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The Commonwealth Blog

Monday, May 22, 2017

Does Your Home Have a Gourmet Kitchen?

If you’re getting ready to put your home on the market and you have a gourmet kitchen, that’s something you should play up in your listing. Kitchens designed for specialized cooking and baking are more sought-after than you might think—in fact, one Trulia survey found that 53% of young home buyers are interested in gourmet kitchens. While these buyers might not be professional chefs, they want to be able to make a wide range of specialty foods, and they want a kitchen that lets them easily access all the tools they need.

Not sure if your kitchen counts as gourmet? Check our list of features you’ll commonly find in state-of-the-art kitchens:

  • A separate refrigerator and freezer. Plenty of space for food storage is a must for avid home chefs.
  • A commercial-grade oven. Some gourmet kitchens even have two industrial-style ovens, if space allows.
  • A six-burner stovetop and industrial strength ventilation system. The range hood needs to be able to handle high-output burners.
  • A kitchen island with built-in appliances. Some gourmet kitchen islands have their own sink, drawers, cabinets, wine cooler, and even a second dishwasher.
  • Innovative storage solutions. One feature that appeals to many home buyers, whether they’re looking for a gourmet kitchen or not, is having plenty of storage space. High-end kitchens often have features like roll-out pantries, rollout trash and recycling bins, and slotted drawers that make it easy to store and access spices, utensils, and other essentials.

How to Add Gourmet Elements to Your Kitchen

Even if your kitchen doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a commercial restaurant, there are a few gourmet elements you can add that may appeal to buyers and increase your home value.

Home cooks of all experience levels appreciate having plenty of space to work, so consider upgrading your counter space. Granite and stainless steel countertops are popular choices, as they’re durable and can stand up to heavy use. Many home chefs and bakers also appreciate having a butcher block built into the counter.

Lighting is key to a good kitchen workspace, so make sure that all usable areas of your kitchen, from the stove to the counters to the cabinets, are well-lit. Consider adding under-cabinet lighting and recessed lights as needed.

Expanding your kitchen storage space can also help woo buyers. If you’re trying to decide what kitchen renovations to invest in, consider adding a pull-out pantry (one that has wheels and rolls out from a wall slot), adding new cabinets, or adding floating shelves for spices and other frequently-used items. When renovating, think about how future homeowners are likely to use the kitchen and try to create storage spaces that will let them reach the supplies they need quickly.

One last word to the wise: if you decide to renovate your kitchen to meet the needs of enthusiastic home cooks, don’t put more money into the project than your home value can support. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to spend between 6 and 10 percent of the total home value on kitchen renovations and get a decent return on investment.

Monday, May 22, 2017

6 Tips for Staging Outdoor Spaces

If you’re planning to sell your home this spring, summer, or even fall, you’ll have an excellent opportunity to show off your outdoor spaces. Buyers love thinking about how they can use the outdoor space that will come with their new home, and a well-staged front porch or back patio can make your property stand out.

Here are six tips to help you get your outdoor spaces looking great before you start showing your home.

Highlight the Outdoor Space Possibilities

As with your indoor spaces, you’ll want to make sure buyers can imagine how they would use the outdoor space. For example, if you have a small patio overlooking a garden, you could set up a café table and two chairs to suggest a cozy breakfast nook. If you have a large deck, you could stage a seating area with four chairs and a low table—buyers will be able to imagine gathering there with friends and family when the weather’s nice.

Zone Your Large Spaces

If you’re in the lucky position of having a large outdoor entertaining space, consider breaking it up into different visual zones. You could set up an outdoor dining space in one area and a shaded space for relaxing in another. Try using outdoor rugs to help define these spaces.

Create a Focal Point

Here’s another tip that carries over from indoor staging—define a focal point and stage your space in a way that draws your buyer’s eyes to that point. For an outdoor space, that point might be a fireplace, fire pit, or small pond. Ideally, it should be a good gathering place for groups. Try to orient your outdoor furniture around your focal point so that your potential buyers gravitate towards it.

