Protect your valuables when selling your home

Preparing your home sale is more than just deep cleaning, decluttering, and minor repairs. Prepare and plan how to protect your valuables during the sale.

protect your valuables
Protect Your Valuables when Selling Your Home (infographic from Elders Real Estate realestatesevenhillsnews.com.au)

I often write about preparing your home for a sale.  Of course, that preparation is to make your home sell quicker and get the best price.  However, preparing your home is more than just deep cleaning, decluttering, and minor repairs.  Preparing and planning how to protect your valuables will not only keep the prying eyes of nosey home buyers focused on your home’s spaces – it can also thwart would-be criminals.

Homes for sale are prime targets for thieves, and your home is not an exemption.  Don’t make it easy for them.  It may sound obvious – use common sense.  However, you’d be surprised how many home sellers don’t lock up their valuables.  In my many years of selling homes, I have seen how home sellers can be careless by leaving credit cards, cash, medications, and financial statements on counters and desks.  There was one instance where the owner left their gun cabinet open!

And theft doesn’t only occur during open houses.  Your possessions can go missing at any time.  Anyone can have “sticky fingers,” even rogue real estate agents (agents have been arrested for stealing from a listed home).  A Washington State agent was caught stealing prescription medications last year.  Another agent faced criminal charges for stealing jewelry.

Additionally, criminals take the opportunity of an open house (and even virtual tours) to stake out your home; only to strike at a later time. So think about laying out your expensive china just to stage your home.

Yes, thieves are looking for anything of value in your home.  Besides jewelry and cash, they will take anything they think they can personally use or sell.  Medications are a commodity to thieves; and anything with personal identification can be used in ID theft.

I am often asked, “Should I install surveillance cameras?”  A few years ago, a home with surveillance cameras was not typical.  Seeing the cameras often turned off home buyers because they felt “creeped out” and didn’t like the idea of being watched.  However, in today’s cyber-world, where surveillance cameras are nearly everywhere, surveillance cameras have become increasingly commonplace.  Before you go out and install cameras in your home, you need to understand the legal implications by consulting with an attorney or privacy legal expert.

Don’t just put away your jewelry and other items of importance, lock them up!  If you’re not one of the millions of home owners who has a safe or strongbox, there are other options such as storing items in other locations (safe deposit boxes; someone else’s home; and even a rented storage unit).

Burglar alarms are a mixed blessing.  Besides deterring crime, real estate agents often set them off; which can be a nuisance and possibly result in a fine for you (more info on false alarms and fines can be obtained from the Montgomery County Police False Alarm Reduction Section).

If you haven’t already deployed crime deterrents in and around your home, consider using interior and exterior lighting.  Exterior lights can help identify night time visitors, as well as possibly deterring would-be thieves.  Consider using timers or motion sensing lights.   Motion sensing lights will activate the light when people approach your home.

Would-be thieves casing your home look for easy entry points.  Lock up your ladders and secure your shed so as not giving criminals the tools to get inside.

And although you may be told that lockboxes are fool proof, only allowing agents in your home – it’s the user that is the weak link.  Careless agents sometimes leave doors unlocked or open, or do not fully close the lockbox, leaving the key free to be used by any passerby.

Your agent can be part of your protection plan.  Consider having your agent accompany all showings.  Additionally, have more than one person during an open house.  This can not only help protect your valuables, but the direct agent contact may be influential in your home sale.

For more information on protecting your valuables, check out Montgomery County Police’s brochure “Home Security, Safety Tips to Keep Your Home and Valuables Safe.”

Copyright © Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Sign ban or boosting Realtors?

Sign ban or free speech
Sign ban or Free speech? (infographic from newseum.org)

A special thanks to the Montgomery County Council whose proposed sign ban will undoubtedly help local real estate agents.  Last week’s testimony about a zoning text amendment relating to signs and their location illuminated their place in the community as well as reminded us they are a form of free speech.

Of course the unintended consequences of a blanket sign ban in the right of way is yet to be determined.  However, it would certainly make it more difficult for county residents to sell their home by owner (without an agent), as well as home buyers wanting to go it alone without an agent.  The resulting lack of information that is currently provided by these signs would certainly compel consumers to hire a local Realtor®. Thank you.

Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors® (GCAAR) president Peg Mancuso testified: “From a real estate perspective, signs are an inevitable means of communicating with Montgomery County residents both new and existing. The proposed sign ban would be a tremendous inconvenience to community members who are in need of information for short term related events, such as open houses.”  She mentioned a Realtor® best practice (which most agents adhere to) of placement of open house signs just prior to and removal immediately after the event.  She also pointed out that many home owners are unaware how their properties relate to the right of way, as well as being uneducated about the permitting process of signs.  These logistical and educational issues would make such a sign ban difficult for home owners to advertise their homes.

