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5 Small (and cheap) Fixes to Update Your Home’s Appeal

Even if you’re not thinking about selling, these tips make for a healthier, happier home

Here’s the dirt. Sometimes we have to be brutally honest with homeowners: please clean your house. We understand that life gets busy and chores can slip away from you. But seriously? Nobody wants to smell your precious pets or see a dirty kitty litter box. Channel your inner Marie Kondo and get rid of the clutter; vacuum, mop, dust, and scrub every surface in your home routinely. If you’re not up to it, hire a professional.

Enter your home through the front entrance. Most of us exit and enter our homes through the garage, rarely using the front door. Change it up. Pretend you’re a guest coming to your house. What do you see? A bird’s nest in the front porch light fixture? A grimy door handle? It doesn’t take much to trim borders, clear pathways and cutback overgrown bushes. Spruce up the entrance with a fresh welcome mat and new house numbers. Check out Pinterest or Etsy for inspiration.

Does your kitchen feel DATED? You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to update your kitchen. Here a couple quick fixes:

  • Freshen up the hardware. Nothing says dated more than tired hardware. Simply changing out the cabinet pulls and knobs can bring them forward a couple of decades. Find something modern and go for it.
  • Tone down that honey oak. Changing the paint in your kitchen can help. Honey oak cabinets will look the best when paired with warm tones of creams. To lighten the oak, use liming wax (as shown in these before/after photos). Or, apply a small amount of Minwax® Express Color™ Wiping Stain & Finish directly onto the wood surface. For a deeper color and sheen, wait one hour, and then apply second coat. Wait overnight before subjecting the wood to normal use.

Good lighting changes everything. Whether indoors or out, good lighting can make all the difference. Lighting a space can change the feel of the room, can help set a mood, and even affect the way the paint colors appear. Start by replacing all those burned out bulbs. Then check out Amazon, Target and Lowe’s for budget-friendly ways to make your home shine.

Just fix it. Look around the house and make a list of all those minor repairs that are both annoying and can lead to serious second thoughts for buyers. That leaky faucet; the melted knob on your gas range; the loose light fixture; the rust stain the guest bath. These are easy fixes—and won’t cost anything but your time.

Easy Home Improvements: Under 2 Hours!

Part 2

By Kelly Murray, REALTOR®

In our last blog, we featured several home maintenance tips to get your home ready for summer. Part 2 of our series highlights some of the most commonly neglected, but easy to perform maintenance tasks – particularly in light of Bloomington’s very wet June.  As Realtors, we see our share of home condition problems that, with just a little effort can keep your home healthy longer and avoid costly future repairs.

1. Inspect your attic and basement. Now is a good time to look for signs of dampness, mildew, leaks, holes in the roof, and pests. If you find any surprises and need professional help, call us for a trusted referral to a local service provider.

2. You clean your bathroom and shower, but what about that plastic shower curtain liner? At the very least, every three months toss it in the washing machine with a couple of towels; add the regular amount of detergent and ½ to 1 cup of baking soda, and wash in warm or hot water. At the rinse cycle, add ½ to 1 cup of distilled white vinegar. If you see mildew on the liner, add a cup of bleach to the wash water. Hang it back up in the shower to drip dry.

3. Paint your soffits. Paint fades and breaks down over time, exposing bare wood to moisture, insects, and sun damage. Unless your soffits and fascia trim are made of aluminum, you should power wash and paint every three years to prevent the wood from rotting.

You can easily do the work yourself and save money.

4. De-cluttering and cleaning top the list of home-improvement tasks Realtors® recommend to their clients, according to National Association of Realtors 2019 research. It’s especially important if you’re selling your home. De-cluttering means clearing your counters and tidying up open shelving; hiding garbage cans and pet litter; organizing coat closets, pantry and fridges; making sure toilets are clean and the lids down; and wiping off fingerprints and streaks on stainless steel appliances, which are often overlooked details.

Three quick and easy curb appeal enhancers

  • Update your front door address and hardware (doorknobs and door knockers). When thoughtfully selected, they give the exterior of your house a certain flair, setting your home apart from the rest.
  • Replace Your Mailbox: It’s all about the details, so if your mailbox looks like it’s going to topple over or is rusty, it might be time to bring a new one in. Don’t underestimate the impact of little details like replacing your mailbox and swapping out tired old street numbers for something fresh and modern.
  • Add lighting along pathways and porch entrances for a touch of elegance. Solar lights are affordable and easy to install and maintain.

It’s all about the light

By Trish Sterling

I love my office space. It’s everything I had hoped it would be – it’s professional and practical, bright and fresh.  So many clients, friends and associates have complimented me on the space that I thought I’d share a little background about the design.

