9 Simple DIY Weekend Decorating Projects

As you look around your home, you’re probably wishing you had some extra time on your hands to make a few renovations or to handle a few extra redecorating projects. But, you already have the time – it’s called the weekend!

ImageIn that short 48-hour time span, there’s a lot of work you can get done. Even if you pick one task per weekend, that’s four decorating projects completed a month!

Don’t think it can be done? Well just check out these nine simple weekend decorating projects that can each be started Friday evening and wrapped up before you go to bed Sunday night.

1. Organize and Beautify Your Bookcases

If you have a lot of books, videos and collectibles clambering for space on your bookcases, taking a Saturday afternoon to remove, sort and organize everything will instantly make the room look cleaner and tidier. Sometimes successful redecorating isn’t about changing the way things are but more about cleaning up and organizing what you already have.

This is also a good time to de-clutter your bookcase. Tossing out old magazines or storing books you no longer want in the garage can go a long way towards making the most of your bookcase’s capacity.

2. Tile the Kitchen’s Backsplash

If you really want to give your kitchen an updated look but you can’t afford a complete renovation, install ceramic tile to the backsplash for an instant update. It may take some time to get up and running, but once you find your swing, you’ll discover this job moves along at a smooth pace. Both weekend days will be required for this job, and you might have to extend the finishing touches over to next weekend, but you’ll be able to get the bulk of the heavy lifting done in one weekend.

3. Transform the Fireplace

The fireplace is the focus of the room during the cold, winter months but what do you do with it for the other eight months out of the year? Once winter’s chill has left, clean out the fireplace and decorate the hearth with a variety of low-maintenance plants and add a touch of vibrancy to the room. Succulents work nicely because they don’t require a lot of watering or sunlight. Use tiered plant pot holders for a truly beautiful look that will also cover up the unsightly cinder stains on the inside of the fireplace. Or, for a complete re-do, you can even consider painting the fireplace!

4. Install Some Molding

Crown molding makes a room feel and look larger than it really is, and it’s not really that difficult to install, especially when you use specially-made corner pieces that eliminate the need for cutting perfect mitered edges. In fact, once you get the hang of it, you might be able to install it in all of your rooms before the weekend is over.

While you’re at it, you can also install chair railing or update your baseboards with a newer, more modern style.

5. Unify Your Picture Frames

Odds are the picture frames that adorn your walls have been purchased over a long period of time, so no two probably look alike. But, if you take them all down and paint the frames all the same color, they will suddenly look as if they all belong together. In addition, this will help give your room the color accent it’s been missing.

6. Update the Kitchen Cabinet Hardware

Forget about the old brushed nickel cabinet knobs. Today, hardware stores have a ton of different varieties to choose from. Pick a style that best reflects your home and replace the knobs in your kitchen for a quick and easy kitchen makeover.

7. Makeover Your Lamp Shades

Adding some fabric, beads or ribbons to your lamp shades will turn them from drab to fab. Choose a color scheme that compliments the room and your friends won’t stop asking you, “Where did you purchase those beautiful lamp shades and how much did they cost?”

8. Redecorate the Bedroom

All you need to redecorate your bedroom is some fresh paint, some new curtains and a new comforter and voila – you have a freshly redecorated bedroom. The bulk of your time will be spent re-painting the bedroom and that won’t take that long at all, so go ahead and start planning your bedroom’s new look.


9. Add Some Fresh Flooring

If you have hard surface floors, add some color and style to the room by incorporating a few area rugs and/or carpet runners. This is an especially good idea come winter time as the carpet will help keep your feet off the cold floor and help insulate the room.

This article was originally published by  on realtor.com.

Finding Foreclosures Online: The Truth About Princes, Frogs, and Phonies

There’s an old adage that says women searching for their true love may have to kiss a few frogs before finding their prince. If those women are also searching online for a foreclosure today, they might just be kissing a whole lot of frogs, or something worse altogether. Someone should tell them that there is a frog-free market full of princes right at their fingertips.
foreclosureThe landscape of “foreclosures” in online real estate search is unnecessarily confusing. Real estate websites use a vast array of terms to draw potential buyers in to their claws: Foreclosures, pre-foreclosures, auctions, bank-owned, REO, ORE, defaults, and sheriff’s sales, just to name a few. While these terms mean many different things, they’re often used to draw buyer traffic, but not necessarily educate the consumer about their meaning.

