by Justin Lombard
Don’t let bad landscaping happen to you. Here are the seven landscaping mistakes that bust, rather than boost, your home’s curb appeal.
1. Planting Without A Plan
Some landscaping choices, such as a line of begonias, will last a season; others, like trees, can last a lifetime. So, take time to plan and plot a yard that gives you maximum enjoyment and curb appeal.
For the design challenged, landscape architects are worth the investment ($300-$2,500 depending on yard size). They will render elevations of your future yard, and provide plant lists so you can install landscaping yourself.
2. Too Much Togetherness
Yes, planting in clusters looks way better than installing single plants, soldier-like, throughout your yard. But make sure your groups of perennials, shrubs, and trees have plenty of room to spread, or they’ll look choked and overgrown. Also, over-crowded landscaping competes with itself for food and water, putting the clusters at risk, especially during drought.
Google how high and wide the mature plant will be, and then combine that info with the spacing suggestions on planting labels. At first, garden beds of young plants will look too airy and prairie-like. But within three years, your beds will fill in with room to grow.
Remember: First year it sleeps, second it creeps, third it leaps.
3. Zoning Out
Don’t be seduced by catalog plants that look gorgeous on paper but aren’t suited to your hardiness zone. You’ll wind up with plants that die prematurely, or demand winter covers, daily watering, and other intensive efforts to keep them alive and well.
Check plant labels to see which hardiness zones are best for your plants.
4. More of the Same
Resist the design temptation to carpet-bomb your yard with your favorite plant or shrub, which will create a boring, monochromatic landscape. Worse, your yard will look great when your fave flowers bloom, then will look drab the rest of the year.
Mix things up and strive for four-season color. For example, combine spring-blooming azaleas with summer-blooming roses and autumn-blazing shrubs — such as burning bushes (Euonymus alatus). For winter color, try the red osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), a hardy shrub that sports bright-red branches in winter.
5. Refusing to Bury Your Dead
Nothing wrecks curb appeal faster than rows of dead or dying shrubs and perennials. So quickly remove your dearly departed landscaping from your front and side yards.
Spent plants that lived their natural lives are good candidates for a compost pile — if you grind them first, they’ll decompose faster. But if your landscaping succumbed to disease or infestation, it’s best to inter them in black plastic bags, then add to the trash.
6. Weeds Gone Wild
Weeds not only wreck the look of your landscaping, they compete with pricey vegetation for water and food. Weeds also can shorten the life of brick, stone, and pavers by growing in mortar cracks.
The best way to stop weeds is to spread a pre-emergent about three weeks before weed seeds typically germinate. If you can’t stop them from growing, at least get rid of weeds before they flower and send a zillion weed seeds throughout your yard.
7. Contain Those Critters
Deer, rabbits, and other backyard pests think your landscaping is an all-you-can eat buffet, leaving you with denuded branches and topless perennials.
If you’ve got a critter problem:
- Plant deer- or rabbit-resistant varieties. Your local extension agent can provide a list of green things critters won’t eat in your area.
- Install an electric fence around landscaping you want to protect.
- Spray plants with critter repellent. After a hard rain, spray again.
“I SEE THE LIGHT!”
When selling a home, there are a number of variables that you cannot control, such as location, lot-specific features, community dynamics, and (to an extent) floor plan.
Home sellers and their real estate agents should embrace these variables – the good, bad, and ugly – and emphasize the positives as best they can.
So while you can’t move that school across the street and replace it with a community park, you CAN remind prospective buyers that the days of driving their kids to school or the bus stop would be over! “Easy walking distance to Madison Elementary!”
Just as there are important factors that a homeowner can’t change, I’m a big believer in taking charge of those things that are within a seller’s control. Why not stack the deck as much in your favor as you can to present the most positive image of your home?
Today’s staging tip is a very simple 2-step process that will immediately brighten up your home to give the feeling of a larger, cleaner living space:
Step 1: Change light bulbs to the highest wattage incandescent (gasp! How not green!) or LED (gasp! How expensive!) bulbs that the fixture will safely accommodate.
Step 2: As long as you’re on the step-stool, take a moment to clean the existing bulbs AND the light fixture itself.
