Looking for a facelift for less than $500?

I talked before about what you can do to whip your home into shape for less than $100. Now we’re going to look at a few finishing touches  you can add if you’ve got a little more cash-ola in the old bank account. These will make a world of difference if you’re trying to sell.

Replace light fixtures

From lighting to faucets to door knobs, fixtures can date your home like almost nothing else. Most are pretty simple to replace. If you don’t know what you are doing, call in a pro.

Maybe you can picture your name in lights with that old used-to-be shiny-brass Broadway style vanity light. You know the one I’m talking about. It points its bulbs straight at you with the intensity of a thousand suns (OK, maybe only with the intensity of its 10 big orbs, but still – NOT flattering).

Or perhaps your ceiling fan sports a nice wicker insert and squeaks like the swinging door in a John Wayne film. Replace those suckers with something simple and neutral but most of all….manufactured in this millennium.

Total cost? As little as $100 or as much as you can afford.

Replace bathroom counter tops

Cigarette burns, a swirling kaleidoscope of colors, or just downright ugly. Whatever the reason, it may be time to replace the vanity tops. These days you can get a granite counter with built in undermount sink for a couple hundred bucks. Throw in another hundred for installation. Boom! Instant update.

New Faucets

Maybe you have the ever lovely not-so-shiny chrome vanity faucet with gorgeous faux crystal (i.e. dirty looking plastic) control. Nothing says cheap like that faucet. It probably leaks a little anyway. So replace it with a brushed nickel or antique bronze fixture for an instant update. Find a simple new light fixture that matches that spiffy new faucet you just put in. Total cost of your bathroom makeover? About $200-500 depending on what you pick out and whether you’re handy enough to do it yourself.

Replace worn kitchen counters

If you are in a high end market, you’re going to need to splurge to update your kitchen to the standards expected but if you’re in a middle of the road sort of development, getting rid of those mauve counter tops will make a world of difference for a modest amount of money. No need to get some crazy custom color, just a nice neutral, new, clean looking counter. Costs are going to vary widely but installing new laminate counter tops in a  typical smallish kitchen can be done for as little as $500.

Take down that nasty wallpaper

Even if it isn’t actually nasty, chances are it isn’t attracting any buyers. They walk in the door and automatically take a couple grand off the price because they KNOW what a pain it is to take down. And that’s why I’m including it as a $500 makeover item. If you do it yourself, it won’t cost anywhere near that much in dollars but it might be twice that price in aggravation. So spare your buyers and do it for them. They, and your asking price, will thank you for it.

Total cost: Maybe $100/room for removal supplies and paint.

Remember – Elbow grease is always free!


Julia Odom enjoys long walks on the beach, debating the restoration vs. renovation question and hanging out with plumbing inspectors

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A guide to decorating for the holidays, subtitled: Don’t let Santa throw up on your house

Are you one of those lucky people who has their home on the market to sell during the holiday season?

Should you or shouldn’t you? Decorate, that is.

Short answer: Yes

Long answer: It depends (that seems to be the long answer to a lot of the questions I pose)

We’ve all been told that the way you live in a house isn’t the same way you live in a house that is for sale. Holiday decorations can make a home feel more welcoming, and will help potential buyers see themselves not only living there, but also enjoying family traditions for years to come. Here’s the thing you need to ask yourself (be honest!), and I know you love your 243 piece collection of winter villages. Can buyers envision themselves sitting down to a meal amongst them? Probably not.

Do you live in a multicultural area, i.e. one with a big ‘ol melting pot chunky stew of different holiday traditions? If so, you should probably skip the 10 ft tall blow up menorah in the front yard. A Christian couple might not be able to look past it to see the great landscaping. That 6 ft diameter Christmas tree in your 12 ft wide living room? Those Muslim buyers won’t see it as a plus. It’s not about being politically correct, it’s about putting your homes best features on display without putting people in the position of thinking: I couldn’t live this way. Maybe you live in a place that’s pretty religiously monolithic. Even there, not everyone will appreciate 472 nativity scenes (I KNOW! Hard to believe)

It’s a festive time so put out your Festivus pole. In fact, most people will expect to see some holiday decorations this time of year and your home may seem austere or vacant without them. Some greenery – a wreath or garland across your rocking chair front porch is always nice and doesn’t keep people from seeing your home’s features. You don’t have to abandon all of your holiday traditions just because your home is for sale, just don’t let Santa throw up in your front yard.

Once you get settled into that new house of yours, feel free to reintroduce the live nativity scene (Now, with more camel than ever before!).

