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You have no idea how a few simple and affordable do it yourself projects can increase a home’s resale value. There is plenty of research out there proving certain home improvement and staging strategies can really make a major impact on your home selling efforts. I have listed a below our opinion, of a few home improvement projects that will give you the biggest return on investment (ROI). None of these projects are very costly, but can play a huge role on your home’s marketability and in the end your average days on the market. Your home is a product when you list it. Potential buyers need to be able to visual your product as a means to meet their lifestyle needs. Creating a general ambiance and feasibility of space can attract potential buyers who may not have otherwise been able to visualize that space in their minds.

1. Cleaning and decluttering. You will hear this from almost any realtor. Removing any personal items, uncluttering your countertops, organizing your closets and shelves, and make the home sparkling clean. A few personal photographs can be fine, but more than a few can stop the buyer from seeing themselves in the space and cause them to start spending time imagining who is in the space now. As an example, I recently showed a home that obviously belonged to a newly married couple. The wedding dress was still hanging in the closet and there was at least one wedding picture in every room…yes, powder room included. It became a distraction because my recently divorced client started counting the wedding pictures in the house. It’s hard to imagine your countertops clutter free, b/c we have items we use everyday, but storing that coffee pot and toaster under the countertops in a cabinet won’t be the end of the world. Now and days you have no excuse for a messy home. Get that home sparkling clean by purchasing a Groupon for one of those three hour home cleaning jobs. End of discussion.

2. Brightening. Clean all the windows inside and out, replace old curtains, updating lighting fixtures, and remove anything that blocks light from the windows. If money is an issue just take down the curtains and clean them. Otherwise replace Grandma’s prized possession with some simple, neutral sheers from TJ Maxx or Marshalls. Definitely get rid of the 80s brass light fixtures and the Hollywood, blind your eyes bathroom lights. Go to your local Habitat for Humanity Builder’s Supply store and pick up some updated light fixtures. I would specifically focus on foyer and dining room lights to replace because these are the two places you are going to see first when you walk in most homes. Natural light is key. It’s interesting in Houston, how most homes close all the blinds throughout the home, and I get it, the sun can be brutal, but for showing purposes, keep those blinds open so potential buyers can see that natural light.

3.Smart Staging. Rearrange furniture, bring in new accessories and furnishings to enhance rooms, incorporate artwork, and create focuses of each room. For example it may be a fireplace, or a certain window. Don’t make the focus of the family room, the huge flat screen tv. Remember not all buyers see things the way you do. Rearrange couches to create a conversation atmosphere, facing each other, etc. We also recommend not to leave rooms empty. In order to save money, go to your local home improvement store and ask for the refrigerator boxes. Create beds with boxes by just covering them with a duvet or comforter. Kid’s toys, big no-no. They are big, bright, and take up lots of space find a closet close to the “playroom/game room” that can store all those toys in bins so they can quickly be thrown in there for those spur of the moment showings. If this is an area that professional help is needed, it may not be as expensive as you may think. We have staging people that we can recommend who can come in and assist you with placing the items that you have in a manner that will make the most of your space.

4. Landscaping enhancements. Spruce up your curb appeal in the front and back yards by adding bark mulch, hearty plants or bushes, and seasonal color. This is all great, but make sure you know how to care of those plants, because we all know what happens in the summers here in Houston. Do your research determining placement and feed for those plants, full sun vs. partial sun, lots of watering vs. acidic. Gardening can be a whole new world, but make sure you have the time to put into it. If you don’t, make sure you pick those low maintenance, hearty plants and bushes, that don’t require a lot of attention.

5. Repairing electrical and plumbing. Fix leaks under the sinks, remove any mildew stains, and ensure all plumbing is in good working condition. Update the home’s electrical with new wiring for modern appliances, fix any lights or outlets that don’t work, and replace old plug points with new safety features, meaning GFCI outlets. The rules have changed for requirements for new construction over the years, so be aware that this will pop up on most home inspections, especially for older homes, so deal with it before it even becomes an issue. When fixing the leaks, once you have fixed the leaks, remember to fix any damaged sheetrock or wood/flooring etc that was damaged from the leak. Otherwise it will become a question to a potential buyer. Moldy showers and baths can be a major turn off. Make sure you find a good cleaning agent to get rid of that mildew in the grout of the tile. If you can’t get it sparkling clean, you may need to re-grout or at least paint the grout line. A bath does not feel like one that a buyer can use without immediate repair or remodeling is often key in receiving an offer.

6. Replacing or shampooing dirty carpets. Steam clean carpets, replace worn carpets, and repair any floor creaks. Groupon, Groupon, Groupon. There are tons of Groupons out there for carpet cleaning carpets. You can also rent a steam cleaner from your local home improvement store or even a grocery store. Replacing that worn out carpet is also a good idea, even if it’s just in your main rooms, high traffic areas. Sometimes there are deals out there for multiple room specials, etc.