Lisa Kaplan Gordan, a luxury home builder and Homes editor for Gannett News Service, offers advice and cleaning tips for different types of light fixtures to help your home “shine” in the most literal sense.
“Dirty light fixtures not only look bad, they reduce brightness and waste energy. Here’s how to clean your fixtures and brighten the room to boot.
Granted, cleaning light fixtures is a hassle that requires a stepladder and a steady hand. But it’s a necessary spring-cleaning chore that freshens your home and gives you the light you’re paying for.
Dirty bulbs shed 30% less light than clean ones, says the U.S. Department of Energy. Add a dusty, dead-bug riddled cover, and you’ve got an automatic dimmer, whether you want one or not.
Got a dirty light fixture? We’ve got your cleaning tips.
Yes, you should dust your crystal chandeliers weekly, especially during pollen season. But once or twice a year, you should make those crystals sparkle with a thorough wash.
1. If the chandelier isn’t too big, take it down and lay it on top of a towel spread on a table. If it’s huge, hire a handyman to bring it down, or grab a stepladder and clean it while it hangs.
2. Take a picture of the chandelier before you start cleaning. That way you’ll remember where each crystal belongs if you take them off during cleaning, says Meg Roberts, president of Molly Maid cleaning service.
3. Mix a solution of 1 ounce mild dish soap with ¼ cup white vinegar and 3 cups water.
4. Add to a spray bottle.
5. Spritz each crystal.
6. Let dry and polish with a microfiber cloth.
These days, bulbs have long lives thanks to new LED and CFL technology. They’re bound to get dirty and should be cleaned.
Mary Beth Gotti, manager of the GE Lighting Institute, says a thorough wipe with a dry cloth is the best way to get rid of dust and dirt.
“If you use a damp cloth, you can get water into crevices in the lamp that can damage electronics,” Gotti says. Also, don’t spray cleaning solutions directly onto the light bulb, which could damage the bulb.
Most important: Turn off the electricity to the fixture before messing with the bulbs. To be extra cautious, turn off the circuit breaker, or put a piece of tape over the switch so no one else turns it on while your working.
Ceiling fixtures can be a dusty, grimy, buggy mess. Carefully take down the fixture cover and slide it into a sink full of soapy water. Dry and shine with a microfiber cloth.
Avoid the temptation to put glass fixtures into the dishwasher. The glass can shatter, ruining your fixture and your dishwasher.
These usually are easier to reach than ceiling fixtures, so you can clean in place.
Turn off the light, let bulbs cool, then spray and wipe the outside of globes with a microfiber cloth and cleaning spray.
Wipe bulbs and extension rods and cables with a dry cloth.
Dust weekly with a long-handle duster, such as a Swiffer, that traps dust and cobwebs. For a more thorough cleaning, wipe the insides of canisters and the bulbs with a microfiber cloth or a slightly damp rag.
Caution: Before cleaning, make sure the electricity is off and the bulb is cool.
Dust the lights on ceiling fans weekly when you clean the fan blades. When a bulb goes out and you have to climb a ladder anyway, clean globes and bulbs with a microfiber cloth. If the globes are really dirty, take them down and clean with soapy water or a cleaning solution.
When removing or returning globes or bulbs, be sure not to steady yourself by grabbing fan blades, which will turn if touched.
Tricks of the Trade
1. Dryer sheets are low-cost alternatives to microfiber clothes. They’re great for dusting bulbs.
2. Wear goggles when dusting or spritzing overhead fixtures to prevent dust or cleaning solution from hurting your eyes.
3. If you’re having trouble removing the bulb in a recessed light, cut a 12-inch strip of duct tape, and fold it over the bulb so that the ends act like handles that are easier to grip than the glass.”
by Justin Lombard
Tips for Phoenix Home Sellers – Part 2
A few postings ago, I offered a list of ideas that Phoenix real estate owners can do to attract more buyers and faster, higher offers.
This is the continuation of that posting, which was born from an article I read about was to turn off homebuyers, which you can read here. While I definitely agree with the list, I have several other ideas and additional commentary to add to the mix. It never ceases to amaze me that, as broadly-covered as this topic has been, so many Phoenix and Scottsdale property owners fail to capitalize on these easy-to-accomplish tips.
