Friday, January 30, 2009

How to Sell Your Home: Interview with Mike Eastman

In preparation for my new book, I have been interviewing real estate industry experts. This interview is with Atlanta Realtor, Mike Eastman. His contact information is at the end of this post. Sign up for the newsletter, to the right of the blog, for book updates and other information.

1. HHow would you describe the market in Atlanta on January 28, 2009.

Mike Eastman, Atlanta Realtor,, says, "This is the year of the Hot Deals for my clients.” He recently negotiated a contract during the last week of December on a brand-new home in a new development by Decatur, which was finalized at $200,000 below the original list price. At the closing, the builder (who had gone belly up, as had the bank financing the deal) was counting his blessings - his health and his family, while letting my client know he was broke. There would be no opportunity to get any more work done on the house after closing as builders will traditionally do. My client was very respectful of his position and situation, as was I. She got the home for $575,000 with an all-cash offer (a very powerful bargaining chip) even though the builder was assuming a material loss for anything below $650,000 on a home originally listed at close to $800,000. He was essentially paying her to buy his house. Understand that builders like this one make tons of money some years and have years like 2008, its part of the game. Still, we felt his pain. The positive side of that is that the market is so soft right now that some very striking deals are available. They are not everywhere and going into this, even I had no idea how much this builder would come down in price. But this turned into a dramatic example of what is possible in this market. There is actually still one brand-new home by this builder left in this new development where my client bought."

By the way," this buyer actually didn't approach her search looking for bargains. She looked for an entire year with a very critical eye towards the type of house she was willing to buy. Once she found the house she could love, she switched gears and negotiated hard for the best price and was supported by the strength of an all-cash offer. We did have some clue that a bargain might be had with this home, however, as the builder had turned off the home's utilities - to save money."

"This is an excellent case study of someone who truly got a sizzling hot deal. She plans to live in the home long-term and is likely to profit from the deal by well over the $200,000 she saved by making her move in 2008 - the best climate for buyers that we will ever see in our lifetimes, which is continuing into 2009."

Mike says, "This is the best market buyers will ever see. Sellers looking to move up are likely to have to sell at a marginal loss. I found a home in Huntcliff this week that resold after less than two years at a $75,000 loss, but that buyer is likely to more than make up for it on the purchase of a new home. Huntcliff is otherwise a very stagnant market."

2. What is the average length of time a house sits on the market before it is sold? Mike: “It depends entirely on the price. I just submitted an offer for a client on a home that was in foreclosure, priced $200,000 below its actual value ($600,000-plus) and the home received seven other offers at the same time. My client offered $40,000 above the asking price – and still didn’t get the home. I’m taking on a listing for another client, which has been on the market for over 18 months. This is an executive home she bought for around $394,000 and renovated, hoped to make a profit on, with a starting price around $714,000. She’s a seasoned investor and three to four years ago this may have worked very well for her. But not in this market.”

3. What percent of the homes are being sold that are either in foreclosure or bank owned versus sold by owner? Question 3 to 7: Mike covers the metro Atlanta market so this would be a hard generalization to make, but there are a tremendous number of homes in foreclosure right now. Here are some examples of what we are seeing:

There is a $1.125 million home (zillow estimate) on the market for $585,000 - near Collier Hills – a coveted, expensive area in metro Atlanta. The home has an unfinished renovation that will require $30,000 to $40,000 to complete.

There is a gorgeous home in the Rivermont subdivision in North Fulton, which was in foreclosure last winter for $290,000. The home remains on the market and is now a steal at $220,000. The home has a gorgeous, renovated kitchen and shows extremely well.

There is a “Street of Dreams” in Atlanta steps from Morehouse College and The Atlanta Beltline, where homes sold for $200,000 and up two, and five years ago and are now going for $50,000, $40,000, $30,000 and even as little as $12,000. The Beltline is predicted to spark a dramatic rise in properties bordering it, which makes this such a sweet deal.

