Get To Work! How To Make Your Home Office Space a Huge Selling Point

home office space

By: Lisa Marie Conklin

It’s been six months since many of us were last in the office, tapping away on our ergonomic keyboards and drawing on whiteboards in conference rooms during (gasp!) in-person meetings.

Since then, we’ve been forced to find a new path forward in our homes, to create feasible workspaces where there really are none. And frankly, the kitchen table just isn’t cutting it anymore.

Buyer demand for home office space has accelerated during the pandemic. In a realtor.com® survey conducted this summer, 63% of respondents indicated that they plan to buy a new home in light of their ability to work remotely. And, on average, listings featuring a home office command a 3.4% price premium and sell nine days faster than listings without one, according to realtor.com data.

“Showcasing a dedicated working area can help attract buyers to your property,” says Jennifer Smith, a real estate agent at Southern Dream Homes.

So, sellers, take note: If you have a home office, now’s the time to promote it. Here’s how to set up a space that will bring in the buyers and seal the deal.

Be mindful when converting a room into a home office

If you don’t have an official home office, you might be frantically looking around your house, wondering which room could be converted into a workspace. But before you go all in swapping out guest beds for built-in desks and bookshelves, know this: While buyers are looking for home office space, bedrooms still take priority, according to real estate agent Susan Bozinovic of Century 21 Town & Country. And you could inadvertently turn off buyers if one of your three bedrooms suddenly works only as a home office.

Instead, look for opportunities to create dual-purpose spaces. After all, you’re probably not entertaining many guests during the pandemic (we hope), so now’s a great time to create a combination guest room and office. Remove the bed, and replace it with a sleeper sofa or love seat.

“This will result in less visual clutter while you’re working in the room, but allow it to easily be transformed back to a bedroom for guests,” says Smith.

Choose a free-standing desk to fit the space without overwhelming it. Or consider a wall-mounted desk as an alternative.

“They can be installed in virtually any room of a home and can be easily put away when not in use,” says Smith.

And don’t forget to update the closet.

“Maximize your closet space with shelves and containers to store office and bedroom supplies, while also making the space available to store your guests’ belongings,” recommends Smith.

Short on bedrooms? Try carving out space in another area such as the dining room. Keep the dining table, but remove the buffet or remove the leaves in the table and extra chairs to make room for a chair and desk.

“As a seller, you are not erasing the dining room, but signaling to the buyer that the room can be repurposed further to suit an office,” says Bozinovic.

Pick a quiet area

The noisy central hub of any home is hardly conducive to productivity, so setting up a workspace in the kitchen or the TV room isn’t likely to woo buyers. If you currently don’t have a designated home office, consider the location when staging one.

“It’s best to choose a room with adequate space that’s far from the main living spaces and not frequented by family members or guests,” Smith advises.

Transform an unused area into a workspace

Take a look around at the underused areas in your home, and you can probably find a place to carve out a workspace buyers will covet. If you have a finished, walkout basement, you can turn that into a comfy and private workspace. The area underneath the staircase or the dead space at the top of a staircase, or even an alcove, makes a compact office.

If you have no choice but to set up a home office in the main area of the house, present it in the most appealing way possible.

“Separate the work area from the rest of the room with portable dividers such as a curtain, a folding screen, partition wall, or even tall houseplants,” says Smith.

Keep the area tidy, and neatly bundle up computer and extension cords. Illuminate a poorly lit zone with a small desk lamp.

Flaunt connectivity

If you have access to dependable and fast internet, flaunt it. Buyers are looking to make sure there are enough outlets, ways to minimize cords, and locations for wall-mounted routers, Bozinovic says.

Also critically important is the quality of the Wi-Fi. Buyers want dependable and fast internet with ample bandwidth to be productive at home.

Stage your home office as you would the rest of your house

If you already have a dedicated home office, the time-honored advice of staging—beginning with a clean and clutter-free space, void of personal objects—stands true. If needed, invest in fashionable, functional office storage options like wall shelves or a filing cabinet, Smith says.

