Renovate or Sell As Is?

Should I Renovate or Sell As Is?

When prospective home sellers invite me for a consultation, the most common question is not,”What is my home’s value?” but, “Should I renovate or sell the house as is?”

selling house in Newton MA

If your house is on a large parcel, it may be worth more than you think!

Several considerations are made to answer the questions of renovating or selling as-is.  At the top of the list is the local real estate market conditions.  No one answer can be given to this question, and discussing the house without a understanding the market is futile.

The advice here applies especially to South Newton MA, Chesnut Hill MA and Brookline MA, as well as parts of Boston, where land is scarce and the houses are old.  There is a great demand for luxury housing in the Boston area, which drive the pressure on the land and tear-down markets.

Brookline MA, for example, has a very high demand for land and tear-downs.  An old house which can be taken down can be worth more than a bigger house, if the land is larger and buildable.  Furthermore, the zoning of a parcel dictates how many units can be built and the size of the homes.  This is key knowledge to the equation.

Once the local real estate market and the town zoning is understood, review the considerations below to learn how I advise my clients.

In order for me to recommend renovations to a Brookline or Newton house, these are the things I look for:

1. The home owners have energy, patience, interest, and financial resources to make changes.

If a you some cash and bit of interest in renovating things, some projects may yield a return greater than 100%. Make sure you do ONLY those projects.  Don’t make these common home improvement mistakes.

2. The home is in generally good shape already.

Maybe you already have a new kitchen, so modernizing the bath would increase the value of the home. Or the home is in perfect condition other than some old carpeting, then I recommend changing the carpet. Another scenario is if the inside of the home is updated, but the exterior is a bit shabby. Here I recommend investing in making the house look great outside.

3. Market conditions favor home buyers.

Home buyers, to distinguish from investors or developers, tend to want to do less work. Walking into a house which is ready is highy valued by young families and overworked professionals.

In order to recommend selling your home as is, I look for the following:

selling land in Brookline MA

Your property’s value depends on the town’s zoning code.

1. If you can’t do the work, or it will be a great burden, then don’t!

Even projects which may be a good financial investment re not worth your stress and exhaustion.

2. The home needs too much work.

If your house hasn’t been updated many years, or if the house is in a consistent condition throughout, then sell the home as it is, to the right buyer. Don’t waste time and money on renovating a pink, mud-back tile bathroom if the kitchen is to remain avocado color and the wallpaper is peeling in the dining room.

It is likely the next owner will take on a major project and your bathroom may be turned into a pantry. Don’t put money into a part of the home, when the rest will remain outdated.

3. The market favors developers.

A developer is not paying a premium for upgrading something. If the devlopers are the strength in the market, they may be able to offer you more than a home buyer. Always speak with a local and highly experienced agent before you may any such decision.

4. Your house is in the immediate Boston Area and you are sitting on a chunk of land.

On a large lot in Boston, Newton, or Brookline, the house is almost always secondary. If the lot can be subdivided, if it can be turned into a multi-unit property, or if your house is small – the value is in the potential, rather than the house.

Whenever you consider selling your home, you must first speak with a real estate agent who can identify the strengths of the house. Learn the current market value of your home (Zestimates do not count), and who is the most likely buyer for your home. Only then decide to renovate or sell as is.

Thinking of selling your home?  Interested in a free market evaluation of a property?  Contact me today!

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bathroom boston condo

Bathroom Renovation and Resale Value for Your Condo

bathroom boston condo

Original subway tile are chic!

Tight space, tight budget, and the fear of sinking money you won’t get back.  Bathroom renovation resale value is not always 100%.  When getting ready to sell your Boston condo, you can make small inexpensive changes with a big impact.

A bathroom is a small space which can make or break a sale.  If it’s yucky, the whole place will be perceived to be a run down home.  A dreamy bathroom can sell the condo. In bathrooms, details can be glaring.  Yet, you can avoid spending tens of thousands of dollars on a complete bathroom renovation, money you won’t get back.