So, for that frustrated frog-kisser, here is a straightforward guide to what foreclosures really are, and where you can find one online that you might actually be able to buy:

Princes: Bank-Owned Homes

The vast majority of home buyers searching for a foreclosure are actually looking for a bank-owned home. These properties are sometimes called REO (Real Estate Owned) or ORE, and they are homes that have already gone through the entire foreclosure process. They are now owned by a lender, and that lender wants to sell them.

These homes will usually, at some point, be listed by a broker on the local MLS. A buyer can get a mortgage to finance the home. Most of the regular home buying transaction applies to buying a bank-owned home. Buyer protections, including most seller disclosures and contingencies, are available to a buyer who wants to purchase a bank-owned home.

The best part: these homes are easy to find. Consumers don’t have to scour county records or subscribe to foreclosure-tracking services. They’re listed on sites like Realtor.com, and your local Realtor’s website, directly through the MLS.

As far as minimizing risk to the buyer, allowing for mortgage financing, confidence in the sales process, and ease of finding the foreclosure inventory, bank-owned homes are by far the preferred foreclosures of most consumers. There will still certainly be buyers competing for bank-owned homes, but they’re sold in a much more transparent playing field than other types of foreclosures.

In short, bank-owned homes on the MLS are princes–ready, qualified, and able.

Frogs: Foreclosure Auctions

Buying a foreclosure at an auction is a strikingly different process. In most cases, all-cash purchases are necessary. This rules out a lot of buyers.

More importantly, there are much higher risks to the buyer in an auction, or sheriff’s sale, scenario. The title or lienholder may selling the home, but the home could still have other outstanding associated liens that the buyer may not be aware of. Buying a home at auction requires detailed research of a property’s title history to ensure there are no other outstanding debts that the buyer might automatically take on if he/she purchases the home.

Furthermore, homes sold at auction can often not be entered by the buyer until after the closing the transaction. Since the current owners retain property rights until the sale takes place, the tenants can not only forbid buyer tours, but also trash the home before leaving. Auction buyers often have to pay the former owners or tenants a “cash for keys” bribe to get them to move out of the home peacefully after the sale has concluded.

There are definitely some diamonds in the rough that can net a foreclosure auction buyer a princely profit. There are a whole lot of plain old frogs in the pond, too.

Pre-Foreclosures: Phonies

Imagine this scenario for a moment: A hospital administrator goes to a headhunter and says, “I need to hire a new doctor. Find me one.” The headhunter comes back to the administrator with 10 college freshmen and states, “These are all pre-PhDs. They’ll be doctors soon.”

This, in a nutshell, illustrates the validity of the term “pre-foreclosure.” The term encompasses a wide range of properties in a vast number of situations, and attempts to market them as homes for sale. They are useless to most consumers.

Pre-foreclosures are simply homes that, at some point, had owners who missed mortgage payments and received some sort of default letter from their lenders. They very well may be:

Homes that are now back on track, current with mortgage payments
Properties with a loan modification in the works
Houses that will be transferred to a family member
Homes that will actually go through foreclosure–1 to 3 years from now
The reality of pre-foreclosures is that there are only a small fraction of them that will ever be available to the public who are viewing them online. These homes are not “for sale”, and most never will be foreclosure sales. Even the few that do go through the foreclosure process will often not be made available at auction until a couple of years down the road. This is in no way useful to a home buyer who is trying to purchase a foreclosure now.

So, why would a website advertise these kinds of “pre-foreclosure” listings? Simply put, to sell subscriptions to foreclosure data companies, and more ad space to their partners. These listings generate traffic, generate home buyer leads, and drive revenue. The two things they don’t generate: foreclosure purchases and education for the buyers.

It’s cynical. It’s a disservice to consumers. Wasting hours searching through these phony listings only to find out they were never even for sale might make you feel like you kissed something far worse than a frog.

Trust The Sources That Align Their Goals With Yours

You want to buy a foreclosure. You want clear options, and you want them quickly. Focus your foreclosure search on a real estate site that displays the integrity to only list properties that are actually worth your time. Whether that is Realtor.com on the national level, or your local Realtor’s MLS-fed site in your city, you’ll find only bank-owned foreclosures that are available now.

Now that you understand how to discern the princes from the frogs and the phonies, go find your foreclosure and pucker up.

Sam DeBord is a Realtor® and Managing Broker at Coldwell Banker Danforth & Associates. Find him on SeattleHome.com.

This article was originally published by Sam DeBord on realtor.com. 

