Monthly Archives: July 2015

How to Keep Staging Costs Down

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Everyone has a budget. We respect this. I always ask the client what their budget is. Then we identify the most important areas to be staged and allocate the budget accordingly. There are a number of ways to keep the staging costs down.

First, if we can work with your large furniture pieces, it saves the biggest part of the rental costs and moving costs. The furniture must be in good shape and be an appropriate color and style. We may rearrange furniture within your home from room to room and may still require you to remove excess pieces. However, we often try to use existing pieces as much as possible if we are working with a tight budget. If we are supplying an accessory package with smaller accent pieces of furniture and accessories, these packages can start as low as $650 and can go up to around $1500+ for a large home. Basically if we can move it without the additional expense of hiring movers, we can help stretch you’re staging budget and give you more.

Next, we identify the most important rooms to be staged. This usually includes main areas like living room/great room; dining rooms and kitchens; and master bedrooms. Normally we also stage the main bathrooms and ensuite bathroom. Quite often we will be asked to stage the main floor or main living area of a home if bedrooms are on an upper level.  In rare cases, clients request we stage the lower level as well. When we are dealing with specific budget, we usually eliminate staging the basement, then eliminate secondary bedrooms and focus on the main areas of the home. 

Depending upon the size of the home, we can also eliminate secondary furniture pieces. In a smaller home with smaller rooms, we can easily stage a bedroom without the expense of bringing in a dresser/mirror. This does not work as well in a large room where there is too much empty space in the bedroom. For secondary bedrooms, using a single bed is less costly than a double or queen bed. Using an accent chair in place of a dresser, can also help keep costs down. Sometimes setting up an office in a secondary bedroom is faster and more cost effective than setting up a bedroom. In a living room we may be able to use a sofa and chair rather than a sofa loveseat and chair. In a dining room we may be able to get away without bringing in a buffet table. Allowances for secondary furniture pieces allows us to work with a specific budget and still attain a beautifully staged room. One of the benefits of eliminating secondary furniture pieces is that a space always feels larger with less furniture in it. However, if the space is larger it simply doesn’t work. In this case, I will always let the home owner know that it would just look too sparse and not do the space justice. 

The amount of accessories we bring in also plays a role in the cost. When spreading out a budget, we need to ensure we have the key pieces in place but may be able to get away with enough accessories to complete a look, without the additional pieces we usually use. If we eliminate some secondary accessories, or minimize those required we can also help keep the costs down.

Finally, the most important way to save staging costs is to inform us when you have an offer on the home, do NOT wait until it is SOLD. If you let us know when you have an offer and what date the conditions are to be removed, usually anywhere from 3-5 days from accepted offer date, we can schedule the de-stage within a day or 2 of the sale be finalized. If you wait until Friday at 5pm to notify us the home is sold, we may already be booked with other stages and de-stages the first few days of the following week. That means you’ll be paying for almost and extra week of staging rental before we can de-stage the home! Let us know Monday when you receive an offer, we can schedule a de-stage date the next working day, or next available date after the conditions are removed. Please keep in mind we do not work weekends. So please do not expect to call us on Friday at 5pm and have us in Saturday morning to remove furniture. Sorry, that will not happen and it simply isn’t realistic. Rental costs apply for as long as you have the furniture, not the date the home is sold. No different than a rental car, you pay from the time you leave the dealer until you return it. We are very fair and only charge back what we are charged when we have to rent furniture, and will prorate the cost for rental of our own furniture and accessories. 

We do everything we can to make your staging experience as cost effective and successful as possible. Many homes are selling after 30 – 40 days on the market. However, we still have almost half our staged properties that sell in the first month. 

 

 

Professional Contractors vs. “Joe Odd Jobs on KIJIJI”

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There is a world of difference between a Professional Contractor and someone who is not! I can’t count the number of times I have come across a “handyman” on a stage job, someone hired through kijiji and the owner is frustrated and upset! I understand everyone wants to save money, but there really is something to be said for knowledge and experience when it comes to home repairs and renos.

