Home Owner Tips

Ask Agnes: Selling and Buying on Cape Cod - Part 3

In this series we examine the process of selling on Cape Cod - and don't worry, we'll get to the buying soon.  This installment includes getting from negotiation to closing.

"Hey Agnes, I finally have a good offer?  What now?"

"Congratulations!  You have been putting up with the inconveniences of showings and open houses and it has finally paid off (for an idea of the process up to this point, check out part 1 and part 2).  Now is when we work with both parties to agree on a contract for the sale.  The truth is that price is only part of what can be negotiated when selling a home.  Other items that we frequently see involved in negotiations are deferred repairs (like aging roofs, windows etc...), septics, and personal property."

"Wait, a buyer can ask me to repair my roof before they buy my house?"

Well they can certainly ask - but the outcome is negotiable.  Let me use an example: your house is on the market for $350,000 and has an aging roof.  A buyer offers $350,000 if a new roof is installed.  After some back and forth both parties agree to $340,000 without a new roof.  In this case the cost of the roof is the negotiating point and the seller will not need to install a new roof before the sale.  We can imagine that this negotiation may have started with a buyer offer of $335,000 (from a quote of $15,000 for a new roof) but the savvy seller found another quote for only $5,000.  The two parties decided to split the difference.  A main point to keep in mind as the seller is how your pricing strategy reflects the 'listing price'.  If your home has a lot of wear and tear, an aging roof, and old windows, but it was priced accordingly, then items like the roof may not be negotiated at all.  You may have seen this in homes listed in 'As Is' condition, meaning the seller isn't willing to negotiate on items related to the condition of the home.  Employing a qualified real estate agent is a great way to worry less about the details of the negotiation (that's our job).  If you are interested in a home that doesn't need anything except to put your feet up and enjoy the water view, check out this property at 13 Beachwood Rd, South Yarmouth."

"That sounds great, but what do you mean 'personal property'"

"Well, often homes are sold empty, but sometimes they are sold furnished or a few items (pianos, pool tables and kids play areas are good examples), can be a part of the negotiation and sale as well.  Negotiations that don't involve furniture or other items of personal property are often smoother.  Believe it or not negotiating several $200 items in a $350,000 sale can literally make a deal fall apart, so it helps to keep the big picture in mind. This is always a sticky situation and we recommend to our clients that the family heirloom french armoire be explicitly excluded from a sale in the listing descriptions."

"OK, we finished negotiating and agreed on terms, what next?"

"Well done.  Negotiating to this point is a challenge, but there is still a lot that needs to happen.  The most important thing to a seller is the home inspection contingency.  In this case the buyer is allowed supervised access to the home where they can have a knowledgeable professional(s) look the house over from joist to rafter.  Sometimes, buyers will pull out of a transaction based on this assessment, or they will attempt to negotiate repairs or a lower price.  Having a real estate agent on your side can help with further negotiation or identify if a contract should be terminated."

"And that's it?"

 "Not yet.  Buyers will often require financing (a mortgage) to buy a home which can take a long time to acquire (45 days or more).  Also appraisals may need to be done, along with inspections, final bills and certificates of compliance from a variety of governmental agencies.  On the seller side most of this time is spent setting up your own move while your agent works to keep everything plugging along smoothly. Finally the house will 'close' when paperwork is signed and the deed is recorded at the registry of deeds."

Thank you Agnes.  As usual we rely on your years of expertise and insight.  Our next installment will involve getting from negotiation to closing.  Feel free to contact us with questions.

Ask Agnes: Selling and Buying on Cape Cod - Part 2

In this series we examine the process of selling on Cape Cod - and don't worry, we'll get to the buying soon.  This installment includes choosing an agent and living with a listed property.

"OK Agnes, I am ready to choose an agent...what should I consider?"

    "Well, a great place to start is with interview questions to ask your agent.  Consider some points in this article on nerdwallet.com and create your questions with the goal of choosing a professional.  We suggest asking, "In which neighborhoods do you primarily work?", "Do you work full-time or part-time?", "Can I hear from your past clients?", and "How many sales did you close last year?".  An agent worth their salt should be able to answer all of those questions satisfactorily. 

