Experts Offer Downsizing Advice at Lodge at Old Trail Panel

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Brandon Lloyd and Stephen Landis, co-owners of “AskLandis,” help with every step of the moving process. Submitted photo.

It’s never too early to plan your next move. That’s the consensus of a realtor, two staging experts, a moving specialist and an appraiser. The audience gathered at the Lodge at Old Trail for its popular annual downsizing workshop heard the bad news––by now familiar––that brown furniture doesn’t sell, that your kids don’t want your stuff, and that your wedding china has little value to anyone but you.

But if you’re ready, now’s a fine time to sell your home, especially in Crozet, said Realtor Denise Ramey. Her presentation, “How is the Real Estate Market?” included some good news for sellers. Sales in the greater Charlottesville area have increased for the past eight years and inventory is lower than at this time last year. In the 22932 zip code, prices increased for both single-family attached and detached homes, sellers are getting near their asking price and there’s not much in the way of inventory. “The bad news is that we’re losing talented young people,” Ramey said. “We need more affordable housing.”

Crozet realtor Denise Ramey:”It’s difficult to be objective about your home.” Submitted photo.

Ramey suggested that potential sellers talk to a lender for a clear picture of their financial future as a first step. Then, decide what you’ll do if your home sells quickly, and check out storage facilities, both for a quick place to stash your stuff if you need to make temporary living arrangements and as a holding place for belongings that make your house difficult to sell. 

There are steps you can take long before the first “for sale” sign lands in your yard, Ramey said: mulch, paint, a little attention to your front door and mailbox, window cleaning and power washing are all modest investments that make a big impact. Offering a credit for faulty items is no substitute for fixing them. “I’ve had buyers walk away from a perfect house because of the paint color,” she said. “They’ve been through all that in putting their own house on the market and are tired of it.”

“And begin right away to pack,” she said. “Those items that are so precious to you are distractions and clutter to a potential buyer.” Ramey said that it is so difficult to be objective about a home’s comfort and visual appeal that even she, with years of experience, hires a stager when it’s time to sell.

Liz Blankenship and Jessica Humphreys continued with that theme. They’re the owners of “Stage to Sell,” a company that helps homeowners determine the right amount and best arrangement of home furnishings most likely to make your home attractive to a buyer. 

Liz Blankenship, Beth Riordan and Jessica Humprheys provide staging advice and photography for home sellers. Submitted photo.

“The minute you decide to sell, your house is no longer your home,” Humphreys said. “It’s an asset.” Homeowners need to emotionally disconnect in order to take the steps that will allow potential buyers to picture themselves living there. Blankenship used the “5 Cs” as a way to remember where sellers should turn their attention: curb, clutter, color, creativity, and cleanliness. The Stage to Sell team showed examples of their work: rooms where mountains of clutter hid the best features, or where large objects blocked out the light, or that simply had too much furniture for viewers to see important architectural details. 

For the most part, their illustrations showed that de-cluttering and thorough cleaning made a big difference, as did a more thoughtful arrangement of furniture. In some cases, where the owners had already moved, stagers brought in furniture to suggest how a room might be used. “An empty home is not the most appealing,” Blankenship said, “It’s hard for viewers to get a sense of the scale.”

Preparing for showings elevates the decluttering to a whole new level and Blankenship and Humphreys suggest that homeowners remove personal items and cleaning implements from bathrooms, hide trash containers, toiletries and photos; and let both natural light and indoor lighting illuminate your home, removing shades, curtains and screens if possible.

Feeling exhausted at the whole idea of moving? Stephen Landis offers a wholistic approach to the nightmare of de-cluttering, downsizing, cleaning, staging and moving with his turn-key business, “AskLandis.” But it starts, Landis said, with an honest evaluation of your needs and reasons for wanting to move. “Making the decision is prompted by many circumstances,” he said: “age, health, level of activity, grandchildren or a desire for a new adventure.” He’s willing to meet with clients long before they make a decision, and that’s the time, he said, to start thinking about downsizing. 

“Before” photo by Stage to Sell shows room that fails to highlight the fireplace.
“After” photo shows how staging draws attention to attractive fireplace and windows.

“Even if you stay where you are,” he asked, “do you need 35 coffee mugs?” That’s how many he found in his mother’s cabinet when he assisted her after his father’s death. Seeing her struggle with organizing her household gave him the idea for his business, which he co-owns with AskLandis vice-president Brandon Lloyd. Although he said his business overlaps at times with other services, he has the advantage of a staff that performs the physical, on-site work of downsizing, including trash removal, sorting, packing and cleaning; and later, transporting unwanted items to his warehouse. There, a staff member places items according to where they’ll best sell, whether online, on consignment, or through personal contacts, thus generating some cash to help with the move. Once you’re moved, he’ll also clean the house for occupancy, securely destroy personal files and even arrange for your car to be moved.

Landis said he sees his service not only as a better way to handle downsizing for empty-nesters, but as a gift to their children: “There are millennials out there who are renting storage units for unwanted objects just so they don’t have to disappoint their parents,” he said. “Why make them go through that?”

“It’s clear my friends here don’t like stuff,” said Ken Farmer. “I love stuff.” Farmer is a long-time art and antiques dealer, auctioneer and appraiser. He became known regionally as the operator of two auction houses and later as an expert appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow.” He has since sold his auction companies and works as an appraiser and advisor. He’s a respected expert in decorative arts, folk art, furniture and musical instruments, but he’s able to connect his clients with experts and dealers in any specialty. He has some discouraging words to those who have lovingly treasured collections of depression glass, Victorian furniture or golden oak pieces: “these have not maintained their value,” he said, but that’s not to say they have no value.  “I always tell people not to get things or hold on to them because of a perceived future value. Just make sure they give you something worthwhile in the present.

Appraiser Ken Farmer advises clients on the value of their belongings as well as the best place to sell them. Submitted photo.

Three types of collections have maintained value, he said: quality jewelry, coins and guns. Most silver is worth no more than its value melted down, but there are exceptions. “That’s why it’s good to have someone take a look.” Farmer said that one thing he’s gained in his long history dealing with large and small artifacts of the past is the realization that he doesn’t know everything, but he likely knows someone who’s an expert in whatever you have to sell. “And you have to know the best markets,” he added. “There was a diamond here that could have gone for a respectable $15,000, but it brought $35,000 from a North Carolina dealer.”  

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