Are Appraisals Detrimental to Home Sales?

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It wasn't that long ago that an appraisal was just a mere formality in the home closing process. No one really gave it much thought other than to scratch out a check to pay for it. Then, the real estate market started to flounder, mortgage fraud infiltrated the industry, the economy started to bust and the job market waned. These days, an appraisal can suck the air right out of an otherwise great real estate deal.

Let's say the buyer and seller come to an agreement to sell a property for $350,000. When the appraisal comes back, the home is only valued at $330,000. This is likely due to foreclosures in the area or other home sellers who sold for way less just to get out from under their mortgage obligations. What can the buyer and seller do? There are really just two choices: the buyer can put up more money or the seller can come down to the appraised value. Sometimes, the parties may also meet in the middle.

New requirements and a volatile housing market have made appraisals a tenuous part of the real estate process. Looking at year-to-date numbers in September 2011, one third of Realtors said that appraisals have resulted in sellers and buyers canceling or delaying contracts, or even renegotiating for a lower sales price. This is according to the National Association of Realtors. This number has increased a whopping 29% in all of 2010 and is up from less than 10% before 2009.

Lenders are definitely requiring more detailed home appraisals right now. When an appraiser determines the value of a home, they have to use information from the local market including prices of sold homes. These sales must also be recent which means that an appraiser cannot simply go back in time to when homes were selling for higher prices in the area. When the housing boom was in full swing, appraisers only had to use about three recently closed homes. Now, many lenders require 2 to 3 times that amount.

In order to meet the quota, appraisers say that they often have to use homes that really are not similar to the subject property. In fact, these homes could be short sales or foreclosures. Although they can take these unfortunate circumstances into consideration, these homes still factor into the appraised value.

Are Low Appraisals Good for Buyers?

This more thorough appraisal process does have its own benefits, however. Buyers now know whether they may be offering too much for a property. In the past, the market was so robust that buyers often overpaid just to get the home they wanted.

This process may also cause homes to be cheaper for buyers, but the hassles seem to have increased. If the appraisal does come in too low, the lender will offer a smaller mortgage amount. This can leave a buyer in a precarious situation where they either have to make up the difference, get the seller to reduce the price or lose out on their dream home.

Sellers do often lower their sales prices according to Realtors who responded to a NAR survey recently. During the three months ending with September, 13% of Realtors reported that their contracts were renegotiated to a lower sales price. Another 10% said their contracts were canceled while 8% had contracts that were delayed.

How Can Buyers and Sellers Deal with Complications?

- Sellers should do some research before listing their home to see what others are selling for in the area. They can even visit local open houses, speak to Realtors and look at online listings to compare. Sellers must be realistic as the market has changed over the last few years. They can also go ahead and order an appraisal for a firmer opinion.

- Buyers should make offers which include a clause guaranteeing that they will get their earnest money back in full if the financing does not get approved for the contract price or if the appraisal comes in too low.

What if the Appraisal is Low?

If the appraisal does come in too low, buyers can make several decisions: walk away, pay the difference, appeal for another appraisal or renegotiate with the seller. If any party feels the appraiser is acting unethically in some way, they can be reported to the state's appraisal board.

Tips On Getting Your Home Sold Better, Faster and At a Great Price

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Though almost anyone you ask will tell you that the best time to be selling a home is in early spring and in the summer, the truth is that many experienced Realtors would advise otherwise.  As the leaves continue to fall and the weather gets colder, fewer homeowners end up putting their home on the market for sale.   In actuality however, so-called “off seasons” are better times to sell because of several reasons.

First, there is less competition which means there will be more buyers vying for fewer homes and the chances of your home getting sold faster at a price you are more comfortable are higher.  Second, savvy buyers these days know when a good deal comes their way and though it is a soft market nationwide for the most part, good homes that are in great condition are the fastest to go and of course the most in demand.

Making Sure Your Home Is A Cut Above the Rest

Considering that during the cooler months more buyers have less to work with in terms of inventory, one of the best opportunities you have to stand out in the crowd is to be that one house on the block (or area) that is in perfect condition.  Make an effort starting now to prepare the home so that when it comes time to put it on the market, the property is in perfect showing condition.