    "Keep in mind that many real estate agents are part-timers or hobbyists who participate in very few deals each year.  Of the 2,712 registered agents and approximately 5,325 residential sales in 2017 you can see that 91% of agents on Cape Cod participated in fewer than one deal per month.  While we don't snub our noses at anyone working hard to make a living in a competitive industry, we strongly recommend you consider agents who have the experience and expertise that comes from doing dozens of deals each year, rather than just a handful, or none.  It may feel good to give a close friend from your book club a chance to sell your house but when it comes to six and seven figure transactions we recommend hiring professionals.  Think of it like this: chances are that the other party will be represented by one of the agents in the top 1% anyway, so set yourself up for success and make sure that your agent is not outmatched even before you start negotiating.  We'd also like to point out that the Cape Cod Chatelains are in that top 1% category (we are actually in the top 0.3%)."

"Really Agnes?  It's just a stats game?"

    "No and stop interrupting.  You have to be sure you connect with, like, and trust whomever you choose to work with.  Agents are so plentiful that you have a lot of choices - be sure you will want to work with this person, or these people for a while.  The process of selling your home can take months, and sometimes years depending on the client's needs and expectations.  Keep in mind also that we aren't just talking about how long your home spends on the market.  A good agent is going to work with you from start to finish and this process can be timely, as should any major transaction.  And be sure to ask for references - we are proud that an average of 88% of our business comes from repeat or referred clients who are always happy to speak with folks who are considering us to represent them."

"Thanks Agnes.  Now to actually having a house listed...what is that like?

    "Well again this depends on your current situation.  Needless to say it can be easier to sell a second home if it is not your primary residence because it is far less disruptive.  But let's consider a home that is occupied full time for this exercise.  First, there is generally a lot of activity when a house first hits the market.  The Cape market is heavily seller favored so there are buyers that are waiting for houses to pop up.  Literally we get calls within the first 20 minutes a listing activates.  Furthermore we schedule two different types of open houses as soon as is feasible for the seller.  First we schedule an agent open house during a work day so that local agents can preview the property.  Soon thereafter we do a weekend open house for the public so that anyone and everyone gets a chance so see the home.  It helps tremendously if the home is in tip-top shape for both of these events - clean desks, no drying dishes, fresh towels, swept, mopped, dusted, you get the idea.  From then on showings are as requested.  Keeping the house tidy and clean during this time helps it show well.  Also we love chatting with our clients about black-out times when showings are not possible (i.e. dinner or Sundays 1-3), as well as the best way to get in touch when needed.  Needless to say, when a house is on the market it can feel disruptive and intrusive to have strangers in it.  Setting some black out times is a great way to ensure your home still feels like your home, and we are happy to work with clients on which times make most sense (blocking out every day from 4:30-8 may be impossible when accommodating work schedules for example).  Additionally we always recommend that sellers leave for showings, it reduces stress for all parties and allows the buyers to make informed decisions."

Thank you Agnes.  As usual we rely on your years of expertise and insight.  Our next installment will involve getting from negotiation to closing.  Feel free to contact us with questions.

Ask Agnes: Selling and Buying on Cape Cod - Part 1

    We're back for another installment of 'Ask Agnes'.  Recently we have had a lot of interest regarding the process of selling your home on Cape Cod.  We'll start this series with the process of selling and be sure to hit relevant points to consider when listing your property including when, with whom, and why.

"Hey Agnes, should I sell my home and when should I put it on the market?"

    "'Should I sell' is probably the most important question to consider for any potential seller.  Before considering a move, research the time and cost for changing your current home into one more suited to your needs.  If you love your current location but need an extra 200 sq ft then an addition or reconfiguration may be a better idea than a move.  For more information on choosing a contractor check out our blog - 5 Things to Consider When Hiring a Contractor.  However a job relocation, undesirable location, or already maximized space in your current home are all reasons that necessitate a sale.  

   "Once you have made the decision to sell, timing can be critical.  Luckily a lot of the Cape Cod market has such low inventory right now that a home priced correctly for its condition and features can sell quickly regardless of the listing start date. Additionally we ran some numbers for the previous few years and there is no significant correlation between how close you get to your original asking price and when you list your house.  However, houses that list in the early spring and late summer spend less time on the market.  And the less time your home spends on the market leads to fewer mortgage payments, electric bills, insurance (etc...) so ultimately, more money in your pocket."  