Changing the common mud-back tiles can be very expensive and exhuasting, and completely unnecessary.  Here are the components you need to consider in a small bathroom.  Complete this checklist and you can have a bathroom which will help sell the condo and make you more money.

1.       Medicine Cabinets: If your medicine cabinet can’t be cleaned to a spotless shine, or if it has worn edges, ANY rust, or if it is not stylish, GET RID OF IT.  A medicine cabinet is where the eyes go when you enter the bathroom, and it makes the first impression.  Medicine cabinets which suit your Boston condo can be budget friendly or very spiffy.  Go for something simple and in-line with the condo’s value.

I suggest also getting something with clean lines and big.  Buyers want storage and it will draw the eyes away from the imperfections

brighton condo sold

New curtain, towels and vanity.

beyond repair.

2.       Paint: Peeling paint from excessive moisture, or any discoloration, you must paint.  A sloppy paint job is unforgiving in the bathroom, so take the time to do it right, or hire a painter.  Choose a color which isn’t too weird, please.

3.       Fluffy towels: Buy new towels, and hang them on the towel racks and stack them if you have the space.  Fluffy things make us happy.  Make the buyer happy, it’ll cost you $40.

4.       Clean: Really really clean.  The corners, the spaces behind and in-between, the door, window, tile, top of the medicine cabinet, light fixtures.  If  you don’t feel like Cinderella, you are not cleaning hard enough.

5.       Glaze Tub: If your tub is very dirty, grimy, and stained, glazing can do the trick for only a few hundred dollars.  Just mild discoloration may be overlooked with some non-slip decals.

Note, this is a simple cosmetic issue.  Never ever cover-up or draw attention away from damage to the home.

brighton condo sold

New curtain, medicine cabinet, and lighting.

6.       Vanity: This is one of the pricier items on the list, but if your vanity is outdated, the whole bathroom is outdated.  Invest a few hundred dollars in something new.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  Once of my clients switched from a tiny vanity which was very low, to a more substantial one, and a bit higher for $300.  The whole bathroom looked new.

7.       Toilet: You know when you need a new toilet.  Take a long hard look at your toilet and ask yourself, “is it time?”

8.       Shower Curtain: All homes going on the market need a brand new shower curtain.  Shower curtains come in such a variety of colors and styles, and in fabrics which can change the look and feel of every bathroom in minutes and for as little as $30.  It will be one of the best investments you will make getting your condo ready for sale.

selling boston condo

New shower curtain and a good cleaning.

9.       Lighting: Bathrooms need bright lights to create a cheerful atmosphere.  Light bulbs must work, and the fixtures either clean or new.

If you have odd colored mud-back tiles, (Avocado, Mustard, Pepto), the shower curtain, towels and paint are an opportunity to tie them into something more neutral and modern.  It’s no longer dated, now it’s vintage!

Follow these tips and your bathroom renovation resale value for your Boston condo will be well over 100%!

Click on the link for more advice for home sellers.

negotiate home price

Stupid Mistakes Home Buyers Make

negotiate home priceThere are many multiple-offer situations these days, especially in Newton and Brighton.  I heard of a buyer who put bids on four properties before giving-up and renting.  Despite the stories, I still believe the biggest mistakes buyers make are rooted in the fear of losing a property.

Fear based decisions are usually wrong.  In buying real estate, fear results in heart ache and overpaying.  When a buyer fears losing a home she will offer too much money, overlook important inspection items, or not pay attention to the condominium documents or a building’s financial condition.

A careless broker will allow for this without regard.  Even if the initial offer is for a reasonable price, the negotiations will be weak resulting in accommodating the seller excessively.  Negotiating can be stressful and emotional, the best time to lose a sense of reality and get overly attached to a property.

