Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Entertaining made easy, even for a busy Santa

It's here - the most wonderful time of the year. But if you are anything like me you are committed three times over this holiday season with barely the time to recover before doing it all over the following day.

My children have come to expect a house decked out for the holidays. And really, I have to agree, it just isn't the holiday season without cedar boughs, a beribboned wreath, Eggnog and tins of Butter Tarts. 

We kick off the holiday season with my annual Santa's Breakfast. This festive brunch has expanded from a fun way to say "thanks" to clients to a day celebrating with friends and family as well. It looks like a big undertaking but "shhhhhh" it's really easy.  Over the years, I've learned some tricks that make event giving as easy as gift giving. 

JACKSON ENJOYING SANTA


and BREAKFAST 


 and CHECKING THE LIST


RENT THE PARTY PLACE: I love house parties more than anyone but when it comes to hosting over 100 people I relax and rent the local community center. Most rental halls have the tables, chairs, a small kitchen and help. Their fees are nominal and I love that I am supporting the local parks department. The fact that I don't need to worry about cleaning my house and doing those honey-do jobs weeks leading up to the party is just a bonus! 

PICK YOUR COLORS AND DON'T DEVIATE: I pick my color theme and run with it, really, I don't look back. I use those colors in my invitations, rented linens, on custom labels, everywhere I can. This gives the event a consistent look and pulls it together. I go for big impact with colorful linens and simple centerpieces. This saves time setting up the day of the event. 

I purchase the poinsettias from a local charity fundraiser
KEEP THE MENU SIMPLE: I start baking a month in advance which leaves lots of time the week before. I have found some great muffin, quick bread, coffee cake and cookie recipes that freeze beautifully. When I bake, I make extra for Christmas gift giving and Christmas morning. I put my husband to work flipping pancakes and somehow, by the grace of god, it all works. 


INVEST IN SERVING PIECES: My parents are too good to me. Over the years they have given me serving pieces that make entertaining a crowd easy. The 36 cup Faberware coffee urn (on sale right now at Macy's) is a must as is a functional glass dispenser - perfect for OJ, mixed drinks or flavored water.


MUSIC: I keep a play list labeled on my iPod for the event. Throughout the year I add songs so all I have to do is hit 'play' the day of the event. 

REMEMBER THE SPECIAL TOUCHES: People love special touches and guests will remember the little extras. Personalizing events for your guests makes everything so much more special and really, isn't that why we are doing all this?

Santa is ready to listen

FINALLY, I DON'T LET MY TINSEL GET TANGLED IN A BUNCH (at least I try): I have found there are just too many things that can go wrong, so I prepare for success but if the hot cocoa burns or the pancakes stick I let it slide. It is a party after all.

Here are a few extra photos from this year's Santa's Breakfast taken by Mischelle, Jackson's mom! Thank you Mischelle, I always forget to take photos.   




 






A hungry crew waiting for pancakes!
My husband is such a good sport

 







Wishing you Joyeux Noel!

la chasse au bonheur

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Come to the table

This is the time of year when a house is no longer four walls and a floor but rather a home filled with family and friends, laughter and joy!

As we gather together this week to celebrate our many blessings the dining room table becomes the focal point of our celebrations. In figuring out what my table will look like this year I ran across some great ideas that I wanted to share.

Simple Centerpieces


Pacific Fabrics and JoAnn's Fabric both sell burlap by the yard


A ring of oasis cut to fit over the candlestick allows you to easily tuck roses, berries and greens to create these sweet arrangements. The Flower Lady on Eastlake sells Oasis or ask at your local grovery store's floral department.

Vegetables, or fruits, in your color pallette make for a simple and interesting centerpiece.
 
Clean and modern. You can add names to the rocks for place cards or write words of thanks.

While hunting last month with my brother in Northern Idaho, we ran across perfect birch bark in the woods but unfortunately I didn't stop to pick any up.

So simple, it's nutty!

Simple place card ideas and links

Local art supply stores sell these cute little round push pins.

They say you can run fabric through your printer...I might try it with my extra burlap.





Wishing you and yours many blessings this Thanksgiving!

Until next time.

la chasse au bonheur

Monday, October 24, 2011

In the Dog House

This past weekend the Seattle Animal Shelter held its first annual "Raining Cats and Dogs" auction benefit. Due to a number of stars misaligning I had to miss this event but heard wonderful reviews from my husband.

Two of our three dogs (I know, we are certifiable) were adopted from rescue shelters so we know first hand the work these shelters are doing. And of course, in this economic downturn, how hard their budgets and donations have been hit. So this posting is for all the dedicated volunteers and workers who are doing god's work with these homeless animals. 

A few years ago I listed a home with five, yes, five Jack Russell Terriers. The funny thing was, when I was there, I never saw them. When I asked the owners where they were she pointed to a clever little cabinet in their family room. That clever cabinet opened to the back yard where a much larger dog house was smartly tucked away.

