Tag Archives: buying real estate

Que Sera Sera!

Unknown-2Occasionally I get emails from people musing over their particular realty tunnel or questioning the realty fate that feel they’ve been irreparably assigned to. Recently I had a letter from a person calling themselves Day Late and Dollar Short.

Here are a few excerpts:

“I’m just about ready to give up. I’ve missed out on five different properties in the last six months. I’m exhausted at the idea of
riding this roller coaster one more time. I missed the last property by $5,000. I want to own a home but if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. Maybe I’ll just give up and try again next year.”

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Both as an expression of the incredible frustration that this kind of a “good” market creates for so many “good” people trying to navigate its rocky shoals as well as in the ad hoc philosophy that often surfaces along with it – which I euphemistically refer to as the Doris Day Syndrome.

Pardon my French, but remember “Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be will be?” Close your eyes. You can almost hear Doris’ hit song floating like some ghostly perfume on the real estate ether – refusing to leave.

Among other things, Doris wrote a book called “Surviving the 1950’s” which included a chapter on How to Be Happy Without Psychotherapy (Depression can be cured by a new hat!) Must have been an early Scientologist. But let’s not forget that Que Sera Sera was also the music that Hitchcock chose to weave through the darker psychological shadows of his movie “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

I’ve thought a lot about this connection as it continues to be a Sellers’ market and I hear more Buyers wistfully humming this fateful little leitmotif as a salve for their bruised feelings and battered egos – a kind of all-purpose balm for those getting bombed out of the market in serial fashion.

At its best, Que Sera is a great Zen approach to real estate. It helps us keep a safe distance from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes that home transitions thrust into our paths. It recognizes a place of balance in the market
where you actively want and pursue home but not to the degree that you end up driving it away or become emotionally devastated by not getting it. You have to be willing to let it go. Control what you can, accept what you can’t.

At its worst, Que Sera is a handy excuse for not making a genuine effort to control things you can control. It is the red herring standing between you and a better relationship with your own unconscious. Day Late and Dollar Short rattled off a litany of all the reasons why he didn’t make it on his last five tries. It left me with the nagging suspicion that at some point he could have just bucked up and made it happen.

One of the important corollaries in real estate is: Whatever is buried down there deep in the unconscious is somehow, someway always going to rear its strange and interesting head during the home buying process.

The fact that some buyers try repeatedly, but never quite get over the hump, suggests there may be a secret part of them that isn’t ready to succeed. That shadow self probably exhales a huge sigh of relief each time their Agent delivers the “bad” news that they “didn’t get the house.”

My suggestion for anyone that keeps repeating their failures is: go back into the editing room and watch the film running through your head, frame by frame. Check it carefully for red herrings and subplots lurking in the shadows. As the auteur of your own reality/realty series learn to acknowledge your own inner-trickster/hitchcock.

Don’t be a Doris Day Late or a Doris Dollar Short. Don’t get down on yourself and please don’t just get back on the roller coaster for another mindless ride. Do the heavy lifting inside. It’s easy to put it back on Que Sera Sera but I’ve noticed that the fates most often reward those who buckle down and do their home-work.

Showing Us The Money!

Unknown-1Picking up where we left off last week.   (Go to tombrezsny.wordpress.com to grab the thread.)  The big question hanging, call it the $64,000 question or the $640,000 question, (or just keep adding zeros) :  Where are all those all-cash offers coming from?  The one’s the market has been experiencing at an unprecedented clip for the last two or three years?

Who has that kind of money?  Didn’t everything implode in 2008?  Wasn’t everyone hammered by the Great Recession? Where’s all the dough coming from?

Is it funny-money people were stashing under their mattresses or in shoe boxes? waiting to cash-in on just the right rainy day market? Are more people selling their comic book collections? Are a growing number of Doomsday Preppers digging up their backyard coffee cans full of gold kruggerands, sensing that now may be the perfect move-up market for a spacious Post-Apocalyptic bunker to hunker down in for the rest of the world’s dystopian future?

