Monthly Archives: September 2012

Please Like My Picture

Don’t look now. It was time. Couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to suck it up. Force myself to man-up and get a new promo photo taken this week. See below.

I suppose I could have checked my image into the Photoshop Salon and Success Spa. Gotten one of those painless Virtual Make-Overs. The kind that can morph a hardworking Realtor into a Top Producer relaxing inside a Macys ad.

Business down? No problem. Step up to the toolbox bar. Pull your chin up with some Virtual Liposuction. Disappear those worry lines with Virtual Retin-A (a little dab will do ya.) Lift sagging sales with a quick shot of Virtual Botox. Iron out all of life’s wrinkles and take the extra weight of the world off your back (and your front). Put a gleam in your eye so you can wink at your own sharper image and smile all the way to the bank. Doubles as a free Facebook facelift too.

But no… the National Association of Realtor Code of Ethics is quite clear. Statutes say real estate advertising should be truthful and accurate. Not misleading.

We Agents aren’t supposed to photoshop junked cars or power lines out of our listings these days.

And we aren’t supposed to inflate any ocean views that can really only be glimpsed by standing tippy-toe on a stack of telephone books in the corner of a back bedroom while staring through a knothole in the fence on a sunny day in the wintertime when the neighbor’s tree has lost all its leaves.

And since, in reality, we Real Estate agents have to sell ourselves to you sellers first, well before we even get the opportunity to sell your house…and since a growing number of people are shopping for the perfect Realtor online these days in a process not too different from speed dating on… in good conscience, I just couldn’t allow myself to keep using the same old/young picture I’ve been running.

That would be false advertising. Like a bad personal ad pitched as professional persona. Real estate’s inside-out portrait of Dorian Grey. Bad juju in search of good mojo. I don’t want to be all souled out before the end of my career. That would really get old fast.

So I went online and found a photographer specializing in real estate business and boudoir photos, even though, in the pit of my stomach, I really felt like shooting myself.

From there, the story gets even more blurry. Lights. Camera. Acting.

I’m still shuddering at the experience. The rapid-fire sound of that cold-blooded shutter clicking. That black hole of a lens stealing little snippets of my soul. Chopping them up further into byte-sized frames fit only for stereotyped public consumption. Soylent Green! It’s people!!

Was the photographer telling me to say cheese? Or was he saying cheese-y?
I recall begging God not to let me look like Nick Nolte’s mug shot or anyone even remotely resembling the strangers that showed up at my last high school reunion.

I just kept hoping some mysterious power would intervene. Fluff my aura. Bathe me in a glorious halo of back-lighting. Subliminally smooth out all the ravages the real estate market has inflicted on my picture perfect profile over the years. Real Estate years are like dog years you know. Every year in the business equals 7 years in “real” life.

It’s over now. But I’m still processing. Reflecting on my reflection. Some inner voice keeps asking: “Who is that Realtor? Why is he smiling? Is that the real me? Or the realty me? And what am I really trying to say?”

What are all the rest of the pictures in today’s paper trying to say? Is there any other profession that has a greater love/hate relationship with it’s own self-image than real estate does? A tougher time with the push-pull of its own promotion?

And there’s the conundrum. The strange pact with the devil we all sign up for. The paradoxical rule of the game. Selling the sell of ourselves.


A Growing Affinity for the Infinity in a Grain of Sand

Used to be Santa Cruz County was just an off-the-beaten-path sleepy beach town.

A funky gulag located somewhere along the archipelago of other,  way-more respectable destinations stretching south from San Francisco towards the hallowed fairways and classy clambakes of Pebble Beach and Carmel (where the grass on the fairways seemed so much greener – as in $$$).

Million dollar properties in Santa Cruz?  Not in the old days. We didn’t start getting our first real million dollar-plus market until the very late 1990’s when huge ripples and resonant waves of the internet boom washed up and over the summit in our direction from San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley.