“For decorating and design, it’s best to keep colors neutral and avoid bright paint or busy patterns on the walls,” she adds.

But the office shouldn’t be too bland. Create ambiance with pops of color in office essentials such as an area rug, houseplants in pretty pots, or fresh flowers. If blinds are the only window covering, consider buying some curtains or drapes to add warmth. Be sure to raise blinds, draw the curtains to the side to allow natural light, and feature a lovely view if you have one.

The desk should be featured prominently in the room, Bozinovic says. After all, it is the main component. Facing the desk to the entrance looks more dramatic, hides background clutter, and enhances the room’s purpose—all while offering a welcoming atmosphere.

[divider_top]

The Insane Juggling Act of Trying To Buy and Sell a House During a Pandemic

By Kelsey Ogletree

Buying and selling a home simultaneously is a stressful juggling act at any point. So what’s it like to simultaneously buy and sell real estate during the coronavirus pandemic?

In April, my husband and I found out just how arduous this process could get when we decided to put our Chicago condo on the market. Our goal was to move out of state to live closer to family, and we’d hoped to time our property sale and purchase around the same time.

But the novel coronavirus quickly threw a wrench in these plans—and taught us a ton in the process. Here’s what we learned, which we hope will help other buyers and sellers navigate this process as smoothly as possible.

The best thing I can recommend if you’re trying to sell your house right now is to try to stay elsewhere for the time your house is on the market. We decided to vacate our Chicago condo, and move into an apartment above my in-laws’ garage in Alabama.

Although it was a hassle to move out, it was crucial because our real estate agent was then able to schedule showings freely without having to work around our schedules—and there was less fear on both the buyer and seller ends about sanitizing home surfaces.

I believe moving out was key to our selling our home in less than two months. We officially closed the deal on July 8.

Be OK with not saying goodbye

The strangest thing about selling our home during the coronavirus pandemic was abruptly closing a chapter and beginning a new one without having those goodbye moments.

I’d hoped our last hurrah in Chicago would be filled with last meals at our favorite restaurants, going-away parties with our friends, and visiting all of our favorite coffee shops one more time. Instead, we spent our last days in Chicago packing up our place and eating microwave popcorn when we had an empty fridge and weren’t able to dine out.

While we were excited for what lay ahead, I grieved that old life that the coronavirus had caused to abruptly disappear before my eyes.

Expect the unexpected

After moving in above my in-laws’ garage in Alabama, we hit our new house hunt hard, and started shopping for a home in the area. We assumed we wouldn’t be living with my in-laws for long.

At first, our timing seemed phenomenal: A few days after the contract on our condo in Chicago came through, we put in an offer on a home in Alabama.

Originally, we’d planned to close on our Chicago home sale and our Alabama home purchase back to back, a day apart. But our purchase fell through for a variety of reasons, including inspection and loan approval issues.

We were crushed, but realized that closing on both homes within a 24-hour period would have involved an insane amount of stress and paperwork.

Look at the big picture

I struggled emotionally with uprooting my family and moving in with my in-laws. We went from living states away to seeing them nearly ’round the clock. Even though we had our own tiny kitchen above the garage, we ended up eating most meals at their house, and it’s by far the most time we’ve ever spent together.

It was a difficult adjustment for the first month or so, as I mourned our former life as a busy young couple in Chicago. Our nights dining at buzzy restaurants and walking along the riverfront were replaced by family dinners around a kitchen table. I just wasn’t ready for so much togetherness.

However, now nearly five months into this living arrangement, I’ve become more appreciative. I’m embracing this time spent with family. Even if this arrangement continues a few more months, in the scheme of our lives, it will just be a blip on the radar.

Accept that things might not work out perfectly

We thought we had it all figured out: selling one home and buying another that we’d move straight into after closing. When that didn’t work out, we struggled with feeling “homeless” and not having a place to actually move our things to.