Most basic is taking the time and effort to keep a clean workspace, protecting flooring and furniture with drop sheets. A few weeks ago I was in a home for some final measuring and inspection before a stage job. It had been cleaned and was ready for us to stage. We returned not 24 hours later and the “handyman” was there to do touch ups. He had obviously been touching up baseboards because there were paint splatters all over the floor along all the baseboards in every room. NO DROP SHEETS ANYWHERE! He had obviously dropped a glob of paint on the floor and then stepped in it and proceeded to walk around the brand new laminate flooring leaving a paint splotch complete with the outline of the sole of his shoe all over the floors! There was caulking on the kitchen counters and the sink was filthy. I had to grab a broom and sweep the floors before we could bring any furniture in to prevent damage by scratching the floors. He had that much construction debris on the floors in a matter of hours! He left without cleaning up his mess! This is plain silly. A Professional would not only use drop sheets, they would clean up after themselves and leave the home in the same condition in which they found it or better!

We did another job where the home owners did some improvements before selling; trim pieces were not cut using a mitre saw; there were gaps between trim pieces or the trim and walls. No towel bars were installed in the bathrooms after painting but they had left the holes in the walls from the old ones – no patching! They had re-surfaced the kitchen cabinets and installed new counters and backsplash. The upper and lower cabinets were perfectly aligned (as they were original), then the counter had an overhang on the SIDE by about 6 inches off from the upper and lower cabinets alignment; then to top it off; instead of fitting and cutting the backsplash tile and using proper tile edging he stopped the tile midway between the counter and the cabinets so there was no unity whatsoever. Normally the backsplash tile is uniform with the end of the cabinet. If my boys at KAT Reno ever did something like that, there would be hell to pay. They would be ripping it out and redoing it properly! There are simply some things that you just do not do! If I walked in and found them in construction shoes walking all over new flooring without drop sheets, they would never do it again – at least in one of my jobs! To get a good job you must understand what to do; what tools are required to do it and how to finish it properly so it looks great! You just don’t seem to find a lot of guys who know these things on KIJIJI.

 

One of my all-time favourites, which we see most often, is a painter who is so much less expensive than anyone else. When you look at the work he does, it’s unbelievable! No way would I pay someone for that! They do a quick roll of the walls; often leaving roller marks on the floor, carpet or ceiling, and then one quick coat of paint on the walls. Everywhere you look, the original paint can still be seen because paint shrinks as it dries. That’s why you usually need a second coat unless you use a top grade, thick paint, even then…. There is nothing worse than a bad paint job where the paint below can be seen. It looks like exactly what it is; a poor, fast job, where no one cares! Isn’t that a great impression for a Buyer to have?!

Let’s face it anyone can print out some business cards and get a website for a couple of hundred bucks. That doesn’t mean they are a Professional or have any clue as to what they are doing. Get references on people; check them out at the Better Business Bureau or the Manitoba Home Builders’ AssociationMHBA have a list of Professional Contractors through their Renomark Program that are sure to do a good and Professional job. Finally tell people what you expect in terms of quality of work, do not settle for less. However, remember if you want good quality work, you won’t get it at rock bottom prices. What’s most important to you, a good job that was done right the first time and a home that sells quickly? Or would you rather have a poor cheap job and a home that isn’t selling… and you’re not exactly sure why? I always tell people staging will never hide a bad reno job but it sure makes a great reno job look that much more amazing!

 

 

Eye Catching Curb Appeal & Yards

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Curb appeal is one of the most important and often most underrated details when selling a home.  When Buyers first drive up, they are already inspecting your home with open anticipation.  If they like what they see on the outside, they are that more excited about seeing the rest.  The first impression is always the outside! Make it the beginning of a promising and fulfilling experience. 

