April 2014

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Recent Posts

  1. Checklist to Prep Your Home for Sale
    Wednesday, March 26, 2014
  2. Using Your Camera to Sell Your Home
    Wednesday, February 26, 2014
  3. How to Specialize in a Real Estate Career
    Tuesday, February 11, 2014
  4. 6 Ways to Make It Hard to Sell Your Home
    Wednesday, January 29, 2014
  5. Selling Points of West Michigan Communities
    Wednesday, January 15, 2014
  6. 5 Things Sellers Can Learn from the Real Estate Boom/Bust
    Friday, December 13, 2013
  7. How to Use Your Real Estate Agent to Sell Your Home
    Friday, November 15, 2013
  8. What is “Arts and Eats”?
    Tuesday, October 15, 2013
  9. 3 Easy Tips to Sell Your Home
    Sunday, September 15, 2013
  10. What to Do If You Sell Your Home Too Quickly
    Thursday, August 15, 2013

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Checklist to Prep Your Home for Sale

Spring is here, and when buyers look at homes for sale Grand Rapids and the surrounding areas are certainly hot right now. When you’re ready to sell your home, how do you make it stand apart from other Grand Rapids homes for sale? And where do you even get started with all the little things that need to be done? Below is a handy checklist to keep in mind:

  • Gather useful documents, including utility bills, owner’s manuals for all appliances, and warranties. These documents may actually help with the sale.
  • Do a complete de-cluttering of every room. Pack it away in boxes, and store those boxes elsewhere if you can. Storage units or pods are great.
  • Stage every room, or at least the most important ones. If you’ve already moved out, consider hiring a home stager. And if you’re still in the home, stage it by removing excess furniture, making sure the function of each room is clear, and simplifying the décor.
  • Find a Grand Rapids real estate agent. Find an agent familiar with your neighborhood, and in particular with your area and type of home. Contact Bellabay Realty for a free home valuation and to ask as many questions as you’d like about how Bellabay Realty will sell your home.
  • Conduct a thorough cleaning. It may be worth the investment to hire a professional cleaner, at least for the first deep cleaning or for specialized tasks like carpet cleaning, window washing, or power washing the exterior.
  • Spruce up your exterior. Consider painting your front door to make your entrance more attractive, and make sure your house numbers are visible. Take special care of your lawn, plant some extra flowers, and prune the hedges.
  • Perform any needed maintenance. Your potential buyer will notice any crumbling sidewalks or leaky faucets and wonder what else may be awry. If you need to hire a maintenance help, it can be a good investment, especially if they can complete several tasks in one visit.
  • Pack away personal items like pictures, craft and hobby supplies, and toys.
  • Organize your closets and cupboards. Consider hiring a professional organizer or installing a closet organization unit.
  • Remove important items that you want to keep, such as appliances, window coverings, or an heirloom chandelier.
  • Paint as needed. Fresh, neutral paint can make a big difference in any room that looks dreary or has bold colors.

When you start preparing your Grand Rapids home for sale, one of the first steps is to find out where your home should be priced in the current market. Contact Bellabay Realty for a free home valuation today, and check “find a real estate agent” off your list too!


Using Your Camera to Sell Your Home

These days, it’s a fact that most Grand Rapids homes for sale are first seen online. A potential buyer may search for a particular area or number of bedrooms, but the thing that actually attracts buyers to take a look at your Grand Rapids home for sale is the pictures.

Your real estate agent will normally take pictures of your home for marketing, showing it in its best light. But most agents are happy to include any pictures you would like to provide for your listing. More pictures means more of a selection to show off your home’s features! And if you’re in the home every day, you’ll see it in all its best moments.

If you’d like to supplement your agent’s efforts, use the best camera available to you, which may be the camera in your phone or a digital SLR. The best pictures are from a camera over 5 megapixels, with a tripod if you have one.

