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3 Things to Consider When Planning DIY Home Renovations

Your home desperately needs an update, and you’re thinking you’ll take on some work yourself to save money. DIY home renovations can be a rewarding way to add value and style to your home, but there are a few things you’ll need to consider before you dive in.

1. Projects You Can DIY

The first thing you need to assess when planning home updates is your own skill level. If you don’t know your way around a toolbox, you should probably rule out major construction projects and stick to cosmetic improvements until you’re more comfortable. A beginner could tackle planting perennial bushes and shrubs along the front walk or installing a flagstone patio to create a backyard oasis.

A more experienced DIY-er might set their sights on building a deck, updating bathroom tilework, or building recessed shelves to maximize space. However, even if you know what you’re doing, you’ll still need tools to get the job done. Identify what tools you have and where you can buy, rent, or borrow what you need, and make sure you’re not required to hire a licensed contractor for the job you have in mind.

Unless home renovations are your idea of a relaxing weekend, you should also think about whether the project you have in mind is worth its time and cost. When you’re calculating expenses, factor in your labor at an hourly wage you’re comfortable with to ensure a DIY approach makes financial sense.

2. Return on Investment

Some home improvement projects increase the value of your home, while others only repay you in enjoyment of your home. If your priority is improving your home’s resale value, prioritize projects that offer a good return on investment.

If your home only has one bathroom, adding a second full- or half-bathroom is a surefire way to recoup your remodeling expenses when you sell your home. Of homes built in 2015, 90 percent had three or more bathrooms; aim for about 1.5 to two bedrooms per bathroom for the best resale value. You’ll need to hire professionals for the structural, plumbing, and electric work, but you can handle much of the prep, clean-up, and cosmetic work to save on costs.

Sometimes it’s the less glamorous home improvement projects that bring the best return on investment. Installing fiberglass insulation in your attic pays for itself, and installing energy-efficient windows can attract potential buyers. Before you splurge on a new kitchen or bathroom, make sure your home’s infrastructure is in good shape. A curbless shower can wait, but a broken furnace can’t.

And of course, there’s nothing wrong with making cosmetic updates that make you happy, even if they don’t necessarily translate into a market boost for your home.

3. Construction Disruptions

Updating your home can be fun and rewarding, but it can also mean a big disruption to everyday life. Make sure you have a plan for how you’re going to handle everything from negotiating bathroom times to help moving large items.

You’ll have areas of your home that are inaccessible for weeks to months. You may find yourself eating take-out for weeks on end or racing to take a shower in the only bathroom before the hot water runs out. You’ll have dust and messes to cope with and furniture that temporarily lacks a home.

If you want to get extra furniture out of the way until your project is complete, look for help moving items to and from storage. If you’re updating appliances, furniture, cabinets, or other large items, you’ll also need to figure out how you’re going to get the old items out and the new ones in. Unless you have a truck, ramps, and plenty of hands, you’ll probably need to find help moving out old items after a remodel.

Once you’ve picked out your project, analyzed your budget, and prepared for the inevitable messes, you’re ready to get started on your DIY project.

Author: Paul Denikin

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Moving to Los Angeles? Things You Should Know

The City of Angels offers residents a wealth of economic and leisure opportunities. In addition to its vibrant nightlife, the city’s cultural diversity fosters exciting arts and restaurant scenes. It’s a great place to call home, so if you’re considering relocating here, you won’t be disappointed. But before you pack up and move to this Southern California metro, there are a few things you should know first. Our friends Great Guys Moving Company and Moonraker Marketing have created an infographic with some helpful information on everything from the weather to the tax rates to the cost of living. Here are a few of the highlights:

More than the Movies

While L.A. is best known as the home of Hollywood and the central hub of the American entertainment industry, the city is about more than just making movies. With an unemployment rate in line with the national average, Los Angeles features a wide range of employment options both in and outside of entertainment. Other popular industries for employment include transportation and logistics as well as jobs in construction, sales, and administrative support. No matter what kind of job you are looking for, chances are you can probably find it.

