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Dress Your House for Success: 12 Steps to Staging Your Home to Sell

Wednesday, 7. September 2011 20:01

If you were around in the late 80s-early 90s, you have seen or heard “Dressing for Success”. It became a mantra and seminars were held to teach people how to get their dream job by dressing the part. Well, the same holds true for selling your home. It needs to be staged–dressed up to make it appealing to the critical eye of today’s consumers.

Armed with the knowledge that cash is king, (even if they do use a mortgage) and that there are plenty of houses on the market, a prospective buyer doesn’t have to settle for your home, when the “one next door” has colors and accessories that make their heart sing.

So, what do you do to make your home stand out? You need to be a critic. Imagine that you are plunking down several hundred thousand dollars for a property in a foreign country. What do you see?

Start at the front entry. Is your exterior wall crisp and clean with no pock marks, chips, cracks, or worse–graffiti? Even though you like to keep beach chairs, an array of flip-flops, and your surfboard at hand, your buyers will just see junk.

Are there weeds growing where some bright, colorful bougainvillea should be? If you don’t have a gardener, or even if you do, buy some nice pots and plant some bougainvillea. They are exotic, colorful, and eye-catching.

Is the pool crystal clear? There is no bigger turn-off then a green, grimy swimming pool. Is the lawn furniture in good repair? If you cannot afford to replace it, remove it. Stage your patio. Just before buyers are due to arrive, sweep it. Throw a few bougainvillea petals in the pool (romance, remember romance?). Roll up some colorful beach towels; put them on the foot of a lounge chair or in a basket near the pool. Make sure table tops are dust free. Entice your buyers to want to stay for the day at poolside.

Let’s go inside. Make the sniff test. Does your home smell like dog, bug spray, or last night’s broccoli? Since you may be de-sensitized to the smells in your home, ask a friend or neighbor to come by and make the sniff test. Tell them to be honest; you need their help; and you do not want to lose a buyer because your house has B.O. When you know buyers are coming, open all the windows, turn on the ceiling fans, let the house air out.

Look at each room. Do you have too much furniture and too many knickknacks? Removing clutter and even some furniture to make your home look more spacious and encourages the potential buyer to envision themselves in the house. Make sure all surfaces are dust free and gleaming. Same goes for the floors.

One of the quickest ways to freshen a room is to add some brightly colored throw pillows. Add or remove color. Color has an effect on people even when they are not aware of it. Have you been in houses that feel happy? It is the colors that did it, not a friendly ghost. Here in Mexico, we can use bolder colors, people expect it, and are drawn to the hot colors of Baja. A word of caution: It is the judicious use of color that matters here. Don’t rush out and paint every room yellow and orange. Take a look around; is there an accent wall that would look nice painted a bright color? Can you accent the inside of an arch with the same apple green in your pottery? Pick up a few magazines or a design book. A good one is Casa Mexicana. It shows all kinds of Mexican home interiors. You can get good ideas there, but, get some expert advice. There are “values” to colors; one yellow can be harsh, while another can feel like a sunny day.

Repair chipped tile; make sure all the switches and outlets have covers. Wash the curtains or remove them completely. Finish the projects you “saved for later”. You know–the unpainted cupboard doors, the new awning, or the purging of the junk in the bodega. Repair broken screens or remove them. Remove rust on doors and other metal surfaces.

Confine your pet. If your doggie is an energetic greeter, tie it up or send it to the neighbor. No one likes a yapping dog or one that jumps on them. Fido is part of YOUR family, not part of the house.

When I list a house, I walk through it with the seller. They have a clipboard and pen and take notes on what to repair, take away, or add to make their home more appealing.

Some quick fixes: a bowl of tropical fruit on a kitchen counter or in the center of the dining table. It can be real or the gorgeous faux fruit available in the shops. Some fluffy towels rolled and stacked on the side of the bathtub or on a bathroom shelf. Some shells placed here and there. Remember: you are selling paradise. Have a set of “show towels” you can put out in the bathrooms. These are never used, so they always look fresh when buyers come to snoop. Add a potted palm to delineate a space or fill a corner. Again, potted plants do not have to be real.