To recap, here are the previous tips:
Tip #1: A Clean Home is a Happy Home
Tip #2: Eliminate Odors and Freshen Up!
Tip #3: Update Any Dated Fixtures
Tip #4: Neutralize Wall Coverings
Now let’s get to the next batch of suggestions…
Tip #5: Say “Goodbye!” to Popcorn Ceilings
There is a time and a place for popcorn (acoustic material) ceilings. Unfortunately, it was in 1975. And for the many, many homes that have been slathered in this most unfortunate of finishes, it’s time to consider a good stripping!
You see, not only is the material unsightly and dated looking, it’s porous and highly absorbent. There’s no better way to absorb and preserve off-putting odors than popcorn ceilings. And we know that foul odors are a no-no! (see Tip #2) So to bring your home into the 21st Century and enhance it’s fresh appeal, remove the popcorn!
It’s very important to be aware, however, that your popcorn ceiling material may contain asbestos, a known carcinogen. In fact, anyone engaging in removal should assume it does and take necessary precautions to avoid risky exposure.
Tip #6: Depersonalize
One of your many main goals when staging your Phoenix real estate to sell is to try and present an environment in which prospective Phoenix home buyers can easily imagine living. The more personalized the environment, the more challenging it becomes to do that.
While you might be tempted to think that this tip only pertains to your award-winning, 67 unit Snow-Baby collection that’s proudly displayed in your living room, that’s just part of the story. Yes, put the Snow Babies on ice, but also remove family photos, diplomas, awards, ‘unique’ artwork and furniture, and anything else that brands the home as “YOU”.
Besides conflicting with your goal of helping the buyers imagine the property as theirs, personal effects can also be distracting. “Oh, honey, look!” (Prospective buyer points to diploma on the wall) “He went to ASU, too! I wonder if we know him? Look, there are some photos over there…let’s take a look to see if we recognize him…” Don’t laugh. It happens. A lot.
Tip #7: Leave Already!!
Another goal of any Phoenix home seller is to do what you can to get buyers talking about your home while they’re at the property. I emphasize while they’re at the property because by the end of a long day of looking at homes, they’ll forget a lot of the details of yours.
What does this mean for you? Do your best to leave your home when it is being shown. That encourages home buyers and their agents to discuss the property freely — the pros and the cons — while they’re onsite. Dialogue gets proverbial ‘juices flowing’ and ensures your home has the opportunity to shine while it’s in the spotlight.
Tip #8: Don’t Misrepresent
In real estate, I think of misrepresentation as being closely tied to disclosure. There can be a fine line between showing your home in the most positive light and actually taking proactive steps to hide negatives. The former is encouraged, while the latter can get you in big legal trouble!
Licensed real estate agents consistently have the message, “Disclose! Disclose! Disclose!” driven into their heads. The message is conveyed to us, among other ways, in continuing education, from various associations and groups that we belong to, from the Department of Real Estate, the contracts and forms that we use, and from legal verdicts.
A good REALTOR will advise their clients to disclose anything and everything that could be of potential material importance to a prospective home buyer. In fact, your agent is obligated to disclose any issues that they’re aware of, even if you instruct them not to. You authorize them to do as much in the Listing Agreement. But that’s another posting for another day…
Back on topic. If you know there’s a carpet stain in the living room that you’ve unsuccessfully tried to remove, then don’t you think it’s reasonable that a home buyer might want to know they’ll need to budget for carpet replacement? Because of the potential financial impact on the home buyer, it’s a material fact. If you intentionally cover the stain with an area rug and fail to disclose it in writing to the buyers, you’re asking for problems after the sale when the buyers realize they’ve been tricked.
Here’s what I recommend to my Phoenix real estate clients: By all means, enhance the cosmetic appearance of old repairs and do an additional repairs that financially make sense.
That old water stain in the garage ceiling from 8 years ago…the one that signaled it was time for a new roof, but that you never got around to painting over after the roof was replaced? Paint over it! Then disclose it to the buyers when you receive an offer.
The toilet in the master bedroom that runs constantly? Fix it! Then disclose it.
The baseboard under the vanity in the bathroom that swelled like a balloon when you had that leak last year? Replace it! Then disclose it.
