For Sale by Owner and Not by Owner

223 Prospect front

We never thought back in 2012 when we bought our house that it would take 6 years to complete our renovations.  In fact, we never really finished because in a 100-year-old brownstone there are always improvements to be made.

We decided to put the house up for sale, not because we wanted to leave the house but because we decided we’ve been in New York City long enough and it was time for a new adventure.

Of course, as DIYers, we wanted to sell our house ourselves as we did with our For Sale by Owner condo.  Over the last year, we’ve worked tirelessly to get those little details completed and the house in the best shape we could to lure prospective buyers.  We were lulled into complacency regarding the actual selling of the house until it was almost too late.  For our condo, it was so easy.  We took photos, created a Word Press website with all the photos and financials.  We found a service online that listed it on Zillow and Trulia and got it ready for the open houses.  We had about 2-3 open houses before we received an offer and within two months we had an accepted cash offer.  Easy peasy.

Not so this time.  Things have changed at Zillow and Trulia (owned by the same company).  They are not For Sale by Owner friendly.  We signed up with an online service that was supposed to get our listing on all the real estate websites.  Read the fine print, my friends.  It took weeks to get our listing on Trulia and Zillow because there was an incorrect listing on the site that had our street address but which featured another home down the street that wasn’t even for sale.  By the time we got this ironed out, it was late spring already and we were missing peak selling season.  Our goal was to be in contract by the summer.

We listed it on the NYTimes website first and although we received little interest there (like really no point in wasting your time) we did get one couple who, if their life and financial obligations had worked out, we would have sold it to them.

We tried courting buyer’s brokers but even with an offer of a 2.5% commission (what they’d get when working with a seller’s broker) but we had little interest.  It wasn’t until we listed it on (at $599! and also owned by Trulia) that we received more interest on our home but not the traffic we were seeing at other local open houses.  We even paid our daughter to hand out flyers outside these open houses!

What was the problem?  People in the brownstone price bracket seem to work with brokers rather than looking on their own.  The other factor was that our house has its drawbacks:  it faces an expressway.  We needed to get people to the house to see that with our high-quality windows it was hardly a factor at all.

If we had started our process about 6 months earlier, we are convinced we could have pulled it off but time was running out and we wanted to be settled in our new home city before the school year started.

When you list your house as For Sale by Owner, be prepared to be inundated with brokers pretending they want to show interested buyers your home.  What they really want is to represent you.  We had brokers show up at our low turn-out open houses to ask how it went, which we thought was pretty smug and unprofessional.  Brokers, you should never do that!  The other downside to listing your property on your own is that brokers, in general, do not want to encourage these so there is a bit of a blacklist situation – in our paranoid opinion.

One of the brokers that contacted us did stand out from the rest.  Her name was Danielle Nazinitsky from Corcoran.  She did not hound us the way some of the others did.  She was persistent but at each contact, she provided us with value.  She sent us all the similar properties in our area that were having open houses and provided us with good comparables.  When we’d finally decided it was probably time to pick a broker, she serendipitously sent us a post to her blog entitled, “Resistance is Futile!”


We were actually hesitant to go with Corcoran because we figured they were the biggest in NYC and probably the most expensive but mainly, we tend to lean toward the underdog. We later learned that the commission was about the same for all the major firms.  Once we realized this, why not go with the one that has the best marketing and that was Corcoran.

Danielle promised that she’d get us an offer within a month and that she did.  Her main strategy was to get it in front of as many eyeballs as possible and take good photos.  From the moment we signed the contract, she was on the case and things moved quickly.

Now, I maintain that my photos were good but, according to brokers and prospective buyers, people want the overlit and in my opinion, misleadingly large kind.  Here is an example of both:

This was mine, taken in winter with a cozy fire.  I thought it was pretty good!

kitchen copy

This was our second attempt – brighter and showing off the deck.


