Monday, June 9, 2008

A Vital and Free Tool for Selling Your Home Quickly

Selling a home in today's economic climate is a tough sell. In our own area, one where homes used to turn over fairly quickly , a house down the street sold for nearly $100K below the price paid by the former owner. Yet I've seen people with very little experience sell their homes and a friend just did so by taking advantage of a free and often overlooked tool for home sellers - the open house.

I want to be clear here, however - I'm not talking about having an open house in hopes of selling your home but the value of of going to as many open houses in your area as you can. This is a vital and free tool that home sellers may overlook. It is one we've used successfully to sell our own home and get up to speed. It took awhile for us to understand why open houses could help us sell our home.

But they can. Here's why:

Going to open houses gives you an idea of the competition in home sales

Yes, your real estate agent may be able to tell you the "comps" or competitive prices in the market. Yes, you can open a newspaper and see those prices in the real estate ads. But nothing substitutes for walking around in a home that is located near your home or priced at or above your price range. You get an instant feel for curb appeal, size of the rooms, updates and more. So take advantage of this. Nothing substitutes for this kind of personal viewing of the competition. Nothing.

After going to one, I came home and rearranged the living room furniture. Call it coincidence but we got an offer on our home the next day, from a person who saw that newly rearranged living room.

Special tips: Take along a friend or your spouse. Each of you will have a different take on the homes you see. Pay special attention to how long the home has been on the market, updates, price and how the home compares to your home. Afterwards, take a good, long look at your home, your room arrangements and home price. Think about features your home has - or needs to have - to be competitive.

Open houses allow you to see how other real estate agents work and see how your real estate agent compares.

Unless you are using an agent who is a friend or family member and are willing to wait forever to sell your home (if your friend or family member isn't a top notch agent), you probably care about how well your real estate agent sells homes. We met the agent who sold us our current home at an open house. I liked her, felt some rapport and called her later to see our home. She not only sold our old home in record time but found us the home of our dreams as well. I trusted my instincts and...yes...we dropped the real estate agent we were considering. We hadn't signed a contract with that person, thank goodness.

Special tip: Consider going to some open houses and talking to agents before signing a contract with one. Don't discount an agent's track record but also think about how you feel about a particular agent. Can you work with the person? Do you understand each other? Those are important questions, too.

Open houses allow you to collect spec sheets and keep an eye on how quickly sellers are able to sell their homes

When we were trying to sell our home, we kept a list of spec sheets (pages of information about each home, room sizes, price, features, etc) or home specification sheets. Then we simply kept track of how quickly each home sold and in what price range. You can easily find out this information by going to a local or national home sale website or by talking to a real estate company sales person. or agent. When a home sold quickly, we paid special attention to the sales price and home features.

Special tip: Spec sheets are free. Don't miss out on the chance to keep track of home specifications and sales prices. Remember, your information will be backed by personal observation.

Open houses allow you to tweak the curb appeal or home features of your house - maybe even without spending a dime

As noted, above, I rearranged the furniture in our living room after seeing a better arrangement at an open house. I've also gotten ideas for how and where to place porch and deck furniture for maximum curb appeal. During gardening season, I've gotten garden design ideas. All of these things can make or break a home sale.

Special tip: you can up your home's sales appeal without spending a dime if you pay close attention at open houses.

Open houses let you hear other potential home buyers as they comment or react to various home features, giving you extra insight into what matters to home buyers.

Maybe you assume your fireplace is a major focal point in your home. If you attend open houses and most buyers are focusing on the kitchen, no matter which home they see, that might be a clue to start updating or making your kitchen a focal point and stop obsessing about the fireplace. We certainly learned which features mattered to home buyers by going to open houses. Right now, master bedroom suites are very popular. Anything that gives a touch of luxury is also popular, from outside fire pits to sinks that accommodate large pots.

Special tip: Sometimes what you assume matters to buyers actually matters less than you think. So keep your eyes - and your ears - open and take get maximum value out of the words "open house" and sell your home in record time.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Institute of Urban Homesteading in Oakland California

We all know gas prices are soaring out of sight and food prices are also rising. Even without those factors, some people want to know exactly how and where their food is produced. So they do it themselves, becoming an urban homesteader, whether on a small or larger scale. If you want to know more you can check out this article: or try this link (which will, hopefully show up here: Urban Homesteading

If you haven't heard the terms "urban homesteading" or "urban homesteaders", odds are you will. Although exact definitions of these terms can vary somewhat, the focus is clear - self-reliant and independent living, often with a hands-on approach. More and more people want to learn how to grow their own vegetables, raise chickens, learn beekeeping and other skills. Now they are doing this, even in places that would be classified as anything but rural.

