To Stage or Not to Stage

December 8th, 2015


“All the world’s a stage,” claimed Shakespeare. But should that apply to the home you are selling as well?

Home sellers wrestle with many decisions as they move toward putting their home on the market: What realtor to list with? What to repair? What to replace…? One question sellers often neglect to ask themselves is “Should I consider staging my home?”

It’s at least a question worth asking. Here’s why.

The three-legged stool

“A successful home sale is like a three-legged stool,” says Terry L. Cooch of TLC Home Organizing & Staging. “It needs three things for it to work: Price, Condition, and Appeal.” Home staging is, of course, about “Appeal.”

Terry defines staging as professionally preparing your home for sale so that it appeals to the greatest number of buyers at the highest price in the shortest amount of time.

Do I really need a professional?

In short, the answer is “yes” for most people who want to stage their homes. The problem is this: Our homes reflect our tastes, our histories, our families, and our lifestyles. They appeal to us as homeowners, but most likely not to potential buyers.

It’s generally difficult, if not impossible, for most Henrietta and Harry Homeowners to step back and objectively determine how to best present their home. Likewise, it’s often not easy for the home shopper to see beyond a home’s appearance and visualize its potential.

Master bedroom-BEFORE Master bedroom-AFTER



What the professional brings to the table

In interviewing Terry Cooch, it became clear that a staging professional needs a certain set of essential qualities.

The first of these is objectivity, which also requires a measure of candor. The professional stager has no emotional tie to the home or the spaces within it. She can objectively assess how best to present the home to appeal to the largest possible audience. And she possesses the candor to “say what needs to be said,” as Terry puts it. This might include what needs to move, be changed, or disappear altogether.

She also has an understanding of design principles. Color, balance, lighting, what makes a space look larger, décor, style—these and more are all part of what the home stager considers. She uses this understanding to “draw attention to what you want to draw attention to,” notes Terry.

Another critical trait is an understanding of how people think. While no single approach can appeal to everyone, there are some general consistencies among the way people perceive things. This understanding of how most people perceive or view things is a tool in every good home stager’s toolkit.

Having organizing experience is also a plus. It’s easy to see why next.

A 3-D approach

“De-clutter; De-personalize; Detach,” says Terry, is how she approaches any home staging project.

De-cluttering is where that organizing experience really pays off.We seldom realize just how many “things” we have in a given space and how many of them are connected more to us than to the space itself. And then there are those household items or articles of clothing or whatever else we just haven’t put back into their proper places. All these things add up to clutter in the eyes of the potential buyer.

Your staging expert will know what items to move, remove, or put away to add to a room’s neutrality and appeal. They’ll know how to make the space inviting, if you will.

What’s more, the twelve framed family photos on the sideboard or the line of archery trophies on the mantle are the types of things that need to be addressed when it comes to de-personalizing.

Again, your stager will help identify items that detract from the home’s sell-ability.

Sunroom before




And lastly, your staging hired gun’s lack of emotional attachment will help you detach from items in the home and your own design sensibilities to enable buyers to feel the most at home and most able to visualize themselves living there. It’s naturally difficult to detach from our stuff in our home without that objective view.

What about the furniture?

In many cases, staging professionals can work with existing furniture, perhaps with some rearranging or redecorating. In others, she may suggest changing furnishings or linens and other decorative items. Fortunately, many stagers can provide a variety of furnishings and décor to help create the ideal look for the walk-through.

Master bedroom-BEFORE Master bedroom-AFTER




Whether making just a few changes or starting from a “blank slate,” she can provide the know-how and materials to maximize your home’s appeal.

Blank Slate-BEFORE Blank Slate-AFTER



It starts outside the door

Home sellers often forget that the first and last impressions most people get of your home come at the curb. “Curb appeal” is important and, again, your staging professional can make suggestions to help sell your home, from first look to last. These might include landscaping, painting, accessorizing—whatever will shine a positive light on your home from the moment the potential buyer arrives.