And the professional one.  Ok, it looks pretty spectacular and it really shows off the whole room.

kitchen (2)

There are several advantages to having a broker.  She does all your open houses so you get your weekends back and you only need to worry about cleaning.  When you do get an offer, she negotiates with the other broker and deals with all the questions.  When you are in-contract, she is there for any inspections and additional showings for the buyers, as there inevitably will be.

Still, if you want to give For Sale by Owner a shot to save the money, here is our advice:

  1. Start early
  2. Get professional photos
  3. Have a buyer broker open house and offer a commission
  4. Find out which real estate websites are the most frequented and spend the money to list on those.  Don’t bother with those listing online services.
  5. Make flyers and hand them out all over your neighborhood
  6. Make sure your house is open house ready – clear all the clutter, clean it so you can eat off the floors, touch up the paint and spend some money on art (Ikea has some nice inexpensive framed pieces), new towels, and a professional designer consultation if you are at the higher end of the price range.

When you’ve given it your best shot and it is time to hire a broker, give Danielle a call.  Corcoran gave us a deal that if any interested buyers that were a result of our earlier efforts made an offer, Corcoran would not take a commission.  We’d highly recommend such a clause.  They offered us two weeks to get an executed contract.  This is ridiculous.  We did not think that any of the prospective buyers would be back but just our luck, one made an offer!  Two weeks was not enough time but in the end, it didn’t matter because this buyer was looking to low ball us in addition to having made a racist comment about undocumented immigrants that we were not cool with.

All that aside, you definitely want to have this clause in the contract but ask for a month to execute the contract.  If they want your business, I think they will agree.



How to Remove Stains and Water Marks from Marble Countertops

We were warned that marble countertops stain and scratch easily. We ignored the naysayers because we love the look of marble but we have to admit, they were correct. After a year our counters have scratches, surface marks that look like water spots and glass rings and even a few chips.  Surprisingly, we have very few discoloration marks.


New shiny and clean but do you see those shadows–that is where the installer put sealant on it and it left some marks.

Before you can figure out how you go about removing these marks you first have to figure out what they are.  After some head-spinning research on the Internet, I reached out to the experts and contacted MB Stone Restoration and Supply, Inc. , who seem to have one of the few products on the market for removing damage like etches and stains.

Damage defined

In a nutshell, they explained etches vs. stains as:   A stain is a discoloration of the stone produced by a staining agent that is actually absorbed by the stone.

Etches have nothing to do with the porosity or absorbency of the stone. It is still a discoloration but it’s worse than a stain because it is caused by actual damage to the stone surface.

lots of etches

lots of etches

So all those light colored “stains” that look like “water spots” or “water rings,” are actually marks of corrosion (etches) created by some chemically active liquid (mostly – but not limited to – acids) which had a chance to come in contact with your marble.

Lemon juice damage is the worst

Lemon juice damage is the worst

As with all things renovation there is good news and bad news.  The bad news is, if you have honed marble or the etch is severe (deep to the point that it looks and feels rough), then you need a professional stone refinisher. The good news is if you have polished marble, like we have, then you can diminish the appearance of some of these etch marks. If the etch is light (the depth is undetectable by the naked eye, and it looks and feels smooth), then there are a few polishing creams or powders like MB Stone’s that might do the trick. MB Stone was nice enough to provide me with a sample of their MB-11 marble polishing powder.

How to diminish etch marks using: 

MB Stone Care Marble Repair Kit


  • rubber gloves
  • paper towels
  • clean cloths
  • water


The instructions say to pour a little powder on the mark press down firmly. Now maybe I am a weakling but I had to press down pretty hard and go over it a few times then rinse off dry and repeat.  It took about 2-3 times average for ours.


glass ring etch

glass ring etch





We recommend getting this product when your surface is brand new and use it for maintenance as you notice each mark because tackling every tiny little circular spot is exhausting.  Afterwards, wipe the counter with a clean moist cloth and then add their polishing liquid to give it a nice shine and protect it.

Now that the larger ringed etches are substantially gone and the counters look much better  but somewhere down the line we will have to get a professional stone refinisher. We wish we had done this research before our counters were installed!