Top 10 Tips: How To Write A Homebuyer’s Offer Letter To A Seller

Homebuyers trying to stand out from a crowd of offers in today’s competitive market are often told to write a personal letter to accompany their offer.

Top 10 Tips: How To Write A Homebuyer’s Offer Letter To A Seller
photo from realtor.com

Buyers who are financing a home, or have a smaller down payment, often have trouble competing with all-cash buyers. Appealing to the seller as a person, as opposed to a contract, can sometimes give a buyer an emotional edge.

What isn’t often explained to buyers is how exactly to write that letter. The best ideas are often squandered by poor execution. Here is a quick guide to framing the home buyer letter and leveraging your best attributes by thinking from the seller’s point of view:

1. Flatter First
This is an emotional pitch. You’re attempting to tell the seller, “I’m such a good person that you should ignore the numbers.” They need to like you. Tell the seller how great their taste in color is, how much you’d love to have their lifestyle, and what an amazing neon bottle cap exhibit they have over the fireplace. Lay it on thick, but keep it sincere. You’re selling, but you don’t want them to feel like they’re being sold a used car.

2. Get To The Point
You may have 10 great ideas that you’d like to tell the seller. They will only remember two. The seller may have 10 other letters to read. If you mix in your best points with your lesser points, they may all just become a jumble.

Pick two or three reasons why you will be the best buyer for this home, and make them distinctly recognizable. The more streamlined you make your message, the more memorable it will be.

3. Paint A Picture
People remember what they’ve read at a far higher rate when they can see a picture of it in their head. “I really love this neighborhood because I’ve lived here and gone to school here,” doesn’t resonate.

On the other hand, “I spend half of my time walking the cobblestone streets around this block, dropping my daughter off at Gilman School and volunteering at Schnitzelfest every summer,” will trigger a visual memory for a seller. Think “I’d be so happy in the summer to be cooking Neapolitan pizza for friends and neighbors in your outdoor wood-fired oven”.

4. Don’t Remodel The House
Planning on adding a second story or changing the landscaping? Don’t mention it. You might be correct that the seller’s sewing room would make a great workout room for you, but this isn’t the time.

If you’re going to expand to create more bedrooms, you might be changing the seller’s favorite eyebrow windows in the roofline. They may have buried their dog under the tree you’re planning to pave over. he sellers may have awful taste, but homeowners are very protective of their homes.

5. Show Stability
Present yourself as a stable buyer who will have no problem closing the purchase. Whether that is a reference to your lack of contingencies, stellar employment record, or commitment to moving in as soon as the sellers are comfortable, ease the sellers’ fears of a shaky transaction.

6) Show Humility
At the same time, be humble and ask for the sellers’ blessing on your offer. “We would be so honored to live in your home,” goes much further than “We are confident that you will accept our generous offer.” The ball is in their court, and your letter should acknowledge that.

7. Don’t Whine
The emotion of your letter must be upbeat and high. It needs to make the seller feel good. Everyone wants to play with a winner.

The seller doesn’t care how many other homes you’ve lost out on. They don’t care that your rent just doubled. They don’t want to know about your wife’s sad condition that requires you to have a home like this. They just feel uncomfortable now. In fact, they’re already tossing your offer in the round file as they finish this paragraph.

8. Close With Clarity
Remember the five-point paragraphs and five-paragraph themes you had to write in school? While those formulas are too long and rigid for this letter, their closing advice should be noted. Your excitement, motivation, and ability should be reiterated at the end of your letter in a quick recap.

Remember that the sellers could be reading a few letters. Make sure that the closing of your letter reminds them of your best qualities and reinforces them.

9. Sign with Appreciation
The feeling your sellers will leave with can live or die on the signature line: “Sincerely”, “Cordially”, “Best Regards”, and “Yours Truly” do not apply. This is not a business correspondence of equals. Thank the sellers for spending their valuable evening reading the ode that you wrote about your unworthy self.

“Thank you so much for your time,” “Thank you for the opportunity,” “Your consideration is greatly appreciated,” or even “We are honored to have the opportunity,” will leave the seller understanding that you value their time and are grateful for it.

10. Spell Check. Grammar Check. Buddy Check. Do It Again.
As the recovering son of a former Catholic school English teacher, there is a dark secret I’d like to let you in on. We’re prejudiced. We look down on people who aren’t like us. There is a heinous belief ingrained in us from birth that says people who misspell and use incorrect grammar are lesser beings and not worthy of our respect.