Spruce Up Your Outdoor Furniture

You don’t necessarily need to go out and buy new outdoor furniture before selling your home, but if your current outdoor furniture is looking a little worse for the wear, you should spruce it up before showing your home. Consider cleaning and repainting older wood and wicker furniture. Replace or reupholster worn out cushions with a sun- and weather-resistant fabric. Opt for a neutral palette with a few splashes of color, such as bright throw pillows or potted plants.

Dress Up Exterior Walls

If the exterior wall bordering your outdoor entertaining space is looking bare and a little too expansive, help break it up by adding a few décor pieces that will draw the eye. For example, you could add some wall hangers with flowers, succulents, or plants with dangling vines. You could also hang metal art or outdoor art canvases (just make sure they’re waterproof and UV-protected).

Be Strategic with your Greenery

While most of your landscaping efforts may be going towards your front yard to boost your curb appeal, you shouldn’t neglect your backyard. If you don’t have a lot of greenery around your outdoor entertaining space, adding a few container plants can brighten the area without a lot of effort. If you have a lot of trees, shrubs, or flowers in your backyard, take some time to remove dead plants and prune back overgrown ones. Apply a fresh layer of mulch to garden beds, and if you find yourself needing to remove a lot of plants, consider replacing them or covering the open space with decorative pots. Whatever you do, don’t neglect your outdoor spaces—your potential buyers will be sure to want to see them. Wowing your potential buyers with a beautiful outdoor area can go

Whatever you do, don’t neglect your outdoor spaces—your potential buyers will be sure to want to see them. Wowing your potential buyers with a beautiful outdoor area can go a long ways towards helping you sell your home.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Tips to Save on Furniture for Your First Home

Buying a new home can be a complicated and stressful process, especially for first-time home buyers. If you’re moving from a small apartment or are combining households, you may not have the furniture you need to fill a larger home. After all the work you’ve done negotiating on the house, packing away all your furniture, signing paperwork, and setting up insurance, buying and setting up new furniture may be the last thing you want to do.

So where do you begin? Do you furnish everything at once? Buy used or new furniture? What’s most important when setting up your first home? We’ll walk you through the do’s and don’ts of furnishing your first house without burning through all the money in the bank.

Remember: There’s No Time Table

You don’t have to buy all your new furniture the month you move into your first home. Even though you may want to start decorating and hosting immediately, you don’t need to rush into it. Take it slow and buy pieces you love at prices you can afford, even if it takes longer. No one expects you to have a fully-furnished new home right away, so don’t expect if of yourself.

Shop the Sales and Negotiate

Many furniture retailers offer sales that occur around major holiday times such as Christmas and from May to August. Even though your favorite furniture item may be discounted, negotiating is always an option. Whether you’re shopping at a mom and pop store or a larger chain, aim for a lower price. See if you can get delivery tacked on for free. There’s usually room for some additional discount. By being a savvy shopper, you can save money and buy pieces you love instead of settling on just filling your home.

Don’t Be Afraid to Buy Used

Now that you know you don’t need to buy all your furniture immediately, you can decide whether to buy used or new. You can save thousands off the price of new furniture and get better-quality used prices for the same price. Look at garage sales, flea markets, and resale shops for a great deal. For new furniture, shop sales, take advantage of 0% financing promotions, and focus your money on the pieces you use the most—your sofa, bed, perhaps your dining room table. The other pieces are accessories, and you don’t need to spend as much initially.

Balance Style and Comfort

You might want to buy furniture that matches your signature style—you might even have a Pinterest board full of your favorite pieces. However, for many key pieces, such as your bed and sofa, comfort is key. You can assert your style with blankets, pillows, and accessories, rather than permanent, expensive pieces that are costly to replace. Regardless of your fashion sense, invest in neutral pieces that will look good for years to come.

Use these first home furniture tips to avoid overspending when furnishing your new home. We're confident that you can make your new home look great without breaking the bank.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Should You Upgrade Your Floors Before Selling?