Those living in the Oakland area of California can learn more about urban homesteading at the Institute of Urban Homesteading. They'll discover that it is possible to raise chickens in a backyard,even if that backyard isn't part of a farm. I know this because a relative actually raises chickens in her backyard in California. Her home looks like many traditional suburban ones founds in neighborhoods across America. The only difference? She has a chicken coop, complete with a growing brood of chickens, in her backyard. Now other people could learn how to do the same thing, perhaps by taking a class at the Institute of Urban Homesteading.

Although the school is relatively new, classes have filled up quickly and new ones have even been added in response to consumer demand. A course on Bees and Backyard Beekeeping had two sessions, both full. Another popular class? Raising chickens, a course which covered everything you'd want to know about choosing and caring for poultry. Other courses cover the art of making flower essences or working with chocolate.

Intrigued? Wondering if you could be an urban homesteader yourself? You probably could!

The Institute of Urban Homesteading: basic facts

Not surprisingly, hands-on learning is a big part of the approach there. Those with a desire to ask questions and learn (as well as learn from mistakes) are welcome at the Institute. They'll hit the ground running. This means that a group of students could be learning about various types of chickens or actually building chicken coops. Others might be discovering how to keep and protect bees or grow organic vegetables.

If you are the type that is most comfortable in a structured setting, with strong distinctions between teacher and student, you may need to get out of that mindset. Teachers and students learn together at the Institute. if you check out the website at you can see more about this. Although there are teachers, students and teachers do learn and teach from each other. Don't expect there to be a strict line between teacher and student.

The school is perfect for those with a renewed interest in organic gardening, herbal medicine and other aspects of independent living and back to basics activities

Ever wondered about growing your own food year round? Have you thought about herbal medicines or canning your own fruits and vegetables? These are the sort of activities you'll find at the school. Those who take urban homesteading seriously often want to know more about how and where their food is produced or be part of the entire process.

This year, we put in the largest vegetable garden we've ever had. Those with similar interests can up their learning curve at the Institute. Even photographers should have a field day here, since some classes allow students to observe native bees and take photos of them. They can watch the bees pollinate flowers and even learn about the complete life cycle of bees.

Classes offered, locations and costs

For a complete list of classes, you can simply go to the Institute website listed above. If you do, you'll be amazed at the wealth of subjects covered. You'll also see that many are already full, an indication of the school's popularity. Bees and Beekeeping, Organic Gardening 101 and Mead and Wine Making were such popular topics that they quickly filled to capacity. However, keeping with the Institute's inviting atmosphere, those who want to learn a skill can simply ask...and another session or class may be arranged. They have often done this.

I yearned to take the Canning Made Easy class, as I'd always wanted to know how to can my own tomatoes or make jelly. Similar classes focus on making fruit compotes, jellies and jams or homemade tomato sauces.

Another class, Backyard Chickens the Permaculture Way, gives students a chance to learn about every aspect of raising chickens. While this year's class is already full, there should be others offered later (popular classes often have extra sessions or sections). From picking out the right breed of chicken to feeding them and building a chicken coop - all of these aspects of raising chickens are covered.

Typical costs per class at the Institute normally range between $25 to $75. All classes are offered on a sliding scale, which means that teachers and students can work out financial arrangements that work for each. No one is turned away simply because of financial challenges. For a full listing of classes, click on the Calendar section of the Institute of Urban Homesteading website.

Class locations vary

If you want to learn how to raise chickens, you often have to go where the chickens are. The same can be true when it comes to learning other aspects of urban homesteading. As a result, many of the classes are offered "on site" or in private kitchens and backyards in or near the Oakland area of California. Addresses of teachers are not listed on the website but are given out after registration.

Classes are often kid friendly

Although students may have to be age 12 or up to take some classes, others are offered to younger students. Teachers determine whether parents can bring kids along but it is certainly a possibility. Safety is always a primary concern.

How to contact the school

Simply fill out the form at the website. You can also call (888) 292-3998. Learning how to can your vegetables or some other aspect of urban homesteading could be one of the best investments of time and money you make!