Monthly Archives: January 2012

Of Fishes and Bicycles

A Buyer without a Realtor is like a Fish without a Bicycle.
–   Anonymous

I confess.  There are times  when I feel like the proverbial  5th Wheel on the Virtual Tour Bus.   Along for the ride.   Baggage in a BMW.   An extra appendage no longer utilized as originally intended.

Existential questions abound. Am I a glorified chauffer?  A lowly crash-test dummy in an expanded GPS system? One that’s just supposed to sit behind the wheel. Keep his eyes on the road. His mouth shut? Perhaps still absorb the impact when something goes wrong?

Are we nearing the ignominious end of the evolutionary line for my particular species of Realtor?  Isn’t the character John Cusak plays in 2012 – a chauffer?  Careening around large potholes opening up in the planet while the world as we know it comes to the end of the Mayan Calendar?

I used to like driving people around to look at real estate.  Introducing them to neighborhoods.  Learning life stories. Listening to hopes and dreams.  Sharing my decades of actually living in Santa Cruz.  Experiencing its culture, history, geography and yes, its beautiful weirdness.

But these days, a growing number of clients…er…passengers…er… end-users,  seem more tuned into their I Phones than they are to anything I have to show them.   A new breed of buyers already loaded for bear before they get into the car.  As in – loaded with  Redfin or Zillow Apps. Or any one of a host of other Real Estate App-spawn available for instant download.

And that’s it!  Buyers don’t look at houses anymore as much as download them. A window of opportunity these days isn’t a dual pane, wood framed, divided light, high quality Pella,  it’s a place in the ether with a signal strong enough for buyers to plug into the Borg Collective…and receive all the data that’s fit to digitize.

As a Realtor, there’s nothing quite as disconcerting,  as driving through one of those eclectic little eco-systems of Santa Cruz, yammering away about the micro-lifestyles prices,  traffic,  only to suddenly realize that my yammers have fallen on deaf ears and into a yawning chasm that’s opened between me and the living breathing human being two feet away.

I’m tooling around the streets pointing out various amenities. And they are tooling around the tools on their phones.  And of course, I feel like a tool – in a bad way, not a good way.

When I mention a nearby restaurant,  they already know it’s exactly  .2 miles away. They tell me what tonight’s specials are.  What the recent Health Inspection rating was.

Schools?  They’ve got all the latest test scores on tap.  Exactly where the middle school rates statewide.

Neighborhood safety? They’ve already logged onto the police statistics.  They know how many crimes were committed in the last 30 days. A map shows them where every registered offender lives within a six block radius.

Will there come a day, when I’m actually sitting in the driveway of a home for sale with a client who is content to simply take the virtual tour on his phone without getting out of the car?

Ever go to football games and notice people on the 50 yard line watching the life-size contest in front of them on their tiny screens. Head phones plugged into the play-by-play unfolding in real time.

As though real life weren’t actually out there.  But rewired into a digital format.  An altered estate of mind becoming more real than real estate itself.

Honey have we shrunk the kids? And our houses too?  And our entire lives? Encoded them into a set of remote viewing signals?

Gotta stop here. I/O, I/O off to work I go. On my way to show some property.  Once more into the breach dear friends…


The Calculus of the Narrative

Ok. Oly Oly Oxen Free. Here it comes. Ready or not.

The holiday hiatus is over. The furlough has expired. The sabbatical from real estate everyone seemed more than willing to take at the end of the year, with or without pay, has run its course.

When the principal actors (buyers, sellers, agents) tacitly agree to shut things down for a month – it’s the perfect excuse to limit expectations. No one can be too disappointed because nothing much was supposed to happen anyway.
Real estate lite. Tastes bland. Less filling. But a great self-fulfilling prophecy that helps lower the bar.

Wouldn’t it be tempting to stay here in our real estate of unanimated suspension forever? Floating weightless? Going through slow motions? Void of emotion? Thoughts adrift?

A no man’s land-escape filled with the illusion that there’s always going to be plenty of time to fix things? Maybe this spring!! For now…the market dissolves. The future seems a long way off. And life is but a dream… until it isn’t again.

The real world calls. The gravity of the situation is kicking into gear as we re-enter earth’s atmosphere. Time to re-engage the thrusters. Push the reset button. Get back to business as unusual.

It’s the cusp of a brand new year and here we are. Game on.

So where exactly is here again? Where did we leave off before we were so rudely waylaid by the holidays? Hard to figure.

Real estate in 2011 came and went. Moved in and out like a ghostly apparition. A lingering echo but no tangible progress. No mandate. Firm footing. Wholesale change. Or proof positive.

