December 2010 Archives

December 29, 2010

Is Your Home Price and Size Scaring Away Buyers?

In the current market, large, luxury homes can be among the hardest to sell.'s Dennis Rodkin, for example, dubbed this the year of the "half-priced new mansion." And the headlines have been full of frustrated celebrities who can't unload their million-plus dollar homes. (Like Kathleen Turner, who listed her weekend beach home in the Hamptons at about $8 million five years ago, and was finally reported to have sold it for only $3.9 million in November of 2010.)

What's a luxury homeowner to do? I recently sat with a couple who were consulting with their real estate broker about this very issue. Their home wouldn't qualify as a mansion, but it's no starter home either, with up to five rooms that could be called bedrooms (because they've got a closet), a mostly finished basement, in an upscale neighborhood, with a price tag that would have been well over $1 million five years ago.

Here are some of the strategies that they and their broker came up with:
  • List it at under $1 million. Whether it could be listed higher is debatable in this market, but they're going to the low end of the range in order to draw in potential buyers who, psychologically, can't imagine buying a home with "million" in its price tag.
  • Instead of saying five bedrooms, call one of the rooms a "bonus room" (justifiable because it's smaller and in the basement anyway). Most young families -- their most likely customers in their neighborhood -- won't be searching for a five-bedroom home, and will overlook their listing if it seems too big for them. But they'll be excited by a bonus room that can be used for office space. 
  • Hire a home stager to fix it up with family appeal. The stager plans to include modern, family-friendly furnishings, so that it excites, rather than intimidates or overwhelms visitors. 
I'll keep you posted on how well these strategies work!
December 20, 2010

Renting Out a Room Helps Defray Costs of Homeownership

Hmm, rents are high, home sales prices are low, and money is tight. What better time to rent out a room in your home, as a way of defraying the costs of ownership until you someday sell?

If you've never experienced a shared living arrangement, you might wonder whether you'll end up either running a commune, living with a dangerous wacko, or simply losing all your privacy. Having rented out many a room in other people's houses myself -- both as a student and as an adult -- I can attest to the fact that it's not as scary as all that. (Though I did refuse to rent from some rather scary homeowners.)

But the key is to set expectations in advance, with a written agreement that actually goes beyond what the average lease does, spelling out things like, "You can't use that closet," and "No overnight guests -- or at least not without my permission." 

If you live in California, you're in luck: Nolo offers a kit for renting out a room in your home, complete with more advice and an agreement form, available at
December 14, 2010

Grace Your New Home With a Holiday Wreath?

IMG_3181.JPGIs it just me, or is everyone obsessed with holiday wreaths, in all their variety, this year? And, I've just noticed that the former owners of my new house left a conveniently placed nail on the front door!

So, in order to feed that obsession (because you know, it only gets worse if you deny it), below are some fun online places to research how to buy or make a wreath that will welcome you back home in style.

While we're on the topic, if you happen to be putting your house on the market soon, a wreath is a non-sectarian way to add appeal to your entryway.
  • Article from This Old House magazine--don't miss the wreath made of antique tools
  • Lots of ideas from Sunset magazine--start collecting those eucalyptus pods now!
  • Purportedly eco-friendly wreaths from Good Housekeeping--though I'm not sure how fake, plastic apples got to be defined as eco-friendly

By the way, if anyone's looking for a present for me -- perhaps knowing all too well that those branches and berries piling up on my desk may never amount to anything -- I'm entranced with these succulent wreaths, made in Phoenix, Arizona.

December 7, 2010

Real Estate Agent References: Ask for Negative Ones?

A friend recently told me about his novel approach to choosing a real estate agent to sell his house. He asked not only for the usual marketing plan and analysis of comparable properties, but for references - no, that's not the novel part yet - references from people who hated the agent, who complained of a bad experience.

One agent never called back. A couple of others ignored that  part of his request.

But one agent did, in fact, give my friend the names of people who'd been unhappy with her services. He listened to their complaints - for example, one homeseller felt she'd been slow to deal with a situation where a passing truck had knocked over the "For Sale" sign - and ultimately decided they weren't  fatal.

Impressed with the rest of the agent's presentation, my friend decided to hire her. He was delighted with the results, and now can't speak highly enough of her.

Would I recommend adding a request for negative references to your list of questions for agents? It's certainly unorthodox, and might send more than one agent running for the hills.

And even people who give glowing reviews can, with enough sounding out, alert you to an agent's weaker points. Furthermore, a savvy agent probably wouldn't give you names of the people who really, really hated him or her - more likely the ones who had a few small beefs. But if you're having trouble getting a good sense of a particular agent, or choosing which one among them you'd most like to work with, you might give my friend's approach a try! Let me know what happens.