What not to cook when your house is for sale

Agent tells of clients who walk into homes that reeked of last night’s dinner and walk right back out.

By Candy Sagon

Special to The Washington Post

Enlarge this photo 

No broccoli. No cabbage. No fish, eggs, curry or stinky takeout. Absolutely no burned popcorn.

And for heaven’s sake, no organ meats.

Those were some of things we were warned not to cook or eat in our house if we ever hoped to sell it.

My husband and I are one of the zillions of boomer couples hoping to downsize. With one kid finishing college and one already out and working, we decided that, iffy housing market or not, we wanted someplace smaller and closer to restaurants, shops and public transportation.

So we spent a year fixing up our four-bedroom home in Virginia. New bathrooms, updated kitchen, new paint, carpet, landscaping — and the removal of enough accumulated detritus to sink a small island.

Finally, there we were. A neat, clean, sparkling house that our real-estate agent told us must be camera-ready for potential customers every day. Every. Day. You probably know what a pain that is. Before leaving for work in the morning, we went through a six-page list of things we had to do. Make bed, hide pajamas, empty trash, Swiffer floor, squeegee shower, replace towels, wipe sinks, wipe counters, wipe mirrors, wipe windows.

But that was easy compared with dinnertime. “Try not to cook anything smelly,” our real-estate agent, Bernie Kagan, told us.

Kagan has sold real estate in Northern Virginia for 10 years. He told us he had had clients walk into homes that reeked of last night’s dinner and walk right back out.

“Strong smells from spicy food can be a deal-breaker,” he says. “To some people, it’s as bad as cigarette smoke or pet odors. They worry the smell is going to linger in the carpet or the paint.”

What about getting scented candles or potpourri or spraying air freshener, I wondered.

Kagan just laughed. “That doesn’t fool anyone. It’s just one more layer of odor on top of everything else. Makes people wonder what you’re trying to cover up.”

Actually, I should have known that. When we bought our first house from an elderly couple in Dallas 25 years ago, I remember smelling a sweet apple-cinnamon scent every time we visited. I foolishly thought, “Isn’t it nice how much the wife bakes.”

After they moved out, we realized they had been spraying that scent to cover up the moldering stench coming from a small closet.

So Lesson No. 1 about house prep: bad smell, no sell.

I told my husband he now had two choices for vegetables at dinner: salad and salad. OK, maybe green beans. But all the other vegetables we liked — artichokes, Broccolini, bok choy — were too smelly.

And fish could only be grilled. On the deck. As far away from the house as possible.

There would be no bringing home Thai takeout redolent with chilies, garlic, ginger and pungent fish sauce. No slow-cooking fragrant Indian lamb curry, wafting coriander, cumin, garlic and garam masala throughout the house. No steaming loaves of odoriferous garlic bread.

When my daughter and her boyfriend brought home onion-heavy burrito bowls from Chipotle one weekend, we had to open all the windows for hours.

Having a convenient excuse not to cook may sound like a good idea, but it rapidly lost its charm with us — to say nothing of costing more to eat out so often.

We really missed the fun and relaxation of cooking. Gone were the weekends trying new recipes, making aromatic family favorites or inviting friends over for a long, messy potluck.

Even with all the caveats, we did get to do some cooking. I was complaining to a friend about how careful we had to be in menu planning and she was incredulous. “You get to use your kitchen?” she asked.

She had her house professionally staged to sell it as quickly as possible, “and we’re grateful we’re allowed to have bare necessities in the kitchen,” she emailed me.

“If the stager learns we’ve been using her kitchen table and chairs, I think we forfeit the house,” she added, half-jokingly.

My friend reminded me, however, about the positive effect some aromas seem to have.

Several years ago, she and her husband had been unsuccessfully trying to sell their house in McLean, Va.

“Every fourth house in our development was for sale. In desperation, I tried the chocolate-chip-cookies-in-the-warm-oven suggestion. We got an offer not long after.”

So after the first contract fell through earlier this year and the house went back on the market, I bought some cookies at the supermarket and put them in a warm oven.

Didn’t even eat them; just let them spread their homey scent and then tossed them in the trash. (Hey, they made the trash smell better!)

Not sure whether it really helped or not, but a couple weeks later we had a deal.


Smelly tips

How to avoid losing a sale because your house reeks of last night’s dinner.Here are tips from home decorator Jennifer Schweikert, of Just My Style By JMS in Burke, Va., to keep your house smelling fresh, including what not to cook:

• Try to avoid cooking fatty, fried foods. “You may not smell the bacon you make every morning, but that heavy, greasy smell lingers and makes buyers worry about the home’s cleanliness.”