For interior shots:

  • Take interior shots when you have everything nicely arranged and flowers in the home for an open house or a family get-together. Nothing too personal like a birthday party, but if your home looks like it could be featured in a magazine – take loads of shots before the guests arrive! Otherwise, stage your home as you would for an open house – no toys, refrigerator magnets, counter clutter, or craft supplies, very limited personal items.
  • In most cases, you should open your window treatments for best light, but take the photos on a hazy day or at twilight, when interior and exterior light are near the same level. Turn on the lights, even in the daytime.
  • If you shoot at chest level, you will show less ceiling.
  • Shoot from an angle to make rooms appear larger, but don’t tilt the camera, which can make the walls appear slanted.

When you take exterior shots:

  • Take the photos at a time of day when the sun will be behind you.
  • Shoot from an angle rather than straight on.
  • Consider standing on a ladder.
  • Shoot both the front and the back of the house.
  • When it’s a particularly beautiful day, or when your landscaping looks its best, snap a few pictures.

Buyers love pictures! When you’re selling your home, don’t be shy about practicing your amateur photography skills. And when you are ready to sell your beautiful home, contact Bellabay Realty, and we’ll help you see the value of your home.

Photo: @EffStopp

How to Specialize in a Real Estate Career

If you have decided to become a real estate agent, congratulations! In addition to all the other things you’ll learn about a real estate career, you may also want to begin considering whether and how to specialize. The first choice to make is whether you will sell commercial or residential property. Even within residential property, there are a surprising number of ways to specialize in your career, and below are just a few:

  • By area – Some agents specialize in a particular neighborhood, small town, development, or condominium complex. Others become the go-to agent for a lake or a resort area. To succeed with an area specialization, you may want to raise your profile in the community and develop your expertise by joining local community organizations.
  • By property type – You can become expert in a certain type of property, such as vacation homes, lake property, or luxury condos. The more you learn about any particular type of property, the more easily you will be able to differentiate properties you are marketing, or help buyers see the differences in properties they are considering.
  • By client situation – Perhaps you are especially interested in the needs of first time buyers, or executives, or clients who are relocating, or real estate investors. Perhaps you would like to work mainly with sellers as a listing agent. If you develop expertise in the needs of a certain type of clients, you will be better able to serve their needs.

Once you have decided how to specialize, consider what certifications may be available to boost your credibility for that market. Possible certifications to pursue include ABR (buyers’ agent), NAR’s Green Designation, SRS (sellers), SRES (seniors), RSPS (resort property), and SFR (short sales and foreclosure). Believe it or not, there are more! Check with the National Association of REALTORS for a more comprehensive list.

Beyond that, there are other ways to develop a niche for yourself. Perhaps you’re passionate about golf, or speak a foreign language, or you have a lot of connections at a university or hospital where a lot of people need relocation services. Any of these could be a way to specialize by understanding the particular needs of a group of potential clients.

You can always combine a couple of specialties and become the executive home relocation specialist for a West Michigan community, or the first-time buyer specialist for a certain school district. And if you specialize, you don’t necessarily have to turn away business! You can simply use it as a way to focus your efforts when marketing yourself.

Whatever your specialization in your real estate career, it gives you a way to market and differentiate yourself – in your email signature, your website, your business cards, and in which publications make sense for your market. If you’re interested in learning more about real estate careers or specialization, contact Bellabay Realty today.

Photo: Hang in There

6 Ways to Make It Hard to Sell Your Home

When it’s time to move and sell your home, you may find yourself a little torn about leaving your beautiful abode. After all, most homes contain some wonderful memories. And you may have invested a lot of personality, effort, and – let’s face it – money into your home over the years.

At Bellabay Realty, we have worked with many sellers in communities around West Michigan – Caledonia, Middleville, Hopkins, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Grand Haven, Grand Rapids, you name it. There are certain things sellers sometimes do to accidentally sabotage their home selling goal and a real estate agent’s efforts. These mistakes usually stem from the seller’s affection for their home, and the difficulty of looking at your own place with a critical eye.

