We’ve talked about the benefits and the pitfalls of a fix and flip (in a nutshell: you could make a load of money or you could end up in the psych ward) when you are, in fact, the fixer and the flipper. But what if you are just on the buying end of the deal? What if you are the lucky potential owner of a house that has been polished and prettied up for you?
Well, first, pat yourself on the back for finding a diamond without the rough. You just saved yourself a lot of work. And maybe your sanity. And who can put a price on sanity?
The most important thing, besides imagining your first cocktail party and where you’ll hang the Halloween decorations, is to make sure the house is safe, both structurally and environmentally. Here are a few issues to investigate before you move in:
Usually asbestos is found in homes built before 1980, so if you are considering a house that was built before then, ask for an asbestos test as part of your contract. Asbestos can hide in a lot of places, including insulation and vinyl tiles.
Most homes built before 1978 will have lead paint, but the test to find lead is invasive. Most sellers will provide a disclosure to buyers stating that the presence of lead-based paint is not known. If you are concerned about this as a buyer, you can test for lead-based paint once you purchase the property.
Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas that exists in the ground and can seep into your home through cracks and holes in the foundation. Radon gas can also contaminate well water. And radon can cause lung cancer. Fun, right? So, in a nutshell, request a radon test before buying.
Those trees in the front yard are gorgeous, but they could cause you problems in the future. Asking the seller to provide a sewer scope allows you to identify where a line is damaged and where roots may be entering or suffocating a pipe. And a scope will allow you to see how many areas in the pipe system need attention, which will determine if you’re looking at repair or replacement. As you can imagine, the word ‘replacement’ is much more costly than ‘repair.’
Talk To People:
Like the planning department, your neighbors, your realtor and the owners. The planning department can offer guidelines on what is and is not allowed for future renovations; so if you are buying this house with big plans to pop the top or extend the kitchen, be sure those projects will be approved before you buy.
And making inroads with the neighbors is always helpful; these are the people who can tell you what really happens on the block, how strict the HOA board is, and how the area has changed over the years.
Your realtor is on your side, always. But so are the current owners. Really. They want to sell you their house just as much as you want to buy it. So ask them for insight on the property, the previous owners, and any contractors and suppliers they used to update the space.
Finding your next home should be a dream, not a nightmare.
You know the saying: “If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a house flip.”
Isn’t that how it goes?
Okay, maybe that’s not the original phrase, but the house flip frenzy is still happening for the same reason diet pills and spray tans are popular – we like things to be fast and easy.
Flipping houses is a gamble; and as in gambling, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. If the stars align and you find an underpriced house in a great neighborhood that needs a little TLC before hitting the market, you’re probably going to make some money.
But. . .
If you find that same house and then uncover the creeping mold, the cracked foundation and the sketchy electricity, you can say goodbye to your profit and your sanity.
Don’t get me wrong here – I am not against house flips. On a big, big scale it can be good for the seller, the buyer, and the neighborhood. After all, updating an eyesore and finding owners to love and cherish a property is a good thing.
Still, with television shows such as Property Brothers and Flip or Flop, with all of their fancy lighting, hunky contractors and 30-minute timeframe, it’s easy to get swept up in something that appears to be fast and easy when, in real life, it can be slow and really, really (really!) tough.
Planning on buying a ‘fix and flip?’ Here are a few tips to keep you in the money, instead of landing you in a money pit:
Rely on a Realtor and Other Professionals:
Realtors, real estate attorneys and accountants can help you navigate the dollars and sense of an investment. Could buying this house put your financial future in jeopardy? Or your other properties? Or your bank account? Before taking this step, recognize what’s at risk with you and your investments.
When it comes to the nuts and bolts of things, surround yourself with reputable, experienced professionals. Make sure all of your contractors and suppliers are licensed, insured, recommended, honest, trustworthy and competent. Also, work with people you like. You’re going to be working side-by-side on a huge project, and you want to get along with the people who are literally putting your house together.