Then comes inspection, where expensive issues come up.  In fear of losing the property, the buyer will accept the home as it is or under negotiate.  For major issues, the buyer should bring in professionals who can quote necessary repairs.  A buyer’s agent understanding fiduciary responsibility will encourage this, and encourage the buyer to disregard a disgruntled seller.

A nervous buyer may skim the purchase and sale contract, and not request an explanation of the parts from the attorney.  Buyers must not be shy about asking the attorney to take the time to review the pieces of this 7-14 page contract.  All remaining contingencies and the buyer’s pre-closing responsibilities are to be thoroughly understood.

Sometime between 24 to 1 hour before the closing there will be a walk-through the property to ensure it was left in broom-clean condition and any inspection issues were properly fixed.  If you think this is simply a formality, think again!  My own walk-through was a disaster, with the condo left a mess and still needing to have items removed.  A few of my buyers found the property in unacceptable condition before closing.

There are ways to deal with this problem, too.  Money paid back to buyer or held back in escrow are two options.  The buyer has the right to demand seller pay for the property to be vacated and cleaned, regardless of how desirable the property and how many offers competed for it.

So don’t fear losing a property.  You’ll be a much better negotiator if you remember this important truth: There will be another home.

How Landlords Save the World

The title of this entry is over-the-top, I admit, but I am just here to stick up for the landlords out there who are trying to do some good.  The word “landlord” in itself has some negativity associated with it, and the use of “lord” in this context is distasteful in our American sensibility.  In media, landlords are portrayed as misers ready to make a buck on the poor and take advantage of families.


Let me tell you about the landlords, the real estate investors, I know.

First and foremost, there is a commitment to maintain the property and keeping the tenant happy and comfortable, even with the high occupancy rate and the increasing rents.  I am not suggesting any altruism here, but it is cheaper to keep than replace tenants.  It only makes sense that tenants stay for a long-run, and take care of the property, as it is their home. Fostering that environment is essential for positive tenant-landlord relations, which is the relationship you want in between any consumer and supplier.

A rental property is a huge financial commitment and a landlord idiot enough to not take care of it and ensure it’s livability is ill suited for the job.

Yes, there are many terrible landlords out there.  The worse of them are the ones who neglect their properties, fail to keep up with safety codes, and don’t treat their tenants with the respect they deserve.  Just like in any occupation, in any aspect of humanity, there are some bad apples.

For more on tenant-landlord rights in Massachusetts, go to

Three Ways to Invest in Real Estate

Investing in real estate can seem overwhelming and reserved for the very rich.  In the current economic conditions and marketplace, it may even feel a bit too risky.  But if you’ve ever thought real estate investing may be right for you, this is a great time to learn about your options and how it can be done by almost anyone.

Before we learn about our options, though, let me say that I believe real estate investing can be a long a cumbersome process if you are new to it.  That is not a bad thing, and I think of a lengthy process as a series of checkpoints that will make me very sure of my decision at the end. But it does mean that you have to have a critical eye, some good research skills and an a greater-than-average supply of patience.  If this sounds like you, then let’s review how you can get into the lucrative business of real estate investing.

Whatever your budget, real estate can be your investment vehicle.

1.  All cash deal.  If you have lots of cash, you may be able to find an investment property in your area and buy it without a mortgage.  The advantage of this is that you will be a highly qualified buyer and you can probably secure a property for a bit of savings over a buyer who has to get a mortgage.  Another advantage of a cash buyer is that her expenses are much lower, as there is no monthly mortgage payment.  This enables her to be more flexible on the rent, giving her more options in choosing tenants.

The disadvantage of an all cash deal is that it is not taking advantage of very low mortgage rates.  Borrowing is pretty cheap, and if all your cash is in one place, you can’t use it elsewhere.  Leverage is a real estate investor’s friend.

