The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman

Odd Lots: Details, Bids, Mobile, Tall

Chris Ann Cleland is a self-described “stickler for details.” That’s why the associate broker for Long & Foster Real Estate in Gainesville, Virginia, almost blew a gasket the other day when she toured a house for sale.

The place was “staged beautifully” with artwork and furniture, Cleland posted recently on the ActiveRain real estate site. But lightbulbs were missing from the bathroom fixture over the vanity. The foyer chandelier contained bulbs of different sizes and shapes. There was “absolutely zero lighting” in the secondary bedrooms, and the master bathroom’s shower had rust stains.

Small stuff to some, perhaps.

“To me, this stuff is unacceptable,” Cleland says. “Those items are way more important than the furnishings.”

Cleland and some of her colleagues say details like cleaning, caulking and making repairs are important because they make your home show better -- and that can put money in your pocket.

If left undone, items like these “signal a lack of maintenance,” says Sharon Tara, a home stager in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, adding that these details “reduce perceived value.”

Not all agents have seen the light, or the lightbulb. Tara says that more than once, agents have questioned her for pointing out such issues. “I actually had an agent tell me that he hired me for guidance on paint colors and furniture placement, not petty little details. All because I pointed out the fingerprints on the light switches and suggested they be cleaned.”

But Erik Hiss of Keller Williams Capital Partners Realty in Worthington, Ohio, is another agent who is annoyed by the things described here. “Sure, you can do the entire staging and make it look like a model (home),” he says. “But if you are missing lightbulbs, missing caulk on trim or the toilet seat is up, you’re missing the boat.”

Lynn Friedman of Atlanta Homes ODAT Realty is glad to know she’s not the Lone Ranger on this topic. In a house she previewed recently that was supposedly ready to list, she found that the dining room light didn’t work at all, and a bathroom that had been repainted still had switch plates in the old color. Not only that, but the bathroom fan covers looked like they had never been cleaned.

There’s probably a good reason sellers miss these items: They live with them all day, every day, so they just ignore them. Hey, if a bulb isn’t burned out, why change it? But these things stand out, warns sales coach Grant Schneider in Armonk, New York.

“It is like a beautiful shirt with a spot on it,” says Schneider.

So before you spend the money on a professional stager, who will prepare your house to appeal to the widest audience possible, tour your place with a buyer’s eye and make the necessary corrections.

“The first step in getting ready is on the seller,” advises Dorie Dillard of Coldwell Banker Realty in Austin, Texas. “The icing on the cake is the stager.”

RENTERS ARE BIDDING, TOO

Buyers aren’t the only ones competing with one another for prized houses. So are renters -- especially those who really, really want to get away from it all.

Blackstone International Realty recently rented a townhouse on South Beach for $36,000 a month -- more than $1,000 above the asking price -- after taking multiple offers for the property. The four-story, four-bedroom residence features, among other amenities, views of the Atlantic Ocean from the rooftop hot tub.

MOBILE HOME FINANCING

Financing for those looking to purchase manufactured houses will be a tad easier this year, as the major providers of mortgage money are going to bump up their activity in that sector.

At the direction of their federal regulator, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will purchase more loans made on factory-built houses, often referred to as mobile homes. Operating in the secondary mortgage market, the two government-sponsored enterprises buy loans from primary lenders and package them into securities for sale to investors.

Fannie will buy 12,650 to 13,150 such mortgages in 2021, a roughly 15% increase over its 2020 volume, while Freddie will boost its target from 4,000 loans in 2020 to as many as 4,700 in 2021. Loans that are stamped with the GSEs’ imprint are generally an eighth- to a quarter-percent less expensive than those not sold to them.

TALL, JUST NOT AS TALL

The tallest building completed last year, anywhere in the world, was Central Park Tower, a 179-unit condo in midtown Manhattan. It came in at 1,549 feet.

It’s the first time in five years that the tallest completed building was not in China, and the first time since 2014 -- when One World Trade Center was finished -- that the year’s tallest completed building was in the United States. It’s also the first time since 2014 that there hasn’t been a building finished that topped 1,640 feet.

To count as a tall structure, a building must be at least 656 feet high, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Only 120 structures met that requirement last year, and 56 of them were in China. Dubai was the most prolific city, with 12.