The Need for Speed!

UnknownLet’s circle back to rejoin the discussion we started a few weeks ago… We were talking about some of the interesting trends that have occurred in real estate over the last two or three decades. And the remarkably sudden and almost overwhelming “need for speed” that has taken over the real estate process in recent years.

Some of you who bought or sold a home this past year and found yourselves navigating the dubious joys and perils of today’s marketplace – things like – off-MLS listings, pre-emptive offers, one day response times, shorter than short contingency periods, electronic signatures, mobile notaries, wiring funds and ultra-fast, all-cash closings – will recognize what I’m talking about when I say that the pace of doing things in real estate has been ratcheted-up.

My premise is this: The essential, underlying meaning of buying or selling a home is the same now as it was back in the 80s or 90s. Not much has really changed in the basic equation.

Home is still the profound place of comfort, safety and refuge that nurtures us. Most people still only come into contact with the nitty-gritty of the real estate process when they aregoing through big life transitions like marriage, the birth of twins, divorce, health concerns, aging issues or the passing of a loved one. And for most of us, home is still the largest financial asset we’ll ever own.

Real estate has always been about big change and lots of money and all the powerful emotions that come along for the ride. What’s morphed, almost beyond our ability to keep up or comprehend, is the medium that’s now in charge of delivering the message.

Like everything else in the world these days, real estate has been digitized and unceremoniously relocated to a web-centric universe where buyers and sellers are hyper-connected and information is delivered in the blink of “real time,” at hyper-speed.

You may even hear the phrase hyper-local on occasion. It’s one of those new buzz-concepts making the rounds in real estate these days. But it’s really just a term that describes all the aggregated big data that’s being collected about homes and transactions, carved-up into byte-sized pieces so it can be fed back to individual consumers as meaningful morsels that in turn convince them to click on more things designed to monetize the hip young companies doing the collecting.

By 2015 standards, it’s almost impossible to imagine how anyone had the patience to buy or sell a home back in the good old days when bandwidths were so narrow and things moved at such a snail’s pace and the real estate process regularly unfolded in one long, drawn out, slow-motion take. For anyone who had their last close encounter with buying or selling a home back in 1995, the normal progression of a real estate transaction in today’s world is almost unrecognizable.

Buyers and sellers have no choice but to think faster. Act faster. Feel faster. Resolve doubts faster. And move-on faster. There’s no time to sit back and consider next steps unless you count a five day contingency period as adequate time. In a world defined by competition and the laws of supply and demand there’s always someone out there who might be gaining on you. If you snooze, you’re going to lose.

So here’s the question…is faster better? Is it a good thing that buyers and sellers are making such important life decisions with very little time to spare? We’ll talk more next week…

Que Sera Sera!

Unknown-2Occasionally I get emails from people musing over their particular realty tunnel or questioning the realty fate that feel they’ve been irreparably assigned to. Recently I had a letter from a person calling themselves Day Late and Dollar Short.

Here are a few excerpts:

“I’m just about ready to give up. I’ve missed out on five different properties in the last six months. I’m exhausted at the idea of
riding this roller coaster one more time. I missed the last property by $5,000. I want to own a home but if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. Maybe I’ll just give up and try again next year.”

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Both as an expression of the incredible frustration that this kind of a “good” market creates for so many “good” people trying to navigate its rocky shoals as well as in the ad hoc philosophy that often surfaces along with it – which I euphemistically refer to as the Doris Day Syndrome.

Pardon my French, but remember “Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be will be?” Close your eyes. You can almost hear Doris’ hit song floating like some ghostly perfume on the real estate ether – refusing to leave.

Among other things, Doris wrote a book called “Surviving the 1950’s” which included a chapter on How to Be Happy Without Psychotherapy (Depression can be cured by a new hat!) Must have been an early Scientologist. But let’s not forget that Que Sera Sera was also the music that Hitchcock chose to weave through the darker psychological shadows of his movie “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

I’ve thought a lot about this connection as it continues to be a Sellers’ market and I hear more Buyers wistfully humming this fateful little leitmotif as a salve for their bruised feelings and battered egos – a kind of all-purpose balm for those getting bombed out of the market in serial fashion.

At its best, Que Sera is a great Zen approach to real estate. It helps us keep a safe distance from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes that home transitions thrust into our paths. It recognizes a place of balance in the market
where you actively want and pursue home but not to the degree that you end up driving it away or become emotionally devastated by not getting it. You have to be willing to let it go. Control what you can, accept what you can’t.

At its worst, Que Sera is a handy excuse for not making a genuine effort to control things you can control. It is the red herring standing between you and a better relationship with your own unconscious. Day Late and Dollar Short rattled off a litany of all the reasons why he didn’t make it on his last five tries. It left me with the nagging suspicion that at some point he could have just bucked up and made it happen.

