Friday, September 19, 2014

6 DIY Home Staging Projects for Any Budget

Looking to stage your home for sale on your own and on a budget? These six home staging tricks are simple and cost-effective solutions that any home seller can tackle in a weekend.

Preparing your home for sale can be a lengthy process that might require home improvement projects as well as days of decluttering and cleaning your home for staging. While those undertakings can be expensive and time-intensive, these simple tips take almost no time at all and many of them can even be done for free.

1. Simple Storage
Buyers are always interested in having more space, so having some simple storage solutions in place can go a long way toward helping you sell your home.

Quickly clean up any junk drawers by using jewelry boxes to divide storage and make these areas more presentable. For those hard-to-organize items like art supplies or Tupperware you can use racks intended for dish drying or media storage. A CD rack can be a great way to store all those plastic lids and bowls that are cluttering up your cabinetry.

If you haven't already, make sure that you have figured out how you will store excess furniture to create the extra space that buyers love.

2. Dress Up the Dining Room
Adding some of your serveware and a simple centerpiece can not only make your dining room more inviting, it can also free up some additional storage space in your cabinets. The key is to avoid overstaging with ornate silverware, which can give the room a lavish feeling that may alienate buyers.

3. Beautify Your Bedroom
While buyers may look for simplicity in the dining room, they will expect an air of luxury in the bedroom. The simple addition of a new headboard to your bed will provide the sense of elegance a buyer expects.

If you don’t have the time or budget to pick out and install matching sconces an inexpensive set of desk lamps and some adhesive tacks or hooks can do the trick. By using adhesive strips you eliminate having to patch or paint the walls after the buyer makes their lighting decisions for the room.

4. Camouflage the Cord Chaos
From the chargers for your mobile devices to the television, computer or router, you may be dealing with an unsightly tangle of power strips and cords.

Velcro tape is a great way to tie up long cables and double-sided tape is an easy way to mount power strips to areas that are out of the field of vision.

5. Preview Your Paint
If you have decided to paint your interior to provide a more neutral color palate you can save yourself time, money and stress by previewing your paint choices using Colortopia. This free tool allows you to upload a photo of any room in your home and preview your color choices before you paint.

6. Fabric Fixes
Repurposing a duvet cover is a handy and affordable way to make custom curtains with relative ease. By cutting the duvet in half and adding a few pin-on drapery hooks, you can add some window dressing that enhances any room.

If you need a quick way to dress up some unsightly window rollers or rubber mats you can attach some interesting fabric using double-stick tape or hot glue.

What are some quick and easy DIY staging tricks that you have used? Let us know in the comments.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

5 Ways to Make the Most of the Final Days of Summer

12 Manitoba Road, Hopkins, Minnesota
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The sun may be setting on the summer selling season, but you can ease your transition into fall with a few simple suggestions. Here are the most important steps you can take to enhance your home selling experience before the summer ends.

1. Host a Garage Sale
Done decluttering, polished off packing and stowed away your storage? By knowing how to plan, advertise and organize, you can find a good home for any leftover items (and maybe make a few extra bucks in the process) by holding a garage sale this season.

When it comes to a garage sale timing is everything so you will want to make sure that you have performed the necessary preparation to hit peak times. According to Country Living, the optimal time to hold a garage sale is between 8am and 3pm on Saturdays. If you suspect you will need more than one day to sell your inventory try Friday evening or Sunday afternoon, but don't extend your sale longer than two days as shoppers will lose interest.

2. Ramp Up Your Curb Appeal
Exterior home staging and preparation is crucial to impressing home buyers searching on the web or viewing your home in person. Maintaining the beauty of your front yard can be a full-time job in the fall, which is why you should take advantage of putting in the groundwork while the weather is still agreeable. Planting colorful (and fall appropriate) mums and painting your front door are just two of these 10 ways you can boost your curb appeal.

3. Set the Date
Moving can be a stressful experience, but preparing early can help ease the stress and give you a greater sense of control. Making sure that you streamline your belongings is a huge first step in the moving process that will help you save money during the move and make your move more efficient.

It’s never too soon to start researching moving companies. Call several movers to get their bids and available dates. They tend to be busiest during the summer and fall months, so book far enough in advance to ensure a seamless moving day.

