Archives for February 2015

Damn Ice Dams

ice damA couple of months ago I posted information on my Facebook page about how to prepare your house to prevent ice dams. How clairvoyant of me.  Too bad I didn’t follow my own advice in time.  Here is a link to the This-Old-House article on that I referenced – Winter Upkeep   But if you are like me and you didn’t get all these things in place in time, you are now dealing with Ice Dams, icicles, snow on your roof and leaks.  So what to do?  At this point, the path is pretty straight forward.

  1. Take pictures of the ice dams, snow and icicles on the outside of your house and pictures of the damage to the inside.
  2.  Call someone to get the snow off your roof and knock the ice out of your gutters.
  3. Call your Homeowner’s insurance company and start a claim.
  4. Get receipts for the work you have done to get the ice and snow off your house.
  5. Follow your homeowner’s insurance adjusters instructions for getting reimbursed.

Pictures

You will need these, not only to lament to your friends on Facebook about your woes, but to show your insurance company should you have it all removed before the insurance adjuster shows up.  Video clips would be even better, particularly if you are getting water dripping in.

Who to Call

Don’t get up on a ladder.  It is just too dangerous in this weather.  You need someone who is used to being up on a roof and who has the equipment to be up there and is insured, so construction or roofing companies make the most sense.  Of course, many are busy so you will have to do a lot of calling around.  While I cannot fully endorse anyone that I have not personally used, here are a few companies that were recommended by people in groups I manage on Facebook.   If you want to follow me on Facebook (and you should – lots of good info there!), the link is at the end of this post.

John Gaudet – someone on Facebook said he did a great job, so I am having him come by today (781) 241-7329.   He had a bit of trouble this week with someone rear-ending his truck, so he is referring the business to his brother-in-law.

A to Z Contracting – Owner is Noff  (781)-389-6482 – also got a good recommendation by someone who used him.

I also got an email from J. Murray and Sons advertising their services to remove ice dams and clear roofs.john@jmurrayandsons.com (781) 414-0605 

Fabrian Castillon – (781) 308-5022  He got a rave review from someone on Facebook who used him, but when I called he said he could not remove the ice dams, just the icicles and snow.  To be fair, my house is taller than average and it is scary to get up there on a ladder and start hatching away at ice..

Someone else said they used Mr. Handyman  1-888-449-3031 and they did a good job.

Tree Tech in Foxboro 508-543-5644 – very nice guys who were responsive but said they will do Capes and Ranches.  They said my house is too high.

East Coast Construction – 781 333-9889.  Came to my door looking asking if I wanted to have them remove my ice dams.  At the time, John was on the way, so I just took their card.   I recommended them to a few clients who are in dire straits and they are getting rave reviews so far.

Ryan McKernan. 617-970-1610 – recommended by someone in the Newton Yard Sale group by someone who used him.

This guy advertised on Facebook that he could help with ice dams – A.J (617)-372-7761 ANGELO6686@GMAIL.COM.  I can’t vouch for him as I don’t have references, but you can ask him for references.

As I get more good recommendations, I will update this post and my Realtor Facebook page.

Make sure you get a detailed bill and receipt.  You will need this for your insurance company.

Insurance

Call your Homeowner’s Insurance company now.  It will take a while for an adjuster to come out.  I called on Friday and they have yet to come out.  I will also update you on how that turns out.  I know you may be reluctant to use your insurance figuring the cost will go up, but trust me, to remove the dams and fix the damage will be more than your deductible.  We are talking $1,000 and up just to knock out all the ice dams and icicles.

I am in the throes of this myself right now so stay tuned for updates on how it goes with the ice removal and getting reimbursed by the insurance company.

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

Preparing Your Home for Sale – Which Home Improvements Make the Most Sense?

With the prime selling season right around the corner, this is the time to fix things and make the improvements required to get top dollar for your home when you put it on the market.  Factors to consider when deciding how much to do to your home:

  • Is it a buyer’s market or a seller’s market?
  • Is the house in a great location or a challenged location?
  • How does your house stack up against the competition?
  • What can you afford to spend to improve the house?

