I miss Mr. Rogers (I do). Even though I preferred the quicker pace of Sesame Street to the slower programming of this gentle man, there was something reassuring about the song of community he sang as he tied up his laces and put on his cardigan sweater. "Could you be mine? Would you be mine? Won't you be my neighbor?"
This tune has been going through my head quite a bit the last few weekends at the Sunday Opens on Winsor Avenue here in Piedmont www.1109Winsor.com (Take it from me, once in, it's tough to get out.) Situated on a very visible corner, where five streets come together, this well-known "camel house" has enjoyed record-breaking numbers of guests. And no surprise, a fair number of these visitors have been "neighbors!" (Hey, the more, the merrier as far as I'm concerned. I'm a captive audience and time moves v e r y s l o w l y when no one bothers to visit.)
Like Mr. Rogers, I love neighbors! In fact, neighbors are more than welcome at any and every open house I host. Actually, I make a point of inviting as many of you as possible to your own private "preview" with each new listing I undertake. I even hand deliver nicely-printed invitations and bake cookies! (I really do!)
Neighborhood previews serve several important functions you probably haven't consider as you apologize to me when you come in. "I'm just a neighbor," you sheepishly say, "I was just curious." Great! That's truly music to my ears. Why?
The first obvious reason is that neighbors love to pick their neighbors! You quite often are the first to spread the word to family, friends and coworkers. "I know you've been wanting to move. There's a great new house on my street and the 'Coming Soon' sign just went up - you should come and see it . . ." 'Buzz' like this is priceless. Neighbors are walking, talking billboards - and better yet - you're free!
Second, when neighbors have an opportunity to view a nearby home and answer questions about it prior to the public open, it allows me to concentrate on the 'real' buyers come 2 pm. With the neighbor's curiosity in check, my attention can be appropriately diverted to the soon-to-arrive out-of-area buyers, as it should be!
Third, it gives me a private forum to meet potential new clients and customers. If you are impressed with the home and the marketing I have created (The GRUBB Co. does a beautiful job, doesn't it?) I am counting on you to remember me should you (or a friend) need an experienced Realtor in the near future. (Thank you for the referral. I'm so happy to help!)
Finally, Sunday Opens create a great deal of inconvenience on any neighborhood. "Warning" the neighbors that parking might prove problematic and that you might consider scheduling a movie or doing a little shopping during the Brokers and Sunday Opens is a matter of simple courtesy in my mind. Delivering a few invitations with the open schedule clearly defined, is an easy way to keep neighbors informed and to thank you for your much appreciated patience during this short-term invasion of your previously, idyllic neighborhood.
So stop apologizing and know that you are more than welcome. You are, in fact, an important and integral part of the process for which I am truly grateful. I look forward to meeting you!
"Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won't you be my neighbor?"
I do hope so!
Watching the college letters arrive in our mailbox this month - some with good news and some with less positive results - it's slowly dawning on me that my job with my older son is quickly coming to a close. Looking back over the last 18 years together, it's both startling and profound to realize that it all went by so fast. Now that it's time to push my little bird out of the nest, it's also time to let him fly.
That sounds pretty good in theory, but as a mother, that's easier said than done. Without a safety net below, he'll either fall or soar and I'll have little - if any - control over where he lands. That's life in a nutshell, isn't it? Regardless of where we start, none of us truly knows where we will land. The future is either full of problems or ripe with opportunities. It's up to each of us to determine which of the two options define our journey best.
Watching my son struggle with this decision and the pressure he's trying hard to cover, the nurturer in me wants to wrap my arms around him (as I did when he was little) and tell him that whatever choice he makes, things have a way of working out. If he would still let me, I would whisper,"Go on son, take the leap! You'll be fine wherever you land. There's nothing but opportunity ahead of you."
Not surprisingly, I have often said words to that effect to many of my clients (unlike my teen, they are often more receptive). Like most BIG decisions we face, purchasing a home requires a leap of faith as well. Regardless of how well you plan, there is only so much of the process you can control. You can't control the inventory (or lack thereof). You can't control which offer the seller will favor or why. You can't control when the interest rates will rise (although we expect that they will). You can't control the demand, nor can you control when or where the market will head.