Curb Appeal-BEFORE Curb Appeal-AFTER



The goals

If you are considering staging your home for sale, with or without the help of a professional staging service, the goals are simple but critical:

  • Make the first impression of the home positive and inviting
  • Enable buyers to envision themselves living in the home
  • Show the full potential of the home
  • Make the home visually appealing for online listings



For more information, visit:

TLC Home Organizing & Staging:

Accredited Staging Professionals (ASP):

National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO):


NOTE: TLC Home Organizing & Staging is not affiliated with Keller Williams Realty, Inc.


© 2015 The McDowell Team, Keller Williams Select Realtors

Featured Listing: 411 Deerspring Court

August 1st, 2015

Front view of house at 411 Deerspring Court

I need to stray from the typical “factual” introduction and instead introduce this home in a more anecdotal way: 411 Deerspring Court, located in Shipley’s Choice, is listed as being in Millersville, Md.–Well, it is. But for those of us who have lived in the area, we think of the Shipley’s Choice community, for all intents and purposes, as being part of Severna Park. Perhaps the distinction isn’t critical, but for home buyers unfamiliar with the area, it’s important to understand that 411 Deerspring Court isn’t where you might think it to be. It’s also important to understand the community in which it rests.

Shipley’s Choice 411_Deerspring_Shipley's-Choice_sm

There isn’t anything wrong with Millersville, mind you. It’s just that Millersville is centered farther south, below Rt. 32 and I-97, whereas Shipley’s choice is directly off of Benfield Boulevard. In fact, it’s the first community on the left going eastward as you enter into what everyone knows is Severna Park. It is part of “the Greater Severna Park Area,” according to the Shipley’s Choice Homeowners Association (

The community is well established and well known, not only for its cleanliness and beauty, but also for its schools, amenities, and commuter-friendly location.

A lot to offer

For starters, Shipley’s Choice offers resident membership (through a bond) to its four-acre swim and tennis club, where you can enjoy leisurely alone or family time. You can also participate in the club’s swim and tennis teams. This home comes with that all-important swim and tennis bond!

Children attend Shipley’s Choice Elementary, Severna Park Middle School, or Severna Park High. And although you might not realize it once home, you are very near major commuter arteries, like I-97, Rt. 2, and Rt. 100.

The property

411 Deerspring Court is a lovely two-story colonial on a landscaped and partially wooded 1/3-acre lot. It features an updated kitchen, new hardwood flooring and Berber carpet, and a two-car garage.

"View of front of house at 411 Deerspring Court in Millersville, MD on left; view of backyard on right."

Space galore

With nearly 2,700 square feet of living space, this home boasts plenty of room for family and entertainment. Nicely appointed living and family rooms are suitable for both formal and casual decor. Fireplaces add literal warmth to these already warm spaces.

"Photos of living room on left and family room on right at 411 Deerspring Court in Millersville, MD"

Add to these a 360 sq/ft basement rec room that’s both open and flexible. Media room, exercise center, office–it’s up to you!

"Basement rec room with new Berber carpet"


Wine and dine

Whether you’ve a meal for two or for twenty, the open and airy kitchen is ideal for preparing a fine or casual dining experience. This lovely kitchen features stainless steel appliance, ample cabinet space, hardwood floor and a cozy breakfast area.

"Photo of kitchen at 411 Deerspring Court in Millersville, MD"

"photo of breakfast nook and kitchen at 411 Deerspring Court in Millersville, MD"


And if you have something more traditional in mind, 411 Deerspring Court has a lovely dining room ready for personal touches.

"View of dining room at 411 Deerspring Court in Millersville, MD"

Rest and retreat

Of course, no home is complete without personal spaces that offer comfort and respite. Four inviting bedrooms suit that need quite well.

"Photos of two bedrooms at 411 Deerspring Court in Millersville, MD"

"Photo of bedroom at 411 Deerspring Court in Millersville, MD."