These are just a few ideas we suggest to our clients. I’m sure there are many more great suggestions. I have just listed a few cost-friendly ideas. I know all of this can seem overwhelming, so please feel free to give us a call. We are happy to meet with you well before the time you are ready to list your home. Part of our job is helping you be prepared so that you can get top dollar for your home. If this is your year to sell, your timing is probably good. It has become a seller’s market here in Houston, so with a positive first impression you have a wonderful opportunity to do well on the sale of your home.

Give us a call today.

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Houston Association of Realtors recently released their market statistics for April 2012. Home sales increased by over 9.6% from last year. This is huge for Houston, not only was this the second biggest monthly increase for 2012, in marked the eleventh consecutive month of positive sales.

One of the biggest factors that play a role in such incredible market activity, is the strength of the job market in Houston. Houston has added over 96.000 jobs locally over the past year. Foreclosure property sales are down, and the average sale price of homes here in Houston rose 11.2% from last year.

Check out this video and more information about April real estate sales in Houston real estate market, courtesy of Houston Association of Realtors

Houston MLS Report for April 2012

The second quarter in the Houston real estate market, has historically been the busiest and best quarter of the year. If you are thinking about selling now is the time to take advantage of such a healthy market. Demand is high, and supply is low. Also if you are thinking about buying, interest rates continue to be at an all time low, and there are no guarantees this will continue. Give me a call today, so that we can assist you in your next Houston real estate endeavor.

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Celebrate Moms with local Houston flare, fun, and festivities!

Posted by marywassef under Uncategorized

Happy Mother’s Day! In honor of Mother’s Day we at Circa are spending the day with our Mom’s and families. There are lots of fun things to do this weekend with Mom.

Here are a few:

The 25th Annual Art Car Parade is Saturday from 1:00 to 3:00 on Allen Parkway

This weekend and next is the Bellaire New Home Show. This is a great place to go see the latest and greatest in kitchens , baths and finishes.

The weather is great and there are a whole bevy of activities at Discovery Green this weekend

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Take a look at the Houston Chronicle’s latest article regarding home sales in Houston. In reality, for most of us inside, or near the 610 loop, it is already here. The city is at 5.6 months of inventory of homes for sale. In reality, that is a Seller’s market. Anything below six months is considered a market that favors the Seller. The city averages are certainly more telling than the national averages, which are about as meaningful as a national weather forecast. We all know it can be raining in Miami while the sun shines in Houston. I am amazed at how the media seems to think that same logic does not apply to real estate. Even these averages for the city do not tell the entire story. There are some of our suburban areas that are still struggling and may have seven or eight months of inventory. There are areas like the Heights that are running as low as one month of inventory for certain price points. Yes, one month! If you have looked for a new home in the $700,000 in the Heights recently, you know of what I speak. Many of Houston’s most sought after markets, such as the Heights, Memorial and West University, are unquestionably in a Seller’s market.

I think the news is good whether you are buying or selling. If you are selling and you prepare your home properly and you price it right, there is an excellent chance that the sales process will be swift and profitable. If you are buying, it is a bit more challenging, but the good news is that interest rates are low and prices are on the rise. So, the sooner you buy, the more apt you are to gain in this fast-paced market. You will want to be working with a Realtor who can set realistic expectations for you and who can help you focus on the right properties so that when a great home comes on the market, you are ready to see it and make an offer quickly. Another important factor, and this is where experience comes in, is crafting the offer in such a way that you maximize your chances of winning in a multiple bid situation. I am seeing far more of these than I have for the past several years. An experienced Realtor can help you with the terms of your offer in order to make sure that your offer looks good on many levels, not just price. It is not always the highest bid that wins, there are sometimes other factors at play, such as closing date, that can sweeten the deal for the Seller. It is important that the Seller recognize that you are fair and will be reasonable to work with through the process, and simply offering reasonable terms will carry that message. Sometimes a personal letter stating why the home is perfect for you can clinch the deal. For instance, if the Seller has raised a family in the home and it is your intention to do the same, the Seller may feel compelled to work with you because they feel good about you having the home.

The Realtors at Circa are adept at competitive markets because we work in the neighborhoods that are frequently competitive even when most of the city is not. We would love to help you navigate these waters and find that perfect home. Give us a call today!

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This years home tour is guaranteed to be top notch. With some unbelievable homes open for tour, spectators will be in awe of the craftsmanship and detail. Saturday and Sunday, April 14-15 from noon to six, there will be six homes and gardens on tour. Five historic homes, and one newly constructed home will be featured, focusing on their unique character and architecture of the homes and highlighting the Heights neighborhood in general.