Take care of any scuffmarks, moving dents in the case of a vacant home or other surface blemishes on the walls.  Apply a fresh coat of paint in all areas where it is needed.  Have carpets that are in reasonably good condition professionally steam cleaned or replace carpeting altogether.  Refurbish, polish and professionally clean all wood, laminate and tile floors.  Power wash exterior windows and siding.  Update any outdated appliances or fix and/or replace anything that is not in working order.  Assign some attention to curb appeal, maintain the outdoor areas making the home’s exterior inviting.

Price Your Home Effectively

The single biggest reason that homes do not sell easily or quickly is that they are overpriced.  Be conscientious when determining the price of your home.  In fact, as a proactive measure, many sellers are paying for an appraisal as part of the process so that they can get a professionally accurate idea of what their home is valued compared to other like homes in the vicinity.  This also serves as an excellent selling and negotiation tool when it comes to price haggling.

The attached article illustrates 7 Deadly Sins of Overpricing, courtesy some of the things sellers do that get in the way of selling their homes.  The list includes things like paving the way for your competition’s success when buyers compare your high price to lower prices in neighboring homes.  Another problem that occurs as a result of overpricing is market stagnation where the home sits on the market way too long and then fails to attract enough attention.

Don’t Wait Till the Snow Melts

By placing your home on the market as early as mid-January to early February, you will be able to take advantage of the early buyers out there.  Keep in mind that real estate agents also scour the MLS listings out there and communicate them with their buyers. Many times in this case, the early bird definitely gets the worm.
The three main factors in any market that will result in a home sale are location, condition and price.  There is little that homeowners can do about their location when reselling their property however condition and price are two areas that are very much in their own hands.  With the guidance of an experienced Realtor you can achieve your home-selling goals and do it very effectively!

How to Save Yourself Time, Energy and Money from Unnecessary Water Damage

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As we move into the colder, winter months – it is absolutely critical to manage potential water damage and other serious damage that could occur if the proper winterizing maintenance is not taken care of in a timely manner.

Preventing Water Damage

On the exterior of the home, there are myriad ways water can seep through and get into places that could ultimately cause lots of problems.  The main thing you need to keep in mind when preventing water damage from occurring is that as long as water stays away from the home and does not get into crevices and cracks – you are in the clear.  The simplest way to prevent this from happening is to examine all potential problem areas and accordingly either reseal, clean up or adjust the areas.  Water damage usually occurs where there is water penetration due to ill-maintained parts of the home.

The fall season poses a greater risk of clogged gutters and drains, given all the excess foliage blowing around as seasons change.  While cleaning them several times a year is one way to manage this aspect of your home’s exterior, thereby also preventing further back up of water, a simpler way to handle this is to have gutter guards installed in your home.  Depending on whether you install them yourself as a Do-It-Yourself project (about $200, based on the average 200-linear feet of gutter length) or have a professional install them (as high as $3,600 for premium materials used), the expense is well worth it.  The alternative is a major problem that will cost far more to manage if your drains are seriously clogged.

If there is a sizable downslide that channels collected water directly toward your home then you face a huge risk of water damage if there are cracks and crevices in the home’s exterior or foundation.  Examine the exterior and if there are any significant downslides that seem a potential risk, contact a professional landscaper to adjust the area so water is channeled elsewhere and away from the home.

Many homeowners do not realize how great an impact grading has on the potential risk of water damage in a home.  Is there a slope that goes toward your home or away from it?  Managing this is critical so that in case there is a strong thunderstorm or as winter sets in and large pockets of snow and ice accumulate in the valleys of your yard there is no long-term water damage.
When these steps are combined with the proactive measure of installing a back up sump pump for your home, you can easily prevent serious water damage.  Even though there is homeowners’ insurance, prevention is the best technique as it will save you time, energy and money (where there is a deductible).