California Dreaming

Southern California boasts warm temperatures and 3,250 hours of annual sunshine. Along with surfing, swimming, and sunbathing at the famous beaches, you can also enjoy the outdoor lifestyle by hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing in the nearby San Gabriel Mountains and the Los Angeles National Forest. Enjoy the weather and your free time visiting iconic landmarks, such as the Hollywood sign and the Getty Center. You can also attend home games of one of the city’s famous collegiate and professional sports teams.

Most People Rent

With so many people moving to the LA area, there is a high demand for housing, which drives up prices. As a result, most people living in Los Angeles rent. Although home and rental prices exceed national averages, there are still many affordable housing opportunities in the area. You may even find the place of your dreams within your budget in the city’s walkable neighborhoods like Westlake, Central Hollywood, and MacArthur Park.

Despite the higher cost of living, the sunny skies and many amenities of L.A. are hard to beat. As you plan your relocation to La La Land, we would love to help you get settled in! Whether you are looking for a modern loft apartment, an historic bungalow, or a larger home for a growing family, the Graff Real Estate team can help you find the ideal location to start your new life in Los Angeles.

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Renovating Soon? How to Pick a Contractor

With the number of foreclosed or bank-owned properties floating around out there, I often speak with folks who are preparing to embark on a renovation project.

Unfortunately, with a rise in remodeling comes a flood of disreputable contractors looking to cash in. I do my best to protect people by providing referrals to reputable contractors, but there are plenty of people out there I donʼt get a chance to talk to.

If you know someone who is about to undertake a major renovation project, I urge you to share this excellent article published by the Federal Trade Commission, “Home Sweet Home Improvement.” It includes a PDF guide your friends and family will find helpful.

The guide covers:

  • The types of home improvement specialists
  • How disreputable contractors operate
  • Questions to ask contractors
  • How to check references
  • Understanding payment options
  • The “Home Improvement” loan scam

             …and several other useful points

Hereʼs the link to the article on the FTC website:

Also, you can download the PDF file directly here:

Do you need a referral to a contractor or two? Are you in the market for a property to fix-up and call your own (or use as an investment property)? Iʼd be happy to help. Give me a call or shoot me a message today.



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5 Questions You Must Ask Yourself Before Home Shopping

It starts innocently enough… you pass a house in a neighborhood you like, you hear someone is selling their home, you happen to look up home prices online. Before you know it, youʼre knee-deep in home shopping and open house visits. This can actually be exceedingly dangerous to your financial future.

Falling in love with a home before you actually know what you want in a home is risky. To avoid the “buy first, think later” syndrome that burdens family finances, marriages, and work life, ask yourself these important questions:

1. How much do we want to spend each month on home expenses? Thereʼs a tendency for people who shop first to try and “make the math work” on purchasing a home. Often this leads to stretching the home budget and ignoring crucial expenses such as maintenance and property taxes in order to “make the mortgage.” Determine a comfortable, conservative range for home expenses first.

2. Which neighborhoods make sense from multiple angles? You may love a neighborhood for its leafy streets and family-friendly atmosphere, but what if it adds thirty minutes to your commute? Are the schools good? What are the crime stats like? Whatʼs the walkability score? Donʼt view a neighborhood with rose-colored glasses based on a single quality you like.

3. Whatʼs a priority and whatʼs a nice extra? You may think you want extra bedrooms for guests and a home office, but which one is more important? Rank the must haves against the “nice to haves.”

4. Whatʼs our long-term ownership picture look like? Are you settling in for ten years, or do you suspect youʼll need to move in four? While you canʼt predict the future, you can make some estimates. Those estimates will help you understand how much home you should buy, what kind of down-payment youʼll want to have, and what the picture might look like in terms of renovations.

5. When can you move vs. when would you like to move? Rental leases, selling your current home, and job and schooling factors all impact the timeline for a purchase. Wrap your head around the pragmatic timeline as best you can.