Tickets can be purchased at the Heights Fire Station on 107 W 12th Street and Comerica Bank on 414 W 19th Street, as well as each home. Enjoy a shuttle ride or consider alternate transportation by way of your bike. Tickets are $20 instead of $25, and what a time of year to be riding in Houston. The spring flowers in bloom and the weather is going to be perfect. A special route has been mapped out just for bicyclers and there will be bike racks with a “bike valet” at every stop. Take your time and stroll through each home, knowing your bike will be safe outside.

Then I recommend taking a stroll down 19th Street for some lunch and shopping. Merchants in the historic shopping area are very supportive of their neighborhoods and community events. You can’t go wrong with your restaurant of choice, no matter what you have the taste for. Plan to spend the entire afternoon in awe. Houston Heights neighborhood is one of Houston’s oldest but most desired neighborhoods. For more information on the homes on tour, as well as ticket information, click here.

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Is it true? Could this housing crisis be coming to an end? Recently reports are indicating the banks are finally loosening up on credit criteria. Although the report notes the average credit score required to attain a mortgage loan is 700, other factors that play into getting approved are “loosening up”. While this credit score of 700 is higher than scores required prior to the crisis, it is hasn’t changed from a year ago. The survey also showed the credit score requirement was consistent over all four quarters last year.

However, there are other market indicators pointing toward the loosening of credit availability. Banks are now lending amounts up to 3.5 times borrower earnings. This is up from 3.2, which is what it was at its lowest during the crisis. Banks are also loosening their loan to value ratios(LTV). This is said to be the clearest indicator of a sign of improvement in the mortgage credit conditions. While banks were lending at low of 74%, banks are now lending at 82% LTV.

While credit conditions may have loosened slightly, potential home buyers are still struggling with credit requirements. With the influx of bankruptcies, short sales, and foreclosures, maintaining good credit seems to be much more difficult these days. In fact, economists point out that in November alone, 8% of contracts that “fell-out” were a result of a potential buyer not qualifying for a loan.

Additionally, economists say “any improvement in credit conditions won’t be significant enough to generate actual house price gains,” and potential ramifications from the euro-zone pose a threat to future credit availability.

Make sure you are in the know when it comes to your credit rating. Stay educated. Your credit report reveals many aspects of your borrowing activities and abilities.

Here are some tips for fine tuning your credit score

- maintain consistency in identifying yourself on credit applications
- contact your creditors directly with any disputes
- avoid opening new accounts if you’ve applied for a mortgage
- pay down revolving balances to 50% of credit limit
-Remember authorized user accounts are always treated as joint accounts by the scoring system even if they technically are not
-Avoid the use of credit-repair companies
-Banking experts recommend you pull your credit report once a year to make sure all information is accurate and current

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Spring cleaning is one of the traditions that always sounds so good. It is spring after all. Who doesn’t want to have their home spring time fresh? After winter, throw open the windows and let the spring air and sunlight refresh your home. What can be more appealing?
Yet there is the other side of Spring cleaning, the actual cleaning part. While cleaning is actual work, it is one of those activities that when done well and with enthusiasm, can bring a great sense of fulfillment. It is even more fulfilling when you know that the cleaning products you use are safe for you, your family and your pets. While sometimes modern cleaning products are a must, many times there are great natural products that can accomplish much without harming the environment or causing people and pets harm. Here are just few.
Sunshine One of the best natural freshening and cleaning agents is good ole Sunshine. Many times what those musty pillows, drapes or feather mattresses need are just an afternoon in the sunshine to wipe away that left over stale winter smell. Not only does a good dose of sun take away the stale and put in the fresh, it often can brighten light colors.
Baking Soda This inexpensive additive is often a forgotten treasure. Add it to laundry, your mop bucket or even your bath every once in a while and you will be amazed at how it cleans, deodorizes, and softens water.
Cornstarch With just the right touch of elbow grease, cornstarch in a little water, is a super alternative that can be used to clean windows, polish furniture, shampoo carpets and rugs.
Soap This is the very definition of natural clean. You can find unscented soap in liquid form, flakes, powders or bars. It is biodegradable and will clean just about anything. Be sure to avoid using soaps which contain petroleum distillates.
White Vinegar Clean the windows, wipe down the cabinets, and mix in a bucket for just about anything. This kitchen ingredient cuts grease, removes mildew, odors, some stains and wax build-up.
Borax (sodium borate) This gem of an additive will do so much: it cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, softens water, cleans wallpaper, painted walls and floors, with ease. As a bonus, roaches hate the stuff.
Citrus Solvent Got something that really needs a kick behind it to clean paint brushes, remove oil grease and some stains? With just a little bit of effort you can find great cleaners that have things like orange oil or other citrus solvents. (Citrus solvent can cause skin, lung or eye irritations. Be careful if you are very sensitive as even natural products can be irritating.)
Lemon A lesser version of Citrus Solvent is this little secret ingredient that Grandma used. Since it is one of the strongest food-acids, it is effective against most household bacteria. Just be sure not to let it sit so long as to pit what you are cleaning.
So take care of your greatest investment, your home, with these easy to use eco-friendly work horses of the cleaning world.