During my house/cottage searches over the years, I remember many times when we would be meeting our Realtor at the house.  There were a number of houses that I just drove away from without even seeing the inside.  If the outside looks that bad, I certainly have no desire to see the inside.

Grass should always be neatly trimmed and cut and free of weeds.  Having a yard that is cut but that is nothing but weeds isn’t well maintained.  There are products that are available to kill weeds and encourage lush grass growth.  Make sure you take the effort to trim the edging.  Cut grass with 2 feet of grass growth under trees doesn’t look maintained.  It looks lazy and sends the message you do not want to send.  “This seller cuts corners wherever they can!”  Plant some flowers or buy some potted or hanging plants.  Keep in mind, you do have to water them, especially in the heat. 

Remove all clutter and garbage from the yard, especially beside, behind the garage and the shed.  Hire a guy to come and take it off to the dump if you do not want it. Just look on Kijiji there’s a long list of guys offering to do so. If it is something you need/want to store, do so in a clean and tidy manner.  This also goes for sporting equipment. 

Trim any trees/shrubs so they do not attack Buyers as they walk to the front door.  Remove excessively large trees.  Many trees roots cause problems to foundations and to water/sewer lines.  Repairs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.  Some trees roots grow out along the surface of the soil, like poplar; others grow down and out.  When you have a tree that is 25-35 feet tall; it has quite an extensive root system.  Quite often large trees like this, conceal the front of the property and take away from the curb appeal – all you see is tree!

Please use the front door.  A number of homes do not have a sidewalk to the front door.  This forces buyers to use the back door – which never has the same wow factor as the front entrance.  A bit of gravel and sidewalk blocks are inexpensive!  They are easily available at Home Depot and are no more than an afternoon job.  Take the time to invite buyers into your home.

Pull any weeds you have.  This always drives me crazy.  People have their homes for sale, weeds are taller than the Buyers children, and Sellers are frustrated that no one wants to buy their home.  I cannot count the number of times I’ve told Sellers the weeds need to be pulled before we come to stage, only to show up and find it’s not done.  The Realtors typically take pictures immediately after the home is staged, so now the online photos clearly show the Seller doesn’t look after their yard. 

Remove last years’ leaves and debris from the gutters, so you don’t have small trees sprouting from your gutters.  It should be common sense but seems to be a common issue.  There are companies that you can hire to do so if you do not have time or are uncomfortable on ladders.

Make sure your windows and doors are clean and the exterior is clean, paint is still in good condition, if applicable, and please make sure the paint color is neutral and appealing.  Ensure walkways into the home are easily accessible and clutter free.

Finally make outdoor living spaces look as good as you can.  If you have a deck, stain it before you sell if it needs a fresh coat of stain.  Set up some lawn furniture and add a few plants to create a nice welcoming outdoor living space. 

When selling in winter, driveways and sidewalks must be cleared and shoveled.  Ensure there is a walkway from the street to your sidewalk.  Climbing over huge snow banks with young children can be dangerous as well as frustrating.  Ensure you took the time and effort to do all yard/home maintenance above before the snow flies.  Clean up the yard and the potted plants and the flowers.  Put things away so the yard looks neat and clean, with a blanket of snow.

Finally, ensure you take care of any maintenance issues; eaves that are loose/missing; or down spouts that have fallen off; peeling paint around windows; cracking stucco; etc.  These are all important details when getting your home ready for sale.

How to Deal with a Power Tripper

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We’ve all met them. They are the ones so full of themselves that you cannot help but be underwhelmed within moments of meeting them. They quickly ensure you know “they” have the power to make your life miserable “if” they choose. They are also the reason many of us went into business for ourselves! As business owners, we always choose who we will or will not work with! That’s the biggest benefit of owning the business! I provide great service and a fabulous product. I treat my customers with respect and courtesy and do not have time for those who demand I jump through unrealistic hoops. I regularly go out of my way for great clients but will shut down a power tripper in seconds. Thanks but no thanks! I have been watching quietly as a “power tripper” situation has evolved with a business associate. It’s become a disaster quickly and thought I would share for the benefit of other business owners.

