Why I don’t buy houses that I love.

Why I don’t buy houses that I love.

Many buyers want a home that looks as fabulous as their Instagram feed.  They’re looking for a home that they love.  But if you are up for a fun and profitable challenge, consider buying a home that needs love instead of buying a home that deserves love.

My husband and I call it the ‘Slow Flip.’ We’ve done it several times over the last 15 years. Slow-flipping has given us some good investments, creative outlets and even a little marital bonding.  We’ve looked for a home that’s in a great location, but because of some funkiness, has been sitting on the market a long time.  If that funkiness can be cost effectively fixed, and if the seller is motivated to make a deal, then maybe it’s worth taking on the challenge.

 

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This was one of my favorite slow flips. I remember telling my husband when we bought it “I don’t like this house, but I love the dirt.”

The slow flip means you live in the house while you figure out how to fix its flaws.  Living in a space, learning how your family uses it,  can often result in more creative and cost effective decisions. Sometimes it takes a while to chew on the design problem before you come up with the right solution. With a slow flip, time is on your side. Better still, after you’ve lived in a home two years (or two of the last five years to be specific) you can avoid paying federal income tax on the gain you make when you resell.

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Photo credit @tonyconnect – a realtor in the Texas Hill Country who’s also helping people make homes beautiful.

If you find the challenge of home renovation interesting… and if taking on short term projects won’t add undue stress to your family and relationships, read on!  Here are my top suggestions based on our experience.

Get wise counsel before you buy. 

I’m a firm believer in seeking out good advice and that often means hiring someone with expertise.  Some renovation wisdom is obvious – you see the biggest return in kitchens and bathrooms.  Removing a non-load bearing walls or doors is usually inexpensive; moving plumbing is almost always expensive. But before you make a commitment to take on your slow flip, bring in a trusted advisor that can talk through your options with a fresh set of eyes and real world experience.  During your option period, as buyer you can terminate the contract for any reason and not risk losing your earnest money.  Use that time to ask the right questions to the right people.

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Photo credit to @printitengineer – love wallpaper and open shelving for an inexpensive upgrade.

Pick your battles.

Once you’ve decided on the home, decide what you’re able to live through.  Some renovations are more disruptive than others. Flooring & painting wood cabinets are particularly tough  – messy & stinky.  If the floors need to be redone or you need to paint kitchen cabinets, consider doing them before you move in.  Carpet is not as big a deal and can usually be completed in a day with installers moving furniture for you.

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Crushing on @thevictorianfarmhouse.  So fun to follow their DIY home restoration.

Don’t underestimate the transformative power of paint.

Paint can give you the most bang for your buck — hands down.  It can take disparate materials and bring unity.  It can transform the lighting of a room and make the old and dingy look new and clean. With the right primer, lots of different surfaces can be painted. So many times I’ve coached buyers “Ok, imagine this whole, dark, dingy space painted white…”

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This fireplace is transformed with $20 of paint. Photo credit and plug to follow @conklinhouse.

Are you are unskilled labor?

You can save a lot of money by doing the unskilled labor jobs yourself.  Demo, painting, patching, sanding – if you need to find ways to cut costs consider DIY.  Labor can be 50% of the cost of the job.  Nervous?  YouTube is your coach and can give you the confidence to take on all sorts of projects. Plus, it can be hugely gratifying when you take a crow bar or sledge hammer to a situation.

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We chose to do our own demo in our entry and have a pro install the hardwoods.

No shame in calling in the pros.

Be realistic about your skill set.  Know when to call in the experts. When you do go to resell, you don’t want it to be obvious that you did it yourself.  You are going to be spending a lot of money on materials.  You have to live with it when it’s done. Some things that look “easy” really need a skilled hand. For example, perfect tiling is an art form – especially when you use dark grout.

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@patticakewagner, your tile install is pro!

Don’t start until you are ready to go.

