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Dated cabinets? There’s a reface for that

by Thomas Makinney

Kitchens are considered the heart of the home, and they’re one of the first rooms buyers look at when they enter a home, and one of the rooms that sellers worry about the most.

Oak cabinets, laminate countertops, and beige tile can stop some buyers in their tracks. But before you rip everything out, consider if underneath that brown boringness there might be a diamond in the rough.

A kitchen remodel is one of the highest returns on investments that a homeowner can make, earning back an estimated 80-85% of cost at selling. But it is also considered one of the most expensive, particularly when replacing cabinets. Not anymore. There is a booming industry in mid-range kitchen remodels, which typically involve refacing or painting existing cabinets.

The dated mid-oak tone cabinets of 20 or 30 years ago are typically better constructed with higher-quality workmanship than the more cheaply manufactured cabinets found in many homes today. These solid-but-shabby cabinets are perfect for a re-do rather than replacement.

There are a few avenues to follow if you want to paint or reface your cabinets. The most cost-effective method involves removing doors and drawers, sanding and cleaning them, and applying fresh coats of paint or stain. Homeowners can also opt to apply a new veneer overlay on the existing cabinet. Or they can replace the doors and drawer-fronts altogether and get a new design (the crisp Shaker-style door is a popular choice today).

In addition to not replacing cabinetry or cabinetry frames, owners are also saving money by not changing the layout of the kitchen, which can incur costs from moving appliances (which typically involve gas, electrical, or plumbing). Even if you put in new appliances, you’re still way ahead budget-wise.

Just don’t forget the hardware. Fresh brushed nickel or rubbed bronze hardware make a world of difference when updating a kitchen.

When considering a mid-range remodel, it’s helpful to check with a local real estate professional who knows what the market in your area and price range can bear. You don’t want to put in professional-grade appliances and top-line granite in a home valued at $275,000. Similarly, you don’t want to skimp on finishing touches that buyers in an upper-level home will be expecting (such as pull-out pantry drawers, under-cabinet lighting, high-end granite, stone, or quartz countertops).

A real estate professional will also know what must-haves are in kitchens in your area. Certain areas have features that attract or repel buyers. Finally, if you’re remodeling a kitchen for resale value, be sure to keep the color scheme simply and neutral. Neutral doesn’t have to mean boring, just nothing too loud or busy.

If you’re interested in what a kitchen facelift might entail in your home, give us a call at (630) 441-5570 or reach out through our website, www.gmregroup.com

Image courtesy of moneypit.com.

Quick Checklist for House Showings

by Thomas Makinney

So your house is officially on the market. The hard work is done—you’ve decluttered knick-knacks, touched up paint, trimmed bushes, and made sure the roof isn’t leaking.  Now you need to keep it up, which is one of the more trying aspects of having your house on the market.

We recommend giving your house a thorough cleaning once a week—scrub kitchen and bathrooms, run the vacuum, sweep, and dust. Then get in the habit of tidying up each night so you can be prepared for any unexpected showings.

Sometimes you know days in advance about a showing, but sometimes you may get only an hour notice. If that’s the case, what do you need to do? Go through this checklist and make sure that if nothing else, these major items are checked off. It shouldn’t take long. Just tidy first then go room by room.