Tips On Winterizing Your Home’s Exterior

Block any and all visible leaks in the exterior of your home where there is a greater chance of water getting in to dry areas
Shut off the valve that leads water to exterior access points so that when sub-zero temps arrive freezing and bursting pipes can be avoided
Clear out any standing water in existing pipelines such as in sprinkler systems
Chop down, trim and clean up excess dead tree limbs that can potentially clog drains and gutters or interfere with electrical lines
Protect window wells in homes with basements, using plastic shields
Seal concrete driveways, patios, porches and other exterior surfaces such as wood decks

Plumbing Preparedness Provides Invaluable Protection From Flooding Disasters in the Basement

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Water, water EVERYWHERE!  That has been the scene in many towns, cities and locales all along the East Coast and further inland after the recent wrath of Hurricane Irene traveled upward and touched upon the Eastern Seaboard along the way. Homeowners in the coastal regions were surely smart enough to have had flood insurance but many properties that were not covered, especially those further inland, were slammed with unexpected rain and downpour that ended up in colossal damage and headache.  Flood insurance is an optional rider that must be added on by the homeowner in order to receive coverage.

In my own home, we could have easily suffered half a foot of water pooled in our finished basement but we were shielded by yet another layer of protection; a back up sump pump system.

Very commonly, especially in low-lying areas, battery backup pumps are found in many basements but the best way to go is by installing a system that ties into the entire plumbing system of the house.  We have our backup connected with our plumbing lines and until recently we had no idea that for months the backup was operating on its own.  It was not until a plumber let us know that he could tell from the sound (it was different) that our original system had broken down months prior.  Backup systems that are set up to plumbing lines rely on the pressure from those pipes to operate.

Though it is not entirely necessary, having a backup sump pump installed in your basement can make a huge difference if the need arises.  It will be an investment that will pay you back in terms of time, energy, money and heartache – not to mention add value to your home if and when you go to sell.

Contact your Realtor for a list of qualified, reputable contractors who have longstanding relationships within their network and a proven track record for solid performance and guaranteed workmanship.
More tips below:

1. Your possessions suffer little to no damage – allowing you to hold on to and preserve the things that you want to keep, rather than dealing with replacements through insurance.
2. Water barely gets a chance to build up in the basement, so there is little to no musty or moldy smells and sights.
3. The situation is instantly under control – whereas with insurance, there is an assessment, filing a claim, paperwork, processing, waiting and sometimes, rejection.
4. A backup sump pump takes care of all plumbing stoppages, throughout the entire house.
5. Health hazards that could occur with buildup of mildew and mold while waiting for an insurance adjuster to visit can be avoided.

How Low Will These Mortgage Interest Rates Go? Get In On The Action Now!

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Even though interest rates have been repeatedly mentioned lately, the rates are so unprecedented that we need to bring them up again. Just look at any market and you will see that mortgages continue to cost less than ever, despite the expected rise after our recent debt ceiling scare and subsequent stock market volatility. For anyone even remotely considering the purchase of a new home, an investment property, a second vacation home or a rental income building – this could not be a better time. In this article, we talk about and compare some of the advantages of buying now and the reason why these rates translate to thousands of dollars of savings in the long run.

Low Interest Rates Plus Great Housing Prices

When you factor in the very low rates available these days, in some markets as low as 3.875% on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage and 3.375% on a 15-year fixed rate mortgage – reduced housing prices these days look even more attractive. Since we are in a down market, and have been in one for a while now, housing prices have continued to plummet and though it is a very grim picture overall, it means affordability for buyers. Coupled with the lowest cost in recent history to borrow, buyers have it made.

Historically Low Interest Rates Plus Lots of Inventory

The current economy has unfortunately meant many homes on the market with millions of distressed sales going on throughout the country. Though we are seeing fewer foreclosures and more short sales, still the number of houses available – housing inventory is quite high in many markets. As a buyer, when you are armed with a locked-in low interest rate, the selection of homes to choose from with currently high inventory levels is an added bonus.

Little Down Payment and Low Mortgage Costs

The government is trying very hard to make it easier for consumers to become homeowners. Even though the mortgage industry has gained a bad reputation lately for being “too picky” and scarcely offering new mortgages, the reality is that now is a great time to buy. Government insured home loans, like FHA loans, make it possible for homebuyers to get in with as little as 3% down. As opposed to the conventional thought that 20% is needed, 3% is a far more attainable goal for many and makes the difference of being able to get in on a home purchase. Merging low interest rates with a small down payment makes it even more attractive to buy these days.