Or are all these cash Buyers someone else? Some new breed of Buyer that’s evolved out of the rubble of 2008?  Homing instincts genetically altered by events radiating out from our bubble blast from the past?  Driven by a different set of needs and desires? And strategies for getting what they want?

I tried asking a few mortgage brokers where all the cash is coming from.  They watch money closely so I figured they might have a good feel for the question.  But unfortunately, mortgage types don’t get the chance to interact with many all-cash buyers, since all-cash people aren’t in need of any loan services.

So I’ve turned to Realtors who are right there, stationed in the trenches and I’ve been going Agent-to-Agent, collecting as many different all-cash client origin stories as I can.  Hoping to create some kind of over-arching  composite profile that helps explain where all those mysterious cash buyers are coming from.

I could probably just say all-cash offers are coming from rich people and leave it at that.  We love to say it’s the rich people these days.  But here in Coastal California, in a County that resides right next door Silicon Valley and where the median price of a home borders on $700,000,  I don’t think it’s that simple.  I’m not sure I even know what a rich person is anymore and it’s not going to provide much helpful insight for anyone scratching their head, trying to figure it out.

Anyone that has a cash offer experience of their own is invited to e mail it to me.  I welcome all thoughts or theories or tantalizing clues that anyone can come up with while we are trying to follow the money trail and track the cash.

Taking Stock

Continuing the discussion…

TakingStockAfter a busy year, all is quiet on the real estate front. The market’s been moving at a more languid pace for at least a month now. And it’s doubtful that this weekend’s ritual orgy of mind-numbing football and tryptophan-laced turkey is going to significantly alter the pattern. Or inspire a lot more of you to run out at halftime and buy a house.

It may be the busiest weekend of the year for Best Buy and Macy’s. But as far as real estate sales go …not so much. We won’t see crowded lines of people camping out at new listings, stampeding open houses or pepper-spraying each other to be first in line to present offers. (That’s reserved for the spring isn’t it? Just kidding about the pepper spray folks.)

So time to take a breath. Take stock of where the market’s at. And perhaps more importantly, take a good look at where your own goals are relative to the market–at-large.

It may be time to rethink your assumptions. Review your options. Weigh your priorities. Consider what you may be willing to compromise on, for the greater good.

Let’s start with all those buyers-in-waiting out there. Earnest homeseekers who finally succumbed to extreme buyer-fatigue after the summer and decided to put their searches on hold for the rest of the year.  Buyers who worked long and hard to find something, but for a variety of reasons, weren’t quite able to pull it off

Taking stock of things is precisely what these buyers in the coming year are going to have to do. Because there’s going to be the same frustrating lack of new inventory, reasonable housing stock and quality listings that characterized 2014.

The Sentinel article on November 17 highlighted a few pertinent statistics in this regard. There were 404 active single family listings at the start of November. The fewest for any November in 18 years (think 1996!)  The number of active listings each month has now been lower than the same calendar month the previous year for 44 of the past 45 months!

By my count there were 325 active listings left in SC County this past Wednesday. A third of them priced at more than a million.  Not exactly music to the ears of an average buyer, with a median income, trying to qualify for a loan.

Bottom line: If you head into next year’s market without examining and tweaking your approach,  you may find yourself coming up short again.  Next week: Let’s explore a few ideas for shaking up your search.

Agent of Change

transformationI was talking with a client this week after a particularly unsatisfying trip out to look at new listings that just came on the market.  Here’s her situation.  I have a feeling it might sound a little familiar to some of you.

She sold her condo a few months ago and moved into a rental. She’s been looking ever since. Still searching for a move-up house that will become her home for a long time to come.

There are days she’s hopeful. Days she’s frustrated. Days she’s anxious.  Days she wonders if somehow she’s traded in the dream of homeownership for a permanent spot on the rent rolls. Days she wishes she could paint the wall in the kitchen. Days she wishes some of her stuff wasn’t in storage.