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Most Romantic Restaurants in Los Angeles

Perfect romantic moments don’t just happen in the movies. In Los Angeles, the stage is set for you and your loved one to create your own magical moments. All you need to create your own movie romance are the proper location, the right props, and the stars: yourselves.

Il Cielo Restaurant (9018 Burton Way, Beverly Hills) is the kind of place where engagements happen. The courtyard is twinkling with tiny lights and festooned with twining vines. The lights that will really sparkle will be the ones in your eyes. Call ahead if it’s a special event, and the management will treat you and your beloved like royalty. Over a dessert of creme brulee with real candied rose petals, if you’re not yet in love: you will be.

Bistro Garden at Coldwater (12950 Ventura Blvd., Studio City) is a setting so special that some couples aren’t content to just eat there: they’ve had their wedding there! Marble, spectacularly high ceilings lush trees, crystal chandeliers and a decadent French menu make this a place you’ll tell your grandchildren about. You’ll feel like Audrey Hepburn. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be raising kids with the man who brings you here.

For a sexier spot, Bar Chloe (1449 2nd St., Santa Monica) is a find. There’s no sign, so you’ll feel like an insider when you get to this bar that has glamour just pouring out of it. An old-world Parisian decor is tempered by the sultry modern music (think Mick Jagger growling “Wild Horses”) for a combination that will get the two of you in the mood. Have cocktails here and then skip dinner. You’ll be wanting to be alone together the first chance you get.

When you’re too in love to want to be around other people, book a room at the Chateau Marmont (8221 Sunset Blvd.) and make the rest of the world go away. You’ll feel singularly special knowing that every room is completely different. Conde Nast says that the hotel, high above Sunset Boulevard, is “as closely associated with glamour as a hotel can be.” Book a room here for the honeymoon that’s sure to come soon after you visit these other gorgeous locales with your sweetheart.

Are you in the mood? Book a reservation now, grab your love-bunny and make some sparks!

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Improve Listing Price with These Strategies

Your biggest question when selling your home might be how much you can list it for. While your real estate agent can provide helpful insight, your home’s condition and features also affect its list price. But with a handful of easy techniques, you can improve your home to increase your profit.

Make Simple Updates

Sprucing up your space is one way to add value to your home. These updates don’t have to cost much, but they can give your home a fresh and clean look that can attract buyers. First, focus on the walls. Buff away any fingerprints or marks. A coat of paint can refresh any room, especially if you choose a neutral hue, such as taupe or gray, that is universally appealing. A thorough deep cleaning by you or a professional cleaning service gives your home a like-new appearance. Caulk any gaps along baseboards or crown molding, and patch up any holes or nail pops.

Declutter Your Space

Clutter can detract from your home and can have a negative effect on its perceived value. Crowded rooms and overflowing closets make every space seem smaller. Before you list your house, declutter spaces to show the potential of each room. You might even want to rent a small storage unit to store your overflow goods. Ensure that all closets are clean and well organized with clear floor space. Remove small pieces of furniture, such as end tables and ottomans, that might be inhibiting traffic flow in your living room or family room. Showcase ample wall space by limiting the number of art and family photos on your walls.

Stage for a Sale

Staging, whether performed by a professional or by you, showcases your home’s best features and makes it appealing to potential home buyers of all ages and backgrounds. The first step to staging is minimizing personal details so that buyers can envision your home as their own. Pack up those family photos and memorabilia. Transform rooms unique to your family into rooms that are more universally appealing. For example, that downstairs living room might be an ideal playroom for your young children, but a couple without kids would prefer to see it staged as a traditional living room or study, allowing them to envision how they would use the space. Careful staging allows you to show your home in the best light, which justifies a higher listing price.

Putting your house on the market requires work, but that work can pay off by allowing you to list your house for a higher price. As a result, you can secure an offer that leaves some serious change in your pocket after closing.