Don’t Be a Hero:
If you have questions, ask. If you don’t agree with a suggestion from a friend, investment partner, supplier, speak up. If you don’t know how to rewire the water heater, don’t! Just don’t!
Do Your Due Diligence:
There are insurance policies for building repairs that all licensed contractors must hold in order to be in the business. There are specialty policies for buildings that are vacant or under construction. There are home warranties that can protect the appliances already in the home. Looking into insurance is just a way of looking out for yourself.
Look Under the Hood:
Hire the best inspector you can find and don’t balk on the cost. I promise that in the end this expense will actually save you money. An inspector knows what to look for, what is an easy fix and what is a nightmare. Stay away from the nightmare. Nightmares are…scary.
And Back to the Realtor:
No matter how great the house looks, if you don’t have a savvy Realtor on your side, it’s not going to sell. Look for a Realtor who has pulled comps for your neighborhood. Look for someone with experience, a solid marketing plan, a list of recommendations and a network of buyers and sellers.
This blog is a first in a series on the frenzy over fix and flips. Look for part two in the weeks ahead. In meantime, do you have a fantastic or frightening fix and flip story to share? Let’s hear it!
A colleague outside of the real estate business recently asked me if he needed a Realtor when purchasing new construction.
Well – it depends.
If you are the type of person who can cut your own hair, perform your own knee surgery, or fit your own contact lenses, then no.
(And, also, you rock.)
If you are like the other 99.9 percent of the people in the world who happen to be great at some things, but not an expert in all things, then yes. A Realtor, even for a new build, is essential.
Why? Well, a Realtor works for you, not the builder. This means that your needs and wants are the number one priority during negotiation, purchase, construction and final walkthrough. A Realtor is looking out for you. A builder is looking out for the builder – aka: himself.
Here are some added benefits:
If you know where you want to live and the model build you want, you are ahead of the game. If you don’t, a Realtor can offer valuable, unbiased insight on floor plans, finishes, and even plot angles. A Realtor comes to the table with a vast amount of knowledge about the builder’s reputation and can help you avoid costly mistakes and long-lasting headaches.
Using a Realtor will not cost you extra money, but will save you dollars in the end. A Realtor’s commission is paid by the seller – in this case – the builder. But the Realtor is working for you, to protect you from unnecessary upgrades in the beginning and from not getting everything you’ve been promised in the end.
A Realtor has been through the process of buying before (probably dozens, if not hundreds of times). And while this may not be your first home purchase, it is still beneficial to have someone representing you in the transaction. And since you are the one who is spending your hard-earned money and you are the one who is waiting months for a new home and you are the one who is going to live in said home for the next chunk of years, it only benefits you to have someone on your side. Why be the Lone Ranger when you could have Tonto?
Final note: If you are touring a new construction model and the builder may ask you to ‘register’. It’s best to either decline this offer or tell the builder that you are already working with a Realtor and will be returning with him/her at a later date. Builders will always encourage buyers to spend on upgrades, and having a Realtor representing YOU will protect you and your bank account. Negotiating directly with a builder is doable, but not recommended – like cutting your own hair. Performing knee surgery on yourself. Fitting those lenses.
Spring-cleaning is upon us and many of you are chomping at the mop to hunker down so you can scrub up and throw out. It’s a “No baseboard left behind!” kind of feeling, and I, too, get into the spirit.
But that same spring-clean-y spirit was recently – um – tarnished – when I came upon the most recent issue of Real Simple Magazine. Apparently this shiny, high tech device I am typing on is one of the dirtiest things in my midst. And here I was innocently creeping myself out over bathroom grout. Leave it to the media to one-up the gross factor every single time.
Yes. In fact, our sleek, gleaming tech tools are some of the grimiest things around. So before you tackle the traditional baseboards, you might want to tromp on the technology.