Days she can’t believe there isn’t more on the market to chose from. Days she’s convinced the universe is plotting against her – personally.  Days when the promise of a new listing magically floats up on her computer screen and she gets excited all over again.  And of course, some days with all of the above.

It wasn’t the original plan to relocate temporarily into a rental.  At least not Plan A – which would have been: Take advantage of the spring surge in market activity when multiple offers started flying. Get her condo into escrow with some really tight contingency timelines. With a really good, all-cash buyer. Or at least one with a solid, slam-dunk loan process in front of them.

From there she, would open herself up to the fates.  Or luck. Or divine intervention. Or the rule of karmic law.  Or the mysteries of synchronicity. Or the vagaries of quantum possibility.  Hoping she could find just the right house at just the right price – quickly.

Then, she’d make an offer. Beat out the competition. And get it accepted. We’d choreograph everything so that there could be a reasonably simultaneous closing on both places (or a short rent back period on the first).

No, Plan A is not a very easy task these days. I’m not sure it ever was. It was easi-er in the past though.

The Plan B we discussed long before we ever listed the condo was exactly this.  Sell it. Liberate the equity. Get rid of the hassle. Take the plunge. Suffer through the indignities of having to live in a home while it’s for sale.  In the middle of the fishbowl. In anything but normal fashion. On a staged stage you are supposed to leave every time someone wants to come over and look.

If there’s anyone who actually enjoys the process of selling the house they are living in, they should have their head examined.

There was also a Plan C of course. There always is.  Plan C is the one where you simply don’t do anything.  You make the default  choice to not move at all.  Much easier in the short run. You just breathe a long sigh of relief. And resign yourself to hunkering down in a place where you aren’t happy. May even be miserable in.

It’s funny how often people choose to accept what they know is not working in their lives. Instead of choosing to face something far more terrifying – the unknown of change. Specially when it has to do with home and all things familiar. The stuff.  The routines. All the established patterns we surround ourselves with and anchor our lives to – for good and bad, better and worse.

That’s the beauty of this business which isn’t really a business so much as a calling – if you view it in the right way.  It puts Agents in touch with some of people’s deepest fears. It includes us in their intimate stories.  It invites us to become Agents of Change.

And ultimately it provides us with proof positive over the years, that it’s possible to choose change. Confront our resistance to the unknown. Embrace it.  Actually come to view it as an adventure rather than an arduous and awful journey.  And to come out the other side. Happy. Healthy. Balanced. Safely ensconced.

She will find the right place. I don’t have any doubt.


Midwifing a New Home

nurse-midwife-hubStay with me on this one folks. It sounds a little crazy – but what else is new when it comes to my or anyone else’s real estate of mind. It’s all stranger than fiction.

The process of buying a home is similar to being pregnant.

There I said it.  I can hear those pregnant pauses now. Groans are welling up from today’s studio audience. On a gender-related note of apology, I promise to pass a large kidney stone in the future to make amends.

First, there’s the obvious. Timing is right. Stars are aligned.  The seed of an idea issues forth out of a gleam in the eye.  Suddenly it takes hold.

Out of the blue you are on the cusp of one of those great journeys in life.  A transition both exhilarating and a little scary.  Part of you tries to grasp the whole notion of what it means to leap into this particular version of the unknown.  There’s an inkling that things are going to change in ways you can’t even imagine but it’s all a bit abstract.

The inception of the idea is followed by a long gestation period as that initial spark of desire grows.  No one conceives of buying a house one day and simply runs out to make it happen the next.  Real estate isn’t designed to work that way.  Most people need time to adjust to the idea of buying a house. What will it look like? Will it be a boy? Girl? Ranch style?  Victorian? Buyers, just like future parents, imagine a million scenarios in their heads before what actually comes to pass, comes to pass.  There are stages of development along the way everyone has to go through.