In the mid 60’s before the advent of UCSC – Santa Cruz was over-the-hill in a different way. It had one of the oldest demographics in the state. A rapidly-aging population.  Lots of blue collar retirees.  Acres of single-wide mobile home parks nestled near spectacular surf spots and vast stretches of the second most prevalent natural element on the face of the planet  (next to the oxygen we breath) – silicon.

Of course that was when silicon was still just sand.  Something warm and pleasant to crunch between your toes and build imaginary castles with.  Before some mysterious auspicious alchemy transformed it into the living embodiment of both poetic-inspiration and the foundation of an entire global economy at the same time.

Think of poet William Blake’s words:  “ To see the world in a grain of sand….Hold infinity in the palm of your hand…”  and then channel surf in your head to the Apple Computer commercial that was airing frequently last February –  the one featuring a young couple in snowbound New England asking the all-knowing voice of their hand-held I Phone Oracle: “ What’s the best way to Santa Cruz California.”

Notice they weren’t echoing the refrain of any old Burt Bacharach song…like… “Do you know the way to San Jose?”  Nope. They were singing a very different tune.  And to make a short commercial even shorter, the happy couple embarked on a cross-country-montage-odyssey in search of the promised land of the left coast here in sunny Santa Cruz (is there a left-er coast anywhere else?).

Somehow, in the grand scheme of things, all that silicon has come full circle.  It washed up on shore. Migrated over to fill up Silicon Valley.  Made it big there. And now it is slowly starting to move back this way riding an inexorable, changing tide.

Now that Clint and so many others down Carmel-way (Que Sera Sera Doris) have clearly gone a little bit further around the bend, younger and hipper Santa Cruz is becoming a big league destination. Our little corner of the global village is officially registering on the world’s GPS system. I Phones. I Pads. Macs. Even – PCs – which seem so unPC these days in a Santa Cruz-y/App-y kind of way.

Yep. We are wired into the planet’s brain. Plenty of neural pathways heading in our direction via all those internet homing devices. Entire universes within universes waiting to be discovered in our bountiful grains of sand via those microscopic silicon chips.

Just as an aside – Don’t worry too much about our Keep Santa Cruz Weird lifestyles. People move here precisely because they want both a latitude adjustment and an attitude adjustment. That’s the whole idea – they aren’t in Kansas anymore when they come here.  Or in San Jose.  This is the home of the Mystery Spot. It’s supposed to be weird.
Or….as we Realtors like to say when we get the opportunity for a perfect seque – Life’s a Beach and then You Buy. It’s easy…all you gotta do is phone home.

So if the world is calling our name – how are we answering?  Why don’t we start with a QR Code that can really help dial in the surf, turf and real estate that Santa Cruz is famous for:


Blowing My Cover

There I was at a listing appointment this week.   The owner of a beautiful ocean-view property was doing his due diligence. Interviewing three prospective Agents – like conventional wisdom says a smart Seller should.

At one point, this likeable, highly-educated, sophisticated home-owner, fixed his gaze intently on me and said with utmost sincerity: “I’m  looking for an aggressive Agent to get the job done.  Someone who will target the right markets. Places where the money and the buyers are  – starting with Silicon Valley.”

Ok. No problem. Makes perfect sense.  I’m with ya’.

But suddenly out of the blue he took a left turn and started pitching curve balls in my direction.  Holding up a glossy local real estate magazine he continued on with his defacto job description:  “ You know, I want someone who’ll run these big color ads. Someone who’s going to put my place in the Wall Street Journal. Get a special mailing list of big time corporate CEOs. Send them all postcards. Run displays in the San Jose Business Journal to connect with all those up and coming Facebook millionaires.

A crash of cognitive dissonance washed over me.  Punctuated by ringing in my ears – the sound of inner “ca-ching-ing” as all those imaginary dollar signs rolled along with my eyes back into my head.