How do some sellers make it hard to sell a home?

  1. Strictly limit when the home can be shown. Some homeowners will require a lot of advance notice, or may be present or have their pets roaming around during the showing, and all of those things can make showings less successful. Certainly home showings are not always convenient, and keeping your home in tip-top shape can be demanding. However, since your home’s eventual buyer will need to come tour it in person, it’s important to make sure they don’t cross your home off their list before they even see it. The sooner the right buyer sees your home, the faster it will sell.
  2. Jam clutter into the closets and cupboards. It’s important to de-clutter, but it can be a Catch-22, because you also need to make your storage space look abundant. Now is the time to box up any non-essentials and store them elsewhere, or do a thorough sorting and donate your excess to a worthy organization.
  3. Price it incorrectly. It may be tempting to price a home based on what you need to get for it, or the price you paid plus improvements you have made. That might be either too low or too high. If it’s too high, the home may sit on the market while you continue to invest more in maintenance/taxes/mortgage. The key to selling is to price the home objectively, according to a carefully researched market value.
  4. Display collections and personal decorating style. A surprising number of buyers have a hard time looking past the personal imprint you have on your home. Personal items distract buyers from the true potential of your home for them, and may even provide personal information about you that will work to your disadvantage in negotiations.
  5. Install high-maintenance landscaping. Believe it or not, elaborate and beautifully maintained plantings can keep potential buyers from even looking at your home. Consider low-maintenance perennials and hardy native plants if you’re investing in landscaping to improve your home’s curb appeal.
  6. Camouflage imperfections that should be fixed. Some potential buyers will spot a painted-over water stain, and figure there is more trouble lurking elsewhere in the home. Others buyers may make an offer, only to have the sale fall through after a home inspection.

Most home sellers bend over backwards to do all they can to sell their home. But there are some things people do inadvertently that make their home take longer to sell than necessary. The honest, frank opinions of your real estate agent are essential to helping you sell your home quickly and for the best price. When you’re ready to sell your home, contact Bellabay Realty at 616-871-9200.

Photo: Travis Mortz

Selling Points of West Michigan Communities

Whether you are looking for a home or looking to sell your home in West Michigan, for many people, the first step is to make sure you know the selling points of West Michigan communities. This is certainly true for home buyers who are not familiar with the area or who have not yet decided on a community where they want to live. It’s also true for home sellers, who may be marketing their home to people from outside the area, and may get a boost from the attractive features of the community that we come to take for granted.

With my experience in the real estate market around West Michigan, I can say that there are definitely trends that attract people to many of our local communities. These community features affect home prices, home saleability, and the market of buyers who will be attracted to a given home. Here are just a few examples of communities around West Michigan:

Caledonia – Known for its highly rated schools, Caledonia is both close to the amenities of Grand Rapids and far enough to have its own distinctive community.

Middleville – Middleville, which is located along M37 between Grand Rapids and Hastings, offers vibrant small town life a short commute from one of the largest cities in Michigan. From the Thornapple River to the Yankee Springs Recreation Area, there are many opportunities for recreation around Middleville. A charming village with an active farmer’s market and a slate of events year-round helps build a community.

Hopkins – Conveniently located along US-131 between Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and the lakeshore, Hopkins is a great place for working families who may commute to different cities. Hopkins offers a friendly village and a rural atmosphere for people who either like to get away from it all or may be interested in hobby farming, outdoor sports, lake recreation, and more.

KalamazooKalamazoo in recent years has become a hub for people attracted to the festivals, colleges, and progressive ideas of a cool city. With many walkable suburbs and nearby residential areas, Kalamazoo is an energetic city with a neighborhood to suit any lifestyle. Kalamazoo Schools are nationally known for the Kalamazoo Promise, one of the most generous scholarship programs in the nation.

