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Late Summer Landscaping

north conway real estate fallI’ll admit it seems a little silly to be talking about landscaping this late in the season. However, the general consensus is that fall planting of grass is actually the best time. The ground is still warm and the cooler daytime temperatures make watering less of an issue. Between now and mid-September is a good time to plant and by mid-October the new grass should be healthy and ready for winter. But beyond the new grass, there are still some things you can attend to which will make your landscaping more attractive, both to you and to potential buyers.

From the top-down, first and foremost you should remove dead (or dying) plants, shrubs and branches. You know how much I love clutter and these items fall into that same category. They are not adding anything to the yard and are grabbing the attention of buyers (and your neighbors) in the wrong way. As a quick and inexpensive way to fill in those gaps, grab some potted plants to bring some color into those areas. This will show that you care about the exterior of the home just as much as the interior. Those buyers are more likely to maintain their excitement about your home (once they get inside) if they didn’t start the visit on a down-note.

As pretty as the leaves on the Kanc. are this time of year, they are not so attractive on your lawn. Even though your home is only being shown this weekend, it is “on the market” 7 days a week. Make sure you tidy up the fallen leaves daily or at least weekly. This is a quick project for a neighborhood kid that can save you time and make them a couple bucks. Now that I mention that, Do kids even do yard work anymore? Do kids still play outside? Are they all glued to their TVs and video games? Back when I was a boy….

jackson nh homesHow about a fresh coat of paint!? “Wait a minute” I can hear you saying, “I thought we were talking about my yard. Well, believe it or not, painting your lawn is a fast and easy way to get your lawn looking perfect without having to bring in a load of sod or spend hundreds of dollars with a lawn-care expert. The professional companies offering this service will actually match the color of the rest of the lawn so it looks more natural. The paint itself is non-toxic and takes a couple months to fade. Considering the time of year, this might just be the perfect option.

While we’re on the topic of coloring, why not add a splash of color to the front of the house. Painting the front door is a great way to highlight the home and draw the eye past the yard. This is a popular way to add some spice to the home and add some personality to the “curb-appeal”. The potential buyers also recognize that the re-painting of the door is simple for them in case they prefer a different color. Unlike painting an entire room, this is one area of the home where it is safe to get a little creative with the colors.

“We are so used to telling sellers to stay neutral with their color choices, this is one of the spots where the exception becomes the rule,” notes Badger Realty agent, Maureen Garrette. She continued, “I encourage sellers to bring some highlight to the front door. It brings some attention to the home that might otherwise blend into the neighborhood”.

conway real estate leavesAnother way to add some personality and “spice” to the yard is to add some fencing. Granted, this is not always the least expensive way to go, but the effect is stunning. Fencing does not have to be “privacy-based” it can simply be visually appealing. The American dream of 2.5 kids and a house with a white-picket fence is still a reality. A small fence can make a your backyard feel bigger and the lower height allows the eye to see beyond, but still creates a contained space for a sense of privacy.

Take a walk around your home and put on a critical eye. Paint chips, broken sills, cracked windows and other unsightly blemishes are typically easy and inexpensive to fix. This is a great time of year for these repairs and, if you’re selling, there is no time like the present. So quit reading the paper, take a lap around the house and get to the hardware store so you can get busy.

Can Your Neighborhood Save Your Life?

north conway realty neighborsIn a recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers found that the more social connections you have in your neighborhood, the lower your chances are of dying from a heart attack.  Turns out, that annoying neighbor may actually be a good thing for you!

The study looked at over 5,000 people living in urban, suburban and rural areas over a time period of four years.  At the end of the study, 148 of those folks had died from heart attacks.  They found a close relation to the people living with the highest level of “neighborhood social cohesion” having the lower risk of heart attack.  The difference was about 67 percent at the end of each spectrum.

This makes you really consider your North Conway real estate neighbors for sure.  I’m actually going to head out after I’m done writing this, and see about organizing a neighborhood BBQ.  Why not!?

The researchers utilized controls for factors like age, race, income, education, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.  It turns out, when you are more close with your neighbors, you end up seeing each other on a more regular basis.  This makes for better relationships and a more open conversation about health concerns and other health-related items.  The opposite is true as well.   In a number of studies done over the past few years, the more isolation and poor quality buildings (boarded up, abandoned) typically leads to higher rates of disease  and poor health in general.