"What can I do to prepare my home (and myself) for listing?"

    "Make a plan for the future: The most important question is where will you go once your home sells?  If your home is not a primary residence then this question may already be answered, but if your home is rented it is important to make sure tenants have somewhere to go as well.  Another thing to consider is your financial situation and how long you can afford to wait for your house to sell.  The reality is that some properties take longer to sell than others but be sure you have enough money to pay all mortgages, taxes and repair bills that may come up.  Just because you are selling doesn't mean you are not responsible for putting on a new roof or repairing damage due to flooding. Working with a local agent on a pricing strategy to meet your timeline is critical.

    "Prepare the property:  While squeaky hinges and jiggly doorknobs are things we all deal with in our own homes, now is the time to address each item on the punch list (a great example of a well prepared and kept property is 9 Osborn Snow Dr, East Dennis).  You would laugh at how often some of these items are on the original inspection report from years (sometimes decades) ago when the owner bought the house.  But don't feel bad, this is the reality of owning a home (and I have a few of these items still on the list too...Ed...).  Also cleaning and appropriately staging your home highlights its best qualities.  A pile of folded clothes on the bed during a showing is not as detrimental as a three foot stack of newspaper clippings on a cluttered and dusty desk.  Unique furniture, expensive menageries, and unfinished projects don't sell houses.  Let the best of your home shine through (and finish that 10 year old jigsaw puzzle in your new house).  The same goes for landscaping.  Trim the hedges, cut the grass, weed the garden, mulch the roses.  Check out some suggestions in an older blog on exterior improvements.  Curb appeal is the second impression of your home (the first is the photos!) and cannot be underestimated in importance."

Thanks Agnes, as always we appreciate your years (but not too many) of insight into the local market.  For the next installment we'll be examining how to choose a real estate agent and what having your house listed is actually like.  As always don't hesitate to contact us with questions about all of your real estate needs.

5 Things to Consider When Hiring a Contractor

Fall is a great time to consider more significant home improvements including bathroom and kitchen remodeling, exterior residing and shingling, and landscaping upgrades and improvements.  With the holidays still months away many projects can be completed before guests, turkeys, and trees begin occupying your time.  If your project is a more significant undertaking, you can at least begin a conversation so that improvements can be done next year.  With this in mind here are our top five considerations when hiring a contractor.

1. ASK AROUND

The most significant way to spare yourself a headache down the road is to ask your friends and neighbors about their experiences.  If you notice quality craftsmanship at a dinner party, ask about the responsible contractor; if exterior repairs and painting look stunning, check for signs in the yard; if landscaping is exquisite... well, you get the idea.  If someone comes highly recommended they more than likely do a great job.  The trim pictured at left should raise a red flag if newer construction; in this case, this is 30 years old and in an outdoor shower, we figure we'll cut the builder some slack.

2. GET REFERENCES AND EXAMPLES OF WORK

A good contractor will stand by their work so ask to see examples (particularly of older work to determine longevity).  If a contractor does a dynamite paint job that in two years is chipping away, consider going elsewhere; also be aware that interior work is difficult to see in occupied homes but you can always ask the contractor - as should be obvious, inviting yourself onto others' property is inappropriate.  If you don't like the work they do, don't use them.  We love the custom tile work at 9 Osborn Snow Drive in East Dennis, pictured at right, as well as so much more in this luxury home.

3. EXPECT A WRITTEN CONTRACT

While operating on a handshake is doable, writing down your specific agreement insures both you and the contractor know what is expected.  Written contracts can easily be appended in the event of changes so don't think they lock you into an immutable arrangement (also four months is a long time to remember whether the painter was responsible for trim on the dog house or not).  Our advice - make sure 'clean-up' is well defined and a part of any agreement.

4. GET MULTIPLE BIDS

Too often people go with the first offer without considering other bids - this is a mistake.  Furthermore asking for bids from multiple contractors informs one of the most important things about them, their timeliness.  Frequently we make four or five calls for a job and receive only two calls back.  No matter how highly recommended someone is they don't win points by being hard to reach, late with offers, or otherwise discourteous in any way.