You’re getting ready to sell your home, and you have older carpet or scratched hardwood in some of your rooms. Do you repair it for the new homeowner or leave it as is since you’re moving out anyway? Realtors frequently hear this question before sellers put their homes on the market. Investing just a few hundred to a few thousand dollars in new carpeting or hardwood flooring can increase the sellability of your home and increase your buying price.

Does Upgrading Your Flooring Pay Off?

If you choose to replace or refinish existing flooring, it can be a great way to breathe new life into your home. Updating kitchen tiling or hardwood floors throughout a living space, or even replacing the carpet in the bedrooms can freshen up your home and can potentially give you a 3 to 5% bump in your selling price.

While hardwood is often expensive, engineered hardwood and quality carpet can be affordable options, as well as wood-like tile. In areas where the tile is go-to throughout the home, try an engineered tile that mimics the look of ceramic without the higher cost. Investing just $600-900 can give you a return of up to $2000, which seems like a no-brainer.

Should I Replace or Repair?

Buyers love hardwood floors, but they can be a major expense to replace. If you have existing hardwoods in your home, consider refinishing them for a fresh look. If you have carpet over hardwood, consider removing it and then staining and patching the wood for a contemporary look that will please many of your buyers.

If your hardwood floors are damaged beyond repair, consider replacing them with an engineered hardwood or see if you can find a good deal on a quality laminate option. If your carpet has been damaged from years of use, steam cleaning may not be enough and replacement may be necessary. Consult with your Realtor to determine what will be the best investment in your area to help sell your home for top dollar.

The Bottom Line

Fixing up the floors in your home before selling can be just the thing to help give your home staging a finishing touch. Buyers will appreciate the new or refinished wood floors or carpet, and you can gain thousands in additional value.

Monday, May 8, 2017

6 Outdoor Features Home Buyers Want

When it comes to homes for sale, it’s not just what’s on the inside that counts. Home buyers pay close attention to outdoor features, from backyards to front porches. In some cases, outdoor amenities can be deciding factors or deal breakers.

We’ve highlighted six outdoor features that many buyers picture when they think of their dream home. If you’re selling a home with any of these amenities, you and your Realtor should show them off.

Entertaining Space

Whether it’s a balcony on a high-rise apartment or a patio behind a Ranch-style house, home buyers are interested in having an outdoor space where they can entertain guests. And they don’t just want a space for mild spring or fall days. Features that keep an outdoor space comfortable year-round, such as a covered deck or a stone fire pit in the backyard, can be selling points.

Front Porch

Buyers want to be able to picture themselves in their new home, and if the property comes with a front porch, many people will picture themselves sitting outside with friends, enjoying a cold drink, or just watching what’s going on in the neighborhood. A porch can also boost curb appeal and serve as an inviting entrance for both homeowners and visitors.

Great Lighting

Strategic landscape lighting can improve security, illuminate a front walkway, and showcase a home at night. Sure, home buyers might not think about outdoor lighting when touring a home during the day, but if they decide to drive by in the evening, the right lighting can have a significant impact. However, keep in mind that home buyers might be turned off by overly bright lights that create a glare and make the property look like a football stadium or strip mall.

Outdoor Kitchen

An outdoor kitchen won’t be a make-or-break feature for the average home buyer, but most people will consider it a perk. For many home buyers, an outdoor kitchen inspires thoughts of backyard dinner parties and summertime cooking. Appealing features include stone or stainless steel countertops, built-in grills, under-counter refrigerators, storage cabinets, and pizza ovens.

Walkable Neighborhood

While ‘walkable neighborhood’ isn’t a home feature, it’s a benefit that many home buyers look for. 56% of millennials and 46% of baby boomers state a preference for living in walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. Especially in dense cities like Boston where driving can be a challenge, home buyers love the idea of being able to walk or bike to restaurants, stores, and even their jobs.

Green Space

Research suggests that living near green spaces can be a boon for physical and mental health, but even home buyers who aren’t looking at the data will likely say that the idea of living near parks, fields, and tree-lined streets appeals to them. It’s well worth highlighting nearby greenery in property listings and during home showings.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Wait to Save 20 Percent or Buy Now?