One of the important corollaries in real estate is: Whatever is buried down there deep in the unconscious is somehow, someway always going to rear its strange and interesting head during the home buying process.

The fact that some buyers try repeatedly, but never quite get over the hump, suggests there may be a secret part of them that isn’t ready to succeed. That shadow self probably exhales a huge sigh of relief each time their Agent delivers the “bad” news that they “didn’t get the house.”

My suggestion for anyone that keeps repeating their failures is: go back into the editing room and watch the film running through your head, frame by frame. Check it carefully for red herrings and subplots lurking in the shadows. As the auteur of your own reality/realty series learn to acknowledge your own inner-trickster/hitchcock.

Don’t be a Doris Day Late or a Doris Dollar Short. Don’t get down on yourself and please don’t just get back on the roller coaster for another mindless ride. Do the heavy lifting inside. It’s easy to put it back on Que Sera Sera but I’ve noticed that the fates most often reward those who buckle down and do their home-work.

Home Inspection…Duck and Cover!

UnknownAnother Home Inspection this week. Another reminder just how risky daily life is. Begs the question: Will any of us even survive the night in the unprotective-custody of our not-so-safe-houses?

They used to say most accidents occured up to five miles away from home. But after reading this 60page tome of a Home Inspection Report, I don’t see how anyone makes it out the front door in one piece – let alone down the driveway.

Nothing like a Home Inspection Report to make you feel incredibly insecure about all the insidious dangers that lurk in every room, closet and corner of the one place that’s supposed to keep us all safe.

I call it the 60 Minute Syndrome. Goes something like this. Morley Safer (fictitious name?) does a riveting expose on the dangers of automatic garage doors pinning unsuspecting children or small pets underneath. By the following week, consumer protection advocates are up in arms calling for installation of retroactive auto-reverse safety mechanisms.

On the front line of the Center for Dis-Ease Patrol are the Code Talkers. They are the Home Inspectors that cite chapter and verse of all the new codes we should live by. They’ve come to understand, after a lawsuit or two, that if they don’t warn everyone about every possible thing that could potentially harm anyone, their own butts are in grave danger. CYA rules. Absolute CYA rules absolutely.

And so the real estate process has moved into strange territory where the Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware) of old has become the Caveat Venditor of today – which means Seller Beware of all those things that will scare you about your own home and also scare the heck out of any potential home buyers too.

Here are just a few of the things you probably never knew you had to worry about – until now.

– Does your oven have an anti-tip device? Ever see an oven fall over on someone? Not pretty.

– That naked light bulb in your closet? Stack those sweaters high enough and they’re a fire waiting to happen.

– That dryer vent? Filling up with combustible layers of lint even as we speak.

– How many dyslexic plumbers have installed hot and cold water lines backwards?

– Is every stairway a potential stairway to heaven? Risers too high? Too wide? Treds uneven? Handrails too hard to grip?

– Deck rails more than 4 inches apart? Wide enough for small heads to get stuck? My own baby crib had bars wider than that. You are all witness to the results.

– GFCI’s? Carbon Monoxide Detectors? Smoke Alarms? Pool Alarms? A ban on all extension cords? Tempered glass? Clamps to hold open the damper on your gasfireplace?

When I was growing up we nursed a healthy fear of the atomic bomb. But as long as we listened to Bert the Turtle – ducked, covered and didn’t stare directly into the blast, we were ok. Everything else was gravy. Well, except for remembering not to run with sharp pencils in hand or put those plastic dry cleaning bags over our heads. But that was a different day and age. Long before fear came home to rule the roost.

The Way-Back Machine

Unknown-1It’s always interesting to turn the dial on the way-back machine, take a trip down memory lane and muse fondly about the good old days in real estate. Whether they’re in the real estate business or not, almost everyone has a favorite story that they like to tell. One that illustrates how different things were “back then” or how, “if they only knew then, what they know now” they’d be luxuriating in their own dream home on an upcoming episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Even though there are thousands of different stories floating around out there in the ether, most rely on the same few snippets of history that have been elevated to the status of urban myth through their frequent use. Things like: “I bought my first house in 1972 for $22,500!” or “ Interest rates were 18% back in 1981!” or “The whole offer was written on one page!” or “We were only paying $150 a month for rent!”.

Yep, real estate was different back in the day. None of those things would come close to computing in today’s real estate market. Not in Santa Cruz where the median price is currently $750,000 and interest rates are hovering around 3.75% and no one escapes an offer presentation with less than 40 pages of fine print and you’d be lucky to find a bedroom to rent on the West Side for under a thousand a month.

We like to believe our stories from the 70s and 80s are representative of a kinder and gentler era in real estate. When things were wistfully uncomplicated and deals were sealed with honest handshakes. When offers were written on napkins over three martini lunches at the Bayview Hotel and there wasn’t an avalanche of mind-numbing paperwork to worry about. When everyone had lots more face time with real, real estate people, rather than with their sales-avatars masquerading on social media.

