Making The Most Of Your Real Estate Agent

chalkI recently spoke with a man whose parents owned a residence in Boston. His parents were considering selling their home and he indicated that, once they made a decision, they would contact me. This approach is a great example of a missed opportunity. If his parents already have a relationship with an agent they trust, they have an excellent opportunity to get some high quality free advice and consultation. If his parents don’t have an agent, they can evaluate the agent’s services on a trial basis and possibly get free advice and consultation.

The greatest value of having a relationship with a real estate agent you can trust is that you can consult with him or her regarding major real estate decisions. For a seller, what decision is more important than the initial decision to sell? Even a seemingly simple situation can actually be quite complex. For example, suppose you are transferred to the west coast. Do you need the equity out of your home so you can purchase in California? Should you rent out there first? What are the implications of renting your home here? How solid is the current market and how confident are you that the real estate market will get better for sellers, stay the same, or get worse? And how does all of this factor in to your decision?

Consulting with an agent regarding your decision to sell reveals the ability of your agent to objectively analyze your situation and offer sound advice. A good agent with a consultative approach can assist in fully analyzing and synthesizing all the different factors to help you make a powerful choice that furthers your goals.

Many people, however, make these decisions without expert advice, because they are uncomfortable bringing in an agent to help them. This is understandable. They don’t have a real estate agent they can trust. Because agents work on commission, they naturally have a bias in favor of wanting you to sell. It is difficult for them to be completely objective in their analysis and advice. However, at some level, almost all professionals have a personal financial bias. It all comes down to trust. Can you trust that your real estate agent has enough integrity to keep your interests truly in mind and be as objective as possible?

Your agent’s trustworthiness will be put to the test by consulting with him or her regarding the decision to buy or sell. The primary piece of information that you probably need, if you are thinking of selling, is an accurate picture of the value of your home. Most agents offer this analysis without charge. Not surprisingly, the raw data is subject to interpretation and the final value is more art than science.  Agents are often overly optimistic about the value of your property. You want the home to be worth as much as possible, and the agent wants the business. An experienced agent, who understands the market, and is good with the numbers, is the starting point. Only an agent you trust, and one who really understands the value of a long term agent-client relationship, can give you a truly honest appraisal of your home’s value. If you already have an agent you trust then this information will be very valuable. If you are working with an agent who is new to you, vigilantly check your agent’s references and consider how much you trust the agent before making any decisions. If you feel that the agent has genuinely assisted you in the decision-making process, and there is a foundation of trust, even if you decide not to sell in the current market, you have found the right agent. {Please Comment Here}

Inspirational Design Meets the Accessibility Challenge

This week features my friend, guest blogger and fellow Rotarian,  Karl Damitz, Principal Architect and owner of FourFold Design.

Over the past 10 years of my professional practice working as an architect in and around Boston, some of my most challenging and rewarding projects have involved clients with physical disabilities. The integration of thoughtful design solutions that address the specific needs of a client with limited mobility can have a profound impact on his or her life.

The Americans with Disabilities Act has proven to be an important step in creating more equality for people with disabilities. The act mandates that all public buildings be designed for ease of use by persons with many kinds of disabilities. However, it has also created a stigma around accessible design. The design quality of many, if not most, public accessibility projects is very poor. When considering accessibility for a private residence, the design challenges are completely unique, with little relationship to the ADA guidelines that have been laid out for public work.

In residential design, the challenges of designing a space that meets these far more specific set of challenges and conditions very often means that traditional solutions and guidelines are ineffective. Products and standards that are marketed for accessibility uses are typically more clinical in nature and reflect a ‘hospital surplus’ aesthetic that has little relevance in the realm of residential design. For the residential market, a sterile and clinical renovation that simply addresses accessibility from a functional perspective could result in a reduction of property value and turn off potential buyers, ultimately limiting the pool of potential buyers.

The key to a successful residential design project that accommodates and supports a homeowners’ physical needs, while maintaining or increasing market value, is the integration of specific, design-focused solutions that emphasize the owners’ personality and style, rather than emphasizing their disability. A purely functional and prescriptive approach often results in a space that fails to engage the homeowner and, instead, becomes a constant reminder of their physical limitations. The true value of great design work—the key to a successful, accessible residential project—is to deliver a product that addresses the practical needs of the homeowner, without revealing or highlighting this need to the casual visitor.

This shower is barrier-free (no curb) and has a removable shower head whose anchor can double as a grab bar.

Achieving truly exceptional design in this arena requires a process that considers every component for its practical and aesthetic value. A ramp should no longer be viewed as a functional element that connects two different levels, but as part of the experience of moving through the house. It should fit comfortably and flow naturally.

In the end, the best design solutions for an accessible home must meet the functional design requirements of the project.  The most successful project is one that seamlessly integrates design solutions and emphasizes the identity and style of the homeowner far more than the disability that it has been designed to accommodate.

Learn more about FourFold Design.

{Please Comment Here}

Feng Shui – One Agent’s Perspective

A few weeks ago I was walking along Osborne Street near my home in Brookline. I looked up and noticed this large house facing me from the end of Osborne Street.

