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10 Simple Upgrades that Can Transform an Outdated Home

Homesellers can spend a ton of money getting a home ready to go on the market, but they don’t necessarily have to. Here are 10 easy ways sellers can update a home’s look without spending much cash.

1. Declutter (and clean!) 

Most people have too much stuff. Your clients are moving anyway, so it’s never too early for them to start paring down kids’ toys, over-the-hill garden equipment and supplies, and a mishmash of garden ornaments and random potted plants.

They can clear out overstuffed closets and their full-to-the-rafters garage immediately. Before the property goes on the market, they can scrub everything until it shines, and the house smells as clean as it looks.

2. Amp up the house numbers

Not finding a property because the address is hiding behind overgrown shrubs and the original house numbers are two inches tall is every agent’s pet peeve. And it leaves a horrible first impression with buyers, too. So, encourage your sellers to install new high-style, high-visibility house numbers. And make sure there’s plenty of light shining on that sharp new address as well.

3. Make a great first impression 

There’s a reason “you only have one chance to make a good first impression” has achieved maxim status. Agents estimate buyers give a prospective home about 10 seconds before deciding if they love it or hate it. 

That’s why curb appeal — the appearance of the front yard and entrance — and the first impression of the interior from the entry are crucial. An afternoon spent banishing peeling spots on the wall and trim paint inside and out, refreshing the front door, and replacing fading plantings, fixtures, and accessories (like doormats) is a low-cost, high-impact move.

4. Upgrade the lighting

From the porch light to the dining room chandelier and bathroom vanity strips, if sellers haven’t replaced fixtures recently, old fixtures are making their home look dated and uninspiring — especially if they aren’t well-coordinated. 

Simply replacing builder-grade, flush-mounted ceiling lights (aka “boob” lights) with recessed LED cans and makeup-mirror type bathroom strip lights with stylish sconces is a game-changer. And an eye-catching chandelier elevates even a modest dining area. So, such changes deliver a satisfying amount of bang for the buck.

5. Install new outlet covers and switch plates

Like lighting, outlet covers and switch plates can date a home badly. But changing them out is easy and economical. So, there’s no reason to stick with builder-grade ivory plastic, paint-caked covers or outdated metal plates. 

If your sellers are having trouble selecting suitable substitutes, you or your stager can lend a hand. You’re shooting for something that’s updated yet compatible with varied design styles.

6. Nix dated window and wall treatments 

Elaborate draperies, dated blinds, faux finishes and “accent walls” rarely represent buyers’ notions of “move-in-ready” homes. Replacing fussy window coverings with the far simpler curtains and blinds favored today is a relatively easy task. 

Painting over dated finishes might take a little more time, but it’s worth it to keep prospective buyers from taking one look inside and making a run for it.

7. Think mirrors 

Baths and kitchens sell houses. So, sellers should plan to update these spaces. They can frame builder-grade bath mirrors or replace them with their more interesting hanging counterparts. 

But why have sellers stop there? Mirrors add light and sparkle to living spaces and even bedrooms. Advise your sellers to search online and at brick-and-mortar home accessory retailers to see a broad selection of styles and prices.

8. Update the hardware

Hardware finishes ebb and flow in popularity, just like other design components. So, replacing out-of-favor hardware — from curtain roads to door hinges and knobs — is a worthwhile update. Nowhere is that more true than in kitchens and baths, where door and drawer pulls — or the lack of them — can scream so last century

Replacing them is simple if sellers choose pulls that conform to the existing installation pattern, and hinges are hidden, so those don’t have to be replaced, too. But even if the seller isn’t handy and has to hire someone to tackle the job, it will be an economic update that pays significant style dividends.

9. Refresh the backsplash

Once the hardware is updated, kitchens benefit from reviving backsplashes that have seen better days. Maybe sellers will agree to install beadboard or new tile in a hip pattern. Or, they can do something as simple as cleaning and painting the backsplash in an arresting color. Whatever the chosen material, a shiny new backsplash makes a great impression when buyers first walk into a home’s kitchen.

10. Replace dated or mismatched appliances

Appliances fail at varying rates and get replaced with models in the newest “in” finish. So, it’s possible to walk into a seller’s kitchen and find the dishwasher, stove, range hood and refrigerator in varied finishes. 

