Archive for the ‘Home Improvement’ Category

Buying a house means a gazillion trips to a home improvement store. If you live in a urban setting like we do, you’ll be surrounded by several big box stores. I know many of you probably go out of your way to avoid them intentionally giving your business to a local hardware store. That’s commendable. I have done that too. But the diverse categories of a big box store is supposed to be an advantage, right?

I was trying to think of the advantages. One stop shopping? Bigger selection? Lots of in-store help? Delivery and installation? 24/7 help line? Internet presence?

I suppose any one of those things or others might be an advantage. But none of them have reduced the number of trips we’ve taken to buy stuff. In fact, most of those things have created more trips. Ah, that’s their secret marketing scheme! Everyone in retail knows that increasing the number of in-store visits, grows the customers’ spending, and our economy is 70% driven by consumer spending. The more times you visit, the more you realize you want to add something else to the shopping list. Or you buy something that wasn’t on the list.

And the DIY mentality makes you think you’re somehow saving money. I haven’t signed up for any of the classes being offered in these stores because I know that’s just one more trip that will add something else to our list.

We have several big box options in our corner of the city: Lowe’s, Menard’s, Home Depot, and Fleet Farm. Two of those are national chains, the other two are regional.

Summer has driven us to add to our list for the new house. We gave our old patio furniture to the buyer of our old town home. When you buy a new house, you realize that it’s an occasion to replace a lot of things and seasonal items are one of those big categories. We’ve also picked up several seasonal and non-seasonal items outside the 4 stores mentioned e.g. at Target.

Here are some other items that have driven us to these stores: storm door, garden items/planters and floor care products and window treatments. Garden is the only seasonal item here, although most of you will recognize how much money it takes to just plant flowers and herbs.

The one variable that has had the biggest impact on where we spend our money has been the in-store people working the floor. Here are the characteristics of the people who have helped us spend our money:

  • They know which aisle something is in AND they take you there (they don’t just tell you and walk away.)
  • If surrounded by several customers, they acknowledge everyone who’s waiting and will call another worker over if they can’t get to everyone in a timely manner.
  • They don’t pressure us into making a decision but suggest options we didn’t think about.
  • They engage us in a friendly, natural way.
  • They look up inventory that isn’t on the floor and are familiar with processes to locate hard to find items.
  • They know their pricing policies and have the authority to match competitors without having to “call a manager.”
  • If they’re assigned to a particular area in the store, they know their product.
  • They don’t make you feel dumb because you don’t know the product.
  • If you’re not sure you can fit something in your vehicle, they come out to the parking lot with you and measure the space.
  • They load your vehicle for you.

Have you noticed these same characteristics of the in-store person helps you spend more money? Are there other attributes that you can think of that make you want to return to a particular store? Please comment as we’d love to hear what you have to say.


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Well, we’ve been in the new house for 3 months and we’ve successfully sold the old one. Most of the new home furnishings are in place and we feel like we’ve completed a big chapter. We’ve purposefully refrained from blogging about the experience. There was sort of a feeling throughout the process that we were fighting an uphill battle to make this transition.

That feeling caused us to think twice about blogging how we were feeling and thinking about the events that occurred along the way. We really prayed a lot about finding the right buyer for the other house and we were grateful that one came along within 10 days of the house going on the market. We’ve gone through this process 3 times in the first 3 years of our marriage. First selling Lisa’s townhouse after we got married. Then buying our new house and finally selling the house we lived in after getting married.

As I reflect on the latest house adventure, there are a couple of things that stand out that might be useful to you if you’re planning to sell. The first thing

We were psyched and ready to celebrate with our broker at closing!

is staging the home you’re planning to sell. We rolled the dice and bought our new house before selling the old one, so we weren’t living in the house but we were carrying two mortgages for awhile. We planned for that, but it does hold some risk if you can’t sell quickly. However, since we weren’t living there, it made it easier to stage the home. You really need to de-clutter and get rid of personal items. Then consider some inexpensive tasks like adding some fresh paint, fixing squeaky doors, changing the furnace filter, cleaning the carpets, making feature cards to hang up in the house and hiring a professional photographer are prime examples of simple things that you can easily do. Let’s face it, when you’re selling you’re facing a war with two fronts – a pricing war and a beauty contest. You want to stay competitive on the price and win the beauty contest. All these things that I listed are examples that address the beauty contest. Take time to schedule walk through’s of your competition with your broker. This is called scouting your competition.

You’ll be surprised at how your competition looks really good on-line, but when you visit their place you’ll find out the imperfections that your neighbors are strategically hiding. Use that information and make sure that if you have a closet door that needs a new handle because it looks worn out just like your neighbor’s does, then it’s worth a few bucks to replace it with a new one. The people walking through your place will notice it.