Leverage With Sellers and Low Interest Rates
Since sellers are competing against countless others and there are buyers out there actively seeking homes, the market is not as stagnant as news reports may have you believe. One advantage that buyers do have, however, is leverage that they had not enjoyed as much during previous markets of stability. These days, buyers can obtain considerable concessions from sellers, ranging from getting them to pay their entire closing costs, to paying for buyer-initiated appraisals to even throwing in extras. Again, adding in these factors with all the other advantages of buying in today’s market and low interest rates is added icing on the cake.
Each family is different, with a different set of circumstances affecting each outcome. Some may be concerned with needing to pay a large amount of cash down, while others may find that there is not enough equity in their home to take advantage of the low rates and refinance their existing home – but by consulting with your Realtor, you will discover what opportunities do lie in the existing market so you are not one who might live to regret not availing this fantastic chance to buy and own a home for so little. After all – what comes down, must come back up; that is true not only for interest rates but also for housing values, making it a win-win situation for those who jump on the bandwagon.

Looking Ahead to the Coming Months and Years – the State of Our Market

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There are three states that experience real estate market trends anywhere from six to twenty four months prior to the rest of us and those trends usually emulate the same thing that will end up happening in our markets.  To understand what has been going on, we make an effort to explore those trends by connecting with the top real estate agents from those areas at a yearly coaching convention for top agents.

This year, we are seeing some interesting trends that point us in a positive direction; some that gives us hope and that will hopefully help us deal with the truth of our current state of the market. 

Short Sales An Up and Coming Trend That Continues

Based on our insight obtained from previous visits to the real estate coaching convention, we were able to be prepared in advance when short sales came to our neck of the woods.  In 2008, when the first distress sales started to hit our area, we were ready for it.  Using insight obtained from our colleagues’ experiences in other regions that had experienced the same phenomena before we did, we were able to develop systems that allowed us to manage short sales and distress sales efficiently and effectively.  At the present time, we are experiencing an average of about five to ten percent of sales in our market being short sales.

Rock Bottom Hasn’t Hit Yet

While there is a promising future ahead, unfortunately there is still a fair amount of time that we need to go through before that rock bottom hits and things start turning around in a concrete, measurable way.  The good news is that in Florida, one of the markets that precedes our own market’s activity, inventory levels are beginning to drop.  Since Florida is about 2 years (24 months) ahead of us typically, this gives us something promising to look ahead to.

Buyers Are Aware and They Are Everywhere

During this period of increased inventory levels, extremely low interest rates and fantastic low prices available, home buyers are on the rise and there continues to be an increase in buying activity.  Not only that, there are many first time home buyers who are capitalizing on the benefits available out there to encourage first time home purchase, such as down payments as low as 3%, down payment assistance and other perks if financing is done through government backed programs such as FHA or local state agencies.

Moving On Up – To a Bigger and Better Place

Many existing homeowners are taking advantage of market conditions – once again, the low interest rates, low home prices and sizable inventory levels – to utilize their existing equity and move up into a better property.  These are typically people who might have moved in a few years time anyway but realize that depreciation has not yet hit rock bottom so now is the best time to move into more house for about the same money.
Throughout the next couple years, things will indeed fluctuate as the nation deals with the debt crisis, downturned economy, inflation and more.  But many property owners are seizing opportunities that are out there and utilizing programs that are set up to help consumers get through some of these rough times.  Depending on which side of the fence you are on, this is also the best time to be engaging in real estate transactions.  

Home Maintenance Does More Than You Think

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For some, the phrase “home maintenance” might sound like a great way to spend a weekend, while to others it might seem like a dreaded, even avoided, task. However you view routine home maintenance, the fact of the matter is that this somewhat simple task, if done consistently, can increase your home’s value over time.

Increased Property Value

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth of a pound of cure.” This is certainly true when it comes to your home. In fact, proactive maintenance is essential to preserving the value of your home. If you ignore this important task, your home could actually lose 10% of its value over time.

There are a number of benefits you can expect from just making sure you home is kept in decent shape with occasional maintenance. For one, your curb appeal is improved by just simple acts of routine upkeep from time to time. Ultimately, your home reflects your attention to detail, or lack thereof.

Neglecting a home can greatly bring down the value of any property. Things like a house with chipped or fading paint, sagging gutters, or worn carpeting leads to a problem when it is time to sell. Not only does the work accumulate over time, so do the costs. A few simple fixes every year can add up to an increased home value over time.

