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What Buyers Want this Fall

As the post-Labor Day real estate season approaches, old and new clients are calling with the question that has always been music to my ears:  Can you come by and tell us what to do to get our place ready for the market?

Everyone seems to have gotten the message that buyers are out in huge numbers and that inventory is way down (by 20%) from where it was a year ago.  Buyers are willing to pay top dollar, and their top is higher than ever before with these historically low interest rates.  However, they are and have every right to be very picky.  If a home buyer is going to outbid half a dozen other people in a multiple-offer situation — and bidding wars have been the norm for months now in Roslindale, J.P. and West Roxbury –  the product they end up with must be excellent.

Here’s my top 7 picks for items that your home must have (and I’m talking mainly about single families right now) to get the price you want:

1.  If you have two levels in your house (or condo, with rare exceptions), you must have two bathrooms.  A half bath on the first floor is fine but it must be nicely finished.  (P.S. Save your money and don’t get a spa-style tub.)

2.  First floor must have an open floor plan.  Knock down as many walls as you can between living, dining and kitchen areas.  On a budget?  Get creative with mirrors and lighting to maximize spaciousness.

3.  Your kitchen must be clean, serene, and  mostly updated.  Granite and stainless are the quickest way to effect this illusion, but there are many less predictable finishes that also make buyers pull out their check books.

4.  Front of the house, including masonry and carpentry, must appear perfect.  That first approach has to be positive or you’re dead in the water.  Remove unattractive shrubs.  Back porches and stairs must be solid and pretty, too.

5.  Eliminate wallpaper, paper borders (egad — a fad whose time is SO long-gone).  Pull up any wall-to-wall, except maybe in finished attics.  And in those spaces, it must be new and clean and neutral.

6.  Replace a heating system that’s more than 20 years old or is rusty and nasty looking.

7.  Take advantage of the strongest sellers’ market in many years, and possibly for many years to come.  Listen to your Realtor, not your best friend — unless he or she is an interior designer –  and get your place sold quickly at a price that will thrill you.

See you out there — and fasten your safety belts for a wild fall (market)!

5 Easy Ways to a Greener Real Estate Practice

My recent Audubon excursion to an island off the coast of Maine has me more impassioned than ever about not using plastics in any form. The environment is saturated with them, and recycling, though perhaps helpful, is not the answer as the market for recyclable plastics is not what it was before the world-wide economic downturn.  And energy conservation, in any form, is more important now than ever before.

What can we do, as independent business people?  Let’s start with the home office, though some of these suggestions can apply to your central office as well:

1.  Buy paper for your photocopy machine that’s wrapped in paper, not plastic.

2.  Turn off any lights or other appliances that you are not using, including your printer and computer.  An aside: take a look at these disposal guidelines from the EPA,  for when you break a compact fluorescent bulb.  I was totally unaware of the dangers of mercury gas; sometimes I think we should stick with incandescents and use them sparingly.

3.  Working at home?  Save water by sticking to the old adage: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.  If it’s brown, flush it down.”  And never, ever, leave the water running while you brush your teeth or wash dishes.

4.  Coffee break?  At-home coffee makers that use disposable plastic one-shot containers might be quick and easy, but why should our caffeine needs hurt the environment?  Going out for coffee?  Bring your own refillable mug and keep one more plastic lid out of the landfill.  And if the counter person sticks your plastic iced coffee container into a styrofoam one, kindly decline the outer cup.

5.  Urge your local grocer to stock products that are wrapped simply.  Yogurt in plastic containers that we eat with plastic spoons?  Lettuce in a plastic box?  Mushrooms in styrofoam packaging?  If we stop buying, the plastics producers will have to eventually stop supplying.

That’s my soapbox for today, inspired by the hundreds of pounds of plastic trash we picked up in only two days on the islands we visited in Maine.  Here’s a photo of some of the winged beneficiaries of a cleaner planet — the Common Tern — that’s becoming less and less common as our oceans fill up with microscopic particles of plastic ingested by seabirds, fish and yes, eventually, us!