The obvious aside, here’s the way that buying a house is most like being pregnant…  Expectant mothers and expectant buyers will all recognize the phenomenon.  Moms, remember how, when you were quite pregnant, total strangers seemed to think nothing about coming up to you in the middle of a public place, completely ignoring whatever sense of boundaries or personal space you might have,  in order to reach out and feel your belly?

In addition to the physical intrusion, most of these same people were incredibly eager to launch into their own detailed accounts about the good, the bad and the more than you ever really wanted to know, of their birth experiences.

It happens all the time. Well-meaning people just can’t help it. There’s some deep archetypal connection they feel that makes them blurt things out without considering the appropriateness of what they are saying.  Does an expectant mother really want to hear about 36 hours of grueling labor and all the things that the delivery doctor should or should not have done.

Now step into the metaphorical maternity shoes of a buyer going through the growing pains of  looking for the right home, making an offer,  being in escrow, having inspections, wrangling with the lender  – “ the full catastrophe” as Zorba the Greek might have put it .

See if you recognize a variation on a theme.  Announce to the world that you are buying a house and suddenly friends, relatives, cube-mates, acquaintances and a boatload of imperfect strangers pop up everywhere. Coming out of the woodwork. Insisting on offering their own unsolicited Jeckyll and Hyde stories ad infinitum ad nauseum.

They view themselves as kindred spirits.  They are well-meaning people, who feel a deep, misguided sense of  shared experience that gives them unspoken permission to recite chapter and verse and tell you all about it.   Dig in Buyers. There’s going to be a deluge of unsought opinion, un-sage advice, out of context comment and rampant recommendations coming your way.  It’s going to make your head spin until you think you are on the verge of doing a Linda Blair.

If you let them.  What’s the best advice for buyers trying to birth a new home? Don’t tattoo it on your forehead. If it gets out, turn down the sound. Tune out the armchair quarterbacks.  Just say no to all those that want to relive their buy-gone, home-buying days through you.  In the end, if you really want to own your own home you have to start by owning your own process.  After all, it’s going to be your baby.


 Buyers and Agents….The Tipping Point

An Agent called the other day asking about a new listing. A problematic property – failed septic, tree roots pushing up the foundation and well issues – low GPM’s and a high coliform count.

Of course, given all of the above (lying below the surface) I’d priced it accordingly. To the uninitiated, on the receiving end of  all those search engine funnels, the price seemed mighty attractive – at first glance.

So, I was getting lots of calls from Agents with clients looking for one of those proverbial million-to-one-shots. The diamond in the rough that would scratch their champagne itches in spite of their red bull budgets.

The Agent was energetic. Asked the right questions. Wondered if I could e mail 160 pages of inspections, so he could review them.  Said it sounded like something his clients might like and declared he was going to show it.

Standard real estate conversation number #37.  Right out of the Agent’s Handbook.  So far so good.

But before he hung up, there was a long pause.  The timbre of his voice changed. A strange alternate personality seemed to emerge out of nowhere.

Unbeknownst to me, we had reached a tipping point.  Suddenly he confessed that he had shown these same clients 67 properties in the last year and he didn’t have a clue what they wanted.  He said he felt like he was driving them randomly around the County.  Chasing his tail. Hoping to impress them with his willingness to commit lots of time to their increasingly vague cause.

Wow.  My first thought was: This guy’s in trouble.  Not a good sign when an Agent counts the number of properties they’ve shown clients or keeps track of the number of months it’s been.

Something’s seriously out of whack.  Either the clients don’t have a clue what they want,  Or they are trying to work out deep-seeded relationship issues by looking at houses. Or the Agent has drifted into a role as codependent enabler of the dysfunction.  We’ve all been there, done that.

Oddly, my second thought was:  Maybe this is why the traffic on Hwy 1  keeps getting worse even though there are less jobs and a lot less people shopping and spending money. All of those cars are full of Agents driving people around looking at properties they aren’t going to buy!  Mystery solved.

A few months ago,  I published a list entitled: As a listing agent you know you are in trouble when…

Perhaps it’s time for another.  Here goes. As a Buyer’s Agent, you know you are in trouble when:
– Your client doesn’t want to waste his time getting pre-approved.