I recognized the place. Been there. Done that. Many times.  One of those lonely marketing cul-de-sacs where listings go to die.  Despite everyone’s best wishes, best efforts and best intentions.

Once again I was reminded that there are still an amazing number of Sellers who don’t quite seem to get it yet.  They are unclear on the concept. Running on autopilot with notions that were old even in the old days.  Having trouble reformatting their brains. Possibly doomed to spend the rest of their upcoming days on market as analogue people lost in a digital world.

Perhaps it would help to list a few of the common disconnects between reality and realty that are floating around out there:

– Homebuyers from Silicon Valley aren’t driving over to the car wash in Santa Cruz to pick up a glossy magazines so they can search for available real estate.  They simply log on. Why would any serious buyer window shop randomly – when they can see the entire inventory in a couple of keystrokes?

Most Sellers in Santa Cruz moving to other parts of the Country are doing the very same thing their own potential Buyers are doing – looking on-line.  Why would it be different for their Buyers than it is for them?

Advertising isn’t going to convince someone to buy something if they aren’t already moving in the direction of buying something.   Buying is a long process. Property ads don’t create buyers.

The chances that someone reading a four line classified in the Wall Street Journal is going to drop his coffee cup, get on the next plane and plop his money down are none and slimmer than none.  Who reads the WSJ classifieds anyway?

Someone who isn’t already familiar with Santa Cruz isn’t going to be moving/buying here anytime soon.  Near-term buyers are people who already are attracted to our area and have it on the same radar as their homing instincts.

Corporate execs aren’t checking their daily junk mail on the latest and greatest random real estate opportunities. Snail mail or  email. You know how you ignore all the superfluous crap you receive?  Why would they be any different?

And those Facebook millionaires?  Check our their Facebook pages. Not a lot of them are reading the Business Journal.

The majority of advertising dollars that agents and brokerages spend – are designed to sell the sellers on an Agents’ sell. Not to sell Buyers on what they are selling. We run those expensive ads mostly so more of you will list with us.  Been there. Still doin’ that.

Oops.  Now that I’ve blown my own cover, perhaps next week we can focus on how today’s real estate marketing really does work and which things Sellers should really be insisting their Agents spend money on.


Falling Off the Dinosaur

Falling Off the Dinosaur

I’m sure some of you would rather save your aging eyes from od’ing on 600 words of my tiny type. Or skip the tough task of following the muddled meanderings of my Real Estate of Mind. So, I’m going to give you the take away message of today’s story up front. To-go dessert before dinner.

Here it is: The biggest mistake Sellers make these days? They think too much like Sellers and not enough like Buyers. Since they invariably love to see their own image reflected back to them in the mirror of their marketing, they mistakenly assume that buyers look in the same places they look when admiring themselves.

The end result? Sellers get way too hung up worrying about WHERE their homes are being advertised. And they pay far too little attention to WHAT is being flung out there to the far corners of the globe.

Almost everything has changed in Real Estate in the last fifteen years. But some old myths die hard. Cultural imprints once stubbornly established can be exceedingly hard to shake – even when there are dazzling displays of special effects at everyone’s fingertips, just begging to differ with our prevailing stereotypes and mess with our heads.

Fact is: Attitudes about selling are still largely shaped by old, left-over notions from a buy-gone era when Realtors owned the monopoly on real estate information and controlled most of what circulated in the public domain.

Back in 1995, we (Realtors) still managed all the information. We edited it for our clients. We picked and we chose what our clients saw on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.

I still remember waiting for the new MLS Books to come out every two weeks. Cheapo newsprint. Nine little black and white listings to a page. One grainy photo each. A few property details.

I’d pour through those home pages – searching for anything that seemed vaguely like what my clients were looking for. I’d Xerox individual pages. Manually cut out listings with scissors. Put them back on the machine, zoom to 150 % and spit out separate tear sheets. By this time the pixels were so far apart, there was barely a discernible outline of a house left. I’d hop in the car, drive by each place. Call listing agents. Preview a few. And set up a tour for my buyers.