Linda Burnett

Jamaica Plain/Roslindale Real Estate Maven
Keller-Williams Boston-Metro Real Estate
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Farmers’ Markets are Back in Boston!

Today I made my annual pilgrimage to the Copley Square Farmers’ Market on its opening day.  Not that much of a pilgrimage, actually,  as it’s right outside my KW office on Boylston Street!  Crop offerings were of course very limited but I managed to snag some fabulous greens.  Had it not been such a gray and rainy day, I’m sure the lines would have been snaking all around the plaza.

Starting June 2nd,  our very own farmers’ market opens for business at Adams Park in Roslindale Village. Not only will you experience live music and first seasonal sightings of friends and neighbors — you’ll also get to purchase locally-grown goods from an average of 25 vendors each week. Each Saturday  from 9-1:30 you can choose from the finest produce, including fruits and vegetables, meat, honey, baked goods as well as handcrafted items by local artisans. You can also browse the book stall sponsored by Friends of the Roslindale Library and buy tickets for the upcoming Roslindale Garden Tour happening on June 23.   I probably don’t need to tell you:  if you don’t have AT LEAST an hour to spend at the Rozzie Farmers’ Market (that’s half an hour socializing and half an hour shopping) it’s hardly worth going at all.  I love it for catching up with my Roslindale real estate clients — and plenty of folks from Jamaica Plain, too!

While the Rozzie market is opening next weekend, the Jamaica Plain Farmers’ Market has been open for a couple weeks in its longtime home behind the Bank of America on Centre Street. A most welcome feature of this small but well-stocked market is that it’s open two days a week, giving you more opportunity to peruse the local produce. Each Tuesday from 12-5 and Saturday from 12 -3, fill your recyclable shopping bag with anything from local honey to fresh flowers. Later on this summer, you can choose between this locale and the one at the historic Loring-Greenough House just down the street, open Thursdays from 12 -6.

Boston may be a small city, but we’re big on shopping locally and supporting Massachusetts farmers.   I’ll be at the market in Rozzie, just shopping, or hawking tickets at the booth for the upcoming Garden Tour or selling books as a Friend of the Roslindale Library, so I’m sure to see you there and please don’t hesitate to come and say hello — it’s been a mild but long winter and I can’t wait to see my fellow Roslindalians!

Linda Burnett

Jamaica Plain/Roslindale Real Estate Maven
Keller-Williams Boston-Metro Real Estate
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Seeing RED is a good thing at Keller Williams!

My father was an entrepreneur his entire working life. He didn’t ever actually tell me that one of the cornerstones of a successful business is giving back to the community, but I learned by watching his consistent involvement in the Lions Club, the local board of trade and later, groups committed to racial and economic equality.  So, six years ago when I was ready for a more effective way to blend my business and non-profit lives and began researching real estate franchises, Keller Williams really stood out from the pack.

One of our most visible community projects,  RED Day, happens annually on the second Thursday in May.  The day is dedicated to Mo Anderson, one of KW’s founders whose unstinting generosity inspired this company-wide event.  By spending time “Renewing, Energizing and Donating”, KW agents across the country give back to their local communities. On RED Day 2012, my colleagues and I spent several hours sprucing up the Abraham Lincoln Veterans Center in Charlestown — a community center serving local residents from toddlers to most-revered seniors.  It’s located a stone’s throw from our Charlestown Market Center at 18 Main Street.

From cleaning the bathroom and kitchen to putting on a fresh coat of paint in the central activities room, we worked off our collective butt.  When the indoor projects were done,  I personally tackled a disgustingly overgrown and trash-filled alley beside the building, and quickly attracted the help of two young men who’ve recently joined our team.  In under an hour and a half we could actually walk through that creepy passageway without stepping on broken glass and discarded building materials that had been there so long Mother Nature had almost totally reclaimed them.

