3 Weird Things You Can Ignore When Home Shopping

In 15 years of real estate, I can honestly say that I’ve seen it all. Toilet seats up in listing photos, shag carpet covered with dog hair, bedrooms doubling as marijuana growing centers, and avocado green appliances from the ’70s.

Sellers aren’t required to get their homes in their best condition before showing them – let alone cleaning their home before listing. But one seller’s laziness can spell a giant upside for the right buyer.

Here are three sights that may be off-putting when you’re shopping for a home, but shouldn’t stop you from considering making an offer – particularly if you love the home, layout or location.

Odd wallpaper and dirty carpet

Today’s buyers generally prefer a home that’s turn-key or move-in ready. They’re too busy with their day-to-day lives to take on a renovation – and this is especially true for the continuously connected, mobile-ready millennial home buyer.

But painting walls and replacing carpets isn’t always time-consuming or expensive, and you can do these projects before moving in.

If a seller won’t replace their shag carpet or paint the interior a neutral color, they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

A fresh coat of paint and finished floors or new carpet won’t break the bank or take more than a week, and the end product will be a like-new home for you to move into.

Rooms being strangely used

It’s not uncommon to see a home’s dining room transformed into a full-fledged office. Some homeowners even have a bedroom doubling as a walk-in closet. I once saw a first-floor bedroom turned into a wine-tasting room.

Just because the homeowner uses these spaces in a way that suits them, doesn’t mean you have to. These rooms might stand out as odd to you, but try to forget that the seller lives there.

Once they’ve moved out, the dining room will be a space that just needs a great light fixture and table. The walk-in closet can be turned back into a bedroom in less than a day.

A too-strong seller presence

It’s difficult for a buyer to imagine themselves in a home if it’s full of the seller’s photos, diplomas and other personal belongings. The best homes for buyers are those that are neutral and lacking any items specific to the owner.

What’s worse is when the seller is present at a showing. It makes everyone uncomfortable. The buyers feel like they need to be on their best behavior and can’t explore the house, dig deep into closets or cabinets, or feel free to talk out loud about what they see.

A home that is too personalized or where the seller is always present can sit on the market and get a bad reputation over time. A smart buyer will use that to their advantage and snag it below the asking price.

Sellers who sabotage their home sale – whether intentionally or not – leave money on the table for the buyer. But typical consumers today have a hard time seeing through a seller’s mess, personalized design style or custom changes.

If you see a home online that’s in a great location with a floor plan that’s ideal, go see it. Ignore the things you can change, and think about whether you can make the home your own.


Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Originally published July 1, 2016.


Why Home Buyers and Agents Need to Have Each Other’s Backs

Searching for a home and engaging with a real estate agent today is not the same as it was a generation ago. The space (both physical and virtual) between the buyer and the real estate agent was much larger, and coming together was slower and more methodical.

If a buyer saw a For Sale sign or an ad in the paper, they might call the real estate agency’s office, get some information, and move on. Or they could walk into an open house solo. They could be rather anonymous.

But today’s home buyers live online. They can click, text or email with agents, and seriously engage within hours. But does that mean they are active and serious buyers ready to transact? Not necessarily.

The real estate agent’s experience

Meanwhile, real estate agents, who are commission-only independent contractors, will sometimes drive around for hours showing homes. They may take these buyers around for days or weeks, thinking they have a live client they can help. They might make an offer or two on behalf of the customer, even be present at a two- to three-hour-long home inspection … all before the buyer decides to back out. They may buy a different house from the agent, or they may not.

Well-intentioned, hardworking agents can end up feeling like their time isn’t valued – particularly when they never hear from that buyer again.

Who’s responsible?

Is it incumbent on the agent to be better at time management and qualifying their potential buyer clients? Or should the buyer be clear with the agent early on if they aren’t serious just yet?

I think that the consumer comes first, and it’s up to the agent to better qualify – as best they can. But it’s also part of the business, and par for the course. Agents sign up for a sales job, and they can’t win every deal. They need to ask lots of questions of their new “client” before offering up their time and cashing a paycheck that doesn’t exist.

Some consumers relish the attention they receive from this new “friend” who will drive them places, show them around, and teach them something new about the world of real estate. If the buyer isn’t paying for the agent’s time, the reasoning often goes, why not take a few rides and see some great houses?

