Monthly Archives: March 2018



It’s been awhile since we revisited the subject of  “stuff”. A topic that continues to occupy an inordinate amount of my time as a Realtor. What “stuff” am I talking about? George Carlin stuff. Jam-packed storage unit stuff.  Ubiquitous garage, basement and attic stuff. Stuffed into the back of your closet stuff.

The “stuff” that keeps spawning best-selling books about clutter, the magic of tidying up and zen fantasies about living like a monk.  The “stuff” that has launched an entire cottage industry of packers, organizers and house-whisperers.

The “stuff” that keeps many folks waging endless battles with their own bad habits without really knowing why. The “stuff” that Realtors wrestle with every day when it comes to selling houses. Ask any experienced agent what the biggest hurdle is to getting listings ready?  Hands-down most will say: “Trying to cajole well-meaning homeowners into dealing with their “stuff”.”

For reference: It takes two or three weeks to get an empty house prepped and on the market.  It takes six months or more when a seller has to purge twenty years of stuff to get it ready.  After helping hundreds of overstuffed clients over the years I’ve come to one inescapable conclusion:  Selling a house is hard but finding a home for all the junk in the garage is excruciating.

Near as I can tell, we’re all on the hoarder spectrum. The only difference between those poor souls buried alive by their stuff on Reality TV and the rest of us high-functioning hoarders is a matter of degrees. The rationale for hanging on to things long past their useful shelf-life is always the same no matter whether you’re navigating through mountains of old magazines or just bending around thirty year-old skis to get into the car:  “What if I need it someday”?

It’s a fascinating time in the culture.  A crossroads for aging baby boomers transitioning from the middle third of their lives to the last third. The struggle around “stuff” is lumped into a whole slew of issues euphemistically referred to as downsizing.  Implicit in the term down-size is the notion that a new life in a smaller place means giving up old parts of ourselves we may have trouble letting go of.

Here’s a revised version of the Serenity Prayer for those struggling.  God, grant me the serenity to keep the stuff I do need, the courage to throw out all the stuff I don’t need and the wisdom to know the difference.   If that doesn’t help,  call me. I’m happy to make a house call and give you some guidance.





  There was a time, ten or fifteen years ago, when I became convinced traditional open houses were a thing of the past.  Turnouts were diminishing. Traffic was becoming a motley collection of looky-loos, nosey-neighbors. tire-kickers and random passers-by. Drawn like moths to the corner signs and a chance to peek behind the scenes of someone else’s home and life.

I was almost ready to mothball my open house signs. Ditch the cookies. And hold the presses on all those glossy flyers I was printing at the expense of all those trees.

At best, open houses seemed more like tools for younger agents to meet occasional living, breathing buyers. Or to humor sellers into thinking their listings were attracting the right audience (not just lookey-loos and tire kickers!) At worst, they were a way to pitch future listing services to all those nosey-neighbors.  None of it was really about selling the actual houses.

But I take it all back now. The advent of the low inventory market has changed everything. Open houses have once again become a crucial part of the home selling process.   Anyone who doesn’t do them hurts their chances to get the best results.

Here’s my thinking:

  • Every new listing is digitized and instantly downloaded to a waiting marketplace these days. A shotgun approach to marketing is no longer necessary.  The right audience is already waiting for the details.
  • In the old days, marketing a house took two or three months to unfold. These days: two or three days.
  • Most buyers come from outside the county. Traditional move-up buyers who fueled past markets are missing from the equation.
  • People from elsewhere don’t drive over to Santa Cruz during the week to see new listings.  Given daily traffic congestion on both sides of the hill – they can’t.
  • Most buyers reserve weekends to see new listings as they come on. They prefer to schedule their own time, drive their own cars and see things at their own pace.
  • In a multiple-offer marketplace, the goal for sellers is: generate the most showings in the shortest period of time after their house goes on the market.  
  • Open Houses act as effective funnels to collect, concentrate and clarify market interest incredibly quickly. Usually the first weekend after a listing goes on.
  • For Sellers, there’s nothing better than having swarms of Buyers all eyeballing each other at the same time, trying to size up all the competition. That’s what motivates Buyers to write offers quickly and competitively.

