Monthly Archives: October 2010

Psychic Housecleaning

It’s almost Halloween!  Got your costumed, alter-ego, shadow-self ready?  Here on the reservation, we embrace the occasion with unbridled passion.  It’s a match made in heaven. Or some other dark place that shall not be named. Santa Cruz is the revered home of the Mystery Spot. And Halloween is the ancient mystery of All Souls Day cloaked in modern garb.

Tomorrow the orbit of the spirit world will drift close to the safe and secure boundaries of our material one. At some point we’ll give away all the candy, turn out all the lights and say goodbye to the last of the ghosts and goblins prowling around outside.  We’ll go to bed assuming everything is snugly tucked into its cubby until next year.

But once the veil on another world has been lifted… is it really as simple as putting the Ouiji Board back in the box?

Ever have a strange feeling going into a particular room ? Ever feel at odds with your house as though you were having a personal disagreement with it? Does something about your home make you depressed?  Do you have trouble concentrating? Getting things done? Ever walk into someone else’s house and get the urge to leave?

As a Real Estate Agent, I walk into strange environments everyday and catch brief  snapshots of people’s lives in the process. Sometimes, I get what I can only describe as a psychic picture of residents, their routines and more – through the tiny camera lens nestled behind my third eye.

Homes often exude emotions like sadness or anger. There can be a strong sense of ambiguity present. Certain places feel cold, sterile and bereft of life force.  Others feel warm,  joyful and life-affirming.

So what’s that all about? Is it just about good or bad taste in decorating? Great staging vs not-so-benign neglect? A cat litter box that hasn’t been changed in months? An awful art collection?  Way too much potpourri polluting the atmosphere?

Yes, it can be all of those things. But it can also be a whole lot more than an eerie doll collection, strange acid-flashback color choices or oppressive family photos lined up on the wall.

Prospective buyers pick up on the vibrations and ghostly presences most homes hold. They may not always recognize what they are feeling but they usually “sense” when  it goes well beyond an allergic reaction to Country French wallpaper.

Suspend your disbelief for a moment and consider. Most of us clean our homes everyday.  We vacuum, organize closets, fold clothes. Put things in order so they are well-balanced. Recycle so things can be used again.

If there really is an unseen dimension of energy overlapping the tangible world of material things in our homes, why don’t we put down the lemon pledge, forget about the dinner dishes and spend more time cleaning, rearranging and recycling all the accumulated dust balls of “dirty” energy piling up under our noses?  How about a regular day of housecleaning dedicated to putting scattered energies in their proper place?  Getting rid of tricky energies someone could easily slip on? Recycling tired old energies so they can return in a more useful form?

We’re not talking dust-buster, the quicker-picker-upper or the amazing Ronco miracle mop here. We’re talking about finding the right approach to our own psychic housecleaning. One that combines a finely-tuned radar, an empathetic nature, strong personal boundaries,  the ability to summon will and intention and of course, ready access to a rolodex of spirit-helpers to act as subcontractors in the cleaning/clearing process – each with different skills for handling different  kinds of energy shifts and delicate spirit situations.

We are born, live and die in our homes. We experience life’s trials, tribulations and transitions in our homes.  Homes hold our lives. They are also containers for the different, sometimes strange energies, that enter our lives. Physics tells us that energy cannot be destroyed, Energy can only move on or change form. Psychics tell us the same thing.

If you are still feeling  a little haunted after the sugar rush and adrenalin of Halloween wears off  and you happen to notice some odd energy hanging around in the back of your closet, under the stairs or behind your favorite lazy-boy chair… take some sage-advice: Do a little smudging and then put in a call to your favorite local shaman to help you with the house work.  If you need a shaman referral, shoot me an e mail.

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Appraise the Lord!

In the beginning, God created heaven and earth. In other words, in addition to real estate, Yahweh manifested a whole bunch of blue sky out of the void, so that man had something to forever scratch his head about.

Sometime later, Adam and Eve were evicted for conduct unbecoming. The Garden of Eden went into foreclosure. As punishment for man’s pride, The Almighty instructed him to learn the ritual act known as appraisal. It was an imperfect process full of human flaws. Man’s thankless task was to assign value to all the terra firma God had created and all the infinitely “less firm” blue sky surrounding it. Real estate hasn’t been the same since.

Even though I should be immune, after long years of slogging through the real estate trenches, I’m still awestruck by how many people see a home appraisal as some kind of mystical, magical pronouncement handed down from On High. The inviolate Word of God chiseled onto a stone tablet.

Most appraisers are conservative, unassuming types, working quietly behind the scenes. They show up on our doorsteps. Take a few measurements. Snap some pictures. Drive around the neighborhood in search of “comps.” And then…apparently… when we can’t see them, they don priestly robes and ascend to the nearest mountaintop. They sacrifice a few lambs and fatted calves while grabbing some serious face-time with the infamous Burning Bush of Biblical Renown.

We all seem to be searching for the Holy Grail. Divine certainty where there’s none to be had. What is my house worth? Exactly. Right now. In this very moment. Forever. We desperately want there to be one official source of all-knowing, all-powerful real estate truth that takes the fear and the loathing out of the buying and selling process.

That’s the only time it really counts anyway. If we want to dream about what our properties are worth, we can always stretch back in the lay-z-boy, pull out a calculator, add and subtract numbers and play fantasy real estate with our “equity” – just like we might manage a fantasy baseball team in a friendly “rotisserie” league.

