LIFE UPDATE: Five lessons for first-time home sellers and how we got six offers on our first day on the market

Dear friends,

It's official! We are no longer Houstonians, and I guess we are now Washingtonians? I think that's what it's called. They do have a magazine named Washingtonian around here, so I am taking my cues from that (such a rookie move). 

But this post isn't about our new digs (that shall come too!). It's about how we sold the old ones. And, as you might expect, there were plenty of interesting lessons learned through the process. I have tried to synthesize them into a digestible 5.

Disclaimer: I am not a real estate agent. Also, this may not be true for every market. Houston (at the time of selling) was, more or less, a buyer's market. And, I will be the first to admit, we may have just gotten lucky. Which would make the below 5 lessons completely baseless. =)

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LESSON 1: STAGING MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE

Granted, interior design is clearly a hobby for this blogger and not everyone has the time or desire to decorate their space, but I imagine the staging of our house helped us A LOT. Beyond de-cluttering, I tried to make everything look as photogenic as possible. I spend a lot of time on Pinterest (certainly more than necessary) and that has taught me how to mimic styling that photographs well. My advice is to research what is popular there and try to mimic the photographic angles and styling that best fit your house decor. 

As an example, below are some images from previous listings. Compare those to our listing:

PREVIOUS LISTINGS:
OUR LISTING:

Which takes us to lesson two:

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LESSON 2:

 

ONCE STAGED, INVEST IN PHOTOGRAPHY

 

Whether you hire a photographer or take the images yourself, make sure you show off your home's best assets. You are best qualified to control this process - after all, you know every inch of your space - so don't be shy about requesting specific angles and views if you work with someone else. I chose to do the photography on my own. It required a small investment in a wide angle lens (you can find mine here) that cost about $320. 

What were our perceived best assets? For the living room, I wanted to show that it is 1) big (hence no rugs on the floor and the removal of some extra furniture) and 2) bright (I pulled up the blinds and used high exposure on the camera settings). For the bedroom, I wanted to show its 1) size (big enough) and 2) incredible organizational prowess (an Elfa closet system). For the master bathroom, I focused on the fact that it is 1) freshly remodeled and 2) funkily designed. For the kitchen, the selling points were the 1) miles-long granite countertops and 2) brand new appliances. 

Identify your top two selling points per space and make sure your photographs really show those off.


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LESSON 3:

 

YES, DO THAT REMODEL, BUT...

...be smart about it.

When the house was originally purchased, the kitchen was in a rather pitiful shape: the floor tiles were cracked and poorly installed, the appliances were paying homage to the 1980's, the countertops were cracked and poorly installed tiles as well, and so on. Since we have more than 70 sq. ft. of countertops and cabinets to support them, the sheer size of this project was so intimidating that it held us off of ever tackling it.

After speaking with our realtor and researching the competition, it became obvious that something had to be done. The "a-ha" moment was when we realized that not EVERYTHING had to be done. So instead of demolishing the entire kitchen, we decided to simply upgrade its not-so-great parts - the floors, the counters and the few appliances that had not been upgraded yet. After we were done, we were stunned at what a huge difference it made. And sad that we hadn't done it earlier. Altogether, we were able to pull that off with less than $4,000. Money well spent!

OUR LISTING:
PREVIOUS LISTING:

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LESSON 4: RESEARCH YOUR COMPETITION

DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! Use your local real estate website and see what you are up against. Your realtor should also help you with some further analysis on what has sold around you and for how long it was on the market. But being informed is a must - do not just rely on your realtor. This research should help you identify a two important things:

  • What to upgrade/renovate (as it did with our kitchen)
  • The price range that would be acceptable in the market

Always remember that your real estate agent is, yes, there to help and guide you along. But they also only get 3% of the selling price. $10,000 more or less in selling a house results in a mere $300 difference for their commission, but for you, the difference would be $9,700 more or less in your bank account. So, their incentive is to sell your house as fast as possible, which may sometimes result in a price suggestion that may be too low. For example, our realtor suggested that $229,000 will be the maximum we can ask for with our kitchen situation. After investing the above-mentioned $4,000 in our kitchen, I set the selling price at $249,000.

We had six offers (five of which were above asking price) in one day with us ultimately accepting $265,000. This tells us we still underpriced it! Always do your homework and look after your own interests.


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LESSON 5:

 

YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANCE AT A FIRST IMPRESSION

 

So you have to make the best of it! The first week of a listing is critical for its success. If you have priced it well and your place stays on the market for more than a week, people will simply assume that there is something wrong with it. For that reason, if you can afford it, be patient. Only list your place after you have reviewed and approved ALL photos and ALL descriptions. Adding those later will simply deflate your ability to appear that you are in demand.

Also, chose your BEST image as your headliner. We had the option of using the outside shot (from above) or the living room. Most listings show the outside as it is the most logical first image - that's what you see first. We chose the living room instead because we knew that it has the power to capture attention. And the more people open your online listing, the more people are likely to show up, and the more offers you are likely to receive. It's purely a function of math. And it goes straight to the bottom line. 


