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Sunday, 21 September 2014


The other truth that realtors will tell you is that a house will sell much better when it is full of furniture and the smells of fresh baked frozen cookie dough. Have you considered painting the old house and then moving all of your belongings back in to make it more attractive to the realtors?

[Pierre, the fashion in this area is to do "vignettes," meaning little arrangements of furniture here and there, to suggest coziness and charm. On the other hand leaving any signs of yourself as an individual person is verboten, so it must be generic, nonspecific charm. And as you might expect, you can *rent* the furniture setups for the vignettes.... --Mike]

"But really, if we thought about it, we'd work out some way for people to spend the fix-'er-up money on their own new houses...the house they're moving into, not the one they're moving out of."

In my part of the county, it's fairly common for the seller to give a carpet/paint/other "allowance" rather than having the work done themselves. Basically, at closing, the seller takes a portion of the proceeds of the sale and immediately gives it back to the buyer to fix up the offending item the way they want.

I hear you about the whole "re-carpet, re-paint" thing. When we moved out of our last place though, we just left it unpainted. We figured that the new owner would want it painted his way - and we were right! He painted it a wild purple colour (or something like that!). On the other hand, our friend sold his place and painted the walls at great expense before moving out. We moved into our new place and painted one wall and then got tired. 6 years later, we have finally had it painted in colours that we like and had our kitchen done how we want it done - and neither is what anyone would have chosen! And I'm with you on laminate over granite - we have a nice light wood look laminate and it's beautiful.

One thing I forgot - it was a long read - I find myself thinking I will wait and buy the LX100 instead of the 12-35 or 12-40. I figure the LX will eventually go on closeout and be even cheaper, whereas the lenses will probably hold their value indefinitely...

You'll have to take up baking now, Mike. Those stone countertops are the perfect substrate for working with dough.

"The former owners of this house took their washer and dryer with them..."

Strange what's important to folks in different countries, no moral judgement meant :-). Here we pick a sunny day and hang the washing out on a line. Or bring it inside on a rack.
I bought a second hand washer some 15 years ago for $30 or so and it's still going strong.

Re: Wallpaper in bathrooms. I don't know about the US, but many places in the UK I visited had carpeted toilets. Toilets with carpets. That can't be good.

I'll bet the optical look of the 10.9-34mm is not as good as that of the 12-35mm.

I spent part of 2014 making trips out to California in prep for retirement. I *thought* I wanted to move back to California so I could be closer to family, but, OMG, what a financial wake-up call this has been! Have you looked at the real estate prices out there? Plus California's tax situation is the worst in the nation to retire in according to Forbes. I am staying where I am at for now, and will let my family down easy.

In 2010 I paid $85,000 for an addition and remodeling on my current home that was built in 1992. I now have to pay $6,000 more because the builder did a poor job with the grading and drainage in the backyard. If it isn't one thing, its another. I was not liking the thought of putting my house up for sale anytime soon because in 2007, I too was paying for two homes so I know what your going through. My fingers are crossed your old home will sell quick after the paint and flooring.

About those monolithic companies: It is fashionable in management circles (blessed are they who run in circles for they shall be called 'big wheel's) to foster competition among employees/divisions on the theory that it fosters innovation and greater profits. It is my observation however is that all it really fosters is competition.

I've bought and sold several houses over the past few years, and one thing we always did was to check out the potential sellers and buyers on the Internet, by name, to see if they had anything to say about the house, good or bad, in a non-sales context.


Regarding the Panasonic 12–35mm zoom lens, I compared that lens with the Zuiko 12-40mm zoom lens.

I ended up buying the Zuiko since it had both a wider zoom range and was less expensive by $200.

In actual use, I still favor the Olympus kit lens: the Zuiko 12-50mm since it is smaller lighter and has a wider range. It is not as fast as the Zuiko 12-40mm but it works well in most situations where I make images.

You're were right to be smitten with that 12-35 Panny f/2.8, it's one *helluva* lens. It's on my E-M1 99% of the time. And while the very attractive (to both of us, apparently) Panny LX100 has a great lens I'm sure, I would seriously doubt it would match the optical performance of the Panny 12-35 (not to mention the 12-35 has built-in optical stabilization). The reason is that when engineering tech products, there are always trade-offs between price and performance to be made. And, usually, as far as optics go, you get what you pay for. There is no way to engineer a truly superior optic cheaply; the physics and the requisite engineering and quality characteristics don't permit it. As such, it's highly unlikely that an entire camera that costs less than the Panny 12-35 will have a lens that outperforms it optically (read the lens review Roger Cicala wrote on the Panny 12-35; he was mightly impressed). Panny's puttin' all that extra dough for the 12-35 into the lens design, materials, and manufacturing.