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5 tips to predict home values in any neighborhood

How do you predict the value of a neighborhood? While no one can say for sure how home values in a neighborhood will rise or decline over time, there are big-picture economic factors that you can look for to help get handle on where they may be going.


1. Major regional employers. If a community depends upon one or two large companies for a high percentage of local employment, you can bet that as the company fares, so will the neighborhoods. While “company towns” are hardly the norm these days, donʼt overlook the possibility.

2. Number of properties currently for sale. Sometimes thereʼs nothing wrong with a neighborhood just because the inventory (i.e. number of homes on the market) is high. Other times, something may be amiss. If youʼre seeing street-after-street of “FOR SALE” signs, ask questions.

3. Major construction. Is that a new school theyʼre building, or is it a supermax prison? Did they clear that land for a new shopping center, or is it a new loop for the interstate? Certain types of construction can improve home values while others can hurt. Getting in touch with the local planning commission as well as the local newspaperʼs business section (or website) can help illuminate whatʼs behind those bulldozers and cement mixers.

4. Rental density. People who own the homes they live in tend to take better care of them. Also, itʼs preferable to have long-term neighbors versus high-turnover tenants. Absentee landlords or seasonally rented properties can also be a drag on a neighborhood. Get a feel for the rental density and the direction itʼs heading. Rental density matters.

5. Environmental conditions. One industrial accident that poisons a water supply is enough to annihilate home values. How susceptible is the region to extreme weather? Donʼt rule out environmental liabilities or benefits.


Nobodyʼs crystal ball is perfect, but to ignore major macroeconomic factors is dangerous. Even if youʼre only planning on staying in a location for 5 – 7 years, do yourself a favor and try to position yourself to make, not lose money, on your home with these tips in mind.

Have questions about a neighborhood in the Greater Los Angeles area? Iʼm happy to help. Get in touch today.



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Downtown L.A. Walking Tour: History, Culture and Adventure in One Afternoon

Have you ever spent a day touring the historic downtown area of Los Angeles?  Set off toward the city’s classic venues on foot and enjoy seeing L.A. from a different perspective.  The experience is guaranteed to surpass even the most veteran Angeleno’s expectations.


  • Olvera Street

Home to the oldest brick home in the city and thought of as the birthplace for early Los Angeles, Olvera Street is a logical starting point for your downtown walking tour.  Located just west of Alameda Street across from Union Station, the Mexican shopping and dining district is filled with colorful bazaar type businesses, many of them handed down through the generations from the original vendors.   If you are looking for traditional California art or decorator items, Olvera Street is the place to shop.

  • City Hall

Heading south on Main Street, cross over the 101 Freeway until you cross Temple Street.  There you will find Los Angeles City Hall, a classic example of 1920’s architecture, combining Greek and Roman details into what was for over forty years the tallest building in Los Angeles.  The building is easily recognized from having appeared as a backdrop to numerous Hollywood productions.

  • Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

Head uphill on Temple Street to Hill Street, where you will find the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, home to the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  Completed in 2002, the Cathedral is a modern interpretation of classic, biblical themes, complete with extensive gardens, a central plaza, gift shop and the Cathedral building itself.  Open to the public, tours of grounds and Cathedral are free.

  • Arts District

From the Cathedral head south on Grand Avenue past the Ahmanson Theater, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art.  Known as the city’s cultural hub, the buildings in this part of Los Angeles are as beautiful as the works of art that hang on their walls or the sounds that come from their orchestras.  Of special interest is the Disney Concert Hall, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry and constructed of wavy lines of steel.  The Concert Hall is a shining star against walls of traditional concrete and glass rising in the L.A. skyline.

  • Financial District

Continue south on Grand Avenue to Second Street.  Turn west one block to South Hope Street.  There you will find the Wells Fargo Financial Center, made up of multiple copper colored skyscrapers.  The buildings are angular in shape and for an interesting perspective stand on the sidewalk looking directly at one of the angled corners.  You will think you are part of Hollywood magic when the building literally disappears before your eyes.