 Worth a visit

In the end, brief descriptions and small photographs can do little justice to this listing. Call the McDowell Team and visit 411 Deerspring Court to get a full sense of what this property holds in store for its next owner

For the full property description and additional images, visit the listing at

Copyright © 2015 The McDowell Team at Keller Williams Select Realtors

Title Insurance: a Worthy Investment?

June 11th, 2015

Title Image

If you’re a boxer or MMA fighter, a shot at a championship is a life dream. But if you’re trying to buy or sell a home, a “Title Fight” is a nightmare you least want to experience.

What could possibly go wrong?

This question ranks right up there with “I saw this in a cartoon once, but I think I can get it to work” among famous last words.

When real estate changes hands, a lot of documents change hands and transactions take place. The list of things that could go wrong is extensive. The more times a property is sold or transferred, the more opportunity for “issues” to be introduced into the mix. Often enough, the paper trail doesn’t keep up with the transactions, even for new or moderately new homes.

Improper language or incorrect names in deeds, wills, and trusts; tax liens; fraud by previous owners or non-owners; judgments; easements; missing documents; unpaid prior mortgages; public record mistakes; and third-party rights to minerals, water, timber, and the like are just a few of the many problems that can derail a seemingly smooth property purchase or sale.

What to do, what to do?

Clare Schuller, Settlement Attorney at Progressive Title in Arnold, MD, notes that “the earlier you discover problems, the easier they are to take care of. Over time, problems only compound.”

"The earlier you discover problems, the easier they are to take care of"Unfortunately, these issues often don’t come to light until after, sometimes years after, the purchase is completed. A nasty—and likely costly—surprise!

Clare adds, “Without title insurance, the homeowner is then facing standard lawyer’s fees to clear up any title problems. That’s hundreds of dollars per hour, and they’re not always easy fixes.”

What is Title Insurance?

Simply put, title insurance protects homebuyers from title-related issues after settlement, issues that existed prior to settlement.

Title companies research a property’s ownership going back 60 years in preparation for settlement. But big problems could be lying in wait in the distant past or buried deeply in a home’s convoluted history.

A homeowner armed with a title insurance policy is covered against any past-ownership issues that might come up. It’s the responsibility of the policy’s issuer to resolve it.

OK, but at what cost?

Typically, title insurance costs a few dollars for every $1,ooo of the home’s selling price. For example, coverage for a home purchase of $250,000 can cost around $800. That cost is incorporated into the closing costs at the time of settlement.

If the previous owner also had title insurance at the time of sale, the purchaser receives a discounted “Reissue Rate.” That means that the buyer could get coverage on that $250,000 home for under $500.

Purchasing a home is one of the largest, if not the largest, investments you may ever make. Knowing that you’re safe from challenges to your ownership rights—a “title fight”—could make a small investment in title insurance a truly worthy investment.


For more information

Consumer’s Guide to Title Insurance, Maryland Insurance Administration:

Progressive Title Website:


NOTE: Progressive Title Corporation is not affiliated with Keller Williams Realty, Inc.


© 2015 The McDowell Team, Keller Williams Select Realtors

Featured Listing: 12 Linstead Road

April 25th, 2015

Photo of 12 Linstead Road in Severna Park MD

The seemingly modest rancher at 12 Linstead Road in Severna Park is a master of deception. Its unassuming exterior is quaint and inviting, but it hides more and larger spaces within than seem possible from the outside. Add to that its location in a water-privileged neighborhood in a desirable community, and it’s a must-see!

 Space, space, and more space

At just under 3,ooo square feet, this lovely home offers plenty of room to stretch out. The living room alone is 22’X15′ and features a large, brick-fronted gas fireplace.

two photos of living room at 12 Linstead Road in Severna Park

On the lower level, you and your family or guests can enjoy leisurely conversation in an expansive family room. Its 360-square-foot open floor plan is great for entertaining as well. From the family room , you can access a separate 11’X13′ “Other” room that could serve as game room, office, personal gym, or any other purpose that fits your need and lifestyle.