Remodeling Risk and Reward

north conway real estate roofingWe have talked, over the past few weeks, about different projects you can tackle around the house. These range from simple painting projects to full on “add a deck” weekend events. Essentially you are either investing in the home to make it better for you or the buyers, or you are bringing the home up to par with the quality you desire. Either way, you home gains value and you are likely happier every time you pull in the driveway or walk out onto that deck. But what if you were to ignore certain projects and leave things alone. Let’s take a look at some of the risks (and rewards) of a few remodeling projects.

Some projects are quick and easy. Tackling the painting of a room can be done in an afternoon and does not take much effort or skill. Replacing screens or washing windows is another quick and easy “fix” that can be done solo and without a ton of investment. The larger scale projects are where the true “risk / reward” conversation begins. These are the projects that require more planning, skill, savings and time. The risk in putting off painting a room is merely an annoyed spouse (or child). The risk in ignoring your roof can be far more serious.

We have our share of storms in the Northeast and those winds, snow, rain and hail can wreak havoc on the exterior of your home (never mind the hood of your car!). After one of these storms, take the time to venture up to the roof and survey the (possible) damage. While a couple loose or broken singles can be harmless between storms, as soon as the next round of weather makes its way East, you may be in for a surprise. You could also inspect your roof between seasons. This costs you nothing but time and can save further damage to the roof itself.

While you’re flying high, take a look at any trees that are in close proximity to your home. Again, this costs you nothing but time but can show you branches that could land on your roof (or car!) during the next storm. These quick checks can highlight potential damage and prompt a call to the roofing or tree-removal professionals. The removal of a few errant branches or fixing a small area of the roof is far less expensive than replacing the whole thing (or the damaged goods inside the home). The average cost of weather-related home insurance claims is just over $7,000. A good ladder costs under $100.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2007 and 2011 faulty heating or electrical equipment causes 80,652 structure fires and $1.5 billion in property damage each year, in the US. You can take some steps to prevent your home from adding to the statistics. If your heating system is more than 10 years old, have it inspected and cleaned. I’d actually recommend you have it “serviced” on an annual basis just for the peace of mind. The cost is minimal and, as with most things, regular service will extend the life of the system.

conway nh real estate safetyReplacing the HVAC system is going to be costly, but if it’s time, it’s time. You will sleep better knowing you have done all you could to keep your home and your family safe. If you are like me, you love the heat of a wood stove. While this may seem obvious, have your chimney cleaned every fall as well. Call early to get on their schedule before they hit their peak season (like today!). It’s already getting a little chilly out there at night. You can also buy a kit and do this yourself. Either way, annual cleanings are the best way to keep this area of the home safe.

Electrical problems can creep up in older homes so a professional inspection is a good idea here as well. “With a new purchase, home inspectors will review the electrical systems as part of the job. It is the existing home owners that tend to neglect this piece,” notes Badger Realty agent, Bernadette Friberg. She continued, “If your home is more than 20 years old, it is a good idea to have an expert give the wiring system a look over”.

OK, we’ve covered earth (trees), wind (storms) and fire (HVAC), let’s trickle down to the last one, which is water. If you have experienced water damage to your home, you know that it simply goes everywhere. A simple leaking toilet, left for a few hours, can spread water down the stairs, through the floors and onto furniture and appliances. While storm damage and broken windows or roofing are out of our control, some simple inspections to incoming water lines can save a lot of damage.

Inspect the supply lines on all of your appliances; this includes dishwashers, toilets and the laundry room. If the hoses are worn or already leaking, take the time to replace them. I recommend springing for the steel-braided lines on all of them. They cost a bit more than the standard rubber or PVC, but the peace of mind is worth it. I also encourage everyone to be aware of where the water shut-off valves are in any home you are living. At least you know, if something goes askew, you can stop the inflow and mitigate the damage.

Home maintenance and remodeling projects can be fun, rewarding, cost-effective and typically add value to the home. The projects above are all intended to be proactive and preventative in nature. While the results of your inspections may lead to a more involved and costly repair, the end-result will be a higher quality structure and a safer, more secure home for your family.

Perfectly Purposeful Painting Projects

jackson nh real estate paintWe’ve all been told to keep it neutral.  If you intend to sell your home, don’t go crazy with colors or designs (wallpaper?) so the potential buyers will be able to better imagine themselves in the space.  Today, we’re going to throw all that great advice out the window, sort of.  One of the easiest and more cost-effective ways to personalize your home or bring some extra life to a specific area of the home, is with the use of paint.  Let’s explore some examples.

