Now, when I say ‘Over the Hill’, I want to issue a disclaimer and reassure any sensitive souls out there that I’m not using the phrase in a pejorative sense. It’s not meant to be ageist or politically-incorrect. God knows, if I didn’t photoshop my own Dorian Gray picture at the bottom of this column each week, I’d probably look as old in print as I do in my real estate life (pact with the Devil and all!)
No, I mean ‘Over the Hill,’ as in an Agent that works in the asphalt jungle of real estate beyond the great barrier reef of mountains lying North of Scotts Valley. One of those parts of the Bay Area where they seem to believe that most of us Agents in sleepy little Santa Cruz, are just rubes farming our fallow fields, stuck in an outlying gulag of value, light years away from real estate central – so busy falling off our turnip trucks, we can’t focus on the true art of the deal.
Anyway, the mostly one-sided conversation went something like this: ” Hello Thomas.” (That’s always the first tip they ain’t from here.) “This is Jane Dough from Real Real Estate and I’m calling on the property you have listed in Soqwell. (She has that edgy, Agent-on-steroids tone in her voice. Sounds like she’s just finished a two-day Duncan Hines success seminar and she’s ready to Shake and Bake!)
Of course I say Hello and then politely wait for her follow up. “This listing has been on the market for a while hasn’t it? (Yes. It has.) Why do you think it hasn’t sold? (Well, to date, no one has bought it.) “Are the Sellers really motivated to sell?” (Yes, they want to sell their house.) “Why are they selling?” (They want to live somewhere else.) “But there must be a reason why they want to sell?” (They would like to have a different roof over their heads.) “Who priced this house?” (I’d say it was a collaborative effort.) “Here, in our market, things sell quickly.” (Some properties sell quicker than others.) “Here, if something is priced right it sells with multiple offers.” (We see multiple offers on occasion.) “But not on this property?” (No, not on this one, yet.) “Do you think there is any flexibility in the Sellers’ price Thomas?” (I think if someone is interested in the property they should write an offer.) “Do the Sellers understand that the market has changed?” (They are sophisticated people.) “Don’t you think they should reduce the price Thomas? (I think it is their home. Their decision to make.) And so on…
Admittedly, I’m a bit dense, if not rube-like on occasion. It finally dawned on me to turn the table and ask my own simple question: ” Excuse me, but have your buyers even seen this property?” Her answer: “No, they are going to be closing escrow on their home in Los Altos soon. They want to move to your area but they don’t want to waste their time looking at overpriced properties.”
I was speechless. For a moment. An Agent, pre-negotiating the negotiation before even showing the property? Wow. Buyers wanting the price reduced before they’ll even take the time to look? Double wow. Buyers who haven’t even finished selling their own house yet? Triple wow.
It’s a sign of the times for sure. The kinds of calls and conversations all of us are experiencing more and more in a market where half of the properties are clear distress sales (bank owned or short sales) and the other half are suspicious listings that buyers are scrutinizing and trying figure out through a series of coded questions, just how much unseen distress there might actually associated with them.
Just to save us all a lot of time and Verizon brain cell minutes in the future, I have a suggestion. Let’s create a new category of information for the MLS. Let’s try to make all this distress stuff more transparent so we can cut to the chase easier. Let’s publish a STRESS TEST for each nominally, un-distressed property – with the Sellers permission, of course. We can rate the underlying distress level of each new listing and put a number in a big red box right next to the photo. Maybe a 1-10 scale with 1 being a Seller with lots of equity just hoping to escape to Utah with as much of his remaining nest egg intact as possible, 3 being a recent pink slip and an unknown period of joblessness ahead, 7 being a pending ugly and messy divorce and 10 being a situation where the four horsemen of the apocalypse have ridden in to take up residence in a three bedroom home.