Author Archives: Joanne Y. Cleaver

About Joanne Y. Cleaver

Joanne Cleaver is a strategic communication consultant, media trainer, media readiness coach, editor, writer, and real estate guru. Check her out on Google+!

3 Ways to Polish Your Online Real Estate Listing


“Curb appeal” is real estate jargon referring to the first impression your home makes on prospective buyers. With about 90% of house hunters sifting through online listings to narrow the field of choices, curb appeal now takes place in the digital domain. Here are three ways to ensure that your online listing isn’t a drive-by:

1. Use an attractive exterior shot. Your listing’s opening photo is the money shot. Michael Seiler, founding director of the Institute for Behavioral and Experimental Real Estate, has conducted eye-tracking tests to measure how viewers scan online listings. Results show that people linger longest over the exterior shot. Only briefly do people look at the kitchen, living room, master bedroom, master bath and backyard photos. And only 41% of a listing’s viewers actually read the text description.

The implication is clear: Lead your listing with the best possible image of your home’s exterior. If working with an agent, insist on a professional photographer and have shots taken at several times of day in order to capture the house in its most positive light.

2. Pay attention to the details. If you are selling ‘by owner‘ or through a discount agency that requires you to do some of the legwork, take several digital photos and scrutinize them for details that are easily missed in real life. Spruce up the exterior for the camera—trim the bushes, touch up the trim, and paint the front door a bright or contrasting color that will pop in online photos. Then hire a pro for the glamour shots.

Apply the same strategy for cleaning up and staging interior shots. You will see things through the lens that you overlook in real life, such as the ubiquitous kitchen towel draped over the oven handle. Tidy up as much as possible, then take photos of each room from several angles. At that point, declutter, tidy, and clean again.

3. Keep the text short and specific. Finally, don’t stress over text. A different study conducted by Seiler found that stereotypical agent ‘happy talk’ doesn’t persuade buyers who want home data that can be verified.

Use specific evidence instead of generic terms. For example, write “windows replaced in 2011” and “Energy Star appliances installed in 2012” rather than “well maintained” and “new appliances.” Agents love to say that buyers purchase for emotional reasons, but Seiler’s research indicates that the facts count, especially when house hunters are creating a short list of properties they are most likely to pursue.

For more on real estate, consider:

Tax Tips for Home Sellers
7 Renovation Tips to Boost Resale
Estimating Home Value: Whose Price Is Right?

Reading Between the Lines on Customer Review Sites

Customer Review Sites


Unhappy with the job your contractor did? Peeved at your local hardware store’s churlish service? Annoyed with the runaround you got from a real estate agent? Just use an online review site to gain a small measure of revenge and to satisfy yourself by warning others. Right?

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Tax Tips for Home Sellers

tax button on calculator


Selling a house can yield some unexpected tax benefits. Few of us buy or sell often enough to stay abreast of the latest turns of the tax screw, so here’s an update on a few policies that could ease the pain:

Transactional Costs 
That 6% realtor fee comes with the tiniest silver lining. It’s one of the selling costs you can deduct, according to IRS Tax Publication 523.

  • If you sold with an agent, you can deduct the agent’s commission as well as any legal fees associated with your sale.
  • If you sold on your own, your deductible expenses might include a commission to the buyer’s broker, direct-selling and marketing costs, and legal fees.
  • These days, sellers must often pony up some of the loan fees once shouldered by buyers alone, so if you paid “points” to the lender, that amount is also deductible.

Capital Gains
The “amount realized” is the capital gain on the sale of your home. This is important: You could owe taxes on your capital gain, especially if it exceeded $250,000. Therefore, it’s usually to your financial advantage to minimize the amount realized. How is that done?

The “amount realized” is the difference between what you originally paid for the house and its ultimate selling price. Counter to intuition, it may be possible to adjust the amount you paid, or the “cost basis,” by factoring in some of these costs:

  • The mortgage-related ‘points’ granted to you by the seller
  • Some of the transaction-related fees for buying, such as utility installation, surveys, transfer taxes and title insurance
  • Depreciation for using part of the home for a business or as a rental
  • Casualty losses (i.e., damage to the property)

But—there’s always a ‘but’ when taxes are involved—you might have increased your ‘cost basis’ by making permanent improvements.