If real estate was going to reinvent itself and design a comfortable new place to live in our hearts and minds in 2011, it didn’t get very far. The as-built structure looks nothing like the plans on the drawing board last January.

Looks more like the architecture of surreal estate. Unfinished doorways leading to narrow precipices. Windows opening onto tight corridors. Escher-like stairways incorporating strange tricks of perspective. A series of never-ending steps looping back on themselves.

We went back to the future with interest rates from the 50’s but ran head-on into the credit crunch. So we went forward into the past as the median price receded to 2000-2001 levels.

More Buyers wanted to buy and waited for better properties. Sellers didn’t offer better properties because more Buyers didn’t buy. By default, distress sales loomed larger. Values declined further. Short sales weren’t short. Closure didn’t arrive at the end of the foreclosure tunnel. The shadow inventory got shadowier. First time buyers couldn’t compete with all-cash investors. Rents rose counter-cyclically.

While the economy was waiting for Real Estate to lead, Real Estate was still waiting to follow.

Newsmakers are working hard to conjure up a few bold headlines to start the year. Spinners are spinning. Indicators are indicating. Pundits are postulating. Everyone is positioning for change.

It all feels disingenuous. Like the little boy crying recovery. We back-dated the end of the recession to 2009… shouldn’t it feel better by now? Shouldn’t good news sound more like good news and less like the rehabilitated absence of bad news?

The real story of Real Estate right now is: there’s no discernible narrative. Just competing storylines that don’t fit. And the calculus of the narrative doesn’t add up. No one can possibly do the math and figure it out.

The goal of 2012 has to be a completely new story. Enlist some real resolutionaries to come up with a radical new set of New Year’s resolutions. We were still looking at the tip of the iceberg last year. Not the tipping point.


Circling Birds

This goes out to all you circling birds. You don’t mind if I call you that do you? Ok. It might help if I told you what circling birds are…You decide for yourself if the flight pattern fits.

Whenever I sit down with Sellers thinking about putting their home on the market, the conversation inevitably turns to active imagining of who their buyer might be.Everyone wonders. What does the profile look like? That mysterious Buyer X who is going to emerge from the shadows of the mysterious “marketplace” – made up of a constantly shifting mix of people. All different ages, demographics, life circumstances, future goals, desires, needs.

Sometime, somehow, someone is going to decide on their one right place, out of all the other possible places lined up like addresses on the lottery board. A buyer that’s going to pull it together. Summon up courage, and resources. Proactively take steps to make it home.

My answer to most Sellers is that the Buyer most likely to step up sooner rather than later isn’t someone who just started looking or is just thinking about looking. Rather, it’s one of those circling birds out there. One of those anxiously active, slightly frustrated buyers who has already really been looking for months – without arriving at their destination.

Yep. Circling birds have been at it for a while. Applying themselves. Doing their homework. Making the rounds. Defining what they want as they go.

Circling birds are tracking the market. They are hooked up to an intravenous fiber optic line feeding them search engine e mails and a steady dose of new listings and price reductions. They are remarkably knowledgeable about what has sold. What’s gone into escrow. What prices used to be. They know their own little market niche better than most Agents.

Circling birds have tromped through those atrocious bank-owned properties that give us the creeps. Some have already made offers on short sales. Exhausted their patience waiting for a response. A few have lost out in multiple offer bids for a really great place. Felt bitter pangs of disappointment. Dragged their hearts up and gone back into the trenches looking.

Each of these experiences, every house they have seen, has sharpened their focus and desire. Circling birds have already narrowed their parameters by looking high and low. They’ve grown more sure of what they want – through the process of elimination. They’ve looked at everything in their price range.

And that’s the whole thing Sellers… Circling birds are ready to go. But the inventory is exhausted. There’s nothing else to look at except that next best thing that comes on the market – your place.

When your house goes on, all those ready, willing and able buyers are going to sit up and take notice. They are going to bug their Agents to show it to them. They’ll be doing drive-bys coming home from work. They’ll be doing virtual drive-bys on google earth. If it looks right and priced right, they’ll swoop in for that first open house.

In a market that is supposed to unequivocally be a “buyers market”, there’s a fascinating irony that keeps inserting itself into the proceedings. There are a remarkable number of all cash offers, and multiple offer competitions happening, despite all the stories about seller desperation we keep hearing.

Thank those circling birds. They know that if they don’t grab it, someone else will. Sellers, get your homes on the market. Forget all the bull about waiting till next spring. You want to be on the market when the fewest other homes are. The circling birds are out there waiting.