Ten Tips for a Successful Garage Sale

Ten Tips for a Successful Garage Sale

Ten Tips for a Successful Garage Sale

When preparing to sell your home, you’ll probably need to do some decluttering and cleaning out.  If you’re using the Sell-Donate-Trash approach, you’ll likely end up needing to host a garage sale.  Enter my fantastic friend and Garage Sale Queen Jillan.  If  garage sale-ing was an Olympic sport, she would take the gold.  She attends garage sales almost every weekend, and hosts her own several times a year.   I’m admittedly a garage sale amateur, so when it came time to hold one myself I gave her a call.  Here are Jillan’s top ten tips for holding a great garage sale:

  1. BEST TIME – Saturday is hands -down the best day for garage sales.  Sunday sales typically have a lower attendance, so make sure you advertise a little more if that’s the only day you can do it.  Plan to start early, say 7am, and go until at least 1pm.  And if you can combine with friends or neighbors, even better!  Multi-family sales are a big draw.
  2. CRAIGSLIST AD – Post to Craigslist the night before the sale, and then again the next morning.  You might need two different email addresses to do this.  If selling any of the following hot ticket items, be sure to mention them in your post:  furniture, electronics, tools, gardening supplies, craft supplies, and anything unique that might attract buyers.  And if applicable, work the multi-family angle too!
  3. DIRECTIONAL SIGNS – Jillan’s tried-and-true method for signs is seen in the photo.  Cut giant arrows out of neon poster board.  Write the day and location/address of your garage sale on the arrows, and tape to the side of a box with clear packing tape.  Place the boxes around your neighborhood, making sure to hit a few main thoroughfares.  Place a heavy rock in the box to keep them from blowing away.  Put the signs out at 6am — don’t bother with the night before, as they may not be there in the morning.  (Remember to pick up the boxes at the end of the day!)
  4. PRICING – Your best best is to price low and sell a higher volume.  If the goal is to get rid of things, why get hung up on the price?  Everything should be priced at least 50% or less of the retail price.  Example:  If you could buy it new at the discount store for $10, price it at $5 and take $3 for it.  DVD’s are usually $1 and CD’s are 50 cents.  (You can put these items in a bin.)  Clothes are typically sold for $1 or less.
  5. NEGOTIATIONS – Haggling is part of the fun, so be ready for it!  Think about the least you’d take for each item in advance, and price it a little higher to allow for negotiation.
  6. DISPLAY – People generally won’t dig through boxes, so set everything out on tables.  You can borrow folding tables from neighbors, or even use sawhorses with a sheet of plywood across the top.  Any elevated flat surface will work.  Also, make sure you’ve individually labeled larger items with the price.  For smaller items, you can group them — have a $1 table, a $3 table, and so on.
  7. CASH – Expect to see a lot of $20 bills fresh from the ATM.  In order to make change, get $50 in 1’s and $100 in 5’s and 10’s.  Remember to do this the day before!
  8. FILL-A-BAGGIE – Don’t bother pricing things for less than 25 cents.  Instead, put all of those items on a table with a box of small zip-top bags.  Folks can then fill up a bag with any items from the table and pay a set price.
  9. DEAL KILLERS – Don’t say, “Well, I paid X amount for it.”  It doesn’t help your cause.
  10. LEFTOVERS – At the end of the day you can either load all the leftovers into your car and donate them to the nearest charity, or post an ad for “Free Garage Sale Leftovers” on Craigslist.  If you post an ad, you’ll want to take it down as soon as everything is gone (which will be shockingly fast) in order to avoid having folks knock on your door for the rest of the day!

BONUS TIP:  Rain can be good or bad.  If all the other garage sales close up shop, yours might become the hottest game in town!  If there’s a chance of rain, be prepared to move items into the garage or cover with tarps.

Thanks to Jillan for these great garage sale tips.  If your house is feeling a little overcrowded, maybe it’s time to move up?  Give me a call to talk about your options!

