Monthly Archives: September 2014

Working with New Home Builders

building 

I remember years ago, sitting in my lawyers’ office as we purchased yet another project home. We were discussing the new home market and he quickly explained, with every “upturn in the Real Estate cycle” “new home Builders” crawl out of the woodwork. Some good who stand the test of time and remain long after the boom, most others not so good and they are the first to disappear when the pendulum swings the other way.  Well over the last 15 years, I can’t count the number of “New Home Builders” I have come across. What I’m not surprised at is the distinct difference between the good ones and the bad ones.

 Well as we’ve seen over the last year or so, the pendulum has begun to swing to a more balanced market. There is just more inventory available for buyers to choose from. This means sellers need to make an effort to sell their homes. Whether that means fixing them up, whether dated or deferred maintenance issues, de-cluttering and even staging are becoming increasingly common to catch the Buyer’s attention. This will also begin to weed out the good builders from the others.

I cannot count the number of phone calls and emails I receive from panicked sellers because their home has not sold in 2 weeks! The average days on the market before a property is sold has risen since last year. So comparing your home sale now to houses selling 2-3 years ago is no longer accurate. Year-end statistics from the WREB should tell a very interesting story this year! I have had a number of clients who had been listed for months with no success, we’ve staged and then their home sells! Staging works in a competitive market!

However, the thing I find the most eye opening is the number of new homes we are being called into for renovations and repairs. One home built by a very well-known builder, has major structural issues. Unfortunately, the one year basic warranty has expired and the 5 year structural warranty just expired. Our client paid close to $700,000 for this home back in 2008. It was a show home backing onto the lake. As a show home it had a 2nd storey deck built on piles that looked down over the lake. Great selling feature! Built to impress! Unfortunately, there are 2 large cracks that extend up the corner of each rear outside corner wall at the back of the house. If you push on the structure at this point – it moves. Exterior walls are not supposed to move!!! 

No surprise here, the Builder cannot be reached, and is hiding behind his office staff. The only response is the warranty period has expired and they would be happy to inspect it for a $1500 retainer fee. We were shocked. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes you have new guys working for who you or your sub trades and although you  believe they know what they are doing, and then you find out, it wasn’t done to your standards. Ultimately, as the builder or G.C. YOU are always ultimately responsible!  You are the go to guy. That’s why you get paid the big bucks! If I see something I don’t like on one of my jobs, I stop and change it there, I’m a stickler for doing it right. No the client doesn’t pay for the re-do, they are trusting us to do it right!  That trust is very important to me. I would never let someone down. That is why I’m deeply saddened and shocked to see my lawyers’ words come full circle. Not all New Home Builders are worth the trust we place in them.  Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but if a client trusted me, I would go above and beyond to ensure they were happy. If I screwed up, I would want to be the one to fix it. Worst case scenario, the builder has business insurance, I’m sure it would kick in for a case like this. However, I would simply find it more important to own up to my mistakes and fix them! One happy client is worth more to me than an unhappy one. My reputation is more important to me and I could never hide behind office staff if I was being called out for a sub-standard job. It may not be pleasant, but this would be one I myself would face head on! Honesty, Integrity and Professionalism re not just words, they are how you run your business and who you are as a leader and a person!

It should be very interesting to see which New Home Builder’s remain in the market over the next 10 years and which do not. If I was planning on building and conducting interviews, I would ask them lots of questions, including how they handle issues past the warranty period. Also find out their legal name as well as their operating name. Do a search of Court of Queen’s Bench for claims or judgements against them. Do both a legal name and the known business name. Find out how many other names they may have operated under over the last number of years and why????  Ask your lawyer to do some digging. Speak to unhappy clients – not just happy clients that have had their home built. If you are going to be making one of the largest purchases of your life with them, – do your homework!  Just because a name is well known – doesn’t necessarily mean their businesses practices are worthy of your money! This is the time when natural Real Estate Cycles will weed out the “men” (professionals) from the “boys” (amateurs).  Everyone wants to get in to make a quick buck, it’s those that plan on sticking around long term that are worth your time!

Training Junior Team Members

BEFORE AFTER

As independent Business Owners, we all like things done a certain way. After all, it’s a reflection on our business and us! One of the most challenging and rewarding tasks a Business Owner faces is training junior team members. However, ensuring you take proper time to train and explain; not only is that something needs to be done but how you want it done and why it is done in a certain way makes all the difference in the world.

We all recognize when our business has grown to the point when we need some help. There are just not enough hours in the day and the work keeps coming in. It’s time to get some help. Everyone we have ever hired is pretty excited and anxious to please. I do my best to take the time to explain not only what needs to be done but why we do things a certain way. Even show them the difference between doing it one way and the result of doing it my preferred way. 

