Dark homes, or those which feel dark to potential homebuyers, are much more difficult to sell, and virtually always sell for less money than those which are perceived as “light, bright and airy”.
While a property’s owner might love the cozy feeling of dark paneling, deep overhangs and low lighting, it’s not what most buyers want today. To maximize the amount a house, condo or townhouse in Silicon Valley will sell for, it’s imperative to make it as attractive to the widest audience of buyers as possible.
In many cases, that means the dark home needs to be transformed into a light one.
How to make a dark home a little more light: start with the windows
How can a home owner make a house or home be – or seem – more bright? One of the biggest “offenders” in this area involves windows! Here are a few window-related problems that can make a home feel significantly darker than necessary, together with some potential solutions:
- Tinted windows, such as yellow or other colored glass at the front door or entry way: replace with clear or translucent, colorless glass. If there’s a darkening film (for instance, for privacy), remove it and replace with a clear or translucent but uncolored film instead.
- Curtains/blinds which obstruct part of the window: get tie backs to pull them further back and let more light in (goal is to not obscure windows at all). Easiest of all are those which use magnetic clasps and do not require any hardware be attached to the wall.
- Furniture blocking windows should be moved or swapped out for lower items that do not cover up any of the windows. I see tall headboards often situated right in front of the glass panes – they are counter productive. Perhaps remove the headboard, or place the bed in another location?
- Shrubs and trees covering some of the window: trim back so the window’s glass panes are 100% visible, if at all possible, to let maximum light in.
- And of course, do make sure your windows and tracks are sparkling clean!
Home sellers know that certain fixes will give a good return on investment when selling. The risk, though, is in over improving your property.
Reasonable home sale prep will not over improve the home, but will include:
- decluttering so that the home, garage, and yard all appear to offer enough comfortable space
- deep cleaning, including the windows and tracks
- repairs to whatever is broken or not working properly, such as windows that don’t open and close smoothly, doorbells on the fritz, faucets that drip
- often fresh paint and carpet are a good idea – case by case basis
- frequently new light fixtures are helpful
- sometimes removing window coverings to let more natural light in can be a good idea
- sprucing up the yard, trimming bushes, planting something colorful near the front door
Strategic upgrades such as these prior to putting the home on the market will result in a faster sale at a better price in most markets. Some sellers don’t want to do enough, whether it’s as basic as cleaning and decluttering or if it’s repairs that are imperative due to health or safety conditions.
Sometimes, though, we meet property owners with a bent toward the other extreme. When possible, we’ll do our best to get them to minimize their to do list since deep remodeling may cause a diminishing return, particularly when the market is soften and prices may be falling.
Over improving your property: how much is too much?
When the market is appreciating sharply, it may be possible to do a tremendous amount of work and get a fantastic return on it.
A decade ago, it was the norm for Silicon Valley homeowners to occupy the home they were selling – today a majority of homes are being sold unoccupied or vacant. Why is that? And should you move out before you sell?
A few years ago, around the mid- to late-2010s, we began to see an increasing number of vacant and professionally staged properties for sale. Last year, most sellers simply felt safer moving out before selling due to the pandemic. Today that continues to be the case.
Over time, the reasons for homeowners to move out before marketing a primary residence have increased. While sellers can certainly still occupy a home on the market and sell it successfully, it’s not our recommendation for most people and here’s why.
First things first, if you are able to move out before you sell it can reduce a lot of stress. And this has almost always been the case.
Did you do the repairs outlined when you bought your home?
Recently I showed a home where the owners had been there 7 or 8 years but never did any of the suggested repairs from their pre-sale inspections when they purchased the home “As Is“. The As Is part means that no repairs were provided by the sellers, with the idea that buyers would do whatever was needed later. Desperate to get in when prices were appreciating fast, it seemed that most home buyers said “we’ll take care of it after we own it“.
But many of them forgot.
Today, with the whitest hot market I’ve ever seen in my career, most sellers fix the major items because they understand that it will net them a higher sale price. They fix the foundation, electrical, plumbing, waste lines, roof leaks, pest items, safety issues, and do whatever other repairs would make a buyer pause.
