Category Archives: home maintenance

What you need to know about using an Attorney in a Real Estate Closing

Many of my clients ask if they have to use an attorney when buying or selling a home. While the answer is no you don’t have to but you need to use an attorney when buying or selling a home and here is why.
1. Who is going to explain all the paperwork to you at the closing? By law in Illinois, only an attorney can explain the mountain of paperwork from the mortgage note to the deed to the closing charges to ensure that you are getting what you paid for and that you understand everything you are signing. So unless you want to just sign a bunch of papers you don’t understand, you need a real estate attorney there with you when signing.
2. If you are selling property…there are a myriad of paperwork that needs to be completed for transfer taxes and there are documents to be reviewed like the title, survey, deed. If you don’t understand every word and paragraph, how do you know it is completed properly? How do you know that your error will not put you in future litigation?
3. Dealing with the other attorney…In Illinois, most sellers use an attorney, so if you are a buyer, you would have to deal directly with the attorney on everything, inspection repairs, extensions, title problems and review? While these things are not rocket science they do require a level of knowledge and experience to be successfully achieved. If the other side has it and you don’t…you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.
4. Are you sure you are protected and getting what you are entitled to? Buying and selling a home is complicated. The deed and title need to be reviewed to ensure there are no liens. The survey needs to be reviewed. Real estate taxes and exemptions can expose you to paying more taxes out of pocket than necessary. A real estate attorney will review all these items and protect your interests now and in the future.
5. Make sure it is a real estate attorney who has experience in real estate. You would not have a cardiologist perform brain surgery. Both doctors, but specific knowledge and experience are required. Same with attorneys, there are nuances that only attorneys who practice in real estate will know and recognize. This could be the difference between preventing or solving a problem or something you will have in the future.
6. Where do you look for a real estate attorney? Your Realtor and/or lender are great resources. They work with attorneys every day and can give you a personal recommendation. Then you should talk to them and ensure you feel comfortable with them. It is important that you feel comfortable asking questions and ensure they have time to help you and will communicate with you.
7. What should I expect from my attorney? Some attorneys are the “just see you at closing types.” You are better off with someone who is with you every step of the way, not just on the day of closing. They should review all the paperwork, communicate with the Realtors, lender, title company and other attorney. They should answer all your questions and keep you up to date. They need to protect your interests and do what is best for you. And they should work well with all the parties involved to make a smooth transaction. If they seem difficult to work with, they are likely not the right choice. Real estate transactions have a lot of moving parts, all parties need to work together to ensure a smooth and successful experience. And keep in mind, while an assistant or paralegal can do a lot of the paperwork, they should not be the one answering your questions and explaining paperwork. That is what your attorney is for.

8. What should you pay for a real estate attorney? You usually pay a flat fee, not by the hour, phone call or retainer for a real estate transaction. It is paid at closing. You can negotiate the fee, especially as the seller of the property, but again it is more important to get a good attorney than save a few bucks.

Simply said. You don’t know what you don’t know. In every industry there are experts that people rely on to protect, educate and inform them. Doing it yourself you could miss something that will cost you money, hassle and more in later years. Unless you understand all the paperwork and laws…get an expert. After all, this is not only your home, but your largest investment.

Creepy Distractions that Turn Off Home Buyers when Selling a Home


As a Realtor, I see a lot of unusual, even crazy things in people’s homes. If these silent idiosyncrasies could be explained by the home seller, I am sure they would make more sense. But in their absence and left to the imaginations of home buyers, these eclectic eccentricities can often creep home buyers out …distracting them from the advantages of the home and maybe completely turning them off.

I once entered a room with a full-sized child doll sitting in a rocking chair in the corner of the room. You could not see it until you entered the room. It surprised each and every person who came into the room and needless to say, no one really saw that room. Or the full-size “butler” statues – yes they scare you because they seem like a real person when you walk in the room. Startling to say in the least, creepy to say in the most. This goes for any personal possessions that may not be appreciated by the general public. Doll collections with eyes seemingly following you all over the room are not much lower on the creep-o-meter. Realistic stuffed toy animals of cats sitting on beds or a large tiger in the corner, are another eerie distraction.

