Monthly Archives: November 2015

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 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.

Getting Your Moon into the Right House (reprinted from 2008)

Unknown-2As I sit down to commune with my internal Real Estate of Mind this week, I’m basking peacefully in the warm afternoon sun on the deck of the magical rural retreat featured in the ad, just the right of this column. (Shameless promotion)

Dragonflies are darting above the pond. Wisteria is exploding in glorious springtime passion. The scent of herbs and flowers on garden paths provide sweet aromatic compliment to the soothing sounds of silence pervading the air. Everything here is oriented to a different world than the one I am usually immersed in. Everything is connected in a lush, open, spacious landscape of light and enlightenment.

Once again…I am reminded…that I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. And once again…time has stopped long enough for me to mindfully reach for the twin blessings of balance and perspective. Home is the ultimate place of centering. If we are at home in our own houses, in our own skins, in our own hearts…then there is always a rock to anchor us and provide a true compass reading whatever direction the world seems headed in.

If I were intent on listening to the pundits of doom and the gossips of gloom and the post-boom bloggers and the sound-bytes of nightly anchormen and the wounded words of self-maimed fear and greed mongers and the white noise machine droning just a decibel level below the murmurings of the silent majority of good folks who have succumbed to a tsunami of debilitating doubt….then…. I think I would be somewhere other than here in this perfect world on this perfect afternoon.

Maybe I’d be in a world of hurt. Maybe I’d be pushing the panic button. Maybe I’d be using my mental calculator to add up the long litany of ills besetting the globe. Ohmygod, my stock portfolio is down, my home equity has shrunk, we’re in a recession and I can’t seem to feel the positive electrical currents of a stimulus package flowing through the tippy tips of my toes yet! Maybe I’d be curled up under the covers, mummified into a fetal position, trying to muster enough life force to issue a long, blood-curdling primal scream.

These past months have been a nay-sayer’s haven. A hey-day for the nattering nabobs of negativism. A triumphant march for the I told you so’s. A call to arms for the depressed denizens of Prozac Nation. It’s been the bon fire of the vanities and the sanities. But that doesn’t mean it has to be the bonfire of our humanity.

Believe me, I’m just as much of a consumer addict as the rest of you are….but I’m just not buying into this particular state of mind anymore. I’m calling a time out. Scheduling a day off from doubt. Taking a sabbatical from the selfish hype and marketing slogans of fear. I’m vaccinating myself against all the rampant viral strains of existential angst. I’m declaring a moratorium on all whining, moaning, woe is me-ing, the sky is falling-ing, the bottom is dropping out-ing, the all of us are going to hell in a hand basket-ing and any other extracurricular woulda’, coulda’, shoulda’ –ing that folks are secretly indulging in.

No more naming, blaming and shaming. Those ego-centric, arrogant jerks at GM can’t shoot down my spirit from their private planes. Bernie Madeoff is not going to be the bogey man under my bed or in my closet and make off with my soul in the middle of the night like some insipid succubus. The false profits of the gospel of money = happiness were never really real just as now that that little bit of ungodly-sent wisdom is spent, less money does not = unhappiness.

Quit making celebrities out of crooks. Quit putting your life on hold. Quit using the terms of depreciation and appreciation in such limiting fashion. Don’t depreciate the thousands of everyday experiences that are part of the journey of the mystery of life. Appreciate all the wondrous things that present themselves. That’s what gives them lasting value. (Including homes) Get busy envisioning what you do want in your life rather than talking about what you don’t want. Don’t let the future happen by default.

In homage to my brother Rob (shameless nepotism) I’m going to give you a homework assignment. Read his book “Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings.” As the real astrologer he can tell you whether your moon is in the right house. As a real estate agent, I can help you get your ass into a new one if it is truly time. Meanwhile think about sitting on the sunny deck of the advertisement next to this advertorial, breathing in the perfume of wisteria and thinking eminently pleasant good thoughts.

The Diceman Cometh

Unknown-1I was taking a stroll down memory lane recently. A virtual walk where all the warm and fuzzies reside inside my head. My personal version of Mr. Rogers’ Market where it’s always a wonderful day in the neighborhood.

I was recalling the open house “schtick” I used when I first got into real estate. Back then Agents were fond of serving those little baby quiches at their Sunday opens. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom of the 80’s, Realty Men Did Eat Quiche. Lots of it.

Other Agents liked to hand out those cute little packages of Forget-Me-Nots. Trying to plant the not so subtle seed of: “Remember Me!!!! Tell your friends, your relatives and anyone else you ever meet to call me!!!!“ Unless they are already a real estate agents.

