Is it Break Time?

breakThis is for all the would-be Buyers waiting in the wings. Those taking a temporary break from the rigors of the real estate market after experiencing months of frustration and fatigue.

The one’s who are girding their loins and girding their loans in preparation for next year’s battle.  Hoping to rest and recuperate now, so they can be ready for the flood of new listings they are hoping will arrive.

There are plenty of left-over Buyers out there who gave it their all in 2014. They deserve an A for effort, even if they weren’t quite able to make it over the hump to the promised land.  Well-qualified folks who just couldn’t seem to out-smart a difficult market and find their way home.

It’s hard to live a normal life and look for a house at the same time. That’s particularly true in a market that demands such an exhausting state of readiness and preparation at the same time it only parcels a few meager new listings at a time to choose from.

Buyers who have been slogging around in the trenches in search of inventory for the last six months or longer, know what that “always-on” feeling is like.  The barrage of search engine e mails that begins to look like spam rather than real opportunity.

Hours spent parsing Sunday open house ads trying to figure out whether “charming” really means “fixer” or whether “cute” really means “tiny.”  And whether they should drop everything, jump in the car and head out to the open house to see for themselves.

The rush of an unexpected for sale sign popping up in the perfect neighborhood. The promising sneak peak of a new listing on Thursday’s Brokers Tour.  The call from a sister-in-law that heard a rumor about a friend of a friend thinking about putting their house on the market.  God forbid you should take a vacation and miss that once in a lifetime opportunity that could happen at any moment.

On again off again.  Hurry up and wait.  All addressed up with nowhere to go.  Weeks and months of looking hard but finding nothing.  Until suddenly, a house appears out of the blue. It’s perfect…except for the fact that five other Buyers with competing offers seem to have had the same revelation.

So many questions for all those would-be Buyers lining up in the queue for next year. What are they waiting for exactly?  Is 2015 really going to be any different? Is that flood of new listings really on it’s way?

To be continued…

Taking Stock

Continuing the discussion…

TakingStockAfter a busy year, all is quiet on the real estate front. The market’s been moving at a more languid pace for at least a month now. And it’s doubtful that this weekend’s ritual orgy of mind-numbing football and tryptophan-laced turkey is going to significantly alter the pattern. Or inspire a lot more of you to run out at halftime and buy a house.

It may be the busiest weekend of the year for Best Buy and Macy’s. But as far as real estate sales go …not so much. We won’t see crowded lines of people camping out at new listings, stampeding open houses or pepper-spraying each other to be first in line to present offers. (That’s reserved for the spring isn’t it? Just kidding about the pepper spray folks.)

So time to take a breath. Take stock of where the market’s at. And perhaps more importantly, take a good look at where your own goals are relative to the market–at-large.

It may be time to rethink your assumptions. Review your options. Weigh your priorities. Consider what you may be willing to compromise on, for the greater good.

Let’s start with all those buyers-in-waiting out there. Earnest homeseekers who finally succumbed to extreme buyer-fatigue after the summer and decided to put their searches on hold for the rest of the year.  Buyers who worked long and hard to find something, but for a variety of reasons, weren’t quite able to pull it off

Taking stock of things is precisely what these buyers in the coming year are going to have to do. Because there’s going to be the same frustrating lack of new inventory, reasonable housing stock and quality listings that characterized 2014.

The Sentinel article on November 17 highlighted a few pertinent statistics in this regard. There were 404 active single family listings at the start of November. The fewest for any November in 18 years (think 1996!)  The number of active listings each month has now been lower than the same calendar month the previous year for 44 of the past 45 months!

By my count there were 325 active listings left in SC County this past Wednesday. A third of them priced at more than a million.  Not exactly music to the ears of an average buyer, with a median income, trying to qualify for a loan.

Bottom line: If you head into next year’s market without examining and tweaking your approach,  you may find yourself coming up short again.  Next week: Let’s explore a few ideas for shaking up your search.

Dialing it Down

DialingDownHere we are. Heading down the home stretch for 2014.

True. The day-to-day market seems like it has decided to dial itself back a few notches. Level itself out for a softer landing. The pace has slowed. There’s less tangible activity. And there’s nowhere near the same kind of ambient intensity that we thought we had become accustomed to as “the new normal”, just a few months back.

