Cognitive Dissonance


Part Two: Dialing It in for Dollars in 2017

  Let’s pick up where we left off. Before I was so horribly sidetracked by an overwhelming urge to put a Real Estate of Mind spin on Santa Cruz’ favorite hometown holiday – Halloween.  Go to if you missed it.

   My previous column ended with a simple observation:  Sellers always want the best outcomes. The most money. The fastest escrows. The longest rent backs. But they aren’t always prepared to do the things that will give their listings the best chance to succeed. If you want top dollar, you have to do everything right.

     Let’s spend a little quality time together exploring the whole notion of doing everything right and giving yourself the best chance to succeed.  No matter what else you say, think or do from this point on, understanding the relationship between what you put in and what you get out of selling your home is what will determine how closely  the results track with the lofty expectations you probably already have.

    This is the crux folks. The thing that’s going to decide your relative success or failure in the near future. When you take the plunge into the great unknown of the marketplace.  If you are already worried about selling your house and the possibility of blowing it… here’s an opportunity to cull out any of those insidious little failure mechanisms hiding in the cluttered recesses of your own inner closets, drawers or basements.

  There’s a special brand of cognitive dissonance that happens in real estate, way more often than it should. Specially when it involves the largest asset most of us will ever own. And specially when it involves all the core comforts that home represents – privacy, security, nurturing – to name a few.

   Wikipedia defines cognitive dissonance as: the mental stress experienced by an individual when they hold two or more contradictory ideas at the same time or when they perform an action that is contradictory to their ideas.

   Like, when a person wants the most money possible when selling their home but doesn’t think they have to do (or isn’t actually willing to do) all the things necessary to make that happen. Cognitive dissonance! It’s stressful!! Don’t fall victim to it!!!

   The real estate market has been a fabulous one for Sellers for most of 2016.  But looking back, I can still see the littered remains of more than a few situations where Sellers were their own worst enemies. Where they shot themselves in the foot by being too greedy or too loose with their timing or too lazy in their preparation or too cheap on their staging or too consumed with their own difficult emotions. Or some or all of the above of course.  

   They were proof positive that it’s always possible to blow it, even when it’s a perfect market to list a house in.  Great outcomes aren’t a matter of luck. Or fate. Or even good karma. Wishing doesn’t manifest higher sales prices. The best results happen when a Seller’s effort is aligned with expectations.

      We don’t quite know yet what kind of market we’ll have in 2017. Sellers Market? Buyers? Or something in between? The jury is still out. But good, bad or so-so market in the coming year, it’s not too early to begin dialing it in and getting yourself and your house ready to address for success.

  The concept seems so simple.  So easy, right?  And yet…

Next week we’ll start drilling down on the details. Making a list of what you can do to own the process of selling the home you own.

Dialing It In For Dollars


This Week: Exercising Your Options

Not every Seller gets to decide when they’re going to put their house on the market.  Life occasionally intervenes and makes the decision for them.  Unexpected events conspire to push their timing forward or backward without consulting them first.

 But there are Sellers who do enjoy the good fortune and luxury of being able to choose exactly when they want their Realtor to put the sign up, the lockbox on and start all the buzz on the internet about their home.

 Looking back over the last three decades,  the big mystery to me is why so many Sellers choose their listing dates so poorly.  And why so many others with good intentions and the right listing dates in mind, end up missing the mark (and the market) due to their own conspicuous lack of proper prior planning.

 If you are one of those people who’s thinking about putting their house on the market in 2017 and is lucky enough to actually be able to choose when they want to do it, here are a few suggestions about what to do and when to do it:

~ If you think you want to sell your house in 2017, start preparing now.  It’s not too early.  Doing it right takes longer than you think.  When you give yourself time, you make better decisions.

~This is your home and largest asset. The money that comes out of it is crucial to the transition you are about to make into the future. The process of selling it deserves your full attention and entire commitment.

~ Selling a home can be stressful. Why add to the stress by putting things off? Give yourself at least four months to prepare.

~ You can still enjoy the holidays, but some things should be done now to make it easier to hit the ground running right after the first of the year.

~ Don’t wait to interview Agents until after the house is ready to sell.  Enlist them now. There are strategic decisions they can help you with. If they aren’t happy to help, then they aren’t the right Agent.

~ Dealing with “stuff” in your garage, attic, closets and drawers will be the hardest part of selling your home. Purging now will  discourage you from buying even more “stuff” during the holidays.

~ There is a right time to put your house on the market and a wrong time:  March 1st to the 15th is the right window. April or May is already too late. Despite prevailing myths about how great the summer is, June and July are even worse.

~ Weather is not a factor in the sale of your home.  Whether the flowers are blooming doesn’t matter. (I’ll discuss why in future columns.) Waiting for better weather is an excuse people use to procrastinate – as way too many late-comers to the marketplace found out in 2016.

~  Sellers always want the best outcomes. The most money. The fastest escrows. The longest rent backs. But they aren’t always prepared to do the things that will give their Agents and their listings the best chances to succeed. If you want top dollar, you have to do everything right.

Next week we’ll talk more about dialing in the listing process so your future results can come close to the expectations you already have.

Real Estate’s Fright Night — Real Estate of Mind

Realtors recently put their own special spin on Santa Cruz’ favorite
holiday. Read more..


It’s Halloween in Santa Cruz. Get your game faces on. Button up your costumed alter egos. Here on the reservation, we embrace this night with particular passion.