4. Check Mortgage Rates
Keeping up with current mortgage rates and having access to mortgage calculators and more information on home loans helps both buyers and sellers. We work with LendingTree, the leading online lender exchange in the United States, to provide you with real-time mortgage rates in your area as well as access to lenders who will compete for your business. Check out the latest rates in your area.

5. Keep Your Home in the Spotlight
As a customer you can upgrade your listing and be highlighted as this month’s Spotlight Home. With only one advertising space available per city, your listing can stand out from the rest.

How will you be making the most out of the final days of summer?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How to Buy and Manage a Long-Distance Rental Property

Ethan Roberts is a real estate writer, editor and investor. He's a frequent contributor to, and his work has been featured on and He was one of five contributing editors to and has also written for and He's been investing in real estate since 1995 and a Realtor since 1998.

Investors sometimes ask me whether it makes sense to buy rental property in a city or state that's different from where they live. Often, they're curious about exploring other areas because there are few good deals left where they live, or they've heard that certain towns in other states are booming.

During the peak real estate years of 2003–2007, investors from as far away as California were calling real estate agents in states like Arizona, Georgia and Florida to snap up investment properties — often without even seeing the homes in person! That was crazy investing then, and it's just as reckless now. As it turned out, that kind of blind fervor for real estate investing portended an end to the bubble.

However, that doesn’t mean investors shouldn't buy out-of-town or out-of-state properties today. You just have to be prudent and take certain precautions.

Why be a Long-Distance Landlord?
There are pros and cons inherent with long-distance real estate investing. Let's take a look at the pros first:

1. You have the freedom to invest in more affordable areas.
By not restricting yourself to the area in which you live, you open up a whole new world of investing possibilities. Many investors in high-cost-of-living states like New York, California and Massachusetts can no longer afford to buy homes where they live, but are finding the Midwest and Southern states to be much more affordable. In addition to cheaper sales prices, these areas also have lower taxes and dwelling (i.e. rental property) insurance premiums.

2. You can fund your future retirement home.
Some investors buy a home in a retirement community with an eye toward living there one day. They may buy a condo near the beach, or a country cabin in the mountains. Then they rent the home out with either short- or long-term leases, and in the process, their tenants pay down the loan principal until the investor is ready to retire. By then, the mortgage might be fully paid off.

3. You may gain new tax deductions.
Many parents have children who attend college in another state. Instead of spending a fortune on a dorm room and semi-annual visits, they buy a modest three-bedroom home near campus. The student lives in this home and rents the other two bedrooms to some friends. The parents save on dorm fees and offset a good part of the total mortgage payment with the rent collected from the other students (or better yet, their parents). Furthermore, each time that the parents travel to visit the child, 50 percent of their total trip expenses can be legally written off on their income taxes because they're also inspecting their property!

Handling the Disadvantages of Long-Distance Real Estate Investing
Make no mistake: Owning rental property far from home can be a complex undertaking. There are several challenges long-distance landlords often encounter:

  • Lack of knowledge about the area in which they're investing
  • Lack of familiarity with good local service providers
  • Relying on others to take care of day-to-day problems or repairs
  • Difficulties in getting the rent paid on time

But these obstacles don't have to prevent you from purchasing long-distance rental property. Here are some ways to make your investment a success:

1. Do your homework and learn about the area.
Begin by hiring a good real estate agent from the area you're interested in. You can browse online to get the names of several real estate agents in the area who regularly work with investment properties. Interview each agent by phone, and ask those you like best to send you listings of homes for sale that meet your criteria. Browse rental properties online to get a feel for the return that you can expect on homes in your price range.

Once you've selected a real estate agent, plan to visit the area and view properties together. Desirable, modestly priced homes sell quickly, so a home that interests you on Tuesday could have a contract on it by the time you arrive on Saturday. You'll want to create a list of eight to 10 homes to tour.

Because there are more expenses involved in buying and managing long-distance real estate — such as the travel expenses you'll incur to visit the property — don't rule out foreclosures, short sales and other distressed properties that can be purchased at a substantial discount to comparable homes in the area. This type of home probably won't be move-in ready, but after you make the necessary improvements, it should yield some start-up or "sweat" equity.