And Taxidermy…I have seen heads of nearly every animal on the wall, as well as various skin rugs on walls and floors, horns on walls and full-on stuffed formerly live animals. While these trophies are treasured by the home sellers, to a homebuyer who may not share this hobby, they are unsettling and unpleasant. When you are blindly entering a home, it can cause children to be afraid and many times scare even adults who are not expecting a “jungle room.” Home sellers, let’s put it this way, do you want the home buyers referring to your home as the “dead animal” or even the “jungle” house after their visit. No, that will not sell your home. Put them away in storage, boxes, etc.

Marked graves in the yards for pets or urns of grandma on the mantel are another turn off. While the urn will move with you, home buyers only can wonder how many fluffy and spot bones they will inherit if they buy the home. What is unseen….is the best answer for this.

Weapons in the homes, from samurai swords and cross bows to maces and guns are more common than you would believe. Best to keep the armory put away in a closet in a box, etc. Not only are they dangerous, especially for children viewing the home, but also could be a theft temptation you don’t want to deal with and a potential insurance nightmare you definitely don’t want to deal with.

And while the Nazi flag may be reminiscent of an inside joke or historical memorabilia or something to the home seller, home buyers could easily be offended enough to ignore the home’s attributes and head for the door. Or better yet, they may never come to see the house as they see the photography on the internet and in listings.

Snakes, tarantulas, hamsters, gerbils and lizards may be in cages, but do you want to take the risk that recoiled home buyers will not enter those rooms with their slimy occupants present. If they have to stay in the room, best to cover them …. out of sight, never in mind.

And “Friendly” cats and dogs may be fine for your guests while you are around, but home sellers need to cage or remove these residents and not leave for unsuspecting home buyers…and agents for that matter. You don’t want agents and homebuyers skipping your house when they go to the door and “spot” is barking his head off at the front door awaiting them.

Real life encounters are not limited to pets. Believe it or not, more than once, I have opened a bedroom door to see a lump in the bed that was not laundry, but a real person sleeping in the bed. Both the buyers and I couldn’t get out that room or that home faster.

Again, while it is your home, it also is a product. If you wouldn’t like it in a department store, don’t put it in a home you want to sell. Remember, first impressions last forever and are not easily erased.

Housing Trends…in-law arrangements in homes have made multigenerational buyers more common

Home buyers looking for in-law arrangements in homes have experienced sharp increases in demand putting sellers with the potential for in-law arrangements and suites in a great marketing position.

Parents are aging and sometimes costs of care and other complications require adult children to take them in. But on the other side of the generations, high cost of renting, divorce and difficulties finding jobs have resulted in necessity for in-law arrangements adult children and sometimes their families to live with the folks too.

In many cultures, multi-generational living is commonplace, but it is new to the masses in the US.
What multi-generational buyers are looking for are ways to have a complete or partial living arrangement for either side of the familial spectrum, while maintaining a comfortable separation, when needed.

Older parents coming out of their own living arrangements are often the most difficult to accommodate. They are used to living on their own, so “downgrading” to something less than what they had on their own can be a sore subject.

They will at minimum want as much of their own separate space as can be provided. Private bedroom with on-suite bath (usually no tub), decent-sized bedroom and closets, sometimes a sitting area and sometimes a kitchen. And usually no stairs.

While basements can often accommodate all this and more, older parents usually can’t or don’t wanted to be relegated to the “dungeon” – even with a chair-lift to handle the stairs. And they want to feel comfortable in the space to live as their own home, not like they are intruding.

Buyers looking for this kind of accommodation will likely have to do some renovation to make this happen. Renovation loans can be obtained in order to make changes, even moving walls, etc. They require a higher level of and come with a bigger interest rate, but the money in the mortgage is cheaper than credit cards. Sometimes the sale of their home can be used for this extra money. But don’t look for sellers to be ok with 2 home contingencies to buy a home. Not going to happen.

