House Sale Price Incentive (Lower the Price)

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After having the house on the market for 12 weeks, it’s time to increase the buyer’s incentive by lowering the price.  I learned that if you change the price, the listing goes back up to the top of Multiple Listings – plus the potential buyers are encouraged by “bargain buying”.  We lowered the price from $350,000 to $339,900.  My Move Manager immediately noted that the decrease “looks bigger than it is”… a concept that would not have occurred to me, but is absolutely true.  By reducing it to $339,900 instead of $340,000, it gives the impression of a much lower price by putting it in the 330,000s group instead of the 340,000s group.  Now, at Christmas time, we are having our highest traffic level to date.  When I expressed my surprise, Mr. Manager stated that if large corporations are going to transfer families (by giving the employee a big job opportunity in another city), they will often give notice to the employee in October, so that they have time to travel to the new site over the Holidays with their families to scope out the possibilities.

As the weeks go by, my out-of-pocket costs related to the “empty” house on the market have stabilized, but are still at $1400 per month. Granted, this is all not real expense, because after living in the house for 25 years, most of the payments now go to capital rather than paying for interest.  I will get most of the money back when I sell the house. But, the cash out is still $1400, and I’m paying it out-of-pocket.  That was also a factor in “speeding up” the sale by reducing the price.

An interesting technology experience came from the real estate agent sending me an Agency Agreement Amendment through DocuSign. I was not able to make the signature function work on my Smart Phone (an Android). When I tried to add the signature, the next screen was blank, but it did fine through Gmail, and I was able to print it for my file after a little encouragement.

We will see how the latest “trick of the trade” affects the sale of my lovely old house.

Seven Weeks After the Move

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Now it is about seven weeks since I moved my home from Big City to Small Town – from a 2800 sq. ft. house with full attic storage to a 1500 sq. ft. town home  (with a 2-car garage). We lived in the house for over twenty years, and rarely threw anything away. I take full responsibility for that issue, and would do it differently had I to do it again (and am determined to pare down going forward).

But I also moved quickly because a large town home in a group I had been eyeing for several years (for a mountain get-away) miraculously became available. I knew that it would not remain on the market long, so quickly made an offer, which was accepted.

Another positive synchronicity was that the market value of the “old” house was up 30% over the prior year.  I had known for some time that we needed to down-size, but market-values had been soft, so I delayed selling – the investment in the house represented a good portion of our retirement “nest-egg.”  Then, this Spring, the value went up by almost 40% from the prior year. Obviously, the time was right to sell.

BUT…then there was no time for the slow winnowing through a family’s 30 years of life together.  My sister, when she decided to move to Small Town, had the luxury of taking three years for the clearing process I had to complete in three months.

Of course, the result was that a lot of things were moved that should not have been.  Now there are boxes, and boxes, and boxes…Actually, from a high of about 350, I am down to 75 or so…fifteen of them are Christmas paraphernalia of various types – Christmas China, ornaments, lights, clothes, wreathes – you get the idea.  As I write this, it is December 3.  Tonight I have no desire to winnow through Christmas boxes.  It’s just not going to happen.

The closets are hard…the wedding gown that my sister and I both wore (but is just not my daughter’s style), dresses from recitals, family weddings, t-shirts from vacations and graduation gowns… the ones that are still beautiful, but just out of style, or too small. There are still many of those in my closet that really must be purged – sometime soon.

But no easier are items from the kitchen – platters, bowls, glasses (how many sizes of wine glass do you need, and how many of each??) crock pot, punch bowl, salad bowl, soup tureen- all those lovely large pieces that I intellectually know I will not use again (or can borrow from one of my sisters who live here Small Town).  Truly difficult is acknowledging that all those family moments will happen much less frequently, and last a shorter time…intellectually I know those things, but it does not make the paring down process any easier.

The symbol of it all is the “good china”  that we all registered as young brides-to-be, and collected as friends and family built our “trousseau.”  It filled our china cabinets for years, looking beautiful, and (at least in my case), was used, at most, five times over 42 years of marriage. Now, it is (again) taking up space in a china cabinet (silly me) at least for now. I think I will know that I have gotten over this mountainous bump in my road when I give up the “good china”.

One of my new missions (should I be so blessed), is to teach my grandchildren how to keep those things that they love, and let the rest go. I can count the items I have from my mother on one hand, each highly valued. I will be writing about the process I develop for retention (and release) of all the “excesses” over the next year as I teach myself to “winnow”.  I hope you will all join me and share stories and ideas and resources as I explore this path.