2. Develop a go-to list of local service providers.
Ask your real estate agent for the names of service providers — like plumbers, electricians and handymen — with good reputations that you can depend on for ongoing property maintenance. Try to use smaller "mom-and-pop" companies; they often have better pricing and tend to be more honest about the actual repairs needed. Larger companies have been known to tell long-distance landlords that they need a whole new water heater, AC unit or roof, when less expensive home repairs or replacements might have done just fine.

If possible, you'll want to contact the recommended service providers before you close, introduce yourself and tell them you'd like to use their services for your investment property. Be sure to ask what forms of payment they accept, as most service providers like to be paid when they finish the job.

3. Manage the property yourself.
It's not very difficult to make the necessary calls as problems arise, but if you find that landlord duties such as managing repairs and collecting rents is becoming too stressful, ask your real estate agent if his or her company provides property management services. The monthly fee for property management will range from 10 to 12 percent of the rent.

4. Automate or simplify rent collection.
There are a couple of ways to handle collecting rents on time. Some tenants can have their rent automatically deposited into your bank account. I have two Navy tenants who have the rent deducted from their pay on the first of the month and immediately deposited to my account. Most banks let you transfer money online between accounts as well.

You can also have tenants deposit the money into an account at a local bank — you'll get the rent faster than if they mailed you a check. To encourage timely payment, send them an email or text reminder as the first of the month approaches.

Once you've rehabbed the property and your tenants are in place, your rental should run on autopilot for quite awhile. If your tenant calls with an occasional repair problem, you can simply pick up the phone and contact one of the service providers on your list.

In sum, there are many advantages to buying long-distance real estate, and while there are some disadvantages, they can be easily handled if you've done your initial research and set up a network of reliable resources.

This information was originally published on, LLC, the nation's leading online real estate marketplace. Founded in 2008, the company has sold nearly $20 billion in assets since 2010. has more than 900 employees and offices in Irvine and Silicon Valley, California as well as offices in Atlanta, Austin, Denver, Miami and Newport Beach. Visit us at, or on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Home Seller Sweepstakes Winner Profile: Tim Hill

This summer, held its inaugural Home Seller Sweepstakes, a promotion celebrating successful by-owner home sellers. Three lucky winners were each awarded 6 percent of their home sale price the equivalent of what they saved by not having to pay a real estate agent's commission. Here we profile our May Home Seller Sweepstakes winner, Tim Hill of Noblesville, Indiana.

When Tim Hill decided to move with his wife and five children to his family's farm in Ohio, he listed his home in Noblesville, Indiana (pictured here) with a real estate agent. After the buyer backed out of that sale, he chose to go the by-owner route because of the personal relationships he knew helped sell a home. "We lacked a good rapport with the potential buyer," he says. "There was no connection, and they were detached as a result of having the agent working as a middleman."

Hill held off on selling his home for another year, then decided to sell by owner because he had assurance in himself and his home's value. He shopped several by-owner websites, but settled on because the information about the process was presented clearly. Hill also had a friend who had previously used the site for his own home sale. "So, I had personal testimony," as he puts it.

Additional amenities offered by also augmented his home sale, Hill says. The online presence made selling easier, and our yard sign made it more professional," he asserts. "It's obviously an established site, and it made buyers more confident when working with us."

Hill says his buyer found them online without a real estate agent of their own. "We are still in contact with the people who bought our house," he reports.

Recommending the DIY sale process to other home owners, Hill offers this advice: "For someone considering selling their home by owner, I would tell them that you do not need a real estate agent, particularly if you have confidence in your house, your neighborhood and all of the technology in place." 

"You have to have determination to sell a home by owner, and gives you that confidence with all of the tools and resources," he continues. "It allows even the most novice person to sell their home directly."

Hill's Home Seller Sweepstakes winnings will be put to particularly good use.  "My wife and I believe that everything happens for a reason," he says. "We give back a lot, so sometimes we wonder where money will come from after we give back. We weren't expecting this at all, but we feel blessed that it happened."

Not only will the money help update their farm house specifically the kitchen, bathroom and carpeting — but Hill also reports he has some of his winnings earmarked to pay off college loans. "We'll finally be debt free," he shares.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tips for Flips, Part 2: 6 More Ways to Boost Your Profits

Ethan Roberts is a real estate writer, editor and investor. He's a frequent contributor to, and his work has been featured on and He was one of five contributing editors to and has also written for and He's been investing in real estate since 1995 and a Realtor since 1998. This is the second of a two-part series. You can read the first part here.

