"Just in case you haven't flown since 1989(!)" the flight attendant cheekily announced over the loud speaker, "we want to remind you that smoking on the aircraft is strictly prohibited . . ."
It was a speech that was met with a nice chuckle from those of us on board. Of course, everyone knows that smoking is no longer allowed on an airplane - don't they? From food, to drink, to luggage, the skies are decidedly less friendly then they used to be.
The same is true for Real Estate. Looking at the ten-page contract and the ENORMOUS stack of disclosures today's typical sale encumbers, my father shakes his head in sheer amazement and exclaims, "When I sold real estate, we used to write the contract on the trunk of my car and the whole thing was only one page." (Those days are long, l-o-n-g gone!)
But the difference isn't just in the size and breadth of the contract and the countless, requisite disclosures that accompany it, it's in the behavior of the parties themselves, and in the way we treat one another as we progress through the deal - challenging or not. "Ladies and gentleman, please fasten your seat belts. It looks like there's some turbulence ahead . . . "
Boy is there ever!
I don't mean to criticize; after several years in a softening marketplace, that's truthfully seen more lows than highs, almost everyone is feeling a bit battered and bruised. (I share your pain - I do!) As a result, the tendency is to be hyper vigilant, super suspicious and uber wary; as if these attitudes were the answers to our problems.
In the heart of the deal - as in life - negative emotions are of little value. If the house doesn't sell quickly (or at all) it's because the Realtor didn't market it correctly, and if the house sells immediately, it's because the Realtor must have under priced it! If the Buyer makes a request, it's incredibly unfair. If the Seller needs some time, they're being unimaginably unreasonable! For some tortured souls, there is no happy ending - no matter what the outcome.
I have to wonder, how does all this angst and negativity really serve the parties involved? The short answer is - it doesn't. I recently watched a deal unravel unnecessarily for no other reason than bad manners (really!). I'll spare you the ugly details, but suffice it to say that the more one side bucked, the more the other side balked - with little real justification on either end.
Not that the "offended parties" didn't manufacture a twisted reason for staying angry at one another ("pretzels anyone?"), it's just that compared to the price being paid for the property, the eleventh hour negotiations, while unfortunate and inconvenient, were nothing more than peanuts. (Which BTW, is about the only thing they serve on planes anymore.)
Move on and let it go . . . we can waste valuable time feeling "insulted."
Regardless of the challenges (and yes, there are many) take a moment, collect your thoughts, ask yourself if it really matters(?) Place yourself in the other party's shoes, cultivate empathy, practice understanding, PAUSE . . . breathe, (are you calm yet?) and then PLAY NICE!
Granted, it requires some discipline on your part, but trust me, your kindness will usually be rewarded. Conversely, poor behavior ALWAYS begets still poorer results. The higher road isn't just the easier way to go, it's the smarter route to take.
"We've reached our maximum altitude, you are free to move around the cabin."With good intentions, the journey is so much more pleasant. It's also incredibly more liberating.
"Thanks for flying with us today, we've landed safely. We hope you enjoyed your journey."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" my son, Tristan said. "What are you doing with those butterscotch brownies?"
"I'm taking them to my meeting," I said.
"No you're not," Tristan objected. "Those are tomorrow's lunch."
"Lunch?" I scoffed, "You can't make a lunch out of a dozen brownies." I know that,"Tristan countered matter-of-factly, "but it's what I can TRADE for them that's important. Last time, I got two packs of chips, some candy and a Gatorade. Your brownies are in high demand!"
Hmmm - that's not exactly the lunch I was hoping for, but I get his point just the same.
Not surprising, "trading" one thing for another is part-and-parcel of most Real Estate transactions these days as well. No sooner is a seller celebrating their successful "pending" sale, than I have to remind them that the deal isn't over yet. In fact it's just beginning . . . .
With inspections and appraisals still ahead of us, it isn't uncommon for buyers to return to the table and expect a little "horse trading" should the inspections uncover new material facts about the property - or even when they don't. This can come in the request to reduce the price, OR as a "punch list" of corrections, OR in the form of credits at the close of escrow - OR in combination.
