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!

Man Caves for Father’s Day

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In honour of Father’s Day, I thought we’d review some of the most popular Man Cave ideas for Dad. After polling my Husband, my Dad, our staff and a few good friends, we’ve discovered there seem to be 3 main favourite types of Man Cave.

The first and favorite space is always the “workshop”. This is my Dad to a tee! Shortly after Mom and Dad bought their home, many years ago, Dad built himself a workshop in the back. Complete with a furnace, for year round use, a stereo system, and every tool a man could ever want! We gave up trying to buy him tools years ago as he has them ALL!!! This is a space he goes to when he wants a break or feels like being creative. He has been retired for many years but enjoys woodworking and is excellent at his craft!  We have many beautiful pieces both at home and at the cottage courtesy of Dad’s hours in his Man Cave! On a side note, I recently staged a home in St. Clements that has the first workshop Man Cave to rival my Dads’ I have seen! Beautiful Man Cave Space complete with antique auto decals and signage from the auto industry! Also heated space and just a mechanics’ DREAM SPACE!!! I’m a lover of antique automobiles (Thanks to my Dad) so I truly appreciated all the time and work that went into creating that particular Man Cave!

My Husband, Kevin, on the other hand, has his own idea of a Man Cave! Kevin loves pool and darts. His “Games’ Room” has been his Man Cave! We are just in the process of updating it for him. It has a regulation size 6 x 12 billiard table, a dart board, stereo system and a fireplace. I’m adding a beverage/bar center complete with his own fridge, sink and microwave. We are re-finishing the fireplace and adding a TV above the fireplace mantle. Then finishing it off with some nice comfy seating for lounging and watching movies/TV. There is a nice seating area with bar stools and a table to wait your turn while playing pool or darts. He’ll be adding surround sound (which I will usually ask him to turn down lol!)!! His Man Cave is all about relaxing and enjoying the things he loves to do. Way back it also included an indoor hot tub and shower area, but I took that over for an exercise space! We hadn’t used the hot tub for years, so he didn’t mind at all! His décor is all about what he loves, our city, and some of his favorite sports team collectibles. I haven’t yet finalized where we will be putting the poker table, but plan on having one of those as well! This space is all about playing sports with TV/Music in the background.

The last Man Cave that won the most popular was the “Entertainment Man Cave”. Similar to the Games Area except it was all about watching sports! Everything was focused around a Big Screen TV. Everything was designed around watching sports and making the watching “experience” that much better! Everything from a bar or small kitchenette/bar to prepare all the necessary snacks to a fully stocked fridge and bar. A surround sound system; which MUST include all the latest electronic gadgetry! A stock of the latest video games, and of course, lots of comfy seating for lots of friends! Even multiple smaller TV screens if it’s a large space to ensure the TV game could be followed from anywhere in the room. Décor would of course be based on the favourite teams! Hockey, football, baseball, soccer and any others the home owners followed!

Finally the Number One Rule of the Man Cave: Women only allowed when asked! Yes, I know this is hard for many of us women to tolerate but we need to give our men their space. Everyone deserves a place to unwind and relax. They need a place to call their own. One that is designed around them and them alone! I know my sweet man is very thoughtful and works very hard. He is very sensitive to my likes and dislikes and what latest reno/design I want to do around the home and the cottage. He works hard to make me happy. Even surprising me with a huge new deck at the cottage for our Anniversary! He deserves a space to call his own where he can relax and kick back with some buddies! So Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful men out there who go above and beyond for their wives, children, and even their parents! The men in our lives are very special and so much loved and appreciated! Enjoy your Special Day!

How Much is Too Much?

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Have you noticed the amount of new builds going up? They seem to be sprouting up in every corner of the city! It really makes me wonder where and when the saturation point is? How much is too much? Do we have the appropriate planning to deal with the additional traffic, requirement for services, basic infrastructure with our dated water and sewage systems; and often crumbling roads? Driving through some areas of the city is worse than 4 wheeling down a dirt road through the bush! 