Just like the TV design shows, I started with an inspiration: an industrial light fixture my dad gave me that hung in his shop. He was a commercial electrical contractor in our hometown of Phoenix, AZ. He’s been gone for 30 years, but I think of him as my muse.

We moved in to 509 E. Hillside Drive #101 five years ago.  After consulting with an interior designer, I felt confident enough to move ahead with what I’d envisioned.  I was on a tight budget and had to be creative.

The color scheme was easy – I chose variations of the green from the thistle in my logo (another nod to my dad and our Scottish heritage), and bright white. I have lived long enough to know that my personal aesthetic (a word I learned on “Project Runway”) is anchored in all things modern.  The industrial theme was carried throughout the space, including the exposed ceilings and grey metal garage lockers and cabinets we transformed into a kitchenette.

I chose carpet tiles, knowing that they were durable and easy to install maintain. I bought local when I could, and bought everything else for my office online: carpet, desks, conference table, chairs, light fixtures. I returned a lot of things, too. Oops.

We more than doubled the space in late 2018 in anticipation of the company’s expansion.  I knew I could easily continue the same look and feel in the adjacent space.  I worked with the contractor, Chad Casey, owner of Casey Construction Group.  We created a large opening to adjacent space and he tracked down glass sliding doors (barn doors) that would keep the space open and let the light in.

About the Art

I love and need to be surrounded by art.  I wanted the space to feel more like a gallery than a typical office. Most of the original art in our office was created by talented clients, family and friends or purchased from the Stone Belt Art Studio – including a large multi-media piece in our reception area.

Next time you’re in the neighborhood, stop in and say hi.

Navigating the Mortgage Maze

By Sally Baird, REALTOR

As a REALTOR, I’m often asked questions about mortgages. I contacted a few mortgage professionals here in the Bloomington area who were gracious enough to answer a few of the most common questions I hear from home buyers.

There are many different types of loan programs to choose from. Establishing a relationship with a quality loan officer is the first step in finding the best programs available for you. Here’s a brief summary of the answers to all my questions.

You can read the unabridged version here Mortgage Maze APRIL 2019.FINAL.

  • Mortgages for professionals: Old National Bank’s Kevin Cade explains the highly attractive mortgages for professionals – including physicians, dentists, optometrists and college professors with very favorable terms.
  • Rehab loans: Buyers who are willing to purchase a fixer-upper may qualify for German American Bank’s renovation and purchase loan, explained by Heather Bozarth.
  • New home construction loans: If you want to build your dream home, read more about Old National Bank’s onetime closing construction loan that gives you 12 months to complete construction before your loan converts to monthly payments on your terms.
  • Popular loans: Kathy Bowman of Ruoff Home Mortgage highlights three types of mortgages that are popular with home buyers today, including traditional 20% down loans, as well as Low Down Payment and Zero Down Payment loans. She also shares her views on how mortgage lenders are different than bank lenders
  • Prevent loan application delays: What you can do to Heather Bozarth, with German American Bank, describes the biggest snags in the loan approval process that buyers can avoid.
  • Engage with a lender early: Finally, even if you know you’re not quite ready to buy a new home, Juli Harding, with Bailey and Wood Financial Group, explains why meeting with a lender early can make all the difference in realizing your goal of a home purchase – at the best terms possible.

Our TOP 10 Favorite Things To Do In (and around) BLOOMINGTON This SUMMER

We got together to share our favorite things to do and summer traditions. We hope you can escape the rat race this summer and enjoy all that Bloomington has to offer. You’ll find links to all our favorites below. For more ideas, check out VisitBloomington. Have a safe and happy summer!

Get wet!

Walk on the wild side!

Dine on the patio!

Carve Indiana limestone!

  • Celebrating its 26th year, the annual Indiana Limestone Symposium takes place in Ellettsville on the grounds of the Bybee Stone Company the Bybee, June 5th through June 25th, 2022. Don’t miss it! Carve or watch others carve our state’s most spectacular natural resource. And watch for other limestone carving events at Karst Farm Park

Do Brunch!

Visit Brown County!

  • Hard Truth Distillery, nestled on 325 acres of wooded hills in scenic Brown County, Indiana. Enjoy tours, tastings, mixology classes, on-site dining, live music, special events and festivals
  • Don’t miss TC Steele Park


Park on!

Entertainment all summer long Concerts, Movies, and Plays sponsored by Bloomington Parks & Rec

Celebrate Independence Day!