But soon-to-be homeowners should be mindful of their intentions, and considerate of the resources the agent is delivering.

So what’s a buyer to do?

Should everyone stop looking online or clicking the “Contact Agent” button? No way. Consumers should always feel free to click away, ask questions and gather information.

But they should be mindful of how things work once they start seriously engaging. Most buyers don’t realize that there is a process to buying a home, and that it rarely happens overnight. From the time they first click on the photo of the killer master bathroom until they get the keys, it might be one year and three dozen (or more) house tours.

And if things don’t feel right with the agent with whom you engage early on, move on. Keep researching independently, or get a referral for a good local agent. Or, better yet, just go with the flow and the right agent will come along organically.

And what about agents?

Real estate professionals need to understand that one text, click or email does not make an active buyer. A good agent has a handle on the sales process, and asks buyers lots of questions to get a read on them. A good agent fills their sales funnel with a mix of folks in all parts of the home buying process.

Early on, an agent needs to be a guiding light, resourceful and ready to answer questions. As some of their buyers get more serious, smart real estate pros know where to direct their attention.


Originally published May 23, 2016.

Saying ‘I Do’ to a Tiny Grain Silo Home

Christoph Kaiser finishes his latest sketch, while Shauna Thibault chops vegetables. It’s a delicate dance in 366 square feet, but the newlyweds aren’t fazed.

“There’s something about living in a small space that simplifies life,” Kaiser explains. “It quiets the mind, in a way.”

The couple isn’t renting a micro-apartment, although their urban Phoenix lifestyle might make you think so. They live in a grain silo.

“I think there was a healthy level of skepticism from our friends and family when they found out we were going to attempt to live in a grain silo,” says Thibault. “But we love it. … It’s not just an experiment.”

The stylist and boutique owner has always been drawn to minimalist living. And for her husband, an architect, unique dwellings pose the ultimate design challenge.

“What can you live in and still have a sense of home?” Kaiser says. “It’s easy to cram all the parts that you need to live in something. It’s easy to build it, even – relatively speaking. … The real challenge is to end up with a piece of architecture that actually feeds your soul, as opposed to draining it.”IMG_7551

But Kaiser didn’t wake up with the idea to turn the silo into a home. The rusted, metal cylinder was originally a Craigslist find to store his garden tools. Then, with his wedding date approaching, he started drawing up plans with his architecture and design firm.

“Once we started, it was about an 18-month process with a few breaks in between where I would run out of money and have to make money, so I could invest some more,” Kaiser explains. “At a certain point, we were just like, ‘Oh my goodness, we’ve been anticipating living in this project for such a long time.’”

Unique projects bring unique challenges – and the silo has had its fair share. With most furniture and appliances designed on a 90-degree angle, Kaiser had to figure out how to fashion a home in a curved space. He ended up building everything from the kitchen cabinets to the doors himself.


A giant glass door on wheels serves as an entrypoint into the backyard, and a way to open up the space.

“To have the benefit of outdoor space, which is an extension of the living space, is huge,” Kaiser says. “Whether you’re sitting inside and have this 10-foot-rolling door open and you just have a view you can experience … or you’re outside enjoying it directly, I think it was definitely something we considered as part of the floor plan.”

“You can sit and read and, ‘Oh, let’s pick a few weeds,’ and then bring some produce inside,” Thibault adds. “Everything is very fluid.”


But when the couple experienced their first storm in the house, indoor-outdoor living became a little too real.

“We had water coming in through the front door, water coming in through the radius door,” Kaiser recalls. “That was not a fun night for me, because it’s kind of my responsibility to make sure this thing actually works, and all of a sudden these things were failing.”

The couple also had to figure out how to make a functional space for two when they don’t have rooms, per se, other than a teeny bathroom. They ended up creating a separate sleeping loft, where Thibault loves to watch movies in bed.

“You feel like you’re at the IMAX,” she says. “You can lie in bed, and it projects arced on the wall. Subwoofers are hidden underneath the bed, so everything kind of shakes. You can watch ‘Jaws’ in full format. It’s pretty great.”


Kaiser says the space has brought the newlyweds closer.

“I think there’s an intimacy that’s imposed on people when they’re in one space. You can’t find that separation,” he says. “… It makes you confront issues more, and it really brings you together.”