The Cats

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Honestly, the cats are the hardest. There are two – a lovely 13-year-old tabby named Mew (yes, from Pokemon) and one-year-old, coal black, Arya (always underfoot just like her namesake in Game of Thrones).  The cats have kept me sane for the last six months: listening to my frustrated tirades, and sitting in my lap at the end of the long days of packing and sorting and packing and pitching and packing and donating. They also (usually) spend part or some of each night on my bed, but not all, and not always.

But now that the house is on the market to be sold, of course, there can be no sign of the cats when someone comes to view the house.  Fine, I thought.  I will just find a good place to board them for a while. Well, at least in my town, that might be an option for a dog, but there is not an acceptable boarding option for cats.  The ONLY option here that I have discovered (and I have actually tried four so far after extended web searches) is housing in four cubic foot cages.  Sometimes, if there are vacant adjoining cages, I can rent two of those with a door in between. But the 13-pound Mew takes up the whole cage from front to back.  And of the four places where I have boarded them so far, only one of them offers any out-of-cage option at all. At the end of the first day I boarded them the smaller Mew (9 pounds) hissed at me when I reached in to take her home. Now she is more stoic, but still not happy.

Needless to say, they now do NOT like to be put in their carriers.  Mew, sweet girl that she is, has coped with the situation by peeing in the car EVERY time I take her home.  Arya now just objects, mewing loudly most of the trip.

Most depressing so far was yesterday.  I found a website online that was a very high end dog destination.  For the Canines they offer suites, multiple exercise options during the day, swimming pools, playing, grooming…so I visited the site with great optimism and found….four-foot cubes for the cats, with an option to have 15 minutes in the room with a cat tree once a day for their feline guests – for an additional fee, of course.

So my only viable option is keeping the cats at home (they sleep most of the day), and when the call comes that someone wants to view the house, hide all the signs of cats (tree, toys, litter boxes) cage up my beauties in their carriers and go…somewhere.  I haven’t figured that out yet. As long as the weather is nice, going to the park will be fine.

Perhaps another option will present itself.

So it goes.

The Painters

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The painters were a critical part of the preparation for the sale of my house.  The exterior had relatively new siding, but the windows has not been painted in our 20-year residence. The interior was equally in need of refreshing. All rooms needed a coat of the light gray color selected by the Stager, as did all the closets.

The contractor (recommended by the real estate agent) provided the following quote <his text and grammar is reproduced> :

Exterior

Powerwashing paint all sinding and trim windows frames doors.

Interior 

Londry remove wall paper and paint cabinets White, Powder room paint walls and cieling family room paint only cieling office cieling walls and closet foyer cieling walls hallway walls and cieling, Bathroom walls and cieling hallway walls cieling master Bedroom walls cieling , Bedrom walls cieling closet, bed room remove wall paper paint cieling closet , Liven room paint cieling walls price labor material paint for all $3425

My move manager read the above, and summarized the necessary services:

– Power washing all of exterior

– Caulking as required outside

– Necessary repairs inside and out to the surfaces to be painted

– Includes all paint costs

– Priming to all repaired surfaces prior to painting inside and outside

– Interior ceilings

– Two coats of paint inside and outside

– Wall paper removal

Unfortunately, I looked at the two lists and thought that the painter’s looked complete.  A more methodical person would have looked at EACH of the spaces needing paint, and made sure that they were all covered.

The spaces that were omitted by the painter are in ALL CAPS in the following comprehensive list:

Exterior-

Power washing all vinyl siding, painting all non-vinyl siding (I had some in the garage),

Paint all doors and windows.

Interior –

Laundry, remove wall paper and paint walls and cabinets white (interior and exterior).

Powder room paint walls and ceilings AND CLOSETS

Family room, paint only ceiling (this was a paneled room)

Office paint ceiling and closet

Upper Foyer ceiling, walls AND CLOSET)/ Hallway ceiling, walls

Upper Hall Bathroom walls and ceiling

Bedroom (master) walls & ceiling AND CLOSETS(2), Bedroom 2, walls, ceiling, closet

MASTER BATH, WALLS,CEILING & CLOSET

Bedroom 3, remove wall paper, paint ceiling and closet.

