Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Stage Your Own Home: Secrets From Expert Stagers

Make no mistake: Home staging is an art and a skill. It’s proven to be worth the pricey fees charged by professional stagers and decorators.
But if paying a pro isn’t an option, can you stage your own home to improve its marketability? And can your own DIY staging efforts translate to more real estate sale dollars in your pocket? The answer to both is an emphatic yes!
Remember, staging  goes beyond the normal cleaning, decluttering, lighting up, and sprucing up that all houses need to go to market. Staging goes one step further. Some pro stagers remove every piece of furniture and artwork in a house, put it into storage and fill the house with sleek, neutral furniture. Throw pillows are placed just so, and knick-knacks are placed sparingly and strategically. Stagers know what a buyer wants to see when they walk into a house and what will make your home look its marketable best.
You can do your own “staging lite” on a budget, by following the advice of professional stagers.

1. Make “less is more” your mantra

Too much clutter, too much furniture, and too many things on the walls will make the rooms in your house look smaller and less enjoyable to live in, according to San Francisco home stager Christopher Breining, in a staging advice article on HGTV’s Front Door.
“People tend to line their walls with furniture, one piece after another,” said Breining. When pro stagers enter a home, they often take away about half of the owner’s furnishings, making the house look “miles bigger.”
“While you’re doing this sometimes-painful pruning, remind yourself that every square foot you free up is prime real estate.”

2. Make living areas neutral and appealing to the masses

Why do you think bland, neutral furniture from Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware is used so much in staging homes for sale? Because it’s lacking in any extreme style and appeals to a large number of people. Even if a prospective buyer has more adventurous decor tastes, they’ll be able to picture their own furnishings better in your home, if your furnishings are understated.
Stephanie Barnes a Realtor with  Fingelly Real Estate, Southport, Conn., on, advises home-sellers to remove furniture and artwork that stand out too much. Don’t leave anything that steals the show from the actual house.

3. Paint your front door for instant curb appeal

A fresh coat of paint is a generally cheap and easy way to make every room of the house look more appealing. If you can’t paint the entire house inside and out, paint the front door.  Get advice from your favorite paint store on a color that will showcase your home the best. Remove holiday decorations, door wreaths and other front entry brick-a-brack for a clean, bright look. This advice from Debra Gould in HGTV’s This Old House.

4. Repurpose rooms

You may use the study in your home as a play room. And you may have converted the dining room into a family room. When selling your house, you’re going to have to get into the buyer’s head and think about how most people would use the rooms in your home. And then  repurpose those rooms before your house is put on the market.
Gould advises giving every room in your house a clear purpose, one that will appeal to the greatest number of potential buyers. Make your house more traditional and more buyers will be able to picture themselves there.

5. Think classy, not decorator-y

That’s an awkward way to put it, but I think you know what I mean. Virtually Staging Properties said it best in its Staging Secret #5: “Don’t let the same fabric in one room of the home be in another room, match-matchy is not allowed.  You don’t want it to make a room look too decorator-y. (Decorator-y is now my favorite word.)
When staging your home, your goal is to make it look like you spent a fortune but in the most understated, unostentatious way.
Read more about staging your own home and advice from the experts on how to stage your own home at:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Get Your House Show-Ready in 5 Steps

When your house is on the real estate market, it’s almost impossible to live a normal life and showcase your house. Putting your house in its best light requires some work before you list your house, a daily effort while it’s on the market, and some last minute sprucing up when you have an open house or a showing appointment.

Here’s how to keep your house show-ready in 5 easy steps.

Before the house hits the market

Before you put that For Sale sign in the front yard, dig deep in preparing your house to look its best. Concentrate on these 5 things:

1. Spruce up your curb appeal. Repair any big cracks in walkways or stairs. Scrub down porches, patios and outdoor furniture. Wash windows inside and out. Repair loose shutters, gutters or anything else that’s in less than perfect shape.