5. BE REASONABLE AND PATIENT

Even excellent contractors can't make every deadline and there are plenty of legitimate reasons why something may not go as expected.  Good contractors are busy and may not be able to work with you for months, or even years.  In addition, when you are working with someone don't expect that they will be able to do everything today, be understanding with reasonable delays, and be kind.  If things aren't going as expected then you can always refer to your written contract about how to end the work.  In fact, the land at 196 Baxter Street, South Dennis - pictured at left - has been on a contractors docket for nearly 15 years, but we are constantly reassured a house will be built any day now (just kidding of course.  But give us a call if you are interested in this land...it is a lot to love.)

 

If you have any questions about how home improvements affect your property in the market feel free to contact us today, we are always happy to answer any questions you may have.

Add value to your home through exterior improvements

  As the days get shorter and the prospect of fall becomes ever more apparent, outdoor landscaping improvements seem less daunting.  Cooler weather makes outdoor projects more enjoyable and undertaking even simple jobs can add significantly to the curb appeal of your home.  The National Association of Realtors published a report relating to the benefits of outdoor remodeling projects that you can find here and while many of their suggestions are valid in the national market we pulled out the one we find most pertinent to Cape Cod.

LAWN CARE AND MAINTENANCE is by far the most important and cost effective thing you can do to add value to your home. We can not stress enough the importance of keeping your landscaping neat.  You needn't spend a fortune to re-sod your lawn, install irrigation, repave your driveway and invest in mature plantings in order to reap gains on the sale price of your home.  For the cost of a used lawn mower (often free) and an hour once or twice a week you can add value to your property and enjoy a more pleasing atmosphere in the mean time. One of the most important aspects of cost-effective landscape care is matching it to the condition of your home.  On Cape Cod a lot of small cottages have 'Cape Cod lawns' - which is a nice way of saying mostly pine needles and some tenacious tufts of grass here and there - and, if paired with a clean, weed-free shell driveway and well pruned shrubs, requires minimum  investment in landscaping improvement.  However, newer homes with poorly maintained landscaping (spots on the lawn, overgrowth, rotting fences) significantly detract from the curb appeal and, ultimately, sale price of your home.  If it is in the budget, having trusted and professional landscapers on a yearly maintenance schedule is a great way to be sure your landscaping looks its best as they can take care of fall cleanup, spring planting, regular pruning, trimming and mowing and much more.  Let's see a few examples:

429 Bragg's Lane in Barnstable, is an updated home with appropriately matched and maintained landscaping.  The plantings in front are below the windows and the lawn is well maintained, which is appropriate for the condition of the home.   Also shown is a cute patio in the backyard.  While not always needed or fitting, adding tasteful exterior living space can definitely add value to your home, and this simple patio is a great example of that.  Unfortunately this home just sold for $480K but if you are interested in other Barnstable homes check this out.

5 Sebastian Way in South Yarmouth, is an example of a house with appropriate and simple landscaping.  The minimal plantings in front are still growing into their spaces , the hydrangeas are well pruned and blooming, and the lawn (a good example of a Cape Cod lawn), is trimmed with the flower beds neatly mulched and ringed in front.  As a cute summer getaway or year-round residence, this home also benefits from a simple fire-pit ringed with bricks.  Well matched and well maintained beats neglected every time.  Yarmouth is a beautiful town and there are plenty of other Yarmouth listing to be seen here.

As a final point regarding soft-scaping, the late summer and early fall is a great time to reseed your lawn on Cape Cod.  The ground is warm and yet the scorching summer sun is in the past so seedlings have a chance to get established before the winter.  Believe it or not, many grasses will survive a winter covered in snow more easily than a summer baked in sun - so time to reseed ladies and gentlemen.

If you need help contacting trusted local landscapers or have questions about buying or selling a home please give us a call today.

Homeownership on Cape Cod Part III

We have just introduced a new informational page on the website, 'Homeownership on Cape Cod'.  We will be adding more information to it in the future, but for now here is the third part of that page with some useful information regarding basements, sump pumps and dirt roads.  As always contact us for information about both buying and selling on Cape Cod.