Before you read further, may I suggest considering some or all of the following items:
All Purpose Cleaner:
Honest Company makes an all-natural version (and offers a nice deal on a trial bundle) or you can always use what you’ve got in the cabinet. An all-purpose cleaner is useful for general cleaning of door handles and home phone systems.
I have never heard of these before and now I do not know how I have lived this long without one. I am considering some sort of holster to carry around my latest gadget to clean my gadgets. You can find all kinds of options at Amazon – Real Simple recommends the Verilux Clean-Wave UV-C Sanitizing Wand.
My personal favorite is Restoration Hardware’s WHOOSH cleaner, mostly because it is all-natural and comes with a microfiber cloth and a little travel size bottle for disinfecting on-the-go (more on that later). But the manufacturer AM offers a great product that looks the part, too.
Compressed Air Spray / Duster:
You can find these at an office supply store – but you may be surprised to learn that they are often kept behind the counter, due to a recent trend of teens using this product to for other purposes.
Bravery and Courage:
This next part is going to make you feel ill – so … you’ve been warned.
Okay, now that you are armed and maybe a little bit dangerous, here’s the dirt (literally):
The Remote Control:
And you thought watching reality TV could make you sick? Well, flipping through the channels is what could get you in the end. According to a study at the Virginia School of Medicine, the remote control has more germs than even the toilet handle. YUK!
*Clean this dirty little monster by spraying it with compressed air, bathing it in disinfecting wipes and then – for good measure – wand it to death. Actually, let’s just plan on wanding everything from here forward.
Fingers are dirty and then screens are dirty and then you wash your hands and then you touch the dirty screen again. It’s a vicious, vicious cycle – like getting on Pinterest or eating french fries. Once you start, you can’t stop.
*First, do wash your hands. Then wipe the entire screen with special screen cleaner (not Windex) and wash your hands again. Touch screens, like children, attract dirt. Speaking of children, if you’ve got little people playing or studying on your tablet, bump up the cleaning schedule. Or tell them to move (I know a good Realtor).
Why oh why Real Simple? Why did you put “Sweat and wax build up with each use” in this article? I am sure to have nightmares.
*Experts on all things disgusting suggest you wipe earbuds with a solution of mild dish soap and water.
Um –apparently dirtier than a toilet seat!
* Remove the batteries or unplug your keyboard and throw it out the window. No – kidding. Turn it upside down and shake gently. Then spray the keyboard with compressed air and sanitize with a safe screen cleaner. Wand it.
Remember when I said we’d come back to “on-the-go?” Here’s why: a 2011 study from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that one in six cell phones is tainted with fecal matter. Why? Because talking on the phone while in the bathroom is becoming common and flushing a toilet sends – and I quote here – “a spray of hundreds of thousands of contaminated droplets into the air, some of which land on the phone.” And then you touch the phone. And you put the phone up to your face. And then you die a slow and painful death.
*Use the sanitizer wipes created for electronic devices often, consider investing in a Cell-Blaster Universal UV Cell-Phone Sanitizer, do not use your cell phone in the lavatory and close the seat.
Let me know about your spring-cleaning – in the meantime, I am off to disinfect.
I’ve been in the real estate business for a long time, so you’d think I couldn’t be surprised by anything anymore. Oh my friends — how wrong you are! I am surprised when I see a house with a hot tub in the main living area. I am surprised by cat pictures hanging everywhere. I am surprised that sellers think cooking fish the night before a showing is a good idea.
But the thing I am still most surprised by is the lack of attention even savvy sellers give to the outside of their homes. I’ve had clients de-clutter, paint, and stage their homes in a way that would rival design magazines, yet they’ve overlooked the old doormat out front. The dead plant on the back patio. The screen door that has been attacked by — well — probably those cats who were featured on the walls of that aforementioned home, but I don’t have proof. Cats are very sneaky you know.