There are new apartment blocks going up, countless new condo developments; and of course more new homes being built than I believe I have ever seen in my lifetime! Where will all the people come from to fill all the housing? What will happen when we simply have more inventory than we do bodies to fill that inventory? How many builders will go bankrupt? I have already heard of a few who have gone bankrupt. Is it not the government’s responsibility to ensure that they control the production and keep it in line with the demand? I understand that the lure of additional tax dollars can be appealing, but what exactly will happen when there are more available homes than people to fill them? Builders and investors can only finance things for so long before they have to take a loss. A loss means they may not be able to pay some of their sub trades, or they will have to lay off employees. This in turn trickles down through the economy until the market has the opportunity to correct itself, which as we’ve seen in the U.S, can takes years. I for one do not want to see neighborhoods in Winnipeg turn into ghost towns with foreclosures everywhere. 

It is possible that we are geared for a new influx of immigration, especially with the economic and political climate in Alberta. Alberta and Saskatchewan have already seen housing values drop by double digits. For years, we’ve seen increases in Manitoba, however, I know very well this cannot last indefinitely. I love this city and sincerely hope the powers at be are thinking long term and not just at the immediate proposed tax benefits.

In the demand to capitalize on the building boom, there are certainly issues with quality control in the build process. I’ve spent the last 20 years in homes all over the city and dealt with houses built in the 1800’s and homes built this year. When building homes becomes a production line to maximize revenue instead of a dedication to a craft as old as time, quality slips. Some of the things we’ve seen in new homes (less than 5 years old) include severe stress cracks caused by ground settling around man-made lakes. Fill and soil are trucked in to build these areas but it takes time to settle; if piles are driven into an area that has not completely settled, according to the Structural Engineer my client hired, pockets of air can cause these areas to settle and effect the supports of the new homes being built. There’s no way you will know whether there will be a problem until one occurs. Try selling a home with structural issues when buyers have so many other homes to choose from. The only one to lose is the Home Owner. 

Earlier this spring, we went into a new build to stage for an out of town investor. We always bring a steamer along for linens and drapery so we had to turn the water on. When I turned the main water valve on in the basement, I always check all plumbing throughout the home, habit after my years in property management. Well this one home had multiple plumbing leaks! One toilet feed line was leaking with a steady stream, I turned off the shut off valve to the feed line and mopped up the water quickly! Another toilet was running constantly! In addition, there was leak in the kitchen sink drain! OMG! Unbelievable!!! All I could do was inform the owner – there was no way they could show the home for sale in that condition.

While we were on location staging another home, cement trucks kept backing onto the corner of the yard and washing out the remains of their cement from their shuts and dumping the cement remnants all over the home owners’ yard. It was a corner lot with forest behind, and the property markers with flags were clearly visible! The truck drivers were well beyond the property markers and clearly on private property! We counted 5 trucks the day we were there! Maybe I’m old school, but I was taught to respect other people’s property, whether they were around or not! Remember the good old golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I wonder how happy these guys would be if someone dumped concrete remains all over their back yard? Why in the world was the Development Corp responsible for the area even allowing this? Just speechless! Yes, I took a picture and sent it to the home owner. They had a right to know.

Last week I was asked to provide an estimate for staging a home that was a show home when it was bought a few years back. There is beautiful flooring in the kitchen, unfortunately it has a section where it has all separated and it has gaps no less than ¼ of an inch around each section of laminate!! This was a high quality floor! The only way this could happen was a structural issue or incorrect installation. I expect this from cheap $0.79/laminate not from high end flooring in a new home! We’ve had other cases where clients have wanted to replace carpeting in newer builds and when we pull up the carpet we find all sorts of garage under the carpet or underlay, anything from food wrappers to cigarette butts to just building debris! Really?! No one can take the time to clean before you install the carpet? Speechless!!!! In another case, the stucco is cracking and falling off the rear of another “show home” in a different part of town. The same home has an issue with frost building up inside the bedroom of the lower level. Seems there is an issue with a gap between the top of the foundation and the plate that supports your wood frame construction and attaches it to the concrete foundation. The fully finished space has to be taken apart to the cement to correct the problem….