Every home benefits from getting spruced up before putting it on the market, but which home repairs make the most sense?  If you look at most Cost vs Return studies on renovations, the return is almost always less than 100%.  It doesn’t make sense to lose money on getting your home ready for sale, so best to stick to changes that will make the home more salable – take care of things that are dated, broken, or dirty and worn looking.

Flooring

Everyone wants hardwood flooring, so if you have it under your wall-to-wall carpeting, take the carpeting up and have the floors refinished.  I have heard sellers ask – “can’t you just tell them there is hardwood under there?”  Sure, I could, but there are 3 factors that will cause this strategy to bring you less money.

  1. The buyer has no way of knowing the condition of the hardwood under the carpets. They don’t feel comfortable taking on the unknown.
  2. While you might think it would be easier for them to take care of it before they move in than it would be for you to move all your furniture and do the floors, the buyer may not have the time or money to do the work before they move in.
  3. Most important, buying a house is an emotional decision. Your aim should always be to show the house in its best possible light so buyers will fall in love with it and be able to imagine their life in the house.  You are asking them to imagine what the house will look like when all fixed up and most buyers don’t want to put that effort in on your behalf.

If you don’t have hardwood, get the carpets cleaned.  If they are really bad, you should consider replacing them with a neutral color carpet.

Whatever you do, DO NOT put in laminate floor on any level of your home except the basement.  One of the most offensive “updates” in the eyes of buyers is laminate flooring. Without exception, every buyer immediately says “we’ll have to take that up” when they see it.  If you can’t afford hardwood for those rooms, put in carpeting.

Ceilings & Walls

  • Paint is one of the best returns on investment you can make in your home. Get cracks filled and put on a fresh coat of neutral paint.  For suggestions check out my Paint Inspiration board on Pintrest.
  • In the process, remove wallpaper. The likelihood the new buyer likes wallpaper is slim to none.
  • Paint or remove wood paneling. It absolutely dates the house.
  • I have never met a buyer who likes textured ceilings. If you can have them smoothed, do it.  But I will say this – if the house is on point in every other way and the buyer loves it, they may accept the textured ceilings – reluctantly.

Kitchen and Baths

Kitchens and baths sell a house.  And updating them is the biggest pain for buyers to address.  It means having contractors in the house and possibly doing without a kitchen or bath for extended periods of time.  Not to mention, most buyers don’t have the cash on hand for major renovations after buying a house.  So it is worth getting the kitchen and baths to at least decent, if not excellent, condition.

Oddly enough, anything up to the 1940s is usually aesthetically acceptable to buyers.  Anything from the 1950s to the 1990s is not – it just seems dated.

SO if your kitchens and baths are from the older period, you can probably get by with paint and updating old appliances and counter tops, sinks and fixtures.

If your cabinets are solid wood (which they typically are in older houses) I believe it is worth having them painted.  New wood cabinets are insanely expensive.  If not, you can consider having them refaced, but even this will cost several thousand dollars, so be sure the cabinets are decent otherwise.

If your appliances are ancient, replace them – with Stainless Steel appliances.  I am seeing design suggestions that charcoal, gold and copper appliances are on trend, but those are too new to be universally accepted.

If your counters are Formica, replace them.  You don’t need granite, but you do need something more up-to-date – butcher block, quartz, soapstone.  The right choice depends on the price point of your house.  You don’t want to overdo it for your neighborhood.

The most on trend high-end kitchens are now white cabinets with grey stain and marble (or marble look-alike) back splash and counters that are grey and white.

kitchen

If your bathroom tile is dated, have it painted white or replace it – you can replace with waterproof bead board to save money and make it look more timeless.

Think long and hard before you take tubs out of older bathrooms.  Cast iron tubs are insanely expensive and preferable to the plastic insert tubs.  Consider having the tub painted.  I had it done to one of my claw foot tubs and it came out great.

No Hollywood lights!

No big unframed mirrors!

hollywood

No Brass

Shiny brass is out and really dates your house.  Matte black finishes are what is on trend.  Brushed nickel runs a close second.   If you can’t afford to replace your home’s hardware, paint it!