They may work, but mismatched appliances do not sell houses. Replacing everything with new models in matching finishes is not inexpensive. But appliance and home improvement stores often offer package deals and free financing over generous timeframes. So, sellers who plan to go on the market relatively soon can consider this a cost of sale that gets paid off at closing.

Naturally, there are other projects sellers might decide to undertake to maximize their selling price and minimize time on the market. Replacing beat-up flooring and addressing major buyer turnoffs like tile countertops leap to mind as fixes in that category. Before undertaking major updates like that, sellers might need time to think about how to do them best — and pay for them.

But these 10 easy updates are no-brainers. Prospective buyers will appreciate them. Even if the homeowners change their minds about selling, they’ll get to live in an updated house that cost little beyond elbow grease. And, that’s a win-win no matter what happens.

November 15, 2020

Buy v. Rent?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median rent continues to rise. With today’s low mortgage rates, there’s great opportunity for current renters to make a move into homeownership that stretches each dollar a little bit further.

While the best timeline to buy a home is different for everyone, the question remains: Should I continue renting or is it time for me to buy? The answer depends on your current situation and your future plans, so here are some thoughts to help you decide if you’re ready to own a home of your own.

1. Rent Will Continue to Increase

This is one of the top reasons why renters decide to move because in most cases, rent will continue increasing each year. As noted above, the U.S. Census Bureau recently released its quarterly homeownership report, and as the graph below shows, median rent is climbing year after year. When you own a home, you’ll lock in your monthly payment for the life of your loan, creating consistency and predictability in your payments.

2. Freedom to Customize

This is a big decision-making point for many people who want to be able to paint, renovate, and make home upgrades. In many cases, landlords determine all of these selections and prefer you do not alter them as a renter. As a homeowner, you have the freedom to decorate and personalize your home to truly make it your own.

3. Privacy

When renting, your landlord has access to your space in case of an emergency. If you own your home, however, you’re the one to decide who can come inside. Given today’s health concerns around the pandemic, this may be a growing priority for you.

4. Flexibility for Relocation

If you’re renting, it may be easier to move quickly should you have a job transfer or simply decide it’s time for a change. When you’re a homeowner and need to sell your house, this might take a little more time. Today, however, with the housing market’s low inventory, this may no longer be the case. Homes are selling at a record-breaking pace, so you may have more flexibility than you think.

5. Building Equity

When you pay your rent, your landlord earns the equity the property gains. If you own your home, the benefits of your investment go directly toward your net worth. This is savings you’ll be able to use in the future for things like sending children to college, starting a new business, buying a bigger home, or simply downsizing to save for retirement.

6. Tax Advantages

When you own your home, there are additional advantages that work in your favor as well. You can deduct things like your property taxes and mortgage interest (Always make sure you check with your accountant to see which tax-deductible benefits apply to your situation). When you rent, however, the tax benefits are directed to your landlord.


It’s up to you to decide if you’d prefer to rent or buy, and it’s different for every person. If you’d like to learn more about the pros and cons of each, as well as resources to help you along the way, contact a local real estate professional to discuss your options. This way, you can make a confident and informed decision with a trusted expert on your side.

Should You Wait To List Your House?

Many industries have been devastated by the economic shutdown caused by the COVID-19 virus. Real estate is not one of them.

Mark Fleming, Chief Economist for First American, just reported:

“Since hitting a low point during the initial stages of the pandemic, the only major industry to display immunity to the economic impacts of the coronavirus is the housing market. Housing has experienced a strong V-shaped recovery and is now exceeding pre-pandemic levels.”

Buyer demand is still strong heading into the fall. ShowingTime, which tracks the average number of buyer showings on residential properties, just announced that buyer showings are up 61.9% compared to the same time last year. They went on to say:

“Normally, real estate activity begins to slow down in the late summer, but this year it peaked in July, August and into September.”

There Is One Big Challenge

Purchaser demand is so high, the market is running out of available homes for sale. Just last week, reported:

“Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic in March, nearly 400,000 fewer homes have been listed compared to last year, leaving a gaping hole in the U.S. housing inventory.”