And this is it, friends! I hope this was at least somewhat helpful to anyone who is about to embark on the scary process of selling their house for the first time. Good luck and let me know how things go in the comments!

We are on the market!

Living room on 1st floor

I cannot believe that we are here already... This home has been so loved and cared for. But it's time to hand it to someone else who will show it the same love and appreciation! 

We are on the market!

(Well, at least as of Monday :)

Living here has been so wonderful, and frankly, it will be hard to say goodbye. But at the very least, I gave this home one last push of loving. We just completed renovating the kitchen (see below!!) and, as you know, we recently re-did our master bathroom. The things you do not see here are the new roof, paint, window trim, power outlets, and so much more. Because we just cared for this place a LOT.

While we were working countless hours downstairs, the upstairs became an oasis away from the craziness. And for a neat freak like myself, looking at our organized closet just made me feel good, haha. Re: the shower curtain... Well, that's just coming with us because I like it way too much. Besides, our realtor believes some people wouldn't like it... (although I cannot imagine how that's possible at all :). 

And there it is! Our future ex-home, all nestled in our quiet cul-de-sac and ready for someone new to take care of. 

Large floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking private yard and gated common area

Now, back to packing :)

Posted on July 21, 2017 and filed under Design + DIY.

Some news...

Time to say goodbye, Houston!

Houston has been my home for nine years now... And Houston has been good: the people I've met, the relationships I've built, the food! This is the place where I had my first home away from home, with my family away from family.  This is where I found Chewie. And Robert. I'd like to think that this is the place where I have grown the most. Where I learned to be more patient, more kind, more generous... heck, I even learned to love running!

So, yes, Houston, you will be missed. But...

Your replacement is not too shabby either. World, we are moving to Washington, DC! And my oh my, does it feel like I am finally coming home! Our frequent visits to DC reminded me exactly how much I miss Bulgaria. The four seasons, the ability to walk everywhere, the crowds of international people, the plethora of foreign languages around you, the old buildings, the old world cafes and restaurants that invite you into their priceless sidewalk vistas for people-watching... there is so much to savor!

So stay tuned! As you might expect, a cross-country move is so much fun! And I hope to be able to tell you all about it! 

Now, back to packing and making sure this place is in tip-top shape for the market :)

Posted on July 8, 2017 and filed under Travel Diaries, Design + DIY.

Our bathroom.... the reveal!

Well... hello, hello, hello!

A few months back, we started a rather BIG project - renovating our tiny bathroom. We had two lofty goals: spend less than five days and less than $5,700 on it. Well, today is the time to look back and see how we did!

1. Time spent renovating - as you might expect, renovations never go as planned (oh, the irony!) However, I am happy to report that our overtime spent here was a mere two days. Some of the hiccups we faced included the need of new insulation, working within a very tight space to remove and install a new bathtub, some miscommunication with the contractor and the usual plumbing surprises.

2. Budget - even with all the contingencies we had planned for, we still went slightly over budget. All said and done, we spent slightly less than $6,000.  And given that the average bathroom renovation cost runs between $8,000 to $10,000 (and we gutted the whole thing!), I'd say we did better than average!

And, as with any project, there were plenty of lessons learned. For instance:

1. How to talk to a contractor about your budget:

  • Option one would be to ask how much your plan will cost (we tried that first).
    • Plus: you can demand perfection
    • Minus: boy, is it expensive (our initial quote was for $8,500 excluding all the materials we would purchase, such as tile, fixtures, etc.)
  • Option two would be to tell them how much money you have to spend.
    • Plus: it is affordable! You spend what you have
    • Minus: you cannot nag about fixing those imperfect corners

As you might expect, we went down the rabbit hole of option two. But I was very pleasantly surprised with the results! When you find the right contractor, they will care about the quality (almost) as much as you do.

2. Know what YOU can do vs what you need to have done FOR YOU:

  • Things that are easy to do (for us, anyways) included painting, hanging things, installing mirrors, lights, switches, shelves, shower rods, etc.
  • Things that are easy to do for more advanced DIY-ers (not us :): install electrical (e.g. fan), fix drywall, etc. 
  • Things I would always outsource, even if I am tempted not to: tiling and plumbing.

3. Know where to splurge and where to save:

  • Things I will always splurge on are paint, tile (sometimes) and fixtures. These items tend to look their money! 
  • Things I will always save on? Accessories (TJ Maxx and Marshalls are your best friend) and tile (when it's a surround - your floor tile should be good quality because it gets a lot of traffic!). I also always look at used Amazon deals... For instance, our door handle was half the cost, and it was in perfect shape! 
  • Have a wink - without splurging. My favorite part of our bathroom is this very affordable shower curtain that is just too much fun. 

Below is a breakdown of everything we purchased! 