4. What is average cost of a home in your area? See above

5. What was average cost of home 3 years ago? See above

6. How does that compare to 5 years ago? See above

7. How does that compare to 10 years ago? See above

8. What is the average price paid for a home over or under the asking price? Under the asking price

9. When you list a home, do you make suggestions to seller on things they can do to improve home to sell it? Rarely, Mike works with clients in the executive-home market ($400,000s and up), and they tend to be very on top of landscaping, interior decorating, power washing and painting their homes. Atlanta is really into fancy interior design and this is the norm for most homes.

10. If so, what are common recommendations that you make?

The first place to start with any project is to clean, remove clutter and depersonalize the home. A property must be appealing before potential buyers will visually place themselves in the home and this begins with the outside. Trim bushes and plants, remove dead plants, branches and greenery, roll up hoses, add a welcoming doormat, consider adding a planter with seasonal color, and power wash and freshen paint as necessary. Consider painting the front door a welcoming color, like red.

Donna Mathis of DMD Studios suggests the following techniques: “Upon entering the home, study what the first impression will be. Where space does your eye travel to? Remove the clutter so that the buyers mentally visualize the room with their own belongings. If the room seems stuffed or overcrowded, remove the larger pieces of furniture to visually open up the space. Short-term rental furniture is often a fix for oversized or outdated furniture. Several short-term leasing options are available that can help to transform a space for a relatively small cost. Updating the look of your home broadens the appeal to potential buyers and helps occupied or older properties compete with newer homes.”

In kitchens and bathrooms, remove the clutter of everyday living and leave open space for the eye to visually take in. Make sure that the walls are freshly painted and inviting. In the bathrooms, consider adding some appealing items like scented soaps, candles, fresh fluffy towels tied with ribbons and yummy facial creams and lotions – the type you might see at the spa. In the kitchen, consider buying flowers – either fresh or a beautiful silk flower arrangement. Gravitate towards bright and cheerful colors – oranges, reds and yellows. Add a bowl of lemons and oranges. Consider an essential oil diffuser and choose scents by the season. Set your dining room table using your finest linens.

Personal expression tends to be emphasized in the bedrooms, especially kids’ rooms; consider painting them neutral; this low-cost item that is more labor intensive but is worth it. Look at furniture placement in the rooms and remember to remove any pieces that overcrowd the room. Let the potential buyer visualize the space in the manner that they would use it. Again, consider flower arrangements (for color) and essential oil diffusers. Everything should look and smell clean, bright and fresh. Make sure the window treatments don’t obstruct light or view. If they do, consider taking them down - and make sure the windows are clean!

11. What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when putting their home on the market? Overpricing the home. Also trying to go it alone (for sale by owner), it’s very hard for homeowners to be objective in terms of the relative value of their homes.

12. Are buyers asking about green features in homes? (Solar panels, Energy Star rated appliances, programmable thermostats, sustainable wood floors, etc.) Yes, there is keen interest in this in Atlanta. Our government policy when it comes to “green” ranks among the worst in the nation, however, the consumer interest in green ranks extremely high.

13. Do homes with green features sell for more? Yes, we included the following information from McGraw Hill Construction in “Green Matters” –

The major findings of the 2008 survey, which is co-sponsored by the

National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), include:

- The residential green building market is expected to be worth $12 billion

to $20 billion (6 percent to 10 percent of the market) this year.

- In five years (2012), the market is expected to double to 12 percent to

20 percent market share, or $40 billion to $70 billion.

- 40 percent of builders think green building helps them market their homes in

a down market.

Quality has emerged in this down market as the most important reason for building green. Previously, builders were motivated by energy cost savings of green homes and doing the right

thing, which still came in #2 this year. This is likely due to green home

marketing and how it improves quality of life.