High, low, or somewhere in between - the market is what it is and fortunately for most of us, the market is also relative. If your goal is to buy or sell a home in today's world, you are left competing in the current marketplace. That's the ride you'll have to board which leaves you with two options; enjoy the dips and turns or get off.
In truth, Buyers and Sellers can only see the market through a rear-view mirror and often they are lagging well behind. With national reports that the market is down, foreclosures are plentiful and short sales are still very much part of the landscape, it can be difficult to reconcile the high number of multiple offers many of our local listings are now procuring or why homes are quickly flying off the market just as we were getting used to them sitting for much longer.
Guess what? It's time to adjust once more.
If you have identified a well-priced home, you are likely to be in competition which means you will probably need to make a decision quickly and under pressure. Is that a problem or an opportunity? That depends on your perspective I suppose.
While it may feel scary, a well-written purchase offer will (and should) build in an inspection period and often an appraisal and loan contingency as well. With these extra days in place, you will have time to carefully consider the disclosures and answer any outstanding questions you may have.
Unlike many situations in life (over which one has very little control) once in contract, you actually will see the landing pad.
So have a little faith and take the leap. These aren't problems, they are, in fact, solutions. Time to fly little birds. Time to soar!
There's no end to the wisdom my readers impart week after week. In fact, you all are so insightful, I've been forced to create a very scientific method just to catch these "pearls" before I forget them. It involves liberal use of Post It Notes and my desk top computer. To the untrained eye, the border of scrawled handwritten notations might look chaotic, but each yellow scrap is a "Perspective" just waiting to be born!
Last week a new client shared his life's motto: "Eat Dessert First!" which is pretty clever and lots of fun but more importantly, I knew I had found my literary soul mate. Dessert before dinner is a concept that more than resonated, it often defines me!
My husband will tell you that I'm a gal who always scans the dessert menu first before ordering from the main course. Just as the hot dog is merely the means to sauerkraut, mustard and relish, for me, dinner is just the necessary segue into dessert. If there's a lava fudge cake with vanilla bean ice cream or a vanilla creme brulee on the page, I am totally rethinking the first course and saving the calories for later in the meal. In fact, if I wasn't quite sure that my sweet tooth and utter lack of discipline would only embarrass my dining companions, I might just forgo dinner altogether and move straight into dessert!
"You're making me hungry but how's this relate to Real Estate?' you ask.
Here goes: Buyers who venture forth on Sunday afternoons, without benefit of a REALTOR are in essence, doing the very same thing - they're eating dessert first! Not that I have anything against dessert before dinner mind you (clearly, I don't). It's just that even the sugar fixated, 5-year old in me knows that it's probably not the best or healthiest course of action. "Eat those vegetables - they're good for you - and have a little protein while you're at it." Words every mother has spoken since time began and with good reason. Those moms knew what they were talking about!
For buyers who choose to go it alone, you run the very great risk of stumbling on to your "dream home" but then being too ill-prepared to quickly compete for it. OR you miss the "off-market," "in-house," "pocket" listing. OR you naively find yourself in the world of "duel agency" with an unknown listing agent whose fiduciary responsibility contractually lies with the seller - not you! OR you may as yet be unfamiliar with the marketplace and the current market demand. OR you inadvertently buy in the wrong school district (it happens). OR you miss the opportunity to thoroughly investigate and negotiate, as is your right. OR, OR, OR - get the Picture? This Lone Ranger routine isn't such a sweet deal after all, is it?
With the infinite amount of information now available to the general public on any subject, is it any wonder many of us fall prey to the idea that we are instant experts - regardless of our lack of training or experience? This is especially true for Real Estate, where information is more than plentiful - it's often downright misleading - and therein lies the problem. (Think Zestimates.)
Hey, I make a pretty decent chocolate-chip cookie but that doesn't make me a four-star pastry chef, does it? But in the world of Real Estate, a little information can be a dangerous thing. Buying or selling a home is a much more complicated transaction than one imagines. It involves patience, timing, determination, knowledge, marketing expertise, skilled negotiation and above all else, EXPERIENCE! The kind of experience that comes over time, through hard lessons, in battles won, and with a rather steep learning curve. (Real Estate ain't for sissies!) While I may never master the souffle, I've gotten pretty good at mastering the art of the deal - so put me to work. (It never hurts to work with an area specialist.) In return, I will develop your Real Estate IQ and market health. I will send you an Ad Review each week, go over the available listings, analyze the marketplace, investigate the comparable sales, refer you to the appropriate lenders, create a winning strategy, write a seamless offer, accompany you on inspections, manage the escrow and title process, and work diligently to achieve your goals. Can you do that all by yourself? No, you can't - nor should you have to. (That's what I'm here for.)
