Friday, June 28, 2013

A Seller's Market

A funny thing happened to the real estate market in recent months. A low inventory of houses for sale coupled with low interest rates for prospective buyers to create a (dare we say it!) seller's market.

It seems like just a year or two ago, people were happy to unload their houses. You want to eat a dozen warm chocolate chip cookies at the open house while you dream up your lowball offer? Help yourself! Want the flat screen television and surround sound included? You got it!

We really didn't realize how quickly the market had changed until we put our house on the market and had three offers in a twenty-four hour period.

Seller's markets are GREAT when you are a seller! Who, I ask you, does not want to choose from multiple offers? And who, given the option, would love to end the cycle of frantic cleanings and showings? (Me! That's who!)

 The downside of a seller's market? It stinks to be the buyer. Two houses were under contract before we could even look at them, and one was listed and poised for multiple offers. Seven offers, to be exact. And our offer, while it was above list price, was not accepted.

My husband has heard the same story from many associates around the country. Houses that quickly sell, {insert happy face}! Homelessness because you can't find a house to purchase, {insert sad face}.

Here are a few tips we picked up this time around:

You can ask any price you'd like in a seller's market, and you may get it, too. The snag comes when the bank appraisers come out to appraise the house for the prospective buyer's mortgage company. If the comparable home sales in your neighborhood do not match your home price, you'll find that all of that staging and home improvement won't help you fight the case for the higher list price. Comparables can be the kiss of death for a good sale price. Until more houses sell for best list prices in this market, the appraisers will continue to use their own mysterious formula.

A seller's market does not, however, mean that you can skip home repairs, cleaning and decluttering. These houses are still lingering on the market for too many months. Home repairs, as well, are liable to get called out on inspection, which could lead to renegotiated sales prices or costly contractor repairs down the line.

If you've found your dream house, you'll probably need to act quickly. Sleep on it, and you could lose it. Bring your best offers to the table because this may be your one and only opportunity.

If you haven't found your dream home, consider the potential dream home. Maybe it has a great lot, but horrible paint colors. There are so many things that can easily be changed...paint, fixtures, landscaping, decor. And there are those things that cannot be changed...location, neighborhood, school system. Weigh the pros and cons, and consider those things that you can and cannot live with for a while.

In this market, timing is everything.

We sold our house quickly, spent a lot of weekends looking for the dream house, lost a few of them along the way, and eventually decided to make an offer on the house that others had overlooked for nearly a year. A great lot in a great neighborhood, great schools and a great location. Plenty of room for the family, with just enough quirkiness to give it a little vintage charm. Vacant, so we could move right in with no temporary housing scenarios.

Perfect timing.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Things They Left Behind

Sometimes, God hands you a wonderful blessing, and if you are smart, you will take it with both hands.

To date, this house has been a blessing, and each day, we fall in love with it a little bit more. Mind you, this house was not the stunning looker that everyone was clamoring for, but rather the wallflower who waited patiently for someone to really appreciate her hidden beauty. This house waited for us, and we are so thankful that it did.

On day one, we were blessed to meet the sellers, who were wonderful people. The husband and doctor who became a lawyer, and his lovely wife who became a renowned jeweler. They raised two sons in this house that they lovingly tended for thirty years. They were so happy to know that boys would be playing basketball in the driveway and swinging from the tree fort once again.

The sellers were truly generous people.

They left garden art, doormats, and bird feeders.

They left us a piano!

They left us keys and openers, with notes and detailed explanations.

Finally, they left us this binder. I say "binder" loosely because, seriously, it's more like a tome! It's a testament to how home owners should stay organized regarding the house, its appliances, and major repairs.

Need to know how to use the rotisserie feature of the wall ovens? Never fear! It's in the binder, in plastic sleeve protectors none the less!

Wondering where they purchased the carpet? It's in the binder.

Trying to figure out how to turn on the sprinkler system? It's in the binder.

Not only did this family leave us a wealth of information, but they also walked us through the house to show us the features we might miss...

...the Bali blinds in the master bedroom that can open from the top down or the bottom up.

...the electrical outlet at the bottom of the lamp post, perfect for holiday lights.

...the built-in cutting board in the kitchen.

...the pastry board in the cupboard.

...the flowers and shrubs and trees in the garden.

What a sweet couple! I think it was hard for them to say goodbye to this house that they'd loved for so long. They shared memories of their happy home. I shared how this home made me feel happy the moment I walked into it. (I shared it in this post:

She cried, I cried.