Pictures are a huge part of my business. It’s not only important to have a good quality camera, but you also need to know the best angle to take pictures from. For design purposes, we usually take pictures of every room we’ll be designing/staging so that we can plan out a great design. We may need to take measurements of window heights, wall distances to doorways, etc. to ensure we bring in the right size furniture. Even measuring doorways the furniture needs to fit through is critical! It won’t do any good if I can’t get it in the room! Missing even one of these steps can be disastrous on staging or moving day! 

When I hired my personal design assistant I explained everything. She now teases me about being too detail oriented but I no longer have to take pictures or measurements in a consult. She has the measurements and the pictures completed before I have even finished with the home owner or realtor. We have all the information we need to get back to the office and plan out a fabulous design! Saves me time and gets everything done quickly.

When I take pictures of a room, it’s usually from all four corners, at the furthest point possible. This tells me everything I need to plan out the space. It is also so much easier to take the before and after pictures everyone loves so much because we will always have before and after pictures from the same angles! 

This is why I am so surprised when I see such poor quality photos submitted by some Realtors for advertising or online pics. Fabulous pictures are the key to bringing people in the door. I met with a client last week who showed me the pictures that were taken by the junior member of her Realtor’s team. The pics were taken part way into the room and essentially only showed the furniture in the room, but not much beyond just the furniture because she was too close and was using incorrect settings on the camera. The pics were honestly just horrible. These were the pictures that were being used until the Home Owner saw them and took her own pictures (with her iPhone – no less) and had them post the new iPhone photos. Maybe I’m old school – but a client should never have to take their own photos if they have an agreement with the Realtor to sell their home, Good Quality pictures should be part of the marketing package. I simply told her to speak to the Senior Member of the Team. He had been around for quite some time and had a good reputation. I was certain he simply was not aware of the situation. She did and as I thought, he corrected it quickly. 

Quality control always comes down to the business owner, or senior member of the team. If it needs to be done a certain way, it’s always our responsibility to ensure it is. We need to take the time to train juniors to do what needs to be done, in the way we want it done. After all, it’s a reflection on us, and our business. I had my assistant shadow me for the first 6 weeks. Explaining as I went, what I was doing and why. How we set up furniture for staging is always different than how we do things for decorating (live – in design work). It’s all about the wow factor and the photos! We design to the best photo opportunity for the space.  The Realtors needs the tools (pictures and fabulous spaces) to do their job, and market the property so they can get it sold! So no matter how busy we are, take the time to have your junior ride with you for days, or weeks until you can stand back and they can tell you what they are doing and why and its exactly what you want! Until you are certain that things are produced to your satisfaction, take the time to look them over to make sure they are at your expected quality level before others see them.  Then “your team’s work” will truly represent you and your business just the way you trained them to!

Staging for Sale vs. Design for Living

from www.homeimprovementtoday.com

from www.homeimprovementtoday.com

I recently had a client ask me what the difference was between staging for sale and design (staging) for living and if there was a difference? Yes!!! Yes!! And Yes!!! Design for living in a space is all about how the Home Owner uses the space. It’s all about the families’ needs and preferences. Staging for sale is all about the buyers’ needs and preferences. Staging for sale is all about creating beautiful spaces that photograph beautifully to create the interest to bring the buyers in to view the home, and make buyers fall in love with the space when they see the home. 

When we stage a home, the first thing we need to know is what is the target buyer demographic. We have to decorate and “stage” the property to appeal the greatest number of potential buyers. If it’s a property that could appeal to multiple age groups, we need to be sensitive to this and design accordingly. Are they young first time home buyers? Are they in the 40+ age group moving up the property ladder? And are they retirees looking to downsize? How we plan the design has a lot to do with who the target demographic buyer will be. We work very hard to decorate the home to look “real” and not staged. Let’s face it – no one sets their table with color coordinated dinner, salad and dessert plates, on color coordinated place mats and leaves their table that way! Does it look pretty – of course! But it also looks “staged”!! I’ve literally been in thousands of homes over the last 20 years and I’ve never once seen a Home Owner have their table set this way for no reason. How I design for a first time home buyer is very different than how I design for someone moving up the property ladder. A design that is appropriate for a contemporary home style is very different than a design for a turn of the century traditional home. We have to be sensitive to all the factors that influence the home sale before we plan the design.