“I think we’ve learned a lot about our dynamics, and the way that we work and accomplish things,” Thibault adds. “[It’s] very coupling.”


They’ve also had to learn how to live with (a lot) less.

“We had to do a pretty serious pare-down of our stuff to move in here, and that honestly just keeps continuing,” Thibault says. “I think he has more shoes [than I do].”

“She has more shoes,” Kaiser replies with a smile. “There’s no contest.”

No matter how many pairs of shoes, the couple says they wouldn’t trade their out-of-the-box living experience.

“Home can be so many things,” Kaiser says. “… The ability for people to fashion that to their own liking is a beautiful freedom that we have.”

Video by Craig Schwisow and Tom Hanny. Photos by Matt Winquist; design sketch by Christoph Kaiser.

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Originally published August 3, 2016.


5 Reasons We Crave This Caribbean Villa

Views from every room, even underwater

This 11,000-square-foot estate in Turks and Caicos is a waterfront oasis. Turquoise water melds with the warm gold of the sunrise (the house was designed to face east for that gorgeous, early morning glow); plus, a glass-enclosed pool allows swimmers to look out at the ocean from above ground – or even underwater.

“I found this beautiful place with water on three sides. When I saw it, it conquered me,” says homeowner Glenn Garrard, who designed the compound with this vista in mind. “The views to the sea are spectacular. It overcomes you as soon as you come up the stairs.”

The house also boasts a seaside fire pit, nearly 500 feet of oceanfront and a white-sand private beach on the island of Providenciales. It’s a Miami-meets-Mykonos style, describes Garrard: perfect for a summer vacation – or, if you’re lucky, your next dream home. Bonus: workers built it using storm-resistant insulated concrete forms, so it sustained virtually no damage in recent hurricanes.

The loungepad is bigger than your bed

We just love this contemporary take on a poolside cabana: mod-style wood frame, oversized couch cushions that ooze relaxation. It breathes dreaminess, with aquamarine water on one side, the pool lapping at your toes and a host of marine life just waiting to be explored.

That’s one of the family’s favorite things, too: swimming, snorkeling and paddleboarding with underwater creatures.

“We have a lagoon that’s maybe football [field]-size. We’ll see turtles, stingrays, starfish,” says Garrard. “It’s our own personal aquarium. You snorkel in just about two-and-a-half feet of water, and you see a million fish. It’s just spectacular.”

Room to sleep 16 comfortably

With 7 queen-or-bigger beds and sleeper sofas, there’s room for 16 people to spend the night here without pumping up an air mattress. And with a private bar overlooking the beach, this seaside villa was built to entertain. The bottom level has garage doors that open up to a patio and the private beach, while the wood-paneled bar features beer on tap (local island lager is the Garrards’ go-to).

There’s space to belly-up to the bar from inside the home or out, with a roll-up window ready to serve fresh-off-the-beach surfers and sunbathers. The dining room has space for 20.

Establishing a home for 16 people made sense for a family whose home-build was done as a group, too. There were hours of coordinating how they would get goods to the island (Garrard lives 1,500 miles away in Canada). But it also took a bit of convincing at first; the cynics included his wife, Jaclyn.

“There’s countless people that say, ‘You’re crazy. Why would you do that? It’s too far. It’s too big. It costs too much to do this. It’s taking up too much of your life to do this. It’s difficult,'” he remembers.

All those skeptics? They were wrong. The family pulled it off – from clearing the land to calling it home – in less than one year of working together: father and son, side by side, with the help of a small crew. Even Jaclyn came on board once she saw the project taking shape, helping pick colors for the interior.

Wine in empty salsa jars (kidding… kind of)

Soaking tub with a corner view of the Caribbean? Check. Yoga deck with crashing waves in the background? This place has that too.

But it didn’t start out that way.

Imagine 10 giant shipping containers packed with building materials sailing toward this tiny island chain, where the population hovers under 35,000. With such a small island as the spot for their second home, the Garrards had to import – and build – nearly everything themselves.

Tyler (left) and Glenn Garrard (right).

Once everything was on site, the family worked around-the-clock to go from sandy beach to seaside villa in less than 12 months. Garrard’s son, Tyler, slept in a hammock under a mosquito net on the beach, working from sunup to sundown to get the home complete.