The overwhelming sense of urgency that dominated so much of 2014, has suddenly made itself scare. Hell, we aren’t even hearing about all those crazy first day/all cash/multiple offer/million dollar overbids in Palo Alto right now.

So… it’s an interesting time.

Whenever there’s a bit of a downshift like this, specially when it comes in and around the November and December holidays, there’s a huge temptation to sit back and put our expectations on autopilot.

Figuring that it must be time to drop back twenty yards and punt real estate into next year. Acquiesce and accept the notion that nothing hugely relevant is going to happen between now and whenever it is that the frenzy starts up again next spring.

But it’s not that easy to do this year.

There’s still plenty of momentum buzzing around from those early spring and late summer surges we had. When agents, buyers and sellers were all running around with their hair on fire. It’s hard to know what to do with all the extra adrenalin when multiple offers aren’t flying left and right.

When the market’s that en fuego response times are accelerated. Negotiations are quick. Escrows are short. Days on market fly by. Listings come and go in the blink of an eye. Life decisions are made innanoseconds. And money talks because it’s so good at squeezing all the timelines.

It’s always now or never. Or worse yet, it all has to arrive absolutely, positively yesterday.

So maybe it’s a good thing the market is giving itself (and us) a break. Let’s spend a few columns reflecting on what we know now that we couldn’t have known when we started out this year. Let’s also begin to formulate our educated guesses for the coming year.

We’ll track the trends. Point to the patterns. And once again try to hack the meaning of the marketplace in search of a real estate version of the “Theory of Everything.” One that explains why we can’t always explain why the market does what it does.

Stay tuned.

Life Along the Continuum

blogphoto2Realtors are given intimate access to lots of life lessons by virtue of their work. We are blessed with opportunities for insight into the good, the bad and the ironic of human nature – simply by doing what we do.

Everyday we are invited into people’s homes and lives.  Asked to play a role in the life transitions our clients choose to navigate. Or in the transitions that unexpectedly arise to choose them.

As long as we keep our eyes and hearts open, we get to work with all the biggies.

Marriage.  Growing families. Birth of twins.  Job promotions. Career goals. Coming of age.  Empty nests.  Divorces.  Second marriages. Health challenges.  Assisted living.  Death of parents.  Loss of friends..

For better or for worse. Richer or poorer. In sickness and in health.  And everything in between.  These are all the reasons people move.  And why homes are bought and sold. Life transitions are what home-lives are really about.

YThe essence of home isn’t rooted in the notion that people should stay put forever and resist change as long as they can.  It lies in people trying to find the most appropriate means and comfortable ways to shift their center in relation to life’s inevitability.   Not to change really isn’t an option.

When people spend hours surfing the web or driving around neighborhoods looking for three bedrooms rather than two, bigger backyards, proximity to schools, more privacy, less grass to mow, deeper connections to nature, shorter commute times, fewer stairs …   they are really just participating in the evolution of life and the grander scheme of things.

Realtors have front row seats to the entire drama. Theirs is a perfect vantage point along the continuum.  They get to watch it all unfold while the clock continues to wind down.

And that’s something incredibly rare these days.  The gift of the big picture.

More and more, the world seems intent on compartmentalizing life.  Diminishing the whole. Breaking things up into smaller bits.  Deconstructing them into disparate fragments and fodder for the digital age.

Our right-brains selves that connect us to the larger, analogous flow of life, are losing ground to our left-brain selves – whose aim, it appears, is to Balkanize everyone and everything into separate realms of existence.

It’s sad to hear people talk about seniors like they are from a different planet. (Is that the octogenarian seniors who are really our parents? Or is it those of us who just earned the dubious honor of purchasing cheaper tickets at the movies? )

It’s also sad to hear people talk about millennials like they are from some different time in history.

Like all of us are somehow different populations of “other” people simultaneously occupying alternate universes instead of co-existing together in the here and now.

Trans-generational living was once the norm.  Families transitioned through all of life’s changes and stages together as a whole. Children were born into households that had parents and grandparents and often great-grandparents living under one roof.

Aunts and uncles lived next door or nearby. Cousins were playmates.  Children learned from all the adults in their tribe. They saw all of life’s stages unfold up close and personal.  They witnessed death and integrated the memory of it.

People didn’t stray so far from home.  Society/Culture wasn’t as fluid or transient as it is now. An appreciation for the continuity to life was communicated it’s  most visceral human level.