But equity really only means something when we buy or sell. When we venture into the great unwashed marketplace to make our assets liquid. Offering them up to a jury of our peers. Until then, value is like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. If there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a house isn’t on the market, does it even have a value? Except for the one we imagine it has?

Our desire to know the unknowable, blinds us to many of the nuances and subtleties and shades of grey that are part and parcel of the appraisal game. That unquenchable thirst makes us easy marks for easy answers that unfortunately, are not always accurate.

A question about appraisal that is rarely invoked is: What is the appraisal for? Re-fi? Probate? Asset valuation by his divorce attorney? Asset valuation by her divorce attorney? Or for an actual sale between an actual buyer and an actual seller? For those on the outside, it doesn’t always occur to them that appraisals for different purposes can yield very different results.

Why is it that almost all “purchase” appraisals come in at the exact same price that a buyer and seller have already agreed on? Pure coincidence? Dumb luck? Or because the appraiser already has a copy of the purchase contract in hand before they ever get to the property?

In essence, appraisers have the answer before they even ask the questions. Their real job is to justify the price two principals have agreed upon. They are there to protect a lender who is giving a loan to a stranger. A loan that is secured by a property the lender will never actually see.

If you called three appraisers, paid them each $400 a pop and asked them to value your home, without a purchase contract or any other advanced agenda in mind, the process would euphemistically be called three “blind” appraisals. Kind of like the story of the three blind men touching the elephant, describing what they feel. Most likely you would end up with three different valuations from three very good appraisers. Not the Word of God.

Next week, we’ll talk more about blind appraisals, comparative market analysis, blue sky and some of the God-on-a-Shtick algorithms out there on the web that are touted as the “next best thing” to the Word of God. This side of Eden, of course.

 

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Flys on the Wall

Want to witness an interesting phenomenon sometime? Park yourself  in the corner of a broker’s open house and become a fly on the wall. The Dance of the Realtors is always entertaining.

After two decades,  I still get a kick out of  the little realty bites they deliver up.   Even in difficult times, the banter between colleagues, the fascinating mix of funny-weird, funny-haha and outright gallows humor is life-affirming for the cultural anthropologist in me.  It adds healthy fiber to the steady diet of doom and gloom I’ve been dining on lately – knowing/working/talking with so many people struggling through difficult home transitions.  Nothing like a little real estate lite on occasion to  balance out the existential torture of it all.

I hardly have time to wrestle the plastic sign out of my trunk and get the lock box open before three nosey-neighbors are in the door, roaming like hyper-active children at the Mall.  There’s something about that sign going up.  It’s a beacon.  A gold-embossed invitation. It feels like the entire cul de sac has me surrounded.  They’ve been up since 5am peeking through Venetian blinds. They’ve got their Nike’s on just waiting for that damned sign that says Open House.  They can’t help it.

One Seller, years back, was determined not to give his neighbors the satisfaction of a free-look-see into his private life. Of all the uncomfortable things Sellers put up with, that was the one thing that irked him the most.  I put a person at the front door and asked Agents to present their cards before entering. Wow! Some people really got angry when they were denied a chance to see how the other half lived. They even questioned the “legality” of  keeping non-brokers out of a broker’s open house, feeling their right to snoop was guaranteed by the constitution.

Here come the first few agents breezing through with their salvo of quips.  “Hey, it’s Brezsny in the flesh!  What are you doing working an open house? Don’t you have minions for this task?” My reply: “Elvis has to be in the building before he can leave it.”

“Hey, Brezsny where are the fresh croissants? Didn’t you get up early to bake?”  Sorry mon amis, it’s 2010 and as the other King (BB)  says: “The frill is gone.”  No more free courier service from the title companies. No more free equity lines topping off those liar’s loans. And no more free spreads to lure agents through places that are either going to sell or not sell themselves. The fancy catering gig was always more about impressing the Sellers anyway.  That gig/jig is up.

“Hey Brezsny, how come that listing in Aptos didn’t sell? That was a great house.” To explain that mystery, I can only invoke Dr. John, the Night Tripper: ” Musta’ been the right place. Musta’ been the wrong time.”

Shhh. Here comes, what could be an actual buyer. (I’m not quite sure what they look like anymore!)  She’s looking thoughtful.  She’s drinking it all in.   I can see her communing with the soulful ambiance of this old house offered at the low, low price of $500/sq ft. She wanders over, makes direct eye contact and asks the one question that, for some reason, they all have to ask.  Is there a book  I don’t know about, that everyone else has read, that says, whatever else you do,  always ask:  “Why are they selling?”

The look in most people’s eyes when they ask this, is eerily expectant. Pregnant with pause. It’s hard to tell what answer they are really seeking.  “The teenager next door plays Twisted Sister at decibel level twelve all night long and the Sellers are slowly going insane from lack of rem sleep?”  “Black mold has infiltrated every pore of the home’s hideous wallpaper and six innocent people have already died?” “The divorce is so ugly that if they don’t sell, it might end worse than Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in War of the Roses? ”

How about…”They just want to move.”  It could be that simple you know. Or not.  And how about if we continue to caravan through a few more live open house – open mike moments next week…I’ve hot wired the webcams on about a dozen Agents’ laptops…so we can tune in and sneak alot more peeks.

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