See the common theme? You can repair and enhance your home, but you need to disclose the issues so the buyer has an opportunity to do their due diligence, such as hiring a roofer to confirm the roof was properly installed or hiring a plumber to confirm the pipes were re-connected properly.
Tip #9: Curb Appeal Matters
I like to say that the key to a successful Phoenix real estate sale begins at the curb. Others say that “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” Regardless of the credo, the fact remains the same: To sell your Phoenix property, you should create the best possible experience from the front of the property through to the back yard.
Pull weeds, rake up leaves, sweep gravel off the sidewalk, keep the lawn green and neatly trimmed, ditto for shrubs, replace dead plants, add some colorful flowers and a new welcome mat at the front door. You want home buyers to say, “WOW!” before they ever set foot inside your home. A little attention to your front yard will go a long way in accomplishing this goal.
Tip #10: Declutter
This tip really goes hand-in-hand with Tip #6 (Depersonalize). If, like many homeowners, you’ve outgrown your current home and are bulging at the seams with overflowing closets and a disaster of a garage, then consider renting a storage locker on a month-to-month basis. Remove everything you can live without, within reason. You can leave your coffeemaker and toaster oven on the countertops in the kitchen, but remove the gelato machine, food dehydrator, and baby food maker that you haven’t used in 6 months.
Eighteen sets of towels? Store ’em away.
Extra china settings packed in the pantry? Store ’em away.
Tools, boxes, and equipment in the garage that you forgot even existed? Store it away.
Winter snow gear in your closet and it’s June? Store it away.
Do your best to create the appearance of space everywhere you can: closets, counter tops, drawers, cabinets, and shelves.
Tips #11 and Beyond: Staging Tips and MLS Success
There are a number of other recommendations that I can make to help sell your Phoenix real estate that weren’t covered in the original article. The first tips relate to staging your home.
In keeping with the notion of encouraging prospective buyers to stay in your home as long as possible and creating a pleasant environment, consider the following:
- Remove pets from the property, especially noisy ones.
- Leave the thermostat at a comfortable level (even if your home is vacant!): Nobody will spend long in a Phoenix house in July if the AC is off!
- If you know there’s going to be a showing: turn on all lights and ceiling fans, open up window coverings to let light in, light a few aromatic candles and/or spritz some unoffensive air freshener, and turn on some soothing music when you know your home is going to be shown. Even though everyone will know it’s a contrived staging, it will work.
Finally, let’s talk about the most important piece of staging your real estate for sale: your property’s listing sheet. The listing sheet is your home’s face to the world. Not only is it used to attract real estate agents to your property, but many people don’t realize that the MLS information (including photos) are automatically distributed to affiliate websites through IDX agreements. So the way your home appears in the MLS is also how it will appear on Realtor.com and Zillow, among hundreds of others. Prospective buyers will see your listing sheet.
I’ll cover these in detail in an upcoming blog post, but here are some tips for a successful MLS listing:
- Lots of photos and compelling photos (optimized, if possible, and taken AFTER improvements to property, if any)
- Virtual tour
- Accurate directions
- Accurate mapping in the MLS system
- Room measurements
- Compelling verbiage
- Complete and accurate accounting of all features
- Avoidance of verbiage that makes you appear to be difficult to work with
- Disclosure of any terms that might be material prior to showing (e.g. “In the process of painting, to be completed by Friday.”)
Phoenix real estate is a tough business in any market. Indeed, even in the strongest of seller’s markets there steps that any home seller can take to get top dollar offers and help their home stand out from the crowd. Sure, it’s possible to not follow a single tip that I’ve listed and still sell your home for asking price on the very first day it’s listed. However, following the tips here might put thousands of dollars more in your pocket, and what seller wants to leave equity on the table?
Now is your chance to sound off. What do you think I’ve missed? Have a funny story of something you saw while visiting a property? Tell us below! And, as always, thanks for reading.
Tips for Phoenix Home Sellers – Part 1
Phoenix real estate is competitive business in any market. The good news is that there are several easy steps you can take you can take that will help your property stand out from the crowd and sell faster. An article was posted online last week that discussed various things that repel prospective home buyers.
