Return on Investment: Your Yard

People certainly think about doing improvements to get their house ready to sell. Here at the blotter both Linda and I have written about what to expect from the money you spend and that the highest rates of return are, currently, on front doors and garage doors. You’ll get more out of those improvements than it costs to do them. However, I don’t think that we’ve talked about the return on investment for your yard. As it turns out, it’s quite good and certainly worth doing.

According to the National Association of Realtor, there are 5 outdoor projects that pay of the most.

  1. Standard lawn care service. Complete 6 standard applications of fertililzer and weed control on a 5,000 square foot lawn. Estimated cost = $415. Estimated return = $900
  2. Landscape maintenance. Mulch, mow, prune shrubs and plant about 60 annuals or perennials. Estimated cost = $4800. Estimated return = $5000.
  3. Outdoor kitchen. Install or inset grill, stainless steel drawers, ice chest sink, and concrete countertop with veneered masonry stone. Estimated cost = $15,000. Estimated return = $15,000.
  4. Overall landscape upgrade. Install front walkway of natural flagstone, add two stone planters, five flowering shrubs and a 15 foot tall tree. Estimated cost = $9000. Estimated return = $9000.
  5. New patio. Install a 18′ x 16′ concrete paver patio. Estimated cost = $10,500. Estimated return = $10,000.

There is also a lot to be said about doing your own weeding, watering, and bark dusting. This is labor intensive, but something many homeowners can do themselves. I think that the basic premise is that the more move-in-ready a house feels, the more appealing it will be to potential buyers.

I will also caution that there is a segment of the buying population who is intimidated by an overly elaborate garden. They know that it looks too labor intensive and will pass on a house that they don’t feel that they can maintain. So, yes, topiaries of the seven dwarfs is probably not a good idea.

Personally, outdoor spaces a super important to me. That patio that costs $10,500 but only returns $10,000, in my opinion, is pretty essential. Without a place to put some chairs and a barbeque, a yard becomes unusable. That patio, or a deck, is essential.

I hope that you have found this information useful. Happy gardening.


The Importance of the Front Door

I have written about this once before, but it has been several years and it feels like a good time to revisit the topic of front doors.

As you get your home ready to put it onto the market, there is usually a list of must do’s: clean, touch up paint, de-clutter, it’s a very important list because it will enhance your proceeds to maximize your investment. Right at the top of that list should be preparing your front door.

A concrete walkway bordered with hedged shrubs leads to the front door of a home. There are windows on either side of the door. Horizontal shot.

Think about what happens at the front door. A Realtor arrives with clients. The lockbox must be located and opened, then the door needs to be unlocked. This takes just a few minutes, but during that time the perspective buyer is standing at the front door, looking around. Is the paint chipped? Is the door dirty? Or is everything spotlessly clean? Perhaps there is an interesting arrangement of plants or flowers? Perhaps a tasteful wreath is hung on the door? As the buyer stands there, they develop an opinion about what they are going to find inside. If the opinion is negative, well, that is a very bad start to the showing of your house. I believe that as buyers enter homes, they are looking to reinforce the opinion that they have already formed.

I also want to mention that you do not want to over decorate. One holiday item is enough. It should not look like your attic threw up all over your front porch. It should also not be crowded. Keep is simple and tasteful.

The front door is also one of the few items of home improvement that you will get back 100% of your investment. This is according to the National Association of Realtors. They put out an annual study with the rate of return on improvements and the front door is always right at the top of that list.

Wash the door thoroughly, even the weatherstripping and the threshold. Polish the hinges, handles, and knobs. If it needs painting, paint it. Be just as thorough around the porch and along the front walk. It’s not as big of a project as many other improvement items. It should be a no brainer.

Please let us know if you have questions and thank you for reading the blotter.


For the National Association of Realtors remodeling report, click here.

The Importance of Open Houses

In my 36 years in real estate, I’ve seen quite a few changes, as you can imagine. But one of the biggest ones is the importance of open houses.

In my early career the common perception was that open houses were a waste of time. I knew of agents who flat out told their seller clients that they would not be doing them. I’ve never had the belief. While it was true then, and is true today, many of the people who come through open houses are not actually buyers. But I have always done them. First it shows my seller clients that I am using every tool in my tool box to get their house sold. But second, I have sold numerous houses from people who have come through my opens.

What is different today is that open houses have become way more critical. Today’s buyer is able to be very independent. Nearly everything that they need to know about a houses is available on line. They like to be in the driver’s seat and tour houses independently of their agent. Then when they find a house that they’re interested in, they get their Realtor involved.

The first weekend of marketing is a true event. The routine is to put a house on the market on Thursday or Friday, market the open house date and time for Saturday and Sunday, and then hold it open and let the hordes inside. It works!