Truthfully, though, there is an unbelievable amount of weight that some sellers will put on the preciseness of the letter. Right or wrong, the buyer’s personality will be judged from their attention to detail, ability to follow-through, and level of care in the letter. Buyer reliability is often gleaned from how well the rules of grammar are followed. If grammar isn’t your thing, find someone whose thing it is. You never know: the house you want to buy just might belong to my mother.

Write The Letter, Check It Twice, and Send It Off
There are many tactics being used by home buyers to stand out from the crowd. While not all sellers will read them, personalized letters are the most-accepted and popular form of unique buyer strategies available. Don’t rush the letter. Take the time to write it correctly. It just might be the most valuable single page of text you ever write.

This article was originally published by Sam DeBord on realtor.com. See the original article here.

Sam DeBord is a Realtor® and Managing Broker at Coldwell Banker Danforth & Associates. Find him on SeattleHome.com.

When It Comes to Wood Floors, Choose Wisely

Rich wood flooring can spell instant warmth and patina in a home. Here’s an overview that can help buyers and sellers evaluate wood floors.

hardwood

Just as with ties and hem lengths, wood flooring styles change. Colors get darker or lighter; planks get narrower or wider; woods with more or less grain show swings in popularity; softer or harder species gain or lose fans; and the wood itself may be older, newer, or even pre-engineered with a top layer or veneer-glued to a substrate to decrease expansion and contraction from moisture.

Here are key categories for consideration:

Solid Plank

This is what some refer to as “real” wood because the wood usually ranges from three-eighths to three-quarters of an inch in total thickness to permit refinishing and sanding. Thicker floors have a thicker wear layer to allow for more frequent refinishing and sanding, so they can withstand decades of use, says architect Julie Hacker of Stuart Cohen and Julie Hacker Architects. It also can be stained, come from different species of tree, and be sold in numerous widths and lengths:

Width and Length

Designer Steven Gurowitz, owner of Interiors by Steven G., is among those who prefers solid flooring for many installations because of its rich, warm look. Like other design professionals, he’s seeing greater interest in boards wider than the once-standard 2 ¾ to 3 ¾ inches — typically 5 to 6 inches now but even beyond 10 inches. And he’s also seeing corresponding interest in longer lengths, depending on the species. Width and length should be in proportion. “The wider a board gets, the longer the planks need to be, too, and in proportion,” says Chris Sy, vice president with Carlisle Wide Plank Floors. These oversized dimensions reflect the same trend toward bigger stone and ceramic slabs. The downside is greater cost.

Palette

Gurowitz and others are also hearing more requests for darker hues among clients in the northeastern United States, while those in the South and West still gravitate toward lighter colors. But Sprigg Lynn, on the board of the National Wood Flooring Association and with Universal Floors, says the hottest trend is toward a gray or driftwood. Handscraped, antique boards that look aged and have texture, sometimes beveled edges, are also become more popular, even in modern interiors, though they may cost much more.

Species and Price

Depending on the preference of the stain color, Gurowitz favors mostly mahogany, hickory, walnut, oak, and pine boards. Oak may be the industry’s bread and butter because of the ease of staining it and a relatively low price point. A basic 2 ¼-inch red oak might, for instance, run $6.50 a square foot while a 2 ¼-inch red oak that’s rift and quartered might sell for a slightly higher $8.50 a square foot.

Maintenance

How much care home owners want to invest in their floors should also factor in their decision. Pine is quite soft and will show more wear than a harder wood like mahogany or walnut, but it’s less expensive. In certain regions such as the South, pine comes in a harder version known as heart pine that’s popular, says Georgia-based designer Mary Lafevers of Inscape Design Studio. Home owners should understand the different choices because they affect how often they need to refinish the wood, which could be every four to five years, says Susan Brunstrum of Sweet Peas Design-Inspired Interior. Also, Sy says that solid planks can be installed over radiant heating, but they demand expert installation.

Engineered Wood

Also referred to as prefabricated wood, this genre has become popular because the top layer or veneer is glued to wood beneath to reduce expansion and contraction that happens with solid boards due to climatic effects, says Sy, whose firm sells both types. He recommends engineered, depending on the amount of humidity. If home owners go with a prefabricated floor, he advises a veneer of at least one-quarter inch. “If it’s too thin, you won’t have enough surface to sand,” he says. And he suggests a thick enough substrate for a stable underlayment that won’t move as moisture levels in a home shift.