And, this is it! Our bathroom renovation in a nutshell. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Instagram for traveling and design ideas (you may notice we have been busy!). Now back to nursing this pesky fever (yuck!). 

Posted on May 31, 2017 and filed under Design + DIY.

Something BIG is in the works!

Alright, friends!

Here comes the big news... We are starting a RENO! That's right, the first-ever, complete renovation of any interior room of this house... Which is where it gets interesting. Because the only experience with a reno for this blogger is the ever-glorious yard. Which, in itself was a huge feat! But, in comparison, far less intrusive as a renovation. 

Our plan? Spend less than $5,700 in less than 5 days. Above, you can see the mood board and purchasing list for this project. The only possible way of accomplishing such an affordable reno of a master bathroom is if you are extremely frugal in your purchasing and exceptionally good at negotiating...

Happy to report that thus far, we have been doing pretty well on both accounts. It has been a bit of a give-and-take (as usual) so our ability to save on some items has enabled us to compensate for some mistakes. For example... my math on how much tile we need, as it turns out, was way, way off. But, by saving on the bathroom vanity and the faucets and finishes, we are still within budget.

So, where have we made some changes already?

  1. We have swapped the faucets for the bathroom vanity and the bath tub with more affordable options.
  2. We also changed the bath tub model for the one we were able to see in person.
  3. We found more affordable mirrors (more on that below).

Where did we save big time?

1. The mirrors.

Originally, we had planned for these geometric Umbra mirrors with black frames to contrast the future white walls and complement the wood, grey and white palette. However, during a random walk through our local Target, we came across Dwell's Modern line for Target (ON SALE!). Before we knew it, these two babies were in our cart on the way home.


2. The faucets! 

The original plan had some sleek faucets from Home Depot and Allmodern.com. And as much as we liked those, we found some more affordable alternatives at IKEA and the Home Depot that we got to see and pick up in person!

The best news from our shopping excursions though was the bathroom vanity! We had originally planned to spend north of $500 on that from IKEA. After some back and forth on inventory availability (and minor panic attacks that the centerpiece of the remodel is... um... nonexistent), we lucked out to secure on of the last three vanities in Houston... at half its price! So exciting!!

Okay, enough bragging about the savings. Where are we NOW?

You may think... Hey, this is not a TERRIBLE bathroom... Why change? Well, hold on! Let's show you some close-ups (SPOLER ALERT: not for those who get grossed out easily):

Yup... GROSS. One of our skylights had leaked thus creating some serious leakage and mold. After fixing the skylight sealing, we let the whole thing be... Resulting in this! In addition, it's safe to say that the vent in the bathroom was anything but effective. We are fixing that with a new, powerful fan that should be arriving tomorrow... 

And this is it for now! After today's demo is done... you can expect more images to follow :). Wish us some good luck, please!

Posted on March 20, 2017 and filed under Design + DIY.

A new skill to practice... Watercolors and calligraphy!

Hello, hello, world! 

In between trips to Chicago and DC, I somehow managed to also enroll into a watercolor class (one of the perks of working at a university!). And, what a treat! A mere three weeks into it, I am already addicted to this new (to me at least) art form. A mere three weeks into it, and I am already wanting to share my experimentations with you! 

Granted, I have so much to learn still. Gorgeous evidence via this inspiration

Meanwhile, I am just having too much fun mixing up purples and violets! If you are wondering why that is such an accomplishment... a bit of background. In the class I am taking ("Watercolor for All" with Ellen Orseck), we are learning the very basics of watercolor, such as types of brushes, types of paper, color theory, etc. Therefore, we are sort of stuck with some very very basic colors (think blue, red, green, yellow and some brown).

In other words, there are no violets or purples in there. You have to mix it all yourself! Thankfully, Ellen knows what she is doing. This was one of our first exercises:

A value and hue color wheel, which is a lot harder to make than you'd think! (Aka, I made a few mistakes... which were smartly left off of this image :). But this exercise proved to be the one thing I needed to be able to produce this pretty little card!

As the first image would hint, I also made one card with orange and red flowers... But that was a learning one (ahem, not for a close-up :). So, back to the violet one that I seem to be pretty happy with:

I think I see a lot more of these in my future! :)

Meanwhile, make sure to follow my travel adventures on Instagram! A few more trips planned in the next couple of weeks.

'Tis the season... the azalea season!

Tardy in more ways than one...  

I can't believe I am posting these a year late, but since one of my favorite Houston to-do's is right around the corner, I was inspired to dig through the archives. This year marks the 82nd Annual Azalea Trail. Packaged as an enjoyable and manageable walk through the city, this event hits some of my all-time favorite museum gardens, such as the Rienzi and Bayou Bend. 

These lovely flowers came courtesy of Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens. Where, by the way, you can enjoy one of their sip and strolls, if you so happen to miss the Azalea Trail (which I would highly suggest against! :). 

If I have peeked your interest with these pictures, below are some logistical details, beautifully created by none other than our friends at Papellerie:

Happy Sunday!