• Ban broccoli and cabbage. Cruciferous vegetables, which include Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, impart strong odors. Schweikert compares them to “really stinky athletic shoes.” Even worse than cooking broccoli, she says, was the time a client burned the broccoli she was cooking.

• Bake (or warm up) cookies in the oven an hour before an open house. “You don’t want to overwhelm people with the aroma, even if it is cookies, so don’t do it right before the open house starts.”

• Grind up some lemon quarters in your garbage disposal. It gets rid of any disposal odor and imparts a clean citrus scent.

• Take out the trash. “Meat wrappers left in the kitchen trash can go rancid quickly. I tell clients that any wrappers or food containers should be immediately taken to the outside garbage.”

If a strongly aromatic meal is unavoidable, try spraying Febreze or PureAyre, an odor eliminator sold in pet stores, Schweikert says. “Avoid air fresheners. They don’t really remove the odor; they just add an even stronger, artificial-smelling scent.”

Posted on June 1, 2012 at 6:10 pm
Georgia S. Perez | Posted in Uncategorized |

The Top 10 Things to do to Prepare for an Appraisal

I read this blog post from an appraiser I follow, Michael S. Bolton, and wanted to “reblog it”. I think these are great tips!

How To Prepare for a Home Appraisal

You’ve just signed all of the paperwork for your refinance, handed the loan officer the check for the appraisal, and now you’re wondering what is going to happen next. Good news-the appraisal inspection is painless, and usually takes anywhere from 30-60 minutes to complete. However, there are a few things that you should do to help the process move along as smooth as possible.

Preparing for the appraisal inspection:

  • Create a detailed list of the recent improvements, which should include the following: when completed, cost of the improvement, before and after pictures if available.
  • Make sure each room is accessible; the appraiser is required to inspect each room.
  • If there is a crawl space, this area will also have to be made accessible for inspection for an FHA appraisal.
  • Give the appraiser room to do their job. Errors are more likely to occur when the appraiser isn’t able to concentrate on their inspection.
  • Keep all pets restrained. I’ve been bitten twice by a dog, and once by a cat; the owners had assured me that their pets were friendly-not so much!
  • If you live within a development that has a homeowners association, have the name and phone number of the contact person available, along with a fee statement.
  • If the appraisal is for an FHA loan, then the area leading to the attic will have to be cleared and made accessible-the appraiser is required to make at least a head and shoulders inspection of the attic area.
  • Walk through each room and straighten up as if you were getting ready for company to visit. Appraisers are objective and can look past many things, however, the underwriter reviewing the appraisal photos may feel differently.
  • Complete any unfinished projects-most appraisals are done “as is”, and any projects that haven’t been completed, will have to be adjusted for within the appraisal report.
  • A copy of any agreements regarding easements (shared driveways and/or garages,etc.) should be made available.

Concerns about value:

For years I’ve been a big proponent of developing a relationship with a Realtor. I’m not talking about a real estate agent who happens to be a relative that lives half way across the state. I’m talking about one that does a lot of work within your neighborhood.

By building a relationship with a professional Realtor (this is all they do and they do it well), they’ll be able to give you great insight as to what’s happening within your neighborhood, and they would be glad to let you know what similar homes are selling for.


Once the appraisal is complete:

You have a right to a copy of your appraisal, so ask for it. If you should find any errors or have any concerns, talk with your loan originator. This is hard for borrowers to understand, being that they paid for the appraisal, but the mortgage company is the appraiser’s client, and they can’t discuss the appraisal with anyone else unless given permission.

Trying to understand an appraisal can be like trying to read the “Dead Sea Scrolls,” so ask questions and get clarification when needed-you paid for it!

If you have any questions, or Minnesota real estate appraisal needs (divorce, bankruptcy, tax appeal, or estate planning) please contact Michael at 612.599-2581, or use the form on the contact page.


Posted on January 5, 2012 at 1:00 am
Georgia S. Perez | Posted in Uncategorized |

11 must-knows about early mortgage payoff

This is a reprint from the Inman News – but a very worthwhile read! ~ Georgia

11 must-knows about early mortgage payoff

Seniors close to retirement can boost return on investment



<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-53077p1.html">Cash and clock image</a> via Shutterstock.com.

Q: Will I save money if I make my regular monthly payment early?

