Category Archives: Real Estate Of Mind Articles

Tom Breszny is a frequent contributor to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Read about his perspective on the real estate market.

Getting In Touch With Your Why-Thing

a3312050880_5The traditional paradigm of real estate teaches young Realtors how to sell homes. But the longer I do this work, the more I realize it’s never just about selling homes. That’s really the smallest part of the job. And thanks to an astonishing market these days, also the easiest.

Real estate is really more about the profound life transitions that lie behind each sale. The all important “whys”  that shape someone’s pivotal decision to move.

No one sells their home for fun. Or decides to pick up and move on a lark. Never has that been more true than now. The average time people spend in their homes has risen to a record 12 years. Almost twice what it was in 2006.

On a basic level, selling a home is simply means getting from Point A to Point B.  Perhaps going from a two bedroom, one bath bungalow to a three bedroom, two bath ranch. Or from a larger executive home on a few acres to a single-level house near the beach.  

On a deeper level,  it’s about moving the whole of you from Point A to Point B in life. Taking the next step in your personal journey.  Whatever that “whything” is that’s driving your change.  Maybe it’s getting married or having kids. Getting older or losing a partner.

Directions for getting from Point A to Point B in life are always fuzzy. There aren’t any road maps or GPS coordinates. You can’t put that kind of change into your waze app and wait for a voice to tell you what to do.

The hardest part of the job these days isn’t selling houses. The greatest degree of difficulty comes from trying to figure out how to help the people selling the houses get over their own resistance to the very change they seek.  So they can move forward in life.  

Here’s a healthy meditation for anyone selling… Draw a timeline of your life stretching from earliest childhood to now.  Place all the homes you’ve ever lived in on it. Then take a long mental walk through each, remembering favorite rooms and the things you loved the most.

Then pull your focus back.  Look at how old you were when each move happened.  Recall those decisions and what was really difficult about them. See all the ways your life changed with each move.  Up until the last one, when you became even more of the person you are today.

Your home isn’t your life.  You are the force that animates the container within its four walls.  Like one of those crabs moving slowly along the ocean floor, you are just looking for the next shell that will house your life.

 

Out With The Old

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Time to Put a Few of Real Estate’s Old Standbys Out to Pasture…

Real estate keeps changing right along with everything else. Best practices in today’s real estate don’t look anything like they did three decades ago when I first started.  They don’t even look much like they did six years ago when the market was just re-emerging from the long troubled sleep of the Great Recession.

The digital world is changing  the real estate process in increasingly profound ways.  And it’s important for Realtors to continue questioning their own assumptions about what works and what doesn’t.  What’s relevant and what’s not.  Otherwise, they’re likely to  get stuck on automatic pilot  doing the same old same old things that are no longer effective.

Here’s my short list of tried and true standards of analogue real estate that are becoming less relevant in the brave new world of digital real estate.

Driving People Around to Look at Houses?  Not anymore. Buyers now have access to the same info Agents have via the  internet.  They don’t need Agents to tell them about new listings.  Most prefer not ride around in somebody else’s car. They’d rather view homes on their own schedule,  at their own pace. Usually on the weekends.

Open House Signs? Time to retire all those ubiquitous signs littering the corners of major intersections on weekends? I’ve been doing a little surreptitious research. Some Sundays I put out more open house signs. Some none at all. The number of signs I put out doesn’t make any difference in the turnout. Serious Buyers already know which houses they want to see.  And they know how to get there with the help of their trusty Waze Apps.

Brokers Open Houses?  Turnouts at Thursday Brokers Open Houses are starting to resemble social gatherings at the Old Timers’’ Retirement Home. Nowhere is the greying of real estate more conspicuous than on Broker’s Tour Day.  Out of 1200 active agents in Santa Cruz County, it seems like the same 30 agents show up . Most are older and seemingly more interested in the cookies and the comaraderie  than the house. 

Brochure Boxes?  How about those little plastic boxes screwed into those yard signs? The ones nosey-neighbors leave the lids up on, so that the remaining supply of water-logged flyers can get folded, spindled and mutilated beyond recognition.  How many trees does it take  to feed the conceit of such inglorious marketing efforts? Do serious buyers really drive through neighborhoods looking for brochure boxes?

Printed Flyers? People who ask for them are usually neighbors who have wandered in because they saw the open house signs. They aren’t in the market to buy a house.  Grabbing a flyer is their way of keeping up with how much the Joneses are asking for their place.  With Zillow Zestimates an easy click away,  are four-color flyers really necessary to sell homes?

Monthly Color Magazines? When so many houses sell in the first week with multiple-offers, do we really need magazines that require a month’s lead time for submitting copy and photos?  Aren’t most homes sold by then?   And how many serious South Bay buyers drive over to Santa Cruz to get their cars washed just so they can look at all the beautiful houses for sale in the magazines?

