"You'll need to remove the wallpaper, replace the garage door, and repaint the entire exterior," my intrepid colleague matter-of-factly stated. "Also, it couldn't hurt to update the kitchen with stainless-steel appliances, stone counter tops and a new sink," she continued. "Oh, and what do you plan on doing with that hallway bath?" Ugh!
To be fair, I'd invited several people from my office over for an assessment of my home's recent remodel, aka: "current market value." I had explicitly asked my fellow Realtors to treat me like "any other client" and to their credit, they HAD! And while their frank and unvarnished comments came as no real surprise, given my own experience with such meetings, I hadn't realized just how brutal the process might actually feel from the Seller's perspective, or that it would sting quite so much.
Oh Holy Night!
Like many of you, I have carefully crafted my decorating style over many years and it has taken me countless trips to the flea market and endless hours with a paint brush to create an environment that is uniquely "moi." So imagine my discomfort when fellow GRUBB professionals assessed my "work product" in a matter of mere minutes and found it somewhat - uhhh, lacking? (At least at a Sunday Open, you're not present when Buyers do the same.)
Never mind the many compliments; it was the solicited negatives that were tough to hear - if not downright painful! Unfortunately, if there's an easy way to tell Sellers that their homes would benefit from the trained eye of a professional stager, that they have too much furniture, that they need to put away the lopsided ceramic pots they received as Mother's Day Gifts, and that they should hire a professional cleaning service, I am still struggling to find it. (Even the kids' precious art projects? Yes, even those.)
To which I can only say, "I am sorry to be so blunt. Now start purging!"
Would it soften the blow to know that my advice is under laid with tremendous respect, for I know that the results you seek are largely dependent on my ability to be entirely truthful with you - if not always tactful? (It doesn't? Not even a little?) These observations aren't meant to be hypercritical (although they often seem like it in the moment). They are intended to bring you the best and most profitable response.
"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices . . ."
The fact is, I have yet to meet the Seller who doesn't want top dollar for their home. No one says, "Just get me whatever you can for the place; that'll be fine." So with that in mind, my goal is to orchestrate a plan that makes the most sense for you, displaces you the least (as if that were really possible) and meets your budget and time restraints.
Short of moving you out entirely (and even then) selling a home is going to be completely, utterly, incredibly inconvenient and disruptive - not to mention an investment of both time and money! As such, wouldn't you like to know that my suggestions have proven to be successful time and again? (Whether or not you choose to take them, is entirely up to you!)
So forgive my frequent intrusions, my not-so-gentle critiques, and my bulldozer-like suggestions and know that I too, have been reminded that our accumulated "things" represent an inventory of our lives - not just evidence of one's clutter. With great efforts and good intentions (a broom, a box, and a beginning . . .) we will eventually cross the finish line together.
Geeze, I'd better get busy. According to my colleagues, I've got some tiles and a new bathroom vanity to order.
"For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn . . ."
Every year around the holidays, I make a habit out of donating games and toys my kids have long outgrown, or that we no longer use. Currently, my younger son and his friends are obsessed with a board game (yes, a "board" game) called "Settlers of Catan." A purger by nature, I'm a big proponent of "out with the old, in with the new," but when I came across a dusty box of Parker & Brother's Battleship recently, I'll admit that I got a little uncharacteristically nostalgic.
I spent many a rainy Sacramento afternoon, across the table from my best friend Heidi, deliberately seeking her ships' positions: "C4" (miss), "D8" (miss), "G15" (HIT!) before hearing her plaintive cry "You sunk my battleship!" which signaled not only the end of the game, but a decisive victory as well.
At which point, Heidi would dramatically fall to the ground, gasp for breath and pantomime her demise. Then we'd both break into hysterical laughter. Some 40 years later, the memories still make me smile. So I am thrilled to see my son and his friends unplugged from the XBox for a change, as they build fond memories of their own . . .
In games between friends, winning or losing is all well and good, but in Real Estate, it's not nearly as much fun to find yourself torpedoed unexpectedly. And to be quite blunt, from where I sit as your Real Estate advisor, it's much worse, when Buyers and Sellers torpedo themselves and sink their OWN battleship; a scene that is regretfully played out all too often.
"How do they do that?"
Good question (thanks for asking).
Let me count the ways . . .
1. They immediately second-guess their decision. HIT!
The minute they find themselves in contract, they are quickly looking for an exit strategy and finding defects with the house - prior to investigations. "Man overboard!"
2. They price the property too high. HIT!
In this case, your ship is often sunk before you even leave port.
3. They fail to fully disclose. HIT!
Failure to disclose material fact isn't a little bullet you can dodge, it's a BIG and deadly time bomb. Disclose, disclose, disclose - EVERYTHING! (Have I stressed disclosure enough?)
4. They make unrealistic demands. HIT!
In short - play fair. Don't test limits by returning over and over again to the bargaining table with unquantifiable or worse yet, unwarranted demands. Push hard enough and you are more than likely to find the breaking point.
5. They are looking for the house that doesn't exist or want it at a price that will never come to pass. HIT!
When, at long last, they finally find a house that meets their exacting criteria, they write an offer well under market realities which gives them literally NO chance to get into contract. (Note: you can't play the game at all if you never actually get into escrow.)
6. They take an adversarial position from the get-go. HIT!
This isn't a hostile takeover; it's the transfer of property, so avoid a mutiny. In the "art" of the deal, "One-upmanship" rarely ever serves negotiations well (BTW- I find it rarely serves us well in life either).
7. They work with unreliable lenders or "shop" their financing after getting into contract. HIT!
Timelines are expected to be honored; otherwise you risk receiving a 2-day "Notice to Perform" and the potential loss of your good faith deposit as well. Unless you are guaranteed performance - as outlined in the contract - don't switch lenders mid-stream or get drawn in by Internet promises (if it sounds too good to be true, it is) OR you just may find yourself in a sinking ship.
8. They take the deal personally. HIT!
Repeat after me, "It isn't personal; it's business. It isn't personal; it's business." Granted, there's hardly anything more "personal" than our homes, but first and foremost, this is a business transaction. Don't take the negotiations "personally" and avoid getting "offended" at any point along the way.
9. They "outsmart' the deal. HIT!
I don't mean to be glib, but intelligence is highly overrated; common sense is the benchmark of every successful transaction. You aren't going to outsmart the markets, outsmart the timing, or outsmart the other parties in play - without risking the deal altogether. Keep your eye on the prize and let your experienced agent worry about "playing it smart."
10. They choose their agents unwisely. "Oh No, you sunk YOUR battleship!"
Agents who don't bother with the basics, surely aren't going to address the details. If your agent doesn't communicate promptly, doesn't address your concerns fully, and isn't effectively meeting your goals, it's time to consider an agent with a better track record and one who can more aptly serve and meet your needs.
The unvarnished truth is that when you have sunk your own battleship, it's nearly impossible to right the sails and reverse direction. ( I know - battleships don't have sails.) An experienced agent will do his or her best to make sure you navigate the rocky shores and safely make it into harbor. And hopefully, he or she will provide a winning strategy that results in a successful and decisive victory in the end.
At ease sailor, you'll be wiser for the lessons learned and hopefully more successful on the next voyage.
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.