A: No, paying early merely allows the firm servicing your loan to earn interest on your money until the payment due date. This is not the case, however, if you have a simple interest mortgage (SIM). Because it accrues interest daily, the earlier you pay a SIM, the more interest you save.

Q: How do I know if my mortgage is “simple interest”?

A: Your note will say that interest accrues daily. Also, the monthly payment on a SIM varies month to month, so if your payment is always the same, you do not have a SIM.

Q: What is the best time of the month to make an extra payment?

A: If you include it with your regular payment and pay before the grace period, the extra payment will be applied to the current balance. If you make the extra payment after the grace period, it might be applied to the current balance, or it might not be credited until the following month, depending on the systems/policies of the servicer. You should find out where the servicer’s cutoff is for receiving credit in the current month.

Q: If I make a large extra payment, will my future scheduled payments be lower?

A: On a fixed-rate mortgage, the scheduled payment is not affected by the extra payment. You just pay down the balance faster. On an adjustable-rate mortgage, the scheduled payment remains the same until the next rate adjustment. At that point, the payment is recalculated based on the reduced balance, the new rate and the original term. So unless it is offset by a rate increase, the payment will drop.

Q: Would I be better off investing excess funds rather than paying down the loan balance?

A: Not very likely. Paying down the loan balance is an investment carrying a yield equal to the mortgage rate, with no default risk. There are no riskless investments today that pay a yield that even comes close.

Q: Would this apply to a high-tax-bracket borrower who deducts mortgage interest payments?

A: Yes, what matters is the after-tax yield on the mortgage repayment relative to other investments, and the tax-rate adjustment affects them equally.

Q: Isn’t it better to make extra payments in the early years of a mortgage when the regular payment goes largely to interest than in later years when most of it goes to principal?

A: No, the return on investment is not affected by where the mortgage is in its life cycle. While the allocation of scheduled payments between principal and interest changes over the life of the mortgage, extra payments go entirely to principal, no matter what stage of its life cycle the mortgage is in.

Q: Is there a way to escape a prepayment penalty clause?

A: No, the clause is there to protect the lender, or the ultimate investor if the loan was sold, which it probably was. Investors pay extra for the protection. I have never heard of a case where a prepayment penalty clause was voluntarily waived.

Q: Should seniors close to retirement pay off their mortgage?

A: It is a prudent move if they have the assets to do it, because the rate they are paying on their mortgage is higher than the return they can earn on assets having a high degree of safety. Paying off their mortgage also clears the way for a reverse mortgage in the future, should the need for additional income arise.

Q: If I have two mortgages, which do I pay down first?

A: In general, pay down the mortgage carrying the higher rate. However, if that mortgage is fixed-rate while the lower-rate mortgage is adjustable-rate, the decision must consider the possibility that the rate on the adjustable will increase in the future.

Q: Is a biweekly payment mortgage a painless way to pay it off sooner?

A: Making half the monthly payment every two weeks is not painless, because it requires an extra monthly payment every year, and the lender will charge you for the privilege. An alternative approach that is equally effective, and which is entirely within your control, is to increase your scheduled monthly payment by 1/12 of the payment.

The writer is professor of finance emeritus at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Comments and questions can be left atwww.mtgprofessor.com.


Posted on December 14, 2011 at 10:02 pm
Georgia S. Perez | Posted in Uncategorized |

Home Short Sales Rise in ‘Dramatic Shift’

From Bloomberg: U.S. home prices may get a boost from an unlikely source: a pickup in sales of properties in default before they reach the stage where they are repossessed by the bank and sold.

There has been a “dramatic shift” in banks’ willingness to sell a property for less than the mortgage balance to avoid foreclosing, said Ron Peltier, chairman and chief executive officer of HomeServices of America Inc., the second-biggest U.S. residential brokerage.

The transactions, known as short sales, typically change hands at a discount of about 20 percent to homes not in financial distress, compared with a 40 percent price cut for bank-owned homes, according to RealtyTrac Inc. Short sales jumped 19 percent in the second quarter from the prior three months while foreclosure sales were flat, the data seller said.

“Banks have become much more supportive of short sales,” said Peltier, whose Minneapolis-based company is a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. “That’s better for the lenders, who have smaller losses on a short sale, and it’s going to be better for homeowners, who won’t have as much psychological distress as a foreclosure.”

Distressed sales brokered by HomeServices used to be 60 percent foreclosures and 40 percent short sales, Peltier said in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. Now, that ratio has flipped, according to the CEO, whose company is second in size to NRT LLC, a unit of Realogy Corp. in Parsippany, New Jersey, that has about 700 offices under the Coldwell Banker brand.