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Creative Ideas for Curb Appeal in Early Spring

Posted by marywassef under Uncategorized

In a normal year, this is the time that I might suggest removing plants that have frozen and start working in some greenery that will work going into the spring and summer. Well, not this year. My air-conditioning is running as I write this. Spring flowers are coming sooner this year, and it seems likely that we are in for another scorcher this summer. Luckily we have gotten much needed rain to make the flowers bloom, but if your yard looks like mine, there are more than a few weeds that have also been revived.

Whether you are getting ready to market your home in our robust Seller’s market or if you just want to enjoy a lush yard going into this summer, here are some tips:

1. February marks the end of any chance of a freeze in Houston. Try not to laugh at the mere idea of a freeze, but there are years that we have those. Now is a good time to cut back roses and other plants that are over grown or perhaps unhealthy after the last growing season.

2. Now is a good time to thoroughly weed and add mulch to your beds. Mulch is always a key step before adding new seasonal color. A good layer of mulch both freshens the look of your garden and it will also help to protect your plants as the weather heats up.

3. Our grass took a real beating last summer. It is going to be very important to add new sod to large areas that where it scorched in the summer. It is also time to start fertilizing, mowing and edging. If you have been considering adding a sprinkler system, now is a great time. If you have to replace sod anyway, there is not a better time. An irrigation system in Houston is a terrific selling point for your home.

4. It is not too early for spring color and the first round of vegetables and herbs. There are many herbs that are not only great to cook with, but also make lovely additions to your landscape.

5. As you add color, consider native plants. Keep in mind that many plants that are listed as “Texas Natives” are really native to West Texas and may not work particularly well here in Houston. A good locally owned nursery should be able to help you to know the difference.

6. Large pots with greenery or color are always inviting. As we get into warmer weather they can be a challenge to keep sufficiently watered. You might consider tying in the planters with your watering system so you don’t need to hand water daily. Another option is to add succulents to those pots. Succulents add color and texture and they are terrific in Houston heat. They work year round in Houston and only need to be brought in on the rare occasions that we have a freeze.

7. Light it up. Just as lighting on the interior of your home is key, it is also a great way to highlight the outside of your home. Lighting can highlight an architectural feature, intricate landscaping or a wonderful tree. If this is a particularly strong aspect of your home, be sure to let your Realtor know so she can include dusk shots of your home in the marketing material.

8. Now is the time to dust off your outdoor furniture. Outdoor seating areas are an extension of indoor space and are inviting for potential buyers. Now is a comfortable time of year to spend outdoors, so it is especially important to let a potential buyer know how they might use the outdoor space.

Spring is here early this year, so enjoy the weather while you can. You can get some great advice at any of our local nurseries that specialize in landscape plants that work in Houston’s heat. You might stop by Buchanan’s or Joshua’s Native Plants for great advice and great plants. This also makes for a great time to show your home in the best possible light. The early spring has brought both flowers and buyers earlier than is typical. If you would like more information on today’s market or on listing your home, please contact one of the Realtors at Circa Real Estate.

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After listing and selling homes for the past 10 years I’ve realized times they are a changing. I think it’s important for sellers to remember these key tips when getting ready to put your house on the market.

* Strangers will be walking through your home during showings and/or open houses. Hide your valuables in a safe place. For security’s sake, remember to remove keys, credit cards, jewelry, and any other valuables from the home during the listing period or at least during showings. Also consider removing or hiding prescription drugs. Some seemingly honest people wouldn’t think twice about getting their hands on any of these items.

* Don’t leave personal information like mail or bills out in the open where anyone can see it. Be sure to lockdown your computer, laptop, IPAD and/or any other expensive electronic devices, prior to your showings.

* Do not show your home by yourself. If someone comes to your door claiming to be an agent and you have no scheduled appointment, ask them to call your agent to confirm an appointment. Predators come in all shapes and sizes. They can refer all inquiries to your agent.

* You are responsible for your pets. If possible, your animals should be removed during showings. If that isn’t possible make sure they are locked up. Fido may be the most friendly dog in the neighborhood, but when it comes to a stranger, you just can’t be sure. You don’t want to be held liable for any attacks or incidents related your pets.

* When leaving your home so that it can be shown, make sure all doors are locked. Other agents will be able to access the property through the lockbox. You don’t want any unwanted visitors entering the property without proper accessiblity.

I have done enough open houses to know to be aware of visitor’s patterns. I am aware of how important it is to protect your home and everything in it. Open houses are a big part of our marketing strategies. If you would like to discuss this information more or you are interested in listing your home please do not hesitate to call us. Successful listing and marketing of your home is our number one priority!

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