For more seller tips visit www.KTAustinHomes.com

5 Reasons to Use Native and Adapted Plants in Your Austin Landscape

Native plants in full bloom at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Native plants in full bloom at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I love spring because it’s prime gardening season.  My Dad has had a backyard vegetable garden for as long as I can remember.  Growing up it was a family affair, and a fun one too!  I have a vivid memory of all four of us among the rows, picking green beans off the little bushes.   Nowadays I get really excited about landscaping at my home.  I use a majority of native and adapted plants, and continually sing their praises.  Here are 5 reasons why I love using native and adapted plants:

  1. Because the plants are from here (native) or do well here (adapted), they require fewer additional resources.  This means less need for pesticides, fertilizing, etc.  They’ll thrive with a lot less effort, and I’m all for that!
  2. They require less supplemental watering once established.  And xeric (desert) plants require almost none!  With our growing population, the need to conserve is very real, and using native and adapted plants allows us save our water for drinking.
  3. They are both beautiful AND tough.  These plants are used to hot temperatures, and won’t die on the first 100 degree day.  You can still have pretty flowering plants without having to baby them constantly.
  4. Native plants support the local ecosystem.  Birds and insects need food and shelter, and planting native varieties helps to ensure the health and survival of our native species.  As a bonus for providing food and habitat, you’ll get to watch them!
  5. They cost less in the long run.

Choosing plants appropriate for your local conditions is a win-win.  In Austin, the Grow Green Guide is a great plant list for our area.  Most of these plants are readily available at home improvement stores or local nurseries.  To purchase some of the more unique varieties of native plants, check out the plant sale at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.   They hold the sale twice a year — in April and October.  Pro tip:  Get there early if you can, be prepared to park a gazillion miles away, and bring a small wagon/garden cart if you have one.  And the chocolate daisies always sell out fast!

Sprucing up the house to sell and working on curb appeal?  That’s a perfect time to use native and adapted plants.  They’ll look great with less effort, leaving you more time for packing.   If you need plant suggestions, give me a call and I’ll share my list of favorites!


Register Your Pet’s Microchip When Moving

Register Pet Microchip

She’s cute, sure, but terrible at packing!

Moving involves a gazillion peripheral tasks.  Change of address forms, updating records with every financial institution on the planet, etc.  Working through the list, it’s easy to forget about some of the seemingly less urgent matters.  When we moved last month, we didn’t even think about updating our pet records until we’d already been in the new house for eight weeks.  I can’t imagine how worried I’d have been if one of our sweet gray kitties had escaped during that time.  (When I say sweet, I obviously mean crazy insane.  And yes, I adore them and would be heartbroken if they were lost!)

Whether you’ve recently moved like us, or have changed your phone number, it’s important to remember your furry family members.  Having an up-to-date ID tag could make the difference in keeping them safe and getting them home.  And don’t forget about microchips!  If your pet’s microchip isn’t registered with current contact information, it’s useless.  Take a few minutes to register or update your pet’s microchip information via your veterinarian or one of the online registries.  We use the FoundAnimals free microchip registry.  All you need is your pet’s microchip number and brand to get started.  If you don’t know the brand, you can look it up here, and if you don’t know the number you can ask your Vet to scan it for you.

The first few weeks in a new place can be unsettling for our furry friends.  On moving day, doors are left open as furniture and boxes are moved in, increasing the chances of your pet accidentally getting out.  In the weeks that follow, they are experiencing lots of new sights, sounds, and smells — some of which might scare them into running off.  Take a few minutes to protect your pets by updating ID tags and registering their microchips.

Need a recommendation for a great veterinarian or mobile groomer?  Kitty condos or doggy daycare?  I’ve got ya covered – just ask!



Austin Real Estate 101: Option Fee

What is the option fee?

The Option fee (also called the termination option fee, or option money) is money paid by the buyer directly to the seller in order to have an option period.   The option period is a specific number of days (usually 5-10) given to the buyer in order to perform all due diligence — have an inspection, research the neighborhood, visit the house again, etc.  As the buyer, you are basically paying the seller a small amount of money to hold the house while you decide if what you really want.  And if you decide that it’s not, you can terminate.  (The option period is the only time the buyer can terminate the contract for any reason.  After that time, the contract has very specific rules and timelines. )  The seller is allowed to cash this check right away and keep the money, no questions asked.  While there is no set amount, I typically advise buyer clients to offer around .01% of the purchase price.  (Ex:  $250 on a $250,000 home)  The seller is taking the home off the market for several days while the buyer makes a decision.  As the buyer, your agent will help you decide on an amount that considers the price of the home and the number of days requested.  As the seller, your agent will negotiate on your behalf if the option fee offered is too low.