Default Backlog

“There’s a huge backlog of homes in default that the banks want to get rid of,” said Thomas Popik, research director for Campbell Surveys in Washington. “They don’t want to be homeowners.”

Banks are being more agreeable to short sales as foreclosures slow following a yearlong probe of so-called robo- signing, or pushing through unverified default documents. Foreclosure filings have fallen for 12 straight months through September as banks work through a backlog of paperwork, RealtyTrac data show. About 6.4 million loans are either delinquent or in default, according to Lender Processing Services Inc., a mortgage software firm in Jacksonville,Florida.

Third of Transactions

Almost a third of all home transactions in August were foreclosures or short sales, according to the National Association of Realtors. While short sales were flat compared with a year earlier, the trade group’s count only includes deals completed with a broker, and short sales often are handled directly with lenders.

Banks are not only approving more short sales, they’re doing it in less time. In the second quarter, short-sale homes, also known as pre-foreclosures, sold an average 245 days after default, down from 256 days in the previous period, according to Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac. That reversed three straight quarters of increases.

The time frame remains a lot longer than traditional sales. In a normal transaction, a buyer bids on a home and gets a decision from its owners within days, if not hours. Getting a bank response to a short-sale offer can take two months or more.

“No matter how streamlined a short sale may be, it’s always going to be a frustrating experience,” Popik said. “Too many people are involved — investors, servicers, owners, real estate brokers, mortgage insurance companies.”

Second Liens

Half of troubled mortgages have so-called second liens, such as home equity lines of credit, according to the Treasury Department, so there may be two mortgage holders with a stake in a short sale. If the property has mortgage insurance, that company may be involved in the negotiations as well.

Because short sales typically are occupied soon after the deal, neighboring properties take less of a hit in values, according to Popik. Prices for distressed homes often are used by appraisers to gauge surrounding values, even if the nearby homes aren’t in default. Also, owners who voluntarily give up their homes tend to leave them in better shape than people who are evicted, reducing costs for banks, he said.

“Anytime a short sale can be substituted for a foreclosure, it’s going to prop up prices and it’s going to cut losses because it’s going to sell for more,” he said.

Worse Than Depression

Home values have declined 31 percent in the last five years, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index of values in 20 U.S. cities, as competition from foreclosures pressures sellers to lower their asking prices. The resulting crash was worse than the 27 percent plunge in values during the Depression, said Stan Humphries, chief economist of Zillow Inc., a Seattle-based real estate information company.

The drop in home values has pushed almost a quarter of U.S. mortgage borrowers underwater, meaning their debt is more than their homes are worth, according to a report by CoreLogic Inc. (CLGX), a real estate data company in Santa Ana, California. That so- called negative equity prevents owners from conducting traditional deals because they would have to pay the difference between their loan balance and the sale price.

Short-sellers can negotiate with banks to forgive the unpaid portion, according to Steve Beede, an attorney in Fair Oaks, California, who specializes in dealing with loans in default. Even if they succeed, a second-lien holder in most states can pursue people for mortgage-payoff shortfalls, he said.

Banks are starting to “get their act together” with short sales, said Cameron Novak, a broker with The Homefinding Center in Corona, California. The company handles about 15 of the transactions a month, he said.

“There’s been improvement in the last few months, and response times are getting to be a little quicker,” Cameron said in a telephone interview. “It’s about time.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kathleen M. Howley in Chicago atkmhowley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kara Wetzel at kwetzel@bloomberg.net.

Posted on November 16, 2011 at 4:15 am
Georgia S. Perez | Posted in Uncategorized |

Home values and mortgage costs today compared to 2006


A $400,000 house today would have cost $642,650 in September of 2006, a difference of $242,650.

A 30 year mortgage today is 4.13% and in September of 2006 it would have been 6.41%. The monthly payment today would be $1,939.76 and in September of  2006 it would have been $4,024.02, a difference of  $2,084.26 per month.

Over the term of the loan, the total savings for the house purchased today would be $750,333! If today’s buyer took out a 30 year loan at current rates, but made the same payments as the buyer in 2006 ($4,024.02), the loan would be paid off in 10 years and 2 months…. the buyer in 2006 would still have 15 years of payments.

What a difference 5 years makes!

Posted on October 20, 2011 at 1:13 am
Georgia S. Perez | Posted in Uncategorized |