So while it's quite tempting to eat dessert before dinner, it isn't very healthy or very good for you. We both know you will be better off with a full three-course dinner, but save room for dessert. You've definitely earned it.
Now that's sweet!
I received some lively responses from my "salsa" piece before Winter Break. So having bragged just a bit about my dance moves, I feel compelled to now admit that my tale wasn't entirely 100% accurate (oh no!). In fact, I left out a very important piece of the story (ah ha!). As with all good collaborations (dance and otherwise) having an experienced partner makes ALL the difference in the world. In reality, I only dance well with those who know how to lead! The truth is, we don't dance alone!
Nor do we buy or sell real estate alone - although some Internet discount houses would have you believe it's a good idea to do just that. Moreover, they entice you by offering a juicy carrot: a rebate on the purchase or the sale of your home. Wow! That sounds attractive - doesn't it? Until you break down their offer and realize that a 20% rebate on the agent's commission (which is typically split with a broker) amounts to approximately .03% of the overall purchase price. How's it sound now? Not such a great deal after all - is it? Rebate or rip off?
Consider now the real cost to the buyer for this minimal benefit. . .Recently I had clients that were interested in a condominium purchase in Albany (list price: $485,000). When it became clear that they were the only buyers presenting an offer in a timely manner, we talked through their options and decided to submit at $10,000 less than the asking price (not atypical in this more conservative marketplace). Had they used a discount brokerage instead and paid full price with the hopes of receiving 20% back on their purchase, their rebate would have amounted to approximately $1,620. Working with The GRUBB Co., they realized an additional savings of $8,380 (which should come in handy with moving and closing expenses.) Rebate or rip off? Now imagine how this plays out on properties that list between two to three million dollars! Last year, savvy clients I represented offered several hundred thousand less than asking on a multi-million dollar home here in Piedmont and were ultimately successful in their pursuit, largely because I was able to reset the seller's expectations. (This can only happen with a complete understanding of the local marketplace and a tremendous amount of knowledge. ) In this example, there's NO way, a rebate would have ever come close to what these buyers realized by presenting an educated, sharp offer instead, nor do I believe that an online agent would have had a clue! Rebate or rip off? Consider as well, that the sellers typically pay BOTH sides' transaction fees. As a buyer, you are usually NOT absorbing this expense (unless you choose to do so as a tactical strategy). Add in any additional savings you might receive during inspection and negotiations and I have to wonder why any buyer in his or her right mind would ever choose online or discount agency? (It's those pesky carrots!) Plainly speaking, it's just not a good idea. Nor is it a good idea for sellers either. "For Sale by Owner" properties (FSBO's in real estate parlance) rarely have the overbids one sees in a correctly marketed and fully exposed listing! Why? Because the vast pool of qualified buyers (controlled by the Brokerage community) have been excluded by this foolhardy "do-it-yourselfer!"
When you focus on eliminating the broker's commission percentage of 6%, you often lose sight of the much larger 94% you stand to gain! (In other words, "Don't lose the forest for the trees!") In a more challenging marketplace, I find that positive results come from a well-choreographed marketing strategy and time-tested experience and execution. Working in this more thoughtful framework, you stand a far better chance of not only realizing a substantial savings on your purchase (as illustrated above) but more importantly, of successfully getting into contract on the property in the first place! Remember 20% of nothing, still amounts to NOTHING! Rebate or Rip off?
Given the time, energy, legalities and expense involved with purchasing or selling a home in today's increasingly litigious world, it behooves you to work with a professional. (Save the carrots for bunnies.) As with any good collaboration (as with any good dance) it takes two to tango. Given the choice, would you rather dance with Fred Astaire or Bugs Bunny?
The choice seems rather clear. Let's Dance!