There were no electronic signatures back then. No virtual tours. No search engines. No mobile apps. No $100,000 overbids. Just snail mail and couriers. Landlines and an occasional overnight package. Realtors controlled the MLS information and the new listing books only came out every two weeks.

I’m not convinced that real estate was really any kinder or gentler back then. There were ups and downs in the market just like there are now. There was greed and fear. Buyers remorse was a frequent visitor. There were ethical and unethical players. Some people made great investments. Others made bad decisions.

But here’s what I do know for sure: While real estate may not have been any kinder or gentler, it was without question, a whole lot slower. Like so many other things in our lives, the real estate process now moves at warp-speed. It’s the pace of it that has changed far more than the underlying emotional experience of buying and selling a home.

Next week we’ll talk more about the need for speed in real estate. What caused it. How to keep up. And maybe even how to get ahead of it.

More About Fear than Greed on Halloween

UnknownIt’s Halloween in Santa Cruz. Get your game-faces on. Button up your costumed alter-egos. Here on the reservation, we embrace this night with particular passion.

Tonight, we’re going to conjure up our demons instead of stuffing them down. We’re going to summon our deepest fears while we howl at the moon and dance with delirious abandon. Hopefully, we’ll be able to scare ourselves silly enough to purge all the fear we’ve been binging on this past year.

I’m heading to the big, scary Real Estate Halloween Party that most of you probably don’t even know about. Think Burning Man – but just for Realtors and real estate-related professionals. It always ends at midnight when they crank up the David Byrne song and torch a giant effigy of a suburban stucco tract house.

It started five years ago, back in the dark days of the Great Recession when it felt like real estate was going to hell and fear was running rampant through the marketplace. I’ll never forget that first one…

It took place on a spooky dystopian cul-de-sac in in the middle of nowhere. Filled with foreclosures and boarded-up windows and darkened doorways that resembled the missing teeth and vacant stares of carved-up, hollowed-out pumpkins. Huge cobwebs hung like Spanish moss from For Sale signs leaning at odd angles. Buzzards circled homes in default – marking them as easy prey for all the land sharks prowling the neighborhood.

Everyone was partying like it was 1999. Crazy conga lines of buyers and sellers were snaking through the streets accompanied by wild strains of apocalypso music. Loan brokers in Alan Greenspan masks were handing out Nestle Credit Crunch candybars. Others were handing out wads of Real Estate BubbleGum.

Someone disguised as Naked Greed was streaking through the crowd chased by another character dressed in a skimpy Real Estate Rally Thong. There were Monster Houses milling around everywhere while a roaming Greek chorus of gremlins called “The What-Ifs” was eagerly whispering fearful thoughts into people’s ears with high-pitched, banshee-like voices.

Escrow officers were wandering around in wigs made to look like their hair was on fire. Many of them wore paper-chains fashioned out of loan documents issued by the Government Office of Cosmic Redundancy. One even came decked out as a mummified HUD statement. I saw a couple of Blind Appraisers searching for comps. Groups of Swarming Termites. Sellers dressed up like Statues of St Joseph. Looky-Loos masquerading as InterestedPartiers. Home Inspectors finding everything wrong.

Underwriters were morphing into Undertakers trying to bury the market, declaring that the word mortgage really did originate from the French words for “death tax.” Prophets of Doom and Gloom roamed the cul-de-sac chased by herds of Zombie Buyers even while the growing Legion of Unsolds hid inside their houses. The American Dream was dressed in a black robe and carried a scythe.

The Grinch That Stole the Economy was lugging a bag full of treats labeled Credit Default Swaps while someone else dressed like a Doctor, was running around trying to find a Market Pulse. A few people came as Toxic Assets and the Gordon Gekko mask made a big comeback. Freddie Kruger also made a special guest appearance promoting his new movie – “Nightmare on Main Street.” But he was almost eclipsed by a giant swathe of darkness calling itself the Shadow Inventory.

Wow. What a party. Say what you want about real estate…we do fear well. There are always plenty of lost souls out there wandering around with grave faces on. Gives me goose bumps just to think about it.

Real Estate, Relatively Speaking

Unknown-7Every few months, I get a call from one of my out-of-town relatives with a house problem or a sales snafu. They’ve found the opportunity to squeeze ten minutes out of their busy schedule to call at 10pm, hoping to tap the font of real estate wisdom they imagine bubbling out of the top of my skull.

Yes sir, 24/7/365, I’m always ready to bestow the gift of sage advice and real estate blessings on family pilgrims making the long journey through the fiber-optic lines. Even though I don’t work in Connecticut. And even though my crystal ball doesn’t tell me much about life in Kansas. And even though I don’t really have a clue about the state of the market in Austin. And even if they figure: “It’s all just real estate isn’t it?”