Staging is about creating beautifully decorated rooms that showcase the function and space in a room. How to use that space and what it “could” look like if the buyer were to purchase it. This could be “your space”. It has to make a statement and create a “wow factor” that buyers want to make their own. However, because we appeal to the largest demographic of potential buyers we do not make the Home Owners’ preferences a priority. If they have a desk and computer, TV and sitting area and exercise machine in their great room because it works for how they use the space, we will change that to showcase a single room function to buyers. If they like bright purple walls in their kitchen, we’ll tone it down to a more neutral color to appeal to more buyers. This is what staging is about – making the home appealing to the greatest number of potential buyers.

Design for living is all about the Home Owners. How do you use the space? Who uses the space? What functions must the room accommodate? What colors do you like? What colors make you feel good? You need to walk into the room and have it embrace you. If you want what is popular or trendy right now, we can easily incorporate the latest design trends. It’s our job to determine what you like, what you want and put them together to create a space that makes you feel great! If that is bright purple with bright green, so be it! We can work with that and create a fun and lively space! If you like bright orange and yellows, perfect, you love a bright, happy and energetic space. The colors people prefer tell me a lot about them. What they like, and what makes them feel good. I always ask clients to take me for a quick tour of their home. I will always see certain colors repeating through the home. These often become the colors we use in a new design scheme. People don’t realize it but they often tend to gravitate towards certain colors that make them feel good when they buy anything from artwork to towels to accessories. This shows up in a quick walk through so I often know where to start with color recommendations for a new design scheme.

I have 2 rules when it comes to designing for living. First, NEVER apologize for what you like. If it makes you feel good in your space, that is all that matters! It’s your home and you should have what you love around you and feel good in your own home!! Second, it doesn’t matter what I like! I cannot count the number of times a client asks me if I would do this in my home. It doesn’t matter what I like. My personal preferences should never play a part in your home design. I will tell you how to best place furniture, décor and accessories to maximize the room function and create the biggest impact. However, when it comes to color preferences that is a very personal choice. It’s ALL about what YOU LOVE! After all, you have to see it every day and we want your new room design to make you happy every time you walk into the room!

Transitioning Mom & Dad into Retirement Living

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Assisting seniors’ in their transition from their own home or condo to a new smaller retirement home or assisted living, takes some time and special attention. In addition to being sensitive to their reluctance and real trepidation for the upcoming change, quite often they simply do not know what to do or who to call to assist them. Sometimes they have family who can help, but other times, they may only have limited assistance from family, friends, or even the Condo Corp where they live. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed to help ease the transition and make it as easy and painless as possible.

It’s important to find out how much room they will have in the new location. Can they take their king sized bed or do they need a smaller queen or even a double bed that will fit? Do they have room for a small dining set? Will there be a sitting area in their new home for watching TV? Some of the retirement residences may have restrictions or rules for balconies’ use or patio use. What are you allowed to have and what will get you a swift notice from Head Office? BBQs are typically a no-no. Plants and seating are usually welcomed. If the bedroom has limited space then we need to determine the floor plan for the room and what furniture will fit. Maybe we can only fit a queen bed, 2 nightstands, and a small dresser. This may mean that the home owner may need to find a new home for their chest of drawers, and accent chairs from their bedroom. The kitchen, if you have one, may be more of a “breakfast bar” rather than a full sized kitchen. Suddenly you no longer require the full sized dining room suite with china buffet and hutch or the large 7 piece kitchen set. Now all you have room for is a smaller 3 piece or at best a small scale 5 piece dining set. Finally the sitting/TV area tends to be much smaller, again, if you have one. So, you may only have room for a small loveseat and possibly a small chair not the full oversized living set that you currently have. So what to do with the furniture that they no longer have a use for? Often family will take the items they want, and then the rest is left for trash or charity.

Here are some interesting alternatives to kijiji and giveaways for excess furniture items. There are numerous women’s shelters that will take furniture and gently used household items to help women who are leaving abusive relationships get a fresh start. It is highly anonymous so don’t call asking for the name of the organization. They screen all donors to ensure it is not an abuser looking for their victim. I will not give out their name to random callers or emails, only clients once we have worked together for a while. This is simply to ensure everyone’s safety. Another option is a company that will “buy” gently used furniture, they will come and pick it up and if they re-sell it, you may get a cheque in the mail.  These are always 2 options I give my clients rather than the trash guy or dump option. No one wants to see the furniture they loved and cared for over the years go to the dump, that’s just insensitive and hard to watch. This offers a “feel good” option for home owners. Knowing your treasured belongings can help someone else starting out in a time of need. There is even the rare time I may purchase furniture from my client for my staging business. If it’s in good shape and I know it will work in some of the homes we are often called to stage, then I just may purchase it. Essentially, I am the last resort. Honestly, I often feel awkward and usually will only consider purchasing after the Home Owner or family has asked if I want the piece or know someone who might. Depending on how full my warehouse is or is not, I may even be able to offer short term storage for some items.