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Hamilton County Real Estate Market Statistics – October 2009

Yep, I’m still a real estate geek

All Hamilton County Residential Real Estate Sales through the Chattanooga MLS

All active listings as of 11/5/09: 2,705
Pending or contingent listings (under contract) as of 11/5/09: 464
Residential listings closed (sold) during October 2009: 305
Number of months to sell current actives at October’s sales pace: 8.9

Hamilton County, under $100,000

Active, residential listings: 591
Pending or contingent listings: 113
Residential listings closed during October 2009: 85
Number of months to sell current actives at October’s sales pace: 6.9

Hamilton County, $100,000-200,000

Active, residential listings: 1,004
Pending or contingent listings: 222
Residential listings closed during October 2009: 150

Number of months to sell current actives at October’s sales pace: 6.7

Hamilton County, $200,000-400,000

Active, residential listings: 749
Pending or contingent listings: 102
Residential listings closed during October 2009: 63

Number of months to sell current actives at October’s sales pace: 11.9

Hamilton County, over $400,000

Active, residential listings: 361
Pending or contingent listings: 27
Residential listings closed during October 2009: 7
Number of months to sell current actives at October’s sales pace: 51.6

What does all of this mean? Another very small drop  (~50) in inventory for October but the exact same number of sales as in September (couldn’t do that again if we tried). The under $200k market remains in reasonably good shape for the most part. No real change in the numbers for either under $100k or $100-200k. $200-400k is pretty much unchanged as well. The luxury market? Well, unfortunately it hasn’t changed much either. Sales went down but pendings went up more than sales fell so that could just be an indication that it’s taking a little longer to close these than expected. If you’ve got a house in this range, prepare to wait out the market or reduce your price significantly. The good news? Three sales near the million dollar mark means that there are at least a few buyers out there in the stratospheric range. The other good news? If you’re looking to buy at this end of the Chattanooga real estate market, you might be in for some good deals.

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Bargain hunting for move up buyers

Heather St East Ridge Real EstateWe’re hearing a lot about first time buyers these days given the soon-to-expire tax credit but what about those of us who already have a house?

Would you like another one? A bigger one? A fancier-schmancier one? Do you have two teenagers? Do you therefore long for a house with 3 bathrooms instead of the constantly clogged 2 you now have?

Well, wait no more my friends! What would you say if I told you that you could move up into a bigger, nicer home for not too much more than you are paying now?

What, what WHAAAA?? How can that be, Jules?

Take a little gander at my last market report for Hamilton County. Go on, click over there, I’ll wait ’til you get back.

Well, did you notice anything? Like maybe that houses in the price range you’d sell yours for are moving. Not like the proverbial hotcakes, but moving nonetheless. Did you also notice that homes in the price range you’d be looking for are sitting, moving more like the proverbial molasses? And maybe you’ve been looking at the interest rate that shows up every month on your mortgage statement. And maybe you’ve even been thinking about refinancing down from that 7.5% you’re paying now. Because there are SCREAMING deals on interest rates these days (think high 4’s, low 5’s, seriously, this is not something I would joke about).

Rowe Rd Missionary Ridge Real EstateSo here’s what you should do (in my ever so humble opinion). Sell that house of yours. Are you going to get what it would have sold for 2-3 years ago? No, probably not. But if it’s in the under $150,000 range, and it’s reasonably updated and fairly priced you’ve got a good shot at selling it pretty quickly for not too much less than 2006 prices. The lower to mid range of the Chattanooga real estate market hasn’t really taken much of a beating. At least not anything like you’re hearing on the national news. You’re going to take that equity from the house you are selling (you do have some equity, right?) and put it down on that new, bigger, fancier-schmancier house. You know, the one with the value that has fallen a good bit more than yours has just by virtue of it being more expensive and out of that first time buyer range. And you are going to get it at a lower interest rate and therefore you might just end up spending not that much more than you are paying now.

Are you a numbers kinda person? Here’s how it all pans out: You paid and financed $125k for your house in 2000, it was worth about $150k in 2006; now we think it might sell quickly for a net of about $130k.  You are paying $874/mo on a current loan balance of $108k at 7.5%. You take the $22k in equity you have and put it down on a house selling for $225k (that would have sold for $275k in 2006) and your new payment is $1074/mo on a balance of $203k at 4.875%. Did you ‘lose’ $20k in equity since 2006? Yes. But you also ‘gained’ $50k in equity on your new place.

Because I’m a realist I like to point out the downsides to all my nefarious schemes. Contrary to my detail oriented self, I’m painting with a broad brush here. So take the total cost of ownership into account before you hit the sell button.

My other disclaimer? The home values I used above are gut feeling numbers that I can’t back up with hard statistics. In real estate, the hard numbers are always averages and a single, unique home can’t be valued on an average. Just sayin’.

Click here to see Chattanooga metro area homes for sale for $130,000, and here to see what kind of real estate you can get for $225,000.

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Chattanooga Real Estate Market Stats for August

These posts are a shout out to all the geeks out there who enjoy crunching a few numbers. Install your pocket protector in its rightful spot and savor the moment!