I hope that you find this information useful. As always, thank you for reading the blotter.


Radon: Take Action

As January comes to a close, I want to take advantage of the fact that January is Radon Awareness Month. This is important as you buy or sell a home, but it’s also important simply as a human who lives in a contained environment. Whether you are buying or sell or not, you should test your house for radon.

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is given off by granite boulders. These boulders are buried deep in the ground. You can’t see them, so you don’t know if they are there or not. This is why everyone should be doing radon tests.

I first became concerned about radon when I read an article in a local newspaper about 20 years ago. A resident of my neighborhood, in the Lake Grove section of Lake Oswego, died of lung cancer. He had been a non-smoker. After his death, his wife checked their home for radon and discovered elevated levels. It was the likely cause of his death.

It’s estimated that 20,000 deaths in the US each year are caused by radon exposure. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after cigarette exposure.

While some parts of the metro area are known for elevated radon levels (the Alameda Ridge is Northeast Portland is often referred to as Radon Ridge), radon can be found in Lake Oswego. I sold a house in Village on the Lake a number of years ago and radon was found. It was a lake-front house.

In Oregon, radon is fairly common in the northern Willamette Valley. This is a result of the Great Missoula Flood that occurred thousands of years ago. A huge ice dam formed in the area of what is now Sandpoint, Idaho. It contained a lake that went deep into Montana. When the ice melted it released a huge flow of water and debris that came across Eastern Washington, dug out the Columbia River Gorge, and came to rest in the Willamette Valley. This flow contained granite boulders that, today, are the primary source of radon in homes in this area.

While there is no known safe level of radon, it can be measured. The test is simple. You can buy a test at most home improvement stores. You set two canisters in your house for several days, then mail them off to a lab, and you get emailed results within about 10 days. It’s been awhile since I’ve done it this way, but I believe it costs under $100. Or you can hire a professional. This costs about $150. They set a test box into your house for 2 days and you get same day results.

Correcting radon is usually under $2000. Not super expensive.

My point here is that it’s easy to do. Realtors in Oregon are trained to make radon testing a part of the home inspection process. But do the test for the benefit of yourself even if you aren’t selling.

I hope you find this information helpful. Here’s to going into February living in the safest and healthiest home possible.


Adapt and Learn

When I started in Real Estate 35 years ago, our sale agreement was one page, legal size, and there were few, if any, supplemental forms. If something additional needed to be added, like a home inspection, I took out a blank addendum and wrote it up myself. Over the years many, many forms have been added. The sale agreement is 11 pages long and there are about 100 supplemental forms.

Realtors are not attorneys, so it’s a good thing that we no longer write our own addendums for things like home inspections. However, we do have to know the forms inside and out. We use them and we need to be able to explain what they mean. This requires a lot of continuing education. Now, add to the mix that an entire new set of paperwork is being rolled out.

Signing Official Document

The forms that we have historically used were developed by Oregon Real Estate Forms, OREF. This entity primarily consisted of the two largest Realtor Associations in the state: Portland Metro and Eugene.

Now the Oregon Association of Realtors has developed a new set of forms. The old ones are not being retired, instead we will have 2 complete sets of forms to use and both are acceptable. This means that Realtors need to be training and learning about these new forms. There are pluses and minuses to both. I also think it’s likely that eventually one will dominate and my prediction is that it will be the new forms.

I am very proud to say that Linda and I have both been training for the past 2 months to become knowledgeable about the new forms. I think we are positioning ourselves to give the best service possible to our clients. I also want to give a shout out to Oregon First. Our company started this training, and went in depth with it, from the get go.

So, Linda and I are adapting and learning. It really is exciting and it feels good to know that we are positioning ourselves to give you the best experience possible when you buy or sell a house. We are here to be of help!


Rising Interest Rates, What Does it Mean?

I want to talk about the elephant in the room, rising interest rates. Just yesterday the Federal Reserve raised the Federal rate by .5% to between $4.25 and $4.5%.

The Federal Reserve Rate is the rate set by the Federal Reserve to dictate the cost of money when banks borrow from one another. If the banks are paying more for money, it just makes sense that the increase gets passed along to the consumer. That is how banks make money. It’s why they are in business.

I do think that the increased cost of mortgages is having a impact on the real estate market. Higher interest rates make homes less affordable. Is this going to cause a housing decline? In a word, no.

From what I have been hearing the current situation is likely short term

Several months ago I listened to a Bloomberg podcast that featured 3 economists. The consensus was that the inventory is so low, that the demand for housing will keep the real estate market strong.