In my last post, I offered some tips on how to maximize your profits when buying a house to flip and suggested some techniques for estimating your costs accurately. Now let's look at some ways you can keep your costs low after you've found a property to flip and during the rehab process.

1. Buy most of your materials before you close.
When it comes to flipping houses, time is money. So buy most of the materials you'll need in the week or two prior to closing, so you can start work immediately. Don't buy cheap materials. Instead, look for quality items that are on sale.

However, only buy materials that you can return should the transaction not close. A few years ago, one week before I was ready to close on a foreclosure, I was told that there were title problems and the home would have to be re-foreclosed. I was able to return most of the materials I had purchased, but not the custom-made cabinet doors that I had foolishly bought too early. Lesson learned.

2. Focus your rehab dollars on kitchens and bathrooms.
An axiom of real estate is that kitchens and baths sell homes. Many kitchen and bathroom renovations will actually return 75 to 100 percent of your outlay. Therefore, expensive repairs on a flip should largely be confined to those rooms. These home improvements will also produce the largest dollar return from the buyer's appraisal. Focus your rehabbing on new kitchen cabinets, countertops, fixtures and flooring to wow potential buyers viewing your property. New shower tile, vanities, light fixtures and flooring will do the same for the bathrooms. Interior and exterior painting also yields an excellent return on the money spent.

Conversely, adding a fence, pool or pavers rarely returns more than about 50 cents on the dollar. However, they can add appeal to help you get the home sold more quickly. Use discretion when making those improvements.

3. Do the rehabbing work yourself, if possible.
The more rehabbing you can do yourself, the less you will spend on labor costs, thus maximizing your profit margin. However, unless you're a licensed contractor, do not attempt structural repairs for which you need a license and the ability to pull the required permits. The county or city could shut down your project if you're doing non-permitted work.

But just because you can't re-plumb a home or install a new roof, it doesn't mean you can't paint, install ceramic tile, change out old outlet covers, pressure wash the house and driveway or re-do the landscaping.

However, there are some times when it does not pay to do the labor yourself. Hire a professional if you're physically unable to do the job without incurring medical expenses; if the work will take you six times as long to do as it would the professional; or if your day job pays you more money per hour than you would pay a professional to do the work.

4. Minimize carrying expenses.
I'll say it again: Time is money in real estate flipping. You need to start the rehabbing immediately after closing, and devote full-time hours to completing the work. The faster it's rehabbed and placed on the market, the sooner it will sell and the higher your profit margin will be. Nothing kills a bottom line more than a house sitting stale on the market while expenses such as taxes, insurance, utilities and maintenance pile up every day.

5. Pay the buyers' closing costs.
It's difficult enough for many buyers to save enough money for a down payment on a home, let alone pay the required closing costs. Therefore, if you offer to pay buyers' closing costs, you may find that your home will sell much faster — and at a higher price. A home listed for $150,000 where the seller is paying up to $5,000 in buyer closing costs will sell much faster than one listed for $145,000 where the seller isn't paying any of those costs.

6. Always have a "Plan B."
The rehabbing process always comes with a plethora of negative surprises. Poor weather, service provider delays, unexpected repairs, termites or other critters and even theft can wreck your schedule unless you have a backup plan at all times. Flexibility is the key to successful rehabbing. Can't paint the exterior because it's raining? Paint the interior instead. Can't lay the carpet because the installer is sick? Do some necessary landscaping work for several days.

If for one reason or another you can't sell the property, renting it out for a while is always an option unless you have an expensive hard money loan. For that reason, I always advise investors not to flip homes with in-ground pools: If you have to rent the home, there's too much liability and maintenance expense.

Remember, risk and reward go hand in hand in real estate investing. Follow these suggestions if you want to minimize your risk and maximize your potential profits on every deal!