Living through construction is stressful, so do your homework and don’t demo until you’ve got a complete plan.  There will always be surprises and hidden costs.  Don’t add to the challenges and the timeline by not having the components you already know you’ll need. When possible I buy materials myself, so there is no middle man. Many places will take returns.  Better to overshoot and return, than to be unprepared.

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Before and after pantry photo credit Hartley Home Designs.

Give yourself a break between big projects.

It’s stressful for everyone in your family to live through a construction zone. Don’t underestimate that.  Having workers in your home early and late feels invasive. For that reason we’ve spaced our projects out and divided projects up when possible. Spacing projects also helps you save up to pay for them – win, win.

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Our current kitchen before & after. 

Our kitchen, for example, was done in three phases.  Before we moved in, we had the cabinets painted, and a carpenter cut some of the upper cabinet doors for me to install glass fronts.  The next year we retiled the backsplash and swapped out the sink faucet.  After living there for awhile, we could see a 48′ refrigerator would be perfect where the ovens were located.  It would improve the flow. After almost two years of looking,  I found a used 48′ Subzero for a steal on a local FB yard sale site.  Our carpenter was able to make it a built-in pretty easily and swap places with the ovens.  It’s a totally different space.  Dividing the project up made it not so bad to live through.

Don’t forget Craig’s List, E-bay, Demolition Sales etc….

Before you buy new, check alternative places like Craig’s List, E-bay, on-line yard sales,  demolition sales, Habitat for Humanity Resale Shop.  Call stores and ask what’s in their scratch and dent section.  When we were planning for a bathroom renovation, I collected all kinds of things for months until we needed them.  I found inexpensive 12×12 marble tiles at a big box chain and then had them cut to the more expensive 6×12 size to lay in a herringbone pattern.

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I removed this tub filler and shower hardware from a demolition sale paying approximately a 10th of their retail value. Pro tip: wear closed toed shoes when using a sledge hammer. 

I think of it like a treasure hunt.  When you have time on your side you can patiently wait for just what you need.

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Before and after of our bathroom & the new home for my salvaged plumbing fixtures and $15 shower door I scored at a yard sale.

This month we will finish the last planned renovation in our current home and we’ve had a few discussions about doing this again.  The problem is that while I did not love my house before;  I really do love it now. More importantly, our family loves our dear neighbors.

So we’re most likely here for a while.  But just in case this article inspires you to try a “slow flip”, give me a call.  I’ve been following several interesting properties on the market now.  Maybe I can help you find a home you don’t love!

 

 

Considering Listing Your Home this Spring? 6 Things to Do First

Considering Listing Your Home this Spring? 6 Things to Do First

Here are my top 6 recommendations so you have everything ready come spring. Time is on your side. Plan ahead, save yourself some stress and improve your chances of getting top dollar for your home.  

Edit, Donate & Recycle

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A perfectly decluttered kitchen by Studio McGee.

If you want your house to look more expansive and thus sell for more – this is the key.  Do a clean sweep of your countertops and windowsills. Go through your closets, shelves, glass front cabinets, and bookcases. Take out 1/2 the stuff and neatly organize what’s left.

When I list a home, I always come in with my stager. We work together to rearrange and do a final edit, but only you can decide what you want to keep or not.

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A good stager can help make even awkward spaces feel purposeful.  Image credit Everygirl.

Have three boxes going –

  • things to keep, but store for now (like family photos)
  • things to give away
  • things to throw away or recycle

Get excited about an opportunity to give away things you do not need to people who do. For the Nations Refugee Outreach and Genesis Women’s Shelter Thrift Store are great places here in Dallas to donate all manner of household items and clothes.  H&M  has a bin in their store to recycle clothes and fabrics that are too shabby to donate.

Moving homes can be a great opportunity to reset and reevaluate. Don’t waste this opportunity to get rid of things that you don’t really love or need!

Fix what’s broken

Walk through your house like an inspector or potential buyer. Often we live with problems in our home – that leaky faucet, or that door that’s hard to open.  Go ahead and fix these flaws.  If you don’t fix it now, your buyer will most likely ask you to do it, or they will ask or for a concession (a lower asking price to compensate for them fixing it).