All of Chattanooga / Hamilton County Real Estate Sales through the MLS
All active, residential listings as of 9/3/09: 2,803
Pending or contingent listings (under contract) as of 9/3/09: 418
Residential listings closed (sold) during August 2009: 295
Number of months to sell current actives at August’s sales pace: 9.5

Hamilton County, under $100,000
Active, residential listings: 582
Pending or contingent listings: 104
Residential listings closed during August 2009: 91
Number of months to sell current actives at August’s sales pace: 6.4

Hamilton County, $100,000-200,000
Active, residential listings: 1,041
Pending or contingent listings: 208
Residential listings closed during August 2009: 130
Number of months to sell current actives at August’s sales pace: 8.0

Hamilton County, $200,000-400,000
Active, residential listings: 785
Pending or contingent listings: 90
Residential listings closed during August 2009: 55
Number of months to sell current actives at August’s sales pace: 14.3

Hamilton County, over $400,000
Active, residential listings: 396
Pending or contingent listings: 15
Residential listings closed during August 2009: 19
Number of months to sell current actives at August’s sales pace: 20.8

For all the non-geeks out there who need a little interpretation:

Long story short: if you’ve got a house that you want to sell for under $100k, get crackin’! There are lots of buyers out there for houses in this price range and not so very many houses, especially ones that aren’t falling down or located in Upper Slumtown (or both! Adventures in homeownership!). The first time buyer credit is doing its job and convincing a lot of property virgins to get down off the fence. Who doesn’t love free money??

The next tier up isn’t faring too bad either. There are still quite a few first timers looking in this price range as well. Seventy-nine of those 130 sold last month were under $150,000. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the lower the price, the better things are moving…

…especially when you look at the top end of the Chattanooga real estate market: over $400,000. Quite frankly, if I had a house in this price range I might keep it off the market and wait for greener pastures ahead.  In fact, there was only one lonely little house (OK, so “little” is a bit of a misnomer – it was 6,500 sq. ft.) that sold for more than $800,000 last month, compared to 110 currently on the market. While it’s a little tough to feel sorry for people living in a million dollar house, still, that’s a difficult pill to swallow.

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Is Now a Good Time to Sell?

I came across this article recently and found that it articulates very well the advice I’ve been giving my clients lately. Particularly this statement:

“It’s a good time to sell if you’re looking to upgrade your house,” says Timothy J. Cabrera, president of Atlanta Interest Mortgage & Financial Group, “because there are so many opportunities to buy a larger home, and the financing rates are so favorable, and so we don’t know how long they’re going to stay at this level.”

One of the things I’ve found recently is that entry level homes, many of which are competing with foreclosures and distressed homeowner’s for buyers, may have lost some value, but very little in comparison with larger and higher end houses. The reason, in my opinion, is that many 2nd & 3rd level homeowners are sitting on the sidelines believing that they should wait to sell even if they want to trade up. This is creating a bottleneck of demand that is depressing the upper levels of the housing market far more than entry levels. For many of these homeowners, they might be better off selling their entry level home now at a slightly lower price than they would like while benefiting from ridiculously low interest rates and 2nd tier home prices which have fallen further than what they would discount their current home.

Here are some numbers that approximate the Chattanooga real estate market:

You purchased your home in 1999 for $90,000 at 7% interest with 100% financing. Your monthly payment is currently $600 (principal & interest only*). We determine that your home might have sold for a net price of $120,000 at the peak of the market but you decide to accept an offer of $108,000. You take the $18,000+ and use it to purchase a home that would have sold for $195,000 at the housing peak but which you are able to purchase for $160,000. Because you are able to get financing at 4.75% your new monthly payment is only $740 on a principal amount of $142,000 ($160,000 less the $18,000+ down payment you have from the sale of your previous home). You have “lost” $12,000 in appreciation on your first home ($120,000-108,000) but you’ve also “gained” $35,000 on the purchase of your second home ($195,000-160,000) while, at the same time, lowering your interest rate significantly.

This is a purely hypothetical example but it demonstrates the benefits that you may find if you are looking for a larger or upgraded home.

Another point made in the article is this:

“If you do decide to invest money in your house, do it for yourself. Don’t spend a fortune only for the future homeowner, since spending $30,000 on improving your kitchen and assuming that will add $30,000 to the purchase price is, of course, a gamble.”

Now is not the time to be making costly upgrades to kitchens & baths in the hope that it will increase the value of your home. The corollary of this statement is that, if you decide that you want to sell, DO spend small sums on upgrades and repairs that will make your home stand out among foreclosures and distressed homes which are often dated or in need of TLC. Repainting older cabinets, replacing hardware and worn laminate counter tops can be done inexpensively and will pay off with a quicker sale, if not necessarily a significantly higher sales price.

Contact me for more information about the Chattanooga real estate market or what you can do to get your home ready for selling.

*Sample payments above assume 30 yr fixed rate mortgage. APR will vary depending on individual lender fees.

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