“We cooked hotdogs over a fire. We had wine out of empty salsa jars,” says Tyler. “It was a great experience, getting up early, getting up with the sun, going to bed with the sun.”

You can spend a week here – or forever

As much as the Garrards love Tip of the Tail Villa, they are ready for another adventure, and just put the home on the market for $7.48 million. If it seems like a hefty pricetag, you could always rope in some friends and share your time in the sun together. Plus, there some pretty perks: Garrard has already booked more than half the year as a vacation rental – and says the income is hard to beat – so you could always rent the place out when you’re not there.

“We’re excited about the future. Tip of the Tail Villa is our stepping stone to some other adventures,” he says. “We look at each other’s faces, and we can’t help but laugh and giggle at how great life is here at this beautiful home.”

Video and photos by Josh Franer.

Originally published June 7, 2017.


Here’s the Wackiest Tiny Home You’ve Ever Seen

From the front, this Seattle home appears normal. But walk around to the side, and you’ll see a house that’s a sliver of its front-facing self – and measures just 4½ feet wide.

It wasn’t frugality or hipness that inspired its unique construction back in 1925, decades before tiny homes were a thing.

It was spite.

There are two popular versions of how it happened: Either the owner of a neighboring home got divorced and gave his wife a wedge of land he believed was too small for her to use, or a neighboring owner lowballed the owner of the slim property, believing he couldn’t built on it — and so he did.

The result is a 2-bedroom, 2-bath “tiny duplex” that’s 16 feet at its widest and 4½ feet at its narrowest — and listed earlier this year for $519,900 with Kathy Rathvon of RE/MAX Eastside Brokers.

Former owner Clay Wallace, who’s an architect, appreciated the home’s history and character, including its Spanish Colonial Revival look with “slight Italianate influences.” He liked that it maintained its style through numerous renovations.

“It just spoke to me,” he said. “I didn’t know of its neighborhood prominence — it’s like a landmark for many people. ”

He found the home comfortable, from its 9-by-14-foot living room to the galley kitchen and bedrooms that measure more than 100 square feet. Wallace also liked the location, near shops and a major highway, and a short walk from Seattle’s 230-acre arboretum.

Photos by PlanOmatic.

Video by Erik Hecht.

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Originally published April 27, 2016.


5 Ways to Score a Lease in a Competitive Rental Market

In a competitive rental market, you’ll need to do quite a bit more than simply fill out an application and put down a deposit. Since 2005, there has been “an uptick in renters, with people in their 50s and 60s making up the largest chunk of the increase,” CNN Money reports.

With large numbers of millennials and Baby Boomers competing in a growing pool of renter applications, it’s important to consider ways to boost your odds during the application process. Read on to learn how to give yourself an edge over other renters when you’re applying for a rental home in a competitive market.

Apply online in advance

If you’ve browsed photos online of your dream rental property over and over, and your gut feeling is telling you that you’ve found “the one,” there’s no harm in filling out an application online if the option exists. This shows the property manager you’re already a serious applicant when you visit the property.

Come prepared

When you arrive for a viewing of the rental property, come with a copy of your credit report, copies of your last few pay stubs, your checkbook, and a printed list of references (including your current employer and previous landlords).

Make the application review process easy for the property manager by bringing hard copies of more than enough application materials than your potential landlord would ever need.

An optional (but oh-so-helpful) document for your application package is a letter written to the landlord, explaining why you would be an excellent tenant – and if you’ve already visited before, what the home means to you. Think of the application packet as an argument for why you’re the tenant for them.

And beyond documentation, bring a strong interview game. Prepare for your first meeting with your potential landlord as you would for any job interview. You’ll be asked questions, but additionally, they expect you to present questions to them, too. This shows you’ve been thoughtful about the application process, and take the potential of living in their rental home seriously.

Express interest

It may seem obvious, but property managers want to see applicants excited about their home.

While Utah-based landlord James Hedges certainly values excellent references, he looks for a potential renter who gives the impression that they appreciate the home. “Ultimately, you want someone who will take care of and respect your property,” he says. “How they react when they go through it should not be discounted.” 

“Showing an interest in the place and the neighborhood helps because it makes me feel like [the potential tenant] will treat my [rental] home and neighborhood as their own,” Virginia-based landlord Julia Jarrett adds. “That sets me at ease a bit.”

