Navigating the Real Estate Market in the Twenty First CenturyStory by Pete Grady, Photos by Rusty Hill
We are fortunate to live in one of America’s best kept secrets. Tucked away in a river valley and snuggled up against rolling hills, Eagle, Idaho offers the kind of small-town amenities most people can only dream of, just minutes from a vibrant urban center. Mild four-season weather, low crime rates, proximity to education, shopping, and entertainment are just a few of the lifestyle perks Eagle residents enjoy.
For many, though, it’s Eagle’s real estate options that really make the small city feel like home. From authentic Victorian vintage charmers to contemporary townhouses, mid-size family homes or lavish estate properties, Eagle seems to have it all. As the economy finds firmer footing and property values recover, Eagle is emerging as a hot market for upwardly mobile Idahoans and out-of-state transplants alike. In places like New England’s urban centers, upscale subdivisions of northern California, or many of Chicago’s trendy neighborhoods, large properties can soar into the millions of dollars. But, for somewhere shy of one million, this month’s feature property on Emerald Bay north of Floating Feather offers buyers over 7,600 square feet of luxury set on two beautifully landscaped acres. What a find!
After a reality check, maybe you decide you’re not inclined to maintain all that yourself or have to hire a staff just shy of Downton Abbey’s to do it for you. No problem: there are plenty of more modest places to choose from. But selecting a property and making the purchase comes with plenty to think about. Recent changes in financing and an evolving selection of housing types has turned home ownership on its head. Gone are the days of spending your entire adult life at one address as our grandparents might have done. Facing so many options, the act of jumping from one home to the next should not be a casual affair. There are a number of do’s and don’ts to consider, any of which can make a substantial difference when you decide to sell the home later in terms of the price you can ask, the length of time it takes to sell or both. Location, location, location still holds a lot of weight, yet traditional misconceptions about real estate remain. We decided to explore those old misconceptions along with some new ones to give those of you who are ready to move, or just on the fence, some things to ponder.
Myth 1If it doesn’t have curb appeal, potential buyers won’t come indoors.
There’s still a lot of truth to this statement. Your house might not have the grand sweeping driveway, soaring gables, stone-covered archways and elegantly framed windows of this month’s featured property which is on the market as we go to press. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t optimize what you do have. A weekend spent replacing trim that’s fallen from around a window, shoring up a sagging gutter, and making sure toys are out of sight can do a lot to improve the view for arriving prospects. Make sure the landscaping is raked clean, dead branches are removed. and the lawn is mowed regularly. A few bags of fresh bark in the flower beds can give a revived freshness to an older property. And, it’s probably time to get that old engine block off the pallets next to the driveway and stow it in the shed like your wife asked you to do in 2009.
Myth 2The biggest house on the block is usually the worst value.
Here’s another testimonial that still carries its weight. Typically at the top of the range price-wise, it can be more difficult to see the same price appreciation compared to other homes in the neighborhood. That may be important if you plan on selling some day and find your home is attractive to only a shrinking pool of savvy buyers unwilling to make the same mistake you did. On the other hand, it pays to share the traits of surrounding homes, or you mayfind yourself with a property that is out of place. Our featured property on Emerald Bay sits in the company of other estate-sized properties north of Floating Feather Road, making it an attractive option for those seeking that level of luxury and privacy. In another neighborhood it could be devalued by smaller homes around it.
Myth 3Sellers will recoup the cost of most improvements they’ve made in the home.
The most important thing to remember is that your home should be comparable to those in the neighborhood around you. That said, if all homes have granite countertops in the kitchen except yours, then you should seriously look into making that upgrade before you list. On the other hand, if you’re looking to install new hardwood floors throughout that 2,500 square foot house of yours and all the other homes on your street are clad in laminate, don’t expect to get back the $20,000 you just laid out. There are good resources on the Internet that offer statistics on the kind of returns you can expect for various types of upgrades, remodeling, and landscaping projects. Finding a good realtor who can help you interpret those recommendations and put them in the context of your area is also useful, and it’s a great way to interview prospective listing agents.
Myth 4“Green” features are essential to selling a newer home.
Green features are certainly attractive to most buyers. While going green is definitely popular, be careful about choosing to install energy efficient upgrades right before you list your property, or paying too high a premium if you’re buying. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is an initiative developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Homes meeting the standards set by this group can apply for certification or at a minimum, advertise LEED-type features. Recent surveys suggest, however, that buyers are reluctant to pay too steep a premium for LEED energy efficiencies, so be careful and weigh the costs versus energy savings on the one hand and potential home value appreciation on the other. In the end, the personal satisfaction that you are living a greener lifestyle might be the most valuable thing of all.
Myth 5Don’t paint before you sell; the new buyers will want to select their own colors.
Here is one that can be tricky. If the paint is old and worn, and you’re no longer able to clean it satisfactorily, then host a painting party and get it done. In contrast, that bright fuchsia paint job in the bathroom might have seemed like a good idea after you got home from your trip to Costa Rica. But for most potential buyers, it’s difficult to picture themselves living in rooms with that kind of intensity. Definitely think about replacing bright walls with a neutral color that would harmonize with the floors and countertops that are already there for an inexpensive cosmetic upgrade. On the other hand, a bold color statement like a single, deep burgundy or royal blue wall at one end of the great room might be just the thing to add drama to an otherwise plain space. In that case, use some contrasting elements to draw the eye to the accent wall and make your home more appealing and, hopefully, sale-able.
Navigating the realm of residential real estate investment can be filled with uncertainty, but a little common sense can go a long way to calm your mind.
When deciding how to market the home you’re in, think about what does and doesn’t work when you are shopping for a new place to live. If, when touring a home, you find it a turn-off to encounter piles of laundry stacked on the washing machine or worse, the bed in the master bedroom, then it’s likely others will feel the same about yours. Try visiting a few open houses to get an idea of what owners are doing that presents their homes in the best light. Doing so in your neighborhood will also provide a reality check on local home values.
Getting the most bang for your buck in terms of making your home more attractive can hinge on important things like hiring a professional to stage your home. Most realtors have good relationships with home staging designers and can help you arrange for services that meet your needs and budget. If you‘re a buyer, stay focused on the things you’ve decided really matter and don’t get too swayed by a color that isn’t quite to taste or a lot of lavish decorations that will be gone when you move in. Make a list of imperatives and check them as you tour properties. You may not find absolutely everything on your list, but it can help in determining the homes that most closely match your needs. Best of all, you’ll be doing your search in a town full of beautiful options for any kind of lifestyle from urban to country, townhouses to landed estates.