The next thing we need to address is what personal belongings (other than furniture) will they be taking? Many of the kitchen items are no longer required. Extra bedding and linens, for secondary bedrooms and baths are no longer necessary. All those treasured memories of a life well lived, need to be sorted through and the treasures kept aside from those that the homeowner can bring themselves to part with. This is the most painful process. It can take a number of weeks or even months to complete this. Rushing this process is simply not emotionally healthy unless the circumstances require the immediate physical health of the individual take precedence and they need to be moved into assisted living urgently. If at all possible, plan the transition and give Mom and Dad time to go through their own things, they will be less resentful, and the move will go much easier. It is very important to keep some of their most treasured items, photos, and other personal treasures for their new home. They may need a lot of help determining what these are. Be sensitive and compassionate. With enough gentle guidance and time and tears, they will find their own way. Remember, this is a major life transition for them that may signify many different things to them. Talk to them about what they are feeling to help them through. 

Estate sales and moving sales are a great way to clear out a lot of the items that will not be moving to the new home. This is also a great source of cash for them, which many find quite surprising. Sometimes thrilled at the money they receive and other times sad that that is all their life has been “worth”. Again, this is a very individual reaction and must be handled compassionately and carefully. Prepare them that they will usually not get top dollar but something is better than nothing, they may be pleasantly surprised. Under no circumstances should family members go to Mom and Dad over disputes because they each feel they have the “rights” to something. I’ve watched this happen too many times and the pain in Mom and Dad’s eyes just breaks my heart! They are watching their life of 40-60 years slowly walk out the door forever and their family is more concerned about fighting than showing love and compassion for Mom and Dad when they need it most. What’s the name of that big ugly bird again? Oh yeah, vultures!  Honestly! What “stuff” could possibly be more important than your parents’ breaking hearts??!!! This is the time to leave sibling rivalry in the past and focus on your parents! 

Finally, getting the home ready for sale is the last step of the transition.This is where our expertise makes a huge difference. Many times, Mom and Dad have already moved out. There are basically 2 options here. If the home is outdated, you can sell it as a fixer upper. This means you are getting a rock bottom price, much less for the home than you would if it was updated and much more desirable to the younger buyers. We take the steps necessary to make your home appealing to the buyer demographic that is most likely to purchase your home. If your home is in a new development and is competing with newer homes, it needs to look like an appealing alternative! This means current colors, décor and furniture to make it look just as good! If the home is in a more mature neighborhood and other homes are seen as starter homes, then it is equally important to make your home more desirable than others, especially since the bidding wars have become much fewer. If the other homes have been updated and have newer countertops, newer flooring, and newer paint and décor, they will simply be more appealing than an older dated home with old wallpaper and green carpet! This means that your neighbors’ home may sell for $30,000, $50,000 or even $70,000 or more over your home, even if it’s the exact same square footage and layout! This is because buyers will pay more for a home in move in condition. Remember, many buyers are young couples with 2 jobs, maybe 1 or 2 young children, and tight budgets, and very hectic schedules. They simply do not have the time or the money to do renovations! They would rather buy a home that has been updated than one that requires a lot of work! If Mom and Dad’s home is outdated, and is appraising well below what other homes in the neighborhood sell for, we can help with this. Our Maximum Equity Program works with the Home Owner and the Realtor to determine what updates need to be done to bring the value of the home up to the upper selling range in your neighborhood. Our team of professional renovators and myself will design and complete the renovations. We work with the Realtor and Home Owner to determine a budget that everyone is comfortable with and allocate that budget to the top priorities needed to bring the home value up! The cost of the renovations is ALWAYS less than the increase in value. My goal is to increase the Home Owners’ equity so they walk away with more money for their retirement! The best part of the Program, is that we offer full financing for all renovations and staging work at a pre-agreed cost until the home sells. The Homeowner knows exactly what it will cost going in, and the Realtor has given them a post renovation dollar value or list price before we start, so they know the selling range of the home after the renovations. We take payment from the proceeds of the home sale so the Home Owner doesn’t have to pay anything up front if they are on a strict retirement budget! Basically I firmly believe your home IS YOUR retirement income! Every Home Owner should have the opportunity to maximize the equity in their single largest investment! One example was a home that initially appraised at $240,000. They did $24,000 in renovations and updates and staging. It listed for $315,000 and sold for a whopping $355,000!!! It’s all about helping the client maximize their equity for the next phase of their life!  It’s the best feeling in the world to help people do this!!!