You may also be wondering about earnest money, which you can read more about here.


  • Buyer writes the option fee check at time of offer
  • No set amount, though often between $100 – 200 minimum
  • Payable by personal check made out to the seller
  • Option fee gives the buyer a period of time (usually 5-10 days) called the “option period” for performing all inspections and other due diligence
  • Option fee is non-refundable once under contract, and belongs to the seller regardless of the buyer’s decision and outcome

Buying or selling a home can be tricky, and a Realtor will keep track of crucial timelines and help you understand the process.  Call me if you have questions or are ready to get started!


Austin Real Estate 101: Earnest Money

What is earnest money?

Earnest money is money paid upfront by the buyer as a show of good faith in their intention to buy the home.  When a buyer submits an offer on a house, they will designate an amount of earnest money in the contract — usually 1% of the purchase price.  (Ex: $2500 for a $250,000 home.)  Once the terms of the offer are agreed upon and the contract signed by all parties and executed (put in full effect by one of the agents), the earnest check must be delivered to the title company within 2 business days.  The title company will cash the check right away and hold the funds in an escrow account.  When the sale closes, the earnest money will be applied to the downpayment.  In the event that the buyer terminates the sale, the earnest money MAY be refunded.  There are many protections for the buyer built into the contract, and in most cases the earnest money will be refunded.  However, it is important to remember that everything in a real estate transaction is time sensitive (time is of the essence) and if you don’t follow the rules, you will forfeit your earnest money.  Your agent knows the rules and will manage the timeline so that you know when important deadlines are approaching.

Earnest money is sometimes confused with option money, though they serve very different functions.  Learn more about the option fee here.


  • Buyer writes earnest check at time of offer
  • Usually about 1% of the purchase price of the home ($2500 for a $250,000 home)
  • Payable by personal check made out to the title company
  • Check will be cashed immediately and held in escrow until closing, at which time it will be applied to the buyer’s down payment
  • Earnest money may be refunded if the buyer terminates in accordance with the contract, or kept by the seller if the buyer is in violation

This is how earnest money works in Texas real estate.  Though the concept is similar across the board, you’ll want to consult your local real estate expert in other areas.

Thinking about buying or selling in Austin and have a question on how everything works?  Call me and we’ll get you up to speed!