Photo of family room at 12 Linstead Road in Severna Park

A contemporary kitchen made for a chef

You won’t lack for room to move around in the home’s beautiful, contemporary kitchen. Nor will you find a shortage of counter and storage space. Granite countertops, updated appliances, ample lighting…it’s everything your inner chef desires.

Two photos of kitchen at 12 Linstead Road in Severna Park MD

Fine dining in a fine atmosphere

The dining room at 12 Linstead Road is airy and welcoming, a perfect place to enjoy meals or chat with friends and family. Luscious wood floors and a triple-frame picture window add warmth and light to an already impressive space.


Private spaces, cozy places

With four bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths, it’s easy to find your own place for privacy or necessity. The master bedroom offers an accommodating 14’X 15′ layout, a wonderfully sizable area for rest or retreat. The other three bedrooms are only slightly smaller than the master—no closet-sized bedrooms in this home!

Photo of master bedroom at 12 Linstead Road in Severna Park MD

Two photos of secondary bedrooms at 12 Linstead Road in Severna Park MD Photo of bathroom at 12 Linstead Road in Severna Park MD

 One of the home’s three full baths

Community amenities

One of 12 Linstead Road’s many appealing qualities is its access to water privileges. Nearby are both a community pier and a community park available to the residents of the Linstead community. Linstead lies nestled between Yantz Creek on one side and Sullivan Cove on the other. At the community’s farthest end, Cedar Point reaches out into the flow of the Severn River.Enjoy a waterside view just a short stroll  to the north, south, or west.

Photo of Linstead Community Pier in Severna Park MD

Photo of Linstead Community Park in Severna Park MD


For the full property description and additional images, visit the listing at

© 2015 The McDowell Team at Keller Williams Select Realtors

Featured Listing: 4 Revell Street

April 20th, 2015

photo of 4 Revell St in Annapolis


History, beauty, elegance, a water view, and contemporary amenities. This is what awaits you at 4 Revell Street in historic Annapolis. And the shops, eateries, and watering holes of the City Dock area of old Annapolis are just a short stroll away from your front door. But don’t take my word for it. You have to see this home for yourself to truly appreciate what it has to offer.


It begins at the front door

4_Revell_PorchSeldom does any realtor begin a home description with a photo of its front porch. But it’s the perfect place  for this gorgeous charmer. Beautiful, old-world  elegance draws you in. Then you begin to imagine yourself relaxing here on a hot summer’s day, a pitcher of iced lemonade by your side.



Space for family and friends

Whether entertaining or just settling down for family time in the evening, this home provides the space you need to unwind.  In addition to a 250+ sq-ft living room and 210 sq-ft dining room, you can also retreat to the home’s sitting room (a parlor at the time of the home’s building).




Four bedrooms and character galore

100-year-old homes have far more of something than do contemporary dwellings—character. Taste trumped simplicity and speedy construction a century ago, and 4 Revell Street exemplifies that design aesthetic. Here, you aren’t boxed into perfectly rectangular rooms with a doorway and a window or two. Nowhere is this more evident than in the bedrooms.

Photo of 2 bedrooms at 4 Revell Street in Annapolis


Modern touches, too

“Historic home” does not mean “outdated home.” This Victorian beauty has plenty of modern features and conveniences. The kitchen boasts a perfect melding of tasteful modernity and traditional craftsmanship.




Let’s not forget the view

We began our quick tour at the front door, so what better place to end than at the back door. Solace and serenity—enjoy them while lazing away an afternoon on the home’s rear deck. Its spacious and open layout offers you a year-round view overlooking Spa Creek. Pass the time watching boaters ply their way up and down the waterway, turn your attention to the songbirds in the surrounding trees, or close your eyes and watch nothing at all.