Preparing for the Multiple-Offer Mosh-Pit


   Four years ago when the market really started taking off, the Sentinel ran an article  about first-time buyers who were at their wit’s end after putting in offers on 23 different houses without getting any of them!  Rather than suffering more of the indignities that the rapidly appreciating market could dish out, they decided to move elsewhere. Where the odds and the offers weren’t stacked so high against them.

While I felt badly for them, the Realtor-voice in the back of my head also had to ask: How can anyone put in 23 offers and not get a single one accepted? That’s way more than a simple case of bad luck. Coming up empty-handed 23 straight times means there’s something bigger going on. You are: a) Looking way above your means  b) Getting really bad advice c) Unclear about how the market works. d) Too stubborn to learn from your mistakes . Or all of the above.

   My own observation is that the majority of inexperienced buyers wandering around from open house to open house and offer to offer, don’t have a clue about what they are doing. And also don’t stand much of a chance of succeeding because of it. What’s desperately needed is a new kind of buyer boot-camp that helps people prepare for the rigors of the multiple-offer mosh-pit, by starting with the most basic list of things every buyer should already know:

  • – Get your pre-approval set.  Not sorta kinda. Do it. And keep updating it every two months.
  • -Use an experienced local lender who other local agents know and trust.
  • -Work with an experienced local Agent who has lots of multiple-offer experience
  • -Don’t use four different search engines.  You’ll just confuse yourself and your agent.
  • -Don’t just look at properties online.  Visit them. See them. Feel them. That’s the part that counts.  
  • -Finding a house is work.  If you aren’t willing to make time to get to Open Houses on the weekend  then you aren’t ready.
  • -When you go to open houses – make sure you know what you should and shouldn’t say around the listing agent.
  • -Don’t waste your time dreaming about secret off-market listings or cheap-o foreclosure deals – that’s just you distracting yourself from the real choices at hand.
  • -Give up on the notion that you aren’t going to complete. Roll up your sleeves and get ready.
  • – If your parents are helping with a down payment, make sure they are fully invested in your process.


Tough Love for Young Buyers & Agents


When a recent listing received 12 offers in the first week,  I had a chance to refresh my observations about how difficult it is to be an inexperienced buyer or a new agent in a multiple offer marketplace.

One that specializes in chewing up and spitting out the naive, the well-meaning and anyone who isn’t 100% committed to the process. No matter how qualified they are. Or how good their intentions may be.

When I see young buyers struggling or hear their agents complaining about the inequity of it all…  I’m always reminded of a line Clint Eastwood’s character in The Unforgiven growled:  ”Fair’s got nothin’ to do with it.”  He could easily have been talking about success and failure in today’s real estate market.

Here are a few of the dizzying number of things that aren’t always apparent to the uninitiated. Those who have yet to receive their full baptism under fire from the marketplace:

Any first-time buyer who thinks it’s a good idea to approach a listing agent directly about representation, thinking it will somehow save them money,  is sadly, utterly mistaken.

Don’t trust your agent? Don’t wait until the middle of multiple offers to figure it out. Discuss how you feel now.  If that doesn’t help, interview other agents.

Don’t call the listing agent on a new property asking them to show it to you because your agent is too busy. That’s already one strike against you. It also doesn’t ingratiate your agent to his colleague.

When attending open houses, don’t say too little or too much to the listing agent. Don’t act sullen. Don’t criticize the house within earshot.  Don’t ask too many questions you could otherwise ask your own agent. Open Houses are like job interviews. The listing agent is already judging you as a potential buyer.

If you are one of those stubborn buyers who insists they’ll get pre-approved as soon as they find the right property,  might as well give up now.  You’re never going to get it if you aren’t properly prepared in advance.

What to offer in a multiple offer situation is always the question on everyone’s mind. Here’s a hint: It will depend on how many other offers there end up being. That’s not something you can know in advance. Just something you have to react to in the moment.