Be flexible

With lots of applicants in the pool, landlords often have a tough choice when deciding on a tenant. In addition to offering strong application materials and expressing sincere interest in the home, showing your ability to be flexible is another way to stand out.

If you’re able to sign a longer lease, say so. It shows serious commitment, and means your potential landlord won’t have to hunt for more tenants anytime soon – surely a relief for them.

And if it seems like the landlord wants to get the property rented immediately, mention that you’re willing to move in earlier than your listed preferred move-in date, if that’s possible.

Be transparent

Property managers will check references. Stretching the truth about something almost always comes out.

“If you lie on the application or in person and a reference contradicts you, it’s a huge red flag,” Hedges says. “Any indication of money problems is a red flag as well.”

This hint may come in the form of an applicant haggling on price, negotiating what’s included in the price, or asking to cash their check within a certain timeframe. “None of these are guarantees that they will be a bad renter, but they are warning signs that a landlord would take into consideration,” Hedges explains.

Iowa-based landlord Laura Kilbride suggests potential renters keep their social media profiles somewhat public. “Having your Facebook profile visible can be a huge advantage,” she says. “If your profile is blocked, they can’t connect with you, and that’s off-putting when [another applicant] has theirs readily available.”

Follow up

After leaving your meeting or open house with the landlord, send an email thanking them, along with asking any follow-upquestions you may have. This encourages further dialogue, and having your name in their inbox serves as one more reminder as to who you are.

Hunting for the perfect rental property doesn’t have to be a headache. Once you’ve found the rental home of your dreams, it’s up to you to make the application process easy for the property manager.

Looking for more information about renting? Check out our Renters Guide


Could You Live ‘Tiny’? See How a Seattle Couple Found Room for Their Dreams

Our boots sloshed around in the mud. It was a dreary Pacific Northwest day filled with slate-colored clouds and the feeling it could downpour any minute.

After several “pardon mes” and “coming throughs,” we got the tripod inside and forgot about the looming storm. We settled into a world of nooks and crannies, warm blankets – and the smell of chocolate.

It’s what you do when you live in a tiny home. You get cozy. And you make brownies on a rainy day.

Tina, the tiny home

Leah Wymer and Brady Ryan’s house-on-wheels wasn’t some big, planned project. Wymer’s dad, a carpenter, thought it would be fun, so they bought a used trailer off Craigslist for $500 and started building.

Two years later, the tiny home named Tina developed into “this huge thing.” Not a huge footprint – she’s only 98 square feet – but a huge, move-to-the-island and start-your-own-business thing.

Redefining happiness

From an apartment in Seattle, where they paid about $1,400 a month, Wymer and Ryan moved to a family farm on San Juan Island. They traded in a closet full of shoes for a pair of work boots and a house smaller than most people’s garage.

Credit: Tom Hanny
Credit: Tom Hanny

Ryan insists they aren’t “hardcore tiny homies” because his parents’ house is nearby. But for many owners of tiny homes it isn’t about escaping normal life or community, anyway.

“We’ve had many times where we’ll sleep upstairs and then our friends, usually a couple, will sleep down here on the pull-out and it’s like a sleepover,” Ryan says. “I love sleepovers. I’m still a little kid at heart.”

Credit: Tom Hanny
Credit: Tom Hanny

Wymer says it instantly brings you closer because your proximity is so close, but she’s the first to admit living “tiny” isn’t for everyone.

“If you leave your laundry on the ground, it’s in the kitchen,” she says. “Everything kind of overlaps a little bit.”

But if you don’t mind things – and people – overlapping, making do with less can be life-changing.

“Things don’t bring you happiness,” Wymer says. “Our lifestyle brings us happiness.”

The cog in the wheel

Credit: Tom Hanny
Credit: Tom Hanny

It’s not easy making money on an island. Wymer has her own wedding-flower business, and Ryan keeps busy making honey and sea salt.

“The tiny home is like the cog in the wheel that allows the whole thing to spin,” Ryan says. Not only are the couple’s living costs reduced significantly, but they’re able to do what they love most right in their backyard.

“There have been a lot of times where I wonder if I’m dreaming, really, because of the beauty that is all around us,” Wymer says. “I love when it gets later in the season, and the grass comes up to your waist. …There is nothing like walking out there and brushing your hands against it.”

Video and photos by Tom Hanny.

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Originally published May 6, 2015.