(Whoosh! That's the sound of the wind being let out of your sails!)
Relax and let the process unfold. Try not to project about what might or might not happen or get defensive about your lovely home - especially prior to any requests or demands. Buyers are legally entitled to inspect any and everything - even when you have already thoroughly documented the condition of the property. And what's more, you want them to. Inspections not only inform the buyer, they protect the seller from potential litigation down the road. (It's much tougher for a buyer to claim misrepresentation if they have fully inspected on their own.)
Once presented with something in writing, ask yourself if the demand is reasonable and if it is, agree to the reduction or try to find a meeting place in the middle. If you feel the request is unreasonable, then politely reject the addendum altogether or with a "knick-knack paddywack, give the dog a bone (this old man came rolling home)." Either way, do your best to stay politely engaged on some level and above all else, keep the exchanges unemotional. This isn't personal - it's business. Frankly, it's no different than asking the local Mercedes (or Prius) dealer to throw in the mats when you purchase a car.
If there is something you desire in return, now may be a good time to take advantage of the opportunity to trade something you want for something the other side needs in order to move forward with the sale, such as a few more days to move out, access to the garage after the close of escrow, or a full release of all contingencies. This is the time to trade tit for tat.
While this part of the transaction might come off more bitter than sweet, to many sellers, the reality is that in the current market, it is almost unheard of for a buyer NOT to come back and ask for something. Unless your home has sold in multiple offers (that still occasionally happens BTW) or has a firm back-up buyer in second position, you will fare better if you deal with the offer currently in front of you, than risk losing it and coming back to market with questions along the lines of "Why did the sale fall apart?"
Should you take offense at the inspection process and pass on offer number one to pursue offer number two (assuming there IS another offer waiting in the wings) ALL new discovery will now be part of any future transactions on the property. In short, you either deal with the findings now - or later - but they aren't magically going away and chances are they won't be overlooked by another buyer either.
Take heart - this isn't a problem, it's a solution! The fact that the buyer hasn't walked away and is still actively engaged in purchasing your property is a REAL opportunity. Don't jeopardize the sale over something as petty as pride or as destructive as denial. ("We always lived here without bolting the foundation, so why shouldn't they?) Don't assume your standards of risk apply to the next homeowner - they don't!
If we look at everything as an opportunity (as opposed to a problem), then the trading that results in the sale and transfer of your home can be ultimately very productive and within reason, almost any demands can find a meeting point.
Even if they aren't quite as sweet as my butterscotch brownies!
"I want four bedrooms upstairs, three bathrooms, a flat backyard, chef's kitchen with an adjoining family room, great central location that's 'walk-to' everything, and 'turn-key' condition," my client emphatically stated. "Oh, and I need it for only . . ." (Hmmm . . . )
As a friend of mine jokes, "Find me that house and I'll purchase it myself!
The reality is that I can probably find you the bedroom/bathroom count you seek, OR the coveted location, OR the immaculate condition, but it's next to impossible to find everything you want, given a limited budget. And while we're being frank (why not; in for a penny, in for a pound), it's nearly impossible to hit ALL of the bullet points on any buyer's "wish list" - even when price isn't an issue!
In my experience, there is always a bit of compromise, regardless of how much a buyer can - or is willing - to spend. BTW, this isn't just true of buyers; it's true for sellers as well, who expect a result that is literally, "unattainable." I liken it to hunting for the "endangered species," but my GRUBB Co. colleague has a much better term for the impossible outcome. He dubs it "looking for the unicorn!"
I don't mean to dampen your dreams. In fact, I want to encourage them; nothing gives a REALTOR more pleasure than matching buyers with the right homes and given the unprecedented low interest rates now available, within a softer housing market - making purchasing truly more affordable than it has been in fifty years - now is an exceptional time to buy (if you qualify - but that's another column)!
But I have also spent untold hours too numerous to count with clients seeking the "mythical home" that truly doesn't exist. No matter how many properties I show them, they are unwilling - or incapable - of writing. For them, it's all about the shortcomings - never the opportunities.
In short, they're looking for the unicorn.