Patterns are a great way to add life to a room and not have to cover the entire area.  If you are unsure of exactly how to do a pattern, there are hundreds of examples online and in painting books at the library or the local home improvement store.  A pattern, in one area of the room, covering an entire wall or throughout the room can make a big difference and add personality to the area.  This is also a great way to add “molding” to a room without the cost of adding actual molding.  This is a great way to break up the monotony of a stark wall and draw the eyes up making the room feel larger.

Paint can also be used to update an older or boring piece of furniture.  With a rainy weekend and some sandpaper, you can transform an older piece of furniture into something personal and more attractive.  This is also a great opportunity to add color highlights into a room without messing with your neutral tones in the house.  Painting furniture is especially fun if you have kids, since the colors and designs on the piece can be way off the wall!

Lastly, you can attack a room that is not exactly your favorite in the house, and transform it into a place you love to visit.  I chose the laundry room in our house and painted the ceilings and walls with fun, light and exciting colors and patterns.  Now, every time I use that room it makes me smile.

Paint is an inexpensive way to transform a room or area of your home into something special.  Remember, anything done in paint can always be painted over when you are ready to sell.

What Makes You So Special?

north conway nh real estate aspireI suppose that headline could be read in two ways. As a question and a statement. For my purposes today, it’ll serve as both. As a kid (you know… last week) I admired Michael Jordan. I always had a desire for the spotlight and always had an inner desire to be the best at something. Today, I have different aspirations. I still strive to be the best I can be, but driving the lane and “posterizing” Bill Laimbeer is no longer on the list. I have to admit passing another person on the bike or on the trail still makes me smile inside. Especially if the person I’m passing is in their 20’s! “Those darn kids and their rock n’ roll music”!!

We are currently enjoying a fairly stable real estate market and, as we’ve mentioned before, are even starting to see some competing offers for the same listing. Admittedly it is not the feeding frenzy from a decade ago, but strengthening nonetheless. In the past few weeks we have talked about how to prepare yourself for buying a home and today I’d like to touch on a few things to help your offer stand out above the crowd. Even if you are not competing with a dozen other offers, these tips can still help strengthen your offer and show the sellers that you are serious.

Standing on the seller side of the transaction, assuming the offers match the asking price, your biggest concern is the deal actually “going through”. I recall when selling my house, the tension I lived with right up until I watched their hands signing the final papers. It wasn’t until that moment that all the stress and worry finally abated. The strength of the buyer’s offer and their apparent desire to obtain the house are often overlooked factors when it comes time to make that offer.

The art of the in-person delivery is quickly fading. In this world of immediate gratification, taking the time to hand-deliver an offer is considered cumbersome and too slow. I would encourage buyers, when it is feasible, to request their agents take this extra step. It gives the agent a chance to make eye contact with the seller’s agent and even explain a little bit about the buyers. This extra effort inevitably makes an impression on the agent and the seller.

Prove it or lose it. OK, that’s corny and I just made it up, but when it comes to finances this step is critical. Again, putting yourself in the shoes of the seller, you are going to be far more inclined to accept the offer from the party that has proven their ability to pay for the home. While you’re not on the hook for their finances, like the lending institution is, you will be far more attracted to the offer that includes proof of finances (for a cash offer), or a strong pre-approval letter from their bank. I understand some people’s hesitation to offer this up prior to the offer being accepted, but looking at it from the other side of the table, it makes perfect sense.

Contingency overload is always going to cause headaches. I have to admit I’m guilty of over-doing it with contingencies. In this specific situation, the seller’s agent was being incredibly difficult to deal with so we re-paid his efforts with an offer containing 15 contingencies! Yes, it was a bit over the top but as a buyer’s agent, my job was to protect my buyer’s interests and I took that responsibility to the nth degree. Today, my buyer is thrilled with the property he purchased and has since acquired additional properties with my help. None of which contained that sort of mess.

north conway homes cashThe lesson here is to reduce (or eliminate) contingencies with your offer. While I understand these are in place for the protection of the buyer, the more simple and straightforward your offer is, the easier it is for the seller to accept. One of the “laws” of sales is to make it as easy as possible for the consumer to purchase the product. The “one-click purchase” button at is a great example of this. Remove these barriers and let the seller accept your offer to buy.