A job well done, relationships strengthened among us brokers and between our company and the community, and a great deal of fun and laughter — RED Day this year was a blast, and a testimony to Keller Williams’s success the other 364 days of the year!

That's me in the middle, working my fingers to the bone!

KW Boston Metro-RED Day Troops

Linda Burnett

Jamaica Plain/Roslindale Real Estate Maven
Keller-Williams Boston-Metro Real Estate
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Lilac Sunday — Harbinger of Spring — this Sunday!

Lilac Linda

Arnold Arboretum, the oldest public arboretum in America, has been owned and maintained since 1872 by one of the country’s most well-known institutions: Harvard University.  Every year on Mother’s Day for the past 100 years,  one of the 2,200 species of  woody plants that populate this urban paradise is chosen for a day-long homage that has come to be known as Lilac Sunday.

Due to the early spring this year (and remember, it’s “climate change”, not global warming!),  many of the 180 varieties growing there have already bloomed, but there still will be many budding bloomers to admire come Sunday morning on Bussey Hill, the heart of the Arboretum’s lilac collection.  From 10:00 ‘til 4:00, come and be part of the community-wide celebration that includes tours of the lilacs and other special plant collections, family fun, food vendors and live music. Highlights include traditional English folk dance performances, swing jazz, Taiko drumming and puppet storytelling.  You can also enjoy the special pleasure of picnicking on the grass, not usually offered at any other time of the year out of respect for plants and wildlife. As always, the Arboretum will be open from dawn to dusk if you want to stay on either side of the super-busy time.

Many visitors (with or without their Moms)  actually discover the Roslindale and Jamaica Plain neighborhoods for the first time by attending this event. Bussey Hill, the larger, more elaborate part of the park is in JP, and Peters Hill, its humbler but beautiful cousin, is just across South Street in Roslindale.  An estimated 43,000 people attend Lilac Sunday every year and except for perhaps some parking frustration, the size of the Arboretum — 265 acres — allows us to never feel crowded.

For more upcoming programs, download this handy guide and make the Arboretum part of your family tradition!

Were I not working this Sunday, I would see you among the greenery.  And if you happen to fall in love with Peters Hill, keep in touch as I will be putting two beautiful single-family homes on the market between now and mid-June — both just a stone’s throw to “The Arbs”!

Linda Burnett

Jamaica Plain/Roslindale Real Estate Maven
Keller-Williams Boston-Metro Real Estate
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Wake Up the Earth in Jamaica Plain this Weekend!

Spontaneous Celebrations is an organization in Jamaica Plain that  promotes positive change in the community through the arts. This weekend, they’re bringing their 34th annual celebration to  the Southwest Corridor Park across from the Stonybrook T station.

Among the most important missions of Spontaneous Celebrations is to unite and empower local communities through maintaining a strong cultural arts center. “Wake Up the Earth” is designed to bring that mission to life. Walk (or dance or stilt-walk or unicycle) in the event’s parade, catch multi-cultural music and dance performances and browse the many local food, craft and non-profit vendors. No matter what your interest, you’ll find folks with whom to celebrate this Saturday, from 12:00-5:00pm. If I can take a break from showing houses and getting ready for my Sunday open house, I’ll see you there!

P.S.  In case of really crummy weather, the same gala will happen on Sunday the 6th of May.

Linda Burnett

Jamaica Plain/Roslindale Real Estate Maven
Keller-Williams Boston-Metro Real Estate
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Help Boston Shine this Weekend!

One of my favorite parts of  being a Boston real estate agent for so many years is how dedicated our city is to keeping our surroundings beautiful. We’re blessed to have the fun, vibrant feel of city life while being in close proximity to a beautiful waterfront and rich, historical architecture.  I feel incredibly lucky to live here, so why not keep the place clean? This weekend is the time for all of us to come together and do our part to really make sure Boston Shines.