Permanent improvements, such as additions and major renovations, cost you money but also add value to your house. Improvements that have worn out, such as carpeting or dead landscaping, indeed cost you money, but since they do not support a higher current market value, you don’t have to count them.

As with all things tax, these general guidelines may or may not apply to your situation. If you sold a house in 2012, at least you’re now aware that there might be a tax benefit. For everyone else, tax season is a good reminder to label and keep all receipts related to owning, buying, and selling a house. The paper you save now could save you money down the road.

For more on real estate, consider:

Home Buyers Seek Low Carrying Costs
7 Renovation Tips to Boost Resale Value
Estimating Home Value: Whose Price Is Right?

2 Professionals Who Can Save You Thousands

Renovation Consultants


“Satisfaction goes up when you have concrete expectations,” says CA-based contractor Dan Fritschen. The unglamorous truth is that planning ahead saves money. In order to plan effectively, Fritschen recommends that homeowners seek assistance from two types of renovation consultants. Early in your project, each of these pros will ask different, equally important questions to help you translate a design vision into a built reality.
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Cost and Competition: Remodeling Heats Up

Remodel Planning


If you are thinking that this is the year to tackle a bigger renovation project that you’ve been postponing, you’re not the only one. After several years of maintenance mode, homeowners are going to spend on actual improvements this year, predicts the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard.

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What Your Contractor Won’t Tell You

Contractor Liability


Licenses, bonding, and insurance: Every contractor is required by law to have these essential documents in order, but not all do. And the harsh reality is that, if your contractor flouts the law, it could end up costing you.

Adamina Fies, president of Synergy Design & Construction in Reston, VA, says that, as absurd as it may seem, homeowners need to triple-check that their contractors and subcontractors are complying with state and local laws. If your contractor doesn’t have the proper paperwork, then you, the client, could be pulled into lawsuits ranging from on-the-job injuries to unpaid subcontractors’ bills.

Here’s the checklist Fies uses when vetting contractors:

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Energize Savings with a “Green” Tax Credit

In the midst of the budget crisis in Washington, home energy tax credits were retained for the 2012 tax year. That means you can claim a 10% credit for up to $5,000 worth of qualified energy-efficient improvements, including replacement windows and doors; Energy Star appliances; insulation; and installing more energy-efficient heating and cooling systems.

Energy Tax Credit 2012 - Replacement Window Installation


Be sure to review the specifics carefully via IRS Form 5695. And audit your receipts to verify that the materials and appliances you bought qualify. For maximum return, include these factors as you estimate the value of the credit:

• Energy-efficient features are nice to have, but they’re not necessarily compelling to potential buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors. Do not expect a high resale return on new replacement windows and doors.

• If you are selling soon, do translate the benefits of energy-efficient features to money saved monthly through trimmed utility bills. If you hope to include these improvements in a sales package about your house, show the before-and-after cost savings captured by the improvements. This will illustrate to buyers the potentially higher cost of houses with less energy-efficient features, making your house a stronger candidate by comparison. And by breaking down the monthly utility cost, buyers can closely estimate the cost of owning the house.

• Remember that tax credits for energy-efficient upgrades are cumulative for the past several years, topping out at $500. Review your credits for the past several years to make sure you are claiming up to that $500 total.

For more on energy efficiency, consider:

20 Ways to Go Green Today
How To: Save Energy at Home
12 Ways to Put Your Home on an Energy Diet

Is Housing Really Back?

Housing Market Recovery


Hyperventilation over the housing market recovery is reaching gale force. National news outlets are quoting some experts as saying that housing will lead economic growth this year.

Pass the paper bags. The truth is that a consistent rise in home values in 2012—of 5.9% according to Zillow, and 5.5% according to the Case-Shiller Index—falls far short of recapturing a 30% drop in values since 2006.