2. Clean your house like there’s no tomorrow. Hire a professional, if possible. A super good cleaning of your house top to bottom will make it easier to keep up with the everyday cleaning you’ll have to do to keep your house show-ready.

3. Organize the insides of closets, cabinets, built-ins and anything that stays with the house. Imagine a prospective buyer is opening your cabinets - does it look like there is plenty of storage for a typical family

4. Fix what’s broken. Loose knobs, crooked curtain rods, leaky faucets all need to be repaired and in tip-top appearance and working order.

5. Neutralize your decor by removing throw pillows, afghans or anything else that makes the room seem busy and cluttered. If necessary paint key living area rooms in neutral colors to appeal to more buyers.

While your house is on the market

Keep up with cleaning, organizing and maintaining your home on a daily basis, so you’re not scrambling to get the house ready for showings.

1. Keep the grass cut, trees trimmed, and bushes and shrubs trimmed.

2. Keep up with mail and paperwork so all desks are kept free of piles of papers. Remove everything from the kitchen counter, except for the things you use on a daily basis.

3. You may love your pet, but prospective buyers aren’t necessarily animal lovers. Pet dishes, beds & toys might be a turn-off. Move your pet’s things into a discreet area of the house.

4. Remove family photographs or anything else personal that you don’t necessarily want strangers to see. Put jewelry & other valuables in a locked area until your house is sold and off the market.

5. Keep the house generally cleaned up daily. Make the beds first thing in the morning, wash dishes & put them away as you use them. This will keep to a minimum the time you’ll have to spend when you “get that call.”

When you get that call - “I’ve got a buyer who wants to see your house.”

Here’s where your hard work pays off. Because you’ve prepared, you can feel confident in telling your real estate agent that you can have your house ready to show in less than an hour.

1. Broom-sweep the front porch, stoop, steps & walk. Start at your curb and walk to your front door. What’s the first impression your home makes?

2. Do what my Midwestern mom used to call “redding up” the house. Make the beds, put dirty laundry away, put away clutter, gather up newspapers and magazines, put away DVDs, pick up toys, and empty the trash cans.

3. Do a quick light cleaning. Run the vacuum, wipe a Windex paper towel over glass and laminate surfaces, and lightly dust the wood. If you’re keeping up with the cleaning this shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, depending on the size of your house.

4. Let there be light! Open up all the blinds and turn on every light in the house. Overhead lights, lamps, counter lights - it doesn’t seem natural but buyers expect it.

5. Smell up the joint - A clean house shouldn’t smell like anything that needs to be masked, and you’ll want to avoid artificial air fresheners or potpourri smells. Pop a loaf of bread in the oven (keeping some frozen bread dough thawing in the frig when you’re likely to be showing your home) or bake some cookies, if you must. Most importantly, be sure there aren’t any bad smells in your home. Check out Smells That Sell.


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Very Best Housewarming Gifts

Welcome Wagon is a thing of the past, and the neighbor with the plate of brownies doesn’t happen all that often anymore either. If you have friends who have just moved and are settling into a new house, your housewarming gift could make a big splash if you think outside the box. 

Here are 10 ideas for unique, best housewarming gifts:

1. A living, growing gift


Help the newcomers bloom where they’re newly planted by giving them a tree seedling, a basket of herbs that can be planted in the yard, or a basket of seeds for wildflowers. The best part? They’ll think of you every time they look outside.

2. A welcome mat


‘nuff said.

3. A homemade wi-fi password QR code display


This one is a guaranteed one-of-a-kind gift. You’ll definitely not hear, “Oh! Thanks for the wi-fi password QR code display, but I already got one, so is it OK if I return it?”

Here’s the story of how - and why - to create one of these for a friend as a housewarming gift.

In a nutshell, with this framed on the wall of their home, your friends won’t have to give out their wi-fi password to guests. They can just scan the code with their device and get Internet access.