We were looking for icebreakers. Ways to get prospects to linger and engage. It was a kinder-gentler era before real estate morphed into an all out assault to wrestle e mail addresses out of anyone with a pulse and plop them into the automated search engine that runs the robo-funnel.

Anyway, I always set out a bowl of Fortune Cookies. No one can resist them. People would break open those dubiously edible gimcracks just to get a peak at the future. They got a few crumbs and I got the opportunity to gain stealthy entrance into their brains. I had a big sign that said: “ You don’t need a fortune to buy this house, but it wouldn’t hurt!”

Hold that thought.

Some years later, I had a client who insisted he had to dream about a particular house first before he bought it. The literal interpretation of a “dream home” I guess. We waited patiently for weeks until he saw the sign he was looking for. Must have been the right one because we put an offer in and closed a month later.

Some years after that, I was working diligently with a young couple who came to an interesting standstill in their process. They found two completely different houses they wanted equally as much. They went through an extended routine of mental gymnastics trying to resolve the conundrum. Finally, they just flipped a coin. It was Abraham Lincoln that gave them the heads up andtold them to buy that Eastside bungalow. And they did.

They should have sold that place a few years later when it had doubled in value. They could have bought the house they really wanted. Instead they borrowed too many Benjamins on their hell-lock equity line and bought three rentals in the booming subprimeburb of Podunk (a.k.a Dough-Punked). Long story short, they shoulda’ stuck with Honest Abe’s auguries. Sometimes a penny is worth more than all your thoughts.

So, here in this time of missed fortunes, lost dreams and great indecision, how do we think our way out of the place where we feel equally pinned between two different sides of the same vise-grip. To buy or not to buy – that is the question.

When the going gets tough some people turn tail(s) and run the other way. Others hear the voice of Al Haig in their head(s) claiming he is in full control of the market at the White House. (Just as scary a thought now as it was then.)

In actuality, it isn’t possible, nor has it ever been possible to buy a house or sell a house or make any other major life transition without taking a leap of faith. Control is an illusion. Always was. Always will be. In the end, you may be able to think or feel your way right up to the edge, but you still have to find a way to jump.

So here’s the question…which of these do you prefer to put your faith in? Fate? Luck? Kismet? Divine Intervention? Karma? Cosmic Synchronicity? In real estate land they are all words for the same thing. You don’t decide as much as you divine your way forward to the next place – wherever that is.

While you creationists out there are feeling a rush of apoplexy, I invite the rest of you to sign onto my website and gain some extra insight with my new I PAD Real Estate APP. It is an Automated Random Fortune Search Engine that will open your chakras and your mind and get your moon into the right house – all at the same time. Guaranteed to throw the yarrow stalks, flip the coin, dream the dream, read the real estate signs for you. C’mon folks – time to enable my cookies again. The Dice Man Cometh.

High-Speed = High-Anxiety?

UnknownIt’s always interesting to venture out on a listing appointment these days to talk with people about selling their home.  Particularly when it’s been awhile since they last sold a home or tried to navigate through the rigors of the real estate process.

They often have a strong set of preconceptions in place. Assumptions about how selling a home is supposed to work.  Those expectations usually reflect whatever their prior experience was in a very different marketplace, ten or twenty years ago.  Almost another lifetime when it comes to real estate.

Part of the challenge lies in bridging the gap between what they knew then and what they don’t know now.  A Realtor’s perspective changes daily.  It updates itself automatically like the operating system on a computer. Sometimes updates are small tweaks that fix a few bugs. Other times they are huge shifts that rewrite a lot of the underlying software.  Since the average person only has a chance to update their operating system once a decade, it often takes a while to download the whole program.

We’ve been talking about the “need for speed” and how it affects everyone and everything in real estate these days.  How the hyper-connectivity of the internet ratchets-up the normal pace of buying and selling a home.  Turning it into a high-stakes, high-speed (and sometimes high-anxiety) process that doesn’t leave much time to ponder the important questions.

What was real estate like before tech took over?  Let’s rewind the clock to 1995.  Look at how the slow motion process of bringing a new home onto the market unfolded back in the dark ages. When there was no internet, digital photography, Zillow, mobile apps,google earth or even public access to the MLS!

It went something like this:  First there was the contract with the Seller.  Then we delivered an information sheet to the Board of Realtors by hand or fax (yes, we had fax machines in 1995). The Board collected the info and published a new MLS book every two weeks.  That book was the Bible. It contained all the answers – new listings, price reductions, pending sales.  Every Agent got a copy but prospective Buyers didn’t see any new information until their Agent deigned to share it with them.

New listings got one grainy black and white photo published in the book. Pictures were taken by the MLS photographer who drove by and took a picture of whatever could they could see from the street. (Talk about drive-by shootings!)