Xerox?! Cut and paste with actual scissors?! Compared to today, it sounds almost stone age. Like we were peddling prehistoric property Flintstone-style. Plenty of fancy footwork in fancy cars. Showing ten homes. Rushing back to the office to chisel out purchase contracts on stone tablets. Delivering them by courier-pterodactyl-pigeon.

The primary purpose of advertising in the old days? Convince Sellers that their listings weren’t getting lost in those MLS books. Or bogarded by Realtors. They really were being seen by a larger audience of potential Buyers. Big Ads. Open Houses. For Sale Signs. The works.

When MLS information first became available on the web, even in rudimentary fashion, Realtors noticed a shift. Suddenly Buyers weren’t waiting for us to do the editing and tell them what to look at. They started telling us what they wanted to see.

They got the addresses. They did their own drive-bys. They decided which ones had enough curb appeal to merit a visit.

Then, when even more information became available in the form of high-quality photos, satellite images, sales and tax information, google street views, Realtors saw the next stage in the evolution of their buyers.

Instead of doing actual live drive-bys, more and more prospective buyers began choosing what they wanted to see based on virtual drive-bys. Lap top or smart phone appeal became synonymous wtih curb appeal.

Most Sellers would be shocked by the number of people who reject properties based on an initial virtual drive-by. Yet, if they thought about how they actually search the internet as Buyers themselves – they wouldn’t be shocked at all. There’s an odd double standard and strange disconnect in all this.

One we’ll explore next week.


So It Goes

So it goes –  as Kurt Vonnegut might say.  A phrase meaning nothing and summing up everything at the same time.  A continuing state of affairs. Resigned status quo. Sad lack of meaning and resolution.  Profound inability to close the chapter and say:  “Our work here is finished.”

A recent conversation I had with clients keeps sticking in my head. Banging around in there like a bad meme from a McDonalds TV commercial – circa anytime in the last 30 years.  Have it my way – indeed. Special orders don’t upset us – indeed.  Let’s all grab a happy meal and buy the world a coke shall we?

We were sitting around the kitchen table of a nice home they were buying and the conversation went something like this:

Clients:  Now that we’re releasing inspection contingencies we’ll be able to close before the end of the month right?

Me:   It all looks positive but let’s just take it one step at a time.

Clients:  The Sellers can’t back out can they?

Me: No, not to worry.  They’re locked in at this point.  Sellers don’t have the same kinds of contingencies Buyers do.  We haven’t gotten the appraisal yet.

Clients: When does that happen? We paid for it.

Me:  I’m waiting for the appraiser to call for access. Hopefully it’ll be soon since we’re supposed to have loan approval in another 10 days.

Clients:  What’s taking so long?  When we bought our last house we closed in three weeks.

Me:  Yep.  But that was then. This is now.  The whole system has changed in ways I’m not sure I can describe. There’s no there there. I’m not sure anyone understands it completely.

Clients:  Can’t you just call the appraiser and set it up?

Me:  No.  I don’t get to call them.  They call us.

Clients: Should we call our loan person?

Me:  Nope. He doesn’t get to talk to them at all – especially him.

Clients:  Who knows then?

Me:  No one knows who the appraiser is or will be right now. We have to wait till this new thing called an appraisal management company finds an appraiser to accept the assignment on the property – for whatever amount of compensation that’s being offered.  We’re at the mercy of the system.

Clients:  But we paid $450 already!

Me:  Yep.  But not all of that money actually goes to the appraiser.  The middle man gets a cut. Sometimes they can’t find an appraiser willing to take the job for what they’re paying.

Clients:  But why is it taking so long?  We want to move in before Labor Day.

Me:  The system is overwhelmed. There are fewer appraisers.  Appraisals are harder to do.  Appraisers know their work is being scrutinized up the wazoo and they don’t like the tough ones. There’s a refi boom going on. A lot of experienced appraisers have retired. The ones that are left are working harder for less money.