Somewhere along the way, that quality of life left the building.  It deserted our homes and our towns. Migrated to the suburbs. Met a dystopian future.

But that’s not the end of the story.  My own optimism about the future has been buoyed in recent years by the choices I am watching my clients make more consistently in the face of change.   Next week we’ll talk more about that.

Demographic Shift

Blog1Today 10,000 people in the US will turn 65. In another 5 to 7 years, that number is going to take a quantum leap further into the stratosphere. All the while more people are going to be living longer than their parents did.

How does this huge demographic shift and upward migration along the timeline relate to thoughts we are wrestling with and decisions we are making (or should be making) today? What does it all mean for the future of real estate?

Homes are the biggest assets most of us will ever own.  They also serve as the all-important physical, emotional, psychic centering places for our lives. So it makes perfect sense that homes often occupy center stage in so many of the larger life discussions people have.

But here’s the thing… there’s not really much of a mindful, open,  broad public dialogue happening about the rapidly changing nature of the age or the loosening fabric of the culture.

It’s more of an isolated web of separate discussions that’s taking place among small, compartmentalized groups of friends and family members. Or between a steady stream of inner voices loudly talking inside each person’s head.

All looking for some larger voice recognition pattern to fit into.

This is my own small attempt to connect the thousand disparate  threads of the same conversation that is already happening. Now more than ever.  If it sounds familiar, welcome to the club.  Go to to catch up and join in.

Change. There’s nothing more certain.  The entire universe is constructed by it, around it, through it.

Any single thing along the continuum we choose to call real or permanent only exists as the whisper of a fragment.  The shutter of a quick snapshot taking place in an interlude between infinitesimal moments. A short stop along the periodic table while elements transforms into energy and then back again.

We are all verbs that like to harbor the illusion that we are nouns.  Narratives that keep trying to get a fix on our own story by incorporating some kind of abstract calculus as a plot device.

Even though we are all creatures of change and there’s nothing more certain, there’s also nothing that resists the “idea of change” more than certain parts of our brains do.

Those neural pathways are like well-worn deer trails. The more they get used, the more embedded and fossilized they become in the underlying strata.

When that happens, they hunker down and start to operate on survival mode. Dig in and fight to preserve themselves.

Why do so many people stay in houses that they actively dislike? Or places that just don’t work for them either now or specially in the future?  Because the prospect of change is so scary.

The known known, no matter how unpleasant, is often less frightening than the unknown known.  That as yet unqualified spectre of change that feels like the shadow of your former self is about to step off the dark edge of a precipice into a bottomless abyss.

We convince ourselves that without the same accustomed neural pathways in play, we won’t know who we are anymore. With our ego structure gone, we’ll have to start all over again like a stroke patient learning how to walk and talk like they used to. Or in this case, intriguingly, perhaps in a brand new way.

And that’s where we’ll stop. With the tiny idea that change could be an introduction to something new rather than fearful.  It might be something to embrace rather than resist. By opting for the default position of choosing not to change.  Kicking the can down the road until life inevitably steps in and does what it always does… makes the choices for you whether you are ready or not.

Emptying Your Rice Bowl

UnknownContinuing the discussion…. Emptying the rice bowl: Re-thinking our relationship with all the “stuff” we buy and cram into our houses until the bitter end.

A necessary precursor to designing more graceful strategies for growing older, facing change and moving into the future. Mindfully engaging in real life experiences rather than living a life defined by “things”.

It’s a perplexing time for baby boomers. They’re feeling the onset of their own mortality. Even as they venture down the road towards the last third of their lives.

There’s a dawning awareness that in order to take that next step in the journey, they need a viable exit strategy for the place they are in now.

Making room for the new begins by getting rid of the old. All the baggage that’s been collecting, literally and figuratively, in closets, cabinets, junk drawers and garages. Freeing up space (in the rice bowl) acts an open invitation to replenish the soul with something different.

Thanks to all who sent photos of their overflowing garages after last week’s column. Specially the clever person who photo-shopped in a mountain of rice cascading out of their half-opened garage door.

When you are an over-the-top, habitual collector of “stuff”, it’s helpful to know you aren’t alone in the world. Specially if you harbor at least a modicum of self-awareness about your own pack-ratting proclivities.

As someone who makes house calls to thousands of homes and regularly peers into the intimate recesses of all those overwrought secret stash and storage spaces, I’m convinced that everyone in America belongs somewhere on the spectrum of disorder known as the Horder’s Scale.