Building was once a time honored craft. It was done with care, attention to detail and pride. There are many builders who run their businesses on these sound principles and deserve our thanks and your business. However, there are many who are in for the short term because they see the potential to make a buck while the market is hot. Then there are those in between, with good intentions, but not always there to see when someone makes a mistake or cuts corners. If you are dealing with someone who really cares, they will inspect and correct the problem when they determine it was their responsibility. However, I have heard of well-known custom builders who will brush off home owners’ concerns as something minor or somehow “caused by the home owner” until the 1 year warranty period is up, then once the home owner turns to the New Home Warranty Program for assistance, their hands are tied because it is beyond the 1 year warranty period! Strange thing is – it’s always the same builders who do this! I guess it’s part of their customer service “business plan”. This happened with another client of ours, a super nice guy, kept having problems and without seeing it, the builder kept telling him to “try this” then “that” etc. This went on for years until our patient client began to lose patience as he was still having problems. After waiting months for the builder to send someone to inspect a problem, he contacted the New Home Warranty Program a few weeks after his 5 year warranty had expired. Although, it was an issue that would have been covered, they could not help him as the warranty expired. The builder then demanded a retainer of a few thousand dollars for them to send someone out to even inspect the problem. 

My advice to buyers, if possible, pay attention to what’s going on in the development before you buy. Ask to walk through the site on a regular basis if you are custom building or looking for a home in a certain development. Know your warranty expiration dates, and if you are not getting an adequate response to your written concerns with the builder, contact the New Home Warranty Program without delay. A Builder’s responsibility does not stop when you move in, it continues until all terms of the contract have been met and extends throughout the warranty period.

Finally, how much is too much? I already see houses sitting for sale for months and months before a desperate home owner will ask us to stage to help it sell! If we are already seeing people who are feeling desperate with carrying the cost of vacant new builds that are not selling now, what will happen to the market when we add thousands more new vacant homes? When do the planners at the City/Province step in to responsibly allow for moderate growth without saturating a market and sending us into an abyss of vacant unwanted homes?

 

Staging “Rules” for Rental Product

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Planning multiple jobs on an on-going basis can be very tricky! For the last 2 weeks we have had a new stage job every day with additional de-stages either before or after that days’ stage. As I write this my team is de-staging one and staging another and then heading over to de-stage a 3rd property a few blocks away we were just informed had sold last night. Sometimes I feel like a conductor coordinating which furniture pieces will “dance” off to the next number of locations all around the city. However, that is only the case if they will “work” with the style and look of the next house we are staging.

In this past week we have staged an older 2.5 story turn of the century old character home, a brand new 2 story new build, an open concept new build condo and a 1950’s bungalow that has not been updated in a few decades. All very different designs and furniture/accessory requirements!!! I always pay particular attention to the furniture and décor required for each job. If I do not have the right furniture in stock, I will rent the “right” pieces to complete the appropriate design for the space. This is usually very straight forward and easy to do. However, at this time of the year, the right pieces can be a real challenge to keep in stock or to out-source! We’ve purchased a crazy amount of new stock for the new warehouse when we moved and still there are times when we are struggling to find the right pieces. Our rental supplier is also ordering in more pieces every few days and as soon as they come in they are gone! It’s just that time of the year! Everyone is crazy busy with this spring market!

Rental costs of furniture and accessories is based on a percentage of the retail cost of the item. If a client wants all designer high end furniture that costs $60,000 – $70,000 for a new build with a full finished walk out basement – the cost for high end furniture for a home this size is significantly more than for a 2 bedroom condo. I can provide very nice looking furniture and accessories at a retail cost of closer to $35,000 – $45,000 that looks amazing but drops your rental costs by nearly 50%. However, if the client specifies high end, that is what I will quote. Incidentally, when we rent high end furniture, the furniture company insists on using their own movers to protect their furniture from damage, but will only move their furniture so that often doubles your moving costs. 