GCAAR vice president and COO Bill Highsmith, Jr reminded those at the hearing that GCAAR not only represents local real estate professionals, but is also a voice for home owners on property rights issues.  He asserted that signs in the right of way have historically been a means of business advertisement, expression, and community engagement.  He stated that “…publically visible signs are an important method of communication for county residents, Realtors® and the broader real estate market.”

Mr. Highsmith stated, “For Realtors® and the clients they serve, these signs are a particularly important way to communicate information about open houses and homes that are for sale.  While you may believe the internet is the primary way folks learn about opportunities to purchase a home, real estate signs are vital to let the broader public know about the real estate market in surrounding neighborhoods.”  He cited anecdotal evidence that many home buyers have bought the home they initially spotted from a sign.  He asserted that many consumers begin the home buying process by visiting open houses (especially first time home buyers).  And additionally suggested that these signs allow more county residents to become home buyers.

Allen Myers of the Maplewood Citizen Association (MCA) stated that these signs are useful to inform their residents of association meetings.  Collection of permitting fees for temporary signs would be cost prohibitive, possibly adding additional financial burden to the members of the association.  He asserted that the MCA believes that the signs are Constitutionally protected form of free speech.

It is reasonable to believe that many people agree seeing “shoe repair” signs are annoying.  And it is also reasonable to surmise that improperly planted signs can become a hazard.  Nonetheless, the takeaway for anyone attending last week’s hearing should be that these signs are beneficial to the community.

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Home marketing may be limited due to agents’ personal wealth strategy

From stagingworkstoronto.ca

If you ask a real estate agent about their home sale strategy, you may get a sanctimonious presentation of the best way to sell a house. However, if you question why they advocate specific procedures over others, chances are they will answer “experience.” Even in the face of an abundance of research, many continue to hold on to old and outdated beliefs about how to sell a house. Furthermore, consider that a real estate agent’s strategy to sell your home may not necessarily benefit your bottom line.

The latest study by Allen, Cadena, Rutherford & Rutherford (2015. Effects of real estate brokers’ marketing strategies: Public open houses, broker open houses, MLS virtual tours, and MLS photographs. The Journal of Real Estate Research, 37(3), 343-369) is the most recent extension of home sale strategy research. The study reinforces the outcomes of some strategies, while shedding light on others; and asks a compelling question about agent motives.

The study looked at home sale price, time on market, and the likelihood of a sale in relation to: broker open houses, public open houses, MLS photos, and MLS virtual tours. The results indicated that all four tactics positively influence home sale price. Additionally, conducting public open houses and having MLS photos have a positive influence on time on market. However, there is little evidence that having more than six MLS photos increases that positive effect. Surprisingly, MLS virtual tours and conducting broker open houses have a negative influence on time on market. The authors conclude that as a package all four strategies may be worthwhile to consider when home sale price is the goal, even though the time on market may be slightly extended.

However, if your goal is a successful home sale, you may consider another strategy. The study concluded that the probability of your home sale success increases when you have broker open houses, MLS virtual tours, and eight or more MLS photographs. The study found that public open houses actually decrease the probability of a successful home sale.

In light of these findings about home sale price and success of sale, the authors rhetorically ask: “Why do all sellers/brokers not use these marketing strategies in every transaction effort?” They propose that, “Perhaps the answer is that brokers follow a wealth maximization strategy that may result in an agency problem with sellers.”

It should come as no surprise that there are agents who have a “wealth maximization strategy” for themselves, and place their own needs before their client’s. However, the authors’ suggestion about agent motives could be problematic with respect to the National Association of Realtors® Code of Ethics (realtor.org). For example, Standard of Practice 11-2 indicates that, “The obligations of the Code of Ethics… shall be interpreted and applied in accordance with the standards of competence and practice which clients and the public reasonably require to protect their rights and interests considering the complexity of the transaction, the availability of expert assistance, and, where the Realtor® is an agent or subagent, the obligations of a fiduciary.”

If you’re selling your home, one takeaway you might have from this study is that you should exercise due diligence when choosing your listing agent. Consider discussing the sales strategy, and getting it in writing.   Additionally, protect yourself by ensuring that your listing agreement can be terminated without penalty and within a reasonable amount of time.

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The open house – still important when selling a home

home for saleHave you wondered how the open house tradition evolved? Earlier this year, Realtor.com detailed its history. Apparently, the first recorded open house was over one hundred years ago and described as “open for inspection.”  The inspection was held over days or weeks allowing home buyers to inspect the home’s structure, layout, and features. It wasn’t until the 1950’s when the more familiar format and term “open house” took hold (Rachel Stults, A Brief History of Opening Our Homes to Total Strangers (aka the Open House); realtor.com; April 21st, 2015).

home for sale
from HouseHunt.com

Transformation of the open house can be gauged along with licensing, sales and cultural trends. If you were selling your home one hundred years ago, having your home open to buyers for a week or two made sense because it allowed prospects to see what they were getting. In a time before licensed home inspectors, the internet and virtual tours; a week of inspection was an important selling tool.