But hey, it’s family right? Dutifully, I try to fluff my font each day so that no one swimming in or around my gene pool will ever be disappointed. The moral? When the going gets tough, the not-so-tough will get phoning and we Realtors have to learn to go with the flow – relatively speaking, of course.

So here’s the problem…every time a relatives calls, they inevitably seek advice in lieu of actually soliciting advice from a reputable Realtor
in their own back yard. Their fractured logic goes something like this: “Maybe I can sell this house and save a bunch of money by not paying Realtor fees. I’ll call Cousin, Brother, Nephew, Uncle, Son-In-Law Tom and get a ten minute primer course on all things real estate. Sort of a Cliff Notes version of Real Estate for Dummies. It shouldn’t take long to grasp what Realtors do to make all that easy money.”

Sometimes I wonder who the dummy really is. Sometimes I wonder if I have a big sign on my back at family reunions that says “Expert Realtor – call me whenever you don’t want to use a Realtor but need a Realtor. The kind you would actually have to pay for if he weren’t your relative.”

The real kicker happens when one of my relatives calls and I give him/her about two hours worth of ten minute advice and then in the end, they simply ignore it all because, almost without exception, I recommend that they get a good Realtor to represent them and pay what it costs. They call. I talk. They shoot themselves in the foot. And they don’t hesitate to call again the next time. Go figure.

Honestly, I have no problem with my relatives saving money. I have a problem when it ends up costing them far more than it saves just so they can achieve the drug-like euphoria that comes from feeling like they got a bargain.

I’ve finally decided that I’m going to put out a call of my own to anyone related to me by blood or marriage. I’m to ask them to give up their flea market mentality – when it comes to something as important as a home they are buying or selling. If it’s an old couch they are buying or selling – fine – I’ll encourage them indulge themselves with a passion. But only if they draw the line at anything that costs more than a hundred thousand dollars. I’m going to call it my version of “tough love”.

Stuff Happens

Unknown-5More of my conversation with Claire Rubach a.k.a. “The Home Weeder.” Those who have emailed or called looking for help with their “stuff” can contact Claire at or check out her website: She’s a thoughtful, empathetic guide as well as a sturdy practical helper, ready to roll up her sleeves and assist in figuring out what to do with all your “stuff”.

Real Estate of Mind: We were talking about how often people say: “I don’t know what happened or how I managed to accumulate this much stuff!” It’s almost like they’ve been sleepwalking or maybe sleep-shopping through life, caught in the throes of a deep somnambulistic trance.

HomeWeeder: In some ways it is like sleepwalking. Most of us live unquestioningly within the established confines of our daily culture. It’s difficult to step outside long enough to shine a conscious light on our own habits.

REOM: Like one fish asking another fish “What’s water?” when all the fish are so used to swimming around in it that they never think of questioning it?

HW: Right. That’s the consumer culture we’re born into. The milieu of stuff. Making it. Advertising it. Wanting it. Buying it. Showing it off. Keeping it. Struggling with places to put it. The phrase “S–t Happens” is popular, but I think “Stuff happens” is a much better existential statement. So many of us just wake up one day, look around and wonder how “it” all got here.

REOM: We were talking about World War 2 and the economic expansion that followed, accompanied by the arrival of the baby-boom generation.

HW: And those baby-boomers had their formative years in the 1950s, when consumer culture was really coming into its own. They/we were imprinted by non-stop notions of new and improved, dream kitchens, the latest fashions, keeping up with the Jones’. Madison Avenue had more products to promote even as the average consumption of TV increased to 6 hours a day.

REOM: Planned obsolescence was even considered a good thing in many ways.

HW: Growth in industry was fueled and sustained by growth in consumption. Buying stuff became an inexorable part of our Democratic Ideal. During the height of the Cold War it was considered anti-patriotic to save too much rather than buy more things.

REOM: Here we are more than a half century later. It’s been quite a ride hasn’t it?

HW: Fast-forward the culture and our attachment to stuff has been super-sized. We’ve got Walmart, Target and Costco. More things are mass produced and getting even cheaper. Planned obsolescence morphed into instant gratification. Order almost anything on and it can be there the next day. Our houses are bigger so we furnish them with more stuff. We have closets as big as the bedrooms we used to sleep in. And his and hers closets so we don’t have to share.

REOM: And as super-sized as our houses are, we¹ve almost outgrown them. There are acres of Storage Lockers to rent. PODS. Tough Sheds. Places like IKEA that offer new ways to hide your stuff in plain sight. There are Flea Markets, Craigslist and Garage Sales. And many of us still have two car garages that haven¹t seen a car in decades.

And so it goes! Next week, we’ll try to get to the bottom of our stuff once and for all by offering baby-steps for baby-boomers trying to get their houses in order.