Buying a home is both objective and subjective. Some buyers will see garbage, dust, and clutter and feel that the plumbing and other systems may have been neglected, as well. Others will love or hate a house and say “It was just my gut reaction, I don’t know why, but I hate this house.”

The idea behind staging is to have nothing in the way to stop a buyer from saying: “I love this house; I want to buy it.”


Twelve Steps to Staging Your Home To Sell


  1. Do the dishes. If you don’t have time to be thorough, stack them in the dishwasher. No dishwasher? Wash the dishes; there is no way around it. The kitchen must sparkle.
  2. The entire house, patio, and yard must be neat and clean. Pick up the doggie-poo.
  3. Wash the windows. If you have a great view, the potential buyers will head straight to the window or sliding door that frames the view. They don’t want to look through doggie drool or dirty handprints.
  4. Make the beds. Mexican blankets and crisp white pillow cases can make the worst bed look good.
  5. Remove all the toiletries, shavers, draped towels, etc from the bathroom. Stow toiletries in a cupboard. Toss the wet towels in the dryer. Flush the toilets and put the lids down.
  6. Remove clutter. Be ruthless. Get rid of things you don’t use. Empty the ashtrays. Better yet remove ashtrays. Get some attractive baskets and stow the bills, magazines, and other clutter of daily life.
  7. Play some peaceful music at a low volume.
  8.  Turn on all the lights and light a few candles.
  9. Empty the trash.
  10. Prepare a list of items you will leave with the house.
  11. Freshen faded paint or repaint if your agent says the colors need to be changed.
  12. Go away. Let your agent do her job. If you insist on being there, sit on the patio and keep your lips zipped.

Susan Fogel is the broker/owner of Prestige Property Group La Paz and the author of the ebook: Margarita Mind: How to Avoid It: A Guide to Buying Mexico Property Safely & Sanely.



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How to Price Your Home to Sell

Wednesday, 7. September 2011 19:51

On one of my first trips back to California after living in Mexico for several months, I was talking about life and the way foreigners behave in Mexico. I recounted how some gringos drive cars without wearing a seatbelt or ride motorcycles without helmets. My daughter-in-law, a mathematician, asked, “Do they think the laws of physics change when they cross the border?”

And so it goes with real estate in Mexico, especially when it comes to pricing your house for sale. While some aspects of the real estate transaction are different, such as the appraisal and closing process, the laws of the market, like the laws of physics, do not change at the border.

Pricing your house in the stratosphere has the same consequences in Mexico as pricing your home too high in the US or Canada; no buyers.

What makes a market anyway? Well, goods for sale and people to buy them, also known as “supply and demand.” Even when the supply gets short, people are wary about paying too much and will compare prices. These are the educated consumers.

The educated consumer of Mexican real estate has a pretty good idea of what a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home with a pool should sell for. They know that beachfront properties are worth more than those not on the beach. And they know that view properties have more value than those without a view. And they know that prices in Mexico are falling just as home prices in the US and Canada have dropped.

All of us have heard that the three most important words in real estate are “location, location, location.” Well, here in Southern Baja or any part of coastal Mexico, that translates into “beach, beach, beach.” If your house is on the beach with an unobstructed view and access, it is usually worth twice what the home behind it is worth. That is the way the market works worldwide.

So now you want to sell your home. You have decided to go back to the old country or move to another part of Mexico or the world. You have been shopping the Internet looking at homes and you found an area you like. The homes in that area are selling in the $200,000 range. The market is depressed, sellers are motivated. It is a bargain. Of course, you want to sell your Mexican home to buy the bargain property.

Wrong Way to Price a House #1:

To snap up that bargain for cash, buy a car, furnish the house, and have a cash cushion, you want to net $500,000 from your Mexican property. So you do some math and decide your house must sell for $600,000. So you call a real estate agent and invite her to look at your house. You tell the agent, “I want US$600,000 for my house. I have $300,000 invested in it, and I have a lot of rustico furniture, and I need to net $500,000 to move to my next place.”