Cash is still king. While earnest money is typically a standard percentage for most transactions, bumping that up a bit is a great way to show your financial strength and desire for the home. If you have the means to do it, putting more “skin in the game” shows the seller you are serious and will certainly get their attention right off the bat. This is also a great way to offset any concessions you are asking for in other areas of the offer. “Especially with a cash deal, offering a higher amount in earnest money is almost always enough to make a difference,” explains Badger Realty agent, Nubian Duncan. He continued, “Even if there are only two or three offers, a larger deposit always helps elevate that offer to the top of the pile”.

Lastly is the time frame. As I mentioned earlier, the time between acceptance and closing for me was stressful and a bit exhausting. I admit I tend to be a worrier, but there truly are a ton of things that can cause a deal to fall through. While most sellers will choose the closest date possible, be open and flexible with these dates. Whether they want an extended closing date or a quick one, accommodating the seller’s needs will go a long way to making your offer the pick of the litter.

Home Hunting Helpers

north conway nh real estate kitchenThere are countless things running through your mind when shopping for real estate in North Conway NH.  Aside from the basic items of size, bedrooms, location, etc., there are a few other areas which you should slide up to the top of your list.  Our goal here is to make better buyers of our readers so you go into the process with open eyes.  Here are a few items to be aware of on your hunt.

Everyone knows that kitchens and baths sell homes.  When looking at the kitchen, be a little more selective about what you see when you walk through.  Kitchen remodeling can cost between $20 and $60,000, depending on how crazy you want to get with it.  Pay close attention to the counters, cabinets, appliances and even the floors.  You can certainly re-face the cabinets and even do some painting and other items on your own, but once you start to get involved with the counters and cabinets, the costs start to climb.  Don’t be afraid to open every door and test everything (with the sellers permission of course) just so you have the peace of mind when you are ready to make an offer.

In the bathroom, the remodeling costs can be a little less since the space and number of appliances is much smaller.  Look carefully for leaks and other water damage both on the floor and on the ceiling below.  Sharing bathrooms is a typical headache for most families, so be sure there are enough in the home to satisfy your needs for as long as you intend to live there.

north conway nh real estate basementI always look at the roof before I even enter a home.  This is such a big-ticket item that the rest of the home showing can be impacted when I have the looming $10-20,000 repair in my mind.  Get the date of the last repair for the roof and visually inspect it for straightness along the roof line.  We have our share of older homes in North Conway and the Mount Washington Valley, so do your  homework up front.  This is also a place where the home inspector can play a significant role.

Scrutinize the basement as well, as you’re walking through.  Whether you intend to use it as usable space or just for storage, it is important to determine if it is wet, has ever been wet and what remedies have been implemented to avoid it in the future.  While you’re down there, don’t be shy about inspecting and asking about the HVAC systems.  New furnaces can cost $5-10,000 so get the age of the one you see and maybe even the service records.

Does This House Make Me Look Fat?

north conway nh houseAs many of you recall, I have gone from a sub-300 square foot cabin (for almost 3 years) to a nice new home and now to a rental home. My brother joked that when I moved out of the cabin into the house, I would be found in the fetal position, tucked in a closet, rocking back and forth. Simply incapable of comprehending the vast available space I could occupy. While that was not the case, I am still enjoying lots of empty space in the house and even have an entirely unused room upstairs. It contains a yoga mat and some winter clothes. Nothing else.

Truth be told, there are lots of reasons why we start to get the feeling we’re out-growing our homes. The most obvious reason really is the “stuff” we accumulate. Most of us obtain more stuff than we eliminate from our homes and thus we end up, over time, living in a smaller amount of space. Much like air fills the area of the container it is placed, we tend to do the same with our homes.

One easy method for avoiding this and re-gaining some of your home is to use the replacement strategy. For every item that you bring home from the “cheap-plastic-unnecessary-junk” store, you need to remove an item of equal size from the home: That day! This will help you strategize about what you’re going to buy and make sure there is something you can do away with before you even bring the new item into the home. Another trick is to use the incredibly simple “want vs. need” debate in your head. Do you really “need” those front-lawn, pink flamingos? (OK, those are really cute, but you get the point!) If you force yourself to wait a full 24 hours before making that purchase, I promise the “urge” will wear off and you’ll make a better decision.

