Watch your TV placement when staging a home. Real estate professionals faced with the issue are divided over where in the living room a TV should go—or even whether it belongs there at all.
Hayley Westoff, a Compass real estate professional, told Apartment Therapy that if the TV setup feels wrong, buyers could be turned off by the space. After all, buyers want to visualize themselves living inside a home, and watching TV is a big part of many people’s lives.
On the other hand, Allison Chiaramonte, a Warburg Realty agent in New York, doesn’t see the presence of a TV as a critical matter when staging a space. A TV shouldn’t be the focus, she says.
“While some think keeping a television in the living room at an open house is crucial, others say it takes away from the taste of the home,” Antonia DeBianchi writes on Apartment Therapy. “It’s a problem that sellers don’t seem to talk about, and its solution isn’t the clearest, either.”
When a room is awkwardly laid out, it could add to the challenges. For example, above a fireplace is a common spot for TVs, but if a mantle is too high or the fireplace is on the diagonal, its placement could feel unrealistic or awkward.
“Rearranging the furniture, and putting either a TV or mirror where the TV would go … really helps the buyer visualize what that setup would look like,” Westoff told Apartment Therapy.
Also, if the TV is outdated, many real estate pros suggest removing it. “If you have a really old, thick, crazy TV, it definitely makes people wonder why it’s not upgraded and wonder what else in the house might not be upgraded,” Chiaramonte told Apartment Therapy.
The best compromise: Have the TV blend in. If it’s mounted in a cabinet, close the cabinet if you can. If sellers have a giant TV, try to tone it down by tuning it to soundless images showing nature or peaceful scenery so it shows more as art.
The more-affluent folks moving to California don’t U-haul.
Record numbers of residents have been leaving California in recent years,but in 2020 the growth of remote work, the lure of cheaper housing and a summer of unprecedented wildfires has accelerated the trend. As a result, the moving business in San Francisco’s Bay Area is booming, but the surge has come with its own set of problems.
Moving trucks are hard to find, prices to get out of the Bay are being pushed sky-high, and the supply side of the market – with high starting costs and because movers are required to obtain state licenses – has been slow to respond.
The shortage has created openings for an underground moving economy complete with scammers who take advantage of desperate California escapees, left without easy options.
Moving companies across the Bay have said they were booked up months in advance through the summer. It continued through the autumn – in typical years, the industry sees a lull after kids start school. A spokesperson at Gentle Giant moving company says it performed three times the number of moves out of San Francisco in September 2020 than a year earlier.
Even at U-Haul stores – the rental truck retailer with the largest fleet across the US – trucks are in short supply. With so many trucks departing the Bay Area, the exodus has left an imbalance of returning vehicles. The shortage has sharply driven up truck prices for one-way trips out of town.
“Two households are moving out of California for every one moving in,” says Mark Perry, a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan who has been studying the US migration market over the past few years. “U-Haul is pricing it based on the imbalance they see and they now have a shortage of trucks in San Francisco.”
U-Haul changes truck prices regularly, but Perry has noted the pattern over time. Checking online recently, he noted that trucks going from Phoenix to San Francisco were only $311, but going the other direction it cost $2,500 – roughly eight times more. He checked cities in other top destinations for Californians, including Texas, Washington and Nevada, and found all outbound rates to be exponentially higher than inbound ones.
The high demand and high prices have created perfect market conditions for exploitation. Scammers are cashing in.
“There are hold-hostage cases where a mover will take possession of the belongings after agreeing to a price with the consumer, and then they will not give the belongings back unless the consumer pays well over and above what the agreed-to price was,” says Yeaphana La Marr, the acting chief of the California bureau of household goods and services, which regulates the moving industry. “Some just take the belongings and they are never seen again by the people who contracted for a move.”
The agency is also trying to crack down on new movers who are entering the booming market without licensing or insurance required by the state. Legitimate movers fill out an application, pass a test, undergo a background check and put up a $500 filing fee to obtain a license, and they have to prove they have the necessary resources and coverage to operate.
“Unlicensed activity is a major problem in the household moving industry and it creates a lot of consumer harm,” says La Marr. It is an accident-prone industry and customers could find themselves on the hook if they unknowingly hire a mover that doesn’t have liability insurance or workers’ compensation.
The underground moving economy is hard to track, but La Marr says the bureau does investigations based on tips from the public or other agencies, including local law enforcement. The bureau has seen a 74% surge in consumer complaintsabout movers since last year. “We don’t know whether Covid is a contributor or there are other factors, such as increased knowledge of the bureau,” she adds, explaining that her agency only assumed administration of moving industry regulations in 2018.
When an unauthorized mover is caught, the state will work with them to get licensed but some offenders are hit with citations, fines and, in some cases, jail time.
“For the more egregious violators, we would do a [district attorney] referral and that would be tried criminally,” La Marr says, adding that violators can be charged up to $10,000 per move. “The penalties are really high. So it is shocking how large the underground economy is.”
Unlicensed movers also make things more difficult for legitimate movers, who are now competing with low-balled offers from less experienced workers and more flexible timelines.
Bad neighbors aren’t just annoying. They can cost you real money when it’s time to sell your home.
A nearby property’s overgrown yard, peeling paint and clutter can easily knock 5% to 10% off the sale price of your home, said Joe Magdziarz, the president of the Appraisal Institute and a real-estate appraiser with 40 years of experience. A true disaster — a junky home in deplorable condition and a yard packed with debris — could cost you even more.
Even when real-estate markets were in better shape, messy neighbors caused problems. Kamie Dowen put her Harrisburg, Pa., home on the market five years ago but had problems selling because of a nearby property.