4. Tools


Key toolbox items (like a wrench, screwdriver set and hammer) and some less common ones (super glue, twine, work gloves and a level) will be much appreciated. Even if the new homeowner has tools, an extra toolbox in the kitchen or garage will come in handy. Get creative and put the tools in a fun, colorful container.

5. Tickets


If they’ve moved to a new town, every new homeowner appreciates a local music or cultural event. Help them get to know their new town with tickets to an upcoming show or concert. Or spring for a year membership to a museum.

6. Return address labels or a stamp


With the quick turn-around on printed items now, you can order personalized return address labels with your friend’s name and new address and have them printed and delivered within a week or two. Or give a stamper that allows the recipient to order his or her own choice of stamp.

7. Personalized Christmas ornament


You may be able to find one that looks similar to the new house or building. Add a hand-painted name and you’ve got a keepsake.

8. A meal for the freezer


Some of the best housewarming gifts I’ve received were the ones that took some work off my hands. A casserole, lasagna, or one-dish meal that can be fixed anytime or popped in the freezer is a much welcomed gift for the person who has just moved and has a long list of things to do.

9. Takeout menus from local eateries


Here’s the least expensive housewarming gift of all: Gather up takeout menus from local eateries, put them in a notebook or tie a ribbon around them. A nice added touch would be a gift card to one of the take-out restaurants and a DVD. You’ll be sponsoring a quiet night in for the newcomers.

10. A book about moving (ahem)


Let me shamelessly plug my book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves. It’s a collection of funny stories from my many cross-country moves with my family. Order from Amazon,, or get a signed copy directly from the author through


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Who Should I Notify of My Change of Address?

You would think that in this digital era where your address is assuming to have an “@“ in it instead of a Zip code, that change-of-address notifications would be obsolete.

You would think.

The reality is the opposite. Because we don’t get much in the mail anymore, we forget how important it is to update our mailing address with credit card companies and others that we do business with.

If you get only occasional snail-mail from a company, you run the risk of getting mail with sensitive financial information long after your mail forwarding has expired, which means personal, private information will go to the current residents of your old address.

After you know what your new address will be, but before you move, make a list of people and companies that will need your new address. Take some time with your list, allowing yourself to remember the more obscure people.

Because your current address needs to be on file

Any bills that you pay onlinebills that you have set up as automatically paid (auto-pay both through the account itself or through your bank), and bills that you receive via email should all be updated with your physical mailing address.

Don’t forget your investment accounts or any other financial institutions that you have accounts with.

Even if you do all of your banking online and haven’t stepped foot into your local branch in years, be sure your bank has your new address and phone number.

Because you’ll need to receive refunds, final bills, and other “closing out” tasks

Leaving town without giving everyone your new address is tantamount to “skipping town,” especially with businesses. Don’t rely on mail forwarding, which adds delays and may cause problems with due dates.

Be sure to notify all of your “old” contacts with your new address:

Utilities at your old house - For refunds of deposits, final bills and other issues in closing out your old account.

Newspapers and other publications delivered to your house

* Your doctors, dentist, and other medical professionals - Even if you’re not a current patient, you always want your health care professionals to be able to reach you.

* Your children’s school - For records, things left behind, and even yearbooks.

* Exterminators, lawn care providers, and other home services - For refunds of deposits, final bills and other issues in closing out your old account.

Because your address is still just plain important

Credit cards - Don’t forget about the cards that you have tucked away in your wallet and rarely use. If you don’t update your address, expiration alerts and other notifications will go undelivered. Not to mention the risk of not receiving a bill, if you should suddenly decide to use it.

New house utilities - This one’s easy. You’ll have to give your new address when you sign up for utilities.

Cell phone provider

Magazines - Changing a magazine delivery address used to be an ordeal that took months to take effect. It’s a lot easier now. Most magazines have online address change forms.

Insurances: Health, Car and Life - Because you aren’t billed very often for insurance premiums,

Car payment - Because many vehicle loans are auto-paid, don’t forget this one.