However, additions are more expensive and a lot more hassle. Looking for homes with extra 1st floor rooms, like a den, sunroom or 1st floor master bedrooms often can be a perfect in-law suite. Adjacent living rooms can be tapped to make a suite where parents can have privacy to have friends over, etc. If utilizing the 1st floor master, enough space has to be made to accommodate a 2nd master on the 2nd floor.

Many “in-law arrangements” are basement suites. While this will not often suit older parents, it is often perfect for young couple, single or young family needs. They can benefit from the proximity of parents for potential babysitting and save a lot of money with no rent payments, and sometimes better schools and area than they could afford. And they also have a completely separate retreat and living area, which both parents and adult children alike appreciate.

Depending on the family dynamic, the in law may not the final decision maker, but they may have a say in the final plan. Need to plan ahead to ensure you don’t ruin the space so it can not be reasonably reverted if necessary by a future buyer.

Sellers who have this type of feature in their homes or can even offer an idea of how it can easily be done, can certainly market that feature to capture some of these new buyer needs and put their homes ahead of others in the marketplace.

What should I do to sell my home? Top Home buyer turn offs

2123cedar_020 smAfter getting rid of clutter, the second thing most sellers ask their Realtor when selling a home is what do I need to do to make my house more appealing to buyers and sell my home quicker and for more money? There are variations in the rules, but here are the top things buyers do not like to see when selling a home.

Here are a few don’ts for selling a home and some quick and inexpensive fixes that will likely appeal to the range of buyers.

Paneling….Other than traveling through time back to the 70’s – no one wants to see paneling. It sets a certain idea of (grandma’s house) or the past into buyer’s minds. You can remove it, but depending on the listing price of selling your home, you may want to go with the alternative. Paint it a rich neutral color. Carmels and Camels are usually the best. Or you can choose a bolder trendy color. Check the paint store websites for those – they can help.

Wallpaper….Yesterday’s treasure is today’s trash. Lately, everyone loves to hate wallpaper. Mostly it is the work it takes to get wallpaper off. Sometimes on an accent wall (one wall in a room) it can be appealing. But the rule of thumb is get rid of it to sell your home!!!

Polished Brass…You know what brass rhymes with…. GOLD IS OLD. It is dated, no one wants it. Light fixtures, cabinet handles, plumbing fixtures (faucets), door knobs and handles can be easy even DYI fixes and can reap rewards. Bronze and nickel are the in style if you want your home to sell.

Peeling paint on outside…many loans will require it be fixed anyway, as will any municipalities who do inspections. Unless it is winter or cold – scrape and paint it. A little elbow grease will pay off in the end. And speaking of DYI, clean lines and corners and non streaky or globs in the paint inside and out is always preferable. A sloppy paint job is a turn off and can prevent selling your home.

Old, stained or Worn Carpeting…if your carpeting ever saw any disco dancing, put it out of its misery. Near the holidays at the end of the year, discounts on carpeting and installation are often available. If you can’t replace, then by all means – have it professionally steam cleaned.

Older cabinets, especially laminate cabinets…are a big turn off. There are a lot of alternatives to new cabinetry. There are great refinishers out there even for laminate cabinets. Or if your only crime is honey oak cabinets, sometimes having a professional painter glaze them is a quick and trendy fix. Even the right tile backsplash can neutralize an outdated cabinet finish.

Over grown exterior. Most of the time this is the easiest of all. Get rid of the gnomes and personal signs or funny sayings or scale way back. There is a fine line between cute and really? But mostly, trim everything back, so people can see the house not the bushes. Plant some flowers or get some inexpensive flower boxes for extra appeal.

Repairs…get out the honey do list and make sure you check every item complete. Outlet covers, loose closet doors or handles, drawers that don’t open, cabinets that don’t close. Don’t give buyers a reason to imagine what else is wrong – you want to sell your home.

DIRTY MESSY HOUSE… The worst offender. I once had a seller who refused to pick up his underwear for showings. Talk about a turn off. No excuse. Clean is King and dust dirt and grime will have them running out the door. Before putting on the market, if cleaning is not your bag, pop for a one time cleaning lady to get you started. Then all you have to do is maintain.