  1. Tidy the house
  • Walk through with a large laundry basket and quickly scoop up anything that can be put out of sight—extra shoes, backpacks, toys, unsorted mail, old magazines. Tuck the basket away or better yet, put it in the trunk of your car.
  • Quickly wipe down major pieces of furniture that sit in a sunbeam’s path.
  • Check if any rooms need a quick sweep or vacuum.
  1. Kitchen
    This usually takes the longest as it typically gets the most use and is prone to spills, crumbs, stickiness, and funky smells. So get going.
  • Clean out the sink: rinse dishes before putting in dishwasher to cut down on smells then wash and dry the actual sink to give it some sparkle. Tuck sponges or dishcloths under the sink.
  • Run the garbage disposal.
  • Wipe down kitchen counters and put away clutter. Slip the toaster into a cabinet and make sure syrup isn’t sticking to the counter. (Granite countertops in particular are notorious for hiding crumbs and stickiness, which is a good and bad thing.)
  • Wipe down all handles and faucets. Grab a disposable wipe or microfiber cloth and swipe over refrigerator, oven, microwave, and dishwasher handles. Check oven knobs too. Then really wipe down the faucet. If you have stainless steel appliances, wipe down any fingerprints.
  • Empty the trash and put in fresh bag. You don’t want buyers smelling last night’s dinner or leftover onion peels.
  • Tidy up pet bowls. If you have to leave food out, make sure it’s at least inside the bowl and not strewn around. Better yet, take it out of sight.
  • Sweep crumbs off floor and consider running a damp mop.
  1. Bathrooms
    These are the second dirtiest part of the house so head here next.
  • Put away most items on the counter.
  • Take your disposable wipe or damp microfiber cloth and wipe down counters and faucets. Rub off the old toothpaste and make sure hairs aren’t clinging to the sink.
  • Polish the mirror/s.
  • Wipe down toilet. (And make sure it is flushed. Can’t emphasize that enough.)
  • Empty trash.
  • See if the floor needs a quick sweep or wipe to remove hair and dust along baseboards.
  1. Bedrooms
  • Pick up dirty clothes and anything on floors.
  • Make the beds.
  • Empty trash if needed.
  1. Outside
  • Sweep or shovel front stoop and steps. Check for cobwebs on porch walls and light fixtures.
  • Shake out doormat.
  • If you have a glass door or any sliding glass doors, wipe down any fingerprints or animal nose prints.

A clean house shows best so take the time to make it shine. Here at The Gracik Makinney Group, we want our sellers to get the best deal in the least amount of time. To learn more, call us at (630) 441-5540 or reach out through our website, www.gmregroup.com.

 

 

Prepping To Put Your House on the Market? Read This First!

by Thomas Makinney

Are you thinking of listing your house this spring? Great idea! It’s the best time to sell a home—the days are longer, the sun brightens up rooms, and buyers are eager to get settled before a school year. But as you assess what to do before you put your house on the market, we’ve got a few tips.

1. Beware the DIY

Before you try upgrading the electrical yourself or finally rodding out your plumbing line, stop and consider calling a professional. The money you save could also be money you have to pay back when a home inspection uncovers aspects of the house that aren’t up to code, and buyers can often quickly pick out projects done in a shoddy manner.

2. Don’t over-improve

Most people know that kitchens and bathrooms get the best return on the investment, however, a complete/gutted kitchen overhaul will only get you a 62% ROI while a minor remodel (cabinet doors, new countertops, new or newer appliances) typically returns 81% of the investment. Also, keep in mind comparable homes. Buyers of mid-market houses don’t expect top-of-the-line appliances, and by putting them in, you may find yourself priced out of your key demographic.

3. Fun amenities don’t appeal to many buyers

For some buyers, a swimming pool is the ultimate luxury, but for others it’s a liability or just another thing to take care of.Bidets, wet bars, and themed rooms also fall into this category.

4. Bold walls and floors

A room painted jade green or bright red might add a pop of color to a house, but it also makes the space seem smaller and can prevent buyers from imagining their furniture. Consider painting rooms in a neutral white, gray, or beige before listing. The same concept applies to carpeting. That bright blue carpeting in the bedroom might look great with your drapes, and the checkered carpeting in the family room might be a fun conversation piece, but for a buyer, it’s just one more thing to replace.

5. Over-decorating

You may love Precious Moments figurines, dried flowers, or three layers of draperies, but buyers have trouble seeing behind the visual stimulation. A good rule of thumb is to let in as much natural light and as you can and declutter surfaces as much as possible so buyers get a sense of how the space flows. The same goes for walls—limit your artwork or framed photographs.