At the beginning of the Great Recession, in about 2008, builders pretty much not only stopped building, but they also stopped laying the ground work for new neighborhoods. Coming out of the recession, in about 2014, the home building industry rebounded, but there were about 6 years of missing inventory and they just simply have not caught up, even to this day. To meet our population needs, Nationwide, we should be building 3,000,000 new housing units per year. These are houses, condos, and apartments. We have only been building 1,300,000 per year: not even half of the population need. It is going to take decades to catch up.

Economics is all about supply and demand. With the demand high and supply low, that supports housing values.

Interest rate forecast according to the NAR

The other source of some interesting information was a Brian Buffini class that I took on Monday. It featured Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. Their discussion included several key points:

  • Government regulations put into affect after the Great Recession tightened up the mortgage lending industry so that people actually had to qualify for their loans and prove credit worthiness and employment stability in order to get a mortgage. In other words, people can afford to make their payments.
  • There is usually a 2% margin between the Federal rate and the mortgages rates. There is an anomaly happening where the spread is currently 3%. This means that the Federal rate can increase without there being an increase in the mortgage rates.
  • Mr Yun predicts that 2023 will see interest rates come back down within the year to under 6%
  • Mr Buffini predicts that 2023 will be flat with little or no home appreciation. However, he thinks that in 2024 the housing market will rebound with as much as 10% appreciation.

Here are my thoughts. It remains a great time to buy a house. With houses taking longer to sell, people who are selling are more negotiable. For a buyer, that means addressing repairs within the sale and negotiation on the price when you make an offer. For people wanting to sell, the inventory is still very, very low. Yes, it will take 30-60 days, but your house will sell and you likely continue to have a great deal of equity.

I have to say that no one knows for sure. These are simply thoughts shared by people with some knowledge and whose opinions I respect.

As always, thank you for reading the blotter.


Holiday Decorations and Selling Your House

Do holiday decorations help or hurt the marketing of your house? I have some thoughts on this that I am eager to share.

I do think that holiday decorations enhance the showing of your house to potential buyers. Taking the time to decorate helps the potential buyer feel that you love and appreciate your home. It also creates a cozy environment as we experience shorter daylight hours and colder temperatures.

I don’t think that it helps with your marketing. By marketing I mean the photos that will appear on the Internet, in the Multiple Listing Service, and on fliers and in emails. The photos need to be timeless. You simply don’t know how long it will take to sell your house. Today, if on-line the photos are full of witches and ghosts, it immediately conveys to the public that you’ve had your house on the market since before Halloween. November 25th you don’t want the photos to be full of turkeys and cornucopias. So, have the professional photography done before you put up holiday decorations.

For the same reason, take down the holiday decorations in a timely fashion. Enjoying them for a week or so after the holiday is fine, but beyond that, take them down.

I hope you find this information helpful. As always, thanks for reading the blotter.


The Power of 20

Years ago, I realized that the number 20 is very powerful in real estate. It applies both when buying and when selling.

When Buying

I think most people do the bulk of their house hunting online. The Internet is an amazing tool. However, it is also super important to physically visit houses. I think you need to go into them to get a feeling for value. What does $500,000 look like? By the time that you have gone through 20 houses you will have a strong sense of value. You’ll know what feels like a good deal and what feels like it is overpriced.

This does not mean that you absolutely have to see exactly 20 houses. No. In fact, the first house that my husband and I bought was the first house that we looked at. We walked in, fell in love, and made an offer.

20 is simply a good guide and a way to set some expectations for the experience of house hunting.

When Selling

When selling, you need about 20 showings to get an offer. Again, it can happen faster than that, but 20 is a good barometer.

So, if you put your house on the market and you get 20 showings in the first few days, you are going to get an offer quickly.

If the reverse happens and you get 2 showings the first week, and then 2 the next, this means you’re going to be on the market for about 10 weeks to get an offer. If you need an offer more quickly, then you need to drop the price or fix what people are objecting to.

If you get 20 showings and no offer happens, again, you need to drop the price or fix what people are objecting to.

I hope you find this concept useful. As always, thanks for reading the blotter.


Moving and Packing Tips

As a Realtor, one of the most educational moments I ever experienced was when I sold my own home and moved with my family to Lake Oswego. We’d had our kids and lived in our prior home for 13 years. I was pretty clueless about how much more complicated our household and possessions had become. I put off packing until about a week before our move. It was a disaster! I was so pressed to get it done on time that I was literally just throwing stuff in boxes! Live and learn, right?

Cardboard boxes and potted plants in empty room. Moving objects are on hardwood floor of new apartment.