Some, though, don’t do any repairs at all – none! Often they are the same sellers who won’t stage their homes, or for whom scheduling a showing is a big effort, and maybe the disclosures aren’t so thoughtfully done. (In recent weeks I saw a disclosure package in which the sellers wrote on every page, “AS IS SALE” and refused to answer each question.) It’s a giant red flag that these may be difficult sellers.
If you want to maximize your profits, don’t let that seller be you. As Is certainly is the norm, but it’s As Disclosed. Wouldn’t buyers pay more if they weren’t worried about needing to do a lot of expensive and time consuming repairs? You bet. Confident buyers pay more. Let that be your mantra, home sellers.
Pull out your old file, find your inspection reports and review them, especially if you are preparing to sell your home
Interested in moving your property tax basis when you sell your current home and buy the next one? For those over 55 in California, this is a great one time option.
There are actually two propositions involved. Prop 60 applies to moves within your own county, and Prop 90 relates to moves between counties which are participating in the transfer arrangement. Unfortunately, of California’s 58 counties, only 10 have the cooperative agreement to accept a property tax basis transfer from other participating counties.
Cooperating Property Tax Basis Transfer Counties (Prop 90)
The counties cooperating in the property tax basis transfer are only these, as of the date of this posting: Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Tuolumne, and Ventura.
Some of the basics for the property tax basis transfer:
- Homeowners must be 55 and older at the time of sale of the original property.
- Homeowner must be on record both for the home that’s sold and the replacement property.
- The replacement residence must be equal to or lesser in value than the original residence.
- There are special rules for multi-family (duplex, triplex, fourplex) properties and for mobile homes.
In the most typical scenario, a senior homeowner would sell a house (or townhome or condo) and “downsize” to another, less expensive, smaller house or condo. If the homeowner had been in the first property for a very long time, then the low tax rate would be hard to give up, but Props 60 and 90 enable that homeowner to go to another, less expensive home and carry the old tax rate along – one time, and either in the home county or in one of the participating counties.
I have known seniors to sell a house in Los Gatos, Saratoga or San Jose and move to The Villages or to gated senior communities out of the area but closer to their grown kids and make use of these two propositions.
It should be noted that while the price of the replacement home must be less than the home being sold, that doesn’t mean that the new home must be smaller. I’ve known people to move out of area and get a larger, newer, nicer home – at a lower price tag. So it’s really an economic downsizing (or “right sizing” as some like to say now).
For more information and to get all the details, please click on the California state page for these two propositions.
Most homes in Silicon Valley come with some type of parking space for cars beyond street parking. Home buyers want to know that there will be a place for their vehicles (and often their “stuff” too). Garages and parking are sometimes under-appreciated aspects of evaluating real estate, and sometimes there are parking surprises after the close of escrow, so it will be the focus of today’s topic.
Parking and resale value
Because a real estate purchase is a big ticket item, it is always important to consider the ability to sell it later. (Always buy with selling in mind!) Will the property you have or are considering buying be hard to sell in the future if it is not a red-hot sellers market? Parking can greatly impact “resale value“ and overall desirability to a large portion of consumers, who may look at that space as protection for a beloved vehicle, a safety feature, a future hobby room, or many other possibilities.
If you are evaluating a Common Interest Development (CID) condominium, townhouse, or planned unit development home with private roads and parking, there will be some special concerns that may be a little different than if you were purchasing a single family home. We’ll consider both.
General principle: In all types of housing in the San Jose area, usually the most highly desired type of parking arrangement is an attached garage with direct access into the home and with side by side parking provided (not tandem). This is not true in all cases but is generally true. You would not find home buyers interested in historic homes (Victorian, Spanish, Craftsman) wanting a prominent two car garage at the front of the house, commanding the lion’s share of the view from the street. (So don’t expect to see that in Japantown, Naglee Park, or the the Rose Garden areas of San Jose.) But for the typical buyer of the more common ranch style house, the attached garage is expected and appreciated, and if it’s missing it may be a challenge to sell the property later because the property will be appealing to a smaller pool of buyers.