When power trippers work as middle managers there is a subtle change that takes place. Long term employees begin taking sick days or suddenly require stress leave. Employees you could rely on, and have always done a fabulous job suddenly quit. Sometimes, if an employee is a threat to the power tripper, or questions the power trippers authority, your model employees are quickly found to have performance issues and the “power tripper” finds cause for their termination. If the power tripper is manipulative and creative enough, they have upper management eating out of their hands, convincing upper management that only “the power tripper” is doing a good job and can be counted on. Owners’ experience feelings of betrayal for having long term employees suddenly leave. The “power trippers” validates your feelings of betrayal and suggests that you can only trust them. Voila! You have a sure recipe for disaster. Sadly, before management catches on, a bad power tripper can have a significant impact on your business. Forcing or scaring off many long term dedicated employees and can significantly affect your cash flow.

Long term employees you could always count on to be honest with you and have your back, become too frightened to speak up. They become caught between a rock and a hard place. This is especially true is if the power tripper feels threatened by them. They quickly set up the threat for disciplinary action, and eventually termination. This is a warning to everyone else. Hence, sick days begin to become more common and eventually you will see a large turn over in your staff. In the end, very few employees will remain with a power tripper in their midst. Faithful employees will give upper management an opportunity to identify and address the problem. However, if management fails and allows the power tripper to pull the wool over their eyes and accepts the power trippers’ explanation for sudden alarming increase in staff attrition, your good employees feel backed into a wall and are scared to face the bully and risk losing their jobs. Easiest option, find a new job! Think about it for a moment, if an employee has been with you for many years; they are giving up significant benefits by resigning– longer vacation time; seniority; health benefits; RRSP contributions; preference when choosing vacation time…. When they start somewhere else they start all over again. So the situation must have had to be pretty bad for them to leave. Every employee should be required to have an exit interview with HR or upper management. Someone removed from their immediate coworkers and supervisors should conduct the interview. No one from their immediate supervisory team should even be present, at least if you want the truth and have your now ex-employee feel safe to speak their minds. If you find your business is suddenly experiencing a higher attrition rate than normal – the sooner you determine the cause and remove it – the less impact it will have on your business and your bottom line.

Staff attrition is more of issue in some industries than others. This can make it more difficult to identify a problem power tripper in your midst. However, in most cases, business owners and upper management with long standing experience in the same company can be made aware of an anomaly. It’s actually quite rare for a large number of long term staff members to suddenly go looking and find something better. In the example of Property Management Companies; you need strong solid people in place to ensure that the chain of paperwork is carried out as required to a tee! If you have good people with strong respectful relationships with the tenants. They know what must be done and have had years doing it firmly and as delicately as possible. The paperwork required by the Residential Tenancies Branch is exhaustive and must in handled in a specific A – B – C set of rules. You have one document missing and you start from scratch! If you are trying to evict a tenant for disturbing others or not paying the rent, and you do not address the problem in a timely manner it can cause multiple problems. It annoys other tenants who may be great tenants but now want to move because management “did nothing” so they obviously “don’t’ care”. Tenants and rents are what the Property Management Companies plan all budget, cash flow and ultimately the work that they can or cannot afford to do. 