Home buyers are once again taking the time to “inspect” homes through multiple visits; usually initiated at the open house. The internet has empowered buyers to be proactive, giving them the means to search on their own; often visiting open houses without an agent. Seeing a home virtually is just the first step, visiting the home logically follows. The visits give buyers the ability to view the home with their own eyes (not the camera’s); as well as being able to make the all important emotional connection – deciding if they can live in the home.

Regardless of what you hear about the effectiveness of the open house, it’s still an important sales tool. And if you’re planning on having one or several, there are a few important points to keep in mind:

Advertise.  You could say… “if you advertise they will come.” Most open house advertisements have moved away from the Sunday classified section to online real estate portals. I can tell you that when I ask visitors how they found out about the open house, the overwhelming answer is that they saw it advertised online. When setting up your online open house announcement, make sure that there is an enticing and brief description of the home to grab the buyer’s attention.

Make sure the advertised times for your open are accurate. More importantly, confirm your agent is at the home on time, if not early. A common faux-pas is not having anyone at the home when the open house is planned to begin. And unfortunately, a buyer left waiting to get in will more than not move on to the next open house.

Prepare. Organizing an open house offers the opportunity for you to focus on the details. No matter how much de-cluttering you have undertaken prior to listing your home, you can always tidy-up. Additionally, pay close attention to your home’s curb appeal, as it can be the difference between buyers entering the home or driving on.

Finally, make sure your agent is working the open house to sell your home. Agents know that many buyers visit open houses without an agent. And in the past, many agents advocated to have the opens not for the seller’s sake, but instead to build their buyer pipeline. Knowing this, the Maryland Real Estate Commission reminded listing agents a few years ago of their duty to their seller, clarifying their role at the open house.

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Preparing an open house for welcome and unwelcome visitors

by Dan Krell
© 2011
DanKrell.com

In a time when home buyers and their agents are increasingly using online services to search for homes, some question the value of holding an open house. However, holding an open house provides the opportunity for both welcome and unwelcome visitors to experience what your home has to offer.

Of course, the wanted visitors include home buyers and their real estate agents. The National Association of Realtors® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2010 (NAR, Washington, DC; Realtor.org) indicates that about 10% of home buyers in 2010 reported finding their home via an open house visit. And although the number of home buyers finding their home by means of visiting open houses has decreased from the 16% that reported in 2004, many home buyers reported that they use open houses as a means of information gathering. Of those home buyers who used the internet for their home search, 47% also visited open houses as an additional source of information.

Although preparing for an open house should not be too much work, since most of your preparation should have been completed prior to listing your home, time should be taken to offer your visitors a memorable home. No matter how much de-cluttering you have undertaken prior to listing your home, getting ready for an open house offers the opportunity to focus on the details.

Attention to the home’s curb appeal can make the difference between having home buyers driving by and having them stop to come inside. No amount of advertising can overcome a home with poor curb appeal; remember that your home’s exterior and yard is like the opening chapter of a story that should be engaging to home buyers.

When cleaning your home, look for trip hazards. Trip hazards can turn the promise of an open house into a potential disaster. Of course, visitors should be informed of home features that present trip hazards, such as irregular stairs and uneven floors. However, other trip hazards are sometimes created by the virtue of an open house: think twice before asking visitors to remove their shoes, as walking around in socks can be quite slippery on bare floors and stairs; new rugs should be secured so they do not slip from under your visitors’ feet.

Certainly cleaning and dusting the home is a given; but since home buyers often find strong odors a turn-off, consideration should be given to odors and their sources. Odors that emanate from such sources as pets, cooking, and even your cologne and perfumes can often linger throughout the day- and sometimes trigger an allergic reaction from a home buyer.

Now to the unwanted traffic: Besides cleaning your home, take precautions to protect your valuables and prescription medications. Every year there seems to be an outbreak of open house thievery somewhere in the country. Think twice before showing off your new flat screen or computer, or laying out the fine china for staging. Thieves can easily visit an open house to not only see what they can fit into their pockets, but to “take inventory” of your valuables for a later score when no one is home. And it’s not always jewelry and cash- some thieves look for prescription drugs that are easily pocketed during their visit.

Your Realtor® can assist you in making your open house successful; prepare equally for the welcome and unwelcomed guests.

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Comments are welcome. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of July 18, 2011. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2011 Dan Krell.