Finally, listen to your real estate agent. We have years of experience in knowing what sells, and we genuinely want to help you get top dollar. We are happy to make recommendations, just don’t take them personally. Saying you need to weed out your bookshelves or take down framed family photos isn’t a reflection on you, it’s what will help your home sell quickly and at a good price.

If you’re thinking of listing your house soon, give us a call. We’re happy to give you a free consultation and offer our professional opinion. Reach out to us at (630) 441-5570 or www.gmregroup.com.

Consider “Renovation Light” for a Faster-Selling Home

by Thomas Makinney

Most people know that when putting your house on the market, decluttering and a fresh coat of paint go a long way. And if your home has buckled linoleum and pink tile, you’re probably smart to consider a remodel. But there is a new trend on the market, halfway between staging a home and remodeling. Let’s call it “Renovation Light.”

If your home was remodeled in the last 15 years, renovation light might be something to consider. Those cherry cabinets that looked so great in 2010 aren’t necessarily what buyers are looking for anymore. Ditto for blond hardwood and the beige tumbled stone tile in the bathrooms.

This is where a renovation light comes in—rather than gutting your kitchen, you could paint the cabinets a trendy gray, refinish the floors in a gray neutral tone, and replace the track lighting with modern pendant lights. 

Replacing outdated backsplashes or shower tile can also make a big difference to updating a look. Other easy fixes are replacing built-in light fixtures and cabinet hardware. The look today is more minimalist and streamlined than it was 10 years ago, and the colors have switched from beige undertones to decidedly gray ones.

In the past few years, many agents have noted that homes with semi-dated finishes are taking longer to sell. These homes aren’t fixer-upper homes at bargain prices that require sweat equity, but they’re not quite what buyers are looking for in a certain price point. In fact, few buyers today are looking to put much work into a new house, preferring a home that is move-in ready. This is particularly true of younger buyers, but older generations are also tired of serious renovations and want to move in and move on. 

Some trends that date your home: Tuscan-style kitchens, travertine tile, pickled or glazed cabinets, brass or brushed nickel finishes, and even granite countertops (instead consider marble, soapstone, Corian, quartz, recycled glass or even concrete).

A good realtor will be able to tell you some easy fixes to bring your home into the 21st century and get it sold quickly. Here at Gracik-Makinney, we offer tips to all our sellers on ways to declutter and stage your home. But if you’re eyeing light maple cabinets and tumbled marble tile, you might want to consider a “renovation light.”

To find out more about what helps a home sell in your price point, call us at (630) 441-5570 or visit our website, www.gmregroup.com.

What does the new tax reform mean for homeowners?

by Thomas Makinney

It might be hard to remember with all that’s been going on in the past month, but as of Jan. 1, a new tax policy goes into effect. Many of us will not see many changes until we file their taxes in 2019, but the tax laws could not only impact our paycheck (for better or worse) they also have the potential to significantly alter home ownership incentives.

We can’t speak for individual paychecks, but as far as how the tax policies relate to real estate, we can offer a few insights.

  1. Reduced cap on mortgage interest deduction.

What it is: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced the limit for mortgage interest rate deduction for new loans to $750,000, starting Dec. 15, 2017. Loans that were taken before this date are grandfathered into the previous tax policy, which featured a $1 million cap on the deduction.

What it means: Homeowners who want to refinance their existing mortgage can do so up to $1 million and still be able to deduct the interest, however, the new loan cannot exceed the amount of debt being refinanced. Nationwide, this should only affect 1.3% of all mortgages, however, high-priced housing areas will feel the impact.

  1. New limits for state and local tax deductions.

What it is: While homeowners previously had an unlimited itemized deduction amount, under the new bill, they can only itemize deductions up to $10,000 for the total state and local property taxes and income or sales taxes. The cap is the same for both individual and married filers.

What it means: Households that itemize deductions and pay more than $10,000 in combined state and local taxes will get a smaller tax break, and for others, having a cap on deductions may be the deciding factor for some as to whether or not to itemize.