This benefit and our growing family of pets got me thinking about dog houses. I decided to research what's available, on the market so to speak! Man was I surprised to see the number of designer houses available. The economy has not hit this market....it seems as if the real estate market is doing just fine in the dog house arena.

There is no end to the architectural styles available. I found a dog house to match just about any style of home.

Tres Modern




Going Green



Traditional and Classic



Cottage Chic


yes, there's even an RV available

It seems as if the concept of the dog house has been rethought from the ground up. For those dedicated to spoiling their amicus fidelis protectio fortis (faithful friend, strong protector) the options are endless. 

I am off to walk the dogs, until next week,

la chasse au bonheur

Friday, September 23, 2011

pay now or pay later

but either way, you pay! I am referring to home maintenance, specifically those jobs that land on your honey do list but often fall off having never been done turning your home into this.


This recent market correction, while excruciatingly painful, has had some positive impacts on our local real estate market. 

Most notably are the changes to lending practices and the return to proper qualification for loan approval. In the past, as prices soared at a staggering rate, buyers cobbled together all their resources to make home ownership work, and lenders were all too eager to approve a higher loan amount with higher monthly mortgage payments. This left the new owners with little reserves and a lower monthly cash flow to make household repairs and to properly maintain their home. 

As the market corrected down along with the general economy, household cash flow was squeezed even more making dollars even tighter for home repairs and maintenance.

As a result, homeowners turned a blind eye to replacing the rusting hot water tank, repairing peeling window sills, and leveling sinking foundations, not to mention repairing leaning fences, uneven walk-ways and replacing fallen roof tiles. 

A friend in college purchased a shiny new BMW for her graduation present. She had worked three jobs her senior year to come up with the down payment. As she headed off to her first career job and a monthly salary that barely covered her rent, car payment and top ramen (sound familiar?), I asked her how she planned to maintain such a high performance car. Her reply, "I'll skip every other maintenance check-up. That'll save me a ton and I'm sure the car doesn't need them all". You guessed it, within the year her engine seized and she spent thousands to fix it.

So back to the lending practices. Now that the lenders' hands are being forced and buyers are being approved for home loans they can actually afford, buyers now have the monthly cash flow to create a reserve for household repairs. 

I see hundreds of homes every month and I attend close to forty inspections each year. I find it shocking to see how few homes have been maintained with pride. Don't get me wrong, I see many shiny new kitchens  and baths and lots of fresh paint. But what I do not see maintained are those critical working parts of the house that, ahem, are not all that sexy, but man are they necessary for a healthy home. I am talking about furnances, water heaters, foundation, decks, etc.

Perhaps the best way to think of it is what we hear from our dentist each year - preventative maintenance. That's right, brush twice daily, floss and get your annual check-ups. The same is true for your home. Preventative maintenance is the key to maintaining the value of your home. 

Notice I said maintaining the value of your home and not increasing the value of your home. Many sellers think that because they have maintained their home that their home's value has increased. I am sorry to burst the bubble, but that is not true. Think of it like a credit score. When you pay on time and fulfill your credit obligations then your credit scores are higher. But there is no accounting with the Credit Bureaus for paying your taxes - it's assumed that a responsible adult will pay their taxes. Home maintenance is the same. It is assumed you will maintain the home. If you don't keep up with the maintenance however, your home will depreciate in value. I know, life's simply unfair. 

Which leads me to the other fall out of our corrected market - the buyer's attitude. No longer will they buy a home, unless it is priced accordingly, with deferred maintenance. Buyers are demanding more, which is forcing sellers to put a higher quality product on the market. Not bad!

In addition, as sellers weigh the cost of trading up versus renovating, many are taking hammer and nails to their home to make it better....reinvesting in their investment is what I call it. But anyway you look at it, it's good. We see more quality on the market than in the past. 

So, keep your home painted, sealed and water tight. Clean your roof yearly and repair any missing tiles right away, check your foundation periodically. Maintain the home's systems by vacuuming out heating ducts, servicing the furnace and hot water tanks. Repair any water issues immediately.  Prune trees and shrubs as needed to stay away from the roof and power lines.  Have your chimney checked every few years by a mason and make sure there are rain caps on the chimney tops. Keep dirt away from any wood on the house. 

If you would like a copy (available in hard copy and virtual) of my Household Maintenance Check List and/or my 2011 Resource Guide with over 190 qualified vendors, pop me an email. 

Until next week,


la chasse au bonheur

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

So you have a low offer

What's the next move?

I look at buying and selling real estate as a fine dance, with either party leading and following through carefully orchestrated steps. The problem is, if you don't know the moves then chances are good your feet will be stepped on.