Now imagine your area Area Property Manager was a power tripper. In a small office of 7-8 people, most of whom had worked there for years, friendships form, it’s almost like an extended family. Then you have multiple building and area managers. Building managers and area managers/property managers are the ones who must deal with all the paperwork. From complaints to repair requests payment delays in rent and finally termination of lease for a number of legislated reasons. The communication chain must operate efficiently and concisely and in duplicate/or triplicate with verification of paper service from tenant right on up to the senior Property Manager. This is quite a chain you must rely on for communication to work effectively. A power tripper forgets to provide notice of water shut off to the building – can you imagine the number of angry calls and tenants this building manager has to deal with and most are not understanding! Maybe it was a simple oversight but power trippers will NEVER acknowledge a mistake. It’s always someone else’s fault. It’s possible they intentionally wanted to cause a problem to make the manager look bad and maybe “create” a reason for termination. Upper management looking down can never conduct a proper interview if the power tripper is sitting right there and upper management loses the opportunity to get to the root of the problem before it gets too bad!  Have this happen over and over with multiple Caretakers with a continual turnover rate at a rate of one caretaker every 2-3 three months – and your building is in serious trouble!

Take the step to start taking to your staff, especially when you have a new person in a management position. Listen to what your long term staff provide in feedback. They have spent years invested in your business success. Trust them to give you feedback on new employees as well. Find out what they think. When you’ve had 3 of 7 long term employees suddenly leave the office in a matter of months after being happy for many years – it is the RESPONSIBILITY of management to find out why!

If this power tripper is in a position to change any of the factors that directly reflect your bottom line at the end of the month; or effect your monthly cash flow, you have a moral and professional obligation to find out what’s going on fast! People always work for people they like better. They will do more, than is required, they will make an effort to do their job better and make your job easier for you, if they can. These are the people you want on you team! They look after your back and know you have an open door to hear their feedback and complaints. Those are the Caretakers who want to ensure they keep their buildings fully rented, clean, operating efficiently and turning in full rents! Now enter power tripper. How motivated is the Caretaker to go over and above when they will get screwed over. Anything they do right they get no credit for and anything that goes wrong is all blamed on them. Again you have people who become stressed on leave or too sick and begin to look elsewhere. 

You as a business owner, find your bottom line unravelling. If you cannot keep a caretaker in a position because they cannot stand their Area Manager, your buildings will quickly show the effects. Vacancies, repairs going unattended, less than desirable tenants to fill vacancies, and of course, tenant complaints to the RTB suddenly sky rocket! Depending on the level of frustration – a really annoyed individual can really create chaos in a very short time.   Tenants get annoyed and leave, or they have their friend who used to Caretaker in the building coming back to tell them why they should leave and even help all the good tenants in the building find a better place! After all she knows their current rent and what they could get elsewhere. Once you piss off a long term employee who has done nothing but look after you, you are left to deal with the consequences. Some people may walk away but others might not. Be prepared for vengeance. It’ll be amazing if that block doesn’t lose a majority of their good tenants and go right down the tubes. It can takes years to bring a building back up to a certain level of good happy respectful tenants who pay their rents on time.

In any business, you must have a strong team in the trenches dealing with the day to day. You must have strong supportive personal that communicate well and obtain a tremendous amount of respect from all co-workers. If one Power Tripper is cleaning house of all your long term reliable employees, what will be the financial damage? For Property Managers, repairs will become higher as tenants become more frustrated. Buildings begin to deteriorate when you do not have strong managers in place or they are only there a few days before they are anxious to leave! Tenants may get away with missing rents if there is no one to collect them. Finally when cases get to the Residential Tenancies Branch – too bad! Nothing can do without the correct evidence and paperwork! Oops – you have no one in place to make the paperwork!! You’re too busy chasing the tenants and building managers who pull a midnight move rather than have to deal with your power tripper!!! Oh gee, now you’re also having difficulties paying your receivables because you just don’t have enough rents coming in.

When you think of all the issues together maybe it’s time to consider you ONLY made one bad hire! You’ve been doing this for years and have had a pretty successful hiring rate and a great attrition rate for keeping great employees. Anyone who has ever been in the property management business can attest to is that the most seemingly wonderful applicant can turn into your worst nightmare. Guess that goes for employees too! So when things go desperately wrong and you don’t know why – look back to when that started. That’s always where you’ll find your answer!