Occasionally, clients want to hire a stager but want to choose the furniture and accessories and design the home themselves. I find it very interesting when we have inquiries from people who want to go through my pictures and pick and choose the furniture and accessories they want. Then they want me to provide an estimate for them on said selected items, reserve the furniture for them (*with no deposit) while they make up their minds whether they will be staging at all…. Then if they decide to proceed a week or 2 later, they want the items they selected and the home staged ASAP. This is simply not possible. We cannot hold furniture without a deposit, particularly at this time of the year, it’s just much too busy for us to take those pieces out of circulation without a confirmed job. Go through my pictures will tell me what style you would like, but if I have to out-source the furniture, and wait for a client to decide, the furniture could be long gone on another job or sold before the staging client decides if they like the pieces. On the other hand, trust me to do my job, which I am extremely good at, and I can source the items to give you the look you want and reserve the items once I know the job is confirmed and leave you with a completed and beautifully staged home!! The more time we waste going back and forth the more difficult it becomes to get all the pieces in question.

If you wish to specify the furniture and accessories you wish to purchase, but do not purchase them, some furniture stores may reserve it for 24-48 hours, but will often sell it if a paying customer wants it today. Quite often they require a deposit to hold items. As I have found with my decorating clients, if you order a large number of specific (item and color code specific) furniture and accessories at a furniture store, there has NEVER been a time when I could have everything ready for pick up tomorrow and I have commercial accounts set up with larger furniture companies in the city! There is always a wait of a few days for stock to be pulled at the warehouse to 3-6 weeks for spec furniture to arrive in the city. Just because they have it on their website or on the showroom floor doesn’t mean they have it in stock. That is no different for myself, just because it’s on my website doesn’t mean I have it in stock today at the warehouse.

Incidentally, I also do not allow clients to “shop” at my warehouse and transport my furniture themselves. I hire a professional mover to ensure my furniture is protected from weather and damage. I would never allow clients to throw my furniture into the pack of a pick-up truck no more than any other furniture rental company allows their rental furniture to be transported by clients in this manner. It quickly causes damage to the furniture if it is not properly wrapped and covered.  Let’s not even consider rain or splashing from mud puddles! Sorry!  Not happening! 

If you are impressed enough with a Stager’s portfolio and quality of work to hire them to do the job, then let us do what we’re good at! We design and decorate rooms that make people pay attention! If you liked what you saw enough to call us, then trust us to make your home just as gorgeous! If you want a high end look, but not necessarily the high end price, let us know so we can share the options with you to give you the look you really want at the price you are comfortable with! If you have a tight budget, let us know and see if we have any options for your budget.

To Stage or NOT to Stage? How Much has NOT Staging Really Cost You?

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Should we stage our home or not? This is always a huge dilemma for sellers. It is an investment and an expense in getting your home ready for sale. Is staging really necessary? Some of the most common hurdles we face are sellers who “already have furniture” or believe “it shows the space better vacant”. However, study after study (including one done here in Manitoba a number of years ago) shows us that staged homes DO sell faster and often for a higher selling price than non-staged homes!!!

Staging is all about customizing a design plan to your particular space to BEST showcase that space to potential buyers. You may have furniture, but how much furniture do you have, are there too many pieces? Is it the right scale for the room? Does the furniture layout showcase the room properly, making it appealing to buyers? What subconscious message does your furniture placement send to buyers? How we live in a space is very different from how we show a space for sale! 

When showing a space for sale, we want to optimize room size and function. How you place your furniture and what furniture you have makes a huge impact on both the function and perceived size of a room. Too many pieces of furniture in any space will make that space appear smaller. Having a welcome open and welcome furniture placement with adequate room for natural “traffic flow” through the room will leave buyers impressed and interested. Having a closed furniture placement often turns buyers off and gives the impression there isn’t enough room for their “stuff”. Does your furniture placement invite or turn away buyers?

Using a bedroom or dining room for a dual purpose by placing a desk in one corner has now changed the function of the room and made it appear smaller just by having the additional furniture pieces required for the “office” space to function. Add the clutter and computer lines and wires and suddenly it simply doesn’t look too appealing any more. An in home staging consult will take between 1-2 hours and usually costs in the range of $150 – $250 and will give you a complete step by step guide for how to get your home ready for sale, including furniture placement and suggestions on everything from basic repairs to updated light fixtures and where to buy the necessary items to best showcase your home yourself! Complete value for a few hours of your time and a few hundred dollars!