Interestingly, I was in this same quandary earlier in the year on the Fuji end of things: I could get the Fuji X100S for about $1200, or for a few hundred less, get the Fuji 23mm f/1.4 prime. An actual camera or another lens. I ultimately decided on the Fuji 23 prime, and in retrospect, I'm glad I did. Much as the Fuji X100 series have a great 23 mm (35-e) f/2 lens (and they do), its simply NO MATCH for the Fuji 23mm f/1.4, which is one of the finest optics I've ever used from anyone, at anytime (and that includes the using amazing Canon 200/1.8).

So, at the end of the day, one has to think clearly about one's requirements in these shooting situations. The LX100 will be more compact and more convenient to use than the 12-35 on the E-M1. But I seriously doubt it will be able to match the Panny 12-35 optically and the delicious way with which it draws images. It's one of those "six of one, half dozen of the other" situations. Only you can decide which is right for you and why. But I would encourage one to think through one's requirements clearly first. ;-)

Stephen (who reflects on questions like this all the time...)

you just need to do the fix up the old house photo sale fund.

It was interesting hearing you refer to yourself as a 'Hippie kind of guy' in relation to attitude and oevre. Which kind of nails down my lifestyle choice as well. Except I went the whole hog... gardens, orchard & critters. You know, that (almost forgotten) good old Hippie self sufficiency path. Same deal for dwelling; except I had to build all of mine. Lots of recycling.(Current abode is strawbale studio. Fantastic BTW - thanks for asking!) But I can only dream about trying some of the kit that gets to pass through those cold wizzened Wisconsin hands. But damn, I get to live real well on my 14k a year!

PS: Pentax K-5 with few old primes & third party lenses. EPL-5 with 2 kit zooms. Saving for the 25mm 1.8 or Sigma Art lens. Still have my Pentax Spotmatic II... and some film languishing in the shed with all the darkroom gear.

PSS: Would rather build from scratch than renovate. Commiserations.

Mike - houses don't have to be fixed up before they are sold, but they will sell more easily and for a higher price if they are. Sell-side real-estate professionals will always recommend fixing up since it makes their job easier, and they often have a stable of fixer-uppers in their keiretsu. If the market is hot enough a house will sell fixed-up or not, the seller then needs to decide if she will get her fix-up money back in a higher price.

I sold a house in Silicon Valley two years ago - as is, where is, and it sold in a week, for what looked like the going rate minus the cost (but not the aggravation and time) of a fix-up. A friend sold his house in Silicon Valley this year - he spent six months supervising a new kitchen and other remodeling on the advice of his real estate agent, he got the going rate. I liked how I spent my time better, but it's impossible to know for sure who got the better value.

"I absolutely don't care what the paint colors or the carpet look like—I want the house to move, and whatever the pros think will sell best is fine with me."

I'm feeling ya. Although, I only have one house, I feel like Tom Hanks in the Money Pit. I've been in the same house for 27+ yrs. Needs a new roof, interior/exterior painting, new flooring, kithen bathroom: Yul Brynner in the background going: Etc. Etc. Etc...

I need to fix 'er up and sell 'er. Where oh where is the money coming from ???

I have to chime in about the amazingly low cost of reasonably good cameras and lenses these days. As long as you don't insist on having the latest and greatest.

Mike, you are to blame for my new travel kit. You posted about a sale on Panasonic G5 cameras at about the time the G6 came out. The G5 isn't the top of the line, nor is it the latest design. But it does a pretty good job, is easy to shoot with, has the 16mp sensor and turns out nice files. At $300 for the camera and lens, I couldn't resist. I'd been trying to find a compact travel camera and had not been happy with any of the super zooms that I tried.

But the G5 got me going and I now have a travel system. I picked up the little 15mm f/8 pancake lens, then the 9mm fisheye pancake. My wife got me the 45-200 zoom for Christmas. So now I have a 4-lens kit that covers a great range and all fits in a tiny bag that can go on my belt. And the whole kit cost less than $1000.

I already had a pinhole in M4/3 mount, so that goes in the bag too. And I got an adapter for my old lenses and I've found my ancient 50mm f/2 Nikkor makes a wonderful portrait lens on this camera.

I'm not getting rid of my Nikon D7000. But I'm in no hurry to buy another Nikon. It will take something pretty amazing in the way of improvements to get me to buy another camera at all any time soon.

The value of staging advice to sellers is debatable. A smart buyer looks at the aspects of a home that are hard-wired in and not easily changed: the location, the layout, the neighbors. If those are right, the current wall colors don't matter. That's the advice that applies best to my own property, which is so idiosyncratic and non-standard that I can hardly find comps to appraise it. But if your home is functionally just like the others on your block, maybe the stager's work really can set you apart. Maybe the question becomes, how many smart buyers in your area, vs., the other kind?