As everyone in your home grows, it becomes obvious that the available space is going to shrink. You can imagine what it would be like to have a couple of growing, High School linebackers in your home! A simple, but not easy, way to combat this is to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to keep your weight under control. Healthy eating, exercise, etc. are simply good ways to maintain (or shrink) your physical “footprint” in the home and make it feel larger. Plus, once the kids head off to college, you can eliminate a ton of “stuff” around the house and gain that space back immediately. (With their permission of course!)

conway nh homes storageStop storing stuff. I will admit that those plastic storage bins are incredibly useful and practical. I especially love the ones that slide under the bed. How convenient are those!? But don’t fall into the trap that just because you HAVE the storage space you should FILL it. We also tend to hang on to the misconception that if it is “stored” we are effectively managing our things. Just because you have an organized stack of items you haven’t touched in 2 years, does not mean you are successfully managing your stuff. If you don’t touch it in a year, sell it or donate it. The self-storage industry thrives off of our “store it” mentality and you can stop giving them money if you learn to live with less.

I have been “fortunate” to have moved a few times in the last 18 months. I say “fortunate” because it has forced me to filter through all of my stuff and weed out the items that I truly don’t need. You can do the same thing on a rainy weekend and gain lots of space (and peace of mind?) in the home. Attack a specific area of the home (garage, basement, closets, attic, etc.) and go through every single item in every box and bin. As we have said before, if you haven’t touched it in a year or certainly two, eject it from your home. Pore over hobby and sports equipment that is just collecting dust. You will be amazed at what you can get for most of your items on Craigslist.

On the flip side of the “stuff-jettisoning” fun, is the ability to reclaim that space. You could rent out the extra space in the garage to a neighbor for a boat or classic car. You could rent out a newly emptied room to an exchange student or even weekend travelers. The space you gain will make you appreciate the space you have now and will hopefully encourage you to not rush to fill it back up. Much like with advertising, white space is critical. Don’t be afraid to have empty spaces in your home. It actually makes the siding fit much better!

Picking the Perfect Paint

jackson nh real estate paintEveryone knows that paint can have a huge impact on the sale of your home.  While it is always a good idea to personalize your home when you are living there, there are still some adjustments you should make when selling.  The first impression of your home, to sellers, is very important so I would encourage you to take this project on well before your first showing.

One of the more tedious but rewarding projects you can tackle is painting the trim.  While this seems like it would have minimal impact, a negative impression of chipped, peeling or cracking trim can be terrible.  Trim is a constant around the home so it stands to reason that it would have a fairly big impact.  Moving to the outside of the home, painting the trim out here is another fantastic idea.  You can often avoid painting the whole house if you simply patch and re-paint the trim.  It can offer a clean look to the home and help with that first impression.

Another fairly tedious task is the preparation of the walls.  I strongly encourage you to take the time to properly patch, sand and smooth the walls before slapping on a coat of paint.  We have all seen those houses where this part of the project was ignored.  It looks sloppy, lazy and offers a terrible impression overall.  Take the time, up front, to ensure that the surface is ready for paint.  While a coat of paint will help the overall look of the home, a botched job will hurt it even more.

Lastly, keep it boring.  I know this is terrible advice for those living in the home, but buyers want to be able to start fresh and work their furniture into the wall colors.  Just like we encourage everyone to remove personal items from the walls and shelves, during showings, making the walls a blank canvas of neutral colored paint is the intelligent next step.

Re-Ignite the Love With Your Home

north conway nh furnitureFall in love again, for the first time, all over again, just this once. O.K., so the jewelry stores have cornered the market on shaming us into believing the best way to show our love is to present someone with a shiny rock. Honestly, it feels a little bit like we’re still in the era of the cave man. And don’t even get me started on that racket of giving greeting cards for every occasion including your niece’s first tooth and your neighbor’s son’s first black eye. Enough already.

But what about your house? Do you show your house you love her? (Or is it a him?) Here are a couple ways that you can spice up your relationship with your home and fall in love with “it” all over again. Come on – let those sparks fly! If you play by the rules of your local drug store, it must be almost Valentine’s Day!

The first thing you can do, and honestly I end up doing this more often than I care to admit, is rearrange your furniture. This is a great rainy day project (Where was I last week, I know!) and one that you can involve the whole family. It can be fun to get input on chair/couch/TV/lamp/plant locations, and keep trying out new combinations. You are not saying you don’t love the home “just the way it is”; you are just ushering in a fresh perspective and trying out a new look. Don’t be afraid to look online for some feng shui tips either.

Start a “re-love” fund with the family. If everyone tosses their spare change from the day into a collection jar, you will be amazed at how fast the money piles up. You can use this to replace smaller items around the home such as throw pillows, window dressings and even small rugs. You could even get creative with how you select the item to be purchased. Voting, drawing ideas from a hat or even behavior and school grades could play a role. The new items will highlight that area of the home and freshen up the room being updated.