No need to worry about inspections in advance.  The buyer did them when the time came.  Disclosures?  Sellers filled them out later, after they found a buyer.   Those lush color photo layouts were reserved for the glossy magazines that only came out once a month.  There was a minimum 30 day lead time for those ads, so it could easily be 45 days before anyone saw those big ads.

Brokers Open Houses?  Maybe one after the book came out.  Weekend open house?  Usually one in the first month.  Signage? Yep – that’s how people found out about most new listings.  Newspaper ads?  The most immediate thing you could do to promote a listing since lead times were usually only a week.

And so it went.  As an Agent, I figured that the average listing didn’t get reasonable exposed to the market of potential buyers out there for at least a month or two after it went on.  The wheels of marketing turned slowly and we had plenty of time to prepare and try new things after a listing went on the market.

How different is it today in comparison?  We’ll talk more next week.

The Need for Speed!

UnknownLet’s circle back to rejoin the discussion we started a few weeks ago… We were talking about some of the interesting trends that have occurred in real estate over the last two or three decades. And the remarkably sudden and almost overwhelming “need for speed” that has taken over the real estate process in recent years.

Some of you who bought or sold a home this past year and found yourselves navigating the dubious joys and perils of today’s marketplace – things like – off-MLS listings, pre-emptive offers, one day response times, shorter than short contingency periods, electronic signatures, mobile notaries, wiring funds and ultra-fast, all-cash closings – will recognize what I’m talking about when I say that the pace of doing things in real estate has been ratcheted-up.

My premise is this: The essential, underlying meaning of buying or selling a home is the same now as it was back in the 80s or 90s. Not much has really changed in the basic equation.

Home is still the profound place of comfort, safety and refuge that nurtures us. Most people still only come into contact with the nitty-gritty of the real estate process when they aregoing through big life transitions like marriage, the birth of twins, divorce, health concerns, aging issues or the passing of a loved one. And for most of us, home is still the largest financial asset we’ll ever own.

Real estate has always been about big change and lots of money and all the powerful emotions that come along for the ride. What’s morphed, almost beyond our ability to keep up or comprehend, is the medium that’s now in charge of delivering the message.

Like everything else in the world these days, real estate has been digitized and unceremoniously relocated to a web-centric universe where buyers and sellers are hyper-connected and information is delivered in the blink of “real time,” at hyper-speed.

You may even hear the phrase hyper-local on occasion. It’s one of those new buzz-concepts making the rounds in real estate these days. But it’s really just a term that describes all the aggregated big data that’s being collected about homes and transactions, carved-up into byte-sized pieces so it can be fed back to individual consumers as meaningful morsels that in turn convince them to click on more things designed to monetize the hip young companies doing the collecting.

By 2015 standards, it’s almost impossible to imagine how anyone had the patience to buy or sell a home back in the good old days when bandwidths were so narrow and things moved at such a snail’s pace and the real estate process regularly unfolded in one long, drawn out, slow-motion take. For anyone who had their last close encounter with buying or selling a home back in 1995, the normal progression of a real estate transaction in today’s world is almost unrecognizable.

Buyers and sellers have no choice but to think faster. Act faster. Feel faster. Resolve doubts faster. And move-on faster. There’s no time to sit back and consider next steps unless you count a five day contingency period as adequate time. In a world defined by competition and the laws of supply and demand there’s always someone out there who might be gaining on you. If you snooze, you’re going to lose.

So here’s the question…is faster better? Is it a good thing that buyers and sellers are making such important life decisions with very little time to spare? We’ll talk more next week…

Que Sera Sera!

Unknown-2Occasionally I get emails from people musing over their particular realty tunnel or questioning the realty fate that feel they’ve been irreparably assigned to. Recently I had a letter from a person calling themselves Day Late and Dollar Short.

Here are a few excerpts:

“I’m just about ready to give up. I’ve missed out on five different properties in the last six months. I’m exhausted at the idea of
riding this roller coaster one more time. I missed the last property by $5,000. I want to own a home but if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. Maybe I’ll just give up and try again next year.”

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Both as an expression of the incredible frustration that this kind of a “good” market creates for so many “good” people trying to navigate its rocky shoals as well as in the ad hoc philosophy that often surfaces along with it – which I euphemistically refer to as the Doris Day Syndrome.

Pardon my French, but remember “Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be will be?” Close your eyes. You can almost hear Doris’ hit song floating like some ghostly perfume on the real estate ether – refusing to leave.

