Top Atlanta Spots To Entertain Out-of-Town Guests

DSC_0868One of the things I love most is introducing out of town guests to the eclectic neighborhoods in our city. The usual tourist spots like the World of Coke and the CNN center are always an option, but I tend to plan our itineraries around three types of activities to give my friends and family the best Atlanta experience. I like to include a park, a museum or historical tour, and a brewery over the course of a couple days. These are my top four favorites in each category: 

Parks

Atlanta is home to some awesome parks. From playgrounds and picnic tables to walking trails and free concerts, there are a lot of options to fit the personalities of your guests. These are a few of my favorites:

  1. Piedmont Park: Piedmont Park has it all…lake, pool, playground, splash pad, green market, dog park, jogging track, green space, picnic tables, charcoal grills and public restrooms. I’m a little biased since I lived next to the park and enjoyed this space every day for several years, but this park is a great spot for guests. The park also offers free historical walking tours every Saturday at 11 a.m. And there are restaurants within walking distance, so if a picnic isn’t your style, you have food options close. One of the things that I love most is heading to the park in the late afternoon and staying for the free concerts on Sunday evenings at Park Tavern. The concerts typically run April through September and start at 7 p.m.
  2. Sidney Marcus Park: Sidney Marcus Park is a perfect place to bring guests with kids. The park is tucked away in the Morningside neighborhood and has great green space and playgrounds. There are picnic tables and it offers a free family-friendly concert series several Friday evenings throughout that start at 6 p.m with music, food trucks and a favorite Atlanta treat, King of Pops.
  3. Old Fourth Ward Park: Old Fourth Ward Park has really grown over the past few years. It’s a kid’s dream. The playground is fantastic and there’s an awesome splash pad and skate park. There are also some free events throughout the year like exercise opportunities and free movies on the lawn. This is a great spot for out of town guests because it’s right across the street from Ponce City Market which offers lots shopping and restaurants.
  4. The Atlanta BeltLine: While this isn’t a park in and of itself, the BeltLine is an awesome trail that connects many of our in town neighborhoods and parks. The BeltLine provides a great activity for guests that like to walk or bike. You can walk from Piedmont Park to Old Fourth Ward Park and head into Inman Park or over to Krog Street Market. There is a lot of shopping and restaurant options along the way, which makes the stroll even better.

 

Museums and Tours

Our city offers quite a few museum and tour options. These are just a few that make my short list when I’m planning for a guest visit.

  1. Oakland Cemetery: Oakland Cemetery is my number one spot for out of town guests because it’s different from the typical museum stop. This cemetery has incredible history and beautiful architecture. I highly recommend a guided tour where you will hear stories about the people that are buried in this rural garden cemetery. I’ve done this tour several times and it’s always a little different, so continues to be one I enjoy. They also have some cool events like malts and valts where you can hear about Atlanta’s history of brewing then enjoy some local beers after the tour. We typically round out this visit with a trip across the street to Six Feet Under for food and drinks.
  2. Fernbank Museum of Natural History: Fernbank is one of my favorites because of the Giant Screen Theater. The museum exhibits are always great, but it’s nice to sit down and enjoy one of the films. They also have 75 acres of outdoor nature adventures that you can explore. And if you’re planning on an adult-only evening outing, they feature Fernbank After Dark the second Friday of each month with drinks, tapas and films.
  3. High Museum of Art: If you have art-lovers visiting, the High Museum is the perfect place. There are some free admission opportunities, which makes it an even more awesome place to take people. Free admission is offered to everyone the second Sunday of each month as part of their ‘Family Fun at Woodruff Arts Center’ promotion and there’s family-friendly programming from 1 – 4 p.m. Bank of America/Merrill Lynch customers have an additional no-cost admission opportunity with free walk-up admission on the first full weekend of each month. There are a lot of family extras, but if you want to leave the kids at home, the third Friday of each month is ‘Friday Jazz’ with drinks, music and art.
  4. Atlanta History Center: One of the great things about buying a ticket to the history center is that it’s much more than just the one museum. You also get access to some really cool historical houses like the Margaret Mitchell House, the Smith Family Farm and the Swan Coach House as well as 22 acres of gardens. Even better, if you are a Bank of America Bank of America/Merrill Lynch customer you can receive free admission during the first full weekend (Saturday and Sunday) of every month (offer expires December 31, 2017). You can also dine at the Swan Coach House Restaurant, which has some delicious Southern dishes and sandwiches.