Muskegon – With its location along the shore of Lake Michigan, Muskegon is an attractive and diverse city close to sugar sand beaches and miles of wilderness trails. The city of Muskegon offers a host of shopping, dining, and entertainment options, as well as a long-established economic center.

Grand Haven – Grand Haven, known for its musical fountain and Coast Guard Festival in the summer, also lies along Lake Michigan. Grand Haven is enlivened in the summer by the influx of summertime visitors, and people who choose to make a home here enjoy the year-round beauty of the lake.

That’s really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these West Michigan communities, but the point is that all of these features attract buyers. Whether you’re looking to buy a home or sell your home, it pays to work with a real estate agent experienced in your market. Contact Bellabay Realty at 616-871-9200.

Photo: photosteve101

5 Things Sellers Can Learn from the Real Estate Boom/Bust

If you’re ready to sell your home, you may wonder what the boom/bust of the past several years means for you. The good news for sellers is that 2013 has seen a return to a more normal real estate market. Regardless, when it’s time to sell your home, there are a few valuable lessons that can be taken from recent history:

Set realistic expectations. During the housing bubble, people bought a home expecting the value to rise 5-10% within a couple of years. If the housing bubble taught us anything, it’s that a home is more than just an investment. Potential buyers will most likely be looking at your home with an eye towards long-term investment.

Renovations may not pay. During the housing bubble, many people engaged in “flipping” homes by buying a fixer-upper, renovating it, and reselling. Now that we’re returning to a more normal market, there is a lot less “flipping” going on. Most homeowners just invest in renovations for their own comfort in the home, not expecting to recoup their total investment. When you think about selling, you can always check out Remodeling Magazine’s annual “Cost vs. Value Report” to see which renovations have the greatest return on investment in our area.  In most cases, once you decide to sell your home, major renovations will not return the same amount that you invest in them, although in some cases – say, if the kitchen or bathroom is really dated – it could make a home easier to sell.

There is always some level of buyer demand. For most of 2013, the pace of home sales has been very strong. But even during the slowest times, homes were still selling. An appealing home in the right price range will always sell. You just can’t time the housing market, because it’s always a guess whether you’re selling at the absolute high point or buying at the absolute low point.

It’s important to price it right. In any market, it just make sense to price your home competitively and accurately from the beginning. During the housing boom, many people put their home on the market at some inflated price, sometimes waiting for the market to catch up. And after the bubble burst, some people wanted to put their homes on the market for what they paid during the highest point, and ended up losing their homes. Tricky pricing strategies may easily backfire, when a home stays on the market much longer than it should.

You need an experienced real estate agent you can trust! One good thing for sellers is that a real estate agent who has been through the ups and downs of the recent real estate market will undoubtedly have valuable insights gained through a wide range of experiences. Ideally your agent should have experience with the market in your area. When you’re ready to sell your home, whether it’s in Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Grand Haven, Caledonia, Middleville, Hopkins, or the Grand Rapids area, contact Bellabay Realty at 616-871-9200. 

How to Use Your Real Estate Agent to Sell Your Home

If you haven’t bought or sold a home in the past 10 years or so, you may be surprised how much real estate has changed. Of course the Internet has come to play a much larger role, as most buyers begin their search online. However, the vast majority of real estate transactions still involve real estate agent, and still require as much finesse and determination as ever.

When you hire a real estate agent, you will naturally choose someone you can have confidence in and trust to sell your home. Having been involved in real estate throughout West Michigan for a number of years, I can offer a few tips for the best ways to use your real estate agent to accomplish your goals and make your partnership as effective as possible:

  • Keep your agent up to date about your schedule. Let the agent know the best and worst times to reach you, when you’ll be out of town, and any expected changes in your availability.

  • Respond quickly. Your agent may have questions or offers for you. One of the huge benefits to using an agent is that you’ll be dealing with that person instead of scores of people, so you.