 

Basements and Sump Pumps

   Cape Cod's proximity to the ocean is part of what makes it such a treasured and wonderful place to live.  The water that makes up our aquifer floats on the saltwater and, when the groundwater is high, can be seen in basements.  When the Cape was first settled basements were dug by hand and, as a result, often were shallow or limited to root cellars under only a portion of the house and many antiques on Cape Cod still feature these stonewalled and circular cellars close to kitchens.  As development progressed and heating requirements changed from hearths to furnaces, the 'Cape Cod Basement' was born.  In these instances a small section of the basement is accessible from an exterior bulkhead and is often deep enough to stand in.  These smaller areas sometimes feature furnaces, water heaters, oil tanks, washing machines or dryers - whereas the rest of the basement is frequently an earthen floor and only small enough in which to crawl, affectionately known as a 'crawl space'.  Another commonly seen aspect of basements on Cape Cod are sump pumps which act to keep the groundwater below the floor of the basement.  Like any appliance these should be maintained and specifically checked after significant rain storms and during the spring.  

 

Dirt Roads and Wooden Bridges

    The Cape’s rural past still has other remnants including dirt roads, wooden bridges and low bridges.  Picturesque examples of wooden bridges can be seen crossing Bell’s Neck Road and North Road (the walking bridge pictured at right) in Harwich, and the bridge to Lieutenant’s Island in Welfleet.  

   

    Living on a dirt road comes with the advantages that the traffic is limited generally to locals and the poetic benefit of being able to say ‘turn down the dirt road’ when inviting friends to dinner.  

 

Homeownership on Cape Cod Part II

We have just introduced a new informational page on the website, 'Homeownership on Cape Cod'.  We will be adding more information to it in the future, but for now here is the second part of that page with some useful information on septic systems, building norms and utilities.  As always contact us for information about both buying and selling on Cape Cod.

 

Cape Cod Homeownership

Septic Systems

    One very common and sometimes befuddling aspect of local homeownership on Cape Cod relates to septic systems.  Put simply these are systems that collect wastewater from the home, separate solids from liquids, and leech the liquids back through a natural soil filter into the ground.  For more information on septic systems please check out some of these useful links

Local Building and Construction in Brief

    Regarding construction on Cape Cod, the traditional 'Cape' style house (pictured with red painted clapboards) stems from a New England style of utter utilitarianism.  The fairly high pitched roof prevented the crushing weight of heavy snowfall from collapsing the building and the upstairs bedrooms meant the heat would rise upstairs to make sleeping more comfortable.  You can find 'Half Capes' and full Capes all over, though many have seen additions or dormers added to increase usable space.  Most construction on Cape Cod is wooden framed with cedar shingles or clapboards for siding and pitched asphalt roofs.  Some homes also have red cedar shingling on the roof.  We have a graphic here, that does a phenomenal job of illustrating the elements of homes.  

Utilities

    A fact of life on Cape Cod (as with anywhere) is the occasional power outage.  Cape Cod, being a peninsula in the Atlantic Ocean, receives a number of storms during the year, particularly during the winter.  Affectionately known as Nor'easters from the direction of the wind, these storms can cause some damage to the unprepared house.

Homeownership on Cape Cod Part I

We have just introduced a new informational page on the website, 'Homeownership on Cape Cod'.  We will be adding more information to it in the future, but for now here is the first part of that page with some useful town and county information.  As always contact us for information about both buying and selling on Cape Cod.

 

Cape Cod has so much to offer residents.  Our guide to homeownership in this beautiful region provides information for current residents and prospective homeowners.  An excellent place to begin is the Barnstable County government website that includes numerous resources and services for residents and property owners.  To highlight a few:

  • Cape Cod Commission: "The Cape Cod Commission (CCC) is the regional land use planning, economic development, and regulatory agency created in 1990 to serve the citizens and 15 towns of Barnstable County, Massachusetts."
  • Cape Cod Cooperative Extension: The education department for Barnstable County including excellent resources for planting and maintaining local plants, tick mitigation and much more.
Barnstable County Taxes 2017