This year, several factors will keep home values in check:

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3 Top Apps to Help You Plan a Remodel

Are your project plans hidden in piles of folders, each overflowing with clips, notes, and paint chips? You can save time, corral your ideas, and bring your current “organizational system” into the 21st century with the right home improvement apps. We’ve collected three favorites to help you streamline planning and make your 2013 home improvement projects a breeze.


Bob Vila’s Toolbox is your ultimate guide to the essentials of remodeling and repair. Specially designed and built for the iPad, Toolbox teaches you the fine art of choosing and using the right tool for the job. As you gear up to tackle your next project, wouldn’t you feel more confident with Bob Vila at your side? DOWNLOAD


1. HB Color

Home Improvement Apps - HB Color

HB Color

Is one paint company’s Foggy Wisteria the same as another’s Lavender Mist? HB Color cuts through color confusion with a smart palette of functions: zero in on your intuitive preferences with a quiz, peruse color combinations recommended by decorators and House Beautiful editors, or fish from the “Color River” to find the moods, shades, and tints that fit your vision. Of the many color-oriented home improvements apps on the market today, this one ranks among the very best.


2. Color Capture 

Home Improvement Apps - Color Capture

Color Capture

If you’re not even sure what to call the color already adorning your walls, then skip other home improvement apps in favor of Benjamin Moore’s Color Capture. Simply snap a photo of the color in question, and Color Capture tells you which hue from the company’s extensive palette most closely resembles the one in your photo.


3. HomeSpot HQ

Home Improvement Apps - homespotHQ

Homespot HQ

Pull it all together with HomeSpot HQ, a web-based home improvement app and project organizing tool. Like a hub for all your remodeling and repair needs, HomeSpot lets you upload lists, paint chips, and warranties so that you keep all your information in one portable place. The app will even send you reminders of maintenance chores, enabling you to stay on top of essentials. You may never forget to change your air filter again! And the best part? It’s free.


For more on home improvement apps, consider:

App Review: PaintSwatches
App Review: Houzz Interior Design Ideas
‘Appy’ New Year: Productivity Tools for Your Smartphone

Top Productivity Tools for Your Smartphone

Now is the perfect moment to plan your 2013 projects. Be more precise with your time and resources using this raft of renovation-oriented home remodeling apps to aid your productivity. All offer a free trial version, unless otherwise noted, so you can test-drive before shelling out for the full-powered tool.


Bob Vila’s Toolbox is your ultimate guide to the essentials of remodeling and repair. Specially designed and built for the iPad, Toolbox teaches you the fine art of choosing and using the right tool for the job. As you gear up to tackle your next project, wouldn’t you feel more confident with Bob Vila at your side? DOWNLOAD


1. PV Master

Home Remodeling Apps - Productivity - PV Master

PV Master

What’s the payback on a solar installation? Fine-tune the estimate with PV Master. The app calculates how much sun your location receives and how that translates to a photovoltaic solar installation with maximum efficiency.


2. MagicPlan

Home Remodeling Apps - Productivity - MagicPlan


Forget graph paper. MagicPlan turns your smartphone’s camera function into a floor plan tool. Easy-to-understand tutorials help you take a 360-degree photograph, which you then load into the app. Label each room separately, and the app generates a floor plan presented in an interactive format that you can use as a basis for various renovation purposes.


3. My Measures Pro

Home Remodeling Apps - Productivity - My Measures Pro

My Measures Pro

How deep are those windows? Will a sofa you’re thinking of buying fit into that niche by the fireplace? My Measures Pro ($5.99) uses your smartphone’s photo function to measure the dimensions of objects. You can create folders (think project plans) and share the measured object (think confirming measurements with contractors and spouses).


For more on tech stuff for DIYers, consider:

6 Home Improvement iPhone Apps to Know
Chip It! A New Sherwin-Williams Color Tool
DesignVision: Jenn-Air’s New Augmented-Reality App