Sara Benson Real Estate Expert and Consumer Advocate Delivers Advice

Top 10 Ways to Increase the Value of Your Home!

Posted in advice, condominium, homeowners association, money, Real Estate, Remodeling, value by sarabensonexpert on December 23, 2015


  1. Cleanliness is next to godliness. Clean everything. Keep floors and carpets clean and ask potential buyers to remove their shoes and boots at the door. Provide a basket of disposable paper booties so feet don’t get dirty and buyers won’t hesitate to look in the attic and basement.
  2. Declutter, declutter, declutter. Reduce knickknacks by 50 percent or more. Rent a storage locker if necessary. Make the home as “vanilla” as possible, depersonalizing it so buyers can “psychologically move in.” Pack up the kids’ art from the fridge and eliminate family photos.
  3. Put on a fresh coat of paint. Use neutral tones that have the largest buyer appeal. Strong and vivid colors are a no-no.
  4. Focus on kitchens and bathrooms. These are the most important rooms of all. To obtain the most profit, upgrade kitchens and baths. For every dollar you spend, you’ll get at least $1.50 to $2 in return. If your kitchen is older than 15 years, consider remodeling with new cabinet faces and new appliances. Don’t forget the impact of under- and upper-cabinet lighting—a must for task lighting and creating irresistible drama. Make the kitchen look spacious. Remove all visual counter clutter, from the toaster and butcher-knife set to the bread machine, the blender, and the coffee pot. The idea is to make your countertops look like they’re begging to be used. Leave out one or two essential items—a bowl of fresh fruit, or a wine bottle and two glasses.
  5. Make the master bedroom look sexy. Give the master suite the look and feel of a luxury hotel suite. Buy fresh towels and soaps for the bathrooms; hide everything else. No toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet brushes and plungers, shampoo or body scrubs, bathroom scales, hairbrushes, or dryers. Next, bring out fragrant bars of bath soap, new bedding with plenty of fluffy pillows, a wine rack, candles, and—of course—plenty of fresh flowers. Bedrooms need to look sexy, voluptuous, and soft. A Rubenesque oil painting or print over the bed is a good start, followed by a satin negligee hanging in the closet.
  6. Upgrade old bathrooms. In general, if your bathrooms are more than 20 years old, consider remodeling them. Upgrade the tile, but stay away from fads. Use classic finishes. If your unit is in an upscale neighborhood and the standard is marble in the bath, use it, but don’t overimprove. If the norm in your area is laminate finishes, such as Formica, use that. Some pristine bathrooms from the 1920s are in high demand. If they’re in good shape, leave them alone. They will bring a better return than a bathroom remodeled in the 1970s or 1980s. If needed, consider reglazing the bathtub. Also, older marble that is in good shape can be refinished and restored to look brand new at a fraction of the cost of installing new marble.
  7. Create storage in dead spaces. Look for “found spaces” under staircases, in attics, and near the ceiling in loft areas. Adding extra storage creates value.
  8. Keep odors in mind. Animal odors and stale cigarette or cigar smoke is forbidden—as are artificial scents such as plug-ins and air fresheners. Some people are allergic to them, and most buyers will immediately question if the commercial air fresheners are being used to cover up a problem. Eric Spangenberg, dean of the College of Business at Washington State University, recently found that complex smells distract potential buyers as they subconsciously devote time to trying to figure out the scent. His recent study on the effect of aromas involved 402 people in a home-décor store in Switzerland. The study found that shoppers spent nearly 32 percent more on average, when the store was scented with a simple orange scent over a more complex blend of orange, basil, and green tea all combined. Stay away from complex aromas, such as potpourri, gourmet food, and baked goods, including chocolate chip cookies and apple pie. The best scents include pine, lemon, cedar, orange, vanilla, and lavender. Try a dab of vanilla on light bulbs. Also remember that healthy green plants clean the air. Speaking of plants, no sickly specimens or dried flowers are allowed. They are reminiscent of death and disease. Tasteful silk flower arrangements, however, are permitted.
  9. Lighting is essential. Make sure your residence has plenty of direct, accent, and incandescent lighting. Light opens dark spaces and highlights attractive features. Use mirrors to reflect light, especially in the entryway.
  10. Entrances welcome guests. The entrance to the home is the most important space of all. As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression. Examine the front door. Consider hanging a pretty wreath. Put fresh flowers in the foyer. A small table with a brass or silver tray may also work well. Remember the entry needs to be inviting and welcome the buyer into the home.

Excerpt from: Escaping Condo Jail: The Keys to Navigating Risks & Surviving Perils of the “Carefree” Community Lifestyle, By Sara E. Benson and Don DeBat. Now available on Amazon.




Could your granite be radioactive?

Posted in advice, condominium, homeowners association, money, Real Estate, Remodeling, value by sarabensonexpert on January 4, 2015

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Radiation is everywhere: in the soil, rocks, and the air. It is the amount of radiation exposure humans receive that is of concern.

Because of the exceedingly high demand for natural granite countertops over the past two decades, manufacturers have imported the material from all over the world. Some of that granite has been professionally tested and found to be “hot” or “potentially hazardous.”

In July of 2008, the New York Times reported on a homeowner who found her granite was emitting radiation. The radon level in her kitchen was an astounding 100 picocuries per liter. In her basement, where radon readings are ordinarily at their highest levels, the readings were only six picocuries per liter. (Remember, anything over four picocuries per liter is considered hazardous.)

The owner, Dr. Lynn Sugarman of Teaneck, New Jersey, called out a radon technician to find the source. “He went from room to room,” said Dr. Sugarman. But he stopped in his tracks in the kitchen. His Geiger counter indicated that the granite was emitting radiation at levels 10 times higher than those he had measured elsewhere in the house. Sugarman immediately had all of her granite counters ripped out and replaced with different granite, which she had tested before installation.

The Marble Institute of America has said such claims of radioactive granite are “ludicrous” because, although granite is known to contain uranium and potassium, the amounts in countertops are not enough to pose a health risk.[1] However, the debate remains open, as Daniel J. Steck, a professor of physics at St. Johns University, has stated that approximately 5 percent of all granites will be of concern, with the understanding that only a tiny percentage of the tens of thousands of granite slabs in the country have been tested.[2] The granite-radon connection and amount of public interest is prevalent enough that the EPA has a dedicated webpage on the subject.[3]

“It’s not that all granite is dangerous,” said Stanley Liebert, the quality assurance director at CMT Laboratories in Clifton Park, New York, who took the radiation measurements at Dr. Sugarman’s home. “But I’ve seen a few that might heat up your Cheerios a little.”

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[1]. Kate Murphy, “What’s Lurking in Your Countertop?,” New York Times, July 24, 2008.

[2]. Daniel J. Steck, “Pre- and Post-Market Measurements of Gamma Radiation and Radon Emanation from a Large Sample of Decorative Granites,” Physics Department, St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN., 2009.


Excerpt from: Escaping Condo Jail: The Keys to Navigating Risks & Surviving Perils of the “Carefree” Community Lifestyle, by Sara E. Benson and Don DeBat. (c) 2014 Now available on Amazon.