But we’ve now learned that things happen for the best, and that there’s no reason to stress about finding a new place. Our things are in storage nearby, ready to go when we are. We’re taking our time figuring out the next best move for our family. Meanwhile, we are fortunate to have a place to stay, and a rare opportunity to spend a lot of time with family.

[divider_top]

‘I Closed On My Home Sale During the Coronavirus Crisis’

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

When Doreen Smith listed her house in Castle Rock, CO, in February, the coronavirus was on her radar, but didn’t seem like a serious problem at the time.

“COVID-19 was on my mind because I teach high school social studies, and we’d discuss it when talking about current events,” says Smith. “But I certainly didn’t think that this would be something to have to consider when selling my home.”

When Smith was about to list her home, she asked her real estate agent if she should be worried about selling because it was an election year. Her agent assured her that January 2020 had been a terrific month for home sales. So Smith decided to move ahead and put her house on the market on Feb. 27.

“It was supposed to be a gorgeous, sunny weekend, so we put the ‘For Sale’ sign in my yard on Wednesday to be ready for my home to hit the MLS on Thursday,” Smith recalls. “My agent immediately started getting calls, including one on Wednesday night. I had five showings on Thursday, and I got three offers Friday morning.”

Smith decided to sell to a couple who lived in California.

“When I took their offer, it came with the contingency that they must be able to sell their home in order to buy mine,” Smith says. “I accepted the contingency because their house was already under contract, through inspection, and had a closing date of March 23.”

So Smith planned to move out on that same day, and move in temporarily with her sister in nearby Littleton, CO, while shopping for a condo. (Both of her boys were out of the house, so she was downsizing.)

All went according to schedule at first. However, in the ensuing weeks as news (and cases) of COVID-19 swept the nation, Smith saw much of what she knew about her home closing change.

Here’s how she survived closing a home sale during this pandemic—and what she learned in the process.

Why the coronavirus can delay closings

On March 23—the day of her scheduled closing and move—Smith got a call from her agent telling her there was a potential snag.

“Around 9:10 a.m. I got a text from my real estate agent: ‘Hi! Are you home?’ I texted ‘Yes! Movers are here, hope this is still a go?’ with a nervous emoji. Two seconds later I got a call,” says Smith. “My buyer’s buyer in California had a tax issue with their property and needed some form from the IRS. The IRS said due to the coronavirus, they were delayed in response times, and were not able to get the letter in time for their scheduled Monday closing.”

This snafu led to Smith and her buyer amending their contract to extend the closing by two weeks, and making it official with an electronic signature. So now she was set to close on April 7, but still moving on March 23.

Although Smith’s move went smoothly, more paperwork delays caused her closing to hit another snag, bumping her closing date to April 10. But the paperwork was procured faster than planned, and the closing date moved again, to April 8.

“Apparently my buyers were really frustrated, as they were homeless and all of their stuff was on a moving truck with no house,” says Smith. “At this point I was just trying not to freak out.”

Inside a ‘drive-through’ closing

When closing day finally arrived on April 8, Smith braced for more changes—and they arrived right on schedule. For instance, while most home closings involve all parties gathering to sign paperwork, the coronavirus had upended this tradition, too.

“Because of the crisis, real estate agents were not supposed to attend closings in order to minimize exposure to all parties,” says Smith. Furthermore, “the governor of Colorado had also passed a law saying that virtual closings were acceptable at this time. But my lender, like many, said no way. Lenders were trying to be careful about who they loaned money to.”

So, rather than conduct a virtual closing, Smith ended up doing the next best thing: a “drive-through closing.” She was told to drive to the title company’s parking lot, then call the title agent inside, who popped out of her office building wearing a mask and walked toward Smith’s car.

Smith (who was wearing a bandana mask) cracked her car window to hand her ID to the title agent. After verifying Smith’s ID, the title agent handed Smith a clipboard with the paperwork and a blue pen in a plastic bag.

