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Q+A with a Real Estate Pro

pendant (similar) | stools

Our condo is on the market! We listed the week before the July 4th holiday, which wasn’t necessarily in our favor, but we took that risk in the hopes that getting it out sooner would garner a few more eyes. As I shared the refresh with many of you on Instagram Stories, I noticed a trend popping up in my DMs. Questions like, Wait, should I be painting my kitchen cabinets before I list, too? Or, Do I really need to paint the walls? And, Who is your realtor? Looking for a good recommendation!

To the latter, I’m happy to shout Jennifer’s name from the rooftops! If you’re in Chicago and looking for a realtor, here’s how you can connect with Jen:

She’s an awesome realtor-turned-friend, on top of her game, and always willing to go above and beyond. She’s helped us to lease a few of our rental units, purchase the Two Flat, and sell the condo (soon, fingers crossed!). As I asked her your questions in my best attempt to help y’all out, she offered to do a Q+A to take the mystery out of buying and selling a home. (Really, she’s the bees knees.) I tossed up a question box in Stories, and you had QUESTIONS. Below, Jen’s answering the most requested topics, and I’ll also be sharing before + after photos of our unit – with a full kitchen reveal coming next week!

bedroom before
bedroom after paint, lighting + windows

Updates, Large and Small

Question | Is it okay to leave dated cabinets in kitchen and bathroom alone, so that new homeowners can choose their own?

Jen | Are they super worn and banged up and look bad in general? Or in good, but original condition? I think most buyers are impressed by painted cabinetry and the refreshed look it gives. I also think that most buyers are not the fixer-upper types and would prefer move in ready with few projects for them to do themselves post-closing. In the end, it will depend on who you believe your target buyer is. I come from a marketing background so I’m always having these discussions based on who the likely buyer of your property is and what they will be looking for.

kitchen after paint and tile

Is it worth it to make small(er) investments in new carpet / light fixtures / fresh paint for resale? 

Yes, absolutely! These smaller investments don’t break the bank or blow your budget for prepping for your home sale, but it can make all the difference in the buyer’s first impression while tying the overall look and feel of your home together. I would choose on-trend finishes and fixtures and neutral paint so the buyer can still envision how they will transform the space into their own with these updates as a solid starting point. It is not the time to invest in statement pieces or items that suit your unique style.

view from kitchen into living room, before
view from kitchen into living room, after | brass light | faucet

Is it worth it to make large(r) investments and renovate my bathrooms and / or kitchen before listing? Should I invest in one or the other, both, or price accordingly? 

Kitchens and bathrooms sell homes, for sure. If you do a major gut rehab, you might not get an exact dollar for dollar return, but you will certainly see value in reduced market time and increased buyer demand for your listing.

Finding the Right Realtor

I know I want to sell my home. When is a good time to get an agent involved with the process? 

ASAP! Often times agents get pulled in as a final step of the selling equation, but a good agent will want to be your partner from the start. This way you can strategize together in regards to updates, improvements, market conditions and pricing, and you can find the winning combination that will bring you the most success (i.e., sell for the highest price the market will bear in the quickest amount of time). I often see sellers that will wait to bring their agent in because they’re waiting to complete just one more project! Rather than spend more time, energy and money on a project than necessary, talk to your agent. There’s a chance your agent would recommend an alternate strategy or more precise recommendation.

What should I look for in an agent as a first time home buyer or seller? 

Look for an agent who is strong in communication and has a defined process that they follow. Someone who is patient, listens to your goals, and focuses on education. As a first timer, you’ll want a lot of guidance throughout the process and will want to know what to expect so that you feel comfortable and informed throughout the transaction!

bathroom before
bathroom after paint!

On Being Prepared

I never take baths. Is it really that bad to renovate my only bathroom for a walk-in shower? 

I think this depends on the type of home you own. In general, my recommendation is to always have at least one bathtub in the home. If, for example, you have a small condo downtown and the home isn’t likely going to be sold to a future family, then you can possibly get away with removing it.  That said, some people are hardcore bath lovers and will always incorporate a bathtub as a required feature in the home. It’s safest to leave it if you want to appeal to the broadest range of future buyers.

Should I stage my empty home / condo / apartment before a sale or lease agreement? 

Yes, I think that investing in staging an empty space provides a great amount of value and I highly recommend it! This is especially helpful if you are working with a smaller space or more unconventional layout where you need to help the buyer envision themselves in the space. I always say that the cost to invest in staging is less than you will ever take with your first price reduction – if you need to take that step. Talk with your agent about hybrid options, such as staging a few key rooms or having the staging company work with the items you already have in your home.

The condo’s small (but mighty!) living room | brass light

Another option is virtual staging! The first time a potential buyer sees your home will likely be online. They will decide then and there if they want to come and see your listing based on this first impression.

What’s a common mistake you see first-time homebuyers make? 

Being short-sighted and not envisioning their needs in 2-5 years down the line, which might make them need (or want) to move sooner than they’d hoped for.

hallway after paint

I’d love to buy a rental property. What are three things I should consider for the best investment? 

