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photo courtesey of Ikea Many Ikea cabinets, like these, are ready for same-day pickup. Talk about a fast remodel tip!

Thoughts and Reviews on Ikea Cabinets?

Anyone out there have an Ikea Kitchen? I am about to start a kitchen renovation that requires knocking down one entire wall and opening up two others. I need all new appliances, floors, countertops and cabinetry. And I have a month to get it done.

(Please tell me you think it's doable.)

I personally love the look of Ikea kitchens. Plus, the cabinetry is available right away AND they're incredibly affordable. But it's the quality I'm concerned about. Anyone have the cabinets for more than 5 years? How do they look?

My contractor thinks Ikea kitchens could reduce my resale value in terms of prestige. But I hear Consumer Reports rated them within Top 5 kitchen cabinets on the market.

So please share your experience with this brand. Tell me what product line you have, what color (I specifically need feedback on the white ones), and how well they are holding up.

Getting Dents and Scratches out of Hardwood Floors

A few months ago I went to the National Home Builder's Show with the Renovate Your World team to get a feel for new products on the market. While there, we met with the group from Lumber Liquidators to see their hardwood flooring displays. I didn't need new floors at the time, but was in the process of selling my condo with three years of wear and tear on its beautiful oak hardwoods. There were definitely some scratches and dents I needed to fix -- or cover up with carpet.

I happen to mention this to John Jakob, the Director of Merchandising, who was showing me around. And he turns to me and says he has a trick for my knicks -- wax paper and an iron!

I have to tell you that I just tried his technique and it's pretty good (see the before and after pic)! Here's what you do:
1. Warm up your iron to high heat.
2. Tear off a piece of wax paper to cover your dent. Place over the scratch.
3. Place a towel over the paper and start ironing the towel. Use pressure and go over it a few times.
4. Lift up towel and paper and see how it looks. Mine is definitely less noticeable.

Do you have any tricks for your hardwood floors? Getting out stains, scratches -- or preventing them? Tell us!

FSBO: Sold!

If you've read my posts about selling my Boston condo as a "For Sale by Owner" property, you know my husband and I a.) are crazy and b.) have been working our butts off for the past few months. But the good news is that we just signed the P+S (purchase and sale) agreement!!
No, we didn't get our ideal price. In fact, we went $5,000 below what we thought was our "bottom line." I guess it wasn't -- because when the buyer said he was walking away, we basically threw ourselves at him to come back.
We still sold for a little more than we bought it for three years ago and in the end, I'm not sure an agent would have been able to get us anything higher. Who knows? But here are some things we did to finally get it sold:
  • We paid $140 to a real estate group that offered an "Entry-Only" deal. We still did the open house work. They got it on MLS and in some of the local real estate papers. We also had to commit to paying a Buyer's Broker fee. We chose 2% (rather than 2.5%). Note: After we did this, we were showing the house to brokers and clients every day.

  • Paid this firm $75 extra to host a "Broker Open House." Also a huge help since brokers were able to see the property and visualize if it worked for their clients. We provided lunch.

  • Since street parking seemed to be a big concern for buyers, we signed up for a garage parking spot down the street from us and offered a year of free parking to buyers. It cost us about $2,000.

  • My husband researched and found the email addresses of almost every real estate agent in the city of Boston (I warned you that we're insane!). Every week he sent them a reminder of our property and our open house information. He definitely received a few "TAKE ME OFF YOUR LIST" responses, but one time the same guy who replied "Unsubscribe" also asked if he could come by with a client.

It was a lot of work and I'm so glad it's over. I'm eight months pregnant and we are now able to look for a new place to live. This process is also incredibly stressful, but it's a better problem to have.
Anyone else ever sell a house FSBO? Any tricks you used to lure buyers?

Tips for Child-Proofing Windows

I've always known the story behind Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven." His four year old son was running around a New York City apartment and ran straight out an open window, and died. Hearing the song has always made me sad, but there was something in the back of my head saying "how could they let that happen?"

Now I have a two year old who loves standing against and looking out our third floor apartment windows (when they're closed). And with the weather getting nicer, I can see how an accident like the Claptons' could take a second. I can't even listen to that song anymore without tears running down my face.