The Olympics are over (sigh!) and we'll have to wait another four years for nations to come together to participate in the next Winter Games to be held in Russia. While I love the individual events themselves, it's the stories behind the athletes that makes their journeys so compelling . . . Apolo Ohno's father dropping him off at a remote wooded cabin for eight days of solitude to decide whether he was dedicated enough to continue on in his sport; Bode Miller's redemptive triumph after a disappointing performance, fueled by a party attitude, four years ago in Turino; Lindsey Vonn's painful shin injury just days before arriving at the Olympic village . . . this kind of drama totally beats out the Housewives of Orange County! Watching these dedicated athletes and hearing the stories that individually molded them, I'm struck by the old adage that "good luck is when preparation meets opportunity!" Whatever their obstacles, it's clear that ALL of the athletes who competed at the games, paid their dues and earned their way to the podium. Those that were lucky enough to achieve Olympic glory were appropriately rewarded for their years of dedication and hard work. Closer to home, our own Piedmont Seniors are chasing dreams of a different sort and eagerly anticipating their college acceptance letters with mixed expectations. Some students will have many choices while others will have fewer options. (I'm convinced that my own son will gain admittance into a school that best fits his needs and proves a good educational match for the next four years.) Whether it is a state college nearby, or an Ivy League Institution back east, like those well-trained athletes, one hopes that our kids are appropriately rewarded for his dedication and hard work as well.
In a market that is quickly heating up, buyers too, need to be fully prepared in order to achieve their own clear victories in the highly charged arena of real estate. I have often spoken about the important partnership between agent and client, but in reality, a good team includes a strong mortgage component as well (think of our collaboration as a pyramid with you at the apex and your realtor and mortgage broker supporting the base.) Like the Olympic athlete or the college bound student, it is our job to prepare you, to train you, to support you and to lead you to success! Mortgage brokers fall into two categories: the independent mortgage broker found at firms such as La Salle Financial, who works with many lending institutions and the in-house mortgage lender found through your local bank such as Wells Fargo or Bank of America. (Note, that I have purposely omitted the on-line lender for good reason.) Both have distinct advantageous and it's worth understanding what each has to offer as you diligently "prepare." Whomever you ultimately choose to work with, you are best served inviting a competent mortgage representative onto your team sooner, rather than later. This early preparation often means the difference between having many choices or very few. Here are the differences between the two - in admittedly - simple terms . . . (I'm sure I'll hear from a mortgage broker or two!) The independent mortgage broker represents many banks and lending institutions and thus, can often respond more favorably to any roadblocks or challenges that arise. In short, they tend to have greater flexibility and more lending options for buyers. This is especially important to buyers with less than perfect credit. Should lender B offer a better interest rate than lender A, they can more easily switch you into the most advantageous program. www.lasallefinance.com
The in-house lender often has greater control and because they work "in-house," decisions from above tend to come down faster. However, they are limited to the products their bank currently offers. Should your application be rejected for any reason, you are likely to find yourself starting over with another bank and losing valuable time. Still, they often have access to mortgage products the independent broker may not and can be a great match for many buyers - especially those that already have a relationship with a specific bank.
In both cases, you will pay origination fees for their skills and services but make no mistake, in this more conservative lending climate - a reputable mortgage broker is a crucial component to your success and IF you have less than stellar FICO scores (above 700) an experienced mortgage broker is worth his/her weight in gold. (Put one to work immediately to help you improve your credit standing and pre-approve you for a loan. Both can be terrific at coaching you over any hurdles.)
Whomever you employ to address your mortgage needs (and I encourage you to shop independently to compare and contrast) make sure you are working with a professional you can contact directly, returns your calls promptly, has pre-qualified you for a loan, has verified your credit and employment history, and has a strong local presence. In short, avoid Internet lenders at all costs! (Regardless of what they promise, they are extremely suspect to sellers and their agents.) When presented with offers, any smart agent will encourage the sellers to choose the one connected to the known local lender. (Getting properties into escrow is easy. Getting them closed is much tougher these days.) Unless a Realtor can quickly confirm the underwriter, your offer stands very little chance of getting accepted.
Understand that the effort and hard work you put into your preparation up front will reap big dividends in the end and stand you in good stead for your own clear victories in the very competitive world of real estate. Whether it involves a medal hunt, a college hunt or a housing hunt, when opportunity meets preparation, you are sure to be rewarded with many appropriate choices.
While we don't have medals to award for your dedication and hard work, a new home might just be better than gold!
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.