Regarding direct access: garages are not allowed to have a door entering into a bedroom. This is for safety reasons since bedrooms are where residents are most vulnerable, and garages are an area of increased safety risk.
Selling and buying homes can be exhausting and emotional, even overwhelming. This level of stress can rise when children are involved as parents also “run interference” to a degree to help make the transition smooth for their kids. Another added stresser is relocation to a new community far away.
What can parents and their real estate agents do to help the youngest members of the family to move as peacefully and contentedly as possible?
Communication about the moving process is key
Few of us like surprises that come on a big scale and change the way our lives are lived on a day-to-day basis. This is also true for our offspring, for whom routine can be a comfort. Just as you wouldn’t begin a vacation without explaining to your three year old that it’s only a trip and that you will later return home, so too it helps to explain to your child that the family is staying together, the toys, furniture and pets are coming along, but that the house or condo will be “new”. Providing a sense of security and reassurance first can enable the process to be possibly even fun. (Young kids will think that the furniture and toys go with the house so will likely vocalize their preference for a new place with the most fun stuff unless they understand that their toys will move with them.) (more…)
Selling your Silicon Valley home this year? At the top of your to do list should be decluttering and fixing the home and yard. These basics are extremely important because they give home buyers confidence, and confident buyers write stronger offers with higher prices. When you do the work upfront, your future home buyers will be far more comfortable with an As Is sale, and you are more likely to get top dollar for your home.
Starting point: a list of what needs to be fixed
The first and most important thing if you’ll be Selling your Silicon Valley home is to go through your property – both interior and exterior – and get everything into good working order. This may seem intuitively obvious but it doesn’t always happen. Once I assisted some buyers with a home in which one of the bathrooms was not fully usable. The owners just used other bathrooms but to the buyers it raised an enormous red flag and a ton of questions: when did it break? why didn’t you fix it? what’s the cost? are the sellers just hiding something? This is a typical reaction when there’s deferred maintenance, particularly in a kitchen or bathroom. It happens in condos, townhouses, single family homes and even luxury homes. But if you’re selling, don’t do it: get your repairs done first and foremost.
Exterior of the home
- Grab a clipboard or notepad, a paper and pen and walk around the exterior of your home. Look for things which don’t work, need cleaning or otherwise need repair.
- Check the paint, windows, screens, downspouts, spigots, doorbell, front door, mailbox, door hardware etc. (Wood on the outside of the home tends to need painting every 5 years, by the way.)
- Is the house dirty or dusty? Consider power washing (close to when your home will go on the market).
- Are there stucco cracks or wood damage to the outside of the home (siding or under the eaves)?
- How are the sidewalk, the walkways, patio, or deck? Look for trip hazards.
- Exterior lighting – do the lights come on as expected?
- Sprinklers – are they working as needed?
- Are your downspouts extended so that water flows away from your home when it rains?
- Are your gutters cleaned out?
- Lawn and landscaping: is there a need for re-seeding, planting annuals? Are the trees and bushes in need of a trim? You do not want trees hanging over the roof for many reasons, and bushes and other vegetation should not obscure windows as you want as much natural light to flow into the home as possible.
Interior of the home
If you are preparing your Silicon Valley to sell, you may have concerns about both time and money. You probably don’t want to spend a year getting ready, but you do want to make the appropriate changes which will bring a good return on investment. Some home owners don’t understand the connection between the home’s condition and ultimate sale price – their expectations may be a little off.
Sometimes when I meet prospective clients who are thinking of selling their home, I hear immediately, “we only want to sell As Is” and “we don’t want to have to re-carpet, re-paint, etc.”. In the next breath, they tell me, “and we want top dollar for our house”. Those two are often mutually exclusive desires – that is, getting one usually means you won’t get the other. But not always, and I’ll show you how to increase the odds of doing both.
To get top dollar, a Silicon Valley home for sale must appear to be the best value for the money and attract the most qualified buyers who step forward with a strong offer. Buyers will pay more IF they feel that your home is a better value.