Tonight, we’re going to conjure up our demons instead of stuffing them down. We’re going to summon our deepest fears while we howl at the moon and dance with delirious abandon. Hopefully, we’ll be able to scare ourselves silly enough to purge all the fear we’ve been binging on this past year.

I’m heading to the big, scary Real Estate Halloween Party that most of you probably don’t even know about. Think Burning Man – but just for Realtors and real estate-related professionals. It always ends at midnight when they crank up the David Byrne song and torch a giant effigy of a suburban stucco tract house.

It started five years ago, back in the dark days of the Great Recession when it felt like real estate was going to hell and fear was running rampant through the marketplace. I’ll never forget that first one…

It took place on a spooky dystopian cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere. Filled with foreclosures, and boarded-up windows, and darkened doorways that resembled the missing teeth and vacant stares of carved-up, hollowed out pumpkins. Huge cobwebs hung like Spanish moss from For Sale signs leaning at odd angles. Buzzards circled homes in default – marking them as easy prey for all the land sharks prowling the neighborhood.

Everyone was partying like it was 1999. Crazy conga lines of buyers and sellers were snaking through the streets accompanied by wild strains of apocalypso music. Loan brokers in Alan Greenspan masks were handing out Nestle Credit Crunch candy bars. Others were handing out wads of Real Estate Bubble Gum.

Someone disguised as Naked Greed was streaking through the crowd chased by another character dressed in a skimpy Real Estate Rally Thong. There were Monster Houses milling around everywhere while a roaming Greek chorus of gremlins called “The What-Ifs” was eagerly whispering fearful thoughts into people’s ears with high-pitched, banshee-like voices.

Escrow officers were wandering around in wigs made to look like their hair was on fire. Many of them wore paper-chains fashioned out of loan documents issued by the Government Office of Cosmic Redundancy. One even came decked out as a mummified HUD statement. I saw a couple of Blind Appraisers searching for comps. Groups of Swarming Termites. Sellers dressed up like Statues of St Joseph. Looky-Loos masquerading as Interested Partiers. Home Inspectors finding everything wrong.

Underwriters were morphing into Undertakers trying to bury the market, declaring that the word mortgage really did originate from the French words for “death tax.” Prophets of Doom and Gloom roamed the cul-de-sac chased by herds of Zombie Buyers even while the growing Legion of Unsolds hid inside their houses. The American Dream was dressed in a black robe and carried a scythe.

The Grinch That Stole the Economy was lugging a bag full of treats labeled Credit Default Swaps while someone else dressed like a Doctor was running around trying to find a Market Pulse. A few people came as Toxic Assets and the Gordon Gekko mask made a big comeback. Freddie Kruger also made a special guest appearance promoting his new movie – “Nightmare on Main Street.” But he was almost eclipsed by a giant swathe of darkness calling itself the Shadow Inventory.

Wow. What a party. Say what you want about real estate…we do fear well. There are always plenty of lost souls out there wandering around with grave faces on. Gives me goose bumps just to think about it.



UnknownMusing about Buyers Remorse. That torturous aspect of real estate that seems to take great pleasure in showing up like an unwanted guest in the middle of so many escrows. I’m sure we Realtors use the phrase too much. Extend the fragile umbrella of its meaning too far into the twisting wind. But what else can we call “it”?

There has to be some way to talk about those clandestine meetings that arise in our clients’ heads when they’re navigating something as huge as buying a house. There’s got to be some common term for the cascade effect that occurs when people’s worry centers start throwing “What-Ifs” wildly up into the air like pingpong balls in the lotto game of life.

There has to be some language that captures those scary moments when buyer emotions ratchet up because real life is suddenly on the verge of becoming more real. When dreaming and talking get squeezed by events into the necessity of actually doing and
deciding. And rush past the tipping point of no return. From Offer to Negotiation to Acceptance to Deposit to Inspections to Release of Contingencies to Sign-Off to Close. Yikes! OMG! What if I make a mistake? Will God give me a Mulligan?

Yep. Buyers Remorse – a staple of real estate. A dish found hanging around the table whenever the heat gets turned up in the kitchen and the escrow pot starts boiling. A daily special cooked and served up in all kinds of strange and interesting ways. Steamed.
Grilled. Poached. And definitely fried. Funny, the more ways Buyers Remorse gets prepared. the more unprepared I seem to be when it rears its all-too human head. Call it an occupational hazard – the spectre of escrow-interruptus still lurks like a shadow around every corner.

Look at how the process is designed. No wonder it scares the hell out of just about everyone. The first thing that happens is that Buyers fall in love with a house. They get swept up in the emotion of it and make an offer that get’s accepted. So far so good.
But happens next? They hire the equivalent of several private detectives in the form of Home Inspectors and Termite Guys to come and tell them everything that could possibly be wrong with the very thing that they just fell in love with.

They pay people money to test their resolve and break the bonds of emotion captivating them. At the same time their Agent hands them a thick tome of information about all the secret big things about homes that could harm them. Asbestos. Radon Gas. Lead Based Paint. Floods. Earthquakes. Who knew there were this many horsemen of the apocalypse?

Buyers Remorse isn’t some awful aberration of the psyche. It is something that’s infinitely normal. Is there any buyer on the planet that doesn’t wake up at least once during the course of escrow plagued by tremors of doubt and at least the mild choking
sensation of existential terror? If so, then they must be living life as an automaton. Without the benefit of the normal emotional chip the rest of us were born with.

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.