And there’s more

4 Revell Street has charm and more charm. But there are many practical details not yet mentioned. Here are a few to help pique your interest even more. This home also has:

  • Over 3,000 square feet of living space in four floors
  • Three-and-a-half baths
  • Wood flooring
  • Partially finished attic
  • Built-in bookcases
  • Chair railings, crown molding, and wainscoting
  • Multiple fireplaces

For the full property description and additional images, visit the listing at


And if you’re the least bit of a romantic, here’s a photo of St. Anne’s Church looking down nearby West Street in the year this home saw its first occupants.

1910 Photo of St Anne's Church n Annapolis, MD

St. Anne’s Church as seen from West Street in Annapolis in 1910

Photo Source:’s_Church_(Annapolis,_Maryland)


© 2015 The McDowell Team at Keller Williams Select Realtors

Waterfront Property Tips: Spring Dock Preparation

April 10th, 2015

Photo of wooden dock


With the hint of spring in the air, it’s a good time to share some weather-change tips. As a realtor specializing in waterfront properties—and a boater as well—what better topic to begin with than preparing your wooden dock for boating season?

Check the structure

A good place to start prepping your dock is with the dock access. Check stairways or walkways used to access your dock. Make any repairs necessary to ensure that your trips to and from your dock are safe. Inspect the dock’s connection to the shoreline as well. Repair, replace, or reinforce as needed, using materials appropriate for this application and safe for the environment.

Now, take a look at the supporting structure. Nothing ruins the start of a great boating day than a dock collapse, not to mention possible injuries to you, your family, and your guests. Look for loose or damaged connections between your dock’s surface and the supporting posts (pylons) or floats beneath. Again, use appropriate materials to repair, replace, or reinforce the substructure.

Next, thoroughly survey the surface planking. Look for splitting, cracking, splintering, and rotting. Also look for severe warping; this can sometimes create elevated plank edges that catch toes and send you unintentionally diving into shallow water or taking a serious spill on an unforgiving dock surface. Also check nails and screws used to fasten the planking for protruding heads, rust, and corrosion. Replace damaged planking and fasteners and make other repairs as needed. (Avoid heavy sanding, however. You don’t want to pollute your waterway with sawdust and splintered wood.)

Give it a good cleaning

Even if you don’t add chemicals, pressure washing is not necessarily a good way to clean your dock. While a pressure washer, using water alone, may nicely remove surface dirt, it might also wash loose wood splinters, hardware, and other debris into the water. Unfortunately, that means scrub brush and hose for the conscientious.

You want to enjoy and protect your waterway, so avoid chemical cleaners. There are alternatives friendlier to the environment. A three-to-one mixture of olive oil and white vinegar cleans stains and salts fairly well. Baking soda-water paste can help with oil stains. Scrub it on, let it dry, and rinse it off. Baking soda is also handy for cleaning metal parts.

Low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) cleaners may be approved for your location as well. Ecosystems are delicate, so be sure to do your homework for suitability before going the way of chemicals.

Preserve the wood

Just as you make every effort to help preserve the natural beauty and ecosystem of your waterway, you should likewise think “preservation” when it comes to your dock. Taking preservation steps not only reduces precious boating time lost to major dock rehab or reconstruction, it also minimizes damage to the waterway caused by dock deterioration.

According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), “Painting or staining do not appear to add any life expectancy to the materials and cleaning with sea or lake water is as effective as the use of soaps or solvents.”[i] In fact, most states prohibit using wood that is painted, stained, or treated with material harmful to water quality in dock applications.

So what can you do? You could leave the wood all-natural. A well-maintained wood dock can last a long, long time. But let’s say you really want to do something to make your dock’s wood more water-resistant. You also have the option to find out (more homework) if low-VOC sealants are available and approved for your location. They are specifically for dock application and contain no chemicals or oils that could harm your waterway.

Climb aboard

Your dock is the gateway to your watery paradise. Making sure it is safe for both boaters and the environment is a labor of love. The time you spend keeping it in prime condition will lead to far more hours in the water—where you want to be!