  • 9 a.m. Bloomington Community Band on the Courthouse Square
  • 10 a.m. Fourth of July Parade
  • For July celebrations across Monroe County, visit Fireworks Festivities!

End your summer with ART!

  • Enjoy the annual 4th Street Festival September 3-4,on 4th Street, between Grant Street and Indiana Avenue


Season-Changing Home Maintenance Tips


As Realtors, we often see minor home condition problems that, if left unchecked, end up costing homeowners a fortune to repair. Part 1 of our two-part series highlights some of the most commonly neglected, but easy to do maintenance tasks.  With summer fast approaching here are 4 things you’ll want to do to keep your home happy and healthy.

Check and power wash your deck: After an unusually wet Bloomington spring, you need to schedule time to power wash your deck, patio space and fences. As dirt and mildew accumulate over the winter, you need the heat of summer to be able to maintain it. If you wait until the fall, you’ll run out of good weather.First, check your deck thoroughly to ensure there’s no damage or rotting.  Also, check if it needs to be re-sealed. If you don’t own the right equipment, consider sharing the cost to rent professional quality equipment with a friend or family member to get the job done right.  MacAllister Rentals in Bloomington is a great source.

Clean out your dryer vent: Aside from an increased risk of fire, a clogged vent can cause a ‘laundry list’ of problems including mold growth,. If you don’t want to tackle this job yourself, hire a professional. We found two local companies that can help: Jenson Brothers and Dryer Vent Wizard of Bloomington

Bathroom drains and calking: Nobody likes to clean drains, but the cost down the road can be  significant if not attended to. Just pull out the drain mechanism and, if necessary, clean it with a drain stick. Then pour some bleach down the drain and flush with water.  As for caulking, make this a routine home maintenance priority. Inexpensive caulking can prevent costly avoidable leaks and damage in and around tubs, showers, and vanities. Bloomington Hardware offers a link to True Value’s online Project Library you can explore to learn more about home maintenance.

Check and clean your gutters: You may not realize that something small – like a clogged gutter – could have a big impact on your home. Unfortunately, they can wreak havoc on your home – causing foundation damage, mold and basement flooding. Stagnant water can cause damage to the fascia boards behind the gutters and the shingles of your roof.

Bonus Idea

We love this idea! Every year the Arden Place Neighborhood Association in Bloomington hosts an Annual Spring Clean Up. They rent a dumpster for a weekend and a chipper for a few hours. There’s an exchange of reusable items, and brush and tree limbs collected from residents’ yards supply wood chips for neighborhood gardens. It’s a great way to get to know your neighbors and clean up for the season

Systematize maintenance for a healthy home

Systematize maintenance for a healthy home

By Sally Baird

Like a regular health check-up, a home maintenance schedule is important for every house’s upkeep. Our homes are one of our most valuable assets. Maintaining a safe and healthy home is essential to protecting your home’s value and will help keep little problems from turning into bigger ones later.

Here in Southern Indiana, we deal with a lot of seasonal challenges—from frozen pipes and clogged gutters to flooding and mold—that need constant oversight.

Let technology be your friend

There is an abundance of digital tools and apps to make home maintenance tasks less onerous. Each can customize your schedule and send you reminders when it’s time to take action—whether you do the work yourself or hire it out.

  • Wired magazine calls BrightNest the “LifeHacker for your home.” It helps you customize task lists, set up alerts and much more, including DIY instructions for various home maintenance tasks:
  • The free HomeZada app is more than adequate for most homeowners’ needs. Easily track your maintenance calendar and manage small repairs and large home projects:
  • The Centriq app offers a lot of unique features that streamline home maintenance for homeowners:

You may prefer a paper calendar, an Excel spreadsheet or a Google doc; no matter what system you use to create a maintenance schedule, it will help you stay on top of home maintenance and avoid the costly repairs that might occur as a result neglect.

Do you have a favorite home maintenance organizer you’d like to share?

The growing appeal of THE HOME OFFICE

Life and work in the COVID-19 era

The trend of working from home was already in motion even before the pandemic forced many organizations to impose work-from-home policies. This new reality got us thinking about our working arrangements.

Buyers increasingly list home office among their must-haves

For some people, working from home is a regular practice. But for many, it’s a new way of working — and presents new challenges. The year 2020 will be remembered as a watershed moment for telecommuters. But home offices aren’t just for those who work from home. Technology has made all of us more mobile and younger buyers, in particular, have more options than ever to work from  home.

Invest in the things that matter suggests you need a comfortable chair; a desk you can spread out at; and the technology that will help you do the best job possible. Storage is also a must for a well-designed home office. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in this space, so it’s important that it is as functional as possible.