Remember, you want your home to sell and it must be appealing to buyers. You also want the condition and appeal of the home to equal the asking price for selling your home. Let’s face it, Pinterest and HGTV have spoiled everyone. Buyers want HGTV houses when buying a home. But you need to be cautious. Too many upgrades may not get you the price you want. But too few upgrades may not get you any buyers and will not sell your home. You need to consult your Realtor to know your market and what you home will appraise at and be valued by buyers so you know how much to do. If all else fails remember – kitchens and baths sell your home.

Sellers – Don’t underestimate upgrades to Selling

When selling a house, don’t underestimate the value of upgrades to a home. It is always a big question, do you upgrade your home prior to sale or just sell as is? Here is a tale of three homes. Just like Goldilocks, my buyer found which one was just right – but why is what all sellers want to know.

Even though all buyers have different tastes, a prevailing idea is the less work and more upgrades, the more people will spend and the fastest it will sell. I recently saw three identical homes in the same neighborhood with a buyer client. Same floor plan. All three homes were clean and well-kept.

House 1 was move in ready. It had warm updated colors on the walls, nice furniture, updated light fixtures, hardwood floors, stainless appliances, tile backsplash, nice blinds, nice carpeting and tile. Lovely decorations.

House 2 was not move in ready, but offered a blank slate. Everything was neutral, but colors were warm. Cabinets, counters, carpeting, tile. Basic, but buyers could easily add new tile, backsplash, nice colors and make this home their own. There was sparse furniture in the home, basic college level stuff – no décor.

House 3 was dated. Furniture was dated. Lace curtains and collectibles everywhere. Colors were pastel (pepto bismol pink) on the carpeting, tile and cabinets were white and neutral, as were the appliances. Mirrors on the walls. Lighting was minimal and dated (polished brass). However, house 3 was slightly larger and had several features like a water view, fireplace and walk out basement.

Buyer reaction to House 1 was pure excitement. They loved everything. They wouldn’t have to change anything to live there, just move their things in. They loved the colors, the décor, the upgrades…everything. And even though the furniture and decorations where not staying, they loved it.

Buyer reaction to House 2 was ok. They were not in love but said it was not bad. They saw the potential of the home and how with a little effort, it could be something. House 2 was significantly lower in price.

Buyer reaction to House 3 was nothing but negative. They spent much less time in the home and hated everything. All they could see was how much work would be involved and were distracted by the amount of work would have to be done to get it to their taste. House 3 and 1 were the same price.

House 1 and 3 were identical in price. House 2 was $25k less. From a pure numbers point of view, House 1 and 2 would have been the same price. House 3 would have been more. So because house 1 is more appealing, it will get a higher price. House 2 will get the next best price. And House 3 will get the lowest price and take the longest to sell.

Sellers need to remember one thing. 10k in purchase price is equal to $50 per month in purchase price. So if a home is $20k more and needs no work, it only costs $100 more per month. The alternative is a renovation loan, which are sometimes hard to get, or $20k on credit cards, which a lot of people don’t want to do.

So, the answer to this seemingly fairytale story is that House 1 fits just right, will sell faster and for more – maybe even multiple offers (which actually happened). The question is does your home appeal to buyers? Are you House 1, house 2 or house 3?

Homes with Well and Septic – Don’t be Afraid of the unknown.

Many people fear what is unfamiliar and what they do not understand. With houses the biggest unknown in more urban or suburban environments is well and septic systems instead of public water and sewer. Knowledge is power. If you know both the advantages and disadvantages of a well and septic systems in a home, you may decide it is for you.

Many homes for sale in Homer Glen and some homes for sale in Lockport and homes in New Lenox have well and septic with lots of at least half acre in unincorporated areas or formerly unincorporated areas. I personally have had well and septic in two of my own homes for nearly 30 years. I have never had a problem with it and have enjoyed the many benefits. Here are the things both good and bad I would pass on to you as a homeowner and a real estate and construction professional.

The biggest advantage of these systems is cost. While Lake Michigan water averages between $100-200 per month and climbs each year, well and septic systems have no monthly or even annual costs. With this savings, on the purchase side, you could potentially increase your monthly payment if qualification allows. This monthly savings can translate into $20-40k more in purchase price. So, it can go a long way and put you into a different purchase category and get you the things you want in a home. Or just save your monthly expenses or go into a vacation or college fund.