It was a moving experience.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Corporate Relocation: Week Four

We are beginning week four of our corporate relocation to Pittsburgh, and it has been quite an adventure!

Corporate relocation involves so much more than just moving your belongings from one house to another. Let's face it. You are uprooting your life and the lives of everyone in your household. It is like plucking a plant out of the ground, moving it to a new location in the garden, and hoping that with enough watering and sunlight, it will grow.

A big part of the relocation process is learning your environment. I like to do this in an ever expanding set of concentric circles, with my new house being the epicenter.  It starts out small...trips to the bank, trips to the grocery store. Then it expands a little...trips to Lowe's and Home Depot and Target. Trips to the local pizza joint and the shopping mall. Trips out for ice cream.

Each trip helps build your confidence a little. I can do this! I know that intersection! I can find my way home!

We have found our new library. Today, we will find our new post office.

Small steps.

Every week, we have visited a new church in our area. We are learning a lot about ourselves and about different denominations in the process. Finding a new church is a big priority for our family.  We're beginning to realize that this process could take a long time. We've decided to double up on our weekly worship, hoping to attend a Saturday evening service at one church, and then trying a Sunday morning service at another.

Church shopping will definitely be getting its own post very soon. It is such a complex process that it could really deserve its own book!

In the meantime, I love this view of the golden spires and steeples of the Russian Orthodox church down the street. I can see them glowing in the sunlight while I type at my desk in the living room. The best part? Listening to the church bells every Sunday morning. A sweet music that is good for the soul.

 Goals for week four:

* Tend to the garden and get some potted flowers and annuals.

*Walk the neighborhood with the boys to encourage them to explore and meet new friends.

*Locate new doctors, dentists, and care providers.

*Transfer school records and get registered for fall.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

When You Can Live With Wood Paneling (And When You Cannot)

Wood paneling.

Just say those words and watch people's reaction.

Some folks nod their heads and smile, thinking warm and cozy thoughts.

Other folks cringe.

Let's face it. If you are in the habit of purchasing older homes, you are likely to have a few close encounters of the wood paneling kind.

One of my favorite homes was a cape cod style bungalow. The previous owner had painted the wood paneling in the family room a bright shade of white. It was a little too harsh for me when paired with the brick fireplace. We painted that paneling a rich warm shade of terra cotta, and it made the room very inviting.

Another of my favorite homes had a wood paneled wainscoting in the family room in a rich burled wood. It suited the room, with its brick fireplace flanked by built-in bookcases. It would have been a travesty to mess with that wood paneling.

The family room in this sixties colonial guessed it!...wood paneling. Walls and walls and walls (and walls!) of it. Truthfully, I like it! This is our movie viewing room, and we want it to be on the darker side. My husband is not convinced that he can live with it. I keep telling him to have a little patience. When we get new furniture for this room (and that will be a necessity very soon), it will make all the difference. The room also faces the east, and gets plenty of light during the day.

For now, I'm doing my best to make the space a true family room. Framed photos. Beloved books and movies. Games and entertainment. Comfy places to sit with plenty of throw pillows and blankets. I'm adding brightly colored accessories to counteract the darker nature of the wood paneled walls.

In a weird twist, it's becoming one of my favorite rooms of the house. Go figure!

And then there is the issue of the den.

We were lucky enough to find a colonial with not one, but TWO wood paneled rooms. The den is situated at the back of the house. It is in the southwest corner of the house, with two windows that are shaded by trees. There is absolutely no overhead lighting. It is dark, dark, dark for the majority of the day, save for an hour or two in the late afternoon.

The den has a ton of built-ins, perfect for a craft room.

And it would be a perfect craft room, too, if you could actually see what you are working on in there. Unfortunately, the light gets sucked by the dark paneled walls.

This room will also serve as the guest room. It is situated next to a full bathroom on the main floor, perfect for guests. Unfortunately, I can't imagine a guest who would want to stay in that room in its current condition.

I am sensing a painting project in the near future.

The July issue of Country Living magazine features a Cape Cod colonial where the home owners painted the wood paneling a warm and sunny yellow.

Sunny, bright, light reflecting yellow.

It's a possibility.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Happier Happy Place

It was the room that sold me on this house. I took one look at the cheerful yellow gingham wallpaper, the light streaming through the window, and the door leading to the patio and I thought "I can be happy here."

It was a perfect laundry room.

Hey, don't judge! Everyone has their happy place. For me, my happy place is wherever I'm doing the family laundry. With all the boys currently living under the same roof, I'm spending more time than normal in the laundry room. Not that I'm complaining! This Mama Bird loves having all of her baby birds in the same nest. And when the laundry room is this cute, who can complain?