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) revealed that, while home sales are skyrocketing, the inventory of existing homes for sale is dropping dramatically. Below is a graph of existing inventory (September numbers are not yet available):Homebuilders are increasing construction, but they cannot keep up with the high demand. Bill McBride, founder of the Calculated Risk blog, in discussing inventory of newly constructed houses, notes:

“The months of supply decreased to 3.3 months…This is the all-time record low months of supply.”

What does this mean for sellers?

Anyone thinking of putting their home on the market should not wait. A seller will always negotiate the best deal when demand is high and supply is limited. That’s exactly the situation in the real estate market today.

Next year, when the pandemic is hopefully behind us, there will be many more properties coming to the market. Don’t wait for that increase in competition in your neighborhood. Now is the time to sell.

Bottom Line

Reach out to a local real estate professional today to get your house on the market at this optimal time to sell.

Do You Need a REALTOR?

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There are many benefits to working with a real estate professional when selling your house. During challenging times, like what we face today, it becomes even more important to have an expert you trust to help guide you through the process. If you are considering selling on your own, known as For Sale By Owner (FSBO), it is critical to consider the following items:

Your Safety is a Priority

Your family’s safety should always come first, and that is more crucial than ever given the current health situation in our country. When you FSBO, it is incredibly difficult to control entry into your home. A realtor will have the proper protocols in place to protect not only your belongings but your family’s health and well-being too. From regulating the number of people in your home at one time to ensuring proper sanitization during and after a showing, and even facilitating virtual tours for buyers, realtors are equipped to follow the latest industry standards recommended by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) to help protect you and your family.

A Powerful Outline Strategy is a Must to Attract a Buyer

Recent studies from NAR have shown that, even before COVID-19, the first step 44% of all buyers took when looking for a home was to search online. Throughout the process, that number jumps to 93%. Today, those numbers have grown exponentially. Most real estate agents have developed a strong internet and social media strategy to promote the sale of your house. Have you?

There Are Too Many Negotiations

Here are just a few of the people you’ll need to negotiate with if you decide to FSBO:

  • The buyer, who wants the best deal possible
  • The buyer’s agent, who solely represents the best interest of the buyer
  • The inspection companies, which work for the buyer and will almost always find challenges with the house
  • The appraiser, if there is a question of value.

As part of their training, agents are taught how to negotiate every aspect of the real estate transaction and how to mediate the emotions felt by buyers looking to make what is probably the largest purchase of their lives.

You Won’t Know if Your Purchaser Is Qualified for a Mortgage

Having a buyer who wants to purchase your house is the first step. Making sure they can afford to buy it is just as important. As a FSBO, it’s almost impossible to be involved in the mortgage process of your buyer. A real estate professional is trained to ask the appropriate questions and, in most cases, will be intimately aware of the progress being made toward a purchaser’s mortgage commitment.

Further complicating the situation is how the current mortgage market is rapidly evolving because of the number of families out of work and in mortgage forbearance. A loan program that was available yesterday could be gone tomorrow. You need someone who is working with lenders every day to guarantee your buyer makes it to the closing table.

FSBO’ing Has Becoming More Difficult from a Legal Standpoint

The documentation involved in the selling process has increased dramatically as more and more disclosure and regulations have become mandatory. In an increasingly litigious society, the agent acts as a third-party to help the seller avoid legal jeopardy. This is one of the major reasons why the percentage of people FSBO’ing has dropped from 10% to 8% over the last 20+ years.

You Net More Money When Using an Agent

Many homeowners believe they’ll save the real estate commission by selling on their own. Real that they main reason buyers look at FSBO is because they also believe they can save the real estate agent’s commission. The seller and buyer can’t both save on the commission.

A study by Collateral Analytics revealed that FSBO’s don’t actually save anything by foregoing the help help of an agent. In some cases, the seller may even net less money from the sale. The Study found the difference in price between a FSBO and an agent-listed home was an average of 6%.

“Properties listed with a broker that is a member of the local MLS will be listed online with all other participating broker websites, marketing the home to a much larger buyer population. An those MLS properties generally offer compensation to agents who represent buyers, incentivizing them to show and sell the property and again potentially enlarging the buyer pool.”