When it comes to vacant spaces, I cannot count the number of times a client has decided to “try” to sell without staging it first, only to have no luck and then stage a few months later. There is only one problem with this approach. Real estate is very much a timing game. When you list, what competition do you have? How many other homes are on the market in your neighborhood in your price range? Are those homes staged? If average DOM (Days on the Market) are 34 and you list in mid-May, then wait 5 weeks or so and realize you may need to stage, by the time you book and furniture is moved in and pictures are taken and the home is re-marketed you’ve lost an additional 2 weeks. You are now in July and all your buyers have either purchased or are leaving on vacation! The Winnipeg market always picks up in March, April, May, June and then slows down over the summer and picks up again September and into the fall. If you are gambling that buyers will be able to “see the space” the reality is that most buyers CANNOT visualize rooms in their head. Most people have a very hard time determining if their furniture will fit in a space. This is the single most important reason that staging has become such a prominent and permanent part of the Real Estate Industry! It’s also the same reason most restaurants have photos of their main menu selections on most menus! Buyers want to SEE what they are buying! No they are not buying the furniture but they are buying the space and want to SEE how they can use the space! 

I cannot count how many times someone has decided to sell a vacant home only to come back a few months later and stage. What they don’t consider is how much those few months cost them…mortgage costs, utilities, taxes, insurance – all these add up. If you try to sell vacant wait for a few months, then stage, are you really ahead financially or did you just cost yourself a few more months of expenses? Add to the mix the time of the year you are listing, and Presentation and timing are critical in getting those offers. It’s the typical law of supply and demand, if you are part of the excess supply and there are simply not enough buyers (demand) and your home doesn’t make the short list, how much has NOT staging really cost you? Then when you finally stage the buyers have slowed down and you are left trying to appeal to a much smaller pool of buyers because you chose NOT to make the effort when there were more buyers, what has it cost you? 

Finally, although we do not see bidding wars as frequently as in past years, a number of our staged properties have sold in bidding wars already in 2015! In all these cases, timing and presentation were critical in getting those OVER list offers in a matter of days! So, the question becomes, what will NOT staging cost you?

 

 

What Type of Home Owner are You?

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I’ve recently discovered there are 3 “types” of Home Owners. The “Perfectionists” always want their home updated, looking nice and just so. The “Beatles” (named after the song “let it be”) fix something if they have to otherwise – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The final group are “Here and There” full of started but not necessarily completed projects. The interesting part comes when the spouses living in a household are from different types!

The “Perfectionists” take tremendous pride in their homes. Keeping the home current and updated with renovations and décor is a top priority for them. Everything has its place and it’s always the right piece in the right place! The home is always clean well-kept and practically spotless. There is no clutter lying around and even the closets are well organized and de-cluttered regularly. Pride of ownership are typically the first words that come to mind when walking into a Perfectionist’s home.

The “Beatles” home is functional. It works for them but as the song says – they’d rather just “let it be”. The flooring may be worn, the counter may be stained, but hey, who wants to spend the time or money keeping up with trends that are always changing? There are so many more important things to do and so much life to enjoy! Their home may be cluttered from their many travels to foreign lands. It may have a collection that clearly shows their passion for a hobby that they love to invest their time and money in. Something that clearly gives them tremendous satisfaction. In extreme cases, we may find tendencies to store or hoard excess clutter. They fix what breaks but may not get around to patching the hole in the ceiling the plumber had to cut open years ago when he fixed the leak in the upstairs bathroom. 

The “Here and There” home is in the middle of the spectrum. It almost always consists of some updating projects, often started years ago, but not always finished. Projects always seem ongoing and may be found in many different areas inside and outside the home. The homes are usually cleaner but may have areas of clutter that everything gets moved into to keep the rest of the home neat. Repairs are always completed and most maintenance issues are addressed in a timely manner. This is usually where we’ll see projects taken to a certain level by a professional and then to save cost the Home Owner, with all good intentions, will have every intention of completing the details that somehow have a way of getting away from him/her and never quite get done. Hence we are left with a number of partially updated areas that have never quite been completely finished. 