[1] “Management of Small Docks and Piers: Best Practices,” NOAA, available online at


Other Resources:

“Wood Boat Dock Maintenance,”, available online at                  

“Dock Maintenance,”, available online at                                       


© 2015 The McDowell Team at Keller Williams Select Realtors

What Might 2015 Hold for the Housing Market?

March 26th, 2015



Like weather forecasts, projections made for any market have to be taken with a grain of salt. But some predictions made for the housing market in 2015 come from credible sources, backed by sound reasoning.

While these prognosticators may not agree 100% on the numbers, they do share several key ideas.

Mortgage interest rates will rise

Of course, economists made this same prediction for 2014. Instead, interest rates dropped from 4.42% to under 4.0% for the year. What makes this year different? With the Federal Reserve indicating the end of rate “easing” since the recession, it’s a good bet that we can expect a fund rate hike. Mortgage rates will likely follow.

Frank Nofthat of Freddie Mac looks to see interest rates average around 4.5%, while the Mortgage Bankers Association expects a less conservative average of 5.0% for 2015. The rise in interest rates is a natural by-product of an improving economy and employment growth.

Millennials become the largest group of homebuyers

With this year, the torch of leading home purchasers passes from Gen-Xers to the Millennials, according to Stan Humphries at Zillow. Their “lack of home-buying activity” thus far is the result of delayed marriage and parenthood rather than lack of interest in buying a home, according to Humphries.

The leading edge of the Millennials is heading into their mid-thirties. Jonathan Smoke at expects over two-thirds of household growth in the next five years to come from this generation.

Home price increases will slow

“Easing housing inventory levels and the exit of investors from the market” will be key to much lower housing price gains in 2015, says a Forbes article from December. During the early period of economic recovery, real estate investors accounted for a large portion of home sales. But that rapid-recovery period is over. We are, as Forbes claims, moving “into a new normal.”

Estimates of the 2015 housing price increase vary between 2.5% and 5%.

Foreclosures will fall back to normal levels

As 2014 came to an end, expected the 2014 foreclosure inventories to be over 30% lower than in 2013. This is a good sign that the foreclosure crisis that resulted from the collapse of the housing bubble in 2007-2008 is reaching its end. Short sale numbers are dwindling as well.

Rent increases will likely reign

In fact, Zillow’s Humphries sees rent increasing by 3.5%, as opposed to the 2.5% increase he predicts in home values.

There are several reasons for this. First, this year probably won’t see an end to tighter loan qualification restrictions. This makes obtaining mortgages more difficult for prospective homebuyers, particularly those among the Millennials. Add to that the fact that many potential home purchasers in this group still need to save up a down payment.

The result is that the demand for rental property/apartments continues to outpace the demand for single-family homeownership, at least for a while.

Things will change

We’ve all heard it: “The only thing constant is change.”

Predictions are based on assumptions and ever-shifting trends. Lots of factors can have a direct or indirect effect on the housing market in 2015.

A change in federal housing policy that eased lending restrictions could certainly change the market’s direction. So could better-than-expected job and income growth. Even a healthier public perception of the health of the economy can shift activity.

Given ongoing rent increases and a better housing outlook for 2015, making a home purchase may once again seem like the best option. A few more change factors, like relaxed loan restrictions, might make this almost inevitable.


© 2015, The McDowell Team at Keller Williams Select Realtors


For more information, see:, “Housing Outlook 2015: 11 Predictions From The Experts”:, December 18, 2014, “5 Housing Market Predictions for 2015”:, December 4, 2014, “Older Millennials Are the Rock Stars of Real Estate”:, March 20, 2015, “Rising Rents Are Finally Forcing Millennials to Buy Houses”:, March 25, 2015, “Real Estate Recovery in U.S. Uneven as Housing Starts Fall”:, December 16, 2014

Featured Listing: 411 Bethian Trail

March 23rd, 2015

This beautifully appointed home offers a touch of both elegance and retreat within one of the most vibrant and sought-after communities in Anne Arundel County. Nested comfortably at the end of a cul-de-sac, 411 Bethian Trail is mere minutes from all that the Severna Park-Arnold-Annapolis corridor has to offer. From fine dining to shopping to blue-ribbon schools, the location is ideal for a family on the go. And at the close of a busy day, return home for a measure of solace and escape.