The more buyers that view a home, the greater the change a bidding war will take place.


Listing on your own leaves you to manage the entire transaction by yourself. Why do that when you can hire an agent and still net the same amount of money or maybe more? Before you decide to take on the challenge of selling your house alone, reach out to a local real estate professional to discuss your options.

How Clean is your Washing Machine?

Just because you fill your machine with laundry detergent doesn’t mean you don’t need to clean the washing machine itself. It sounds counterintuitive, but while your machine is ridding your clothes of dirt, it doesn’t always rid itself of that same dirt or a buildup of detergent residue. Plus, the new HE machines are especially prone to developing mold and mildew, especially if you live in an area of high humidity, which can lead to an odor developing both in the machine itsef and on your “clean” clothes. Here’s how to clean a washing machine.

How Often Should You Clean a Washing Machine?

Most manufacturers recommend cleaning the washing machine once a month. A quick internet search and survey of friends and family will confirm that the majority of us are still wrapping our heads around the idea of cleaning the machine in the first place.

Before Cleaning: Identify Your Machine and Select Your Cleanser

The type of washing machine you have will dictate which method you use to clean it. HE front loaders and top loaders need one approach; top-loading non-HE machines need a slightly different approach.

Before you start, decide what type of cleaner you want to use: white vinegar, bleach or a commercial cleanser. Using vinegar to clean a washing machine is nontoxic, and it’s readily available. Some manufacturers recommend bleach or other chemical cleansers, so check the manual for your machine. If you are using a commercial product, follow the label’s instructions for the recommended amount.

How to Clean a High-Efficiency (HE) Washing Machine (Front or Top Loader)

A monthly cleaning is especially important if your HE machine has developed an odor. Wiping down the inside of the washer will do nothing to elimate the odor. Many newer high-efficiency machines have a clean cycle, which makes the process even simpler, but the basic procedure is the same whether you have that or not.

  1. Chose the “clean” cycle. If you machine doesn’t have this, select the hottest water setting.
  2. Choose the added rinse cycle if it’s available.
  3. Fill the bleach dispenser with your cleanser choice
  4. Fill the tub to the highest level (this will probably be automatic with the clean cycle) and run the machine.
  5. If you don’t have a second rinse cycle, run the rinse cycle again manually.

Once the cycle has ended, us a microfiber cloth dipped in vinegar to clean the gasket that seals the door and the area around it. Finish by wiping down the controls and the outside of the machine with a microfiber cloth dipped in vinegar or an all-purpose spray.

How to Clean a Top-Loading Washing Machine

Although older top loaders don’t generally have a cycle for cleaning, you can easily create your own version. It involves a bit of a wait time between beginning the cycle and ending it, so use that time to clean other areas that won’t be reached by the water in the tub.

  1. Choose the hot water setting and the longest cycle.
  2. Fill the tub to the maximum level, then pause the machine.
  3. Add 4 cups of white vinegar or 1 cup of bleach to the water and let the machine agitate for a minute or two.
  4. Pause the washing machine and let it sit for an hour. Dip a microfiber cloth into the soaking solution, wring it out and use it to clean the top of the drum and agitator and the inside of the lid.

If you can remove the bleach and fabric softener dispensers, do so and clean the areas beneath them with the cloth and cleaning solution as well. If they are fixed in place, clean them and the area around them. Finally, clean the control panel and the outside of the machine with the cleaning solution or an all-purpose spray. Use a dry microfiber cloth to dry and polish the surface.

5. Restart the machine and finish the cycle.

Daily (or Almost Daily) Care

The experts also have some advice for preventing a buildup of dirt and odors between cleanings. If mold and mildew are a problem, leave the machine’s door or lid open after you finish a load of laundry so that the interior will dry out completely. Before you do this, make sure curious children and pets can’t get into the machine, especially if it’s a front-loading one. Some machines have latches designed to keep the door ajar without leaving it wide open.

As a final tip, be sure to use the correct amount of detergent for your loads!

Here’s to clean clothes and washing machines. We hope this was helpful.

Marianne Lipanovich, contributor for Houzz

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