Old Myths Die Hard

truth-myth

      We’re talking about Home Inspections….Last week’s column included a list of reasons why anyone thinking about selling their home in 2017 should begin scheduling their inspections now.

I can already hear the faint chorus of squawks coming from Sellers-to be out there who aren’t keen on the idea of paying for inspections this far in advance:  I don’t want to waste the money! They won’t be any good by the time I get ready to put my house on! Won’t a Buyer want their own inspections?  Doesn’t the house get tented anyway? I want an as-is sale!  I don’t want to fix anything!  

Sometimes old real estate myths die hard. They hang around way past their useful shelf-lives to confuse new people entering a process that’s very different from the one they remember. Here’s an example of some of the left-over baggage still rattling around out there:

A surprising number of people still think a house has to be termite-tented before it closes escrow.  They honestly believe the big circus tent has to go on before the calorically-enhanced lady can sing.  But that fractured bit of history hasn’t been true since the early 1990s when lenders often insisted on it, before standard language in the real estate contract changed.

So, back to those inspections you really should be ordering… Why? Because if you don’t, you’ll almost certainly pay for it later on. And you’ll be fair game for every Buyer and Buyer’s Agent that comes along.  Here’s how to think about it…

Virtually no sane Buyer has been happy about what they’ve had to pay to buy a home in Santa Cruz over the last four years. The market is at an all-time high and Buyers are kicking themselves for not getting in when prices were at their lows in 2011.

Most Buyers are stressed to the max these days or stretched to the limits of the qualifying ratios on their loans.  They’re looking for ways to redress the balance and right the wrongs of this kind of Seller’s Market. So how can a Buyer leverage some degree of power when they’re competing against other Buyers who may have more money than they do?

The answer is simple: By promising whatever a Seller wants to hear when they make their offer. And then by utilizing the inspection process to squeeze concessions out of them later on.  True, Sellers are in total control during the offer process. But once escrow is open, Buyers have control for as long as their Contingency Period lasts.

Contingency periods are a get out of jail free card for Buyers. They can get out of any deal if they change their mind or have a change of heart before their contingencies are released.  All they have to say is: “I don’t like the school district the house is in.” Or, “I never knew there were that many registered Republicans in this neighborhood.”  Virtually anything is fair game.  That’s why they’re called  “contingencies”.

So why would any Seller want to wait until the middle of escrow to figure out what inspection issues are going to come up for the average buyer?  Why would they allow a future Buyer the opportunity to control the information about their house and spin it in a direction that was useful in gaining them extra concessions.  What happens when a “bad inspection” gets generated?  Or a property falls out of escrow and has to be put back on the market?

Next Week: Control the information before it controls you.

 

Part 3:  Dialing It In For Dollars  (Listing Your Home in 2017)

beginers-mind

This Week: Beginner’s Mind

   Picking up where we left off. Drilling down on the details. Getting your house ready to sell in 2017. Hopefully in about four or five months when the best window to list opens up.(Reminder: The window closes quickly. Don’t make the mistake of procrastinating like some unfortunate folks did this year. Put March 1st on your calendar!). Go to tombrezsny.wordpress.com to join the conversation.

  All of this is based on a simple premise: If you want to sell your house for the most money possible, you have to do everything right.  And everything right means: Right timing. Right preparation. Right presentation. Right pricing. Your house will still sell even if you don’t do everything right. It just won’t sell for as much.

  So whaddaya do now? If you actually put March 1st down in your calendar (give or take a week or two) you’re already off to a great start.  No matter what anyone else tells you,  that’s unequivocally the best time to get up and on the market – for reasons I’ve outlined before and no doubt will again. If you blow it on timing, it’ll be hard to make it up with better preparation or presentation. Odds are it could affect your pricing.

  Next, you should wipe away any or all preconceptions you have about how all of this is supposed to work while you also let the following sink in with a healthy dose of Beginners Mind. Wipe the slate clean and push the reset button because there have been some interesting developments during the rapid run-up real estate experienced over the last four years. Good news/bad news kinds of things that have fundamentally changed how the whole process unfolds. As a Seller you should be aware of both the good and the bad.