If you’re an aspiring first-time homeowner, you may think that you need to save up 20% of a home’s total value to put into the down payment. In reality, most home buyers pay far less up front. The average down payment in 2016 was just 11%, and if you qualify for a Federal Housing Association (FHA) loan, you could make a down payment as low as 3.5%.

The question, then, is whether you should wait and save up a 20% down payment or go with a lower down payment option so that you can buy sooner.

Why Make a Lower Down Payment?

With the median price of listed homes in the US currently at $245,000 (as of May 2017), it can be difficult for first-time home buyers to save up 20% of a home’s value for a down payment. A couple making the median household income of $55,775, for example, would have to put almost 88% of their annual income into a 20% down payment for a home at the current median price. It can take years for aspiring buyers to save up for a 20% down payment, and in the meantime, they’re sinking money into rent.

By going with a lower down payment option, you can buy a home sooner. And while your monthly mortgage premiums will be higher than if you paid 20%, you’ll at least be investing in your property rather than paying a landlord.

Opting for a lower down payment may also be the right choice if making a 20% down payment would require all your savings. When calculating how much you can afford to spend on a home, you’ll need to think about expenses beyond the down payment, including closing costs, maintenance costs, and property taxes. If you’re ready to buy but discover that a 20% down payment would stretch your finances too thin, you may want to go with a slightly lower down payment.

Why Make a 20 Percent Down Payment?

If you’ve already saved up a significant nest egg (or have a plan to save), it’s generally a good idea to make a 20% down payment. Lenders like to see that you can pay this much because it means they take on less risk when giving you a loan, and as a result, you may get a lower interest rate than you would if you put down a lower down payment. You also won’t have to worry about private mortgage insurance (PMI), which is something you’re required to get with a down payment of less than 20%. With PMI, you’ll have to pay premiums (usually 0.5-1.5% of the loan value annually), and those payments won’t build any home equity.

Typically, the more you can afford to pay for your home up front, the better it will be for you in the long run. The higher your down payment, the lower your mortgage (and monthly mortgage payments). If your financial situation changes or you have unexpected expenses at any point, a lower monthly mortgage payment will leave you with more financial breathing room.

You also take on less risk when you make a higher down payment. The less money you put down, the less home equity you start with. And if property values decline after you buy your home with a low down payment and high mortgage, you risk getting into a situation where the value of your home is less than your outstanding mortgage (negative equity).


While making a down payment of at least 20% might be ideal, it simply isn’t feasible for everyone. Talk to your lender about the loan options that are available to you, decide whether you’re comfortable taking the maximum loan offered, and then figure out how much house you can afford. Make sure your Realtor only shows you properties within your affordable range so that you don’t end up in a precarious financial situation.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Tips to Stay Motivated as a Realtor

Staying motivated as a Realtor can be difficult. You may have had a fantastic quarter with many sales, and are high off your success, and you stop putting as much effort into your daily processes. You stop following up with leads, cleaning up your database, looking at new inventory—doing the tasks that lead to business for you.

While real estate is always a waxing and waning business, working hard and staying motivated through feast and famine is the way to survive. Ultimately, you are a salesman/saleswoman, and you need to be in touch with your clients and always looking for new opportunities.

Here are our tips for how to stay motivated when the market takes a downturn, or you’re low on opportunities:

Go Back to the Basics

While it may have been a while since you’ve thought about the basics of your real estate business, it can be the easiest way to get out of a slump. Set goals you know you can meet, such as obtaining 3-4 listings monthly. You can target FSBO (for sale by owner) properties, bank foreclosures, or other properties you may not traditionally target. Go through your contact database and see if anyone is thinking of moving into a new home or selling. ‘Back to the basics’ is about finding opportunities and prospective clients anywhere you can.

You might want to invite past clients you’ve had success with (and their friends) to a catered event. This practice can garner new listings, referrals, and contacts for the future. Networking is one of the most importance pieces of real estate—so always have your Realtor hat on and ready.