Assessed Values

Chamber of Commerce School District
Barnstable (town) $9.54 Assessor Town, Hyannis  Barnstable
Bourne $10.30 Assessor Cape Cod Canal Bourne
Brewster $8.39 Assessor Town Nauset
Chatham $5.03 Assessor Town Monomoy
Dennis $6.15 Assessor Town D-Y
Eastham $7.90 Assessor Town Nauset
Falmouth $8.53 Assessor Town Falmouth
Harwich $8.97 Assessor Town Monomoy
Mashpee $9.08 Assessor Town Mashpee
Orleans $6.33 Assessor Town Nauset
Provincetown $7.71 Assessor Town Elementary, HS
Sandwich $14.93 Assessor Cape Cod Canal Sandwich
Truro $6.98 Assessor Town Nauset
Wellfleet $6.78 Assessor Town Nauset
Yarmouth $10.02 Assessor Town D-Y

 

Town & County Specific Information

    Each town on Cape Cod hosts a website with a variety of information ranging from beach and transfer station sticker information, to events and town committee agendas. We pulled out the county's and each town's website, taxes, assessed values and field cards, local chambers of commerce, and school districts.

Barnstable County houses a registry of deeds, in the town of Barnstable, on route 6A.  Here you can discover much about the ownership record, title history and liens on properties as well as much more.  Don't be discouraged by the nuanced interface, the county employees are helpful in person and over the phone.  As an interesting side note, the first ninety-four volumes recorded at the registry were lost in a catastrophic fire in 1827.  As a result, some of the property history is still in land court if instruments could not be re-recorded.  So don't be discouraged if you can't find what you are looking for, just check in 'land court' instead of the 'recorded land'.

 

Spring Cleanup adds value to your home | Real Estate | Cape Cod

Maximize the Sale Price of Your Home this Spring

    Potential sellers always ask us about the best ways to maximize the sale price of their home.  Even before we begin the conversation we frequently see defeat in their eyes because they expect us to name big big ticket items like kitchens, roofs, or bathrooms.  While these can indeed help to maximize return we think these three low-cost projects are an excellent use of homeowner resources.  

1. Landscaping

    We understand, trying to maintain a yard on Cape Cod is asking a lot. Pitch pine needles and salt spray are not conducive to green and lush grass, but who says you have to have perfect grass to have curb appeal?  Using local plants that thrive on the Cape is a great way to improve the health of the local ecosystem as well as make your home feel like it fits into the landscape.  Check out the link here for more information on local species.  Furthermore simple clean-up tasks like edging and mulching your flowers, cutting your grass, and removing downed trees and branches all improve the look and feel of your home.

2. Wash and Paint

    Now don't get too excited, we understand that painting trim and siding is an expensive job for a professional and time consuming for the owner-enthusiast.  However peeling paint can be an immediate turn off to potential buyers so here is our recommendation - wash the house and touch-up the paint.  Washing doesn't have to involve a professional company - a garden hose and sturdy brush will clean much of what needs to be taken care of.  Rain splatters dirt around the foundation and shaded areas provide excellent habitat for mildew, moss, or lichen.  Pay special attention to removing mildew in corners and on or around gutters.   

  Painting can seem onerous as well but the good news is that it really isn't that bad.  Keeping up with flakes and chips every spring adds years to the life of a paint job and makes your home look well-tended and loved (which adds a lot of value).  Open a paint can (that matches the color please) and spend a few minutes a day walking around and retouching. 

3. Do That 'Honey-Do'

    All homeowner's have a project in the yard that makes them say,  'I really do need to get this done'.  Weeding paths, planting flower boxes, fixing broken fence rails, repairing screens or cracked glass, etc... stop procrastinating and do it already.  Those little projects are on your list and they will be on a buyer's as well.  No one wants something preventing the sale of their home, so take care of that nagging thing today.  

 

 

  One example is 9 Osborn Snow Drive, East Dennis.  While we all wish we could have such a spectacular luxury home we can still learn a lot from its neat and tidy planted gardens and ornamental plants that are BELOW the windows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Here is another wonderful home, 41 Deacon Court, Barnstable.  Notice the neatly kept crushed stone driveway, low plants and maintained paint.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Here is a beautiful example of a new listing coming soon to the market.  23 Millers Road South Dennis.  We choose it as our stellar example of a perfectly maintained Cape Ranch.