  • Refer all leads to your agent. Certainly use your network and word of mouth to do your own marketing, but once you know someone is interested, put them in touch with your agent (and better yet, put your agent in touch with them!) Your agent can be most effective when they become involved with the potential buyer from the outset. Also, be wary of strangers who try to contact you directly about your home.

  • Let your agent know what is and isn’t working for you. Whether it’s easiest for you to communicate by email or phone or text, make your preference known.

  • Tell your agent everything you can about your home. What details make the home stand apart from your perspective? Share some stories about the great neighborhood, or how you’ve used unique features of the home. Your agent can use these details to bring your home to life for potential buyers. Also, be open about any faults or flaws that you may be obliged to disclose. Your agent may be able to help come up with strategies to remediate them or compensate for them. The last thing you want to do is waste time by having a deal fall through after inspection.

If you’re like most people, you will only be in a situation to sell your home a few times within your lifetime. Make the most of your experience by working with an agent who has your best interests in mind. When you’re ready to sell your home, contact me at 616-871-9200.

What is “Arts and Eats”?

When you’re working to sell your home or buy a new one, sometimes you need a reminder to take a moment to savor fall in West Michigan. This weekend, whether you have an hour or an afternoon to take some time out for fall, look no further than the Arts and Eats event that’s going on across southwest Michigan.

What is Arts and Eats? It’s definitely a unique event, sort of a fall farm and art scavenger hunt. Held right during prime color season, Arts and Eats is a chance to tour the rural back roads and visit artist studios, farms, eateries that serve locally grown foods, and central sites that feature local artists. The event has grown in its short history, and now ranges across several counties in Southwest Michigan – Barry, Kent, Allegan, Kalamazoo, Calhoun, and Van Buren.

Arts and Eats is just one of a number of self-guided tour events celebrating fall in West Michigan, like the well-known Kent Harvest Trails. Opportunities like this can be a great way to get to know the area (or re-acquaint yourself) whether you’re looking to buy a home or sell your home.

  • If you’re buyer, a road trip is a great way to get to know the area, see what has changed, what’s going on, and meet potential neighbors. Especially if you’re thinking of moving from out of the area, an event weekend like this is a good time to look around and possibly scout some homes.

  • If you’re working to sell your home or just thinking about it, an event like this will bring out people to drive around enjoying the colors. Dress up your home and yard a bit with fall landscaping and decoration to increase your curb appeal, and double-check that your real estate signs are visible! You may even have potential buyers interested in viewing your home that weekend, and Arts and Eats offers a seller a perfect opportunity to get out of the house so potential buyers can tour it.

Arts and Eats is this Saturday and Sunday, October 19-20, from 10-5 each day. Whether you stop by one venue or make an afternoon of it, we hope you enjoy the event! And do stop by one of our Bellabay Realty offices while you are out and about, or call me at 616-871-9200 if you find inspiration to sell your home or find a new one.

Photo: M. Gifford

3 Easy Tips to Sell Your Home

cleaningIf it’s time to sell your home, you probably have a lot going on in your life. All the same, selling a home is such a priority that most people want to increase their odds so they can move on with life! Bellabay Realty has been selling homes all over West Michigan – Muskegon, Caledonia, Middleville, Hopkins, Kalamazoo, Grand Haven, Grand Rapids, and more – for so many years that we could offer hundreds of ideas to sell your home. But if you’re pressed for time, there are generally some easy things you can do to give your home that extra boost.

The easiest thing you can do, in terms of time, is to price the home right from the get-go. Find a real estate agent you can trust, and then trust that agent to help you with your pricing strategy. However, that tip involves a lot of collaboration with your real estate agent, so we won’t count that one! Beyond pricing, some of the normal helpful advice for selling your home may not fall into the category of “easy” – removing all clutter, making key renovations, making the home move-in ready.