Sounds reasonable doesn’t it? This is as far from the proper way to price a house as using butter to treat a burn.

The Right Way to Price a House:

A good real estate agent is going to stop you in your tracks, sit you down, and explain the market to you. What you have invested in the house, what you want for it, and what you need from it, are not valid market indicators. What sets market price is the price of similar properties in similar neighborhoods that have recently been sold or listed. This sets market price―nothing else. This is called comparative pricing. The other properties are called comparables or in real estate jargon “comps.”

In Mexico, getting good comps is difficult. There might be one or two houses in a neighborhood that have recently sold or are on the market. If these houses are of good quality and design, agents will use them as a basis to compare your house and others that are on the market. Your house may be higher or lower, based on the quality of the finishing or special amenities. But don’t put too much value on your furniture. If you are selling and leaving the country are you going to schlep all that stuff back with you? Most likely not. What could you get for it at a garage sale? Not much, right? So don’t think you can raise your house price much for the few pieces of furniture you prefer to leave behind. In fact, a buyer that will take the furniture off your hands is saving you the trouble of packing and moving or disposing of it.

Wrong Way to Price a House #2:

After the real estate agent has educated you and shown you what the market will bear for your home, you are still being stubborn, so you say, “Well, I hear what you are saying, but let’s price it high and let them make offers.” That’ll work, right? Wrong. If another agent is shopping for a house for their client, they are looking at properties within their buyer’s budget. If your $600,000 home should really sell for $400,000, the agent knows that. She may look at your house online and know it is over-priced. There are so many properties on the market she doesn’t need the hassle of dealing with an unrealistic seller. And that is exactly how you will look to experienced agents. An agent doesn’t know you are fishing for someone to make an offer.

If potential buyers are shopping online and compare your house to others, they will just move on. Very few will consider making an offer $200,000 less than the asking price. So now you have lost an agent and a buyer. Who knows how many other agents and sellers passed on your house?

If your house is worth $400,000, price it at $400,000. Remember, cash is king. And if you don’t have a mortgage on your home, then no matter what you put into the house, you are still walking away with almost 400,000 smackers. That is a nice chunk of change to start a new life. In today’s competitive market, which is flooded with inventory, merely slapping a sign on the property, posting it on a website, and waiting for a buyer, will not sell the house.

The first step to a timely sale is properly pricing the house. The next step is an aggressive marketing plan. Before you list your house, ask your real estate agent to show you their marketing plan―in writing. And finally, clean up your act. Stage your house as if My Celebrity Home was coming to film your house. Sounds like we just set the stage for future columns…



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Escrow, Title Insurance, & Closing Services in Mexico!