Consider the question from the perspective of the staging professional. They're paid to find problems and make changes. They all seem to think alike. As a real estate pro, I visit 400+ homes a year. The staged homes have a sameness that's almost surreal. Though I'm in Denver, wedged between the open plains and the Rockies, every staged home will have posters of the Eiffel Tower, food posters for "Vino"in the kitchen, plus that painting of that formal dinner party dancing on a stormy beach, with waiters holding umbrellas. Is it like that everywhere?

I agree with your position of the issue of fix-ups. I'd rather buy a blank slate. After you fix any visible problems, why not offer the buyer a $1000 cash painting and decorating allowance, kicked back after the sale?

"How does that make any sense? Wouldn't those people rather pick out their own carpet?"

I ask this all the time but as my wife always reminds me, most people 1) can't picture what rooms look like without pink carpet and purple walls and 2) they are lazy and don't want to do the work; they want everything already done for them. So what my wife and I have always done is give a low bid on a house saying, "Well, we lowered it $2000 because we will need to replace the pink carpet and paint the purple walls." Plus, as an added bonus to few people that can look beyond someone else's taste, these houses tend to sit on the market longer so the prices keep lowering in an effort to sell them. On a whole level of a house I can tell you if I like a floor plan, but if you show me a paint chip and ask if the room would be nice that color, I have no idea if I would like it until the whole room is painted that color. I just can't picture it in my brain. So, I sort of understand why people don't want the fear of designing their own rooms. On the other hand, I don't understand people who don't want to change things to suit their taste or can't look beyond one little negative when there are many positives.

I second your dislike of granite. It can also stain and you can't get the stains out. Plus, it does not seem green at all to me. It's heavy and usually comes from somewhere far away like India. Does India have any granite mountains left or is it all in American kitchens?

Our preparation for selling was awful, but in the end it worked well. We priced somewhat low and sold instantly, which we wanted. My major advantage is that my wife is quite good at the staging side of things. I handled the photography. As things progressed we hired more people to help, especially after the inspector condemned our back deck. We even did FSBO, a real adventure the first time around.

Mike, the why of a granite counter is clear: You bought your seller flecked carpet to hide his dirt, and your seller bought you a granite bench top to hide your breadcrumbs.

When I sold my house I did only three things. The first was to hire a company that came out with a huge dumpster and get rid of everything I did not want to take with me (like old lumber in the garage, an old swing set, mounds of household stuff, old furniture, attic stuff,etc). The guys were local and they charged $180 to do all the moving and hauling away. I had them out two times (so $360).

The next thing was have a professional type landscaper come out and for $800 I had him remove old bushes, put new mulch in the gardens (extensive), re-gravel the drive and walkways, and generally clean things up, including a quick once-over power wash of the outside of the house.

The last thing I did before my final move (by now the house was empty except for a mattress so sleep on), I had a two-man cleaning crew come out and scrub the place from top to bottom - the walls, floors, baseboards, woodwork, windows, the basement, cellar everything. Total cost $400, and they did it in two days. I was so impressed with how clean it was I did not want to move. The whole house smelled like lemons.

Total $1560. The house sold in one week. Not only because of what I did, I'm sure, but also market factors.


The consistent selling tip I hear from realtors (besides to always call them "Realtors-TM") is that good photos matter. They're my customers, of course, so I'm happy to hear that! If you have some good photos of your house to post online, you're more than halfway there. Let the pictures do the selling, before they visit.

You do have good photos of it, don't you?

Staging isn't just the repainting and remodeling, there's the whole business of putting fake furniture in there too. I do real estate photography on the side, a line of work I got into by meeting a gal named Mary Ellen Waite who does that for her extra income. I created her web site (that being my day job) and did the photography to populate it over at iowadesignsthatsell.com and I can say for certain, having worked with her, that houses that are properly staged sell a lot faster than the empty ones.

I have to agree with The Lazy Aussie. Toilets with carpets are not a good idea. I'm from England so I know just what you mean. Those carpet sets with a cover for the toilet lid, a bit of carpet just in front of the pedestal and a bit to stand on to get splashed and mouldy while you are at the wash basin just boggle my mind.

My bathroom, too, has wallpaper. Woodchip. The same horrible paper is in every room in the place. The bathroom also has four areas of wall tile, and no two areas are at the same height.

At least the ceilings are not Artexed. I hate the stuff. My bungalow was built at a time when houses here were well built, and do not need flexible Artex on the ceiling to avoid the cracking that happens with the flimsy rubbish now commonly thrown up and described as a home.