Knobs

Curb Appeal

This is one of the changes you can make that will actually have a higher than 100% ROI.  People make their decision about how much care and maintenance you put into the house by how it looks when they pull up.  This means – have grass, have plantings, take care of chipping paint, replace banged up doors – front and garage.

Beforeafter

Staging

Take down dated curtains.  If you are in doubt, examples are – anything that is swag or draped over a curtain rod, anything lace, anything flowered.  Today’s buyers don’t even go for curtains at all and lean towards simple shades.

Take down all your family photos.  No one wants to see them but you and you are leaving so you can hold off and put them back up in your new house.

Strip out all the clutter.  Your house should look like a room in a furniture show room  They don’t have kids toys stored anywhere in those rooms, don’t have remotes lying on the tables, etc.

If it is broken, loose, chipped, fix it!

Major Structural and Mechanical

You might believe that putting in a new furnace, new roof, new electrical panel, new windows, air conditioning, etc. will make your house more valuable, but I believe you should only replace these things if they are at end of life and about to die.  Why is that?  Because if a buyer is going to fall in love with the house, it will be when they drive up and when they come in and look around.  If they don’t like the house, they will pick at those things.  If they love the house, they will then start figuring out what it will cost to replace those things.  But they have already decided that those are maintenance things they will need to take care of to get this house they love.   Taking care of those things also does not mean that they have to stall moving in or be displaced from the house.

However, if you have signs of issues – cracks in the foundation or joists, signs of pest damage, signs of water damage, etc. take care of it. These things will scare off buyers.

Final Thoughts

Spend according to what you can afford and what makes sense for your price point.  It would make no sense to put a $100,000 kitchen into a $300,000 house.

If you can’t afford the money or time to do most or any of this, then you must price your home accordingly. You can’t have ignored upkeep for 20 years and expect to get the same price as a house in your neighborhood that is in mint condition.  That just defies logic.  Find out what your house would sell for “as-is”, what it would sell for if fixed and updated, what that would cost you to achieve, then make your fix-up and pricing decisions accordingly.  That is where I come in.  If you are selling this spring, we need to talk now so you have time to make updates in time.  It might seem like spring will never come, but it will be here in one month.  Are you ready?

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

If you need help, call me.  I’d be glad to go through the house with you and make suggestions.

Will Hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics Boost the Boston Housing Market?

Now that Boston has won the only US bid for the Olympics (we are still up against 4 European cities) it raises many questions – how much will this cost taxpayers?  Where will they put everything?  What is it going to do to traffic?  As a real estate agent, I’ll focus on the most relevant question – what will it do to home values in Boston?  I’ll use Atlanta as our reference point as that is the last time the Summer Olympics was held in the US.  Utah is the last time we hosted the Winter Olympics.

The comparison is not apples-to-apples when you consider that Atlanta was in need of revitalization at the time. Boston is already a thriving city with a very robust housing market.

The most notable change for Atlanta was Centennial Park in the heart of the city which brought people and economic development back to what was a rundown downtown area.   Boston already has many venues that bring people and tourists downtown – the Freedom Train, the Commons and Public Gardens and Faneuil Hall, not to mention all the colleges.

The downtown population of Atlanta has increased from 3.5M to 5.5M in the 20 years since the Olympics were held, arguably in part because of the Olympics, but the growth was already on a steady trajectory.

However they did see slightly stronger than average growth in the years leading up to the Olympics as construction workers flooded into Atlanta for the work and many stayed.

Atlanta Populaton

Below is a chart of projected population growth for Boston through 2030.  These numbers were calculated by the UMass Donahue Institute in Nov 2013 long before the Olympics was a consideration.

Boston Population

I would even conjecture that the growth could be greater than this as I now see more and more Baby Boomers selling their suburban homes and moving into the city.