His company’s offerings include an 11-ply marine-grade birch. The myth that engineered boards only come prestained is untrue. “They can be bought unfinished,” he says. Engineered boards are also a good choice for home owners planning to age in place, since there are fewer gaps between boards for a stable surface, says Aaron D. Murphy, an architect with ADM Architecture Inc. and a certified Aging in Place specialist with the National Association of Home Builders.

Reclaimed Wood

Typically defined as recycled wood — perhaps from an old barn or factory — reclaimed wood has gained fans because of its aged, imperfect patina and sustainability; you’re reusing something rather than cutting down more trees. Though less plentiful and more expensive because of the time required to locate and renew samples, it offers a solid surface underfoot since it’s from old-growth trees, says Lynn. Some companies have come to specialize in rescuing logs that have been underwater for decades, even a century. West Branch Heritage Timber,for instance, removes “forgotten” native pine and spruce from swamps, cuts them to desired widths and lengths, and lays them atop ½-inch birch to combine the best of engineered and reclaimed. “The advantage is that it can be resanded after wear since it’s thicker than most prefabricated floors, can be laid atop radiant mats, and doesn’t include toxins,” Managing Partner Tom Shafer says. A downside is a higher price of about $12 to $17 a square foot.

Porcelain “Wood”

A new competitor that closely resembles wood, Gurowitz says porcelain wood offers advantages: indestructibility, varied colors, “graining” that mimics old wood, wide and long lengths, quickness in installation, and no maintenance. “You can spill red wine on it and nothing happens; if there’s a leak in an apartment above, it won’t be destroyed,” he says. Average prices run an affordable $3.50 to $8 a square foot. The biggest downside? It doesn’t feel like wood since it’s colder to the touch, Lynn says.

Bottom Line

When home owners are making a choice or comparing floors, Sy suggests they ask these questions:

1. Do you want engineered or solid-based floors, depending on your home’s conditions?

2. Do you want a floor with more natural character, or less?

3. What board width do you want?

4. How critical is length to you in reducing the overall number of seams?

5. What color range do you want — light, medium, or dark?

6. Do you want more aggressive graining like oak or a mellower grain like walnut?

7. Do you want flooring prefinished or unfinished?

8. How thick is the wear layer in the floor you’re considering, which will affect your ability to refinish it over time?

9. What type of finish are you going to use? Can it be refinished and, if so, how?

10. For wider planks that provide greater stability: Where is the wood coming from, how is it dried, what is its moisture content, and what type of substrate is used in the engineered platform?

This article was originally published by Barbara Ballinger on realtormag.realtor.org. See the original article here

See the Top 5 Sellers’ Markets in the U.S.

With all signs pointing to an ongoing housing recovery, many home owners across the country are wondering if now is finally the time to sell. The answer is — as is so often the case with this recovery — “it depends.”

top5

Market conditions are highly variable, but usingrealtor.com’s site listing data, we’ve identified five markets where low median age of inventory combined with rising listing prices indicates that the answer to the selling question may very well be yes.

5. Seattle, WA

A home listed in Seattle today will spend less than a month on the market, a pace that ties for fifth fastest in the nation. Add in rising median listing prices — $379,950  as of last month, up 19% from last year — and the Emerald City’s recovery on the seller side comes into sharp focus.

4. Denver, CO
Homes in the mile-high city also spend a median of 29 days on market, a number that has plunged 42% as the market has heated up over the past year. Median listing prices have risen to $282,000 as of April, up a relatively modest 4.48% over last year but still strong enough to cement Denver’s position as a top sellers’ market.

3. San Francisco, CA
The city by the Bay sets the pace for the top three sellers’ markets, all of which are in the San Francisco Bay Area. With median days on inventory at 28, and median prices up 20% year over year to $819,900, San Francisco proves itself to be a resilient market that continues to bounce back.

2. San Jose, CA
Silicon Valley is on the rise again, and with the continued success of tech companies and stocks comes a hot real estate market. Median days on market are down to 27, half the time of 2012, and median prices are up 35% year over year, reaching $675,000 in April.

1. Oakland, CA
To say that the torrid Oakland market is hot is an understatement. A seller listing a home in Oakland can expect the house to spend just 15 days on the market (a full 12 days fewer than San Jose) and to net a median price of $484,900 — up a whopping 47% from a year ago. With these numbers, it’s easy to see why Oakland is the top sellers’ market in the U.S.

This article was published on May 22, 2013 by Scott Garner on realtor.com. See the original article here