Cost vs. Value

It’s easy to look at the cost of regular home repairs as a burden that might be able to be avoided. However, it is important to look at the value that you are placing in your home by performing the regular costs of upholding a well-built and maintained home.

A study out of the University of Connecticut and Syracuse University suggests that home maintenance can actually increase a home’s value by about 1% each year. Instead of viewing the routine tasks around a home as “chores,” these tasks should be looked at as a money maker. When you sell your home, you will reap their rewards.

 Dr.John P. Harding, Professor of Finance and Real Estate at the University of Connecticut’s School of Business and an author of the study said, “It’s like going to the gym. You have to put in the effort to see the results. People and houses are somewhat similar – the older they are, the more work is needed.”

Some years what needs to be down may be more expensive than others, but it is the overall strategy to keep a “fit” home that should be the ultimate goal.

Proactive Maintenance Strategies

Budgeting for home repairs each year will prevent them from seeming like a burden each year. Knowing there will be a certain amount of money going to home repairs and upkeep makes them a regular part of your annual routine. They won’t be a source of financial devastation they can be for many families.

Other things to keep in mind to take the burden out of home maintenance include:

Play offense, not defense. Being proactive is vital in preventing a small problem becoming a mountain of problems. By having a regular inspections and creating a maintenance schedule, you are in control, for the most part, of home expenses, instead of the other way around.

Focus on a room a year. If you home is generally in good order, you may be at a loss of where to start. By targeting a room each year, you can inspect each and every item in that particular room and know where improvements can be made. This prevents an overwhelmed feeling with you looking at your entire house, scratching you head of where to start.

Keep track. Maintain a notebook or computer file to keep track of all of the maintenance and upgrades you perform is important. Also, either keep a physical file of paper receipts or a file on your computer where can put your scanned receipts. This helps you keep track of what you have done and also helps you prove to a potential buyer exactly what you have done to the home. It also shows you are a conscientious homeowner who has paid attention to the details of your home.

Home maintenance is an important task that should not be overlooked. Not only does it maintain a nice home while you live there, it also helps increase your home’s value when you are ready to sell.

For more on home maintenance visit Bob Vila's home maintenance checklist here!

Tax Appeals Can Be a Great Way To Save Money and Bring Down Monthly Payments

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What exactly is a tax appeal? It sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Many homeowners do not realize that they can evaluate the appraised value of their home and make the subsequent decision to appeal their tax value.

The process is not entirely a simple one. But there are two very good reasons why you might want to go through whatever it takes to have it done. First, and very importantly, an approved tax appeal will save you money each and every month. Another very solid reason to assess your true property valuation is that when it comes time to selling, buyers will find the lower monthly payments a very attractive aspect. Not only will this give you an added edge over other sellers in the market, it will also be a great bargaining tool for you as a seller.


Some homeowners prefer to brave this process on their own and follow through the detailed and sometimes mildly challenging process of filing for a tax appeal. There is more to it than just filling out a form and waiting for a new property value assessment. The procedure is fairly complex and involves reviewing and studying previous tax notices, filing for a protest hearing in court, obtaining an appraised value of your property and presenting a formal presentation to the appraiser. This can take time to get to know how the system works and it’s important to keep in mind that exact rules and regulations vary by state. A good way to understand the entire process is to observe other (public) hearings and gain a greater knowledge of the system.

Using Legal Channels

For those who are squeamish about acting ‘in pro per’ there is always the possibility of hiring an attorney who is well versed in tax appeals to do this for you. While there will be some extra costs involves than if you had done it yourself, by hiring a professional who is knowledgeable about this aspect of property ownership, you will spare yourself wasted time and energy toward an effort that may end up in less than optimal savings. Using an attorney also yields a greater chance for success, which can end up translating to savings in the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in property taxes each year.
If you have noticed an increase in your property taxes or even if you are not comfortable with how your home is valued as compared to other similar properties in the area, it pays to have a tax appeal done. Whether on your own or through a reputable and experienced attorney, the worse that can happen is no change in your taxes and the best can be a savings of up to thousands of dollars in taxes from the tax appeal.

Want to Add Value to Your Home? Get Into the Kitchen and the Bathroom!