– Your clients buy you a case of wine before they’ve actually bought a house.

– Your clients insist you should only show them houses  they want to buy.

– Your clients have been looking at houses for 2 years and now they want to buy land and build for $500k.

– You are only a week into the short sale and your clients are already climbing the walls in frustration.

– Your client is pulling the same properties off the search engine that you looked at together a year ago.

– The husband refuses to look at any properties until the wife finds one she might like.

– The parent providing the downpayment gift lives in Iowa and will make the final decision.

– Your client keeps calling listing agents directly telling them you are too busy to show the house.

– Your client wants to quadruple app and squeeze the lowest interest rates out of an unsuspecting loan broker.

– Your client immediately wants to offer $100k less on any property just reduced by $50k.

– You find the perfect property but your client refuses to enter a multiple offer situation on principle.

– Your clients argue about who is going to sit in front every time they get in the car.


Blowing My Other Cover

It’s been a while since a column generated as many e mails from fellow-agents, as last week’s.  Must have touched a chord. Or discord? An exposed nerve? An erogenous zone connected to the love/hate relationship we all have with what we do?   Maybe I inadvertently hit upon one of those odd funny bone moments. You know the one’s that make you laugh in spite of the fact that they really hurt?

If any of you were remiss in your required real estate reading and want to catch up on your home-work….go to tombrezsny.wordpress.com and  read  “Blowing My Cover.”

Here’s the basic premise:  Most good old fashioned real estate advertising is designed to shape how Sellers think about Selling rather than how Buyers think about Buying.   Although we have to tread carefully here, because eventually all buyers become sellers and all sellers become buyers.

But it is interesting to note how short memory spans can be. And how many people like to practice the “do as I say not as I do” method of selective recall.

Classic example?  Sellers, selling here,  also looking for a property in Hawaii.  They log on everyday to look at homes in Maui. They have an Agent there and are on his automated search engine. Whenever they see something that strikes their fancy – they e mail him.

But  here in good ol’ Surf City USA,   where they are trying to sell, they want their Agent to advertise in the Mercury or the Chronicle at great expense.  Or run fancy, color spreads in magazines. Or…run a big Featured Home Ad in the Sentinel (oops… don’t look now…I think I just blew another cover.)

Don’t recall too many people here subscribing to the Honolulu Times-Picayune so they could hunt for real estate in Hawaii and say “Aloha” to the market there.

We aren’t even going to get into the absurdity of listing a house here with an over the hill Agent (I mean over the hill in the geographical sense – not over the hill as in the success-challenged and seen-better-days kind.)   The huge leap of sur-real logic it takes to list with a Santa Cruz property with a South Bay Agent who doesn’t know squat about our home turf is perfect fodder for another column on another day.

As is one of those other long-hyped myths of realty – the notion that somehow a mediocre Agent working at a giant brokerage can represent you better than a good Agent working at a smaller brokerage can.

And as long as we are at it…let’s toss one more myth-ing urban link onto the bonfire of the sanities: The notion that a vast network of personal contact exists between big city Agents within the framework of mega-national real estate franchises.  Secret handshakes and everything. When you sign on, your home is spoon fed to tens of thousands of Realtors waiting with bated breath to sell your property.

Just like most real estate advertising is designed to sell the sellers on the sell rather than the buyers on what’s being sold… the sell underlying most of the sales pitches from the big guys revolves around the subtle promotion of  Dual Agency.

As in:  List with us. We have a lot of Agents. One of them probably already has a buyer for your home.   Those who aren’t quite sure what Dual Agency is might want to google it and decide whether you think it is a good idea.

Darn! I’ve been yacking away so much our time is up.  Not to worry though, Sherman has been warming up the Way Back Machine.  Next week we’ll jump on board, travel to the fin de siècle era of the 1990’s and see what changed while all us aging baby boomer analogue types were struggling to get across the great digital divide.