Helpful tips for caring for marble surfaces

  • wipe up all liquid drips immediately–even the sealant the installer put on caused marks!
  • always use a large cutting board or other surface especially when working with citrus foods.
  • when you have a party put a crap load of coasters on the counter because after a few glasses of wine you might forget to obsessively wipe up after your guests.


We do not have any bad stains yet but I though I would include the instructions from MB Stone on how to make a homemade poultice for removing them for future use.

The properties of a poultice are basically a combination of an absorbent medium (must be more absorbent than your stone) with a chemical. The chemical will attack the stain inside the stone while the absorbent agent will help draw it out.  The chemical agent you choose will depend on the type of stain.

Supplies you will need:

  • an absorbent like baby powder, paper-towels or diatomaceous earth (the white powder chemical in a pool filter).

And one of these:

  • Hydrogen peroxide clear 30/40 formula (the kind salons use not the kind for cuts) for organic and inorganic stains like coffee, tea, gravy, mustard, ink, dyes or dirt
  • Acetone (hardware not nail kind) for oily stains like cooking stains, butter, or any animal fat
  • Bleach for mold or mildew (xx also has a product MB-9 for this)
  • “Iron Out”** from hardware store for metal stains like rust


If you’ve chosen talc powder (baby powder) as your absorbent medium,

  1. You mix it – using a metal spatula or spoon – in a glass or stainless steel bowl, together with the chemical, to form a paste just a tad thinner than peanut butter (thin enough, but not running) Now you have made your poultice.

**If you’re attempting to remove a metal (rust) stain, first you melt the “Iron-out” with water – according with the directions written on the container – and then you mix it with an equal amount of talc powder, adding water if it turns out to be too thick, or talc if it’s too “runny.”

  1. Apply the poultice onto the stain, going approximately 1⁄2” over it all around, keeping it as thick as possible (at least 1⁄4”).
  2. Cover the poultice with plastic wrap, and tape it down using masking tape.
  3. Leave the whole thing alone for at least 24 hours, and then remove the plastic wrap.
  4. Allow the poultice to dry thoroughly! It may take from a couple of hours to a couple of days or better, depending on the chemical. Do NOT peek! This is the phase during which the absorbing agent is re-absorbing the chemical that was forced into the stone, together (hopefully!) with the staining agent, and you do NOT want to interrupt that process!
  5. Once the poultice is completely dry, scrape it off the surface of the stone with a plastic spatula, clean the area with a little squirt of our MB-5 Marble, Granite & More Spray Cleaner, then wipe it dry with a clean rag or a sheet of paper-towel.

If you decide to use paper-towel instead of talc powder, make a “pillow” with it (8 or 10 fold thick) a little wider than the stain, soak it with the chemical to a point that’s wet through but not dripping, apply it on the stain and tap it with your gloved fingertips to insure full contact with the surface of the stone. Then you take it from the point 3 above.

Check back with us this spring when we try this out on our blue stone patio, which by the way no one warned us is easily stained by any oil-based animal fats like those produced when barbequing.

Water Leaks – We’ve Had a Few

One of the most common and feared problems for homeowners is water leaks and damage.  Our latest for tells you all about our recent experiences and what you are in for when you purchase an old house.

Stay tuned for our next post because it gets even better, or worse, depending on how you look at it.


Nothing says “family time” like clearing sewage-filled pipes with your loved ones.

Longtime New Yorkers Angela Tiffin and Andrew Nichols bought their first brownstone in South Park Slope in May 2012, and have spent two years renovating—first, their own duplex apartment and in recent months, a third-floor rental unit—much of it with their own hands. You can read more about the project at their blog, Brownstone Cyclone.

If this isn’t a proverb, it should be: as soon as you complete something during a renovation, something else goes wrong.  When you’re dealing with a 100-year-old brownstone, it happens more often than not. And water is particularly destructive because the damage extends both to the thing leaking, as well as its surroundingshome insurance policies have a high deductible for water-related damage for a reason.