In this multi-part post, I’m going to turn it around and discuss some ideas that attract home buyers. Most of them are simple and (relatively) painless, while others involve nominal costs. In all cases, however, I firmly believe the costs are offset by the benefits.
Tip #1: A Clean Home is a Happy Home
Home buyers tend to associate “cleanliness” with “condition”. In other words, there’s a perception that a clean home is also a well-maintained home. If a homeowner makes the time to stay on top of vacuuming, dusting, changing air filters, etc, then they have likely also kept up with less visible routine maintenance and repairs.
Whether they realize it or not, home buyers inherently understand that if you can’t even maintain a clean home when you’re trying to sell it, you’re probably not keeping up with more costly maintenance, such as roof checkups and heating and AC system tune-ups.
Here’s a ‘sub-tip’ that should be on every Listing Agent’s staging list: CHANGE YOUR AIR FILTER(S)!!
While a buyer may casually overlook a little dust on your furniture or some streaky mirrors, they usually don’t miss the air filter. And if they do, their agent probably won’t. In homes where the air handler is visible, a little red flag goes up if the filter is clogged up with dust and hair. “I wonder how much time the AC has left…?”
Dust, wipe, polish, mop, vacuum, steam clean, scrub…it’s not fun, but whether you hire a cleaning team or do it yourself, remember that a clean home is within your control and does make a positive difference in the eyes of prospective home buyers.
Tip #2: Eliminate Odors and Freshen Up!
Your home’s smell is arguably the first impression that someone has about your home. It’s interesting to notice how many people instinctively inhale deeply when they step into a home, often followed by a comment such as:
“Is that cat I smell? Do you think it would come out?”
“Wow…guess they had curry for dinner last night!”
“Does it smell moldy in here to you, too?”
Or, my favorite, “EWWWW! A chain smoker must live here!”
You should make every effort to not only remove potentially-offensive odors in your home, but you should seek to create a sense of freshness. Humans very closely link visual cues with olfactory cues, so the smell of a property will be associated with its condition. Clean fragrance = clean, well-maintained home.
Even the challenging odors spotlighted above can be remediated. Some fixes are simple, such as using fresh-smelling cleaners on every surface you can reach and plug-in air fresheners, to more complex solutions, such as changing carpet, removing popcorn (acoustical) ceilings, and repainting.
You can also try scented foggers, obtainable online or from janitorial supply stores. They’re like the insect foggers, where you set them strategically throughout the property and vacate for several hours. These can be very effective, especially with cigarette smoke odors.
Ask your agent how your home smells and don’t be offended by their answer. Your common goal is to sell your property as quickly as possible for maximum value. A clean smelling home will provide a positive first impression to further that goal!
Tip #3: Update Any Dated Fixtures
You’ve seen them before. Dated light fixtures, fans, hardware, and faucets that make you think you’ve been transported back in time and deposited onto the set of the Brady Bunch. Unless your home is decorated in a retro motif, you should evaluate all of your fixtures and hardware for possible replacement or removal.
Your overall goal as a home seller is to ensure that only positive features stand out to buyers. Clean, contemporary fixtures that are updated for the times and flow with the design of the home create a favorable impression.
Impressions are important and intangible. However, the other angle can be tied directly to costs. As prospective buyers tour your home, they put together a list of things they would change if they purchased it. Updates, repairs, etc. The shorter you keep that list of additional costs to the buyer, the more likely you are to receive a top-dollar offer, especially when you consider that buyers often over-estimate the cost of replacements and repairs.
Tip #4: Neutralize Wall Coverings
Judicious use of color can help the overall aesthetic and enhance the elegance of a home. However, over-application of bright colors and (particularly) wallpaper, can do more harm than good. Rarely do I find prospective buyers who agree with a wallpaper selection made by an existing homeowner. To the contrary, they factor in the high costs of removal, including potential drywall repair if the removal gets ugly.
The trend at this time is to use a neutral earth tone (beige or light gray) on walls, with white baseboards, doors, trim, and ceilings. Keep in mind, an accent wall of color is perfectly acceptable, but the darker the color you use, the more likely you are to offend prospective buyers. Before you make any decisions to add color, ask for several opinions from family and friends, as well as your Listing Agent.