This week is Window Safety Week and Simonton Windows® has sent the following tips for all age groups:

Tips for Toddlers and Young Children
• Windows and young children are not a good combination. Make sure to keep furniture (especially cribs), or anything children can climb, away from windows.
• Children should never be left unsupervised around open windows.
• Play areas in a child’s room should be focused either in the center of the room or against a solid wall, rather than near windows.
• For ventilation in rooms with toddlers and young children, open the top sash of Double Hung windows so that children cannot reach them while keeping the bottom sash (closest to the floor) closed.

Tips for Teenagers
• Don’t allow teenagers to paint shut or nail shut windows. Every window in the home must be operational in case of an emergency.
• Decorative lights should never be nailed or attached to window frames in bedrooms.
• Never allow teenagers to crawl out of windows to sit on the roof.
• Don’t permit children or teenagers to “pop out” screens to hang flags or other items out of the window.

Tips for Young Adults
• Outdoor decorative lights should never be nailed to window frames or hung over windows that might need to be opened in case of an emergency exit.
• Once you become a homeowner, make sure to plant shrubs, grass and place “soft landscaping” items like bark and mulch directly underneath windows to help lessen the impact should someone fall out the window.
• If you’re ordering new windows, make sure to order them with multi-point locks to help provide more protection against intruders and make it more difficult for curious young children to operate.
• When painting the exterior of the home, do not “paint shut” the windows.
• Teach children that window screens are there only to keep insects out of the home. They cannot sustain the weight of a child or pet pushing against them.

Tips for Older Adults
• As people get older, the act of pushing up to open a Double or Single Hung window may be more stressful on the back and hands. Easy-to-operate windows, such as Casement windows require no lifting action. The crank-out system with a side-hinged sash opens outward for ventilation.
• For those senior homeowners looking for a smaller crank-out window style option, consider Awning and Hopper windows. With Awning windows, the sash is hinged on top and the window cranks out and upward. In a Hopper window, the sash is located on the bottom and the window easily cranks outwards.
• Slider windows are also a great option for older adults. Slider windows glide effortlessly from side to side, so there’s less strain on arms or back muscles to operate them. Slider windows provide great views with either 2- or 3-lite configurations and allow for maximum ventilation in the home.
• Make certain to purchase windows with sturdy, easy-to-operate locks to secure windows in the home.
• For added security, consider ordering impact-resistant glass in windows.
• For ease of maintenance, order windows with vinyl frames. With vinyl window frames you never need to worry about upkeep such as the scraping and repainting aspects you have with wood frames. Vinyl windows resist rotting, decay, insect infestations and provide years of effortless beauty in the home.

Where Do You Search for Real Estate?

My recent FSBO experience has me wondering if I'm targeting the right websites to advertise my house.
A co-worker tells me some outrageous stat that 90% of home buyers go to Realtor.com, which of course, I can't be on because I don't have a Realtor. But I don't know anyone who goes to this site. When I've asked friends, everyone says Zillow.com, Redfin.com, Craigslist.org and/or a local newspaper's website.

So help me, which websites (and other sources) do you go to to look for real estate?

A lucky sunny day to show off our roof deck with a view of the Boston skyline.

FSBO: The Waiting Game

The good news: Our Open House was successful! It was a beautiful, sunny day (as shown in the picture) and we had over a dozen couples come to see our place. My husband hosted the hour and a half showing and said there was tons of great feedback. One woman didn't realize that he was the owner and turned to him saying, "Wow, these people are neat freaks!" Ha! If she really knew me. Another couple thought our pictures online were so good, they came to get staging tips because they are looking to put their condo on the market FSBO as well. But the most promising was one duo who asked a zillion questions and another who took measurements for their home office and was overheard discussing their offer.

The bad news: No offer yet. Today is a day I wish I had a Realtor. I would love to get some industry gossip from a seasoned pro who can call their agent friends and find out what potential buyers are thinking. But I'll try to be patient. Last time we did this, it was the quiet couple who didn't ask one question who made the first -- and winning -- offer.

Oh, my husband was able to ask a few people where they found our listing and most said Boston.com, which is the site we figured would be the biggest bang for our buck. This was great news, but we're still contemplating getting into MLS. This would mean getting listed on the MLS-only and national websites, but also committing to paying a 2.5% broker fee (about $17,000). Right now, we're sitting tight with our plan. But I'm curious, where do you do your real estate research: local or national websites? And which ones?