If the home has been well maintained and updated, it may need very little in updates or staging. Sometimes, it may need a fresh coat of paint, some minor repairs, clean the carpet and we stage it with current décor and it looks fabulous! If the Home Owner has furniture that we can use, by all means I’m happy to do so to keep the rental costs down. We are after the best final result that will make the home look great and keep the costs as minimal as possible. If we need to bring furniture in, no problem, we can do as much or as little as required to meet the clients’ budget! There are times when the Home Owner chooses to pay for these services up front rather than financing them. That is fine. Whatever is the best option for the Home Owner is fine with us. Our goal is help in any way we can, and do what is necessary to ensure the Client gets the best sale price and an easy transition into the next phase of their lives. 

Business Hours

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Different businesses require different business hours. Realtors’ busy time is evenings and weekends. This is when most clients are available for looking at houses. I really respect them for working such difficult hours. My family time has always been very important to me, especially when the kids were younger, I had to be home for them. That was one of the main reasons I’ve have always worked from home. 

Working from home has benefits and drawbacks. It’s wonderful to wake up early and head into the office with a cup of coffee and get a few hours of work in before anyone else rises! There are many days I head into the office after a shower with no make-up and my hair not styled. Thank goodness we do not have video phones yet! When you are productive and on a roll it’s easy to keep right on going. I can easily get 5-6 hours in before noon and still head out for afternoon consults or an afternoon de-stage. This makes for some very productive days. Another benefit is being able to throw dinner into the slow cooker or throw in a load of laundry. I often multi-task to fit everything into my busy schedule. I’m a morning person so this works well for me. By the time 6pm rolls around I’ve usually put in close to 12 hours already. Then it’s time for dinner and family time for the rest of the day.

Some of the main drawbacks of working from home is that I rarely truly leave work behind. My office door is always open and its’ too easy to check if someone responded to my email, or go finish that proposal, or finish that never ending paperwork. Weekends at home I can always be found doing a few hours Saturday and Sunday morning before anyone else rises. That is the main reason I love our cottage. My cell service is sketchy at best, I don’t check my emails, and I actually get away and come back fresh and ready to start a new week. Down time is so important, it allows for balance in a sometimes crazy and hectic busy life when you own your own businesses and have young children. Everyone needs to unplug and shut off for a while.

This is one of the main reasons why I’m reluctant to do evening appointments. I’ve already done a 12 hour work day by 6 pm so adding another 2-3 hours isn’t very appealing. My brain is usually tired at that point and I’m really just not as clear as I am in the morning. This means it may take me longer to do the same thing, or I may miss something completely. Not the best for me or my client. Another reason is that as winter hours roll around, doing color consults in the evening are very challenging. How a color looks at night with interior lighting is very different from how the same colors looks in the natural daylight. One home I did earlier this spring appeared to be a soft beige, seeing it in daylight later it had a definite pink quality! Not what I would have left on the walls had I seen this during the evening consult. I explain this to people when they request evening appointments, but some refuse to listen. Ironically these are always the same people who later question the color recommendations made. Honestly, there is only so much I can do with the existing lighting. Color hues and tones change with the lighting. This is one of the main reasons I recommend clients buy a sample of a paint to try on the walls to see in different lighting before painting the whole space. 

Many businesses simply refuse to do evening or weekend appointments. I’m beginning to understand why. Other than the basics of time management, and literally forcing yourself to control how many hours you choose to work each week. This comes back to balance in life and work. However, there is also the more practical aspect of certain things just need to be done during the day if they are going to be done right! 

I’m shocked when I call a Realtor and do not have a call back from them in 24 hours. Most are pretty good. However, there are certainly those that will not return calls for a few days, if they do. I’m not talking one call but numerous. My best suggestion is before you hire someone, leave a message with just your name and number. See how long it takes for them to get back to you. Do you want to list with someone who won’t be returning calls from potential buyers? Let’s face it Real Estate is a weekend and evening business. They should be returning calls. Technically my business hours are Monday to Friday 9-5. However, I will usually return calls the same day even in the evening, if at all possible, when I’m not busy in the evening. Worst case scenario, I’ll call you back the next business day. However, I rarely will return calls on the weekends. I’m simply not a 24 hour emergency on call business. Although I’ve actually had people call me at 11 pm and 1:30 am and even 3:10 am to ask about staging! I now just turn my phone off when I go to bed. I work long enough hours during the week and I do my best to give my clients the very best service I can. However, my time with my family is their time and it’s equally important. I guess that’s why some businesses insist on a strict 9-5 schedule. I believe I will continue doing what I’m doing for now but I’ll just be less inclined to accommodate evening appointments as the winter hours begin to get closer.