 For instance:  As prices have risen to record highs in recent years, so has the average Buyer’s expectations about what they are getting. The level of scrutiny Buyers engage in these days is way more exacting than it used to be. Their customary attention to detail is now magnified to the nth degree. They’ll pay more but only after they’ve looked harder. If your house doesn’t pass muster? It’ll come back to haunt you during the inspection contingency period.

  Also for instance: The speed at which houses sell(or don’t sell) has dramatically increased. (Helped by the pervasive influence of technology and the speed of all things internet-driven of course.) The maximum level of Buyer interest on any new listing is now generated in the first few days or weeks it is on the market. The radically condensed timeline creates more multiple offers and more sales that exceed their list price way quicker than it used too.

  The down side? If your property doesn’t sell in the first few weeks, then the pressure on Buyers to step up and make offers is off. Generally speaking,  the longer a property is on the market,  the less it is going to sell for. No offers is almost constitutes de facto proof that a house isn’t worth what’s someone is asking for it.

   Keep this in mind. It’s a hard concept to grasp. In the old days it took 30 or 60 days for just to get the marketing message out on a new listing. People expected to sell their places in the first two months, not the first two weeks.

Next week: Inspections – which ones and why….

Cognitive Dissonance

cognitive-dissonance

Part Two: Dialing It in for Dollars in 2017

  Let’s pick up where we left off. Before I was so horribly sidetracked by an overwhelming urge to put a Real Estate of Mind spin on Santa Cruz’ favorite hometown holiday – Halloween.  Go to https://tombrezsny.wordpress.com if you missed it.

   My previous column ended with a simple observation:  Sellers always want the best outcomes. The most money. The fastest escrows. The longest rent backs. But they aren’t always prepared to do the things that will give their listings the best chance to succeed. If you want top dollar, you have to do everything right.

     Let’s spend a little quality time together exploring the whole notion of doing everything right and giving yourself the best chance to succeed.  No matter what else you say, think or do from this point on, understanding the relationship between what you put in and what you get out of selling your home is what will determine how closely  the results track with the lofty expectations you probably already have.

    This is the crux folks. The thing that’s going to decide your relative success or failure in the near future. When you take the plunge into the great unknown of the marketplace.  If you are already worried about selling your house and the possibility of blowing it… here’s an opportunity to cull out any of those insidious little failure mechanisms hiding in the cluttered recesses of your own inner closets, drawers or basements.

  There’s a special brand of cognitive dissonance that happens in real estate, way more often than it should. Specially when it involves the largest asset most of us will ever own. And specially when it involves all the core comforts that home represents – privacy, security, nurturing – to name a few.

   Wikipedia defines cognitive dissonance as: the mental stress experienced by an individual when they hold two or more contradictory ideas at the same time or when they perform an action that is contradictory to their ideas.

   Like, when a person wants the most money possible when selling their home but doesn’t think they have to do (or isn’t actually willing to do) all the things necessary to make that happen. Cognitive dissonance! It’s stressful!! Don’t fall victim to it!!!

   The real estate market has been a fabulous one for Sellers for most of 2016.  But looking back, I can still see the littered remains of more than a few situations where Sellers were their own worst enemies. Where they shot themselves in the foot by being too greedy or too loose with their timing or too lazy in their preparation or too cheap on their staging or too consumed with their own difficult emotions. Or some or all of the above of course.  

   They were proof positive that it’s always possible to blow it, even when it’s a perfect market to list a house in.  Great outcomes aren’t a matter of luck. Or fate. Or even good karma. Wishing doesn’t manifest higher sales prices. The best results happen when a Seller’s effort is aligned with expectations.

      We don’t quite know yet what kind of market we’ll have in 2017. Sellers Market? Buyers? Or something in between? The jury is still out. But good, bad or so-so market in the coming year, it’s not too early to begin dialing it in and getting yourself and your house ready to address for success.

  The concept seems so simple.  So easy, right?  And yet…

Next week we’ll start drilling down on the details. Making a list of what you can do to own the process of selling the home you own.

