Monthly Archives: December 2019

Century 23 Real Estate

 

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There I was driving home on Highway 1 the other night, ruminating about the future of real estate, when I came to a grinding halt in traffic. Sitting there unmoving, I glanced up at the Caltrans Board near 41st and noticed random words running across it. Suddenly my cell rang and I heard an eerie voice on the other end say: “Pay attention and write.”

I was so shocked that I grabbed my laptop and for the next three hours, my meager typing skills tried to keep up with the string of crazy pronouncements channeling across the board. What follows is a small part of what I saw. Predictions for the future? Real estate news courtesy of some Century 23 Agent traveling back in time? Who knows? You be the judge.

~ Realtors will expand efforts to lure GenX homebuyers with cutting edge branding techniques like company tattoos and logo piercings.

~ A large pharmaceutical firm will begin clinical trials of a morning-after pill designed to relieve symptoms of Buyer’s Remorse.

~ As more Americans continue to seek smaller homes and simpler lifestyles, a dramatic increase in the number of Near-Life Experiences will be reported.

~ In a variation on the “ice bucket” challenge, Silicon Valley CEOs will take turns living in camper vans outside their headquarters to raise money for affordable housing efforts.

~ Busy techie buyers will start sending personal drones to look at properties rather than driving to see them on their own.

~ A new reality TV show will debut next fall called “Extreme Commute: Silicon Valley.” The first episode will feature two computer geeks sitting bumper-to-bumper in a sea of Teslas on Hwy 85.

~ The first ever Virtual Realty firm will open its doors in China where upscale clients will sit in luxury recliners, don VR goggles and shop for expensive Bay Area estates they never plan to visit in the flesh.

~ A new Facebook scandal will surface when Russian hackers are caught targeting Bay Area homebuyers with a series of fake ads depicting 3 million dollar luxury homes that later prove to be average tract homes.

~ The Conversation Pit will make a comeback in American homes. More of them will be located in lead-lined safe rooms, where no electromagnetic television or phone frequen- cies can penetrate.

~ By spring of 2020, there will be a noticeable backlash against technology in real estate. More buyers will refuse to let their agents communicate with them by text. New “high-touch” real estate firms will open, touting “organic and algorithm-free agents.”

The World’s Most Interesting Realtor

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I don’t know if you noticed that Dos Equis recently retired Jonathan Goldsmith, the American actor who became famous for his role as The World’s Most Interesting Man. Turns out that Gold- smith will be relocating to Santa Cruz to start his new career as The World’s Most Interesting Realtor. Since there are more than 1300 Realtors in the county already, there’s always room for one more.

Here are a few of the tag lines he is considering for his initial rollout campaign:

He’s the Most Interesting Realtor in the World…

• Other agents have his name on their vanity license plates

• He gives virtual tours in person

• His clients sign disclosures acknowledging he’s The Most Interesting Realtor in the World

• He can make a house go up in value just by appreciating it

• He once foreclosed on a bank

• He once picked a loan lock

• Buyers he doesn’t work with suffer from remorse

• When he lists a property, half baths become whole again

• Even the geodesic domes he represents have square footage

• Loan underwriters wait for his approval

• He once sold a dream house in his sleep

• He once went to mime school to look more convincing when going through the motions

• He uses a tailor for arm’s length transactions

• His termite company once tented a circus

Turn Off and Tune Out

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“There are some searches Google just can’t help you with.”

                             – Recent message in front of a Sunnyvale church

Continuing the conversation…is it possible that maybe, just maybe, we’ve reached an inflection point where enough people have become disenchanted with the cumulative effects tech is having on their lives?

Someday we may all look back and be able to see that the all-encompassing embrace of the digital age really started to shift in 2019 as more people began to resist the tempta- tion to integrate one more device, one more password, one more set of insidiously engi- neered algorithms into their daily routines. Opting instead to turn off, tune out and drop back in to life in ways that allowed them to be more present.

One of the things tech likes to brag about is the meaningful opportunity for social interaction it affords everyone on the planet. Hyper-connectivity, hyper-local, hyper-per- sonal are all part of the hype. Most Realtors struggle with a daily avalanche of informa- tion that encourages them to spend huge amounts of time cultivating their online real estate personas. Without a strong digital presence, the message goes, they won’t have the kind of “social proof ” that’s necessary to be successful.

Similar to personal Facebook feeds where people’s carefully curated lives often seem too good to be true, the current generation of real estate hopefuls is busy crafting shiny new avatars that don’t resemble who they are in the real world. Instead of simply venturing out into their own local communities to connect with people on a more experiential level. Not understanding that deeper connection with fewer actual buyers and sellers will make them far more successful than generating lots of shallower “clicks.”

Everyone has heard the meme: “getting information from the Internet is like trying to get a drink of water from a fire hose.” These days, homebuyers and sellers don’t need more information, they need more context to help them think about all the information they already have. So that the flood of data and details makes a lot more sense when they suddenly find themselves in the heat of the moment. Especially when the choices they make have such a profound effect on the big life transitions they are going through. The ones that involve the largest assets they’ll ever own.

Flood of New Listings?

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This is for all the would-be buyers waiting in the wings. Those taking a temporary break from the rigors of the real estate market after experiencing months of frustration and fatigue.

The ones who are girding their loins and girding their loans in preparation for the coming year’s battle. Hoping to rest and recuperate now, so they can be ready for the flood of new listings they are hoping will arrive.

There are plenty of leftover buyers out there who gave it their all in 2019. They deserve an A for effort, even if they weren’t quite able to make it over the hump to the promised land. Well-qualified folks who just couldn’t seem to out-smart a difficult market and find their way home.

It’s hard to live a normal life and look for a house at the same time. That’s particularly true in a market that demands such an exhausting state of readiness and preparation at the same time as it only parcels a few meager listings at a time to choose from.