Clients:  Don’t they just come out and measure? Look at a few sales? Compute the value?

Me:  If only it were so simple.  It seems like every appraisal is an epic struggle these days. There are fewer sales to compare to.  And a lot of those are short sales and REOs that usually sell for less and pull prices down.

Clients:  But there were four offers on this place. It went for more than asking.  Doesn’t that make it automatic?

Me: No. That’s what makes it harder. The price got pushed up.

Clients:  But we’ve looked at tons of places.  We’re happy. It’s our appraisal.

Me:  Well. Not quite. It’s the bank’s appraisal. It has to be happy with what it’s lending – not just with what you agreed to pay.

And so it goes. Ad infinitum. Ad nauseum.  Stay tuned for the next week’s exciting conclusion of “as the world of real estate turns”. We’ll continue looking for the there that’s not there.  Like sands in the hourglass, so go the days of our escrows.


Blowing My Other Cover

It’s been a while since a column generated as many e mails from fellow-agents, as last week’s.  Must have touched a chord. Or discord? An exposed nerve? An erogenous zone connected to the love/hate relationship we all have with what we do?   Maybe I inadvertently hit upon one of those odd funny bone moments. You know the one’s that make you laugh in spite of the fact that they really hurt?

If any of you were remiss in your required real estate reading and want to catch up on your home-work….go to and  read  “Blowing My Cover.”

Here’s the basic premise:  Most good old fashioned real estate advertising is designed to shape how Sellers think about Selling rather than how Buyers think about Buying.   Although we have to tread carefully here, because eventually all buyers become sellers and all sellers become buyers.

But it is interesting to note how short memory spans can be. And how many people like to practice the “do as I say not as I do” method of selective recall.

Classic example?  Sellers, selling here,  also looking for a property in Hawaii.  They log on everyday to look at homes in Maui. They have an Agent there and are on his automated search engine. Whenever they see something that strikes their fancy – they e mail him.

But  here in good ol’ Surf City USA,   where they are trying to sell, they want their Agent to advertise in the Mercury or the Chronicle at great expense.  Or run fancy, color spreads in magazines. Or…run a big Featured Home Ad in the Sentinel (oops… don’t look now…I think I just blew another cover.)

Don’t recall too many people here subscribing to the Honolulu Times-Picayune so they could hunt for real estate in Hawaii and say “Aloha” to the market there.

We aren’t even going to get into the absurdity of listing a house here with an over the hill Agent (I mean over the hill in the geographical sense – not over the hill as in the success-challenged and seen-better-days kind.)   The huge leap of sur-real logic it takes to list with a Santa Cruz property with a South Bay Agent who doesn’t know squat about our home turf is perfect fodder for another column on another day.

As is one of those other long-hyped myths of realty – the notion that somehow a mediocre Agent working at a giant brokerage can represent you better than a good Agent working at a smaller brokerage can.

And as long as we are at it…let’s toss one more myth-ing urban link onto the bonfire of the sanities: The notion that a vast network of personal contact exists between big city Agents within the framework of mega-national real estate franchises.  Secret handshakes and everything. When you sign on, your home is spoon fed to tens of thousands of Realtors waiting with bated breath to sell your property.

Just like most real estate advertising is designed to sell the sellers on the sell rather than the buyers on what’s being sold… the sell underlying most of the sales pitches from the big guys revolves around the subtle promotion of  Dual Agency.

As in:  List with us. We have a lot of Agents. One of them probably already has a buyer for your home.   Those who aren’t quite sure what Dual Agency is might want to google it and decide whether you think it is a good idea.

Darn! I’ve been yacking away so much our time is up.  Not to worry though, Sherman has been warming up the Way Back Machine.  Next week we’ll jump on board, travel to the fin de siècle era of the 1990’s and see what changed while all us aging baby boomer analogue types were struggling to get across the great digital divide.