  1. Capital gains time frame excluded.

What it is: The previous capital gains tax policy, which stated that homeowners must live in the home for two out of the past five years in order to qualify for the exclusion, remains unchanged.

What it means: Sellers who live in their homes between two and five years can list their homes on a more flexible schedule without fear of a potentially hefty tax hit. (An original Senate bill had proposed an increase in the residency requirement to five years out of the past eight, but it did not make the final version.)

  1. Home equity loan deductions qualified.

What it is: Taxpayers will no longer be able to deduct interest paid on home equity loans beginning in 2018. Previously, there was a cap of $100,000 of home equity debt.

What it means: By taking away a low-cost financing option, many worry that owners will end up paying more for their loans, which could impact the home ownership rate make it more difficult for struggling communities to reinvent themselves. This shouldn’t impact the rate of home ownership but may affect home renovations.

  1. Standard deduction doubled.

What it is: The standard deduction for both single taxpayers and married couples filing separately used to be $6,350; that is being doubled under the new law to $12,000. Married couples filing jointly will see their previous deduction of $12,700 increase to $24,000.

What it means: This increase will most likely impact how many homeowners take advantage of their mortgage interest deduction. With a larger standard deduction and a decreased itemized deduction, many filers will no longer find it financially advantageous to itemize deductions. Under the current tax code, itemizing and claiming the mortgage interest deduction is financially worthwhile for about 44% of homeowners. Under the new law, itemizing and claiming the mortgage interest deduction will only be worthwhile for about 14.4% of homes nationwide.

Of course, it’s much to soon to tell how these new tax codes will affect anyone. According to research in the Wall Street Journal, it appears that taxpayers in high-cost areas (such as New York, San Francisco, Honolulu, and even Chicago) will feel much of the impact, and high-tax burdened markets will most likely receive a higher tax bill with the new limit. Low-tax states, however, may benefit from the new code.

Many thanks to RISMedia, realtor.com, and Zillow Research for the insight and analysis that contributed to this post. And many thanks to our CPA who proofed the piece for accuracy. 

If you have questions about the new tax code, and particularly how it will affect the Elmhurst housing market, please reach out to us. We’re here to help! Call (630) 441-5570 or visit www.gmregroup.com

Don’t let your home sale be stalled by roadblocks

by Thomas Makinney


If you’ve ever wondered why some houses sit on the market for weeks or months while others get snapped up in a matter of days, we have some answers. There are some frequent roadblocks that often lead to a languishing listing. Luckily, they’re all easily fixable.
 
1.     Mediocre Asking Price. Buyers are often indifferent if the price is too high compared to similar homes. And often, you’re missing an entire segment of the market who are only searching in a certain range. The right price makes the home stand out in comparison, especially if it’s an oversupplied sub-category. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a higher price gives you more negotiating room. In reality, the right buyers either don’t see it or move on when they see better homes in the same price range.
2.     Outdated or dirty. Homes should either be beautifully dated or updated and CLEAN. A clean, dated, and staged home with a compelling asking price sells and so does a clean, updated, staged home with a compelling asking price. Make sure walls, ceilings, and floors are washed and cleaned (and wipe the countertops frequently).
3.     Too much clutter. Buyers want to envision themselves in a home. It can be hard to see beyond too many knickknacks or papers or laundry. Too much furniture makes rooms feel smaller and claustrophobic.
 
If your home is still languishing despite having the right price and being properly updated and clean, consider staging. Staging involves someone coming in and helping place furniture, artwork, plants attractively as well as removing excess items that may make buyers think the home is smaller or has too little storage space.
 
Here at Gracik Makinney, we help all of our clients not only price their homes but offer advice and tips for what to update, clean, and remove. Call us for more information, (630) 441-5570 or visit our website www.gmregroup.com.
 