In this market, your neighbors will affect your price. Bank-owned properties drive prices down – they’re not supposed to be used as comp’s for an appraisal, but home prices are not immune to their existence. And your competition affects your price too. If your neighbors haven’t taken good care of their property then it could negatively affect your price. Your property may look stellar, but if the other comparable properties for sale by an owner are dumpy, then that will drive your price down. In this market don’t expect that just because you took great care of your house you can sell it for a lot more than your neighbors who haven’t done the same. It simply doesn’t work out that way, unfortunately. Be real with your price, don’t start out high and think you’ll bargain down. Buyers don’t want to bargain down from a high price, even if your house looks better. People will save the money, avoid talking to you and buy the cheaper house and use the savings for improvements on the other houses for sale. We think this is especially true in Minnesota. “Minnesota nice” will prevail and people will simply ignore you and your high price. You might get traffic, but you won’t get an offer.

Plan ahead and save a bunch of money, more than you think. It’s going to cost you to sell your house in this market. Plan for the offer scenario where you”ll likely need to cover closing costs, broker’s fees, title fees, taxes and a host of other things. Buyers have the advantage to ask you to cover a lot of costs in this market because many people are desperate to sell. The market will vary, but even when the amount of available homes for sale is down, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a higher price for the seller. The law of supply and demand are affected by many other variables that prevent a low supply of homes to equate to higher prices.

Work with your broker ahead of time and discuss the types of costs you’d be willing to take on. This will help you to not feel so bad when the costs are estimated. Save now and plan for this. Then if it happens, you won’t feel so shocked about writing that check or taking home less than you thought if you don’t have a mortgage to pay off or you didn’t have a lot left to pay off. Assume the worst case scenario, then if you get something better than that, you’ll feel better when that offer comes in.

Finally, your closing experience as a seller will be affected by how good your buyer’s mortgage lender and title company are. This is often out of your control, however if your broker tells you that the offer is coming from a legitimate buyer but that the buyer’s mortgage company has a bad reputation, then you can try to suggest the buyer work with someone else. Once the buyer is pre-approved and has paid for an appraisal, it’s tough for them to walk away from that lender.

Let’s face it, this market is tough no matter what you do. If you have other ideas that helped sell your home, then please share in the comments as we’d love to hear what you have to say!

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One of the things you do leading up to putting your house on the market is check out the competition. You want to know what places like yours are going for and how much renovating and decorating is required to make yours stand out in the crowd.

That’s why we stopped by the open house down the street a few weeks ago. It was a well-staged unit, but we knew enough to recognize it was greatly overpriced. From what we could gather, the sellers are in an unfortunate situation all too common in today’s housing climate. If we read the realtor correctly, the couple had bought into an ARM that was coming due. Because they had bought shortly before the collapse of the housing bubble, they were upside-down on their mortgage, meaning they probably didn’t have a lot of options to come down in price. Bummer.

New Rubbermaid and Elfa Shelving

We’re in a 1,300-foot town home. As you might guess, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for storage. The house we visited was similar to ours, but they came up with a creative storage idea and we wondered why it never occurred to us. We opened their front closet that was in the same place as ours. The difference, however, was that unlike all the coats that filled ours, shelves lined these walls. These shelves turned it into a pantry filled with canned goods and other food items. The light bulb went on!

A trip to Fleet Farm, Home Depot and The Container Store and we were on our way! Brent, once again, is my hero. He spent Saturday afternoon installing new shelves which leaves more room in our Tupperware cupboard. If you think that sounds minor, you have not seen me wrestle with this cupboard, time after time, after time. It usually won. But that was before the closet victory!

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Once in a while our schedules converge and we find ourselves with something on the calendar nearly every night of the week. This is likely par-for-the-course for those of you with children, however, we strive to avoid these situations. But this week the situation is unavoidable.

We have the Minnesota Mycological Society meeting to start the week. This month the mushroom lovers will be discussing the upcoming foraging forays for the annual spring morels. I have to convince Lisa to sign the waiver so we can participate in the foraging. Lisa mentioned this in an earlier blog. She wonders why my hobby must include a death and injury waiver. But I think she secretly is looking forward to it!

That meeting is to be followed by a celebration of the latest class of Stephen’s Ministers at a nearby church. Stephen’s Ministries has been an important part of my development as a believer and to see the addition of new Stephen Ministers will be a happy occasion. In short Stephen Ministers are trained to provide one on one Christian care to hurting people. The training takes six months, so it will be fun to meet the latest class.

Another exciting opportunity will be a concert on Friday. As a part of the lead up to Easter, we’re going to attend the Andrew Peterson concert at New Hope Church (scroll down the linked page for Gospel information at New Hope.) Concert time is April 15 @7:00 p.m. (Doors open at 6:00 p.m.) The concert is free, so if you’re interested, please show up!

