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.

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…

10,000 People Turn 65 Today…

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More on the Downsize-Dilemma

I keep experiencing a sense of déjà vu lately. Four or five times a week, I find myself in the middle of the same conversation with completely different people!

Coincidence? I think not. The scenario goes something like this: A call comes in. The person is thinking about selling their home. They wonder whether I can come over to look at their place and give them some advice about what they may need to do to prepare it for sale.

They aren’t ready to sell yet. They’re just trying to get a better sense of what the big picture of real estate looks like. Where the market is and how much they might be able to sell for. All of this is great of course. It’s what I do. Over the years I’ve had hundreds of these calls.

And yet, when I get there, what’s supposed to be a simple Q&A about real estate, often turns into a much broader discussion about big life questions that are bouncing around in their heads. The existential dilemmas they are feeling. All the what-ifs about the future. The litany of concerns that come with aging. Their natural resistance to change. And just how hard it is to define what quality of life really looks like.

This is the conversation that’s making the rounds out there. It’s a collective expression of a huge, silent dreaming that’s welling up from deep within the culture.

The caller is usually somewhere between 55 and 75 years old. They often have aging parents and/or kids close to graduating college. They are wrestling with their own retirement issues. When to quit working? How to “move-down” and simplify life. Get rid of all the useless stuff in the garage. Maybe have fewer stairs and less property maintenance.

Along with all of the above, come even more complicated questions about things like: financial planning, family trusts, capital gains and property tax transfers, medicare, social security and long-term care insurance.  

Ultimately all of these things relate back to home and the role it plays in our lives. For most of us, home is the single biggest asset we’ll ever own, at the same time it’s the physical, emotional and spiritual centering place for our lives –  our refuge of safety, privacy, comfort and security. Home transitions are almost always a part of larger life transitions.

Sound familiar? Today 10,000 people in the US will turn 65.  More than a few of them live in Santa Cruz. Over the next five years, that number of is going to increase dramatically as the population continues to age  And that means the conversation is going to continue….

 

Secret-Sauce

We’re talking about Zillow becoming a go-to voice for people who are curious about real estate values. Mostly because it is “free” and easy. And doesn’t require any commitment.  Let’s explore why those Zillow Zestimates aren’t very accurate… but first a few quick observations:

-There are no free lunch on the internet. Websites harvest your contact information to sell it into big data servitude. Think digital Soylent Green.

-The bulk of Zillow’s revenue comes from selling “leads” to the same real estate agents  Zillow users think they’re avoiding.

– Zestimates come from a proprietary algorithm –  a secret sauce formula that tastes a lot like thousand island dressing.  Since over a billion Zestimates have been served they must be right.  Right?

-People believe Zestimates when they confirm what they want to hear.  When Zestimates are high,  Sellers love their accuracy.  When they are low, hopeful Buyers think they are true.

So what’s the real mystery ingredient in Zillow’s secret sauce? As a student of real estate it’s pretty clear to me that it’s Price Per Square Foot (PPFT) – the same factor Realtors have been using for decades to make back-of-the-napkin guesses at home values.

Here’s the thing, a home’s PPSF only kinda sorta works as a predictor for home values in larger subdivisions with places of similar size built around the same time. In Santa Cruz, think Skypark in Scotts Valley or Santa Cruz Gardens in Soquel.  Figure the average place might sell for $450 per sq ft all other things being equal.

When it comes to home values in the majority of eclectic beach neighborhoods in Santa Cruz County, it’s almost never about the size of the ship or PPSF. It’s almost always about the emotion of the ocean – which is the “feeling” a house generates through the combination of all its intangibles. Things Zillow has no way of tracking.

How close is a particular house to the beach?  Is it windy?  Banana belt or fog?  Does it have a view?  Is the yard private? Surf locale? How does the light come in through the window? Can you hear the freeway? How about  the Hwy 1 commute?  Zillow doesn’t have a clue about any of those things.  Their secret algorithm can’t compute.

That’s why a 600 sq ft house in Pleasure Point can easily sell for $1.3 million ($2,166 ppsf) when it’s Zestimate says $900,000.  And why a 4,000 sq ft house in Aptos might sell for $1.5 million ($375ppsf) when it’s Zestimate says $1.9m.  In both instances Zillow is off by $400,000 and you’d do a whole lot better talking to a Realtor with secret some mojo of their own.