The title agent told Smith to take her time and sign the highlighted sections of the paperwork. If Smith had any questions, she was urged to call her real estate agent, who was also keeping an eye on her phone in case there were any issues.

“It took me about 10 minutes to sign everything,” Smith says. “Then the title agent came back and reviewed everything while I remained in my car, and while we chatted about how strange this all was. The agent admitted they’d only been doing ‘drive-through’ closings for a week. The reason the title company required someone to show up in person was they wanted the seller’s account information of where they’d wire the money delivered in person—I assume that’s to avoid mistakes for the transfer of such a large amount.”

Despite this strange setting, the money was immediately wired to Smith and her sale was finally finished.

Now settled in at her sister’s home, Smith is going to hold off on looking for a condo for now.

“I asked my real estate agent when we could start hunting; she said maybe June,” says Smith. “But I am getting my mortgage pre-approval paperwork completed this week, so I am ready to buy when we are up and running again.”

[divider_top]

Home-Showing Tips That’ll Persuade Buyers to Bite

By: Angela Colley

Having an open house is the exciting part of selling a home, but let’s face it: It takes a lot of work to get there.

Once you’ve made repairs, chosen a Realtor®, real estate agent or listing agent, and then decided on an asking price, your home is almost ready for market—but first, how about a little primping and polishing? Or maybe a lot of primping and polishing. This is where an open house for potential buyers comes into play.

Showing tips for a successful open house—and a big sale

After all, you want your home and your open house to make a great first impression on buyers—and that’s where we can help. To host an open house and show your home in the best possible light, it’s worth listening to these savvy seller tips and step-by-step advice.

Stash your stuff during an open house

When you’re just living in your home, a bit of clutter is business as usual—but for a buyer, a mess can spell doom.

You know the drill: video game cartridges in the bathroom, toolbox in the kitchen, tuxedo shirt inexplicably in the garage. But know this as a first-time seller: All this disorder can be deadly during an open house.

That’s because clutter can make even spacious real estate look cramped and dirty, distracting from a home’s assets and putting off potential buyers, says Darbi McGlone, a Realtor with Jim Talbot Real Estate in Baton Rouge, LA.

Smart open house ideas include paring down your belongings, by going room by room and boxing up anything you haven’t used or worn in at least six months.

What’s that you say? There’s nothing you’re not using? Try anyway—it’s important for an open house. You’ll probably be surprised by the stuff you won’t miss. (Bonus: You’ll have less to move later.)

One area where you’ll want to be merciless as you stage for an open house is your kitchen counter. Remove everything but your coffee maker, so that people (and potential buyers) will think, “Wow, such a huge kitchen!”

And to allow home buyers to really envision themselves living there, you’ll also want to depersonalize by removing items such as the framed photos, report cards on the fridge, or your kid’s collection of “Star Wars” snow globes. But don’t declutter by just stuffing those things in the closet.

“Closets often end up being the dumping ground to store all the clutter that was visible,” says McGlone. “Which is never good, because closet space is an important buying consideration. You want potential owners to be able to see the true amount of space in each closet (and buyers are going to open every door to peek inside and gauge how much real estate is in there).”

Instead, real estate agents say that it’s a good idea for sellers to stack boxes neatly in the attic, basement, or, best of all, a storage facility. The perceived extra space you add to your home could be worth the rental cost and then some.

Stage to sell for a successful open house

These days, home staging is all the rage in the real estate world: On average, staged homes sell 88% faster and for a whopping 20% more than ones where home sellers just kept their furnishings in place.

And while you can hire a professional stager for your open house, you can also cop a few of their tricks and tips for free—and maybe snag a buyer fast.

For instance, hanging curtain rods higher can give the illusion of taller ceilings. Well-placed mirrors can make rooms appear bigger and brighter during an open house.

Want to go the extra step as you prepare for your upcoming open house? Paint your walls white, layer in neutrals, then add pops of color with pillows or a cashmere throw on the couch, for a cozy glow.