2. Part cash, part mortgage.  The down payment minimum is 20-30%, depending on various circumstances and your financial qualifications.  My rule of thumb is that you should make money, or at least break even, with this kind of down payment.  If you lose money on a monthly basis, the property is not worth the price, (at least not not for an investor). Your mortgage payments, any association fees and taxes should be covered by the rent.

The advantage here is that you’ll be taking advantage of the cheap borrowing costs, and you’ll own a property with an income without the whole cash outlay.

The disadvantage is, obviously, the cost of borrowing money and the higher cost due to your mortgage payment – same as the mortgage on your home.

3. Pool of investors with little cash.  Gather a few friends and family, and pool your money together to buy one property.  It can even be a small property at first, but at least get into the market.  If ten friends get together with $15,000 each…you do the math.  The advantage is that you are in the real estate market, getting a piece of the pie, however small.  It is a start, or a great single investment you have.  You can hire a real estate broker and an attorney to help maybe for a stake in the property instead of commission and fees.

The disadvantage is finding like-minded individuals and putting it all together in a legally binding agreement.  To me, this is just a bit of leg-work, and not so much a disadvantage, but it does add to the complexity of the transaction.

Entering the real estate market as an investor is not simple at first, but once you are in, it gets easier and easier.  If you’ve ever considered investing in real estate, this is a great time to get in.  Just choose your strategy and do it!

Top Three Reasons Why Property Investment Is King

No one wants to hear this, but I’m saying it anyway.  Real estate is the best long-term financial investment.  Phew…that’s a relief.

With the real estate market in the dumps for several years now, it is not easy to get back into the pro-property mind-set.  But, it is exactly at these times that you should be considering expanding your real estate portfolio.

One reason I know this is because while the real estate market is dragging in most of the country, it is dominated by the professional real estate investors.  Don’t you want to learn a lesson or two from them?

The professional investor loves real estate above all other investments.  There are three main reasons for this.

First, real estate investing can come in many forms, just like any other investments.  There are small condos, multi-family buildings, commercial, residential, mixed use properties, different towns, neighborhoods, etc.  For every budget, preference and style, there is an investment instrument.

Second, real estate has a certain tangible value that you just don’t see in other investments.  Property investors love that there is an asset they can visit, fix and maintain.  There is a satisfaction in knowing that you have some control and responsibility in the relative value of the property.

Third, although real estate is illiquid – meaning it takes relatively a lot of time and effort to sell it – it is a versatile investment.  You can hold it, or resell it when the market turns your way. You can do extensive renovations and have a quick resell, or you can hold it with tenants for years to come.  Whatever it is, you have options and you can make decisions based on the best scenarios for your needs and the market conditions.

All of this assumes that you have sufficient funds for a down payment and that your expenses on the property are covered.  The major drawback in investment real estate are the unavoidable expenses in maintaining it and the difficulty of selling it if you need the cash.

But this said, it may be time to consider an investment property, especially in such a critical time in the market.  Opportunities and possibilities are present, and real estate investing can be a perfect fit for long-term financial goals.

How to Sell Your Home’s Most Important Feature

A recent survey of 1,000+ homeowners and future buyers confirmed the old adage, “Location, Location, Location.”

The result of the survey showed that the top priorities for buyers are:  Ease of commuting by car: 38%, Access to health and safety services: 34%, Family-friendly neighborhood: 33%, Availability of retail stores: 32%, Access to cultural activities: 21%, Public transportation access: 19%, Nightlife and restaurant access: 18%, Golf-friendly area–access to golf courses: 6%.

This survey seems to indicate that how people spend time OUTSIDE their homes is more important than the inside.  Spending endless hours on the road and paying for the gasoline it requires are unattractive these days.

What does your home have to offer?

It is great that you’ve upgraded your home, the granite and stainless steel are adding value.  Sure, having a home in great condition and staged nicely are incredibly important to your marketability, but what about your location?

Here are tips for you to target your buyers better using your home’s location:

1. What type of home do you have?  A small condo attracts a different buyer than a large home and each of these people have different locational needs.  Think about what attracted you to this home’s location and play it up!