Sunday, 30. May 2010 14:59

What makes real estate run so smoothly in the US and Canada?
By Susan Fogel

This is a long article, but a must read if you are in the process of buying a home in Mexico
Escrow and title companies!
What is an escrow agent and what do they do? And why do you need to use them in your Mexico real estate transaction? For the same reason you use them in the US or Canada: safety for your funds, security of title, and ease of disbursing all funds at closing. Escrow services work for buyers and sellers.
Let’s start with security of your funds. In the bad old days of real estate transactions in Mexico, the buyer would hand their deposit to their agent or seller. In the first instance, your money may be safe if your agent is trustworthy and doesn’t co-mingle your funds. In the second, your money can be spent the day you hand it over. If you see the seller driving a shiny new pickup only hours after he accepts your offer ― beware. Why is this bad? Perhaps you cannot close the transaction or the “seller” may not have been the legal owner or there may be issues with where the property starts and ends (metes and bounds) or there may be repairs beyond what you are willing to deal with. How do you get your money back if the seller has it? Even if the seller didn’t spend it, how do you get it back? Most likely you cannot.
If you’re the seller, you are protected from tire kickers. Most listing agreements state that if the buyer backs out of the transaction for reasons not outlined in the purchase contract, then you, the seller can keep the deposit money, less the agent’s commission. If you have accepted an offer and the funds do not arrive in escrow within the prescribed time, you can cancel the deal. You do not have to chase down the buyer and beg them to pay. You simply inform escrow that since no money has arrived from the buyer, you are canceling escrow. It is rare for a buyer to make a bogus offer where an escrow company is involved. There is too much work involved and, of course, the funds must be wired—no checks, no cash.
How does an escrow company protect your funds? Easy! Once the seller accepts your written offer, you are expected to wire 10% of the price to escrow. You must complete “escrow instructions”. This is a set of forms that instructs the escrow holder to act as a neutral third party and to hold your money until closing. If something occurs that is the fault of the seller, you will receive all of your money back, less $550, which is the escrow fee. The escrow funds are held in dollars in a US FDIC bank.
“Neutral Third Party” is a very important term. This is the definition of an escrow agent. This means that a shifty agent or powerful seller cannot bribe or threaten the escrow holder to release your funds without your permission and without meeting all of the requirements of the transaction. The escrow agent only acts on the instructions of buyer and seller and all instructions are signed by both parties. And the escrow agent has copies of the passports of both parties to compare signatures.
Costs of escrow services are borne by the buyer. If you are the seller, you have security and no escrow fees. If everything is going according to plan and the house meets your expectations, the closing attorney at the escrow company starts the process of moving the papers: permits and fideicomiso through the system.
This brings us to the second reason for using an escrow company and their closing and title services: Security of title, otherwise known as title insurance. This is available in Mexico and is worth the money (about US$5.00 per thousand of value). On a $200,000 home, the cost of title insurance is $1,000. This is a small price to pay to sleep well at night, knowing that your title is clear even if someone shows up claiming to be a long-lost relative of the original owner seven generations back and demanding that you vacate “their” property.
The title arm of the company searches the public records to ensure that there is no cloud on the chain of title to your property. When they issue the title policy to you, they are assuming the risk and, if someone does try to steal your property, the title company’s lawyers go to work on your behalf.
Do not be dissuaded from buying title insurance. Sometimes the title search can slow down the transaction. This is rare, but it has happened because somewhere in the transfer of title, someone did not pay close attention and something was missed. The title insurance company needs to be sure that all previous owners have had their interests in your property terminated. Wouldn’t you rather pay a little money and spend the time now then pay dearly later? As a seller, wouldn’t you want to walk away with a clear conscience?
Do not believe that the “certificate of no liens”, a required form, is as good as title insurance. The certificate of no liens states that, as of a certain date, no one has made claims on this property. This form has a short shelf life of 30 days. When a transaction takes longer than expected, this certificate must be renewed. The notaria will expect to see a current certificate of no liens. You can see that if it expires in a month, that on day 32, someone can lay a claim on your property. Title insurance insures your property for as long as you own it.
And the third reason: Disbursement of funds. In Mexico, there is a saying, “Paper Talks” and nowhere is it more talkative than in a real estate transaction involving at least one foreigner. The buyer and seller complete a disbursement instruction form. This tells the escrow agent how much money to expect to receive and how much money to send to each person involved in the transaction. A seller can instruct the escrow agent to pay off credit cards, send some funds to the Cayman Islands and some to a US account, and the remainder to a Mexican account. The Realtor’s commissions and the notario fees will be paid via the disbursement instructions.
There are several title/escrow companies offering services in Mexico but only Stewart Title Latin America has offices here. Also, there are some closing attorneys offering escrow services. If you use them, be sure that they are holding the funds in a US account and that escrow and disbursement instructions are used.
Escrow services in Mexico are fast and efficient and most forms can be handled electronically. Unlike the US or Canada, buyer and seller will sign at the notario’s office, not the escrow office, so it does not matter that Stewart Title Latin America is located in Cabos San Lucas. They know all of the notarios, Realtors, and bank fiduciarios.
Susan Fogel is the broker/owner of Prestige Property Group La Paz.
She is the author of the e-book: Margarita Mind: How to Avoid It: A Guide to Buying Mexico

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