The interesting part is when we find a home of extremes. In some cases, households are made up of 2 perfectionists but more often than not, one spouse is a perfectionist and the other is not. The Perfectionist will immediately point out what they have done, which areas are “theirs” vs. their spouse’s, and what they intend to do. They seek our understanding and validation for their future design plans. They want to ensure they do it right because they are keenly aware, they will only have one opportunity to do it once and do it right, once their spouse agrees.

In terms of staging, I have never been in a home we couldn’t improve just that little bit. Even the most extreme “Perfectionist”, can still use a few tips from a professional. Remember the biggest difference is showcasing a home for sale is very different from showcasing it for living. We look at things a little differently and most certainly with more experience than then average Home Owner. In a Perfectionists’ home we have much more to work with at the time of consult and can in many cases “stage” or recommend what to do so they can effectively stage their own home in a manner if hours. 

The Beatles and Here and There homes, which are probably 70-80% of the homes we see, by necessity will require some time to complete projects, declutter, and finally “stage” the home for sale. These homes more often than not may require contractors brought in, and in many cases some furniture rental to best showcase their home. Each home is different and where some may only require small touches, the next may require major work to get it to the same level of readiness for sale. Our ultimate goal, is to always have your home as updated and objection free as possible to ensure the quickest sale possible.

So, whether you are a Perfectionist, Beatle or Here and There type Home Owner, when it comes time to get your home ready for sale, its well worth the time and effort to pay attention to all those details to ensure your home shows the best it can and sells as quickly as possible!

Book Early to Ensure the Best Stage Possible

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As we get into the busy time of year for staging, it is critical to ensure you book your stage job as far in advance as possible. It happens every year, we submit an estimate to a client and they will “get back to us”. In the meantime, we have a numerous clients confirm and book jobs. Once a client has confirmed a job, and ONLY after we have a deposit, do I reserve furniture and décor for that project! Everything is on a first come first served basis. 

Although we have an extensive assortment of furniture and accessories some spaces require a certain color or a certain style or color of furniture to make the design look best. It is critical to ensure we plan a design that is consistent with the character of the home. We cannot use contemporary furniture/décor design in a very traditional character home or vice versa! It simply looks wrong! When buyers are looking for a traditional character home – that is what they want, a traditional character home. If they wanted a new contemporary style of home, they would look at a different style of home that was more contemporary. It goes without saying that an “updated” traditional home can have significant updates that remain true to the original architecture and style of the home while still updating the home quite tastefully. You can quite successfully blend a traditional with a more transitional style with fabulous outcomes. However, when you cross the line from traditional to totally “mod” – it just won’t work. 

This leads to how we plan the design when staging a home. Not all furniture and décor will work well in every home. We have to take into account everything like wall length to ensure we can properly fit a sofa, loveseat, chair or table in the right spot. We need to ensure there is adequate traffic flow walkways for buyers to comfortably walk through the space without furniture brushing against them. These are all critical aspects of any successful design. It is crucial to a great design to use the right furniture style in the correct size and proportion to properly showcase the space successfully!

The next consideration is color. If the walls are white or off–white using a white sofa simply will not show as well as a darker color. It’s the color contrast that shows a space so well in photographs. If the walls are a darker color I prefer to use lighter colored furniture if/when possible. If the walls are lighter, then I usually try to use darker furniture to ensure we have adequate contrast in the photos to catch buyers’ interest and make them book those showings! A room just doesn’t look as appealing in photos when everything blends together and gets lost in the photo. 

The problem at this time of the year becomes furniture availability. If someone waits until the last minute to book a stage job, then their design will, by necessity, be drawn from a pool of limited furniture that is available right now. Quite often at this time of year, I will have clients call to say they are “ready” any time for a stage and preferably sooner than later. The more notice you can give us the better the design will be. We can almost always put a design together quickly to meet those print and advertising deadlines, however, we may not have the best furniture available on such short notice. If the seller provides us more notice, at least a week or 2, it is much easier for us to reserve the furniture for their job because we know those pieces would work so much better in their home. Those pieces might be the exact right dimensions to show the space that much better, or possibly a much better color with the paint they have on the walls… it’s all about putting the best collection of pieces together to maximize the design of that particular space. Sectionals can be extremely difficult to get in the right color and the right size for a space.  So, often I could have used a piece had I only know the week before instead of using that piece in another job. I want to provide the best design possible to my clients at all times! We’re always designing multiple places at one time so there’s usually a few collections going in the warehouse – one set aside for address  “A” and the next for address “B” etc. Given that extra notice, it becomes that much easier to ensure we use the right pieces to showcase your space in the best way possible! So book early and the chances are, your design will be that much better!