Photo of 411 Bethian Trail

Gourmet Kitchen

Photo of KitchenGranite countertops, stainless steel appliances, beautiful cabinetry, and island cooktop. This kitchen awaits the master chef or family cook who can appreciate its capabilities and convenience.





Photo of Kitchen 2Open access to the dining area and sun room makes it perfect for entertaining and for casual family dining.






Open and Spacious Living

An open floor plan with spacious living areas offers your family and your guests a wonderful setting for relaxation and interaction.

Photo of Sun Room

Whether a celebratory gathering of friends or a casual popcorn-and-movie night for the family, the rooms make for comfort and easy access.

Photo of Family Room


Beds and Baths Galore

Photo of BedroomOf course, space should not be limited to the common areas. Five bedrooms and four-and-a-half baths await you on Bethian Trail.  From the expansive 16’ by 14’ master bedroom to a 14’ by 12’ fifth bedroom ideal for an office or game room on the first floor, you have plenty of options for creating your perfect living space.



Photo of BathroomWith four full baths, there’s no competition and mid-room collisions in the rush to begin your day.







Finishing Touches

411 Bethian Trail rests on nearly a half-acre of landscaped property. Its attached two-car garage and driveway makes for plenty of off-street parking. And at the end of a busy day from fall to early spring, you can retreat from the world and relax by the light and warmth of your fireplace.

Photo of family room/den with fireplace



For more about this property, visit:


Choosing a Painter: a Stroke of Genius

March 12th, 2015

Photo of paint cans and painting suppliesIf you’re like a lot of people, the thought of painting around the house elicits as much enthusiasm as stubbing your toe against a chair leg. Or, you may enjoy the idea of painting, but you’re not sure you have the skill and patience to get the job done right. What you’re left with is the daunting task of contracting a painter who can do it properly—at a reasonable price. Here are a few tips to help you through the process:

What are you looking for?

You may know a guy who knows a guy who does house painting on the cheap. But this isn’t necessarily the best route to take when talking about what is possibly your biggest investment—your home. So what is it you’re really looking for?

First of all, “cheap” is not the biggest factor in hiring any contractor, including a painter. Better questions to ask are:

  • Is the painter licensed?
  • Is the company insured?
  • Do I need or want a bonded contractor?
  • What’s this contractor’s reputation?
  • How soon can the painter start and finish?

Then perhaps you ask the question, “Is this painter affordable?” or “How does this painter’s pricing compare with other comparable painters?”

The guy who is known by a guy who knows a guy might be able to get the job done. But what if there are problems? Chances are, they’re your problems alone once the rollers are packed up.

Start with your realtor

If you’ve recently purchased your home or are preparing to sell, you have a ready resource right at your fingertips. Your real estate agent is an excellent resource when looking for a painter, plumber, electrician, general contractor, and the like.

Realtors work with contract professionals all the time. They have built a network of licensed contractors who do the job right and are reasonably priced. And of course, these contractors appreciate the business and referrals, so they are typically responsive to any issues that might come up on a project.

Seek word-of-mouth referrals

Not buying or selling a home? Don’t know a realtor? One of the best sources of information on contractors is word-of-mouth referrals. Ask friends, neighbors, family, coworkers…. Neighbors are often good starting points, because anyone they might recommend likely works in your area. Who have they used and what was their experience? Is their contractor licensed, insured, etc.? Once you have a starting list, you can dig a little further.

Look around

We often fail to see what’s around us in our whirlwind lives, but start keeping your eyes open. Are there paint contractor yard signs or contractor vehicles parked in front of homes in your neighborhood? Take note of the names and phone numbers. If licensed, that information should appear on both. If you see the same contractor at different homes in the neighborhood, that’s makes for a good candidate. You may even feel comfortable enough to knock on the door and ask for a business card.