Living room paint ceiling, walls

Other Spaces ADDED to original list :

Lower Foyer and Hall (paneled area that was dark) –

 -It was amazing how painting the stairwell white and adding a light carpet brightened the dark area

The Kitchen (mostly cabinets – little painted wall area).

-BUT – we should have had him paint the ceiling, which we did not think about until later.

Original Price $3425 (amazingly low, I thought for a 2800 sq. ft. home.)

He added painting the paneling in the lower hall, the four closets, and the master bath for an additional $200. I was very lucky.

The lesson learned was this: when dealing with a contractor doing a complex job with several possible options, be really diligent in defining the exact terms.  I have had success dealing with the contractors recommended on our Agent’s website.  I can be confident that those contractors are insured and bonded, and have a reputation for doing excellent work.

Preparation for Staging

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Manageable would probably not be a word that would occur to me now in describing where I am with the move process.  About three weeks ago my Move Manager and I sat down and picked a target date to have the house ready to go on the market.  Three weeks ago, we chose Thursday of this week. We’ll see.

Things have definitely progressed.  Last Saturday the “mini-move” removed all the non-essential pieces of furniture and about sixty boxes of stuff to a 10 x 10 storage room. I understand that when the door was finally closed not another item could have possibly fit.  The local team of four young men that came that day did an exceptional job of moving things out – including a little last minute packing that cleared the way for the carpet men coming on Monday.

Today was supposed to be carpet day.  It started with a delay in the team’s coming because we did not have all the required rooms totally cleared.  There was some misunderstanding about the interpretation for “totally cleared” (or perhaps it changed). So the team that was supposed to start at 8 came about 12.  The manager who had come and quoted the job had decided that we could use the current carpet as a pad for the new.  When the carpet-laying team came today they disagreed. The current carpet was not totally fixed to the floor.  It had some wrinkles in it, which the laying manager said would negatively affect the new carpet.  Sounded logical to me. So…then we needed another pad, a new quote, and a new day.  No carpet today.

The painter started with a power-wash that took most of the day, but was totally amazing when he had finished. No more dusty garage!  It is squeaky clean. Tomorrow, painting inside and out. Tonight I had to take everything that was remaining off the walls, including the wonderful poster collection in my adult son’s boyhood room. He had taken photos of them last weekend, so all are duely recorded, but it was still sad to see them go. Batman, Spiderman, favorite college teams, and inspirational sayings (You Already Are What You Want To Be When You Grow Up). Maybe the carpet guys will be back tomorrow. I have lost track, actually.

The sad thing that happened today was that I took my two lovely cats to a “kennel” for the day.  It has a good reputation, and the “girls” could be together but also had an opportunity for their own space. When I arrived (about 3:30 pm) my little Arya (a year old and solid black) was huddled in the back of her space, and hissed at the attendant, who asked me to come coax her out.  They will have to go back tomorrow, but it is troubling.  Tonight she seems fine.  We shall see.

Onward with painters & carpenters.

A Move Manager

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Today I made a major decision.  After going to the mountains and trying to close on “my” town home (and settling on renting for a month instead while the new prospective mortgage bank works through my package of information) I came back to the task of getting my current home on the market for sale.

I started with calendar in hand, identifying all of the pieces that had to come together before listing the property: cleaning out years of clutter (going through years of accumulated clothes, memorabilia, books, DVD’s – not forget the VHS tapes); removing pieces of furniture and boxes to a storage unit to make the house “staging ready” to list as available to sell, and almost daily trips to the Thrift Store to donate items that are resalable. Then getting the house itself ready for prime time: pressure washing, painting (inside and out), a tile man to dress up a shower that needs help, yard clean-up.

Doing all this along with teaching and writing a curriculum for widows suitable for offering at a community college in the non-college curriculum, I rapidly became overwhelmed. Then I started looking for…A Move Manager- someone to organize the preparation and all its moving parts. On the internet I only found senior move managers – people who assisted in moving seniors from their family home to a retirement community – NOT what I needed.

So – I started to write a job description by listing every piece of my preparation pie (see the end of this post for the final product). As the list of necessary skills evolved, I realized that I knew a person who had the required skillset, but had no idea that he would be interested. Retired from a corporate position, we had met when I managed a Thrift Shop. He offered a house watch service for vacationers, including feeding the pets.  In my new single status, he had become a regular as I was required to travel out of town related to the relocation and other family matters.