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Everyone knows that – all things being equal – the first areas buyers look at when considering the purchase of the home are the
 kitchen and the bathroom. They know they’re heavily-used areas and also the most expensive to upgrade. So, buyers want to know they’re in great shape or need, at most, minor repairs.

This tells you that you need to make the kitchen and bathroom “shine” in terms of their appeal. By some estimates, you can earn back 80 to 90 percent of your money in resale value!

Here’s more good news! Depending upon the state of these rooms, improvements don’t have to be all that expensive! Let’s look at the kitchen first.

Making Your Kitchen Shine!

The first bit of advice for you actually applies to both the kitchen and the bathroom – use paint! In fact, use high-quality paint. It’s a fact of life that kitchen walls get spattered with grease and food (especially if you have kids!), and bathroom walls get battered with steam and moisture.

So, the first thing to do is to take a look at those walls, clean them, and then paint them. And consider the color carefully. It should be a color that’s relaxing and tends toward a neutral tone.

Once you’ve chosen a color, spend the money on good paint, not the cheap stuff. It’ll look better, and buyers will notice that it’ll resist stains and water for a longer period of time than lower quality paint. It’ll also tell them that you’ve taken good care of your home.

Another inexpensive “fix” you can do yourself is, of course, the faucets over the sink (or the sink itself). A visit to a “big box” store like Home Depot, Menards, etc. will cost you little money. All you have to do is invest some “sweat equity.”

Of course, fresh curtains always spruce up a kitchen as well as orderly counters, islands, etc. And don’t forget lighting! Warm, friendly lighting can make a huge impact upon a buyer’s first impression. 

Another area to look at is the kitchen floor. If it’s worn, I’d recommend that you replace it with a hard-wearing material. Everyone knows the kitchen is a high-traffic area so they’ll look closely at the floor to see if they’ll have to bear the expense of replacing it.

Again, if you have handyman abilities, you can do this yourself. There are many inexpensive materials available today that are relatively easy to put in – high-quality tile, laminate floors that clean up easily, etc. 

In terms of kitchen cabinets and counters, you may want to consider refinishing them or replacing them if they’re in bad shape. This can be rather expensive, of course, but it also might make the difference between a sale and the home staying on the market.

Moving on up in terms of expenditures, buyers today expect modern appliances in the kitchen – stoves, dishwashers, etc.

These are big ticket items, of course, but if your appliances are worn or out-of-date, think about replacing them, especially if you’re having trouble selling your home.

Look for sales on modern higher-end appliances such as the ones available at Sears, etc. Buyers will spot cheap ones in a heartbeat, and this can cost you a sale.

Today’s buyers look for spacious kitchens that open on to another room and which have a window over the sink. Obviously, if your kitchen doesn’t have these features, it would be far too expensive to put them in.

However, you can make your kitchen look as open as possible. Make sure the counters are clear, visible pots and pans are ordered neatly, and the floor is free of clutter.

Okay, now onto the bathroom!

Making Your Bathroom Shine!

If your bathroom is in good to great shape, then it’s a simple matter of paint, as I mentioned before, and a good all-round clean up. Since we’re dealing with sanitary issues, you want this area to sparkle as much as possible.

But, what if the shower, tub, sink, or toilet are not in great shape or are out of date? Well, then, I’d recommend that you do a whole remodel.

It can be expensive, but when you replace, say, just one item, it can create an unharmonious look. Ideally, you want the sinks, faucets, toilets, showerheads, tile, etc. to match to make the bathroom look as unified and appealing as possible.

Depending upon your expertise, you can install these items yourself at a lower cost. If not, hire an expert to do the work, especially if your home has been on the market a long time and isn’t selling.

Okay, here’s one last suggestion. It’s an expensive one but it’s been proven to add value to your home – add a second bathroom!

One-bathroom houses are simply harder to sell and sell for less than ones with two or three bathrooms. 

So, if you have the financial wherewithal, consider adding one. A good place for a second bathroom is right off the master bedroom. This will appeal to buyers with children since they’ll have a space separate from the kids.

Also, if for some reason, you decide not to sell, a second bathroom can make life easier for you if you have children as well!

Want to hear some more suggestions for improving the value of your home? Contact me today and we can talk about some inexpensive methods of doing just that!