“We have hit the tipping point for builders going green,” said Harvey M. Bernstein, McGraw-Hill Construction vice president of Industry Analytics, Alliances and Strategic Initiatives. “This year, the number

of builders who are moderately green -- those with 30 percent green projects -- has surpassed those with a low share of green -- those who are green in less than 15 percent of their projects. Next year, we will

see even greater growth, with highly green builders -- those with 60 percent green projects -- surpassing those with a low share of green. This year has seen an 8 percent jump over last year, and we expect

another 10 percent increase next year.”

“It’s official. Green has gone mainstream,” said Ray Tonjes, chair of the Green Building Subcommittee for NAHB. “And now, the NAHB National Green Building Program is making it easier for home builders to provide sustainable, environmentally friendly homes for their customers. We’re ready for the market transformation that McGraw-Hill Construction estimates.”

As a realtor, do you point out green features (or are they written on the sell sheet)? Yes, green is a hot issue in Atlanta.

What are the most popular features people are looking for in homes today? Updated kitchens, hardwoods, open floor plans, green features, and generous natural light.

What are the most unpopular features? Open floor plans continue to be highly popular in Atlanta so boxy floor plans with poor lighting are very unpopular.

Do people prefer carpet or wood flooring? Wood flooring

What is the favored type of flooring? Hardwoods, cork is also becoming increasingly popular and is considered green.

What green renovations would you suggest? Better insulation (you can drill right into the walls and apply spray foam over fiberglass), compact fluorescent lights, dual-flush toilets, plumbing for gray water (easy and affordable), sealing ductwork (not with duct tape but a paste called Mastic), sealing crawl spaces, solar hot water, low-E windows, tank-less hot water heater, geothermal heat pump.

Do you have any numbers for money saved or percentages for specific renovations? (Windows, insulation, etc.) A home renovated to the max when it comes to green can expect energy savings of 50 percent or more.

Can you add a geothermal system to an already built home? Costs? That’s a good question. Yes, we interviewed someone for our book who was considering adding a geothermal system to an existing home. The average cost is $7,500.

Costs for solar panels? For solar hot water heating, $3000; to power the entire home, around $40,000. The former is practical to do today; the latter is not there yet, from a cost-savings perspective. People tend not to go all the way with solar power and only invest $10,000 to $20,000 in solar panels. Expect a revolution, here, in five to ten years.

Would a house with solar panels/geothermal be worth more? How much more? That’s very debatable right now and you could argue it either way.

Michael Eastman is an award-winning Yale-educated Real Estate Specialist in Atlanta. He is a columnist with and, was the 2008 President of the Yale Club of Georgia and is the Founder of TeamIvy, a 12-year-old professional networking group comprised of 2,000 alums from the Ivy League Universities and Seven Sisters Colleges. Board members include graduates from Yale, Harvard, Bryn Mawr, Emory, Cornell and the Wharton School of Business. He is a member of the Million-Dollar Club and an award recipient for multi-million dollar sales volume. He has 20-plus years sales experience, has generated over $80 million in revenue and is currently with Solid Source Realty, The Ivy Realtor.

Mike is with Solid Source Realty in Atlanta,

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How to Sell Your Home: Interview with Landscape Designer Chris Cipriano

As I mentioned in my last past, I am writing a book on how to sell your home in this market and have been interviewing industry experts. The following is my interview with Landscape Designer Chris Cipriano.

1. What are the most popular features you install for your clients?

Installing urns loaded with flowers and custom fountains are incredibly popular and a great way to increase your home’s sales appeal. For those on the more creative side, installing an outdoor kitchen is a great way to differentiate your home and make it more unique to buyers. In terms of adding value, renovating an out of date swimming pool will provide favorable return on investment.

2. What are the most important features a homeowner can add to their property to add value?

It is incredibly important to have a professionally tuned outdoor landscape. Creating a natural and comfortable outdoor setting by adding the right combination of shrubs, trees, flowers and natural stone is certain to add value and an essential element of selling the home.