Is it a fluke that so many current Reality TV shows are centered around people’s addiction to stuff?

How many shows are there about Horders? Storage Wars? Pawn Stars? What’s all the morbid fascination really about? Why do we love watching people swimming/drowning in their own seas full of stuff?

I think we’ve come to a tipping point in a national crisis of “content(s)”. There’s a shift happening among members of the most privileged generation in history (post-war baby boomers). A realization that perhaps they’ve been filling their lives up with the wrong form of sustenance all this time. A sense that more really does become less when there’s way too much of it.

Sorta like that odd aha moment most children of the TV generation have spontaneously had: The more cable channels there are the less there is that you really want to watch.

It’s as good a metaphor as any for the fundamental struggle of our waning times. Not the struggle between the haves and the have-nots. More like the struggle the haves are having with themselves.

Even as billions of people in less privileged countries are aspiring to become credit card carrying members of the global consumer culture so they can own more of the same stuff that so many Americans have sitting in piles in their garages.

The world economy is based on continuous growth. Expanding production of goods matched by the ever-expanding consumption of goods. Without a lot of thought given to the depletion of the natural, non-renewable resources of the planet.

Look up the tortured definition of the world “consume” On one hand it means eating, drinking and absorbing the nutrition necessary for survival. More often it means the destruction, using up and squandering of anything that gets in its way.

Tuberculosis was once known as “consumption”. A reference to people wasting away from the inside. Perhaps the ultimate challenge for the baby boom generation lies in modeling the way for future generations to step out of the bonds of a consumer culture.

Do You Have the Right Stuff?

george_carlin_0203Welcome to the discussion. It’s Week Four of Real Estate of Mind’s ongoing exploration of home and aging issues. Along with a slew of other ingredients that inevitably find their way into the complicated melting pot that gets stirred up when people start becoming more conscious of growing older.

If you want to pick up the thread go to . When you get there, feel free to join in. Register your observations. Share your experiences. If nothing else, the font size online is bigger than it is here, so you won’t have to use a magnifying glass to read this.

Today, we are going to talk about a subject that all Realtors are intimately familiar with.  Something near but not always dear to their hearts.  A factor that’s part and parcel of just about every single home transition they have or will ever be involved with – to a greater or lesser degree.

What am I talking about?  I’m talking about that huge umbrella of a euphemism that fits under the heading of  “stuff”.

You know,  “stuff” as in all the stuff that people collect and fill their homes with. All the stuff that people form strange attractions to.  All the stuff that’s in their junk drawers and closets and attics and garages.  In bags and boxes. Piled high on shelves and jammed tightly in corners.

The stuff they are saving. Or the stuff they can’t  bring themselves to throw away. The “stuff” that over time, gets stuffed down like baggage from the past until it is overflowing or taking up way too much room or has gotten so heavy to carry around (physically and psychically) that it makes it harder to actually conceive of picking up to move.

Even if each and every one of us knows somewhere deep in our heart of hearts, that it is all “stuff” that we aren’t going to be able take with us when we die.

Maybe the ancient Egyptians were able to pack a few important possessions for personal use in the afterlife, but there’s not enough real estate left on the planet to start burying even modest members of modern consumer culture with a fraction of the stuff they’ve accumulated.

To get into a better mood for this discussion, try Googling the old George Carlin video on “stuff”. It brilliantly captures our weird, addictive, all-too-human love affair with things.

We’ve spent the last three weeks talking about the huge importance of homes in our lives and their dual roles as our biggest assets and hallowed psychic centering places.  Is there anything that ranks higher on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs than home does for human beings?

But how ironic is it that home so often acts as a huge repository for all kinds of junk that so many people can’t quite seem to figure out how to recycle back into the flow of the world.

It’s my passionate belief that in order to figure out more graceful strategies for growing older, facing change and moving ahead in life,  all those aging baby boomers out there are going to have to get better at rethinking their relationship to the stuff they define themselves by.

What’s important from this point forward?  You can’t move down unless you are ready to give some things up.  You can’t shrink your debt and conserve your personal resources if you can’t quit buying things.  You can’t open yourself up to all those “life experiences” you’d dearly love to have before you leave the planet unless you are willing to empty your rice bowl.

Next week:  Emptying the rice bowl