 

Breweries

As a beer aficionado, I love introducing my guests to the local breweries. Who doesn’t love a tour that revolves around drinking beer? These are my favorites:

  1. SweetWater Brewing Company: Sweetwater is a staple in our town, so I enjoy taking people here. It’s a decent size, so good for crowds and they often have entertainment in their outdoor space. They are open Wednesday through Sunday. If you want to eat while you are there, Friday-Sunday are the best options because a food trucks are on site.
  2. Three Taverns Brewery: Three Taverns has some of my favorite local brews. The space is on the smaller side, but the tour and beer are great. If you want to spend time with your guests in Decatur, this brewery will fit perfectly into your itinerary.
  3. Orpheus Brewing: Orpheus beer is awesome and they are located right next to Piedmont Park and the BeltLine, so if you plan to take a stroll before or after, this would be the perfect stop along the way.
  4. Monday Night Brewing: Monday Night is another favorite. The space is great and large enough to fit a big crowd. The outdoor space has good seating as well.

Selling Your House: Home Office Space vs The Questionable Extra Bedroom

Its important to be honest with yourself, and with potential buyers, about how many functional bedrooms your home offers. That 10 ft x 10 ft attic expansion with no closet, or the dark basement room with no windows and the nearest shower access 2 floors away that you are marketing as an extra bedroom may be turning off more buyers than its drawing in. Presenting the features of your home in the best light possible is an elementary and bedrock principle of marketing your property. However, this must be done in an accurate and honest manner.

Imagine a qualified buyer who has a legitimate need for three functional bedrooms comes to view your home. This person has spent his or her valuable time to show up and evaluate your property for purchase. If your home is not what was represented to this buyer in the listing information, you have wasted their time, their agent’s time, and quite possibly your valuable early days on the market by trying to sell your home to the wrong buyer. This example of a potential buyer was never going to make an offer on your house because it did not meet their needs. You have now created two unhappy and dissatisfied parties who could spread negative information through word of mouth about your home while it is listed for sale. The better choice would be to market your home to buyers who are open to a two bedroom house with space for a home office, creative space, or bonus room. 

A common must-have from clients looking to buy in the city is the ability to create a functional home office.  Many of the older houses in Atlanta have unique small spaces that were created or have accidentally emerged from decades of remodels, rehabs, and expansions. That small room in the converted attic space that people weren’t quite sure what to do with in the past (and often ends up being added to the listing as an additional bedroom) has suddenly become much more useful and marketable as technology has evolved and the only space many of us need to work is somewhere to sit with our laptops and a smart phone. There is no shame in playing to this strength and getting a premium price for your home by offering this functionality to the correct buyer.

HomeOffice

Trying to sell that space as a bedroom may be a mistake that could cost you more money and time on the market than it gains you. Is a bedroom more valuable than an office? Yes. But if you don’t have a third bedroom, you don’t have a third bedroom. The market will punish you for trying to sell something that just isn’t real.

I see this while showing homes with unbelievable frequency. Walking through an open house in a renovated older home listed as a three bedroom where potential buyers are milling about and commenting that “oh, this is really a two bedroom.  I couldn’t use this space as a bedroom” as they walk right out the door makes me cringe for both the property owner and the other agent. You will command the highest and best price from your property from the market by working with me to target the right buyer and presenting your home for what it truly offers.

 

 

What do I need to do to get my home ready to list on the market?

The Atlanta In-Town real estate market is currently moving very quickly. Even homes in less than perfect condition often go under contract in a few days. These market conditions can cover up the failings of some bad agents out there, and its possible that sellers are leaving some money on the table by not presenting their house to potential buyers in the best possible condition. No matter what the overall market looks like at any given time, it is still very important to follow some best practices for getting your home ready to sell. When buyers grade your property against competing homes on the market, you want to be at the top of the class. 

Want to sell your Atlanta home quickly for top dollar? Here are some tips to get your home in prime go-to-market condition. 

Declutter

Buyers need to be able to imagine living in the home. Get rid of anything highly personal. This includes photos. Go ahead and pack anything you do not use on a regular basis. Every surface needs to show off its potential, especially in the kitchen. Get all of the magnets off of the refrigerator, and get the counter tops clear of anything that doesn’t absolutely have to be there.

Clean

Everything in your property must sparkle and shine. Pay special attention to windows and appliances.  Wipe all doors, walls, and surfaces. Spending a little money now to clean or replace broken and worn out finishes or items (carpets, window treatments, etc) can make a huge difference in the sale of your property. BEWARE OF SMELLS. You live there and may be accustomed to it, but I walk into houses on a daily/weekly basis where the first impression I have is of an overwhelming or offensive smell. Eliminate (not cover up) pet, smoke, cooking, and other strong odors. If I bluntly tell you that there is a smell, don’t take offense. If I caught it, potential buyers will too.

