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.

Serious Plaque Issues


  Last week,  my Sentinel rep told me I was a winner in the paper’s annual Readers Choice Awards,  I was pleased at the expression of fan loyalty even if I felt a little conflicted about the word BEST being used in conjunction with any services a Realtor provides his/her clients.  It wasn’t always that way of course….

I was excited about my first real estate award 25 years ago. The Association of Realtors gave me a plaque that said Champion Producers Circle. (Still sounds like an award given to a milk cow outstanding in its field!) Throughout the 90s, I received a string of sales awards that were always labelled BEST or MOST or HIGHEST.  On some level,  it satisfied the competitive juices I had put on hold when I hung-up my basketball shoes back in the 70s.

The Association stopped giving those production awards after 1997,  recognizing that things were getting too competitive and unscrupulous Agents might start spinning the truth just so they could use the accolades of  BEST/MOST/HIGHEST in  future ads.  That’s when the local weeklies stepped in with their own BEST OF publications. Special editions that always drummed-up extra engagement with readership and lots of extra ad revenue.

The 2000s were the  “Me Decade” for real estate accolades. Brokerages ramped up recognition of their own top sales people by handing out annual awards for their BEST/MOST/HIGHEST producers.  It became difficult to tell who the real BEST/MOST/ HIGHEST agents really were.  It seemed like everyone was getting an award.

These days, the  BEST/MOST/HIGHEST awards are typically bestowed on brokerages by themselves as a form of self-congratulation. By carefully parsing company sales metrics in clever ways, an exaggerated impression can be created with words that are vaguely, technically correct. An extreme example is Silicon Valley super-agent Ken Deleon who reportedly sells more than $500 million each year….I can assure you that the top of Ken’s head would have exploded long ago if he were really doing that much business on his own.

The point of all this is… perhaps it’s time to phase out production awards forever! Maybe companies can give themselves a pat on the back by recognizing different standards of excellence based on something other than sales volume.  Here are a few suggestions: Best Agent Fiduciary or Most Repeat Clients or Highest Number of Hours Put in for a Charitable Cause or Fewest Lawsuits Per Transaction.


When the Dream of the Dream Home Comes to An End


This is the 4th in a series of blogs about the shrinking inventory of homes for sale

Continuing the discussion… Low Inventory Woes: Why More Sellers Aren’t Selling. This is the 4th installment in a series trying to pinpoint the reasons for the historic low inventory of homes the market has experienced for more than four years.  A condition not likely to change anytime soon, as we plunge headfirst back into the rest of the 2017 selling season.

The short list of causes we’ve invoked: 1) Slow growth – few new homes being built 2) Big demographic shifts – the aging population 3) Tight rental market affecting a tight purchase market. 4) Increased mortgage regulations/Changing perceptions of debt.

We spent a lot of time last week talking about Move-Up Buyers. And how our market and our inventory has been dependent on them for the last 30 years. While they’ve pushed the market forward along with their arc of acquisitions –  buying and selling a series of homes at semi-regular intervals – as a function of the natural transitions they were going through in their lives:  young singles, marriage, growing careers, job promotions, commute distances, kids, schools etc.

First time buyers would squeeze into the market, wait five years and then buy their next homes, then wait five years and buy their next homes etc. Each time, moving up in size, value and location.  At each transition, they’d sell a home and buy a home more or less concurrently. There were always enough move-up buyers in the market to churn the inventory and free-up lower priced homes for other move-up people following in their footsteps.

When it comes to people and their homes, moves are almost always about big life transitions. Folks don’t pick up and change their place of residence just for the heck of it.  Homes are our bastions of safety, comfort, refuge, privacy and selling them is about huge, big, transformative change.  Why do people choose to take on that much change?  Because something is going on in their lives that makes it necessary.

So what happens when more of the people who moved up and up over the years and finally found their dream homes, suddenly begin to realize that their current dream home may not work very well for the years to come?  I’m talking about a broad swathe of folks between 55 and 75 years old (and some older) who have been here for a long time, own great houses, but are trying to come to grips with the inevitable realities of their aging processes.

That includes people thinking about the need for a single level home, because their knees hurt and they don’t know how long they can do stairs. Others who have recently become empty nesters. Their kids have graduated and they are out of the house. They don’t need or want that much space anymore – for lots of reasons.

Still others don’t like the idea of heading into retirement with a mortgage. They want to live somewhere free and clear with no debt hanging over their heads.   And of course, there are others who own their homes outright, but find themselves “house rich and cash poor.” They need to recapture some of the equity that’s trapped in their houses to live off of.

So we come to a whole generation (or two) of former move-up buyers that suddenly finds itself fantasizing about becoming move-down buyers in a market that doesn’t easily accommodate that kind of change.

Next Week: The challenges of move-down buying

Low Inventory Shouldn’t be a Zero Sum Game



Part 3 in a Blog Series on the Great Shrinking Inventory

Still hot on the trail, trying to find answers to the mystery behind Real Estate’s Low Inventory woes.  Or to put it in the vernacular:  Why more Sellers aren’t Selling!

My short list of culprits contributing to the great drought of listings we’ve experienced over the last four years reads as follows: 1) Lack of new supply being built 2) Big demographic shifts in aging 3) The symbiotic relationship between a tight rental market and a tight purchase market 4) Tightening regulations around mortgage lending and changing perceptions about debt.

Continuing on…Here’s the thing about residential real estate: It’s almost never a zero sum game. When a Seller sells a home and a Buyer buys it, that’s not really the whole equation.  Because that Seller also needs to buy something else (unless they have died).  And that Buyer is also coming from another place he/she just sold (unless they are a first time buyer).

In the past, the amount of available inventory at any given time has often been a function of just how easy it was for Sellers to make the transition into becoming Buyers and vice versa. How fluid the mechanisms of change were.

For most of the last thirty years I’ve been doing this,  our local market has been fueled by move-up buyers.  Buyers transitioning into new and often bigger and better living situations as their lives and jobs were growing and their needs were expanding.

The typical move-up story goes something like this:  A young person in their twenties or early thirties finds a way to squeeze into a home. Any home. Maybe a small house in a dicey location. One that needs work. Or perhaps a condo, priced lower than a single family residence. Maybe parents gift him some money, so he can establish a foothold in the market.

This First-time Buyer lives in the property for a reasonable length of time. And takes advantage of the mortgage interest/property tax deductions while he’s working his way up in his profession.  He gets married and has a kid over the next five years.

Then, it’s time to move-up.  Leveraging the equity gained from home improvements and rising market prices. Using it as a downpayment for the next place. Bigger. Better location. Larger lot. More amenities.

The next house serves their lives well for another reasonable period of time and then…guess what. It’s time to move-up to the next house using the new equity it has gained. Depending on the strength of the market and the size of the job, it’s possible that this third property is the last stop –  the house that will work for the next twenty or thirty years.

Sometimes one more move-up is required to reach the upwardly mobile dream house.  But whether it’s third or the fourth home, along the way, no one is thinking much beyond twenty years into the future.  In the past, not that many people were living healthily into their eighties like they are now.

In those robust move-up markets of yesteryear, there were always lots of Sellers becoming Buyers and Buyers becoming Sellers within the same marketplace. The existing inventory turned over much faster.  The average length of time people spent in their primary residences was shorter.  Instead of 7 years it might be five or even less. There was always something new coming onto the market that was worth buying.

Until there wasn’t. Next week:  The move-up market runs head first into a move-down market.