  1. Cash flow | Consider how much you will realistically be able to yield in rent.
  2. Accurate costs & expenses | Take into account your monthly costs (mortgage, taxes, insurance), maintenance, utilities, vacancy, costs to lease the property, etc. Make sure you are not going to feel too strapped if you go a month or two without a tenant since that can be very stressful.
  3. Consider how rentable the property is | Ask yourself a lot of questions. Is it in a good location? Does it have desirable features (such as a bonus space, sunroom, hardwood floors)? What are the potential roadblocks that might impact renting it quickly? Will you be on a good leasing cycle? (Chicago is particularly seasonal in rental demand. Demand and pricing is higher April – August and being vacant over the winter can be particularly tricky and draining on investment property owners). 

The Current Market

This market feels overwhelming and competitive for first-time buyers. Do you recommend that I look now, or just wait? 

It can feel overwhelming, but I wouldn’t recommend to just sit out and wait. – particularly with low interest rates and the amount of money you’d spend (and never see any portion of it back) on rent over the course of the next year! The post-pandemic market has skewed in favor of sellers with lower inventory and higher demand from buyers due to new factors impacting how we live today. That said, I think it is still a good time to jump in and get your feet wet, particularly as we transition to later in the summer when we usually see a shift in the market as well!

This question also depends on the type of home you are looking for. If you’re searching for a condo in the downtown market, now can be an incredible time to snag a deal! It mostly comes down to putting together a realistic strategy with your real estate agent so you can come out and win.

home office after
home office built-ins

Given the current market, is it okay to put in an offer on a home when I have a contingency to sell my current home? 

In general, it is more challenging in today’s market to get your offer accepted with a home sale contingency. This is especially true if a property has just been listed or received multiple offers. But if you find a property that has been on the market for a while and is not yet under contract, I think working with a home sale contingency is fair game. (And hopefully you will sell your property quickly since it is a seller’s market! You’ll need to drive this point home and be realistic with your price + marketing strategy to quickly sell.)

If you find yourself running into too many roadblocks with the home sale contingency, I would strategize with your agent, lender and financial planner to see how you might be able to get out from underneath it. You may be able to borrow from yourself and your 401k (and repay yourself right away with your home sale proceeds), utilize a HELOC or a bridge loan, or take advantage of gift funds to help you bridge the gap. A good agent will help you through this!

Money, Money, Money

If I only had $5,000 to invest in my home and increase the longterm value, where should I spend it?

Paint! Or maybe a small bathroom upgrade.

How much should I expect to put down for my down payment? This varies so much, it seems! 

The amount for your down payment definitely varies, and there is no “one size fits all” approach. You can buy a home with as little as 3% down, and I’ve also seen it range up to 20%. Sellers will perceive buyers with higher down payments as stronger buyers when compared head to head, but at the end of the day it all comes down to a strong pre-approval with a lender. Also, a solid strategy with your real estate agent to craft and present your overall offer will go far!

I have no idea how much liquid cash I should have for attorney fees, earnest money, inspections, etc. What’s a good rule of thumb?

  • Inspection | $400-$700 up front
  • Attorney | $500-700 (can be rolled into closing costs)
  • Appraisal | $350 (can be rolled into closing costs)
  • Earnest money | This can vary from a few thousand dollars to 3-5% of the purchase price. You, your agent and lender can strategize on the right approach for your situation. 

How realistic are the Zestimates on Zillow?

Not very accurate! Zestimates are averages based on beds/baths/zip code, etc. They’re a good start, but they do not take into account many other factors that impact price – updates, quality of finishes, top or ground floor, hyper-local factors (ex: on a busy street). In some markets, like Chicago, it’s not required to list square footage, which can greatly impact the Zestimate since that data point is missing from listings. It is always best to have a real estate agent run a CMA (Comparative Marketing Analysis) to help you account for all these factors that a Zestimate might overlook.

Thank you, Jen! You can learn more about what she offers on her website, or find her on Instagram.

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  • Julie Marquez7.13.21 - 12:49 PM

    I love this post and all the important information provided. Buying and selling can be so misunderstood and these are some good details. And yes, having a great agent on your side is worth it! In our Washington State market, I see appraisals cost on average $750 and we have title companies do the closing paperwork, not attorneys, and I see all that paperwork, title insurance and recording costs go up to $2000. I hope everyone has their wonderful agent like Jen when buying or selling a home!ReplyCancel

  • Becky7.13.21 - 1:24 PM

    We’re currently in the process of moving into our first home. We were specifically looking for something that had good bones, but was a bit out-dated so we could decide on cosmetic finishes ourselves. One relatively inexpensive thing I would recommend when putting a house on the market is hiring someone to do a deep clean before listing. It goes far in letting a prospective buyer know (or think?) the home has been well cared for buy the previous owners.ReplyCancel

    • Scott7.13.21 - 3:10 PM

      Great point! We hired a professional company to take care of the bulk of the cleaning, then wrapped up the final clean ourselves after all of our tradespeople were done with their work. The place is spotless!ReplyCancel

  • Carol7.14.21 - 11:34 AM

    We just (March) sold in Los Angeles at way above our asking price, and I have to say that our agent’s marketing plan was a huge part of that.  He arranged for *gorgeous* pictures after we’d decluttered all surfaces, and that drove a whole lot of buyers our way.  My biggest takeaway?  Have your windows cleaned professionally, inside and out.  That made such a difference in the way the light filtered in (those gorgeous pictures were the result) and we received many offers, all over asking.ReplyCancel

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