Here are some moving and packing tips that I hope you’ll find helpful:


  1. Start Early. See my comment above. Weeks, if not months, before your move start planning. It will be so much stressful. It will also help prepare your house for marketing.
  2. Get rid of stuff. As we live in our homes, we accumulate stuff. So much of it is neither wanted nor needed. Do you really want to take it with you? Do you want to spend money moving and packing this “stuff”? Get rid of it.
  3. Create a folder. This folder should contain addresses, moving or rental contracts, insurance information, perhaps an itemized list of what you are moving, anything you anticipate in the way of paperwork. Consider creating a hard-copy file. This will be vital if you loose battery charge on laptops or phones
  4. Book early. This helps in two ways: getting the best rates and being assured of availability. Especially in the spring and summer, the moving companies book at least several weeks in advance.
  5. Plan for utilities. This includes both shut off at your old place and start up in your new place. You do not want to be moving into the new house and not have electricity.
  6. Keep essentials with you. A day or two prior to moving pack your luggage: change of clothes, toiletries, etc. Just like when packing for a vacation. In addition, I recommend packing a box of cooking basics like a few plates, cups, bowls, utensils, These would be for an unexpected delay in the delivery of your household goods. Remember to plan for pets and medications.


  1. Invest in equipment. You’ll need boxes, packing tape, markers, paper towels, garbage bags. If you are moving yourself you’ll need a furniture dolly, furniture pads, tie-down strips and a truck loading ramp
  2. Use the right size boxes. The basic idea is the boxes need to be a weight that can be lifted without straining yourself. Heavy stuff in small boxes (books, etc.), light stuff in big boxes (linens, etc.).
  3. Heavy stuff on the bottom of the box. This will keep the heavy stuff from crushing the light stuff. It will also balance the weight of the box as boxes are stacked.
  4. Don’t leave empty space in the boxes. This will maximize the use of the packing materials, but empty spaces can allow the box to be crushed in transport.
  5. Avoid mixing items from different rooms. When unpacking it will take twice as long if you are running from room to room.
  6. Label each box with what room it is for and a list of the contents
  7. Tape the boxes well. You want a couple of strips across the seams at the bottom and the top, but then do two wraps completely around the box in two places around the top to the bottom and back up to the top again: all the way around.
  8. Take care of your art. You can purchase special boxes and crates for art. Don’t wrap oil paintings in packing paper; it may stick to the paint. Wrap art in bubble wrap. You can also wrap it in bubble wrap, box it, and then place in a second box padded by packing paper.
  9. Kitchen dishes. You can purchase special boxes and packaging for dishes and glasses. They make it all so much easier! If you do end up wrapping with boxes and backing paper try wrapping each piece and then bundling in groups of 4 to 5 pieces and wrapping those together as a bundle with packing paper. Consider packing plates on their sides rather than stacking. Get the boxes with cardboard dividers for glasses. The world of packing materials is pretty broad. Yes, it costs money, but think about the cost of replacing these items. Not to mention, as it is for me, the sadness it would bring to loose special pieces.

I want to give credit to where I got a good bit of guidance for this article.

As always, thank you for reading the blotter,


The Importance of a Great Backyard

Backyards are truly something to be enjoyed. They expand the living area of a house and are the location for making memories in solitude, as well as with friends and family. When I show houses and we walk outside to find a really great backyard, it is the cherry that tops the cake of a great house. Here are 8 ideas for creating that great backyard.

  1. Connect the indoors to the outdoors with big windows and easy access doors. From inside, you’ll enjoy looking out and having the opportunity to enjoy the yard every day of the year.
  2. Create an outdoor workspace. Trees and landscaping make a wonderful backdrop to Zoom meetings. In addition, working outside on a nice day is a bit of a gift that you can give to yourself. To do this, you’ll need strong wifi, an exterior electrical outlet, and a sturdy table.
  3. Let’s talk al fresco. I reguarly do large dinners for my family in my yard. When we gather there usually about 15 people. I put tables end to end to create one large dining table. I then use linens and my good china. It feels so luxurious! A covered area in which to dine, along with an outdoor heater, makes this possible any month of the year.
  4. Add some entertainment potential. Again, a good table for board games, and perhaps a mounted television to watch football and movies.
  5. Establish a wildlife habitat. I no longer feed the birds (there was a certain squirrel incident), but I do put out water. I have 5 birdbaths. If they go empty, the birds will literally sit on the rim and squack at me. Landscaping is also a great idea for attracting birds.
  6. Make your yard pet friendly by fencing it. Today the fencing choices are plentiful, including fences that barely obstruct your viewing of the entire yard.
  7. Just like the rest of the house, clutter is a big no no. Store the clutter elsewhere. Particularly when selling the house, it needs to be tidy.
  8. Privacy is super important. If you have a house that looks into your yard, plant a tree or a hedge. In my case, my husband built a privacy screen that goes about 20 feet. Just enough to block my neighbors windows.

I hope that you have found this helpful. Thanks again for reading the blotter!