Keep Working Through the Repetition and Boredom

While it can be hard to power through emailing old clients, pursuing new leads, and doing the daily work of being a Realtor, it’s this repetitious work that’s most important. Even while you’re stuck doing these seemingly boring tasks, remember they lead to the important goals—selling homes and earning money. By focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel rather than the road to get there, you’ll get to your goals faster.

Be Aware of Your Shortcomings

No matter how good of a Realtor you are, there are times the process slips out of your control. You can mitigate this by being aware of your personal warning signs. Do you know the cycles of buying and selling for your sales area? How many contacts do you have in the pipeline that will lead to commission checks? If you fall behind in making new connections and building new leads, you’ll lose opportunities for business.

Keep track of your time management—if you notice you’re starting to sleep in and focus less on your real estate activities, you may need to reevaluate. Taking control of your life, in general, will help your real estate business.

Stay Motivated Through It All

Whether you work by yourself or you are part of a team of dedicated Realtors, staying motivated is one of the most important parts of your job. You need to depend on your personality and skills to succeed in this business. Follow these tips, and you can stay motivated no matter the circumstances.

Monday, May 1, 2017

6 Decor Ideas to Brighten Your Home This Spring

Spring is in full bloom, and it’s time to ready your home for the season. Whether you’re just looking to redecorate and brighten your living spaces, or you need to get your property ready to sell, we have tips to help you liven up the most important rooms in your house. Use these decorating ideas to transform your space with bright spring décor.

Here are some of our ideas for quick and easy fixes to get your home-- new, or ready to go on the market-- ready for spring:

Refresh with Paint

Repainting all the walls in a home is a task no one wants to take on—but repainting a single room or accent wall can breathe fresh life into the space. Choose a springtime color, evoking a flower such as violets to create the feeling of the season. Add accents in the window treatments, light fixtures, and rug for inexpensive additions to transform the space. You can finish the whole project in a single day.

New Bedding—Treat Yourself

Along with the change in weather should come a change in your bed linens. Your warm winter comforter or duvet won’t serve as well as the weather gets warmer. You can add color or experiment with daring patterns and new sheets and pillowcases to match the feeling of spring. A new bedspread and pillows can help motivate you to make the bed each morning and will enhance your bedroom.

Fresh Flowers and Foliage 

Nothing says spring is in the air like fresh flowers throughout your home. Buy cheap in-season flowers from your local florist or grocery store and use large statement plants like banana or philodendron leaves. Whatever your favorite plant is, spring is the perfect time to showcase it. Remember to feed your plants and trim the stems of any cut flowers to make them last longer.

Mix Up Your Furniture

Sometimes it’s as easy as rearranging your furniture to achieve a fresh look for spring. Don’t take on the project by yourself, but grab a friend or partner and try out some different configurations in your living room and other spaces to rejuvenate them and prepare for spring.

Spring Cleaning

Maybe it’s obvious, but spring cleaning is essential to brightening your home for spring. Whether you get down on your hands and knees and scrub everything yourself or hire someone to do it, a deep clean is one of the best ways to help your home feel new. Remove the clutter, throw out old magazines, put winter clothes into long-term storage, and remove the dust and grime buildup of a long winter. You’ll feel better after you’re done. 

Fresh Scents

Whether you use candles, scented oils, or incense in your home—spring is the time to bring scents into your home. Light, airy, floral scents are in for spring—pack away your winter and fall scents for later in the year. The smells in your home can affect your mood, even opening your windows can help your home feel more like spring.

By implementing some of these low-cost, low-time commitment projects, you can help get your home spring-ready. Work with friends or family to get your home prepared for one of the best seasons of the year with fresh colors, scents, furniture, bedding, and so much more.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Realtors: Help Educate Buyers About the Pre-Approval Process

First-time home buyers sometimes come into the process knowing everything about the process—or nothing, but usually, it’s somewhere in between. It’s your job as a Realtor to educate your first-time home buyers about the pre-approval process, so they don’t get denied after they’ve found their dream home.

Every Realtor has heard horror stories about buyers in the mortgage approval process, getting denied or setting themselves up for failure. By walking your clients through the pre-approval process and making sure their expectations are in line with reality, you can help them achieve success. A good Realtor will help save clients from heartbreak and the collateral damage that could come from a lack of pre-approval.