Toys littered the lawn, even in winter. The porch sported “a pumpkin that was two years past due,” Dowen said. A garage door, damaged after the owner ran into it with his car, was never fixed.
Frustration can lead to guerrilla tactics. Jeanine Brydges Watt of Windsor, Ontario, got so fed up with her neighbors’ yard that she waited until they went on vacation, then mowed the lawn and threw out the trash, which included old diapers and split-open bags of garbage.
Watt said she wasn’t worried about being arrested for trespassing. The messy neighbors were renters and probably thought their landlord had done it, she said. And Watt’s other neighbors were thrilled.
“If they had been asked, none of the other neighbors would have ratted me out,” she said. “They were happy we cleaned up the eyesore.”
You may not be willing to risk arrest, but there are other tactics you can try if a neighbor’s property is hurting your home’s value.
If your neighbor is elderly or disabled and simply not able to maintain her property, for example, you may be able to help her find free or low-cost services that can help. Habitat for Humanity’s A Brush with Kindness program offers exterior painting, landscaping, weatherstripping and minor repairs to low-income homeowners who can’t care for their homes because of age, disability or family circumstances.
You can check with the Eldercare Locator to find other resources for home maintenance in your area.
If your neighbor is simply messy or indifferent, you might want to try these strategies:
Start with a conversation. If your neighbor is a drug dealer, owns dangerous dogs or is otherwise belligerent, you won’t want to risk knocking on the door. Otherwise, approaching your neighbor in a friendly, low-key manner can be a good start.
The script could go something like this: “We’re going to be putting our house on the market soon, and we really want it to show well. But we’re afraid that people who don’t know what nice neighbors you are might be a little put off by the condition of your yard right now. It’s so hard to keep up with everything, isn’t it? We’d be more than happy to help you tidy up a bit if you’d like.”
Find the owner. If your sloppy neighbors are tenants and the direct approach doesn’t work, or if the home is vacant, you’ll want to track down the owner. A real-estate agent can help you, or you can visit your county property-tax assessor’s office.
Then send a letter to the landlord or lender, complete with photos of the problem, and request action in getting the property cleaned up, says Ilyce Glink, the author of several books on real estate. If you get no response, consider giving the contact information to other fed-up neighbors and ask that they send letters as well.
“If a property has been foreclosed on, you can complain — loudly — to the lender to take care of the property. Go all the way to the top of the food chain, to the chief executive officer, and ask for assistance,” Glink said. “You should also complain to your state mortgage regulator as well to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, if it is a big national bank.”
Enlist help. If you have a homeowners association, make a formal request that it take action. If it’s reluctant and you run out of other options, you can sue the homeowners association in small-claims court, Glink said.
Before you do that, however, try to enlist local government officials. Your city or county public-health department may be able to step in, particularly if trash or other unsanitary conditions are attracting vermin. The city or county building department should be notified of other obvious hazards, such as holes in a roof or a collapsing porch.
If you can’t get local agencies to help, appeal to your elected representatives at the city or county level. Sometimes these folks can kick the bureaucracy into gear. A real-estate attorney can tell you if you can pursue a lawsuit against the neighbor, but typically these are expensive and can drag on for months if not years, making them impractical for most people trying to sell a home.
Practice mitigation. If your best efforts don’t work, a privacy fence or tall hedge, if allowed, could help screen the problem. Otherwise, do what you can to make your own property shine and divert attention from the neighbor’s mess.
Peter Anderson of Shakopee, Minn., who runs the Bible Money Matters blog, said he had a “fun time” selling a town house a few years ago because of neighbors across the street who had garbage in their driveway, a truck up on blocks “and a hundred wind chimes hanging from their garage.”
“Despite that, it was a nice enough neighborhood,” Anderson said, “and we finally were able to sell because we priced our home realistically, we staged our house to make it look like a model, painted, fixed up any problems and just made the home a very nice place to be.”
If you think you have it bad, well, it could be worse:
The time-honored tradition of buyers hoping to sway sellers with a personal introductory letter came to an abrupt halt this month with the new FHDA form (see snip above).
Not only has it been customary to submit a letter of introduction with your offer, but if you don’t, the listing agent usually asks about the buyers. I had one last week say, “Tell me their story” which probably wasn’t meant to gather information to use against them, but who knows?
Paragraph 8A mentions ‘actual or unconscious bias’. Agents who are stuck in their ways may not realize how this information is being digested.
It’s not just for agents either. Paragraph 7 specifically includes sellers and landlords too.
Nobody reads these forms so the practice will probably continue for a while, which means that those who DON’T include a love letter could be hurting their chances if other agents keep doing it.
Even though the market is blazing, many soon-to-be home sellers are going to wait until the Spring Selling Season of 2021….and take their time getting their house ready. Because it will be hard to tell if it will be a frenzy or a glut until April or May, it won’t be a bad idea to prepare now, and be ready to go early in the season, just in case.
October would be a good time to clear out some stuff!
In the first edition of The Last Move, these were the two companies mentioned to help you:
If you need to donate your belongings to a good cause, then Rancho Coastal Humane Society is a good option because they will bring a big truck to your house and carry out most everything:
Hauling the remainder, including mattresses, can be done by Junk King in Carlsbad.
Here are a few others:
The San Diego Habitat for Humanity ReStores are home improvement discount stores with a simple premise: by selling new and gently used donated goods, we can fund the construction of new Habitat homes in San Diego County. Here is my article about their Carlsbad store:
We have had good luck with Facebook Marketplace too. You can either go onto the general page and take your chances, or get into one of the closed local groups where you can probably count on having a large audience of bargain shoppers nearby.
We have a seller who has had great luck with the mobile app OfferUp, especially when giving away stuff for free. People respond within minutes, and come to your house to pick up stuff from your driveway:
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