Over the past ten years, over 5,000 volunteers have dedicated two days of their springtime season to cleanup initiatives and community service projects, all with the intention of making Boston a better, healthier place to live.

Friday, April 27th and Saturday the 28th mark this year’s neighborhood cleanup, and it’s not just about picking up trash and keeping the streets clean;  it’s about genuinely giving back to your community. From putting your painting skills to work at the local community center to planting flowers at the park down the street, it’s simple to find a project that suits your fancy and your talents.

If you’re part of a business or organization who wants to help make Boston Shine this year, you can participate on the 27th. If you’d rather rally together as a neighborhood, you can do your part on community day, April 28th from 9:00 ‘til about noon.

And because the City supports neighborhood clean-ups throughout the year, whether you live in Roslindale, Jamaica Plain or West Roxbury, you can play a role in  making sure your little corner of Boston Shines 365 days a year.  Just go to their website, choose your date and they’ll coordinate with you.

So, put aside just an hour or two this weekend, put on your grubbiest clothes — bring your own gloves because the City only seems to supply size LARGE — and pitch in with your friends and neighbors.  I’ll be in and around Rozzie Village tackling some yucky project or other and would love to say hello!

Linda Burnett

Jamaica Plain/Roslindale Real Estate Maven
Keller-Williams Boston-Metro Real Estate
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OPEN HOUSES CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO OUR HEALTH!

It’s probably safe to say that as a Realtor in Boston, I walk into more homes in a month than most civilians do in several years.  One aspect of housekeeping that never fails to stun and amaze me is the use of chemical “air fresheners” – that’s Glade, Renuzit, Febreze, Air Wick and the countless generic brands that mimic them. This includes the purportedly “natural” oil-based products.  And carpet cleaners – I can tell before I walk in when a desperate homeowner has sprinkled their wall-to-wall with a chemical cleaner to cover up an untrained puppy or worse, when they believe it “removes” the smell of cigarettes.  Read the labels closely.  “Baking soda” might be in 10-point print, but look at all the 4-point ingredients and put it back on the shelf.

These mass-marketed products contain carcinogenic chemicals.  Period. And vaporizing agents, (in order to disperse the carcinogenic chemicals), that are also poisonous.  Some visitors to your home, whether it’s on the market or not, could have sensitivity so acute to these chemicals that entering a room where the chemicals are present could cause anaphylactic shock, or worse, death.  Our lungs are soft and absorptive and soak up these chemicals like sponges.

It’s the same stuff that’s in those “Little Trees” that  hang from so many rear-view mirrors, but more lethal as science progresses and can now mimic the most obscure aromas and flavors, and get away with calling them “natural”! Big surprise: FDA guidelines for  flavor and aroma labeling are a joke.

Instead of investing in more plastic-contained poisons to make our homes smell fresh and clean, we can invest, (much less money!) in baking soda, vinegar and other non-lethal household cleaners.  Go to this site – the non-profit Environmental Working Group — to vet everything before you buy it.   Learn the truth about the bath soap and shampoo you use, the laundry and dishwasher soap, and, heaven forbid, the fabric softeners — especially chemical-laden dryer sheets.  And when you vent your dryer into your home or into the atmosphere, you are getting an even stronger dose or sharing these poisonous compounds with your neighbors – two-and-four-legged,  winged and furry. Download this free guide to safer home cleaning.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publishing of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s history and expose´of synthetic pesticides and other chemicals developed since World War II.  Let’s honor her memory by cherishing our health and the health of the planet.

For the bigger picture, visit http:www.silentspring.org.  If audio is your preference, listen to a recent interview with Dr. Julia Brody, Executive Director of Silent Spring, and learn the basics of what mass marketing is doing for our and our planet’s health.   I hope these teeny shards of information will help you to pause before purchasing and that you’ll encourage your homeowner clients to do the same – we’ll all breathe easier!