You can check out a sample of Andrew’s music here:

We have painters coming to paint two rooms in our house as well this week. Plus we started building shelves in one of our closets. So we’ve cleared furniture and emptied closet contents in preparation for that work, so the house is in a temporary state of confusion.

If you have any advice for how you manage through busy weeks, please leave us your ideas as comments as we’re sure it will help!

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The current plan is to move sometime in the coming year. We’ve learned to hold that plan rather lightly with the housing market and economy being what it is and all. The original plan was to move upon getting married. That was 2009 and, well, we all know that wasn’t exactly the best time to sell or buy.

So, in the meantime, we find some inconvenience in stuffing Tupperware into minimal cupboard space, reaching around one another in a single-sink bathroom and putting up with a stinky commute. In the grand scheme of life, these are rather minor challenges. There’s really no reason why two people can’t survive in a 1,300 square foot space. For Pete sake, Brent survived in a hut for two years!

Also in the meantime, we’re working on ways to make our place more sell-able. Everything we read and watch on HGTV (my favorite channel) seems to indicate that updated lighting is key. No doubt about it, ours needed a spruce up from the 90s.

The fan with a gazillion parts!

So the trick was to find something that might have broad appeal without spending a wad of cash that we’d never get back out of the sale.

No more brass fixtures!

I suppose if we were looking for lighting we’d want to live with long-term, we’d have searched for weeks for just the right thing. Hmmm. Let me re-phrase that. I’d have searched for weeks. Brent, being a man and all, is cut more from the “go to store, pick out something and purchase” cloth. Let’s just say I’ve learned to make selections much more quickly. (He even got me to pick out my latest purse in a matter of 10 minutes. Ladies, I know, your eyes are bulging in disbelief. But it’s true, I love the purse, and that’s another story.)

We picked up five new lighting fixtures at Home Depot and got them installed a few weeks ago. The good thing is that we get to enjoy them now until we move…whenever that might be. Next we consider paint samples. And then there’s the staging process which will involve packing up a good share of what we own. Having done this all just two years ago with my previous town home, we’re no strangers to packing and storage units. Hopefully the next time it’ll be a lot longer than two to three years between moves!

We’ve got our eyes peeled for any other great selling/buying ideas. Whaddaya got?

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Quick post to ask a simple question: What’s your view on caulking around the base of the toilet?

If you Google “caulking toilet base” you’ll get 81,000+ results in .91 seconds. Geez, the internet is wonderful, isn’t it? Got a question about your potty? No problem, somebody has an answer in less than a second.

Lisa and I have been using the cold weather as an opportunity to work on inside house projects. Our logic is simple: when the weather warms up, we’ll feel good about taking off half a day and enjoying ourselves knowing that we got a bunch of stuff done when the weather was bad. So while the weather was crappy, I worked on the crapper.

What’s interesting about the Google search for caulking around the crapper is that you get a 50/50 split on whether it’s a good idea or not. The logic behind NOT caulking around the base of the toilet is that if there’s no caulk there, you’ll quickly find out if there’s a leak. Probably by getting your socks wet when you wake up in the early hours. Those advocating AGAINST caulking say, if your toilet base is caulked, the result of a leaky flange will result in water between your leaky toilet and the floor – and you will not be able to get to it as easily.

I’ve heard from a few friends who’ve had leaky flanges and they reported that the water didn’t show up on the floor in front of their toilets. Rather they found the water going through the floor to the level below.

The caulker “advocates” claim that caulking around the base of the toilet is a good idea because you PREVENT water (or worse) from going down into the floor. I won’t elaborate on the “or worse” part, but suffice it to say there were a lot of parents out there who were potty training boys with a bad aim, and once that got under the toilet, there wasn’t much they could do to clean it up. Mostly it was about water from a nearby tub or shower that got on the floor while people where toweling off. I will, uh, refrain from offering advice on preventing that. ‘Nuff said.

The other reason caulker “advocates” gave was: for providing additional stability keeping the throne attached to the floor. Honestly, I’ve never considered that before. I figured the screws and bolts on either side of the porcelain did that. But I concur that caulking would definitely add stability and maybe even balance it out. Plus it looked better.

Finally, there were several toilet caulkers who claimed that leaving a one each gap at the back of the toilet allowed for a way for water to escape while still providing protection from water (or worse) to get under there. I think those folks say that for a different reason. If you’ve ever tried to apply caulk to the back of the toilet base, you’ll quickly find out that the backside does not lend itself to an easy application. You can’t see what you’re doing, and there’s no room to angle the tube properly. You need hands the size of 2 year old to work effectively behind there.

We didn’t have any problem with the toilet. But we thought a fresh application of caulk around the toilet looked nicer. So after a little talk, we decided to caulk.

Have you ever tried to do this? Do you have an opinion or an experience (that you dare to share)? Do you believe soggy socks are a good early warning system or are you a prevent-defense bathroom caulker? Please take the poll so we can publish the results! Polls open for the month of January.

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