Best financial investments for Elmhurst homes before going to market

by Thomas Makinney

Thinking of putting your house on the market in the new year? Before you do, you might want to get your house in order. Not sure where to start? Wondering where you can get the biggest bang for your buck? We have some guidance on the best investments you can make in the current market.

First off, neutral painting of walls, trim, doors, ceiling, and even cabinetry is HUGE (don’t forget the outside as well as inside). Updated flooring also makes a major difference. You want to convey to the buyer, “Move in, get comfortable, and take your time making it your own.” It’s hard to see beyond dirty walls and stained carpeting.

Take a look at your front entryway. In the real estate market, people really do judge a book by its cover. Pretend you are a potential buyer walking up to the front door and waiting for the agent to open the home up. Take a sharp critical look at what you see—from overgrown bushes to chipped paint on the door to dim lighting in the entry.

It would be great if every home on the market had an updated kitchen and bath, but this is unrealistic and often cost prohibitive. However, some enhancements can be done for a modest price and really make a big difference. Consider updating appliances, countertops, plumbing fixtures, lighting, and textiles.  

Beyond that, you’ll want to make sure all major problems are fixed. Broken air conditioners, leaky roofs, dripping faucets should all be taken care of before your house goes on the market. If you don’t want to replace a roof, consider a credit to the buyer as part of the sale price.

Other solid investments include a fresh coat of exterior paint, new garage doors, energy-efficient windows, and updated appliances. If you do decide to do a kitchen or bathroom remodel, make sure you don’t price yourself out of the market (or take shortcuts for a high-end home). You don’t want to put a luxury kitchen in a $250,000 home.

If you have specific questions about what you need to do to your home before you put it on the market, please reach out to us at (630) 441-5570 or through our website, www.gmregroup.com. We’ve sold thousands of homes in the area and can give you a free consultation. 

Redecorate, Renovate, or Remodel?

by Thomas Makinney


Fireplace remodel before and after. $600 project.

For many people, spring cleaning means taking a fresh look at our houses and living spaces. As we wipe down the remnants of winter, sometimes our homes flaws become painfully obvious: no place for hats and boots, a dark and dated kitchen, a bathroom that grows smaller every day.

These realizations bring you to three options: You can choose to redecorate, renovate, or remodel. Before you decide, you’ll want to determine your overall budget as well as the potential investment, that is, the amount you will get back from a project when you go to sell the house.

Redecorate:

Sometimes, the easiest and most effective solution to a home’s problem is simply redecorating. A fresh coat of paint, new window treatments, and/or a new area rug can do wonders as can adding shelving or storage solutions. And don’t underestimate the power of decluttering or at least rearranging home décor. Simply moving furniture and adding new lights can make a huge difference.

Renovate:

Then there are situations where fresh paint and new throw pillows aren’t going to change anything, and you might need to consider making a larger change. You may need to knock down a wall to give the house better flow, install new flooring and baseboards, update doors and hardware, or build a bigger closet in a bedroom. These projects require a bigger budget and time commitment but can really change the functionality, not to mention personality, of a room.

Remodel:

Alas, new countertops in your kitchen won’t change the size of the kitchen and new shelving in the bathroom won’t ease the morning rush. For some problems, the only real solution is a remodel. Kitchens, bathrooms, and master bedrooms tend to give you the most return on your investments. But, keep in mind not only your budget, but also the value of neighboring homes when deciding what to do. You don’t want to be the priciest house on the block, but you don’t want to be the lowest either.

Read this to find out what home improvements offer the most value.

If you have questions about a project or want to know what you need to do to get your house ready to list, call us at (630) 441-5570 or visit our website, www.gmregroup.com.


Despite the influx of internet articles and do-it-yourself books on selling a home, the real estate industry is not only thriving but booming. And with good reason: A real estate agent is still one of the best investments you can make when you choose to buy or sell a home. 