“I always think to move the furniture toward the walls during an open house to make it feel like there is more space,” McGlone says. Push furniture out and away from each other to open up floor space, but be careful to keep window space clear.

Conceal flaws whenever possible; if the view from a window isn’t great, put up sheer curtains so that the light comes in but the scenery stays hidden, say real estate agents.

And as with all your possessions, think “Less is more,” although stagers do sometimes strategically add furniture (such as a cozy reading chair in a bedroom corner) to give a future buyer the illusion of more space. Go figure!

Boost curb appeal at your open house

Finally, it’s time to take a hard look at the outside of your house, the way a neighbor or buyer might do. After all, that’s the first thing buyers will see when they pull up, so you’ve got to work that curb appeal hard.

For starters, take a good hard look at the paint. If it’s looking dull or dingy, try power-washing first.

You can rent a power washer from most home improvement stores; a good wash can take off layers of dirt that make your home look shabby.

Most professional paint jobs come with a 25-year warranty, and if you’re long past that, it may be time for a new coat.

At the very least, slapping a coat of paint on your front door will give you the most bang for your buck—because that’s what buyers will see up close before they even knock.

Door paint aside, your yard also needs to be in order. Overgrown trees can make a home seem dark and creepy. If your trees are touching any part of your house, you should scale them back. If your front lawn is lacking in shrubs and flowers, add some.

Even in winter, you can find hardy plants, such as evergreen boxwoods and holly bushes.

Also, make sure your lawn is mowed, and if you have a pool that’s open, keep it sparkling (your neighbors appreciate a pretty lawn and pool too).

“A dirty pool will remind people how much upkeep there is, even if they asked for a pool,” McGlone says.

Once you’ve gotten your home looking fantastic both inside and out, it’s time to break out your camera and spread the news (on social media, too) that it’s up for grabs: with an eye-catching real estate ad for your open-house flyers or open-house signs, of course!

[divider_top]

Should I Sell My House? 6 Signs It’s Time to Move

time to sell

By Stephanie Booth

Ten years. That’s the average amount of time a homeowner stays in a house before a sale, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Think that sounds shockingly short? Or way too long? The fact is, people’s reasons for selling their homes are different, as are their time frames.

Still, there are some common reasons—financial and emotional—that lead us to sell our current home and move on to the next one. And you don’t always see the reasons coming.

Read on for some telltale signs it’s time to start looking for the next home and packing your bags (and when you should settle in for the long haul).

1. You know the seller’s market is booming and you want in

Let’s start with one of the most obvious reasons to sell: You’re eager to make a profit on your property.

You need to gauge the key indicators of a strong real estate market, explains Allen Shayanfekr, CEO and co-founder of Sharestates, an online real estate investment company.

A few signals: The price per square foot for real estate in your area is increasing, the amount of time properties stay on the market is decreasing, and you’ve noticed an uptick in brokerage activity in your neighborhood. (If you’re situated in an especially hot neighborhood, you might even get a letter or a knock on the door from a listing agent who wants to help you get in on the action.)

“If any of these are true in your area,” Shayanfekr says, “think about selling up.”

2. Because your neighbors just got what for their house?

Check online real estate listings in your neighborhood, and pay attention to the “recently sold” flyers in your mailbox to keep track of comparable home prices in your area.

“If other houses on your street with the same bedroom/bathroom count [as yours] are selling for a price that you’d be more than satisfied with, it might be time to move on,” Shayanfekr says.

Another sign of a hot home sales market is the relationship of asking prices to sale prices. If home buyers are making offers fast—for as much or more than sellers are asking—it’s a seller’s market. A buyer may offer you a sales price you can’t refuse, too.

3. You’re sick of feeling financially stressed

Not everyone sells their real estate in order to pad their bank account. Some homeowners underestimated their ongoing housing costs and simply sell to ease their mortgage burden, or to cash in their equity and use it for other purposes.