Financing 101: Choose a Lender and Get Pre-Qualified

When buying a house, most folks use a common financing strategy:  downpayment + mortgage loan, and then pay a monthly note for the next 15-30 years.  A good lender will help you determine what you can afford, as well as the best financing options available to you.  To get started, you’ll need to do two things — choose a lender and get pre-qualfied for a loan.
The Importance of Getting Pre-Qualified
With just a little information submitted either online or by phone, a lender can run your credit and give you a good idea of how much you’ll likely get approved for, what interest rate you qualify for, etc.  This process is called pre-qualification.
In our current market, being pre-qualified is a must.  Most sellers require a pre-qualification letter from your lender, which we’ll submit along with your offer. This letter serves as proof of your financial ability to buy the home.  It gives the seller confidence that you will be able to close on the home — the most important part of the transaction for them!
Once pre-qualified, your lender may give you a maximum purchase price based on your income and debts.  Keep in mind that they are not looking at your lifestyle — only you can know for sure how the monthly payment will affect your personal finances.  I highly advise you take your personal lifestyle, spending habits, and investment goals in mind when setting a home-buying budget.
Related Blog Post:  How Much Home Can I Afford?
Choosing a Lender
You are welcome to use any lender you choose, though I strongly urge you to go with a local mortgage company or credit union that has an in-house (or at least in-state) underwriting team.  Underwriting will be one of the most crucial parts of the process, and where we may run into potential hold ups as you’re trying to close on a home.  Big banks are notorious for causing delays due to underwriting issues.  I’ve found that my clients who choose to work with a local lender tend to experience fewer problems and delays overall.
If you receive lender recommendations from friends & family, be sure to ask specific questions such as why they liked working with them, how things went towards closing, and how problems were handled.  There are always issues and that’s okay — what matters is that they are resolved quickly.
I’ve worked with many lenders over the years — some great, some not so much.  Trust me when I tell you this:  choosing your lender is just as important as choosing your Realtor.  Your lender will be an important member of your professional team, and you’ll be interacting with them frequently.  They will also work directly with your Realtor and the title company.
Interest Rates
As for interest rates, you can apply with several lenders and compare rates if you prefer.  It has been my experience that most mortgage bankers have access to a variety of loan programs and rates, and can use points to provide you with rate options if that’s important to you.  For example, Mark Townsend at Cornerstone looks at the rates from over 20 banks/investors daily and will choose the best offering for you on the day you lock your rate.
Which brings up an important point — interest rates fluctuate daily, and the rate you are quoted today may be higher or lower tomorrow.  Your interest rate is not guaranteed until you lock it in.  Rate locks typically last for 30 days, or longer if you want to pay a little more.   If you are buying close to the top of your lender-approved range, keep in mind that an interest rate increase could pose a last-minute problem by throwing off your debt-to-income ratio.  A good lender will help you choose the right time to lock you rate, ensuring your ability to close on the home.
Remember that your lender is a key player in your home-buying process, and should be a trusted partner — just like your Realtor.  If you have questions about financing or need a recommendation for a great lender, give me a call.   I have several lenders I trust to take good care of you, all of whom stay on top of the mortgage industry trends, regulations, and rates (which change daily).  Most importantly, they really care about getting their clients the best financing for their individual situation.  I’m happy to send you my list or make an email introduction for you!

The Trouble With Online Home Values In Texas

Perhaps you’re thinking about selling and have looked up your home’s value on Zillow, Trulia, or any of the numerous sites that offer an online home value estimate.  Or maybe you’re considering the “For Sale By Owner” route and are using their suggested comps.  Before you go any further, I’m here to help you understand a crucial piece of information:  Online home values in Texas are not based on actual sales data. 

Yep, that’s right.  As a non-disclosure state, sold prices are not public information in Texas.  This forces online estimation programs to use tax records and other data sources to come up with a value.  If you read the home value FAQ on Realtor.com, you’ll learn that in non-disclosure states like Texas, “it is standard industry practice to estimate sale prices based on one of two methods:  1) transfer tax paid in a home sales transaction (most reliable estimate) and 2) first mortgage amount (yields a wider margin of error) in states without a transfer tax…  That means the consumer will still see “free comps” of estimated sale prices instead of public record actual sales data.”  (Source)

Since Texas does not have a real estate transfer tax, that valuation method is out.  However, the tax appraised value is public information available via online tax records.  Therefore many of the online estimates are based on tax appraised value, which is typically lower than current market value.  Note:  Tax appraised value and market value are not the same.  Homeowners want the tax appraised value to be below market, and will often protest to keep it as low as possible.  Lower tax appraised value = less property taxes paid!

You can see why accuracy is of concern when it comes to online home value estimates.  If you’re thinking of selling and want to get an idea of your home’s current market value, your best bet is to contact me.  With just a small amount of information (address, condition, upgrades, etc.), I can put together a “comparative market analysis” or CMA.  I’ll pull current comparable homes (comps) with accurate sold data from the Austin/Central Texas MLS, and compare these homes with yours to determine the value.  This information will give us a true understanding of your home’s market value — which is far more value than an online estimate.



What’s that plant with the big orange & red flowers blooming all over Austin? Pride of Barbados!


Orange and red blooms on the Pride of Barbados thriving in the Austin heat!

Orange and red blooms on the Pride of Barbados thriving in the Austin heat!


“What is that plant with the big orange and red flowers?  It’s blooming all over town!”  As a known plant-o-file, I hear this question all summer long.  And I’m happy to answer, because this showy gal is one of my favorite summer-blooming plants!  Pride of Barbados, or Caesalpinia pulcherrima, behaves like a perennial in Central Texas.  It thrives in the summer heat, and then dies back to the ground with the winter frost. It’s reportedly hardy to 18 degrees, and will grow back the next summer provided there are no severe freezes.