I forwarded the proposed job description and offered compensation that I hoped would be attractive enough to open the conversation. Today we reached a meeting of the minds.  I have already scheduled painters and the first wave of movers. We did a detailed walk-through where he identified other repairs and that would improve salability (he had over a page of notes) but agreed to my offer, with the caveat that we would review in a week or so to see if the estimated hours were reasonable.

I cannot possible express my sense of relieve as we finished the walk-through this morning.

Onward to the packing boxes.

Move Manager Job Description
Major Move
Be second set of ears for decisions to be made by owner related to move to Burnsville
Schedule Primary Move and negotiate fee
Provide advice on purging for staging and major move
 
Staging
Provide advice on preparation for staging decisions
Supervise interior painting
Staging Move
Supervise preparation for “staging” move to storage unit
Basic Assumptions
Communication with Client will be limited to one major e-mail per day, and one phone call.
Text messages may also be required, but limited to five per day.
A basic time-table will be established which manager and client will be able to adjust,
     but not without approval from the other party.
Compensation

Compensation will be paid after the sale of the

of the primary house.

 
 
 

 

The Non-Close

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Last week I was under a mistaken impression that I was about to close a mortgage loan on a new town home. The close date was set and the loaning bank had been selected through a logical process that included the fact that the bank was the mortgage holder on my “old” house.

However, as the loan package made its way through multiple levels of review, there were continuing questions on every “unusual” transaction.  Now, when your husband has just died , you are establishing retirement income,  you are applying for Social Security, insurance is coming in, you are changing insurance vendors, and your daughter is changing colleges, there are OFTEN unusual transactions.

But the big stumbling block became the fact that my debt to income ratio was too high.

I still have my family home and its mortgage (even though it has been paid down to less than a third of its value). There is the mortgage on the new town home, and I bought a new car (which I borrowed money to finance to get some credit in my name alone).  Therefore the total of those three payments is too high for the regular income I have from retirement and social security.

The “silliness” here is that there are also significant investment holdings which could totally pay ALL of the above loans. 

My frustration with this process was that there are MULTIPLE levels of review, nothing was changing through the process, and that ratio was imminently obvious from the first submission. I was not advised of the cancelation of the close until I had already traveled the five hours to the close location.

The town I am moving to is a small town – the largest part of the attraction after fighting rush hour traffic for many years.  Along with the smaller town is the establishment of personal relationships. The owner of the real estate firm acting as the agent for my new town home knew one of the loan officers at a regional bank, and suggested that I go talk to him. I had brought the loan package I had submitted to the larger banks with me after learning of this relationship.  So, after the introduction, and an interview related to my background and future plans, I left the three inch document stack with him.  A day later, after providing a few more pieces of information, he had run the numbers though his software, and said that he did not see a problem.  I have continued to say that if I need to pay off the car loan to improve the debt to income ratio, I will do so.

I left his office, and started back down the mountain.  Prior to leaving the new banker, I told the loan officer that I was now putting all my eggs in his basket.  From the car, I sent an email cancelling my application for mortgage loan from the prior entity (interestingly, I have received no acknowledgement of that email).  Now it will take another three weeks for this new package to make its way through the system. I have rented the townhome, and have time to plan the location of furniture prior to close. But I sure wish I had the loan in place. On to preparing the old home for sale.

The Stager

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The saga of the House Sale has progressed through (1) Interviewing Potential Agents and (2) Selecting a listing agent. Now is the time for (3) The Stager.

As a component of her fee, my Agent is providing a Stager.  A young woman came to my house and spent about two hours. First, she chatted with me about what I would be comfortable doing in regards to preparing the house for public showings, then spent over an hour looking at the house room by room (with me not present), and presented a 5-page handwritten list of items that could be done to maximize the sales potential of the house. Of course, I turned it into a spreadsheet with columns of tasks for Handyman, Painter, and Owner.

The big picture items included replacing the gold doorknobs throughout the house with brushed nickel. I had not even noticed that the old ones were scratched and discolored. All toilet seats are to be replaced with new white ones (my husband had insisted on wooden), and mats removed. One bit of humor came as my daughter walked into the hall bath and announced that there was a white seat on our tan toilet – which we had not even noticed when we dutifully counted the three new seats required.

All the drawer pulls throughout the house were to be changed to brushed nickel. All of the walls painted Revere Pewter (a not-too-bright white), and empty of art, except for a few items that she designated to stay.  All closets half empty.  All counter tops as empty as possible. All carpets removed (we have beautiful hardwood floors that have always been covered).