All loans

The IRS - Uncle Sam needs to know where you live!

The Department of Motor Vehicles - Especially if you’re moving in-state and will keep your state driver’s license, but also if you’re moving out of state and will be delayed in obtaining a new license.

Just because!

If you’re moving anytime in the latter half of the year, you can kill two birds with one stone by including a change of address with your holiday cards.

Then go through your address book or contacts and notify friends and family of your new digs. There are some fun ways to let friends know that you’ve moved. Check these out!

And don’t forget your alma mater! Your high school and college loves to keep track of their grads and will appreciate you keeping them updated.


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Smells That Sell

The first house I sold, my Realtor told me to bake chocolate chip cookies the day of our open house. "The smell of cookies baking makes people nostalgic," he said. Ah, if it were only that easy!

The smell of your house, while only one factor in making it desirable to buyers, is still an important one, and playing to house-hunters' sense of smell can improve their overall opinion of your home.

But unless you live in a seller's dream market, you're going to have to think beyond chocolate chip cookies if you want a smell that sells.

It's generally agreed that strong, artificial air freshening smells are a no-no in home selling. Strong potpourri, air fresheners and sprays will make home buyers suspicious. They'll know it's hiding something and will become preoccupied wondering what that is.

Every home buyer is different, with different tastes, allergies, turn-ons and turn-offs. For every buyer who loves cinnamon sticks simmering on the stove, there are two who say they'd turn around the walk out the door. So the challenge is to be neutral and appeal to the widest spectrum of buyers as possible.

Smells people don’t like

Almost everyone is offended by strong artificial smells that scream out, “I’m masking something horrid!” like:

Glade plug-ins and other air freshening gimmicks
Strong scented candles
Strong, ethnic food with unusual ingredients

The thing is, no smell is immune from offending someone, either because of personal taste, sensitive noses, or allergic reactions.

One woman on this real estate forum said, “If someone boiled cloves and oranges or anything with cinnamon, I would probably turn around and head out. That house would be off the list for me.” Now, you as the seller might adore a citrusy-clove-cinnamon smell, but you’d be wise to think about the diverse market out there, and go neutral.

Smells most people like

Hardly anyone is put off by light - and I stress light - smells of:

Fresh paint
Murphy’s Oil Soap
“Generally clean,” but not bleach
Freshly baked bread or baked goods, but not too sweet
Natural lemon

As long as it's not too overwhelming, home sellers have had success with dabbing some lemon oil (not the cleaning kind) on a couple of light bulbs in the house. If you really want to simmer cinnamon, cloves, allspice and bay leaves on the stove, do it for a short period of time, well before your open house or showing appointment.

Whatever odor-masking methods you use, be sure to open the doors and windows and let fresh air in to neutralize it.

The #1 can’t-go-wrong best smell for your house

Easy: There’s a general consensus that the best smell in a stranger’s house is:


If you don’t own pets, you’re a non-smoker, and you keep a clean home, you can easily have a house that smells like Nothing.

Clean your furnace filters, have the house professionally cleaned, and avoid cooking strongly aromatic foods when you’re house is on the market.  Remember, the smells that you love may not be as adored by prospective buyers.

How to deodorize your house for sale

* Kitchens are the hotbed of odors in a home. Clean your oven to get rid of any fish dinner smells, but do it in advance. The smell of oven cleaner isn't a favorite of many people, either.

* Sniff near sink drains. If there are any lingering odors, sanitize them with cleanser and lemon.

* Don't forget the laundry room and anywhere laundry sits in a hamper.

* Clean and air out the basement the best you can, to get rid of any musty or moldy smells.

* If you have a child in diapers, be sure to empty the diaper pail often and air out the nursery.

* And if you have pets, be especially aware that non-pet-owners will detect pet smells better than you.

For more good scents sense, check out this article from Lillian Montalto "Using Scents to Help Sell Your Home."


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.