Sellers Have Selective Memories

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The Market Always Tells the Truth!

Picking up the thread…. Sellers have selective memories. Fluid understandings about how the market works. When things are going well, the machinations of the market seem obvious. When the cycle shifts, the message morphs into a mystery they just can’t seem to fathom.

Do market dynamics function differently in different markets? Is that why Sellers’ abilities to “get it” vacillates between extremes? My own perspective is that the market is always an extremely honest feedback system. It tells the truth and delivers a consistent message in every market cycle.

It’s the gap between people’s expectations and results that tends to fluctuate wildly in different markets. Since expectations arise in the non-rational regions of the brain and results are usually interpreted through the lens of emotions, both are easy avenues for disconnect.

To help Sellers adjust to the shift that’s going on right now, here’s one fundamental truth about real estate that everyone should hold to be self-evident:   At the right price, everything sells.  (Yes, it really is that simple.)   If you are one of those Sellers who’s struggling to figure out what the market is saying, here are five important ways it is talking directly to you:

Open Houses:  How many people are attending your open houses?  10? 50? 100? If you don’t know, find out. If you aren’t having open houses, you’re blowing it.  The primary audience for Santa Cruz hales from over the hill and weekends is when the buyers come.

Showings: Is your house being shown independently outside of those opens? How many separate showings have you had? Have some Agents brought the same clients through more than once? 

Days on Market:   Has your listing been on the market for a few weeks? Or more than 30 days? If you’ve already reduced your price, how many days have gone by since you dropped it?

Feedback:  What are buyers saying about your house?  What recurring observations are being voiced? If you aren’t hearing the feedback from agents and buyers, your agent isn’t doing their job.

Request for Reports: How many buyers’ agents have actually asked to see the collection of reports and disclosures your agent worked so hard to help you compile? Find out.

Offers: Have you had offers? Even low ones?  Hopefully you know the answer.

These are all the ways the market communicates in every kind of market.  Next week, we’ll discuss how you can interpret the fundamental truth about your price,  after you’ve gathered all the feedback.

We’re Number One!

Is it about Quantity of Sales or Quality of Service?  

 

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A few more thoughts on a recent column….where I suggested it was time to stop giving out silly production awards to Realtors. The ones that flaunt dubious metrics.  And glorify outmoded stereotypes rather than the industry’s highest standards.

In a social media culture where truths are constantly being curated and sold back to people as clickbait, we should declare a moratorium on self-congratulatory ads paid for by Agents and Brokerages.  And accolades proclaiming anyone BEST / MOST / HIGHEST in anything having to do with quantity of sales rather than quality of service. 

An apt analogy might be: Confusing McDonalds for being a great restaurant just because it has surpassed more than a billion burgers sold!  Instead, let’s invent new ways to promote excellence and redefine the transactional relationship between brokerages, agents, buyers and sellers.  If we don’t focus on the actual value(s) we bring to the table, Realtors will eventually fall victim to their own hype at the same time traditional brokerages fall by the digital wayside.

The challenge goes back to the identity problem Realtors have always struggled with.  Are we super-salespeople?  Or are we trusted fiduciaries (dedicated to placing buyers and sellers interests ahead of our own”)?

Are our customers really clients? Or are our clients really customers?  Is this a “trade”? Or is it an actual profession?  Or is it both? Two seemingly incompatible roles married together in a precarious union that requires the Wisdom of Solomon to pull it all off on a daily basis? Depending on who you talk to the answers vary dramatically. And flip-flop back and forth with regularity.

 These days, Buyer-loyalty to their Agents is at an all-time low.  It is common for desperate Buyers to solicit listing agents directly to represent them. Even though it’s hard to imagine anyone would argue that dual-agency is a wise idea. 

Why is it happening? Because Buyers don’t understand the value of Agents,  Or they think they can get a property for less if they cut them out. Or they think all Buyer’s Agents are just trying to make a sale.  So they willingly choose to abdicate their own best interests, by appealing to a listing agent’s greed (because they too, just want to make a sale!). 

This is one of the ways that  “trusted advisor” gets tossed aside by the fear and greed of a heated marketplace.  And just another example of the negative feedback loop that’s been created by our own emphasis on sales. When in doubt, people revert back to the reigning stereotype – it’s all about those sales numbers!