3. What are the biggest mistakes people do to detract value?

The biggest mistake people make is ignoring the outdoors. Too often, homeowners that want to sell their homes focus all their time, energy and money on fixing up and staging the indoors of the house. A poor outdoor landscape will negatively influence potential buyers before they even enter the home, thus detracting from the home’s value and appeal.

4. Describe the features that would give a home good “curb appeal.”

Curb appeal is essential. The view from the street is the first, last and most important impression on all potential buyers. If a home does not have curb appeal, potential buyers will drive right by without stopping to take a second look.

If you want loads of curb appeal, great layering of plants, trees and flowers is essential. Use groups of the same plant types to create a natural look, and be sure to install an abundance of color. Color sells!

5. When dealing on a budget, what elements on the property are the must-do’s to sell a home?

For those staging their outdoors on a budget, it is often just as important what they take away from their property as opposed to what they add. Make sure that all old equipment, tools and clutter are put away and that everything looks professional. Mow the lawn professionally and remove weeds and debris.

Pressure wash porches, decks and the siding to create a clean look for the buyer. Spruce up the gardens by adding a variety of color and install a few hanging plants to the front porch. It is also affordable, and incredibly beneficial, to fix up the front walk or install a new pathway leading to the front door.

Finally, install outdoor lighting that reveals your home’s most favorable characteristics, even in the dark. Remember, most people go house shopping after work when it is dark out. If they can’t see the home, they will pass it right by.

6. Describe a dream landscaped property.

A dream landscaped property would have all the latest features: a custom pool and fountain, a nice porch or deck, an outdoor kitchen, an entertainment area and a great assortment of shrubs, stones, greens, trees and flowers. It will look well thought out and natural at the same time.

7. Do you see any changes with what people want over the past 5 years?

Recently, homeowners have begun to look for more unique elements to add to their outdoors like kitchens, entertainment areas, cabanas, fountains and spas. With the down economy, more people are “staycationing” (staying at home instead of going on vacation). As a result, they try to create a vacation-like resort in their own backyards.

8. Are people spending the same, more or less (adjusted for inflation) than they were 5 years ago?

In general, homeowners are looking for value and prioritizing spending on luxury landscaping as compared to five years ago.

Due to the challenges in the real estate market, people are prioritizing curb appeal and spending more money on home staging services.

9. Are people interested in “green landscaping?”

Yes. A great new “green landscaping” technology are rain gardens.

The rain garden reduces rain runoff by filtering storm water and allowing it to soak into the ground as opposed to the tradition method of allowing it to flow into storm drains or seepage pits. By absorbing and filtering the water, rain gardens significantly reduce the amount of pollution reaching creeks and streams.

10. Is there anything else you would like to add

When performed correctly, staging the outdoors will increase the value of your home and help it sell quicker on the open market. To ensure ROI, consider investing in a certified landscape architect’s home staging services.

I also happen to be a passionate gardener and my husband and I have been working on our property for several years. Here are some photographs:Property.


Chris Cipriano
Cipriano Landscape Design
43 Spring St
Ramsey, NJ 07446
Phone: 201-785-0800

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How to Sell Your Home: Interview with Bill Golden, Atlanta Realtor

This is the first post in a new series about what you need to do to sell your home in this market. In virtually the entire country we are currently facing difficult times for sellers. The situation was enough to compel me to write a book about how to sell your home in this economy--and still make some money.

I decided to reach out across the country to get first-hand knowledge of the real estate situation and have had many realtors, designers, stagers and other professionals in the business share their experiences with me.

Bill Golden is a Re/Max Realtor in the Atlanta Metro Cityside region. He has been in the business for 22 years He can be reached at and 404.634.7728. The following is our interview. Please feel free to post any comments to either Bill or myself on this blog and either of us will respond.

1. How would you describe the market in Atlanta on 1/23/09?
The market here is definitely slow, though it varies according to area and price range. The prices in most areas haven’t really dropped, but they have not appreciated as they have in the past.

