de-cluttering, but what is clutter?

There really isn’t any universal definition of clutter. I define it as “stuff” that distracts potential home buyers. I have a simple philosophy when it comes to staging and that is less is more.

The stuff keeps potential buyers from seeing the beauty of the home. Here are a few items that become clutter once the home is for sale:

  1. Family photos.

    Antique Teapot
  2. Wall calendars.
  3. Refrigerator magnets.
  4. Too many house plants, real or fake.
  5. Too many books
  6. Doilies
  7. Throw-rugs
  8.  Extra dining room chairs
  9. Large ottomans
  10. Large coffee tables
  11. Extra end tables
  12. Large collections of almost anything
  13. decorative pillows and blankets

The important thing to remember is that it is alright to use our homes anyway we see fit but when it comes to selling a home it is all about marketing. Women, in particular, react negatively to “clutter”. Less really is more and when in doubt, leave it out. The general idea is to make the space look larger and a bit more generic.

My list is only partial and has the most common items that I ask homeowners to remove from rooms. Homes that are not decluttered sell too. The list is aimed at the homeowners that want to go that extra mile and put some effort into getting the most money for their home in the least amount of time.

The longer people have lived in a home the harder it is for them to de-clutter. As a service to my clients, I go through their homes before they put them on the market and make suggestions.

Using a reverse mortgage to purchase a home

Maybe you have heard of reverse mortgages. They are not a scam but there are reverse mortgage scams.The youngest borrower in the household must be at least 62 and the homeowners must have a lot of equity.

The reverse mortgage is exactly as it sounds. Instead of making a house payment every month the mortgage company sends the homeowners a check. There are no mortgage payments. The mortgage is due when the home is sold or when the owners die.

The reverse mortgage is a way to unlock the equity that might be tied up in real estate.

Reverse mortgages can also be used to purchase a home. They do require a down payment and the youngest borrower must be at least 62. The borrows must have a lot of equity or own the home outright and have good credit ratings. On loans for purchases, buyers must have the resources to pay property taxes, homeowners insurance, and association dues if applicable.

Reverse mortgages can also be used for home improvements. Sometimes people want to stay in their home and age in place but the home needs some upgrades to make it more senior friendly.

Talk to your bank or lender if you are interested in any of these programs and learn more. There is also counseling for people who choose a reverse mortgage. For more general information visit the HUD.gov web site and read about reverse mortgages.

Sellers, view love letters with caution

butterfly
Monarch butterfly

an offer on your home will be accompanied by a “love letter”.  There isn’t anything wrong with a love letter as long as the letter is mainly about the house and how much the buyers like the property.

Buyers could make an offer and include a letter about how much they like the house and admire the gardens and love the neighborhood. I once had a seller who accepted an offer mainly because of a love letter.

Usually, those love letters never make it to my home seller clients. I ask them if they want to see the letter and encourage them to say no. Why would I do that? Because I am concerned about fair housing violations. If a seller chooses one offer over another based on the family status of the offerer or how the buyer looks that might be a fair housing violation.

As a real estate broker and agent, I can not help any of my clients discriminate against anyone who wants to buy a house.

Usually, when I explain fair housing to my clients they decide not to view the buyer’s love letter.

Buyers who choose to write these letters should omit pictures of themselves and their families and focus on the house they are making an offer on. They may want to include personal information about where they work or what they do for a living.

When the buyers do not know the sellers they can put information in the love letter that has a negative impact.  Maybe the house is on the market because of a death or divorce or financial problems.

I meet homeowners who tell me their home should be sold to someone who will fill it with children. Choosing a buyer based on family status is a fair housing violation.

Learn more about fair housing

Sellers should do some research before committing to repairs

It happens all the time. The buyer makes an offer on a house and have an inspection and then ask for some repairs. Homeowners say yes to the repairs without doing any research.

The sellers may find that they can not afford the repair or the repair can not be done or it can be done but will take weeks or months. Some repairs that seem small end up being a big deal.  Occasionally buyers ask for unnecessary repairs. They want a sewer line replaced because it has collapsed except it hasn’t collapsed.

Sellers should ask some questions and do some research before signing any kind of an agreement to make repairs. Find out how much the repair will cost and who can make the repair. Also, find out if permits are needed and if getting the city to sign off on the repairs will lead to more expensive work.

I have had sellers say yes to repairs and then let me know days before the closing that they could not get the work done. Sometimes it is something as simple as getting a window to work properly or removing a large freezer chest from a small basement.

If the buyer is asking for repairs you don’t want to make try reducing the sale price or paying for some of their closing costs so that they have the funds to make the repairs.

It is possible to sell a house without making any changes or repairs. Sellers can always say no but there is a tradeoff. Buyers tend to want thousands of dollars off the asking price in exchange for making hundreds of dollars worth of repairs. I encourage buyers to do some research before asking for repairs or discounts.

When I need to do a little research I often start by searching youtube.

 

Consider a 60 or 90 day contract

The real estate market is ever changing. The average number of days on market for homes that have recently sold in St. Paul is around 36. I say it over and over we are in a strong seller’s market, yet contracts with Realtors to list a home are for six months. Longer contracts may be good for people like me but are they the best for home sellers?

Six-month contracts are the closest we ever come to job security. We wake up each morning unemployed and are only paid after the successful closing of a real estate sale.

For the homes that are worth more then 600K a longer contract may be more appropriate but for everything that is at or below half a million six weeks should be a long enough contract. It is important to know the numbers.

Find out what the average days on market are for a home like yours that are in your area. Enter into a contract with a Realtor that is for an appropriate length of time.

Contracts can be extended as needed and home sellers who have shorter contracts have more control and leverage over the marketing process. If they do not like the way things are going it is much easier to switch real estate agents sooner. In some situations it may even make sense to put a home on the market for six weeks and if it doesn’t get an offer take it off the market and put it back on a few weeks or months later.

Go ahead and ask for a 60 or 90-day contract and also consider the six-week contract.

bumper sticker
We love short contracts

First half property taxes are due tomorrow

Ramsey county building
Ramsey County Government Center 160 Kellogg Blvd – not a place to drop off your tax payment

If you live in Minnesota property taxes for the first half of 2018 are due on May 15th which is tomorrow. If you live in St. Paul you live in Ramsey County and have not sent them in yet you might want to drop them off in person.

Here are the fees for paying taxes electronically:

E-check: $1 per transaction.
Credit card or debit card: 2.49% per transaction.
Signature debit card: $3.95 per transaction.

Current property taxes can be paid in person at:

Ramsey County Plato Building
Property Tax Services Counter
90 Plato Blvd. West
Saint Paul, MN 55107

Cash, check or money order accepted. Business hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Pay by Dropbox
You may submit payments at two drop box locations. Do not pay with cash.

Saint Paul Regional Water Services, 1900 Rice Street, Saint Paul, MN.
Property Tax, Record, and Election Services Office, 90 Plato Blvd. West, Saint Paul, MN.

If you have a mortgage the money has been collected from your mortgage payments and your taxes have already been paid. If you are not sure it is super easy to look it up on the Ramsey county web site

What do county taxes pay for? Many things like libraries and parks and golf courses and the Sheriff. Birth records, death records, and marriage licenses and records.  The medical examiner and financial and medical assistance and jobs programs and voting too. Various transportation projects in conjunction with other entities with taxation authority.

Ramsey County is weird and backward and part of what helps keep St. Paul parochial.

There is an elected board of commissioners that oversees the county programs and budgets. Getting to know your commissioner is important.

Taxes for the second half are due on October 15, 2018. Some folks just pay them all in may.