Paint

First impressions are lasting impressions. Touch up exterior and interior paint. Pay special attention to the front door and area immediately inside the entry. PLEASE work with me on color selection. I know what buyers like to see when they’re shopping for a new home. Hot Pink and Neon Blue are not on that list.

Repair

Squeaking doors, leaking faucets, broken windows, missing tile, cracked light switch covers? Your home needs to be in good repair. Make an effort to tackle all of those little projects you’ve had on the back-burner. If you do not have the time or skills, it is well worth it to hire a handy-person to spend a day in your home. We work with several great professionals who do good work that we can recommend.

Front and Back Yards

Act like you are competing for the “yard of the month” title. Lawn, shrubbery, trees, flower beds, sidewalks, and driveways… Everything should be neat and trimmed. Plants should be living (I’m not judging whether or not your thumb is green here, but that dead plant that didn’t survive the winter isn’t helping the curb appeal of your house). Fencing should be in good repair and gates should all be in working order.  Adding some seasonal flowers is a great way to add some visual interest to your yard.

Live, work, play. Not necessarily in that order. Upcoming events in the city.

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I was preparing a marketing piece today that included a list of some of the upcoming festivals going on around the city in the next month or so, and I paused to appreciate the amount of culture and entertainment that I’ve enjoyed over the years by virtue of living and working in the city of Atlanta. Here is a list of upcoming events/festivals if you are looking for some unique activities to put on your calendar for late summer/fall of 2017:

Decatur BBQ, Blues, and Bluegrass Festival August 12th

Atlanta Underground Film Festival 8/18-8/20

Piedmont Park Arts Festival 8/19-8/20 

Grant Park Summer Shade Festival 8/26-8/27

Dragon Con 9/1-9/4

Music Midtown 9/16-9/17

Fall Folklife Festival 9/23

Candler Park Fall Fest 9/30-10/1

We moved over to Morningside in 2010 and I love the neighborhood, but my wife and I lived within a couple of blocks of Piedmont Park in Midtown for several years before we came here. It was phenomenal being that close to the park year-round, but it was really special when the festival season was in full swing and something was going on in the neighborhood nearly every weekend. Our life and family has since expanded outside the space of the little bungalow we were living in there, but I do get nostalgic for the ability to walk out of my house and essentially arrive at Piedmont Park for The Dogwood Festival or any other number of events that the Conservancy hosts.

It’s interesting to note that now, some seven years after we moved a few miles up the road to Morningside, I couldn’t tell you what kind of kitchen upgrades were installed in that little 1920s house in Midtown or if the appliances were stainless.  I can’t really remember what color the walls were, or if the bathroom was updated. Our friends always talked about how it was a cute place, but what I recall about the house centers on the people around us and what we spent our time doing while we were there.

I remember grilling in our backyard. I remember sitting around the old aqua(ish) blue, refurbished glass-top picnic table of questionable quality on the back porch that we bought from a guy over in Cabbage Town during a Sunday afternoon adventure like it was yesterday. I remember walking over to Midtown Arts Cinema to catch a movie on a whim. I remember finishing the Peachtree Road Race with friends and all of us strolling back to our house to hang out and grab a shower before we walked over to Fontaine’s in Virginia Highland to reward ourselves with some food and drinks. I remember a block party during a Paul McCartney concert and the entire neighborhood hanging out on our front porches listening to the show. I remember evening runs and bike rides through the neighborhood while (sometimes unsuccessfully) dodging low-hanging limbs of trees along the sidewalks. I remember the frequent walks over to Trader Joe’s to replenish our stock of “Two Buck Chuck”.

I vividly remember how we lived and what we did when we were there, but the cosmetics of the house we lived in are secondary in my mind to the lifestyle that house enabled for us.

I talk about it with clients all of the time, but its worth saying here as well: Your house is more than the number of bedrooms and bathrooms within the walls. It is more than a list of upgrades and finishes that sounds exactly like the listing for every other property for sale out there. The lifestyle your home enables for its future owner drives the value and marketability of your property.

I’m not saying it isn’t important for your house to be in the best condition possible before putting it on the market, or that your renovations and chef’s kitchen aren’t major selling points. Those things matter. However, securing the absolute best price for your house is a function of illustrating, to the right buyer, how your home will help them enable, improve, or enhance their lifestyle. The way a potential new home fits or amplifies how you live, work, and play should be a top consideration for you in your home search as well.

 

“I’m thinking about buying a home in the next year. What can I do to get ready?”

One of the most common conversations I have with clients getting ready to purchase a home tends to center around what they can do to get ready to “take the leap” in the next six months to one year.   I’m fortunate to have some really great experience on the finance side of the industry as well, so here is a general guide around some of the most important things you can do to help smooth the path to owning your own slice of the city.