  • Westin Bonaventure Hotel

Go west one block to South Flower Street and you will find the Westin Bonaventure Hotel.  Recognizable by its four glass cylinders and exterior glass elevators, the Bonaventure is one of Downtown’s premier hotels.  Numerous movies and television shows have been filmed on the property, including “In the Line of Fire,” “True Lies,” “Rain Man” and “Blue Thunder.”  Go inside and ride the multiple elevators for a fabulous 360 degree view of the entire city.   Go south one more block, across Fifth Street and you can see the Arco Plaza with its famous orange staircase sculpture.  A hidden treasure there is the underground shopping center offering designer clothing and jewelry as well as tourist related items.

  • Los Angeles Central Library

Located one block east on Fifth Street is the Los Angeles Central Library.   Architecturally stunning, the Central Library is the third largest public library in the United States.  Originally built in 1926 in the Egyptian style with its classical pyramid top, the Central Library underwent substantial renovations in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, making the building more accessible to the visiting public and allowing for more of the library’s vast collection to be displayed.

  • 7th Street Metro Center Station

Head west back to Flower Street before turning south three blocks to the 7th Street Metro Center Station.   At this point you have covered approximately 2 ½ miles and might need to take a break from walking.  Hop on the Red Line subway east to Union Station.  For $1.25 you can arrive at the City’s historic rail station in about five minutes.  Opened in 1939, Union Station is a classic California building reflecting the casual elegance of the southwest.  Both a national and local landmark, Union Station serves Amtrak, the local subway and light rail systems, as well as providing a link to city bus service.   

When you exit Union Station, cross Alameda Street to find yourself once again at Olvera Street.    Whether a native of the city or visiting for the first time, Los Angeles on foot is an exciting diversion from the typical tourist spots.  So pack a bottle of water, a map of downtown and this guide and get walking!

by Stephanie Tallman Smith

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10 Easy Fixes to Help Your Home Sell Faster

The devil is really in the details when buyers look at a home. Lots of everyday wear and tear that you donʼt even notice can ding your home in the eyes of potential buyers. Hereʼs my list of ten simple improvements you can do to help your home sell faster:

  1. Spruce up your baseboards: Pets, kids, and stumbling husbands in the dark can make a mess of your baseboards. Repainting baseboards after repairing scratches with putty can make the border of any room look new.
  2. Fill in nail holes: Part of interior repainting should be careful attention to those errant nail holes from pictures, shelves, and other wall-mounted baubles. Putty, smooth, sand and paint!
  3. Sniff for smokers: Filter replacement is a must if someoneʼs been puffing in your home. Also wash down those walls, prime them to seal in any cooked-in nicotine, and repaint. Be sure to check entryways and lawns for cigarette butts, too!
  4. Review the roof: Do you have missing singles? Broken tiles? Is mold and moss sprouting up there? Do some cleaning and spot replacing.
  5. Reinforce your gutters: Clean them out, dry them out, then caulk them to prevent leaks. This will keep water off the siding, reducing staining and damage.
  6. Replace bad vinyl floors: Not only are they tacky when theyʼre cracked or cut, but they can suggest water damage to buyers.
  7. Repair dripping faucets: Buyers will turn faucets on and off. What will they find? If your sinks and baths dribble, fix them before buyers imagine their future headache.
  8. Tune up screens: Did you have a dog that liked to lean against the front door? Look for the sagging, hanging, bent, and bubbling screens, especially around doors. New screens look clean. Old screens suggest neglect.
  9. Patch cabinet scratches: Tibet Almond Stick, Old English Scratch Cover, or even some artful re-staining can make cabinets seem new. Remember to polish them up when youʼre done!
  10. Reseal wobbly toilets: If the bowl moves when you sit on it, the bolts are rusted, or the bathroom floor is damp and discolored around the commode, replace the toilet or at the very least reseal it.


