people will be able to see how much we love our little home and how carefully we've taken care of it over the last seven years.

Have you sold a house before? What were the best and worst parts of the experience?
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Friday, March 1, 2013

Selling our Charlottesville Condo

In case you haven't figured it out yet, we're putting the condo on the market. I adore this place. I originally picked our community, Walker Square, because it was within walking distance of everything - my work, downtown, and entertainment (Starr Hill Music Hall used to be across the street and has since been replaced by restaurants). When I got a dog a few years after living here, I realized how pet-friendly the community is and became close with my dog owning neighbors. This is a wonderful home.

There are times, though, that I wish we had a little more outdoor space (we have a patio and I garden in containers). Though we could technically get a second dog (plenty of neighbors have two), I'm not sure it would be fair to have two goldens in our space. The idea of getting another big dog isn't driving us to sell, but having just a little bit more space would make for a better situation for all involved.

I love living in the city of Charlottesville, but we think it might be time to move on. I'm sad, but also excited about what could be around the bend. I only hope someone will love this place and all of the improvements we've made over the years as much as we do.

For the first time, here's a walk through our entire home. I show bits and pieces on the blog all the time, but I've never shown it all, even on the House Tour page.

The trim on the kitchen cabinets isn't permanent, so if someone wanted that space to display or store things, they could take it down. I have a few things hiding up there. I also put some puck lights in on the left side, but never use them, so I forgot to turn them on for this picture!

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