All book cases half empty. That is the REALLY hard one for me – I have already donated a couple of hundred books to various organizations and people, and I still can’t tell a substantive difference.

The next big difference item is easy – Nice white body towels in the baths, nice white bedspread/comforter  and four fluffy pillows on the beds (two on singles).

Our downstairs has an old carpet that will have to be replaced (not unexpected), and baths recaulked (again, not a surprise).  The den is paneled, and the walls will have to be cleaned with Murphey’s Oil.

It will all look lovely.

My brother and sister-in-law came for the weekend to start the process.  We went to the Big Hardware Store and purchased toilet seats and door handles. We discovered that the drawer pulls would have to be ordered online because they are not a standard size (they have already arrived!). My brother has already changed all the door knobs and toilet seats. One bit of humor occurred as my daughter walked into the hall bath and announced that there was a white seat on our tan toilet – which we had not even noticed when we dutifully counted the three new seats required. I have not found the required tan one, and really don’t want to pay $50 to purchase one online and have it shipped. We’ll see if I can find one locally. Then my adult son came in this weekend and complained that the door knob on his bedroom was just “strange”. Change is hard.

The new house will have been purchased by then, so items to be “thinned out” can be stored there, but it requires a truck, and its location is several hours away. Now the “dance” of the house exchange really begins in earnest.

Selecting the House Selling Agent

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Luckily, I am not in a great hurry to sell my house. We have lived here many years, and moving out will be a painful, cumbersome, multi-faceted journey.

After speaking with four real estate agents, I chose one who not only answered all my 20 Questions for a Real Estate Agent, but also anticipated most. The other three agents were all competent, but no one else seemed to have support for all the activities that will be involved in my lengthy extraction and sale process.

The price differential was interesting.  The first person I spoke with suggested listing the house at $325,000 (the house next door, smaller than mine, has just sold for $310K in a week). The agent I selected suggested $350K, showing comps, support for her numbers, and a method for reassessing if the house does not sell in a reasonable amount of time.  The third agent I talked with would not consider listing for more than $298K. That was not the only thing about which we disagreed. It was interesting was that he would not compromise on a higher listing price, despite my telling him that his was the lowest, and with his knowledge of the selling price of the house next door. That difference in price will pay my daughter’s tuition for the next three years at a state university.

So today, the selected agent  and I went through the many pages of paperwork  – the contract, deciding on a Home Warranty (which covers me starting today, through the buyer’s first year in the house), discussing the decluttering, staging, showing process.

I am sure there will be several more posts about preparing the house for sale as I sadly say goodbye to an old friend.

Questions to ask a Real Estate Agent

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On the advice of a former Real Estate Agent friend, I decided to interview three potential agents. The list of questions below was critical to the success of the project. The second agent I interviewed anticipated most of them, and had all the answers in hand when she arrived.

20 Questions to Ask a Real Estate Agent

The person you choose will be involved in preparing your home for sale, establishing a listing price, marketing your property, and ultimately negotiating the transaction on your behalf to a successful conclusion.  Since all real estate agents are not the same in terms of talent and ability, it is to your advantage to ask questions before hiring one. Here are 20 important questions any agent worth his or her salt should be prepared to answer:

  1. How long have you been a real estate agent and are you also a Realtor?
  2. Is your license in good standing?Qm?  If so, what were the circumstances?
  3. Do you own your own home?  Where?
  4. Do you work full-time or part-time as a real estate agent?
  5. In what price range do you generally sell most of your homes?
  6. In which neighborhoods do you have most of your listings?
  7. How many sales (within a 2-mile radius) did you complete last year?  How many in the last two years?
  8. What is your average list-price to sell-price ratio?
  9. On average, how long (number of days) does it take for your listings to sell?
  10. Can you provide me with the names and phone numbers of past clients who have agreed to be a reference to you?
  11. Will I be working with you directly or handed off to someone else? In other words, will you handle all aspects of my transaction or will you delegate some tasks to a sales associate or administrative assistant?
  12. How long is your listing agreement period?
  13. What happens if I’m not satisfied with the job you’re doing to get my house sold?
  14. How often will you communicate with me and how?
  15. What price do you advise listing my house for?
  16. How will you market the house? (Ask to see sample materials)
  17. Why should I hire you over the competition?
  18. What haven’t I asked you that I need to know?