By Christine Romans
Housing is healing.
The spring real-estate selling season is well underway and in hot zip codes multiple offers are back. (This time it looks real, not the typical Realtor self-interest "this-is-the-bottom" mantra. Home prices are up 10% year-over-year and sales are up, too.
Four years after the recession, Americans are on the move again - for jobs, to retire, to get married, or just to move. Interest rates are at record lows and buyers are coming back. But they are picky. And they have a lot of inventory to choose from. When you are getting ready to sell, you've got to make the price and the product look better than the neighbor's.
1. Take one piece of furniture out of each room
Jack Otter, author of Worth It... Not Worth It? (Business Plus, 2012), says if you've been in the house more than ten years, consider taking two pieces of furniture out of every room. Clutter is your worst enemy.
2. Put away personal stuff
The last thing you want during an open house is potential buyers distracted by looking at your diploma, your baby's pictures, or the kitchen bulletin board with all your bills and to-do lists. Scott Nooner is a New Jersey seller who had more than 100 people go through his recent open house. He put everything personal in the basement, but was still surprised to see that potential buyers had opened his books and desk drawers. Assume these buyers will touch and open everything. You want their eyes focused on the house, not the homeowners.
3. Decorate in threes
Strip all the surfaces clean of knick-knacks, and then gather pretty things together three at a time. Homeowner Kate Nooner went to thrift stores and Goodwill for pretty colored glass bottles to arrange on shelves. She bought inexpensive bright pillows from Target to freshen things up and she kept the whole scheme very simple.
4. Maximize your curb appeal
Spend some time looking at your house from the street. If you don't hire an landscaper, plan on at least a few weekends working in the yard, filling bare patches with impatiens, overseeding the grass, trimming and shaping the hedges. Pay special attention to your front door and the walkway leading up to it. Kate Nooner took off all her screens, so the newly-clean windows glistened.
And don't blow a new paint job or a touch-up with a horrible light-bulb. A garish fixture or a too-bright light will undo all your hard work. And if you have to limited money to spend, spend in this order: curb appeal, painting, fixing. You can do-it-yourself or you can hire someone, but these are the investments that will sell the house.
We want to hear from you! Tell us what you are seeing in your neighborhood, and whether you think the housing market has bottomed.
Oil prices are pulling back and gas prices have dropped $.18 a gallon since April, but President Obama may soon tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve anyway.
Over the weekend , the G8 countries said in a joint statement they would release oil from their strategic reserves if tougher new sanctions on Iran put a strain on supplies.
That way prices can be kept under control if the conflict with Iran over its nuclear arms program escalates.
The national average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline fell to $3.69 over the weekend. But it's not just oil and gas on the decline. The commodities bubble appears to be deflating, and you could see prices drop at the supermarket. Sugar and coffee futures were both down last week.
Kraft Foods announced it's lowering prices on many of its U.S. coffees, including its Maxwell House brand and some instant coffees. J.M. Smucker said it's slashing prices on its Folgers and Dunkin' Donuts brands too. So drink up!
The value of the average home in America is down 25 percent since the peak in May, 2007, and $7 trillion of homeowner wealth has been wiped out since then, but the relentless slide in home prices is slowing, and some surveys predict prices will rise a little next year.
Housing starts for the month of April were up and home builder confidence is at a 5-year high. Another report found home affordability at the highest in 40 years. A family earning just under $61,000/year, the median income in the U.S., can now afford a home costing more than $325,000, more than double the median price of an existing home right now. A monthly mortgage would be just 13.5 percent of what the family makes. It's still harder to qualify for mortgages, but rates are at record lows. The average 30-year fixed home loan was only 3.83 percent last week. The average 15-year rate was just above 3 percent, and 5 year arm was 2.81 percent.
A true recovery in housing though depends on a recovery in jobs, and that's what is still missing.