"You have four seconds to capture someone's attention on your Hom Page," Bettyanne somberly informed me during our marketing meeting last week. I had asked Bettyanne, who is not only a friend, and a marketing maverick, but a previous client, to meet with me one-on-one to help clarify my next steps with respect to an 'Internet presence,' and taking my business to the next level, and what she had to share was eye opening (to say the very least . . .).
"You've done a great job of telling people who you are," she said, but what consumers really want to know is: "What's in it for me?' You can have all the knowledge and experience in the world, but if you don't answer that simple question, they'll move on to someone else. "The simple truth is," Bettyanne continued, "Buyers and Sellers want to know what you can, and will, do for them!"
(Light bulb moment!)
Flashback to Field of Dreams, (one of my all-time favorite movies ever) when Kevin Costner's exasperated character, Ray Canseca, having done everything that was asked of him by the mystery voice, and with his family's farm clearly on the line, finally asks with real exasperation (and a little embarrassment), "What's in it for me?'" (Spoiler alert: mending his relationship with his long- deceased father is in it for him - "If you build it, he will come!")
Of course, anyone in sales understands the "WIIFM" premise at their very core, but I think Bettyanne's relevant point is that rather than qualify who I am, the more critical component of our work together, may be discovering who you are and taking my lead from there.
So after years of writing, commenting, and sharing my thoughts on real estate and the market in general - both through good and challenging times - it's now time for me to ask you for your help in answering this simple question: "What's in it for you?"
So whether we have previously worked together, or you have bought or sold real estate with someone else (I promise I won't hold it against you), I need to know what exactly you are looking for in your agent, what you need, and what may have been missing in your last real estate dealings once the papers were signed and you moved into your new home? In other words: "How can I better improve your experience?"
So put your thinking caps on, find your inner voice and give me your unedited opinion. (I really want to know.) You'll not only be helping me rethink my personal 'Home Page,' but my overall practice and how I can better serve you and meet your needs moving forward. ("If you build it, they will come.")
So . . . What's in it for you? Let's start with a free latte at Mulberry's Market for your trouble and a $100 gift certificate to Wood Tavern on College Avenue for very the best advice I receive. I really appreciate your time and your thoughts.
The summer is winding down, school is back in session, and dotted around town are U-Haul and Budget Rental Vans packed to the gills for those that are college bound. (Okay, my neighbors are actually headed to Burning Man first before their son enters his senior year in upstate New York).
The fall season lies just ahead. Can you feel it? My driveway is covered with shedding pine needles and the air is RIPE with possibility . . .
I think a pro golfer said it best in an interview on NPR last weekend when asked why anyone would choose to play the difficult (and humiliating) sport of golf;"There's always the opportunity for redemption on every hole , he stated, "golf is ALL about the possibilities . . ." and as an aside, he added, "ANYONE can eventually get a hole-in-one." (Okay, that's just salt in the wound.)
I'm not sure my husband would agree, having never achieved that elusive hole-in-one, but with respect to Real Estate,virtually every home offers potential and promise. And as any home-related website will show you, our homes don't just house our possessions, they house our dreams as well (check out Houzz or Pinterest for true inspiration and "follow" me), which is why BILLIONS are spent in the home industries year after year. Thus, it's no surprise that the health of our economy is, in no small, part, directly tied to the robust nature of the housing market as a whole.
And Buyers agree . . .
"Let's just get it done," one Buyer emphatically said. "We're done writing offers."
Now you're talkin' (I couldn't agree more).
Quickly followed by: "But make sure we don't overpay!"
Got it, but "overpaying" may be more difficult to measure. In a quickly escalating marketplace, where homes are selling well, well, WELL (!) above the asking price, purchasing a home in today's world, can be rather daunting, as each new sale raises the ceiling - especially if this is your first foray into the home-buying world. No wonder even well-qualified Buyers can vacillate between stepping up and stepping off. Who can blame them?
Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on how you slice it) there is a premium to be paid for living the "California lifestyle" - and for good reason. (While we're on the subject of golf, have I mentioned that I visited my son in North Dakota this summer, where he was mowing lawns at the Bully Pulpit Golf Course in Medora five days a week? I'll venture that home values in that area are QUITE a bit less.)
Here's the skinny: you're NOT overpaying, you are paying what the market will bear.
Some of you will choose to wait it out (rather than move to North Dakota) and that's a reasonable course of action. No worries, as long as you understand that rising interest rates directly offset your purchasing power, so waiting for prices to drop AS interest rates rise may actually cost you MORE in the long run. Focus on the cost to own, NOT the price to purchase and you should be fine.
Will the market correct at some point in the future?
Undoubtedly so. If history teaches us anything in the ways of economics, it's that ALL markets are cyclical. However, it also shows us that housing prices continue to trend UP over time. (Just ask your parents what they paid for their first home and how much they stretched to buy it.)
Then remember that buying a home is a long-term proposition. Understanding whether you bought at the top or at the bottom of the market is largely a matter of hindsight, history, and good luck (as is hitting a hole-in-one).
"When can we expect the market to correct?"