Use online resources

Most of us tend to begin any search online. While an online search can be helpful—and fast—it may not be the best place to start looking for a painter. You will no doubt get lots of “hits,” but how relevant those hits are isn’t guaranteed, nor will they tell you much beyond superficial details. [hint: When searching for contractors online, be sure to include your county or city and state in your search terms to return better results.]

You may also opt to use an online rating and referral site (There are many, including and, to name two well known sites.).

Trim the list

With even a little effort, you can have an extensive list of paint contractors amassed in no time. But before you begin to feel overwhelmed, take just a few more minutes to pare down your list. Look for differences between the contractors, things that make one contractor more appealing to you than another. Your final list should have no more than three to five candidates on it.

Make the call

If you’ve done your homework, you’ve got a short-list of painters to contact. Give them a call. Ask them any open questions you may have, and if they answer to your satisfaction, set up an appointment to get an estimate.

Estimates in hand, you can make a sound decision about who will provide the best work for a price that works for you.

Rent or Buy: Making the Right Decision

March 3rd, 2015

Street signs show "Rentt" in one direction and "Buy" in anotherRent or buy? It’s a question that everyone in the market for housing faces at some point. For years in the not-too-distant past, many would shoot down the idea of home ownership with a quick, “I can’t afford a mortgage.” With mortgage interest rates continuing to hover under 4%, however, the choice deserves more consideration.

Let’s Talk Numbers

To compare apples with apples, we need a few numbers.

Apartment rentals in Anne Arundel County can fall anywhere between $900 and $1,500 a month. For our purposes, we’ll pick a number in the middle, say $1,200.

Current home rental listings in the Magothy River area of Anne Arundel County run about $2,100 per month. That’s for a home with 3 to 4 bedrooms and 2 to 3 full baths.

The base monthly mortgage for a $312,500 home at 3.85% interest on a 30-year fixed loan with 20% down is $1,172 (Your loan is for $250,000.).[1]

Of course, there are additional expenses associated with both rental and home ownership.

For the apartment and rental home dweller, there is renter’s insurance. There may also be additional fees for community amenities, such as pool membership and parking. Not all apartments include utilities in the rent, nor do all rental homes. If you have pets, there is likely a fee for that as well. In addition, some apartment communities now waive the traditional refundable deposit for a non-refundable “move-in fee.” It’s best to uncover all the additional expenses of rental when choosing to rent or buy.

The potential homeowner also has additional costs to consider. Homeowner’s insurance is one of them. It’s a modest portion of the home’s value. A home purchaser will face the ongoing costs of utilities, home maintenance, and lawn and garden care. But, unlike the renter, a homeowner enjoys both tax benefits and accrued home equity.

An Investor’s View

“My home is an investment.” We’ve all heard that, and it’s true. Owning a home is an investment in money and time. And like a retirement savings account, it works best as a long-term investment. Despite recent ups and downs, home values have historically risen year over year.

On the other hand, you may find a suitable rental that is hundreds of dollars in total monthly cost below that of a mortgage payment in the same market. You could make the case for investing those savings in an IRA or other investment vehicle. But that, too, requires discipline and commitment. Without them, the opportunity might be squandered on dinners out and lattes.

Beyond the Numbers

So you’ve crunched some numbers. Before reaching out to a real estate agent, rental manager, or mortgage lender, consider the non-financial factors. There are a few.

What are your long-term goals? If you plan on staying in the same area for at least five to seven years, that’s a plus for home ownership. That will allow time to smooth over any ups and downs in the real estate market. If the need for short-term mobility is a factor, rental is a better option. Family, marriage, career—they’re all considerations.

And then there’s the question of preference. For many, owning a home is a goal, a dream, in and of itself. It provides a sense of security, substance, and stability. In the final analysis, with all things being relatively equal, the choice between renting and buying may come down to one question: Am I ready to buy a home?


[1] Monthly Mortgage Payment Calculator, The McDowell Team, Keller Williams Realty: