Need to Know

Eleven Inexpensive, Simple Holiday Decor Ideas

Want to create a budget-friendly, classy holiday look? Try these simple suggestions from real estate and staging professionals.

But remember: “Decorations should accent not dominate the room,” says Lynn Caison Johnson with Lynn Johnson Realty Fulton, Texas. “Expressions of holiday decor should highlight the room’s features and not distract from selling the home.”

1. Ornamental decor: Showcase decorative ornaments in baskets or snuggled among towels, suggests Johnson.

2. Sparkling interiors: Drape small, soft white lights across the fireplace mantle, windows, or handrails going upstairs and downstairs. “The warmth, gentle sparkle and illumination helps to further reveal a home’s interior — not to mention bring out a cozy and welcoming atmosphere,” says Janet DiTroia with Long & Foster in Doylestown, Pa.

3. Ribbons: Tie holiday ribbons — such as in red — around candle holders and place them throughout the house, such as on vanities or alongside the bath tub, Johnson suggests.

4. Unexpected fun touches: Hang a wreath on the bed frame or add a Santa hat to the bedroom furniture, Johnson suggests. Or, wrap and decorate a box and place the “gift” in the middle of the bed for some unexpected, subtle touches throughout the house, Johnson says.

5. Window appeal: Small branches along window sills and placed like dollies on trays add instant holiday appeal, says Joanne O’Donnell, president and CEO of Chic Home Interiors.

6. Wreaths and garlands: Wreaths and garland used for both indoors and out can keep decor balanced and not overly religious, says Linda Zukowski, Prudential Starck, REALTORS® in Palatine, Ill. Red berry garland can also add pops of color along handrails or mixed into centerpieces.

7. Candle glow: Candles can add holiday charm and warmth. Don’t want the fire hazard of a flame? Try a safer alternative: Battery-operated candles. Betty Cunningham with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Schaumburg, Ill., says they are so real looking that if you put them in a votive holder, you’ll swear they are really burning. She scatters them everywhere in the house.

8. Holiday party ready: Let buyers envision themselves entertaining their friends and family at the house by setting the dining room table with holiday place settings and centerpieces, suggests June Lizotte with June Lizotte Real Estate in Milwaukie, Ore.

9. Art display: Choose one section of the home with a feature wall and switch out the art to put up Christmas artwork — that is, if you have some nice quality pieces, says Lizotte. For example, you might have artwork depicting a wintery scene with touches of holiday decor mixed in. But whatever holiday decorations you hang up, be sure to use removable plastic hooks for putting anything up on the walls and perhaps even the outdoors, suggests Zukowski. “They are quick easy removal without putting any holes in the walls,” she says.

10. Simple centerpieces: Collect a few baubles — such as shiny red ornament baubles — and add them to a hurricane or glass bowl, sprinkling such festive displays around the house. Or, add pine cones to a clear glass bowl or basket with a ribbon — and maybe even mix in some shiny baubles for sparkle.

11. Sweetin’ the deal: Offer holiday-themed candy by placing it in a festive bowl on a coffee table in the great/living room, the kitchen counter, and on tables located in any room, recommends Che’rell Bilquist with Staged to Show ‘n Sell in Lenexa, Kan. Fill the bowl with gourmet chocolate truffles, fudge or candy cane fudge, Hershey Kisses, or Christmas Krinkles.

Or offer fresh-baked holiday treats for your visitors and even complete the look by having a holiday cookbook displayed on the kitchen counter. The magazine-worthy arrangement will make visitors feel right at home, says Valerie Torelli, Torelli Realty in Costa Mesa, Calif.

by Melissa Dittmann Tracey, courtesy of the National Assoc. of Realtors

Texas Named #1 on CNBC’s List of Top States for Business 2010

CNBC named Austin the #1 state for buiness with the highest point total in the history of the organization’s study. Texas reclaimed the top position from Virginia, the 2009 winner. Virginia came in #2, followed by Colorado, North Carolina, and Massachusetts for the top five.

Texas passed the other states in part because of its strong economy. Texas has been top-ranked in their Economy category four years in a row – ever since they started the study. Our state also reached number one because it has avoided the worst of the real estate crisis.