In a market that finds buyers and sellers so far apart, negotiating a sale can be challenging. There's no question every market is different. Take the east coast. A seller doesn't have to be anywhere near market value to get an offer. Buyers have no problem offering 20, 30, or even 50% below the listed price.

But here in the mellow Pacific Northwest it is much different. Homes need to be priced within 5-8% of market value in order to receive an offer. For close to twelve years I  have been helping clients buy and sell real estate and I still can't explain it....not completely. I do think it has something to do with how nice we all are here. When I ask buyers why they just won't make a offer when they think the property is worth significantly less they say, "I just don't want to offend anyone".  In my experience, most sellers and their agents would rather have an offer to work with, than nothing at all. Why? Because the start to any completed transaction is receiving an offer.

What do you do if the offer is so far below list price as to be unacceptable? What is the best way to respond?

Here's my advice:

Before you ignore any low offer consider that a proper counteroffer and solid negotiations could turn that low offer into a sale. And that is the goal, right?

So we know the name of the dance is 'Sell this house' - now what are the moves?

Check your emotions
A low purchase offer is not a personal affront - it means that someone wants to purchase your home. Unless the offer is ridiculously low, it deserves a response. Remain calm, do not take it personally, and discuss with your agent the many ways you can respond that will keep the other party engaged in the process.

Counter the offer
Unless you have multiple offers, the best response is to counter the low offer with the price and terms you are willing to accept. I encourage sellers to think about it this way - "what is the very lowest price you will accept to walk away from this home?" I call it the 'walk away price'.  Counter in the best faith and lay it all on the line. With a buyer who brings you such a low offer, there is a good chance they won't be going back and forth too many times. Buyers often offer a low price because they're nervous about overpaying or they simply want to test your limits. Push back but push back at the lowest price you are willing to sell.

Know that a counteroffer signals that you're willing to negotiate. One strategy for your counteroffer is to lower your price, but remove any concessions such as seller assistance with closing costs, or features such as kitchen appliances that make more sense for you to take with you, like a new washer and dryer, or perhaps those custom drapes in the living room.

Consider the terms
Price is paramount for most buyers and sellers, but it's not the only deal point. A low purchase offer might make sense if the contingencies are reasonable, the closing date meets your needs, and the buyer is pre-approved for a mortgage. Consider what terms you might change in a counteroffer to make the deal work for both parties. Sometimes shortening closing saves you a mortgage payment. Or perhaps you need to stay longer? Changing the closing date may make the sale much smoother on you.

Review your comps
Ask your agent to prepare a list of recent comps. If these new comps are at lower prices, you may need to lower your list price to match them if you want to sell.

Consider the buyer's comps
Buyers sometimes attach comps to a low offer to showcase their position. Take a look at these comps. Are the homes similar to yours? If so, then your asking price might be unrealistic. If not, then ask your agent to attach 'your' comps to the counteroffer. This goes a long way in keeping the negotiations factual, not personal.

Listen to your agent
That's right! Chances are this is not their first rodeo (a phrase used by a client when describing me). Most experienced agents have negotiated their fair share of transactions and have seen all kinds of offers come together. Most agents worth their salt are deal makers. I have been told that I have put together some deals that seemed doomed at the start. So listen to what your agent is saying. If you need more concrete data than ask for it. But whatever you do, take some time to mull it all over, take your emotions out of the deal, and respond from an informed and educated position.

Until next week,

la chasse au bonheur







Wednesday, August 17, 2011

from sea to shining sea

Recent news of our nation's economic situation, congress, the stock market and of course, the real estate market, including the all time low mortgage rates, warrants a hard hitting post. But I just don't have it in me. It's still the lazy days of summer and a fluff piece seems more appropriate.

I have been working on my annual client appreciation calendar. Whether concentrating on entertaining ideas, gardens, interior or exterior spaces, this calendar is always a hit.

This year I wanted to showcase the varied styles of homes that dot our nation, from sea to shining sea. The following photos are homes that while are absolutely lovely, did not make the final cut for my 2012 calendar.

I hope you enjoy this short tour across our great nation and that it helps remind us that we are united under the red, white and blue.
January - A Cedar Home rings in the New Year in Utah
February - Winter in a Pueblo Style Home in New Mexico
March - A Cattle Ranch on the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana
April - Spring Break in Miami
May - Memorial Day in Maine
June - Summer in the City, Brooklyn Brownstones to be exact
 July - Happy Birthday America from a Federal Style home in Iowa
August - Mint Juleps on the Veranda of this Louisiana Antebellum 
September - Welcoming Fall in this California Bungalow
October - Vermont Farmhouse in Fall Foliage
November - Giving Thanks in an Oregon Farmhouse
December - Down for a long Winter's nap in Illinois
If you would like a 2012 Calendar just pop me an email and I will get one off to you this coming November.

Until next week,

la chasse au bonheur