The Downsize Dilemma and Low Inventory

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Getting Old Isn’t for Sissies and Downsizing Isn’t for Wimps

More on Low Inventory Woes – Why More Sellers Aren’t Selling. Trying to pinpoint reasons behind the historic low inventory we’re experiencing. What’s causing the huge crimp in the supply-side of the market equation?

Whenever there’s a significant change in the market, pundits like to trot out their short list of “ usual suspects”.  Low Inventory is caused by people’s aversion to capital gains.  Or concerns about higher property taxes.  Or, since they’re already locked into their homes at rock-bottom interest rates, why sell and buy new houses with more costly mortgages?

Those are all important considerations but in this case they’re really just the tip of the iceberg. Smaller symptoms of a much larger shift. One that’s profoundly baked into the DNA of our own culture and has to do with our rapidly aging population and the fact that people are living longer than ever before.

It’s not a lack of people wanting to sell that’s causing the inventory shortage. It’s the fact that so many people who do want to sell are having trouble figuring out how to do it in ways that make sense to them.  As we speak, there are huge numbers of aging baby boomers (and their parents) who are  trying to navigate through their own unique downsizing dilemmas. When more people figure it out, more houses will go on the market.

When people are overwhelmed by the scope of a late-life changes even before they can  get out of the starting gate, it’s easy for them to retreat back into the fastness and comfort of home and their established routines. It’s tempting to kick the can down the road until “the time is right” (A euphemism that can mean waiting for something unexpected to happen that will force a change.)

Moving down is hard stuff. It takes tremendous courage. And…it isn’t going to get any easier five year or ten years from now. That’s the reality of it. Choose proactively now, how you want to live for the rest of the foreseeable future. Or wait until life makes the decision for you and doesn’t necessarily offer up any desirable options.

The magnitude of change associated with our rapidly-aging population is something we’ve never experienced before. In many ways, we’re living in an older, undiscovered country that’s trying to come to terms with its own existential angst. And it’s going to require an expanded conversation to find better solutions to the challenges inherent in living longer.

As my 94 year old parents are fond of saying whenever they get the chance: “Getting old isn’t for sissies!” To that, I’m going to add my own real estate-inspired phrase: “Downsizing isn’t for Wimps!”

Having the Termite Talk

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More Adventures in Homeownership….

No philosophical rants or big life transitions to consider today. Time to get down to the nitty gritty of an issue that literally “bugs” the heck out of everyone in real estate.  I’m referring to termites of course.

Those nasty little pests who (if you buy into their bad press) are probably feasting on your siding, routing out your rafters and undermining your foundation as we speak.  Or not.  After 30 years of looking at homes, inspection reports and all things termites…I’ve got my own thoughts.

Here are a few:

-The termite industry has a great lobby. They’re the only ones licensed to tent houses.  Fumigations are their biggest revenue source. And those special tents? Most are owned by the same company out of Salinas.

-There’s no requirement for tenting at time of sale. That’s an urban myth from the old days.

-There’s nothing about fumigation that insures termites won’t be back again. They fly and form new colonies all the time. Fumigations only kill the termites there at the time.

-In Santa Cruz, active termites are the rule rather than the exception. If an inspector finds even a few, the recommendation will be tenting. If someone requests, they may provide a “spot” treatment estimate.

-Something’s not right, when an inspector is also bidding on work. It’s an invitation to inflate problems or find non-existent ones.

-There’s a reason why tents typically only go on houses during the sale process:  Very few people notice or worry about termites until they buy a house.

-Fungus damage (dry rot) can cause way more damage  much quicker than termites can.

-Termite inspections are actually Wood Destroying Pests and Organism Reports. That includes termites, carpenter ants, bees, wood-boring beetles and fungus (dryrot) And there are different kinds of termites – mostly drywoods and subterraneans in this area.

-There’s a reason why some termite companies offer 2yr warranties …if termites re-infest the next day, it takes around 2yrs for their pellets to reappear. And those regular monthly service contracts? Don’t get me started….

-Estimates termite companies give for carpentry work are often 40% higher than others charge.They subcontract the work and add on a premium.  And also inflate estimates to cover any additional damage found. 

-If a house has roof work years after a termite fumigation, it is difficult to tell whether the pellets in the attic are new or if all the banging knocked old evidence out of the rafters. 

That’s it for today folks. There’s lots more to the termite story of course.  Call me if you have questions.

Real Estate isn’t Rocket Science!

 

More simple lessons about how the market works…

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It goes without saying, real estate should never be confused with rocket science.  The basic principles about how the market works are pretty straightforward. Specially if you’re a Seller who’s selling in a Seller’s Market, like the one local Sellers have enjoyed for the last five years.

Even when frustrated Buyers get a little crazy and express anger over the “unfair” results of one of the latest multiple-offer fiascos they’ve lost out in, Sellers typically remain calm and rational,  secure in their knowledge about the inherent truths of the marketplace:

But what happens when the market starts to change?  And some of those listings don’t sell as quickly as people thought they would?  Suddenly, those same tried and true elements of wisdom and logic, so apparent before, no longer seem to apply.  