Summer is key for Pride of Barbados.  It loves the hot temperatures, and usually doesn’t come out of dormancy until the weather warms up.  Mine usually come out in mid-May when the temps start to reach 90.  I thought I’d lost the one by my mailbox the year we had a few 17 degree nights, but it surprised me in June with little sprouts!  It grew back to full size and was covered in blooms by midsummer.  And the blooms are really showstoppers. The multi-flower clusters of bright red and orange blossoms have ruffled edges and long red stamens.  The flowers always remind me of Vegas showgirls, especially when they shimmy in the summer breeze.

Butterflies love them too, and will often perch on the flowers for a sip of nectar.  The rest of us have to be a little more careful though, as Pride of Barbados does have small cactus-like spines covering the stems.

This plant prefers well-drained environment, so be sure to amend the soil if you’re planting is some of that Austin clay.   While Pride of Barbados does well with 100 degree days, she will not tolerate soggy roots.  With proper soil and planted in full sun, most will grow to be a medium size shrub (about 5-8 ft) each summer.  It’s a member of the pea family (Fabaceae) and puts on pea-looking seed pods after flowering.

So give Pride of Barbados a try in your garden!  You can buy them at most nurseries and home improvement stores starting in June.  (If you’re lucky you might find them in May.)  It’s heat tolerant, drought tolerant, and has been selected as a Texas Superstar by the Texas A&M Agri-life.  You can even plant it in a large pot on a sunny  patio or balcony.  In the heat of summer when other folks are watering their begonias like crazy,  your Pride of Barbados will be the envy of the neighborhood!

How much home can I afford?


First, I have a confession to make.  I really wanted to title this post, “How Much Home Can I Afford, or Why Lady Cora’s Fortune Must Be Tied To The Estate.”  It’s true that I’m among the 57 gazillion people who are obsessed with Downton Abbey, and I honestly can think of no better example of being house poor than poor Lord Grantham.  In an early episode of the first season, he explained this to his eldest daughter, Lady Mary.  “If I could take Mama’s money out of the estate, Downton would have to be sold to pay for it. Is that what you want? To see Matthew a landless peer with a title but no means to pay for it?”  Now, I won’t drag you through the love/hate relationship of of Matthew and Lady Mary, but suffice it to say, no, she’d never want to see the man she is too proud to admit she loves left penniless.

Which brings us back to the question at hand — how much home can I afford?  At first the answer might seem easy to find.  The web is scattered with mortgage calculators and qualifiers that boil it down to a quick calculation of your income versus your debts. With about 15 minutes of effort, a lender can give you pre-qualification amount.   And sure, that’s a great place to start.

I’d challenge you to take things a step further.

If you really want see how the price of a home will affect your overall financial picture, consider your lifestyle.  Spend some time thinking about your daily activities in relation to your finances.  Do you spend most of every paycheck, or are you socking away some savings?  Of the money you spend, where does it go?  Tracking your spending for a few months, or looking back at your bank and credit card statements is a great way to figure this out.  For us it’s restaurants and travel — mostly tacos and Vegas.  Consider how an increase or decrease in your monthly mortgage payment, including taxes and insurance, will affect your flexible income.   Lower monthly mortgage = more tacos and Vegas trips!

Once you get all that sorted out, decide what you can and can’t live without.  If I couldn’t have tacos once a week and go to Vegas once a year, I’m not sure life would be worth living!  For you, maybe it’s weekly frozen yogurt, monthly pedicures, lots of live music, or keeping that kegerator in your man-cave full of PBR.  Whatever it is, planning for it now will pay off well into the future.  Owning a home should make your life happier, not harder.

I think it’s worth repeating — Owning a home should make your life happier, not harder.  So take charge of your home buying process and decide for yourself what you can and can’t afford.  Lenders are here to tell you what loan amount you’ll likely get approved for, not what’s best for your life.  That part is up to you.

When you’re ready to start the process, let me know.  I have a great network of lenders — smart, honest folks who will have your best interest at heart!

Related Blog Post:  Financing 101:  Choose a Lender and Get Pre-Qualified