Should sellers stage an extra bedroom as a home office?

Ten years ago, home offices were more of a luxury home feature than a necessity. But as more careers are compatible with telecommuting, things have changed. Here are a few office-staging ideas to consider:

  • Choose an appropriate location in your home that makes sense; buyers want a dedicated space with quick access to the front door.
  • Remove all the clutter and keep only the essentials: desk, chair, lamp, bookshelf, and potentially an area rug.
  • Choose practical design features, e.g., calming paint colors, stylish organizers, appropriate furniture.

Reach out if you’re in the market for a new place to call home or have questions about making your home office more appealing.


The ins and outs of escalation clauses

Home buyers are struggling in today’s extremely competitive housing market that is experiencing a historically low supply of homes on the market. To make their offers more appealing to sellers, buyers are getting creative—making all-cash offers, submitting offers above asking price, or forgoing contingencies. They are also using escalation clauses in multiple offer situations.

What is an escalation clause?

An escalation clause is a valuable home-buyer’s tool. It stipulates that you will automatically increase your offer on a property by a certain amount. If a competing offer is received, the clause lets you increase your offer up to a predetermined limit. They can be extremely helpful, but there also are risks to consider.

The challenges

For buyers: The biggest downside of an escalation clause is that it forces you to lay your cards on the table right from the beginning. That could hurt your chances of negotiating a better deal. Another drawback is that top offers can exceed the home’s appraised value—you may not be able to get financing at the higher price. Waiving an inspection can be risky, but there are situations where it makes sense.

4.4 offers   A June 2021 Confidence Survey by the National Association of Realtors shows that sellers received an average of 4.4 offers per home sold

For sellers: You risk selling at a lower price by simply waiting for other offers or asking for a buyer’s best and final offer. Unfortunately, some sellers/agents use the escalation clause to drive up the price—even if they don’t receive an escalating offer.

The solution

At Sterling Real Estate, Inc., we capitalize on a variety of strategies to protect both our home-buying and -selling clients. In all cases, integrity is paramount. We also rely heavily on the relationships we’ve fostered over years with our colleagues. Before recommending an escalation clause, we gather as much information as we can about the property and the seller’s ideal terms. Maybe price isn’t as important as keeping possession after closing for a few days, or delaying a closing. We consider what number might sway a seller’s decision to take a chance on a buyer with a loan versus a cash buyer. If all other terms and contingencies are favorable to the seller, a buyer with a loan may have a chance competing with a cash offer and a strong escalation.

As Realtors® we hold ourselves to the highest standard as professional fiduciaries, guided by principles, responsibilities, and rules of conduct. Properly represented, you can expect to sell for more, buy for less, and avoid intensely consequential mistakes. We would be honored to accompany you on your first or next real estate journey.

Winter Home Maintenance 101

We put our heads together to come up with our list of:  8 season-changing reminders

  1. Heading out of town? If you hate surprises, don’t turn your heat off!  We also recommend that you leave cabinet doors below and above sinks open a bit so warmer air can circulate.  Let cold water drip from a faucet served by exposed pipes –even at a trickle –to prevent pipes from freezing.
  2. Your Gutters: We can’t stress this one enough – all year ‘round, but especially during the winter months.  Keeping your gutters clean will prevent icicles and ice dams from forming and finding their way underneath your shingles or leaking into your living space below.
  3. UNPLUG your hoses and cover your outdoor faucet: One of us actually warned neighbors recently, but forgot her own until it was almost too late. Outdoor pipes and faucets are vulnerable to freezing during winter months due to increased water pressure, resulting in expensive water damage and repair costs.
  4. If your crawl space is vented: Now would be a good time to close the vent if you haven’t already.
  5. Own a vacant property? Don’t forget to winterize it, too. Start by emptying all the water from your pipes   
  6. Drafty? Sometimes older doors and windows are to blame for losing precious heat. Draft guards for doors and window insulation kits are inexpensive but worthwhile. Check with your local hardware store.
  7. Change your filters: Have you had your furnace serviced? Now would be a good time for that – and you can change your filters at the same time if you haven’t done so already.
  8. Clean out your dryer vent: Clothes dryers cause 2,900 fires a year, with many fires happening in the fall and winter, according to the United States Fire Administration. Lint is a major culprit, so have your dryer vent inspected and cleaned annually by an HVAC specialist who specializes in ductwork or dryer vents.

Contact us if you need a handyman or contractor to help you winterize your home.

During this season of gratitude, we’re very thankful for all of you.

Trish, Heather, Sally, Kelly and Neville