Since we could be heading into one of those transition times in the market,  let’s review a few simple rules that are true in every market:

A house is worth what someone will pay for it and a house isn’t worth what someone won’t pay for it.

At the right price, every house sells. At the right price all objections disappear.

There’s no such thing as an unsellable house. Only one listed at an unsellable price.

Definition of market value: the price a willing buyer and willing seller agree on. Every sale is its own best comp.

An appraisal isn’t an analysis of market value, more a  justification of the price already agreed upon

What you bought your home for ten years ago has nothing to do with its present value.

Every seller has the right to hold out for that one right buyer who will pay what they are asking. They just shouldn’t confuse this approach with having anything to do with market value.

Just because the market isn’t telling you what you want to hear isn’t the same as the market not telling you anything. When no one comes to look at your house the communication is actually loud and clear: the price is too high.

The longer your house is on the market, the less it will sell for.

DEATH and/or TAXES?

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Death and Taxes. Everyone’s heard those words. They’re part of a quote that originated with Benjamin Franklin: “Our new Constitution is now established and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  

Here we are more than 240 years after Ben made his pithy observation.  A lot has changed since then but as of today’s Good Times, death is still at the top of the short list of inevitable facts we all have to face. (Until Google achieves The Singularity and starts transforming brain waves into algorithms uploaded into the cloud so we can live forever.)

Meantime,  we lesser mortals at Real Estate of Mind are working on that other most inevitable thing – taxes.  More specifically real estate taxes. Something so many people around the age of 55 are thinking hard about as they head into the last third of their lives wrestling with questions about downsizing, cash flow and leaving legacies for their kids.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet (reference guide, not an actual suggestion for cheating on your taxes,) for those trying to figure out how to avoid substantial increases in their property taxes if they sell their house and buy another one somewhere else in California.  The good news? California seems to be dedicated to the “proposition” that all people should try to avoid more taxes when possible. Here are some of those propositions:

Prop 13 (1978): The original granddaddy proposition reducing existing property taxes and significantly limiting increases in the future.

Prop 58 (1986):  Allows parents to pass homes on to their children without a reassessment of property taxes. (See the fine print folks.)

Prop 60 (1986):  Offers homeowners the opportunity to sell and buy a new home (of lesser value) in the same County, while transferring a lower property tax base.  (Not to be confused with the other, more recent Prop 60 having to do with condom use in the porn industry!!!)

Prop 90 (1989):  Allows homeowners to transfer their existing property tax base to other participating counties in California. Only 11 counties currently qualify.  (Call or email for the list.)

Prop 110 (1990):  Extended Prop 60 to disabled homeowners of any age.

Prop 193 (1996): Extension of Prop 58 allowing Grandparents to transfer property to Grandchildren (provided their children are deceased) without reassessment of property taxes.

In the meantime,  while continuing our quest to cheat both death (via google) and taxes (via proposition) I invite any and all of you who are wrestling with the numbers to give me a call to discuss how these Propositions can assist in your planning.  

Why Aren’t More Sellers Selling?

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More Discussion About the Downsize Dilemma…

Today’s big question:  Why Aren’t More Sellers Selling? Very few folks would disagree with the notion that historic low inventory has been the driving force in the marketplace for the last five or six years. But what’s unclear is the WHY behind it all. What factors have contributed to the huge crimp in the supply-side of the market equation? 

Let’s continue deciphering this riddle wrapped in a mystery inside of a market enigma by looking at one of the prime suspects:  Move-Down Buyers (aging baby-boomers and their Octogenarian parents) who have the following things in common:

  • They’ve owned their homes for a long time and have lots of equity.  
  • They are at transition points in their lives.
  • They’d be happy to put their houses on the MLS tomorrow, if only…

If only they could figure out how to do it in a way that makes sense and feels right. If only they could think their way past the push-pull of the Chinese finger-trap, torture-puzzle that comes with aging. If only they could learn the secret Jedi Mind-trick that would allow them sell their home in seamless fashion while simultaneously buying a smaller, less expensive one, better suited to the future.

At first glance, you wouldn’t think it would be that hard to sell a big house and buy a small one in Santa Cruz. But, if it were that easy, then hundreds of would-be Sellers I’ve talked to over the last few years, would have already found answers to their “Downsizing Dilemmas”. Their houses would already be on the MLS. They’d be in escrow, moving on to smaller and better things in life.

And of course, the inventory of homes for sale would be much higher than it is now and presumably the market would be a much happier place to buy in. So what’s the hold-up? What makes it so hard to downsize in Santa Cruz? Are people asking for too much? Their priorities look pretty simple:

  • They want smaller single level houses
  • They want to be closer-in to community and conveniences
  • They want to free up a chunk of equity for their retirement

These are all desirable qualities of life that everyone can relate to right?. Which is part of the problem of course. Buyers young and old are competing for the same kinds of houses in the same price ranges and that makes the transition between Selling and Buying anything but seamless.

More on the Downsizing Dilemma next week…