 

Just Do It RIGHT the First Time!

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I always meet people “looking” for a deal. They are thrilled about the cheap labour they found for repairs and then complain because their home isn’t selling and they don’t know what to do! When you are getting your home ready for sale and it has stiff competition from other homes in the neighborhood that is not the time to take advantage of a cheap kijiji labour offer! You get what you pay for! 

I cannot count the number of people I’ve met who grudgingly go through the time and expense of completing minor maintenance and repairs to get their home ready for sale. Then decide to use the cheapest possible labour they can find. A bad paint job will look just like what it is – a bad paint job and even worse, one that the new buyer will have to re-paint if they buy your home. I even heard of one client who would drive across town to pick up her cheap kijiji painter because he didn’t have a vehicle. He only showed up when he could and it took more than 3 months to complete touch ups that could have been done in a few days by a pro … but hey it was cheap labour!

If someone does not know how to do things, they will often do a job below what is expected. Often times, some of these jobs need to be fixed or re-done before the property can finally be listed. So, what exactly did you save??? Or did it cost you more to do, then have it ripped out and re-done properly by someone who knows what they are doing?

Poor workmanship and costly repairs is one of the main reasons buyers will walk away from a home. Flooring incorrectly installed, gaps in flooring, ripples in carpet not kicked out smooth, basement flooring incorrectly installed that sinks to an uneven surface below when you step on it…. Flooring on stairs can be tricky to install and can look horrible if done poorly! Paint that leaves distinctive roller marks or worse is only one coat of paint and the color below can be seen through because the painter only put on a thin single coat of paint. If you have one small area that may not have turned out well, that’s not enough for most buyers to walk away. However, if there are issues everywhere they look, that is often cause for most buyers to say “enough”! I’m not interested in buying a “project”.

I cannot stress the critical difference between doing a job well and one that is very poorly done. One leaves buyers with the impression of a home very well cared for that they are anxious to purchase. The home that was done on “the cheap” looks like no one gave a hoot! The first thought in a buyers head when they see such poor quality workmanship is “wow, they really didn’t care much about this place did they?” The second thought, “Gee I wonder how bad things are that I can’t see” – like the electrical? Plumbing etc.? Probably had someone’s friend in who didn’t know what they were doing because it was cheap – or worse they did it themselves and this place is just waiting to go up in flames!? I’m outta here!” Is this really the message you want to send potential buyers?

The main purpose of completing maintenance and repairs is to get a better price for your home and make it more desirable to buyers. There is a big difference between spending enough to get a good job and just spending the bare minimum to say you did the work. If you are not prepared to do it right, just don’t do anything at all. Sell it as a fixer upper and know that you are selling it as a project for someone. At least then the Realtor can sell it as a fixer upper and potentially create interest among investors looking to make money on doing the work themselves.

I cannot count the number of times sellers have told me about the “deal” they got from some “guy” and when I see the workmanship I’m not surprised. I believe it was the “guy” that got a deal by actually convincing someone to pay them good money for some of these catastrophes they call renos!! Then the sellers become unhappy home owners who were so proud of their “deal”, but cannot understand why they can’t get a single offer on their home. So, the deal that saved you $1000 – ended up costing you an extra 3 months selling time and you had to drop your price substantially. That was mortgage payments X3, property taxes and insurance X 3; utilities X3; inconvenience of showing your home; etc. ….So, what exactly did you save by using this cheap labour “deal”? Even staging will never hide a bad reno job, and it should never be used in this way. Staging is about making a place look better NOT hiding someone else’s poor work or bad decisions. So if you decide to do what needs to be done, please do it right!