2. What is the average length of time a house sits on the market before it is sold?
This too, depends on the area, but in the “intown” Atlanta market in the last 6 months, a single family residential home has sat on the market for an average of 76 days.

3. How does that compare to 5 years ago?
Five years ago, that number was most likely more like 45 days.

4. How does that compare to 10 years ago?
Ten years ago, the market was very strong here, so I would say it was closer to 30 days.

5. What is the average price paid for a home over or under the asking price?
In the same market for the last 6 months, the average List Price/Sale Price ratio was approximately 93%, which is definitely down. That number is usually around 96%.

6. When you list a home, do you make suggestions to seller on things they can do to improve home to sell it?

7. If so, what are common recommendations that you make?
Usually a lot of de-cluttering, cleaning, fresh paint/carpet if necessary, freshened landscaping, staging if necessary.

8. What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when putting their home on the market?
Number one mistake people make is overpricing. Many times homeowners try to justify that by saying they’re not in a hurry. Unfortunately, that logic doesn’t work. If the home sits on the market a long time, you generally end up getting less than if you had priced it right from the start.
Of course, one of the other mistakes some folks make is trying to sell their home without a Realtor, or using a cut-rate service. In this difficult time, sellers need a professional marketing their home more than ever.
Another common mistake is spending money on “improvements” that they then want to recoup in the sales price. Before you make any improvements to sell your home, it’s best to contact a Realtor who knows the market and can tell you accurately what changes are worth making, and which ones aren’t.

9. Are buyers asking about green features in homes? (Solar panels, Energy Star rated appliances, programmable thermostats, sustainable wood floors, etc.)
I don’t see it that much in the market I work in, which is mostly comprised of older homes. I’m sure it has more of an impact on new homes.

10. Do homes with green features sell for more?
Unfortunately, no. At least not in my market. They may, however, help your home sell faster. In other words, a buyer may not pay more for those features, but they may choose a home with those features over one that doesn’t have them.

11. As a Realtor, do you point out green features (or are they written on the sell sheet)?
Absolutely, I will point out any green features of a home, and they should also be written on the flyer/brochure for the home.

12. What are the most popular features people are looking for in homes today?
As has been the case for a long time, kitchens and baths seem to really sell homes. Even if they’re not totally renovated, if they are clean and move-in ready, that’s appealing to a buyer. Also, most buyers like a floor plan where the kitchen is open to the family room or some other space where folks can gather.
Most buyers today prefer hardwood floors over carpet, and also a low-maintenance yard.

13. What are the most unpopular features?
Most buyers don’t want choppy floor plans where rooms don’t open to each other. They also don’t like laminate floors, stippled ceilings, or bathrooms with outdated “gold” fixtures.

14. Do people prefer carpet or wood flooring?
Definitely wood flooring.

15. What is the favored type of flooring?
Real wood floors.

16. Do beige walls really sell?
Not necessarily, but definitely when compared with strong colors.

17. What colors do you recommend on walls?
I generally recommend light, muted tones, in the khaki/green family, depending on the furnishings of the home. Also, white or very light moldings and trim.

18. Do you like particular colors for different rooms? For example, a yellow kitchen?
No. Each situation is different.

19. Do you think staging works to sell a home?
In some cases, absolutely. If a home has all fresh paint and gleaming hardwood floors, it may show just as well vacant. Staging definitely helps in cases where the home has an odd floor plan, or oddly shaped/sized rooms. It helps define those spaces. If a home is decorated in a very specific style, it may help to neutralize it somewhat, so a buyer is able to picture their own style in the home.

20. What elements of staging are most successful?
See above.

21. Do you think Feng Shui helps to sell a home?
I’ve never had it come up!

22. What elements make a home feel good?
Cleanliness and a pleasant smell.

23. What elements make a home feel bad?
Dirt, messiness, and bad odors.

24. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Only that in this market, where there is so much competition, a seller needs to make their home stand out, either with the presentation or the value. Or better yet, both!

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