Step One is not going out to view/walk through properties.  That’s the fun and exciting part and it comes a little further down the line.  Here’s a hard truth:  The current market moves at a high velocity. If you aren’t ready to make an offer and close within the next 30-60 days, you may very well set yourself up for heartache by falling in love with a home that is likely going to sell before you’ve prepared your financing and transition plan from your current residence.

Unless you are paying in cash, step one is to find out what your loan options are, how much cash you need to have on hand for closing and down payment, and discover any credit blemishes or errors that need to be addressed. You are entitled to review your credit report once every twelve months for free (read more about it at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports). Obtaining your annual credit report from http://www.annualcreditreport.com is a great place to start. Beware of impostor sites seeking to steal your information or charge you for something that the major credit agencies are required by law to give you for free once per year. You can always navigate to the correct site from the FTC.gov site I linked above.  Check for inaccuracies and verify the credit lines that show up on your report are actually yours. Whether you are a first time buyer or have been a homeowner for years, this is a great tool to make sure your credit history is up to date and accurate.

Talk to a mortgage professional.  If you don’t have a relationship with a lender already, I can recommend a few.  (Or if you’ve made the questionable and heartbreaking choice of working with another agent, they should be able to recommend a few reputable lenders as well). A good loan officer is going to be able to take a deeper dive into your credit and income history and guide you from there on what loan amount you qualify for, down payment amounts, and more importantly, what purchase price and payments you are comfortable committing to. This is 100% my personal opinion: Be careful with the large online-only lenders.   A reputable local partner is likely going to be more accessible, responsive, and familiar with your market area and have long term relationships with local closing attorneys and appraisers.

Gather the paperwork that the lender is going to need to document and underwrite your loan.  A good starting point is your last 2 years of W-2s, 30 days of pay stubs, 2 months of bank statements for your checking and savings accounts, statements from investment accounts and 401ks, and possibly the last 2 years of your tax returns (mostly applicable to independent contractors or self-employed buyers).  Here’s a pro-tip: Have all of this ready, but only send the loan officer what they specifically ask for after you’ve submitted your loan application.  Modern automated underwriting systems will sometimes issue waivers or ask for less documentation than manual underwriting requirements.  Extra or unrequested documents that make their way into your application can cause more work for you, your lender, and may very well end up requiring even more back-up documentation in the end.  Keep it simple and provide requested documents promptly with all pages, account numbers, and account holder information visible. If you are sending this documentation electronically, make sure that it is over a secure method of transmission.

Nail down your timeline. When is your current lease or rental agreement due to expire?  If there is no hard end date, how much notice does your landlord require you to give?  If your lease ends on the 30th of next month, planning to close on your future home on the 29th, completely move out, and immediately move into your new home in a 24-48 hour period is most likely not realistic and could create a crisis if an unavoidable delay in the transaction occurs.   A buffer time period where you have access to both residences can take a lot of stress out of the move and allow for some personal touches, paint, or upgrades to be completed for your new home before you move in.

Put some thoughtful effort into deciding what area or neighborhood you want to own a home in.  This is the time to start investigating school system ratings, commute times, and how the area will fit into or enhance your lifestyle.  Some things to consider here are walkability or bikeability, proximity to parks and outdoor activities, ease of access to shopping/grocery centers, the vibe of the neighborhood, crime statistics, entertainment and dining options, and access to public transit.  Once you reach this stage, you’ve got a handle on your buying power and what housing expense you are comfortable with. Its time to start talking to your agent (that’s me) about what you are looking for in a location and make sure your budget matches up with the price range of the neighborhood or development.

Sit down and have a conversation with your agent (me, of course). Your time is valuable. My role is to advise, guide, and represent your interests in the transaction. I can also save you more of your valuable time down the road and set up our relationship for success with an initial meeting with you in my office where we can have a focused discussion, get some paperwork out of the way, and take a deep dive into what you are looking for in your future home. The more information I can gather upfront, the more legwork I can do on your behalf behind the scenes so that we are not wasting your time on properties that simply aren’t a fit for your needs.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.  Tools enabled by today’s technology allow me to put an amazing amount of information and statistics at your fingertips and to conduct a focused home search faster than ever before. The more feedback you can give me about what you do/do not like about the listings I’m providing you, the more focused and tailored to your tastes listings I send you in the future search will be. I don’t want to just sell you any house; I want to help you buy the right house for your needs and lifestyle.

That brings us to the point where you are active in the market and ready to purchase. A little planning, preparation, and forethought can take some of the stress out of the process and allow you to enjoy the excitement of buying a place to call your own. It really comes down to lining up your financing, determining a timeline, making some decisions about where you want to live and what you are looking for in a home, and developing relationships with a few good professional partners to help you along the way.