Dialing It In For Dollars

unnamed

This Week: Exercising Your Options

Not every Seller gets to decide when they’re going to put their house on the market.  Life occasionally intervenes and makes the decision for them.  Unexpected events conspire to push their timing forward or backward without consulting them first.

 But there are Sellers who do enjoy the good fortune and luxury of being able to choose exactly when they want their Realtor to put the sign up, the lockbox on and start all the buzz on the internet about their home.

 Looking back over the last three decades,  the big mystery to me is why so many Sellers choose their listing dates so poorly.  And why so many others with good intentions and the right listing dates in mind, end up missing the mark (and the market) due to their own conspicuous lack of proper prior planning.

 If you are one of those people who’s thinking about putting their house on the market in 2017 and is lucky enough to actually be able to choose when they want to do it, here are a few suggestions about what to do and when to do it:

~ If you think you want to sell your house in 2017, start preparing now.  It’s not too early.  Doing it right takes longer than you think.  When you give yourself time, you make better decisions.

~This is your home and largest asset. The money that comes out of it is crucial to the transition you are about to make into the future. The process of selling it deserves your full attention and entire commitment.

~ Selling a home can be stressful. Why add to the stress by putting things off? Give yourself at least four months to prepare.

~ You can still enjoy the holidays, but some things should be done now to make it easier to hit the ground running right after the first of the year.

~ Don’t wait to interview Agents until after the house is ready to sell.  Enlist them now. There are strategic decisions they can help you with. If they aren’t happy to help, then they aren’t the right Agent.

~ Dealing with “stuff” in your garage, attic, closets and drawers will be the hardest part of selling your home. Purging now will  discourage you from buying even more “stuff” during the holidays.

~ There is a right time to put your house on the market and a wrong time:  March 1st to the 15th is the right window. April or May is already too late. Despite prevailing myths about how great the summer is, June and July are even worse.

~ Weather is not a factor in the sale of your home.  Whether the flowers are blooming doesn’t matter. (I’ll discuss why in future columns.) Waiting for better weather is an excuse people use to procrastinate – as way too many late-comers to the marketplace found out in 2016.

~  Sellers always want the best outcomes. The most money. The fastest escrows. The longest rent backs. But they aren’t always prepared to do the things that will give their Agents and their listings the best chances to succeed. If you want top dollar, you have to do everything right.

Next week we’ll talk more about dialing in the listing process so your future results can come close to the expectations you already have.

Real Estate’s Fright Night — Real Estate of Mind

Realtors recently put their own special spin on Santa Cruz’ favorite
holiday. Read more..

clown2

It’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 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 candy bars. Others were handing out wads of Real Estate Bubble Gum.

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 Interested Partiers. 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.

 

Escrow-Interruptus

UnknownMusing about Buyers Remorse. That torturous aspect of real estate that seems to take great pleasure in showing up like an unwanted guest in the middle of so many escrows. I’m sure we Realtors use the phrase too much. Extend the fragile umbrella of its meaning too far into the twisting wind. But what else can we call “it”?

There has to be some way to talk about those clandestine meetings that arise in our clients’ heads when they’re navigating something as huge as buying a house. There’s got to be some common term for the cascade effect that occurs when people’s worry centers start throwing “What-Ifs” wildly up into the air like pingpong balls in the lotto game of life.

There has to be some language that captures those scary moments when buyer emotions ratchet up because real life is suddenly on the verge of becoming more real. When dreaming and talking get squeezed by events into the necessity of actually doing and
deciding. And rush past the tipping point of no return. From Offer to Negotiation to Acceptance to Deposit to Inspections to Release of Contingencies to Sign-Off to Close. Yikes! OMG! What if I make a mistake? Will God give me a Mulligan?

Yep. Buyers Remorse – a staple of real estate. A dish found hanging around the table whenever the heat gets turned up in the kitchen and the escrow pot starts boiling. A daily special cooked and served up in all kinds of strange and interesting ways. Steamed.
Grilled. Poached. And definitely fried. Funny, the more ways Buyers Remorse gets prepared. the more unprepared I seem to be when it rears its all-too human head. Call it an occupational hazard – the spectre of escrow-interruptus still lurks like a shadow around every corner.