Book an appointment with John Graff Real Estate Group using SetMore


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8 Terrible Listing Photos You Have to See to Believe


When youʼre thinking about hiring an agent to help you market and sell your home, itʼs probably a good idea to ask to see listing photos of homes theyʼve represented in the past. A true real estate professional will go the extra mile to make sure there are plenty of high-quality, detailed photos to help market your home online.

At the minimum, the photos should be well-lit, the homes should be tastefully presented, and the photographs should appear to be taken by a professional. Less than that, and you might want to consider looking for a new agent.

There are, of course, major red flags youʼll want to look for in sample listing photos. Consider some of the following:

  • No owners sunbathing in the pool in Speedos.
  • No attic rooms cluttered with personal massagers and ashes/dust.
  • No master bedrooms with lingerie models lounging in a red velvet four-poster bed.
  • No bathroom shots in which the photographer appears in her bra in the mirror.
  • No pics featuring the owners engaged in questionable activities in the background.
  • No creepy dolls by the fire place.
  • Seriously, no creepy dolls anywhere, not even in the living room!
  • No stains of murdered bodies on the bare floors.

Now, it may sound like Iʼm joking, but Iʼm being 100% honest when I say these are flaws seen in actual listing photos represented by real agents. Whatʼs more, I can prove it.

See every single one of the above listing photo disasters below!

Please, whatever you do, be sure to hire an agent who takes their listing photos seriously. After all, you home is your largest investment! Iʼd be glad to treat it with the respect it deserves. Let me help you market your home the right way!


Book an appointment with John Graff Real Estate Group using SetMore
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A Guide to Checking Out Area Schools

Schools are a contributing factor for anyone buying a home. Even if you donʼt have kids yourself, your next buyer might, and they might base their decision to buy on the school district which serves your home.

The question remains: How do you evaluate schools? Whatʼs the best approach for understanding if your local schools will score your property an “A” or relegate it to the land of “D-”?

Luckily, there are some excellent resources out there for vetting schools online. Here are a few Iʼve come across which provide a good place to start: A major portal site for education everywhere, youʼll want to pay particular attention to the schools section, found here: school-and-academics/ A good search engine for researching schools, you can do zip code based searches and learn lots about the public and private institutions in the area. A website dedicated to improving public schools, you can learn a lot here about the crucial elements of what makes a local school and excellent local school.

Finally, here are a handful of questions to ask yourself if youʼre doing research:

  • How comprehensive is the schoolʼs safety policy?
  • What social/support services are available at the school? How does the school handle discipline?
  • Are people involved in a parent/teacher organization? How healthy is the school districtʼs annual report?

Finally, be sure to ask your agent!


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Top tips for welcoming out-of-town guests

Hosting out of town guests soon? Going the extra mile when hosting out-of-town guests can be both affordable and reflect the charms of your town. Here are some handy tips I like to share with clients who have friends staying in the Los Angeles area.

For the guest room:

  • Clear out a nice space for your guests items. Even a section of a closet or a dedicated set of shelves / drawers will help them feel welcome.
  • Fresh flowers are a great way to make an average guest room seem like a little dose of “B&B” treatment.
  • Provide local information on the nightstand; local maps, history, and points of interest are great ideas.

On arrival:

  • Giving guests a spare set of keys and showing them how to use the alarm (if you have one) is a great way to make sure they can come and go as they please.
  • People are often starving after a long day on the road! Have some food available as soon as your friends arrive.
  • Let them know “whatʼs mine is yours” right away. Books, blankets, whatever they need. Donʼt assume theyʼll ask or feel comfortable with your possessions.

While theyʼre staying:

  • Take them food shopping at a local specialty store. If they like to cook, plan to make a meal together. It can be intimate, relaxing, and affordable.
  • Go beyond the tourist destinations! Show them “how locals do.”
  • If they drink, offering a little “wind me down” cocktail at night is nice.
  • If it doesnʼt break the bank, find small, local souvenir you can send them home with.


By the way, Iʼd love to meet your house guests! They might just like Los Angeles so much, theyʼd consider moving here. If youʼre out and about, give me ring or drop me a line so we can meet!