Another inexpensive way to get re-enamored with your house is to add some (or swap out some) art. If you’re using the fund idea from above, you’re likely not going to be able to grab any original masterpieces at an art auction. That said, everyone takes some good pictures and your kids have produced some art that is worthy of an upgrade from the fridge to the living room or den. You can grab frames at a discount store and even include a collage of images in a single frame. This personalizes the home and gives you a great way to liven up a room.

Another rainy-day project is to tackle that “to-do” list that you have been ignoring for the past few months. We all have those pesky little chores that sit over our heads every time we see them. I once lived with someone whose hair dryer had a filter tip on the end that simply did not stay attached. It took almost 4 months for me to finally attack that thing and screw the end on to stop it from falling off and bouncing on the floor every day at the crack of dawn. Make a list of all those nit-picky things that need fixing and attack them with vigor some day. You’ll have more peace of mind and, if you’re like me, you’ll likely sleep better!

Paint is always a great option for a renewed love of your home or just one of the rooms. If you pick one room a month, you can tackle most of the house in a more manageable fashion. Painting a room not only brings new life to that room, but also freshens it up and can make it a more attractive room to spend time. For families reclaiming a baby’s room or even a child’s room who has now run off to college, this can be a fresh start for that room altogether.

north conway nh homes dirtyAnother great use for paint is to re-surface your kitchen cabinets. We all know that a new set of cabinets is not a small undertaking and obviously no small expense. With a coat of paint, you can completely change the look and feel of your kitchen. Yes, this is a bit of a project and will likely swallow up the better part of a weekend. Because there is so much detail work and so many doors to contend with, this tends to be more of a project than just tackling a single room. That said, the reward will be much greater since you are in the kitchen every day you are in the home. I promise, it will be worth the effort.

The last tip I have for re-igniting the flame with your home is to give it a solid “spring” cleaning regardless of the time of year. We all (hopefully) do the normal cleaning in our home on a regular basis. We clean the bathrooms, wash windows, vacuum, dust, etc. For this project, I encourage you to tackle the lesser-cleaned items that tend to get forgotten. Work on the baseboards, light fixtures, ceiling fans and even standard fans. These items still get just as dusty and dirty as the rest of the home, but tend to get left off the standard weekly cleaning list. Much like painting a room, the whole house will feel fresher and cleaner when these tertiary items are spotless.

I love my home and love living here. Like the seven-year itch, I sometimes forget how good things are “at home”. Take the time to fall in love with your home all over again and you’ll likely find a few things that you had forgotten to appreciate about “her”. Now that I think about it, maybe a vase full of flowers would be just the thing to show her you love her! And yes, you will want to get some for your wife as well!

Boosts For A Better Basement

north conway nh basementBasements in your North Conway home are often considered a luxury.  The added storage space is fantastic and if you can go as far as to “finish” the area you not only gain extra living space, but also increase the overall value of your home.  That said, there are a few stumbling blocks that tend to trip-up folks working on restoring or re-claiming their basements. We’ll go over a few of these now in hopes of helping you avoid these and make your basement the best it can be.

One of the biggest challenges for basements is water.  Even if your basement is not prone to water seepage and you’ve never had an issue with a wet basement in the past, this is something that you’ll want to have checked before you go gang-busters down there and certainly before you start to add carpet and sheetrock.  Just have a professional check the slope around the home and the drainage system.  Of course there is always a risk of water making its way into the home, but you can take steps up front to mitigate those chances.

Make the most of the light you have and bring in all that is possible to avoid the “dark cave” feeling.  Basements are not typically filled with natural light.  The windows are often just 1 foot by 3 feet and that does not lend itself to a well lit room.  When planning the area, make sure you plan for plenty of overhead lighting and a large number of outlets around the room.  This will ensure you can add additional lighting once the room is finished.  You lose headroom and wall space with these additions, but the difference will be well worth the sacrifice.

Get creative in the basement.  Since this area of the house is essentially separate from the rest of the house, you can be more creative down here and not worry too much about matching the rest of the house.  For some reason, I’m reminded of the “Jungle room” at Graceland.  This was clearly a room in which Elvis wanted to express his love of all things tropic and wild. Follow the King’s lead and go wild down there.

If you’re thinking of selling and are just doing this project in order to appeal to buyers, disregard that last paragraphs and keep it simple!  Buyers will love the fact that you have taken the big steps for them, but they will want to be able to personalize that space on their own.  Much like we have talked about paint choices for selling, the same applies for the finished basement.