Buyers who’ve been slogging around in the trenches in search of inventory for the last six months or longer know what that “always on” feeling is like. The barrage of search engine emails that begins to look like spam rather than real opportunity. Hours spent parsing Sunday open house ads trying to figure out whether “charming” really means “fixer” or whether “cute” really means “tiny.” And whether they should drop everything, jump in the car and head out to the open house to see for themselves.

The rush of an unexpected For Sale sign popping up in the perfect neighborhood.
The promising sneak peak of a new listing on Thursday’s Brokers Tour. The call from a sister-in-law who heard a rumor about a friend of a friend thinking about putting their house on the market. God forbid you should take a vacation and miss that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that could happen at any moment.

On again, off again. Hurry up and wait. All dressed up with no address to go to. Weeks and months of looking hard but finding nothing. Until suddenly, a house appears out of the blue. It’s perfect…except for the fact that five other buyers with competing offers seem to have had the same revelation.

So many questions for all those would-be buyers lining up in the queue. What are they waiting for, exactly? Is 2020 really going to be any different? Is that flood of new listings really on its way?

Clicks and Confusion

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I’ve been in a contemplative mood lately. Something that often happens when the
winds of real estate settle into their customary calm this time of year.

Most buyers are on a furlough until after the first of the year. That’s when they’ll push the reset button and venture back into the fray. And most sellers have their sights set on 2019 and are busy prepping for early spring. For now, I’m enjoying a little distance from the daily grind.

There’s been a nagging notion rolling around in my head this year. Maybe it’s a symptom of the bigger anxieties floating around in a world that seems increasingly wired by negative emotions. The uncomfortable feeling I’ve had is that real estate’s growing reliance on technology isn’t such a good thing.

I’m haunted by a quote from a former Facebook employee echoing Ginsburg’s seminal line: “I saw the best minds of my generation inventing new ways to make people click on things.” When I look at real estate and how the process works these days, I can see ways it is headed down the wrong path.

I meet hundreds of people at open houses and because I’m curious, I always ask about their experiences with buying or selling. Recently a theme has emerged from all the random sampling I’ve done.

More often than not, people describe being confused or frustrated about their recent real estate ventures. They often talk about feeling left in the lurch without any context about how all the separate parts, moving with dizzying speed, actually fit together into a whole.

They complain about never really talking to their agent. How she/he only texts them. About being left alone to fend for themselves on the internet. Or about receiving Dropbox links with hundreds of pages of inspections without any explanation, until a second email arrives asking for their electronic signatures on each page to prove they’ve read them.

There’s a powerful drive to translate everything we do as Realtors into a one-size-fits-all digital format. To go faster and to paint our clients’ lives by the numbers with newer and better algorithms. To boil their decision-making down to a series of 1s and 0s for our own good, and supposedly theirs.

It doesn’t help that we live right on the edge of Silicon Valley, where a huge percentage of buyers and sellers participate in the larger tech economy surrounding us. Life and work via the internet is what’s expected here. If you don’t have it, you aren’t successful. And if you can’t embrace it – it’s time to get out of the business.

Next week: How real estate should learn to live with and without the internet.

Secret Dreaming

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Buying or selling a home is never just about buying or selling a home. There’s always a more interesting story weaving its way around the more mundane aspects of the “real estate process.”

The house, the offer, the negotiation, the escrow – all the things we like to think of as real estate – are really just stage props and window dressing. Tips of a much larger story about people’s lives that lies hidden beneath the surface of every transaction.

Ask any Agent. They can tell you. Every home sale could be written as a novel or a Greek tragedy full of fate, pathos, hubris and profound changes of fortune. Each could easily become a TV mini-series or a future binge on Netflix.

Every home sale has a unique story about the human beings involved. People going through major life transitions (births, divorce, aging, death et al.) Ones that involve their largest asset as well as their core feelings about safety, comfort and refuge (a.k.a Home).

If real estate were only as simple as those young yayhoos on Million Dollar Listing make it out to be. The true cost of living index is much more complicated than the shallow fodder they dish out.

Here’s the thing: the real payoff for Realtors lies in witnessing the intimate stories about change that happen every day. After 30 years, I’ve amassed an amazing library full of life’s rich- ness. Heroic feats. Stupid human tricks. People slaying dragons. People snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

I feel both blessed and cursed at times. Bearing witness to the good, bad and ugly of human nature offers a powerful vantage point as well as a precarious perch in the eye of the storm. What comes out of all these individual stories is a deep feeling for the pulse of the culture that surrounds us. The culture we don’t always notice we are part of while we’re busy trying to live.

What also emerges from all the stories is a glimpse of the secret dreaming beneath all of the exterior trappings people cloak their lives with. People think a lot of stuff. And people say a lot of stuff. But real estate is the place where, in order to buy or sell a house, people actually have to do something. Home is the nexus where change resides.

It’s a fascinating irony that we live in a world linked closer than ever before – at the same time so many people feel more alone and isolated than they’ve ever been. Next week we’ll explore how people’s desire for real connection in the world is reflected in the real homes they choose.

Mothballing Open Houses?

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There was a time, ten or fifteen years ago, when I was convinced that traditional open houses were a thing of the past. Turnouts were diminishing. Visitors were a motley collection of looky-loos, nosy neighbors and tire-kickers 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. At worst, they were a way to pitch future listing services to all those nosy 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 are once again 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 the market. The right audience is already out there waiting for the details.

Most buyers come from outside the county. Traditional move-up buyers who fueled past markets are missing from today’s equation.

Given daily traffic congestion, buyers from elsewhere don’t drive to Santa Cruz during the week to look at house – they can’t.

Most buyers reserve weekends to see new listings. 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.