AHHH, that's the $64,000 question. (I honestly wish I knew.) The last housing bubble ran for several years before finally adjusting, but irrespective of the historical patterns, we can only ever work in the market in which we are currently in. (Cliff and I have bought at both the height and the bottom of the markets and in the long run, it truthfully, hasn't made much of a difference on our journey.)
If you want and need a home in today's world, it will require a leap of faith, a belief in home ownership, and a good understanding about the current dynamics of the marketplace.
With interest rates still in your favor, and with the Fall Market about to increase the available inventory, buying a home now is often more affordable than renting one. So whether it's a fixer or a turn-key property you desire, a better golf game , or a college journey that lies ahead, it's all about the possibilities . . . Fore!
How can I help you?
Wednesday is the my favorite day of the week BECAUSE it's the day when my housekeepers descend (bless them). I know that when I return from my busy day at the office, my world will feel perfectly ordered and that every surface will shine (if only briefly, until the boys come home and the dog finds his way to the foot of the bed). The towels will be crisply hung, the pillows lined up like little soldiers, and my hardwood floors will gleam. It's my idea of heaven. (I'll concede, yours might be different.)
However, it's my actions before their 8 am arrival that makes this day less pleasurable for my husband and son as I unapologetically race through the house setting the stage, which means making sure both Cliff and Tristan are UP, that the beds are stripped, and that the dishwasher is emptied (guilty as charged). Sure, my family would prefer to eat a bowl of cereal while rubbing the sand out of their sleepy eyes, but there are clothes to put away and counters to clear. (Man oh man, I gotta really ride these guys to get them moving that early in the morning.)
"Aren't the housekeepers supposed to do this?" Cliff naively asks week after week. "Wh0 cleans for the cleaners?" Everybody! (Honestly, sometimes he can be so silly.)
The truth is, I'm not paying these hardworking ladies to do the obvious chores my family can, and should, be doing (like hanging up their jackets), I am paying them to accomplish those tasks I conveniently ignore such as dusting the bookshelves, tackling the spider webs, and removing the spots on the shower doors. (Don't even get me started about dust balls under the bed!)
Not surprisingly, addressing the more challenging tasks is an important component of Real Estate as well. Certainly, we are quite content to show you a house you'll love, but it's the less obvious work your agent does that, truth be told, earns our commissions.
With the Internet at everyone's fingertips, combing through the available inventory and identifying which homes a Buyer would like to see is more often than not, falling upon the the home buyer themselves. Seldom are the outings when I actually drive Buyers around in my car, presenting house after house (although that does still occur).
Nowadays, Buyers are much more likely to meet me (with kids and parents in tow) at a property that they have not only identified, but have Googled as well . . . In short, they have done their homework, know everything about the Seller and the surrounding neighborhood, and are fully engaged. You gotta admire this generation.
So what do I bring to the equation (besides my lockbox key)?
That's a fair question; so glad you asked . . .
A good Realtor knows and analyzes the market on an ongoing basis, tours regularly, can accurately assess value, will read the disclosures with a discerning eye, will identify potential red flags, will have honest discourse throughout the transaction (even if it means talking you out of the home), will point out the pros and cons, will identify your objectives, will speak with your lender and request pre-approval letters, will thoroughly explain the contract and disclosures to you, will craft a competitive offer, will negotiate on your behalf, will guide you through the inspection process, will clearly explain your options as each phase of the process, will provide licensed vendors, will carefully follow the timelines as set forth in the purchase agreement, will meet you to sign the closing documents, and will stay connected long after the sale for any questions or concerns you may have. And that's just on the buy side!
On the selling end, we will create a comprehensive marketing plan for your home, meet with stagers, gardeners, painters, window washers, and inspectors, will keep you informed, will set up Broker's Tours and Open Houses, will bake cookies (okay, that might just be me), will put the neighborhood on notice, will create flyers, postcards and advertisements, will order title reports, will prepare disclosures, will request permit histories, will coordinate the sewer lateral and other required "Point-of-Sale" ordinances, will work to protect you from lawsuits, will answer questions for prospective buyers and their agents, will communicate often, will water the garden and keep the house clean, will listen to offers and negotiate on your behalf, will verify the credit worthiness of the Buyers, will follow the timelines set forth in the purchase offer, will meet you to sign the closing papers and will fill in any other needs you may have. (Whew!)
Have I answered your question?
While Real Estate sales may start with a pretty home, the real action takes place behind those doors and windows, and among the growing mounds of paperwork we study and digest on your behalf. In reality, a successful deal frequently comes together after weeks, months, or even years of preparation and coordination; and not infrequently after several disappointments, losses, and mounting stress. (Few transitions are as stressful as selling or buying a home, even under the happiest of circumstances.)
Hang in there, eventually it will come together.
Above all else, skillful interaction between Realtor and client requires empathy and understanding, a fair amount of cheer leading, a strong support network, a considerable amount of counseling, thoughtful communication, ongoing education, thorough investigation, and clearly defined EXPECTATIONS - and that's just for starters . . .
Good work and a successful outcome isn't about what we are supposed to do, it's about how we serve and help one another to be the very best we can. Hey, we can sleep in tomorrow . . . (or maybe not).
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.