There are maintenance costs involved with well and septic, but they are usually long term. Septic or mechanical septic systems need to be pumped out every few years, depending on your soil, your system and how many baths, people, etc. Average costs (depending on area) are $500 to pump out septic systems. Wells have tanks, pumps, and other systems to use it. Most of these systems should last at least 10-20 years. Tanks can be $1,000-$2,000, pumps and other systems are usually less than that. Considering the savings on a monthly an annual basis, these costs are significantly less than monthly water and sewer bills which often seem to increase.

You will need a water softener and you will need to add salt pellets monthly, depending on use. Water softeners are a few hundred dollars to replace, when necessary, but again last at least 10-20 or more years. Softener salt is sold everyone – grocery stores, home improvement stores, hardware stores, etc. They are around $5 per bag – so total cost is around $10 per month.

The last cost difference is water appliances. Harder water, even softened, puts more wear and tear on your water appliances, your washer and diswasher. So, the washer and dishwasher, depending on use, typically get 10-15 years of use. Often you will need to replace dishwasher and washers after 7 years or so. Again, even these costs compared to the overall monthly costs, you will still come out ahead.

Another advantage is freedom to water when you want. Watering your lawn, plants or even adding to a swimming pool is dictated times and days of the week, etc. by the village or the water company. Many times, the times are very early in the morning, late at night or when most people are at work. With a well, you can water as long and whenever you want. And it will not make your bill skyrocket during the hot summer months. Remember, there is no bill. Using well water in a swimming pool to fill is not always advisable. Sometimes the chemicals in pools don’t work well with it. There are often places that fill pools much faster and easier with less cost. Topping off an inch or so with summer evaporation is fine.

The biggest turn offs for buyers about well and septic systems are the myths, the unknowns. One of the biggest unknowns is the operation of the systems. Contrary to rumor, you don’t have to do anything to maintain these, except the salt for the water softener. And the toliets, faucets, etc. work the same way as in any house. The only difference is the lack of garbage disposals. Most systems don’t work well with garbage disposals.

Another myth is that the septic field will affect your lawn, yard, etc. Unless something is wrong with the system, you will not have any difference from a city sewer system. You will never see anything and will use your lawn and yard as you normally would. If you see or smell anything, there is a problem with the system that needs correction.

The biggest disadvantage is the taste and hardness (iron) in the water. The water is hard due the high iron content. That does not make it thick or chewy, it looks like regular water. And there is no danger with this and that is why you have a water softener to reduce/neutralize the iron content of the water. The water is coming from the water table in the ground. However, it is not brown, murky or chewy as some myths propagate. It may require some filtering, like a reverse osmosis system to filter the taste and clarity. I have a reverse osmosis system on my refrigerator water for ice and drinking water. I drink a lot of water and I would put this up to any bottled water on taste. I do use the water from the tap for cooking and washing, etc. It is very clear and does not smell- again no different than any one else’s tap water.

Also, floride is not added to the well water, as in city water. But, there are plenty of rinses and toothpastes out there now, not to mention normal regular dental treatments, which can supplement that deficiency.

One more smaller and more infrequent disadvantage. During a power outage, the systems work off electricity. For the well, you will have the water that is in the well tank, which could be full, half or practically empty if the outage happens in between cycles. So, all water, include showers, toliets (as they use water to flush), water to drink and cook, all need electricity to pump in and out of the well. If you are in an area with frequent electrical outages, a generator may be a good idea. Otherwise, it is more of an uncommon nuisance than anything else.

When you buy a home on these systems, you have tests done to ensure the systems are properly working. This is usually done at the seller’s cost per contract. If it is not a seller, the buyer may need to have the test done and absorb the cost. Usually $250 or so per test, near the Chicago area. You will get a lab report on both and recommendations for any changes, if necessary. And don’t be afraid to ask the seller for a glass of water if you are interested. Or run the water, flush the toliet. You will do that during a home inspection, of course, but you can certainly also do when you are looking to allay any of your fears.