The Benefits of Pre-Approval

While some buyers may think that pre-approval only helps Realtors and sellers, you can point out that it also helps buyers in many ways. By knowing how much they can borrow in advance, buyers can be confident in making an offer. Pre-approval also offers peace of mind, letting buyers know they have a loan they can rely on once their offer is accepted. A buyer without pre-approval will have a weaker offer and may miss out on their dream home if they can’t secure a loan to match their offer.

Provide a Checklist and Gather Documents

Getting pre-approval isn’t that complicated, but it can seem so to the buyer with the many documents they need. Give them a basic checklist of what they’ll need for their lender: income tax returns, W2s, bank statements, past rental information, titles, deeds, and additional documents related to their income. You can make this checklist once and hand it out to all your prospective first-time homebuyers.

Also, remind homebuyers who begin the process to save older documents as they might need to submit those documents to keep the pre-approval process from stalling.

Help Them Find the Right Lender

While you won’t go to the bank with your clients, make sure to let them know to discuss several different options for their mortgage. They need to look for the best combination of rates and features for a loan that meets their needs. By shopping around, they can find the best loan that offers flexibility and an excellent rate.

Show Them Houses Within Their Budget

Once you know what they’ve been pre-approved for, talk to your first-time home buyers about their down payment as well. You want to ensure that they only see homes that fit within their price range and budget—a pre-approval is usually all a bank will lend and attempting to make a more expensive offer can result in failure.

Make Sure the Pre-Approval Still Qualifies

Pre-approvals are only valid for so many months and then need to be renewed. While some first-time home buyers want to buy something immediately, you may need to ensure that your clients renew their pre-approval before making any offer. Keeping the pre-approval up-to-date will help you and your first-time home buyers. By following these tips, you can lead home buyers in the right direction with pre-approvals. When they’re armed with knowledge, you can help them find the perfect home.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Tips for Moving to the Suburbs

Moving to the suburbs after a life in the city can be difficult for many people. While this decision may make sense for increased square footage, better schools, and more shopping, the transition can be jarring. You may have had amenities in the city that you no longer have the same access to in the suburbs. Driving becomes more of a necessity, and public transportation options are limited—but it’s not all doom and gloom.

When moving out of the big city, many families search for a suburb that will provide them with more space and a better value for their money. Space is expensive in any city, including Boston, and a good suburb can provide your family with quality hospitals and doctor’s offices, shopping districts, recreation, and high-quality schools.

Here are some tips for locating the right suburb for your family and budget:

Find the Right School for Your Kids

Learning about the schools in a new area can be challenging. While it’s easy to find the hottest restaurants and cool shopping in a new locale, it can be much harder to ascertain whether a school is a good fit for your children. Utilize online forums and apps like School Zones from Domain to find the perfect school for your family. You’ll see property listings in neighborhoods and school zones you want to live in—to find the perfect fit.

Choose the Best Suburb for Your Family

Whether your family is growing or you just want a change of pace, moving to the suburbs can be a great decision. Leaving the city can help you invest in a property that will grow in value and give you more space—for children, pets, or just additional storage. When you’re scoping out your new neighborhood, look for the amenities you loved in your city home. Restaurants, shopping, quality doctors, fun activities for your family—whatever’s important to you. While you may not have as much within walking distance as you did in the city, there are still plenty of amenities to enjoy in the suburbs.

Easing the Transition

While you may not be moving far away from Boston to the suburb of your choice, moving can be rough on you and your family. Children and pets can be quite shaken by moving. Make sure to include children in your moving plans and help ease them into the transition by explaining why the move is positive. Make sure to bring favorite toys and belongings in the car with you (for kids and pets). By helping your children and pets ease into their new suburban home, you’ll all enjoy this new life more.

Use these tips when making a move from the city to the suburbs to help find the right property and location for your family. If you haven’t found the right home yet, don’t forget to enlist the help of a CENTURY 21 Commonwealth Realtor.

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