For example, is it ease of highway access or a short walk to the train stop?  Do you love that you can walk to get groceries or that your neighborhood is full of kids and kid friendly activities?

2. Add photos, map and video of the area, not just the home.  Many buyers coming through may not be familiar with the nearest bus station or closest grocery store.  Point those out, enthusiastically!

3. Be specific.  If something is only a five minute walk, say so.  A 10 minute drive, around the corner, etc.

4. Price accordingly!  You may have the prettiest home, in best condition, but if it is further away or less convenient for some reason, price lower than your competition.

For example, if your home is in a family friendly neighborhood where the value is the quiet streets and park, price lower if your home is on a busy corner. Don’t just compare prices based on the home, think location!

Remember, buyers are buying a lifestyle, not just a pile of bricks arranged nicely.  If they don’t get what they need from the area, the home is meaningless.  But if they love the area, they may make the home work even with a few imperfections.

Top Reasons Why Your Home is Still On Market

by Ruth Malkin-Lerner

Are you still on market while other homes have sold?  If it has been more than one season since you have put the home on the market, you may be showcasing the wrong features and missing out on really important ones.

Here are some top reasons your home is not inspiring summertime buyers.

First reason buyers are bored is bad landscaping.  Has it been a while since you trimmed your shrubs and trees?  In the summer months, buyers are looking at the land around the home as much as at the house itself.  Overgrown shrubs, bushes and trees make the yard look messy and uninviting.  It screams work.

Furthermore, summer is when we are accustomed to seeing color outdoors.  It is not all about the grass, which is also important. Make sure your landscaping includes some flowers and seasonally appropriate plantings.  Sure, you may have to do some maintenance, or hire someone if this is not something you enjoy.

But without some color and a good manicure, your home will look dull.  Gardens bring in buyers, and keep them there longer.  A great yard can cancel out some indoor negatives.

Here’s another idea – if you like gardening, add some value to your home with a small organic vegetable garden.  The young buyers love it!

Second reason buyers may be turned off is poorly staged outdoor space.  If you’ve been cheap about getting some good patio furniture, now is the time to do it.  If you have any patio or deck space, ensure it is furnished to showcase the utility.

Your outdoor space should feel like an extension of the home, and a buyer should be able to see him or herself enjoying it, as they would a living room and bedroom.

A third reason buyers are not hanging out long enough in your home to make an offer is that there is no AC.  If you have it, turn it on.  If you don’t, get some window units for key areas of the house, or leave the windows open with a very discreet fan.

The worse comes out of a home when it is hot.  The furniture feels overbearing, a dark room is depressing, a bad smell you may have overlooked becomes fowl.

Update your home for the season and show it as a summertime steal.  Buyers will relate better to your home, spend more time in it.  Bring the best summertime features out of your home and showcase it for it’s current usability.

Summertime Selling Tips

Summertime can be a great season to sell your house. Why? During these hot months, your landscaping and outdoor spaces come alive. Today’s buyers are looking for extended living areas and love usable outdoor space.

According to HGTV, outdoor spaces can bring in big bucks. Jon Seppala, president of Action Builders, notes, “Backyards and outdoor patios have to be much more substantial than in the past. Built-in grills, outdoor fireplaces, gazebos — people are looking for these features. We’ve had people who have fallen in love with the house and have decided to buy before they walked in the front door.”

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has also identified a trend, noting during a recent panel that young homebuyers (Gen Xers) are looking for homes with a connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, even in colder climates, to create the perception of greater home size, even if the space is only usable for part of the year.”

Here are some tips to take advantage of Summer selling.

First, keep your home cool. Have your AC turned up to a comfortable level during showings and open houses. If you live in a region where you don’t have or need AC, be sure that you use fans or open windows for breezes to create a nice atmosphere. The last thing you need is a prospective buyer distracted by sweat or humidity. You want them focused on your wonderful home!