This information was originally published on, LLC, the nation's leading online real estate marketplace. Founded in 2008, the company has sold nearly $20 billion in assets since 2010. has more than 900 employees and offices in Irvine and Silicon Valley, California as well as offices in Atlanta, Austin, Denver, Miami and Newport Beach. Visit us at, or on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Expert Home Staging Tips: Keep It Clean

What’s the most crucial part of home staging? Getting your home clean and keeping it that way. The care and condition of your home alerts potential buyers to the beauty (or the beast) they will be inheriting if they choose to purchase your home, so when you’re preparing and staging your home to sell, you can’t afford to miss any details. After all, there are dollars in the details. Darlene Parris, Owner, Home Stager and Interior Redesigner of Los Angeles-based UPSTAGED!, compiles a ‘must do’ cleaning list for staging your home.

If you have gone through the process of depersonalizing, decluttering and eliminating unpleasant odors in your home, then much of the cleaning necessary to properly stage your home for sale is already done. These expert cleaning tips will help you put the finishing touches on a successful home staging.

A potential buyer will be systematic in their ceiling to floor inspection of your home, which is why you should take the same approach when eliminating dust from all areas of the house. The best method for getting rid of dust is to work from top to bottom starting in the corner of the room and moving in a clockwise manner outward.

Start with your ceiling line, focusing on ceiling fans and light fixtures. These items are commonly missed while also being notorious for collecting dust. Make sure that you target the tops of any archways or overhangs, and give your walls and baseboards a good scrubbing while also evaluating whether or not they require a new coat of paint. If you have wood or tiled floors, start by removing the dust with a broom, duster or vacuum before moving on to a thorough cleaning and polishing.

Flooring (Carpet)
If your home is carpeted, a deep cleaning is in order. You may be more comfortable hiring a professional to help ensure that you get rid of any troublesome stains and pet odors, but you can also do it yourself. Keep in mind, however, that stains and odors caused by pet urine, especially that of cats, will require specialized treatment for removal.

If your carpet is sagging in places, have it re-stretched or replace it if necessary as your budget allows.

Flooring (Wood and Tile)
Your wood floors need to sparkle, so it’s important to know that the finish instead of the type of wood will determine treatment and care. For example, if you have floors that are surface-sealed using polyurethane or polyacrylic finishes, you can perform a quick sweeping and mopping to care for the floor. If, on the other hand, your floor is oil-treated or penetrating-seal-treated, your floor will likely require a liquid or paste wax for protection. This is also true for other wood surfaces in your home like paneling or built-in cabinetry. Be certain that you clean up any scuffmarks and make repairs where necessary.

If you have tiled floors, clean them with a solution that’s recommended based on the type of tile you have. For tiles on the walls in your kitchen and bathroom, use the same general process of performing an overall cleaning followed by spot and grout cleaning with the appropriate products.

Make sure that you replace any broken tiles and re-grout where the current grout has degraded and is unappealing to the eye.

Additional Spaces
Pay special attention to your kitchen and bathrooms. Clean the glass shower enclosure and eliminate hard water stains as much as possible. Potential buyers will see hard water stains as an indication of your home being unclean. If there is no shower enclosure or door, hang a new shower curtain. Hang fresh towels on the day of your open house to complete the look and feel of an overall clean space.

In the kitchen, wipe the fronts of cabinets clean as well as door handles and drawer pulls as they tend to attract grease and dust. Clear your sink of dirty dishes and clean your counter top surfaces. Put away all cleaning items in a designated, but out of sight, area for easy access.

Although potential buyers aren’t there to buy your furniture, they will pay attention to the cleanliness of your home furnishings. If your upholstery is in need of cleaning or your furniture is in need of dusting, make sure that these important issues are addressed as well.

Deep Cleaning
Keep in mind that this initial deep cleaning is no ordinary, regular or routine cleaning regimen. If buyers get the impression that there is too much work to be done, they may be turned off to the idea of purchasing your home. You want potential buyers to understand that you have been a responsible homeowner and that you have given your home great care and attention to detail over the years. Make sure you thoroughly clean room by room even though the process may seem daunting. And remember, if you do not have the time to do all of this yourself, you can elect to enlist the help of a professional cleaning crew to make your home sparkle and shine.

Following these expert staging tips will ensure that your home is at its best when buyers come knocking.

This is part 5 of a 5-part series about staging your home as you prepare to host potential buyers at showings and open houses. Learn more about eliminating unpleasant odors in Part 4 of our Expert Home Staging Tips.