If you’re wondering how a good agent adds value to your process, read on:

Experience – Not only are realtors educated on the many complicated aspects of real estate transactions, but chances are they’ve experienced some of the unusual scenarios even the most seemingly simple transaction. Buying and selling property can involve bullying tactics, bidding wars, counteroffers, all-cash offers, and tight competition. Realtors know how to handle these situations without losing their cool.

Neutrality – Sometimes a buyer falls in love with a house that is overpriced or needs more work than they realize, or they fail to explore possibilities outside of their comfort zone. Similarly, some sellers hold out too long for a higher offer or are afraid to disclose something about the house. A realtor is a neutral party who can help clients navigate the often tricky line between expectations and reality.

Neighborhood Knowledge – One of the biggest mistakes that Sell-By-Owners make is to overvalue the worth of their home, leading to extra days on the market and more money spent. A good realtor will be able to recommend a listing price for your home competitively so that you get the most money and sell quickly. Similarly they’ll be able to tell you if a home you’re interested in purchasing is priced competitively for the neighborhood. And they usually know about homes not yet on the market or ones that aren’t being actively marketed, very helpful if you’ve honed in on a specific neighborhood.

Selling tips – Buyers often make their decisions within minutes of first seeing a home. For sellers, this means they need to do everything they can to make a good impression. Real estate agents can help sellers determine what work should (or shouldn’t) be done to their house before putting it on the market. Not sure if granite counters or real hardwood floors are worth it? Want to keep photos of kids and grandparents on the wall? A realtor can give suggestions, offer resources, and hire a professional photographer so that your home looks bright and inviting when buyers view it on the web.

Buying tips – A real estate agent can walk buyers through costs and issues to turn a home into a dream home. They’ll be able to estimate the cost involved with a new roof or knocking down a wall or re-doing a kitchen. They can also tell you local variances that would affect putting up a fence or raising chickens in your backyard.

Vendor recommendations – Most realtors have a handy list of service providers they have experience with and recommend. They can’t tell you whom to choose, but if you need a home inspector, general contractor, electrician, etc, chances are they have a list of names and companies along with some background to help you choose.

Legal paperwork – Real estate transactions today typically run ten-plus pages, and that’s not including the federal- and state-mandated disclosures. Someone with experience in the industry can make sure that the contract works in your best interest and that you are fully aware of everything you are signing.

And remember, realtors are dependent on referrals in order to make a living. It’s in their best interest to have a good relationship with their buyer or seller in order to get glowing recommendations for the next transaction that comes their way.

At Gracik-Makinney, we have a combined 40-plus years of experience helping buyers find their dream home, and sellers receive top dollar on theirs. Reach out to us for a free consultation or for more information, (630) 441-5570 or www.gmregroup.com

Tips for avoiding wire fraud

by Thomas Makinney

It can happen to the best and brightest people. You receive an email or phone call asking you to transfer money or make a payment. Often, the request seems legitimate — maybe it comes from a company you do business with or a charity you support or even someone you know.

We see this happen all the time. Before you send money or give out personal information in response to an email or phone call, STOP. Electronic communication is neither secure nor confidential, and scammers have gotten very sophisticated at hiding their true identity. You need to verify the person or institution before you respond to an unsolicited request.

To verify an identity, do some due diligence.

  • Call the company using a phone number that you look up, not a phone contained in an email or given over the phone.
  • Look at the email address of the sender.  Reputable companies will have a professional address with their company name embedded, and it will not end in gmail.com or yahoo.com or other server names.
  • Don’t believe caller ID. If you recognize the company or person making the call, ask to call them back before you give them any information.
  • If the request comes from a company you do business with, go into your online account and verify that the request is there as well.

Any time you receive an electronic communication with wire instructions for the transfer of funds, even if that communication appears to be from @properties, your real estate agent or your attorney, do not initiate a wire transfer unless you have verified the source.

Making sure that your assets and funds are secure and in the right hands is important to us. We want to help you reach your goals. If you have any questions about wire fraud, or about how @properties will communicate financial transactions, please call us at (630) 441-5570 or contact us through our website, www.gmregroup.com    

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