Look at how the process is designed. No wonder it scares the hell out of just about everyone. The first thing that happens is that Buyers fall in love with a house. They get swept up in the emotion of it and make an offer that get’s accepted. So far so good.
But happens next? They hire the equivalent of several private detectives in the form of Home Inspectors and Termite Guys to come and tell them everything that could possibly be wrong with the very thing that they just fell in love with.

They pay people money to test their resolve and break the bonds of emotion captivating them. At the same time their Agent hands them a thick tome of information about all the secret big things about homes that could harm them. Asbestos. Radon Gas. Lead Based Paint. Floods. Earthquakes. Who knew there were this many horsemen of the apocalypse?

Buyers Remorse isn’t some awful aberration of the psyche. It is something that’s infinitely normal. Is there any buyer on the planet that doesn’t wake up at least once during the course of escrow plagued by tremors of doubt and at least the mild choking
sensation of existential terror? If so, then they must be living life as an automaton. Without the benefit of the normal emotional chip the rest of us were born with.

Pie Holes (reprinted from 2006)

Unknown-3Has anyone else noticed just how many new real estate agents there are working those open houses, working those phones, working the inventory of active listings to death? A little scary huh?

At last count there were 1600 + Agents and 1100 + single family homes for sale in the County. How many slices can the pie be cut into? How many people do we need feeding us pie? How many pie holes do we want yapping at us in Sentinel advertorials? How many real estate agents does it take to keep a screwy market turning?

Like lemmings descending, salmon swimming upstream or eels migrating through the Sargasso Sea, Agent overload is not a new phenomenon – just a cyclical one. Graph the last forty years of the market’s ups and downs, superimpose the changing number of licensed Realtors over it and the peaks and valleys of both will correspond pretty
closely with each other – with just a little lag time in between.

Whenever a market starts to heat up it takes about a half year for the next batch of dreamers to start hopping on the bandwagon, heading towards the promised land of easy money. In the old days, boom markets exercised a powerful magnetic pull on part-time teachers and bored househusbands. Today’s $750,00 median price point has
become a pilgrimage for displaced dot.com refugees in search of a new gold and adrenalin rush.

Conversely, when a market loses steam, erstwhile success junkies fall off the bandwagon.
When the going gets really tough, a whole lot of Realtors end up blending back into more normal avenues of employment – ones with guaranteed paychecks, benefits, nights, weekends and holidays off – if there are any of those kinds of jobsleft out there.

The attrition rate for new Realtors is amazingly high. Roughly 80% nationally in the first few years. That’s a lot of Anthony School Books to recycle, BMW leases to turn back in and money poured down the drain on success seminars and positive affirmation tapes.

The cultural trend of super-sizing is also impacting our numbers (bigger is always better right?) Local “uber” brokerages with overactive thyroid conditions are pounding the drums and sounding the siren call for new agents. They are opening boutique offices in every nook and cranny of our local landscape. Quite a few corporate “outsiders” have put pins in the map of Santa Cruz as well. Note the influx of new company signs dotting the neighborhoods and recognize them as signs of changing times.

It’s all good fodder for the “People in Business” column and ad revenues are certainly up along with competition between brokerages. But I worry about the people becoming Agents who probably shouldn’t. I worry about the way local is trying to look more corporate and the way corporate is trying to look more local. Most of all. I worry about the people and the homes out there that have become defacto incubators and petri dishes for well-meaning rookie Agents struggling to learn the ropes.

There are training programs in most of the expanding offices. Some of them very good. But learning how to write a proper contract or how to avoid a lawsuit or use all the tools of the internet or how to sell, sell, sell in order to meet desk quotas doesn’t do a whole lot to teach young people without much lifeexperience how to help their clients navigate through some of the most intense transitions they will ever face – death of a loved one, birth of twins, illness, job loss, divorce, bankruptcy.

Suffice to say that real estate looks a whole lot easier from the outside than it does from the inside. It’s amazing how fast a new Agent’s expectations can get chewed up and spit out by the physical, mental and emotional marathon of a profession they once envisioned as a quick sprint to the finish line of wealth and success.