If you’re pressed for time and looking for easy things you can do to sell your home, here are some small tips:

  1. Get out the painter’s tape! In most homes there are at least a few rooms, walls, ceilings, doors, or trim that could use a little sprucing up. Be selective, tackling the highest priority area first: the dingiest ceiling, the front door, or the accent wall that might not be in everyone’s taste. When you choose interior colors, stick to neutral colors that are on trend. And keep in mind that buyers love light! Repainting a white ceiling, or changing a dark room to a lighter color, can give the impression of light.
  2. Do some easy marketing! Make sure everyone you know is aware that your home is for sale. Mention it on social media, bring it up in conversations, and hand out your real estate agent’s card. That’s right, you can do your own promotion to supplement the efforts of your real estate agent. Many opportunities are made through your “weak connections” – a friend-of-a-friend who knows someone who is looking for a home just like yours, or a neighbor who knows someone who admires your neighborhood or has a relative who wants to move nearby.
  3. Make it sparkle! Buyers are influenced both consciously and subconsciously by a clean home. That means a sparkling bathroom, floors, windows, and counters, and clean smells throughout the home. You can even hire a professional cleaning group to give you a jump start, and then invest a few extra minutes daily to keep it clean and ready to show.

Those three things are often the easiest ways to help sell your home. Realistically, depending on the home itself and your local market, you may need to do more to attract potential buyers, and you want to make sure your efforts are worthwhile.

Your real estate agent’s expert opinion can be invaluable in determining where your effort will be well spent to give your home a boost and get it sold. That’s why one of the most important things you can do to sell your home in this market is to be very selective when choosing a real estate agent. At Bellabay Realty, we know your concerns when it’s time to sell your home. Contact the Bellabay Realty at 616-871-9200 to schedule an appointment today.

What to Do If You Sell Your Home Too Quickly

It’s nearing the end of summer in Michigan, and the weather may be cooling, but the real estate market is still hot hot hot. If, like many homeowners, you have been trying to decide whether to sell your home or wait, now is still an excellent time to put your home on the market. In fact, one concern homeowners may have in a hot market like this is what to do if you sell your home before you are ready.

When you put your home on the market, it’s good to have a contingency plan in case your home does sell before you find your new place. If you do end up in a situation where your home sells right away, you have a few options, and you may need to work them all at the same time:

  • Ramp up your search for a new home. Obviously, when you accept an offer on your home, you’ll probably increase your home search efforts if you don’t yet have a new place. Although it’s important to maintain your standards and find a place that will fit your lifestyle for years to come, you may need to devote more time to your search.
  • Negotiate with your buyers. There may be ways to negotiate with your buyers to gain a little more time, or more importantly, have your realtor negotiate on your behalf. There are several ways of doing this, depending on how much time you need as well as the needs of your buyer. You can ask for a closing date a certain amount of time in the future. Or, your realtor could ask for an option for you to rent the property for a period of time after closing. Here is where it’s very important to have a knowledgeable real estate agent, although depending on the buyers’ needs, there may not be much wiggle room.
  • Find temporary housing. Your real estate agent may be able to help point you towards a rental community or home for the interim, and there are communities that specialize in temporary housing. If you’re still not sure about the area you want to move to, try renting in the neighborhood where you are considering buying, and spend some time getting to know the area better. If you’re not inclined to rent, you can also put out feelers to friends and relatives who may have extra space. Yes, you might end up living in your parents’ basement for a period of time, but console yourself that the situation will only be temporary. Finally, don’t hesitate to mention your situation on social media to see if anyone has ideas for you! You’d be surprised how an acquaintance or casual friend might be able help.

Flexibility is key! Even though putting your belongings in storage or moving one extra time may be a hassle, it’s important for your quality of life to make sure the next home you purchase is the right one.

Wherever you are in West Michigan – Muskegon, Grand Haven, Grand Rapids, Caledonia, Middleville, Hopkins, Kalamazoo, anywhere – the experts at Bellabay Realty can help you ensure a smooth transition when the time comes to sell your home. Contact us today at 616-871-9200.

Photo: mbtrama