If your property taxes or mortgage pa

yments have become unmanageable, the best recourse may be to sell and find another home that’s more affordable, Shayanfekr says. Selling your home is better than struggling with a big mortgage loan, and possibly risking foreclosure.

To breathe easy, your monthly housing costs, including your mortgage interest, principal, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and HOA or condo fees if applicable, shouldn’t exceed 28% of your gross monthly income.

Before you sell your home to reduce your monthly living expenses, make sure you can find another home to rent or buy in your price range, and that you can qualify for a loan at current interest rates when you do.

4. You’ve grown—but your home hasn’t

The starter home you moved into when you were expecting your first child isn’t necessarily the house you need now that you have three preteens and a capybara. It’s bittersweet to give up the memories you’ve made in your home, but if your living quarters are causing you stress rather than comfort, “take the leap and sell up,” Shayanfekr says.

Death, serious illness, divorce—these are all emotionally wrought experiences that may warrant a need for change. Relocation is another factor. But let’s not overthink things.

“Maybe you’re just tired of the same old, same old, and it’s time for a change of scenery,” says Bruce Ailion, a Realtor® and attorney for Re/Max Town and Country in Atlanta.

5. You’re over ‘high maintenance’

The average homeowner shells out $2,000 a year for maintenance services, according to a recent report by Bankrate. Not repairs, mind you, but scheduled services such as landscaping, snow removal, septic service, private trash and recycling, and housecleaning.

Sick of watching these payments steadily drip out of your bank account? You could sell, and buy some lower-maintenance real estate such as a condo or a new-build property, Shayanfekr says. You might even want to try renting, and let a landlord worry about leaky pipes and other property hassles.

6. You’ve put at least 5 years into the relationship

“If you sell too soon—assuming you have a mortgage—you haven’t really built up any equity in the home beyond the down payment,” points out Adam Jusko, founder and CEO of personal finance portal ProudMoney.com. “In the beginning, your mortgage payments are almost completely interest payments.”

In fact, unless the housing market is seriously booming (see above), you might lose money when you sell. You might even owe more than you can get from your house after closing costs.

Remember: Selling isn’t free: You’ll have to shell out to cover all of the costs associated with hiring a real estate agent, closing, and, of course, purchasing another home.

That’s why Jusko recommends staying put for at least five years, unless you have an urgent need to move. In addition to everything else, moving too quickly sends potential buyers a bad message.

“Buyers don’t feel good when it appears you are selling too soon,” Jusko cautions. “What was wrong with the house? Why are you leaving so fast? Are the basement walls about to collapse? Are the neighbors selling drugs and shooting fireworks at your house? Buyers can dream up all kinds of negative scenarios when a seller hasn’t owned the home for very long.”

Another reason you may not want to sell is if you don’t meet the qualifications to avoid paying capital gains tax on your profit from a home sale. Generally, you can exclude the gain from the sale of your home if you owned and lived in the home for two of the past five years. A sale before the two-year mark, if you don’t meet any of the exceptions, could be a costly mistake. By the time you pay capital gains tax, you won’t have as much equity left as you’d planned.

But beware of snap decisions

Of course, there are no promises that selling will be better for you in the long run. Take your time deciding if you should sell, and then study the local home sales market, with the help of your real estate agent, before you price your home. If you underprice your home, a buyer may snatch it up too cheaply. If you overprice it, the right buyer may pass it by.

Jusko and his wife lived in Chicago in the early 2000s, when home values were through the roof. After about three years, they sold at a 40% profit. But soon after moving to the Cleveland area, where they’re both originally from, home values plummeted.

“For many years, our home was worth less than what we paid,” Jusko says. “It’s only now—more than 15 years later—that I believe we could sell for more than our purchase price. And don’t get me started on how much money we’ve put into the house over that time.”

Selling your home is, above all, a personal decision. Do what will help you live—if not happily ever after—happily for now.

[divider_top]