Linda Burnett

Jamaica Plain/Roslindale Real Estate Maven
Keller-Williams Boston-Metro Real Estate
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The 7 warning signs that you’ve hired the wrong broker

Throughout my years as a Realtor® in Jamaica Plain and Roslindale, I’ve met with many homeowners who are having or have had unhappy experiences with their listing agents.  The reasons for this are myriad, but as a public service (and to toot my own horn, of course) I’m going to share with you the early warning signs that it’s time to make a switch.

1.  Your broker doesn’t give you a list of suggestions to help your house show at its best. From replacing your mailbox to having your teenage son move out, it’s your broker’s job to see your house through the buyers’ eyes and advise you accordingly.  One of my favorite, though painful, aphorisms is:  If you’re comfortable in your home while it’s on the market, it’s not showing right.  If the on-line photos are less than stellar, many buyers will not even put your home on their must-see list.

2.  You have showings and an open house and you don’t have an offer from one of the first twenty parties that sees the house. If your property is priced correctly and shows well, it will generate an offer quickly.  In the Boston market now, homes are regularly going under agreement in under 24 hours as a result of multiple offers.  After two weeks with no offers in a busy market, an honest agent will ask you for a price adjustment.

3. You call or email your agent and don’t hear back within a time frame that feels reasonable to you. Unless your agent has set up another expectation from the beginning, hearing back within a few hours, maximum, is your right as a client, especially with the multi-media options of communicating today.  If I’m too busy and don’t have quality time to respond to a voice or email from a client, I will email, text or call them and let them know when we might have that conversation.  Whether a property is listed at $150,000 or $1.5M, it’s often the largest financial transaction my client has ever undertaken and it’s my duty to understand this and perform accordingly.

4. Your agent urges you to act contrary to your instincts. In real estate as in the rest of life, I’ve learned over the years that one can lead a horse to water, i.e., I can share with my seller clients my experience through the years in like situations, and share with them my feelings and impressions of the transaction in hand, but it is ultimately up to the owner of the property to decide what’s right for them.  I’ve learned a lot about negotiation from my clients, both seller and buyer, throughout the years.  I believe firmly that if a transaction is meant to be, it will be.

5.  Your agent is not willing to go the extra mile for you. In the course of pre-marketing, marketing and actually facilitating the sale of your home, there are many occasions where your agent can step in and make your life easier.  From meeting a contractor at your house while you’re at work to paying for incidentals for which they’ll be later reimbursed, your agent should be gracious and available to be your proxy in the many situations that arise.   To me, this is a normal aspect of every listing relationship.  These are the small ways in which superior agents make the often wrenching home sale and moving process a little more pleasant and which will be remembered long after the sale is closed.

6.  Your agent normally works in a community miles away from yours. No matter how much you love your agent, intimacy with the local market and the local agents are invaluable attributes for a listing agent.  Many times homeowners will hire a family friend from Hanover to sell a home in Boston and vice versa.  The result, especially in a slower market than we’re experiencing now in the greater Boston area,  can be inaccurate pricing, difficulty commuting to showings, and a general lack of engagement from the local agents who, seeing an out-of-area broker’s name on a sign will often assume the property is incorrectly priced or difficult to show.  As in all things, shopping locally is smart shopping.

7.  You get the feeling your agent is not being honest with you. Sometimes it’s hard to share with a homeowner negative feedback about their property or discouraging news about the market, interest rates, and the many other aspects of marketing a property.  My hard-learned experience is that sugar-coating leads to decay — of the agent-client relationship — and unrealistic expectations that also lead to unhappy endings.  Your agent needs to be smart and skilled enough to deliver information to you from day one that will keep you both on the same page and focused on a win-win finale for everyone.

Linda Burnett

Jamaica Plain/Roslindale Real Estate Maven
Keller-Williams Boston-Metro Real Estate
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