Housing Prices

Atlanta home prices rose by about 1% more per year than the national average in the five years running up to the 1996 Games. However, since then, they dropped and have only just started coming back.  Atlanta’s home prices are below the level they were in May 1999 (at an index level of 95.8). But after recent improvement, they are above a recent low in March 2012 (the index was at 82.54). At that point, home prices were at the same point they were during the 1996 Olympics. (from Ajc.com)

Would Boston prices rise in anticipation of the Olympics?  Very likely – in particular areas.  Once people know for sure that we have won the bid for the Olympics and know the locations where the venues will be built, both homeowners and investors will want to buy properties in those areas.  Cities that host the Olympics typically pick a part of town that is either run-down or underdeveloped to build the permanent structures such as stadiums and housing.   That makes those the areas with the greatest possibility of upside.

The sad reality is that Atlanta also cleared out the poor and homeless.  Atlanta evicted 6,000 people from public housing to tear it down.  Although the city had given some Section 8 vouchers, many were still without public housing years later.

The homeless were given one-way tickets back to their families or to Augusta.  New laws were implemented making pretty much anything a homeless person would do illegal – sleeping on a bench, entering a parking lot, etc.  Citations were given to over 9,000 people. Once arrested, these people were ineligible for public housing.

On a side-note – a shout-out to our local Ropes & Gray who were hired by MATF – a task force who helped five homeless men file a federal lawsuit against the city of Atlanta. The city settled with those 5 men and a judge ordered the illegal arrests be stopped.

All this pushing out of the poor makes way for gentrification and rising home prices.  However, I hope that Boston will not stoop to those measures to beautify areas visible to Olympic visitors.

Who Else Will the Olympics Hurt?

The Olympics could also wind up costing taxpayers in two ways.  The Boston Olympic committee is already talking about the need to upgrade the T.  And who can argue it needs to be upgraded after the past couple of weeks of breakdowns?  But we all know who is going to pay for these improvements.

Homeowners, particularly those whose homes are near the venues could wind up paying higher taxes.  That is what Atlanta did, basing it on the theory that those people most benefited from improvements.

Renters – During the time leading up to the Atlanta Olympics, renters were given notices telling them that they would need to move out for three months or pay an additional $3,000 in rent.  Now you would think you can’t do this to someone who has a lease and, in Massachusetts, you cannot.  But trust me, the management companies and landlords have enough advance notice to not grant any leases that run through the Olympics.

Not to mention rents will go up in the years leading up to the Olympics as construction workers flood into the area to work on what will likely be several billion dollars in construction projects.  That alone is a compelling case for buying a house before then if you are a renter.

Who WILL the Olympics Help?

Construction Companies – the Atlanta Olympics generated over $1B of construction projects, from housing for athletes to Olympic Venues.

Student Housing – A summer Olympics typically hosts over 10,000 athletes.  The city will most definitely have to build that housing as there is no venue with that much free space today.  Atlanta wound up turning over the athletes’ housing to Georgia Tech for dorms.  If Boston did the same, that would definitely help alleviate the shortage of student housing in Boston.

The Hospitality Industry – Hotels, Restaurants, etc.  At least for those weeks of the Olympics.

Starbucks – Remember the pent-up demand at the Sochi Olympics?  They were not an official sponsor so people had to, and did gladly, leave the housing and venues in search of Starbucks and NBC got a secret outlet installed in their media center.

Entrepreneurs – those who are clever enough to figure out ways to make money off the influx of visitors.  See above re Starbucks.  Figuring out how to get people what they need and want is the key.

Final Note on Renting out Your House

Since this is somewhat real estate related, I’ll tackle this one.  During the Atlanta Olympics people were renting out apartments at the rate of $165 per bedroom and single-family homes for as much as $2,000 a night.  Mind you, that was 20 years ago so rates would be higher now – probably at about the same rate of a comparable hotel room.  But that would only be if the over 50,000 hotel rooms and 37,000 dorm rooms are not enough for all the visitors.  And if your home is in a location convenient to the venues.

If you want to go this route, plan on leaving your house for the summer as these renters will want the entire house and won’t want to be your roommate.  Also be prepared to:

  1. Remove Your Valuables from the home.
  2. Buy Extra Insurance
  3. Pay Lodging Tax

I’ll cover this more in a future blog post if Boston wins the bid.

You have time to figure all this out and make your strategic real estate moves.  Final bids are due in January of 2016 so it will be a while before we know if Boston will host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

If you have questions in the meantime, you know who to call!

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904