Heat also has a way of bringing out the worst of smells in our home. To hold these deal breakers at bay, have your carpets cleaned when you list your home for sale. Next, roll up your sleeves and be sure you clean your home before any showing. Bathrooms, laundry rooms, and kitchen are notoriously stinky. Focus your attention on these!

When your home is listed for sale, it’s your responsibility as the seller to keep your yard, landscaping, and pool maintained. Overgrown trees, shrubs, and lawns not only seriously depreciate curb appeal, they can also turn a buyer off.

If you are unable to stay on top of this task each week, hire local workers to keep your yard looking in top shape. This expense will come back to you when you make the sale.

Landscaping is expensive and buyers know this. Why not showcase one of your most valuable assets? Trim existing trees to their best advantage. Have gardens, paths, benches, and pool ready for enjoying. Buyers know that a fully landscaped yard will save them time and money. Plus, it’s ready to enjoy.

As a courtesy to prospective buyers, you may also consider compiling a list of locally recommended handy men, gardeners, and pool maintenance companies.

Finally, staging patios and porches is important. From family gatherings to al fresco meals, these hot spots get lots of use.

Start your staging with a thorough cleaning. Powerwashing decks, patios, and furniture can make dirty items look new again. For furniture that needs a bit more TLC, apply a fresh coat of paint. Next, stage for an “event.” Replace wornout cushions and invest in simple outdoor accessories. A selective arrangement of candles, glasses, and even a nice table setting can be the icing on the staging cake.

The bottom line is that caring for the outdoor living spaces of your home can make or break a sale during the Summer. Take full advantage of all your home has to offer.

Written by Carla Hill

Leave a Smaller Carbon Floorplan

If you are anything like me, every piece of trash and every mile driven is a small pinch in the nerve of environmental conscientiousness.  If you have kids, it’s just a constant green guilt fest, as many purchases, diapers, laundry, and trips in the car are unavoidable.

But there is a little bit of good news when it comes to home ownership and creating just a bit less waist.  A recent study by the National Association of Home Builders shows that the less-is-more trend has reached the architectural drawing rooms.

The study called “The New Home in 2015” has houses getting smaller in the next four years.  Many of the amenities highly valued are being cut out of the news homes,leaving them with 10% less space and looking a bit more minimalistic.  It seems that the economic downturn has deemed some features useless, such as a fourth bedroom or a thrid space in the garage. If they are unused, or unnecessary, these spaces require more heating, cooling and other resources to maintain.

If you are opting for a greener life, then you can appreciate the elimination of useless spaces and all the resources this saves. You can also appreciate that an overall trend like this can make real changes in our collective lifestyle.

What does this mean for you as a home buyer or home seller?

If you are looking to buy a home, and you are already considering environmental factors, you can rest assured that when choosing a smaller home which is more efficient, you are going to be well positioned when selling in the coming years.  A big sloppy house with a lot of space of the sake of space will not be more highly valued according to this trend.  Bigger won’t necessarily be better.

As a home seller, ensure your home is making the best use of space and your systems are functioning properly and efficiently.  Some electrical and heating companies will come for an efficiency assessment and show you what can be done to save money.  You should check in with your utility companies.

No less important is to show that your home is not only efficient, but well utilized.  Don’t assume that they extra space in the attic or unused bedrooms are a benefit automatically.  Between the limited financial resources and smaller households, more space just feels like a burden to some.  You can help the sale be ensuring every room has a specific function so the buyer sees the options and versatility of the home.
Over the past thirty years houses have progressively gotten bigger and bigger.  Now it seems we’ve reached a peak where more house just means more costs without benefit.  According to the National Association of Home Builders study, the recession has pushed the utility trend for greener homes.  I guess that is the silver lining of our economic dark cloud.

Do you know of saving money doing something environmentally friendly to your home?