To read the full article: CNBC-Texas #1 For Business

City of Austin Will Pay You to Landscape

On July 1, 2010 Austin Water Conservation launched a Landscape Incentive program in an effort to encourage homeowners to convert water-needy, grassy areas into less thirsty native landscaping or permeable hardscapes. The rebate requires homeowners to convert at least 500 square feet of grass must be converted and rebate amounts vary depending on whether or not the converted area is irrigated.

For more details: Landscape Conversion Incentive

Austin Named Best City for the Next Decade

Kiplingers Personal Finance Magazine named Austin the #1 city for the next decade. The magazine looked for cities with out-of-the-box thinking because they contribute new ideas with generating business. Austin was quoted in the article as being “the country’s best crucible for small business” because of the community programs in the area that help entrepreneurs.

For the full article: 10 best cities for the next decade

Avoid Costly Repairs and Surprises with an A/C Tune-Up

Whether you own or rent, and a/c tune-up is a worthwhile investment. No one wants to be stuck without air conditioning on a Saturday night, when you have guests coming over. This type of mishap can be avoided by getting an a/c tune up before the triple-digit heat of summer hits. A tune-up keeps your equipment running and in good condition. A tune-up can also help you see potential problems that can be repaired before your house gets unexpectedly hot at the worst possible time.

Many local a/c and heating companies are offering specials on a/c tune-ups and services. Here are links to some of these companies:

Austin Air Conditioning, Tune-Up for $19.95

Blue Air, if you know your a/c needs repair, 15% off coupon on right-hand side of page

Strand Brothers, Coupon for $20 off Tune-Up

Seven Costly Mistakes When Selling a Home

1. Putting the home on the marketing before it’s ready

Most of the time this happens because the seller gets impatient or is a procrastinator and has pushed himself up against a moving deadline before getting the pre-sale work done. When it comes on the market, they are still painting and the carpet still needs to be replaced. Get the work done before you advertise the property. Presentation is everything.

2. Over improving the home for the neighborhood

This happens when additions and upgrades make the home stick out from its competitors so much that it seems abnormal instead of a nice addition to the neighborhood.

3. Pricing the home based on what the seller wants to net

This pricing strategy always ends in failure. Sellers can control the “asking” price, but they don’t control the “sales” price. The market does. It doesn’t matter what the seller wants. The price is determined by the black and white or matter of fact reality of the market.

4. Hiring an agent based on non-business factors

Make sure you hire a professional with a proved track record. It might be nice to hand over your largest asset to your friend who just got her real estate license, but make sure she has mentor to assist her if the going gets tough.

5. Getting emotionally involved in the sale of the home

This is one of the biggest challenges home sellers face when putting their house on the market. Once you decide to sell your house, it’s no longer a home, but a commodity. It needs to be prepared, marketed and priced as a commodity. It doesn’t matter what you want, only what the market can bear on pricing. People are going to come in to ‘kick the tires,’ and you can’t get emotional about how they may or may not appreciate the nuances of your home.

6. Trying to cover up problems or not disclosing them

Most states have a property disclosure/disclaimer form—use it wisely. Just because you disclaim, it doesn’t mean you can’t be sued later for the leaky basement, or dilapidated heating/air system that’s discovered 30 days after close of escrow.

7. Not getting your ducks lined up before trying to sell

This would include financing; reading the fine print on your current mortgage to ensure that you don’t have pre-payment penalties; not listening to the particulars of your local market, etc…If your local market is dictating lower home prices, then lower it early, not later—it will end up costing you more. If the local market dictates selling your home first, then buying a second, do it in that order or vice versa.

Texas Homestead Exemption

Do you know there are ways to reduce your property taxes other than writing off your mortgage interest and home improvements? If your principal residence is in Texas, you qualify for the Texas Homestead Exemption. It’s another way, and a good one, to lower your tax bill. Want to know how? An exemption removes part of the overall value of your property from taxation, lowering your taxes. For example, if you own a property worth $150,000 and you qualify for a $10,000 exemption, you pay taxes on $140,000 of the value.

In order to qualify for the homestead exemption, you must fill the following requirements:
• Your exemption only applies to your primary residence, which must be in Texas
• You must own your home
• You owned your home and have used it as your primary residence since January 1

*** Exception – if you are over 65 or disabled, you are not required to own your home on January 1. You may file your exemption as soon as you qualify and will receive the exemption as of the previous January 1.

It is very simple to file your homestead exemption. Here are some quick links to some of the Austin area counties and the forms they require:

Travis County Exemption Form

Williamson County Exemption Form

Hays County Exemption Form