While the house itself looks great, I particularly noticed how amazing it felt to look down Osborne and see this magnificent house sitting handsomely at the end. It occurred to me that having one’s entrance looking down the street would be considered excellent Feng Shui. I remembered that the developers of the Mandarin Hotel and Residences in the Back Bay had, at great expense and at the last minute, situated the Hotel entrance to look down Fairfield Street in order to improve its Feng Shui.  They even had to move the street lights to make it all work. See this Boston.com article to read the full story.

Feng Shui, literally translated as “wind-water” is an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics  that uses various principles of energy, design, architecture, and other disciplines that work together to improve life. In the context of residential real estate, it is mostly an art related to improving design and function. It is not really about aesthetics (although aesthetics still play a role), but rather about energy and balance so that one’s life works better. In my experience selling homes, I have had clients with varying degrees of concern for and knowledge about how a potential home measures up according to Feng Shui principles. I have also had a couple of clients hire Feng Shui consultants to evaluate their potential home, and I hired one myself to suggest improvements to my last home. I have learned a few things in this process. These are NOT in any way any kind of basic principles but rather just some interesting odds and ends I have picked up.

  1. Real estate agents are generally not that happy when their clients want to evaluate a home’s Feng Shui. They often see it as just another obstacle that may have to be overcome. Fortunately, this is not my perspective.
  2. Rectangular construction is good.  Corners are good. Anything curvy can be problematic. The reasons for this are somewhat complicated and are related to energy and balance.
  3. When you are considering a condo or apartment on more than one floor you should be concerned if your upper floor is not situated entirely over your lower floor. A floor plan that falls into this category is known as the “Philly Duplex.”  These homes occupy half of one floor and then all of an adjacent floor.  The reason for this concern relates again to balance and also to healthy boundaries between your home and your neighbor’s.
  4. Bed placement is crucial. Make sure you place the bed so that you can see the entrance to the bedroom from the bed, but it is not directly in front of you. I did not adhere to this principle at one point and my bedroom always felt wrong – now I know why.
  5. Many, if not most, “problems” can be mitigated enough to alleviate major concerns without reconstruction or spending a great deal of money. You can vastly improve the Feng Shui of your home working with the right colors, proper furniture placement, plants, screens and mirrors, as well as just de-cluttering. There is also a huge amount of information out there and it is fairly easy to find and understand.

Do you have any good Feng Shui stories or principles you would like to share?
{Please Comment Here}

Tub/Shower Combo vs. the Walk-in Shower

As with my last post, this question may not be of immediate concern to you, but it is likely to come up sometime in the future if you are a homeowner.

If your bathroom needs remodeling or you are putting in an entirely new bathroom where there wasn’t one before, should you go with a walk-in shower or the tub/shower combination? I think the answer is clear: get rid of the existing tub (in the case of a remodel) and go for the walk-in shower. If you already have a tub somewhere else in your home, this decision is a ‘slam-dunk’. Why would you ever need more than one tub in your home?  In my experience of over 16 years in residential real estate (I actually do talk to people about these things), adults don’t take that many baths. Unless you have several very young children in your home who all need baths at the same time, don’t hesitate to convert one tub/shower combo to a walk-in shower.

The tougher question is what to do if you are renovating the only bathroom in your home and there is not enough space for both a walk-in shower and a tub. Here again, I think the walk-in shower is the answer.  Many people’s biggest concern is about resale. “If I don’t have a tub, won’t that hurt resale?” The answer is ‘no, you will lose some buyers, but you will gain more.’ Those people who just have to have a bathtub won’t buy your place, but the “wow factor” that your walk-in shower creates will substantially help your resale. Even those who thought they had to have a bathtub, may easily change their minds when they see your beautiful walk-in shower.

Why a walk-in shower is just better:

  1. More room in the shower generally.  The sloped walls and thick sides of most tubs make the actual floor space of a tub relatively small compared with a walk-in shower that occupies the same floor space.  With more floor space in the shower it is easier to make room for two!
  2. Tiled walk-ins can be fit into oddly shaped areas or areas too small for a tub.  If you take out your tub, you might be able to make room for a small walk-in shower and a new linen closet.
  3. They are easier and safer to get in and out of – no side wall to step over.
  4. Not as dangerous.  Cast iron, porcelain, and fiberglass tubs are slippery. Most walk-ins have tiled floors which are generally less slippery.  Look for tiles made out of materials that are known to be less slippery.
  5. They can easily be made to look great with glass doors and good tile work.  You can put glass doors on a tub, and nice tile as your tub surround, but it never looks as good as it does without the tub.
  6. Less expensive and a wider choice of great looking fixtures than the tub/shower combination fixtures.  As I noted in my last post, there is a wider choice of fixtures when the fixture doesn’t have to divert the water between the tub and the shower (tub/shower diverters).
  7. No shower curtain.  I know they make pretty ones but there is a big downside.  They are highly susceptible to mold, they don’t stay in place easily, and they just always seem to be in the way.

Tell me what you think!
{Please Comment Here}