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Trim, fireplace and built-ins are Benjamin Moore Simply White

If you’ve got children, pets, or are a human being, a fresh coat of paint can be a very cost effective way to brightening up a space.  There is nothing that gives you more bang for your buck than paint. And if, for example, your dining room is red, go ahead and paint that to a more neutral color.

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Beautiful 1940’s tile in a pristine bathroom.

Make sure your bathroom grout is in good shape.  If you have shabby appliances it could well be worth replacing them.Replace worn door handles or knobs. Sometimes just spaying them with Rust-Oleum can make big difference. I’ve also done that with light fixture frames.

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A wood paneled drop-in tub replaces a dated jacuzzi tub.

There are situations where it’s cost effective to do more substantial improvements, like replacing an ugly countertop or swapping out a dated jacuzzi tub. This is true particularly in higher end markets.   But these can still be tricky decisions. You want a good return on your investment of money, time, and hassle. This is where your realtor can offer solid advice on where to best spend your rehab dollar.

Squeaky Clean

You may want to hold off on this one until right before you list, but everything needs to be spotless to get the most for your house. If this sounds overwhelming, consider hiring a cleaning company for a deep cleaning service.

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Julie Hickman to the rescue! She’ll make your home squeaky clean.

Let me give a little shout-out to Julie Hickman, owner of Maid Meticulous here in Dallas. I’ve used her at clients’ homes been stunned by the results.  She and her team know how to make your home look its very best.

Don’t neglect washing your windows – you want to let all the light in you can. I always recommend Dale Harris here in Dallas. He can be reached at 214-986-2334.

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Steam cleaning carpets kills most odor causing bacterias and surface mold.

Do you have carpet? Have it cleaned by a professional or rent the equipment to steam clean it.  Many will companies will also steam clean tile floors, bathroom grout, and can also clean upholsery and area rugs.

Almost every home will benefit from several boxes of magic erasers.  They are little cleaning miracles in a box.

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Image credit to Style at Home

This is also a moment to be honest about smells.  Scent can be a big deal for buyers, so don’t underestimate it.  Is there anything in your house that smells nasty?  Is it obvious you have a litter box or pets in general, or that you smoke? Does it smell musty? Candles and cookies are nice, but it’s usually pretty obvious when you are masking an odor.

Light & Bright

Everyone wants a home that’s light and bright.  You can’t change the direction your home faces, but there are a number of things you can do to help.

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Image credit, the lovely Emily Henderson

Take down heavy drapes, or if you just can’t bear to part with them, open them as wide as possible. Light colored drapes are best for letting sunshine in. Clean the windows (see above), and replace dark lamp shades with light ones. Up the wattage in your light bulbs if necessary, but make sure it’s a warm light and not a blue cast.  Consider installing can lights – flush mount can lights are less complicated (and expensive) to install.  If landscaping blocks light from your windows, consider trimming it back or replacing it.

Curb Appeal

First impressions count. Whether it’s driving by or swiping right on your phone, you want to make the most of your curb appeal. Repaint or stain the front door. Pressure wash the stoop or steps or sidewalk.  Update your porch light, and maybe your front door hardware.  A fresh front door wreath and welcome mat can go a long way too.

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These vinyl house letters from Etsy cost $12.95. I bought them for the glass transom above our front door – love!

I recently recommended that a client paint their home’s exterior here in Highland Park. At the time it was a combination of brick, stone and stucco. There was a lot going on, and I thought painting it one solid color (Sherwin Williams Marshmallow) would unify the materials.

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before
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after

The dramatic difference it made was worth the few thousand dollars they spent.  It sold quickly, and for so much, that I was a little nervous about it making appraisal. (It did!)