There are a number of things which need to be done for that to occur, but one of the most important has to do with the condition and appearance of the property. Confident buyers write stronger offers than buyers who are concerned about the house or condominium and potentially unknown risks. (Buyers are thinking “risk, risk, risk” and “beware of hidden costs”!) Home buying is both a business decision as well as an emotional decision. To get top dollar, your home has to make sense and appeal to buyers on both levels, and we’ll discuss both in this post.
“When in doubt, disclose” is the advice that real estate and legal professionals use as a guiding principal in home sales. And yet many sellers forget or miss things that should be told to the buyer, and some listing agents are a bit sloppy in reviewing their clients’ disclosure paperwork. It is not uncommon to see questions unanswered or only partially answered. The home owner may presume that if the disclosure paperwork was done wrong, the Realtor hired to help market and sell the home will catch it. Would that it were so, but too often, that is not the case.
To avoid problems later, whether small or big, it is best to be thorough and careful while making your disclosure.
Small problems are created by seller (and listing broker) omissions when the paperwork gets kicked back for clarification or to complete the needed response. Bigger problems are forged when a sale is nearly closed and a new disclosure is made – introducing a brand new 3 day “right of rescission” for the home buyer. Worse yet is something substantial which is only brought to light after the close of escrow. At that point, it’s not an inconvenience, it risks being costly and time consuming to resolve it.
The State of California requires that the Transfer Disclosure Statement or TDS be filled out in most realty transactions. The intention of the form is to help you, the property owner, to disclose anything materially impacting value or desirability. That’s a tall order to fill, so other forms have been created to supplement the TDS, which has pretty much become Step #1 for disclosing defects and other issues to buyers.
What kind of things are often skipped in the real estate disclosure paperwork?
On the TDS, a very common error involves the question as to whether the property has any shared features with other properties. Almost always, this answer is “yes” because there’s a fence sitting on a property line (or in the case of a condo, a common wall or at least common HOA facilities). Some sellers think that if they respond yes to anything, it’s a problem, so just check no, no, no. And many of the agents working with them don’t catch it.
Another common mistake is to answer “yes” but not explain further. Often a question will broach a broad subject. In the question about shared features, the question specifies walls, fences, and driveways – so if the owner marks yes, it needs to be clear which of these applies, or if it’s something else.
There are two other disclosures that sellers complete, the Seller Property Questionnaire (SPQ on the CAR forms, used in most of the San Jose area) and the Supplemental Seller’s Checklist (SSC on the PRDS set of forms, which is commonly used in Silicon Valley between Los Gatos and San Bruno). Both ask about modifications to the property (PRDS is far more thorough on that subject). Recently I showed a home that was almost completely remodeled in recent years, but when asked if the home had been modified in any way, the seller answered “no”. And the listing agent did not catch it.
Why an incomplete TDS is bad for seller
If a Transfer Disclosure Dtatement or TDS isn’t completed, the buyer gets an automated 3 day right of rescission when it is completed and delivered. Miss a box or an explanation? You’re at risk, Mr. or Ms. Seller, of giving the buyer(s) a new 3 day contingency.
Beware of under-disclosing. If you have had 6 repairs on a leaking deck over 6 years and it seems to leak after each repair, you don’t want to say simply that “the deck was leaking but repaired”. The new owners will find out, eventually, that you had what appeared to be an unfixable problem. It will not go down well.
It’s important for the home owner to really take time in thoroughly filling out this paperwork. Non-disclosure, or under-disclosure, by sellers to buyers is the #1 reason for real estate lawsuits.
It is also extremely important for home buyers to thoroughly review the disclosure paperwork and to look for any hints of further issues or red flags. Often the seller makes mistakes quite unintentionally due to rushing or sloppiness. But you do want to catch it if that happens. Ask questions. Look at the property carefully – you may see something that the listing agent and home seller missed completely. Investigate.
For more information, please also read:
What Do You Need to Know About Disclosures when Buying or Selling a Home in California?
Why do real estate agents do a visual inspection of the properties they sell?
What remodeling or replacing work requires permits and finals?
Why Is There So Much Paperwork When Buying or Selling a Home in Silicon Valley?