Whether you are in the market to sell or just in the market to enjoy pulling into your driveway everyday, curb appeal is, as Martha would say, “a good thing.” And it’s not hard, it doesn’t have to be expensive, and it can change your listed home from a ‘maybe’ to a ‘make an offer’ — really. After all, buyers looking at your home is the equivalent of a first date. Remember first dates? Ah – first dates. You were a little bit nervous. You wanted to look your best. You cleaned yourself up. You put on a little shine. You smiled. You made yourself available for a second glance. You were ON THE MARKET for God’s sake.
Now your house is on the market. Be nice to your house and buy her a new coat of paint for the big (listing) date. Maybe trim the trees a bit, wash the windows, fix the cracks. Better Homes and Gardens offers a list of 20 ways to update your home’s exterior. I am not listing them all because, let’s face it, adding stone veneer probably isn’t on your list of to-dos. But if it IS, check out the full list here and let me know how it goes. In the meantime, try some of these smaller, more manageable projects:
Dress up the front door
Your home’s front entry is the focal point of its curb appeal. Make a statement by giving your front door a blast of color with paint or by installing a custom wood door. Clean off any dirty spots around the knob, and use metal polish on the door fixtures. Your entry should also reflect the home’s interior, so choose a simple swag or wreath that reflects your personal style.
Replace old hardware
House numbers, the entry door lockset, a wall-mounted mailbox, and an overhead light fixture are all elements that can add style and interest to your home’s exterior. If your existing pieces are dated or dingy, your home may not be conveying the aesthetic you think it is. These elements add the most appeal when they function collectively, rather than as mix-and-match pieces. Oiled-bronze finishes suit traditional homes, while brushed nickel suits more contemporary ones.
Create perfect symmetry
Symmetry is not only pleasing to the eye, it’s also the simplest to arrange. Think about it like a necklace with matching earrings. Symmetrical compositions of light fixtures and front-door accents create welcoming entryways.
Create an instant garden
Container gardens add a welcoming feel and colorful appeal to any home exterior — quickly and affordably. You can buy ready-made containers from garden centers or create your own with your favorite plants. For most landscapes, a staggered, asymmetrical arrangement works best to create a dynamic setting.
Do a mailbox makeover
Mailboxes should complement the home and express the homeowner’s personality. When choosing a hanging drop box, pick a box that mirrors your home’s trimmings. Dress up mail boxes by painting the wooden post to match the house’s exterior color, or by surrounding it by a beautiful flowering garden.
Renew planter beds
Get garden beds into shape by pruning growth, pulling weeds, planting flowers, and adding new mulch to restore color that was taken away by sunlight and harsh weather. If stone or brick borders your bed, consider cleaning and resetting any pieces that are soiled or dislodged. If your border is old or tired-looking, try upgrading to stone or a decorative cast-concrete edging system.
Install outdoor lighting
Low-voltage landscape lighting makes a huge impact on your home’s curb appeal while also providing safety and security. Savvy buyers scope out neighborhoods at all times of day. Fixtures can add accent lighting to trees and the house or can illuminate a walking path. If you aren’t able to use lights that require wiring, install solar fixtures (but understand that their light levels are not as bright or as reliable as their wired counterparts).
Replace gutters and downspouts
If your home has an older gutter system, odds are it’s also suffering from peeling paint, rust spots, or other problems that can convey a sense of neglect. Replace old systems with newer, snap-fit vinyl gutter systems that go together with few tools and require no painting. Copper systems, while pricier, convey an unmistakable look of quality.
Dress up the driveway
If your driveway is cracked or stained or has vegetation sprouting from it, you can upgrade it without a complete redo. First, repair the cracks and stains (and kill the weeds), then dress it up by staining the concrete or affixing flagstones. If you need more room to move your car or park, add stone, brick, or pavers to the sides of the drive to widen it with flair.
Please tell me how you have or plan to dress up your house for its next hot date! Visit me on Facebook and share your story.