Among other things, Doris wrote a book called “Surviving the 1950’s” which included a chapter on How to Be Happy Without Psychotherapy (Depression can be cured by a new hat!) Must have been an early Scientologist. But let’s not forget that Que Sera Sera was also the music that Hitchcock chose to weave through the darker psychological shadows of his movie “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

I’ve thought a lot about this connection as it continues to be a Sellers’ market and I hear more Buyers wistfully humming this fateful little leitmotif as a salve for their bruised feelings and battered egos – a kind of all-purpose balm for those getting bombed out of the market in serial fashion.

At its best, Que Sera is a great Zen approach to real estate. It helps us keep a safe distance from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes that home transitions thrust into our paths. It recognizes a place of balance in the market
where you actively want and pursue home but not to the degree that you end up driving it away or become emotionally devastated by not getting it. You have to be willing to let it go. Control what you can, accept what you can’t.

At its worst, Que Sera is a handy excuse for not making a genuine effort to control things you can control. It is the red herring standing between you and a better relationship with your own unconscious. Day Late and Dollar Short rattled off a litany of all the reasons why he didn’t make it on his last five tries. It left me with the nagging suspicion that at some point he could have just bucked up and made it happen.

One of the important corollaries in real estate is: Whatever is buried down there deep in the unconscious is somehow, someway always going to rear its strange and interesting head during the home buying process.

The fact that some buyers try repeatedly, but never quite get over the hump, suggests there may be a secret part of them that isn’t ready to succeed. That shadow self probably exhales a huge sigh of relief each time their Agent delivers the “bad” news that they “didn’t get the house.”

My suggestion for anyone that keeps repeating their failures is: go back into the editing room and watch the film running through your head, frame by frame. Check it carefully for red herrings and subplots lurking in the shadows. As the auteur of your own reality/realty series learn to acknowledge your own inner-trickster/hitchcock.

Don’t be a Doris Day Late or a Doris Dollar Short. Don’t get down on yourself and please don’t just get back on the roller coaster for another mindless ride. Do the heavy lifting inside. It’s easy to put it back on Que Sera Sera but I’ve noticed that the fates most often reward those who buckle down and do their home-work.

Home Inspection…Duck and Cover!

UnknownAnother Home Inspection this week. Another reminder just how risky daily life is. Begs the question: Will any of us even survive the night in the unprotective-custody of our not-so-safe-houses?

They used to say most accidents occured up to five miles away from home. But after reading this 60page tome of a Home Inspection Report, I don’t see how anyone makes it out the front door in one piece – let alone down the driveway.

Nothing like a Home Inspection Report to make you feel incredibly insecure about all the insidious dangers that lurk in every room, closet and corner of the one place that’s supposed to keep us all safe.

I call it the 60 Minute Syndrome. Goes something like this. Morley Safer (fictitious name?) does a riveting expose on the dangers of automatic garage doors pinning unsuspecting children or small pets underneath. By the following week, consumer protection advocates are up in arms calling for installation of retroactive auto-reverse safety mechanisms.

On the front line of the Center for Dis-Ease Patrol are the Code Talkers. They are the Home Inspectors that cite chapter and verse of all the new codes we should live by. They’ve come to understand, after a lawsuit or two, that if they don’t warn everyone about every possible thing that could potentially harm anyone, their own butts are in grave danger. CYA rules. Absolute CYA rules absolutely.

And so the real estate process has moved into strange territory where the Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware) of old has become the Caveat Venditor of today – which means Seller Beware of all those things that will scare you about your own home and also scare the heck out of any potential home buyers too.

Here are just a few of the things you probably never knew you had to worry about – until now.

– Does your oven have an anti-tip device? Ever see an oven fall over on someone? Not pretty.

– That naked light bulb in your closet? Stack those sweaters high enough and they’re a fire waiting to happen.

– That dryer vent? Filling up with combustible layers of lint even as we speak.

– How many dyslexic plumbers have installed hot and cold water lines backwards?

– Is every stairway a potential stairway to heaven? Risers too high? Too wide? Treds uneven? Handrails too hard to grip?

– Deck rails more than 4 inches apart? Wide enough for small heads to get stuck? My own baby crib had bars wider than that. You are all witness to the results.

– GFCI’s? Carbon Monoxide Detectors? Smoke Alarms? Pool Alarms? A ban on all extension cords? Tempered glass? Clamps to hold open the damper on your gasfireplace?

When I was growing up we nursed a healthy fear of the atomic bomb. But as long as we listened to Bert the Turtle – ducked, covered and didn’t stare directly into the blast, we were ok. Everything else was gravy. Well, except for remembering not to run with sharp pencils in hand or put those plastic dry cleaning bags over our heads. But that was a different day and age. Long before fear came home to rule the roost.