I've noticed the same thing about fixing up houses before selling them. This house and the previous house both got that from the former owners, and it was a bad deal all around in both cases. I felt really bad tearing out the painstakingly hand-laid ceramic mosaic countertops that the wife had done herself at the previous house -- but they were horrible to actually cook on. There ought to be a way to do it more sensibly -- less quick-and-dirty work, more careful work that somebody will love.

And I did not put in granite there or for the added counter in this house, for the reasons you give plus because the care instructions for granite are too daunting for me; I figure I'd ruin it. Which is amazing for an igneous rock; it ought to be really tough. Maybe the instructions are wrong, who knows?

Good luck selling! Risking the overlap like this is a big step. In addition to just costing money each month, delay also gives the market time to change, and that can be for you or against you on price -- but much worse, it can be against you on speed of sale.

When we moved in, everywhere was painted the same off white - slowly we've repainted each room in different colours (only 1.5 more to go before we can start going around again). Seeing colour appearing in the house over a period of time reminds me of the movie 'Pleasantville' - the one about two modern kids who get caught up in a B&W 1950's sitcom world, but slowly they bring colour to that world.

Who knows what will sell a particular house.

True story:

My previous home sold to a couple (by my second listing realtor) that had, somehow, been discouraged from buying it by the first realtor that showed it to them. Of the two realtors, the second was, by far, the most successful realtor in the area. I believe it was not so much about the house itself, as it was about the realtor's ability to size up buyers. OBTW, the second realtor was a much less refined individual. A "man of the people," so to speak.

I suggest you do some research, if you have not already done so, on who sells the most houses in your area. I do not mean, which realty company sells the most houses. I mean, which individual realtor sells the most houses. Our previous house was much like you describe yours: all new mechanicals; New wiring; new roof; but lacking the final polish. Don't be in a rush to dump a bunch of money in the old house. Maybe consider throwing the pool table in instead. My wife loves pool. A nice pool table in the basement of a potential new home would supersede things like old carpets, paint, and drapes. The house is already empty, so buyers are already going to suspect there is pressure on the seller and will be compelled to low-ball on the bid. be cautious about sweetening the deal for them.

When it comes to realtors, there seem to be a couple of classifications. There are those who can sell the perfect house. There are those who have the ability to find/create the right buyer. The guy who sold our house was a guy who was well known in the community and seemed to know everybody. He knew who to go to when a house became available.

What Carl doesn't say is there should also be an article on why sellers should *not* do their own photos.

This past fortnight, I've seen both mobile snaps (the pejorative is required) and red watermarks splashed by the estate agent in middle of the shot. And either party actually wants to sell the place?!

Referring to the lick-o-paint to sell the house, compare it to the frames around pictures/photos; a happy medium not to everyone's taste but a must nonetheless.

But, Tim, you gave an example of bad work by professional agents, not sellers. And those of us who frequent places like TOP ought to be better photographers than the average home seller, don't ya think? Mike could even get his hands on a real wide-angle lens for the job, I bet.

"plus that painting of that formal dinner party dancing on a stormy beach, with waiters holding umbrellas. Is it like that everywhere?"

A good description of Jack Vettriano, The Singing Butler, 1992


He's a self-taught and very successful Scottish genre painter who is outside the usual high flying "contemporary art" or the starving and not very successful artist scenes. A lot of the art world really hate him. The middle classes love him.

I see parallels between Jack Vettriano and a lot of photographers.

Dear Mike,

The question of fixing up the house prior to sale and “staging” a house for sale (two different matters) does not have a single answer. It varies in both space and time. For example, here (Daly City) and now (2014) staging is pretty much necessary, as is delivering the house in “move-in” state, if you want the fastest sale at the best price.

At various times in the past, one, or the other, or both have not been true. The driving factors include how anxious buyers (collectively) are to be able to move in immediately, and how anxious they are to buy a house right now. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the former almost always dominates the buying populace… Except when the latter gets very high.

Also, what the local custom is (at that particular space-time locus); deviating from that, either positively or negatively, affects buyer's perceptions. Ditto, class. Upper-class (not uber-rich) houses are almost always staged on the north-mid Peninsula, regardless of what the middle-class custom may currently be.

Nobody who doesn't live in your area and know the current practices and expectations can give you advice on this, no matter how experienced they are with real estate. Your best guide on this is your realtor; she's interested in moving the property and, assuming she's getting a percentage commission, getting the best price for it. You should follow her advice. But you should also make sure she is aware of your situation. If you have cash flow problems, you need to let her know. Ditto, time constraints on the sale. Those will both affect what she decides is the optimum strategy.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

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