One of the things I've learned about moving into a new home is that you can't be married to the original concept of an item from your previous home. You may have always had a certain painting decorating the walls of your kitchen, but in your new home it may actually work better in the dining room. A furniture piece that always graced your family room may turn out to be just the thing your living room needs.

Case in point: the braided area rugs that are now warming up the tile floors of my laundry room were actually used to warm up the concrete floors of the front porch at my previous home. I found the homespun charm of a braided rug went perfectly with the gingham in this room!

I got my laundry chute! This was a wish list item when we began house hunting back in March. Whenever we toured a house with our realtor, she made sure to point out if it had a laundry chute for me. This chute starts in the master bedroom, hidden in the floor of a cabinet in the bathroom. My little guy, Sam, has had fun sending things down the chute. It reminds him of the movie Stuart Little, when Stuart accidently goes down the chute and ends up in the washing machine.

This room does double duty, serving as our dog's feeding station as well. She would probably prefer to eat at the kitchen table with the rest of the family, but she's learning to adjust. This little braided rug works well for those times when she's too thirsty to drink like a lady.

The previous owners must have used this room for their dogs as well. They left this sweet little wall plaque that has hooks for dog leashes.

Do you have a happy place in your house? If so, where is it?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Six Tips For Moving Out/Moving In Day

A few tips for making the move go smoothly:

1.) Post-It Notes are a must! I used these notes to label every room in the house. As the movers unload off the truck, they don't have to ask you "Which room is your office? Where's Sam's room?" They can see the labels, match it with the name on the box contents, and move it right in. I probably could have used a black Sharpie to make it more visible, though.

On a funny side note, one of our movers asked us "Are you a pastor's family?"

Uhm, no. Why do you ask?

"I just assumed from the names of your sons," he said.

Luke. John. Samuel. It was a good assumption.

"No, we just love the Lord," I answered.

"So do I!" he said, beaming. He showed us the bracelet that he was wearing as a reminder.

Lesson of the day: You never know where you might be a Christian witness to the world!

2.) If possible, arrange to have your dogs stay in doggy day care for moving day. I say "if possible" because it just wasn't possible for us. Our old girl is too crotchety and set in her ways to spend time in a kennel full of yappers. She tried to stay out of the way, but it's still hard to navigate around 75 pounds of labradorness.

3.) Have plenty of water on hand for the movers. It was a hot day here on moving day, and those movers are accomplishing amazing feats of strength. They need to stay hydrated. Stock the fridge with plenty of bottled water. (And trust me, they want water, not soda. As the movers told me that day, drinking soda on a hot day just makes you thirstier. We stocked both, but the water was a big hit).

4.) Moving Day is not the time to tackle major cleaning of your new home. Trust me, you will just be in the way. Save it for later. Dirt always waits for later. :)

5.) You will need to have a bathroom that is ready for customers. Have a hand towel, hand soap, and toilet paper ready.

6.) Remember to have cash on hand for tipping your driver and movers. Be generous here, folks. They are doing the back breaking work for you. Show them a little love and appreciation. Some crews appreciate having a meal provided for them that day (carryout pizza is always a favorite), but others just want to get the job done and eat afterward. Ask the crew leader for their preference.

Our crew from United was wonderful! They were patient, they were thoughtful, and they were professional. Nothing was damaged in our move. Everything was accounted for, and they went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure our happiness.

A moving day success!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Unpacking Day

We're here! We're here! We're finally here!

Last Friday, the moving van was waiting for us at our new Pittsburgh home. They spent a long, hot, grueling day unpacking all of our furniture and boxes.

So many boxes!

I have to confess...before the move, my husband and I both looked around our home and thought (rather smugly, I might add) "Wow, we've really pared down! Look at how much we've cleared out! Unpacking should be a breeze!"

And then the movers brought our stuff into the new house. As we began to unpack, we were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of STUFF that we possess.

Why, oh why, do we hold on to so many things? We wish we could have had ten more garage sales!

The lesson learned here is this: When you think you've pared down, go through your house and do it again. And again. And again.

We were exhausted by the end of every day. Our muscles were tired from lugging and toting, and our brains were tired from making so many decisions.

We're getting more settled and more comfortable in our new home every day. I can finally see the top of my kitchen table, and that's progress!

Yesterday, this table hosted an impromptu tea party with my new neighbor and her little daughter. Mary, Mary Theresa, and Mary Rose all sat down to a proper tea.

I think I'm going to love it here.