FSBO: Getting Started

As I mentioned yesterday, my husband and I have decided to sell our Boston condo ourselves. We have a little bit of experience (and a lot of luck) doing this with one other property, and depending on how this sale goes, we're about to think we're pretty amazing -- or pretty dumb.

We have worked on getting our house ready since January 2nd. Mostly, this is because we have a one year old boy who doesn't sit still and likes to empty boxes once we've filled them. So, we limited our work to the two hours every Saturday and Sunday when he takes a nap. It's been a long two months but our first open house is this Saturday. Here is what we've done to prepare:

1. Start Packing: The general idea is that people spend less than 5 minutes in your house and you need to make the best first impression. Lived in, but spacious is key, and the trick to create more space is to pack up your excess belongings. "Stagers" do this for a living. But the general idea is to make your house look like a Pottery Barn catalog. This means:

  • Clean off all bookshelves: Yes, we packed all our books and cookbooks, and now have a framed map on one shelf and a plant on another. That's it. Clean and spacious. Our goal is to leave very little time for people to imagine our place with their things in it. Our clutter just delays that process.

  • Clear out pantries, cabinets and drawers: If you're like me, you're a little bit of a hoarder when it comes to pantry items. This is the time to purge. People will look in your cabinets and pantries and if it's crowded, they come away thinking you don't have enough space. Pack up the things you can live without for the next few months.

  • Pack half your clothes: It's time to clear out your closets. Get out the suitcases and put away all the clothes and coats you won't need for the next few months. Give the things you haven't worn in a year to charity. And hopefully you'll be left with the illusion of a larger closet.

2. Find Storage: For us this meant renting space. We called a lot of places to get quotes and found that one of those pods was our best option. This is the service that drops an ugly box in front of your house and then picks it up when you're done packing. Once you've moved they deliver it to your new house.

3. Make Appointments: We needed our rugs cleaned, our couch steamed, our apartment scrubbed, and our paint touched up. We booked the appointments a month in advance to be sure we'd have everything as clean as possible the week of our first open house.

4. Do Market Research: Search online for what houses in your area are listing -- and selling at. Good sites for this are Redfin.com, Zillow.com and your local newspaper's website, like Boston.com. Get a price in mind and move to the next step.

5. Call in Reserves: Invite at least three real estate agents over to your house for an interview. Without telling them that you're strongly considering FSBO, there are two main goals at this meeting: 1. Find someone you'll use if selling yourself doesn't work out. 2. Let them tell you what they think your house is worth.

6. Hire a Lawyer: You'll want someone who has handled FSBO sales before since they will be handling the Purchase and Sale agreements and a lot of the negotiations. It's a little more work for them, so I suggest settling on a flat-fee from the start.

7. Take Pictures: Stage your house as if it's your open house. Position flowers, clear countertops of toasters and coffee makers, and start snapping. Be sure to capture your house in prime daylight with all your blinds open.

8. Make Show Sheets: Use your pictures to create fliers or pamphlets to pass out at the open house. You'll also want to write up your house description and highlights. Make 50-100 color copies to pass out, so keep them short. This is something agents do as part of their service and one of the few extra things you'll be paying for as FSBO (since you'd probably be cleaning and staging yourself anyway).

9. Design a Sign: I'm not the hugest fan of For Sale by Owner signs. The red might be eye-catching, but I think it loudly says "I'm Cheap!" I would rather state my frugality with a classy sign, so I designed my own at BuildaSign.com. I used a navy and green motif. Be sure to list an email address, phone number or website where people can get more information.

10. Buy Ads: Figure out which websites you want to be featured on and how much each costs. FSBO does not end up in MLS (which goes everywhere), so hopefully you have a local city website with a great R/E section. We chose Boston.com ($150 for 8 weeks), a local real estate only newspaper ($350), Zillow.com ($10) and Craigslist.org (free). We also created a "Postlet," for $10 but I'm still unsure what that does. Be sure to list your Open House info and an email address or phone number where people can call you for viewings.

11. Set up for the Open House: At this point, you've done everything you can. Now it's time to sit and wait for people to come to you. Good luck! Be warned: Agents will ask you if you're open to working with Buyer's Agents. This is up to you, but often means you will be giving the agent 2.5% of your sale price. What we're planning to say is that we're open to all offers and will be accepting the best one. Sometimes a broker ends up as part of the equation. But hopefully the buyer pays over asking price and handles this commission themselves. We can dream.

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