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Image credit Home Best Idea

Are your shrubs leggy or overgrown?  Often you just have to start again, and an afternoon pulling out the old and planting the new can be a good investment.  If you need help with a master plan I highly recommend Julie Simons of JDS Landscape Design  here in Dallas.  She is brilliant at creating beautiful outdoor spaces.  It’s also almost time to plant fall bulbs for spring flowers.  If you’re listing in the spring that can be an easy way to add color.

Finally – Plan to Price Right

Hire a realtor you trust…  then trust them.  The single best strategy for selling your house is to price it correctly.  Listen to the data only a licensed realtor has access to. This is especially true in Texas, where the law does not require public disclosure of real estate sales prices.  This means places like Zillow and Trulia have the list price, but do not have what the house actually sold for.  Unless you live in a Charles Dilbeck or a David Stocker home, most buyers won’t overpay for your house.

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David Stocker’s Sunnybrook North in Preston Hollow – more glorious pictures here.


A good realtor will pay for themselves, not only in the price you ultimately get for your house, but also in helping you navigate and avoid stressful pitfalls.

If you are planning to list in the spring, check out open houses in your area in the mean time.  It’s a free way to see first hand what your buyers are seeing.  I’ve had clients who do not listen to the data. Their houses sit on the market overpriced and people start to wonder “What’s wrong with it?” Typically, overpriced houses sell for less than if they had been correctly priced from the beginning.

One final thought I must add…

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Image credit to The Imagination Tree

I’ve had several clients, particularly those with lots of young children, for whom the best thing was to move completely out, let me bring in my painters and a cleaning crew and then lightly stage.

If all the home improvement suggestions above make you sweat, maybe this is best for your family too. There are financial products, like a bridge loan, that can help to make that possible. It’s not an option for everyone, but if you need references for creative mortgage brokers, I’ve got them too.

If you’re thinking about selling in the spring, give me a call – I’d love to help.  If you’d just like to know what you’re house could sell for I’m happy to help with that too.  Good luck!

 

Feature image credit goes to Emily Henderson. I’m such a fan. If you love homes and decorating you should be following her blog.

 

 

 

 

Wabi-Sabi

Wabi-Sabi

Have you heard of the Japanese term wabi-sabi?  Wabi-sabi is about finding beauty in the acceptance of imperfection and temporality.  For example, it’s being comfortable with a little peeling paint, worn wood or the wear marks in an old oriental rug.

Some of this comes from the deep-rooted culture of frugality. In Japan there is great virtue in simplicity and economy.  In the west sometimes this idea gets interpreted into a sort of trendy minimalism. While I’m very attracted to the concept of having less ‘stuff,’ the faux-spiritualization of minimalism is off-putting. But wabi sabi is different than minimalism. It encourages repurposing, recycling and taking care of the things you already have.  It can’t be mass produced.

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I just got back from a trip to Tokyo.  There I found a perfect example of wabi-sabi at the Tokyo National Museum.  It is a glazed tea bowl that has been named “Bakohan.”  And it’s broken.  What makes this little tea bowl so special to the Japanese, a national treasure even?  In great part, it’s the beauty of the intricate and loving repair made when the bowl cracked centuries ago.  Appropriately, a Japanese word for “beautiful” utsukushii evolved from an original meaning of “being loved.” 

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Photo credit – @myrimi

I love the concept of wabi-sabi and find it very freeing, especially when thinking of my home.  There is a commercial version of perfection in the home can feel cold and unwelcoming.  It’s also unattainable or at the least unsustainable.  Living, being loved, and having a purpose — these things leave marks.  Wabi-sabi is about embracing those marks.

This approach isn’t an excuse to not clean your house or see something inadequate through rose-colored glasses. But it is a concept that makes peace with the natural processes of time and age. It’s accepting weather and wear and change. It’s a perspective that finds grace for life’s imperfections. It’s the opposite of what the commercial world is selling us, but I think that’s ok. 

Photo credit @myrimi  for the feature image of handmade Japanese pottery by Babaghuri. One of my favorite people to follow on Instagram.