Here's the skinny: "Real" Buyers write and what's more, they often write on several properties before successfully obtaining "the one." However, these near misses are never wasted. With each new purchase offer, Buyers sharpen their skills, adapt to the demands of the marketplace, and develop a finely-honed sense of "value" that makes it possible to ultimately craft a winning offer.
Oh, I get it!"
With respect to "real" Sellers, they absorb the results of the marketplace, take into account the comparable sales, adjust their asking price quickly when the market speaks, listen to their Realtor's advice, and understand the BIG picture. In other words, they don't test the market; they come ready to sell.
In both cases, it's about being focused, teachable, goal-oriented and open to the possibilities. Otherwise, you may as well spend your time looking for a unicorn.
Your chances of success are about the same.
"Ew! What's that smell?" I asked my husband as I got out of bed, one morning last week.
"Buck wrestled with a skunk last night and lost," Cliff said. "I can't believe you slept through it - he went nuts. I let him out about 4 a.m. this morning and he got into it but good." (Did he ever - phew!) This wasn't the first time our dog, Buck, has lost a contest with a skunk, and it likely won't be the last. Our property is heavily wooded and all manner of critters share the space with us, from squirrels, to possums to seasonal wild turkey, to even an occasional deer - AND yes, unfortunately, skunks!
For the most part, the animals and I have reached an amicable understanding, which is to say that we keep a respectful distance from one another. ( I won't bother you , if you don't bother me.) As most of these cohabitants come out at night, it's an implied agreement that's fairly easy to honor.
Except when Buck gets out in the wee hours of the morning and accidentally comes across an unsuspecting furry friend (or enemy) - then the whole neighborhood gets an earful. (Sorry gang.)
At poorly-timed moments like this, I try to remind myself that it's not Buck's fault. Labs are bred to be hunting companions, so I can hardly blame him for following his finely-honed natural instincts. Still, irrespective of his love for the chase, Buck has yet to win a contest with a skunk (or even a squirrel for that matter).
"Quick, open the windows, " I instructed my husband, " No, close them, it's worse outside!"
Unfortunately, I had my own contest recently that involved a bit of "skunky behavior" by another Realtor from outside our area, who regretfully, represented a listing on which I represented the buyers. The further we got into the transaction, the clearer it became that everything wasn't exactly above board (phew!). This deal involved a "Short Sale" and as short sales go, it may have been fairly standard, except that it didn't smell quite right from the get go. (Shucks - time to catch a varmint!)
Thankfully, those kind of antics are atypical in my profession. For the most part, Realtors try to play it straight as our paths tend to cross over and over again. As such, it behooves us (as well as our clients) to deal honestly and fairly with one another. Especially as it's very likely that within a few short months, we will be facing one another again at the negotiating table - often in reversed roles!
So with the keen help of my Broker, the involvement of the Title Company manager, a flexible lender, and my incredibly adaptable Buyers, who artfully adjusted with each new wrinkle, we managed to clean up the transaction and close escrow late last week. (Nobody ever said short sales were going to be easy - or short - they're neither.)
Moreover, we did it while keeping everybody's integrity intact and with little fallout or drama. Now that's the art of the deal. . . . Suffice it to say that during challenging Real Estate transactions such as this one, I am reminded of just how important it is to have a clear understanding of the objectives we seek and why being represented by a licensed, ethical REALTOR is a very good idea indeed.
When one can't control the actions of the other players involved, it's incumbent upon us to make sure our side of the street remains clean, while striving to deliver the desired results. This wasn't a run-of-the-mill kind of encounter (more like a skunk in the night) and it required much more than the perfunctory duties we often perform as agents (it required fumigation, to put it bluntly).
With careful orchestration and the unyielding desire to "get it right," The GRUBB Co. was ultimately able to deliver a very successful outcome for our very patient buyers. In other words, we prevailed - in spite of the "skunk in the woods."
Regretfully, Buck's encounter ended much less successfully - with a vigorous tomato and peroxide bath and a trip to the showers (at least the water was warm). Unfortunately, my dog still smells like burned rubber - Yuck!
Does anybody have a cure for that?
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.