With news of the unexpected passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, there's a sudden opening on the Supreme Court bench that will need to be filled in short order. I'm not sure who President Obama will be identifying for this coveted life-term position OR that a Republican Senate will ever confirm his nominee, what with a presidential election looming later this year, but suffice it to say, that my husband, Cliff, would make an excellent Supreme Court Justice - just in case anyone's asking.
Yes, Cliff's an unconventional choice to be sure, but given that no insider is likely to be confirmed in this lame-duck year, why not think "out of the box" for a change and move away from "business as usual?"
I suppose it matters little that Cliff has a legal mind that would probably rival any Justice sitting on the bench today in any court room in America (yes, I'm biased, but I'm allowed to be) or that he's an expert on constitutional law, having defended the Constitution for his entire 35-year career, or that's he's a truly gifted attorney, writer, advocate and teacher. Regrettably, the appointment will ultimately be decided only after ugly arguments and petty congressional hearings that drag out for months on end while dismissing the best and the brightest in search of an anemic compromise. (I'm beginning to hate the Washington machinery.)
Thus, the lack of a call from the White House won't be entirely disappointing - or unexpected - but still . . . (Barack, my man, are you listening? Cliff should be on your "short list.")
What's frustrating, from my perspective as a citizen, is how the sides are already lining up for the bloody duel. Without so much as a respectful send-off or a fresh-faced nominee in place, it's painfully clear that both Republicans and Democrats will be looking for entirely different "values" from the next Supreme Court appointment. With an evenly divided court and the critical tipping position now at the balance, I suppose the stakes are as high as they have ever been, so while it's far too predictable that our elected officials will politicize the process based on their ideological value systems - it doesn't seem to really serve the best interest of "We the people . . ." (I'm not sure they care.)
What's this battle about values got to do with real estate, you ask? (I'm getting there, I promise.)
According to the industry trades, Redfin just announced its introduction of an automated valuation model (AVM) to respond to the "Zestimate" currently offered by its bigger rival and real estate juggernaut, Zillow; valuesthat Zillow admits are wrong by an error rate of 7.9%, on average. In both cases, these companies have created ambitious programs to address our national obsession about the "value" of our homes (as well as our neighbors'!)and each is lining up to say that they offer the best tool. By way of complicated algorithms - these mathematical programs analyze a property's location, size, features and comparable sales to come up with an estimated "value" - Redfin and Zillow can now "battle" for consumer confidence and market share.(You see how I did that?)
Were "value" only that easy to define.
Hey, I'm not opposed to an "AVM" . . . as a jumping off point; I just don't want you to get married to it or think that it's actually for real. (It isn't.) "Value" on any property will ultimately be decided by a willing and able Buyer and is highly dependent on supply and demand, not to mention strongemotions. Set your expectations too high based on a computer-generated "value" and you're bound to be disappointed, even in the face of substantial gain.
"Yes, it's a great offer," one Seller recently stated, "but Zillow said I could expect. . ." (these words may be the bane of my existence.)
Certainly, a computer generated program can look at location, condition, size, features, etc., but without walking through the home and understanding a property's pluses and minuses, OR understanding its charm, OR market-testing the listing, NO algorithm (no matter how sophisticated) will be able to replace real- life experience. Keep in mind that we're not selling identical seats on a plane here; homes are highly personalized and often, unique spaces which makes defining "value" a highly customized art - not a mathematical equation.
Can I tell you the value of your home? (I wish.) NO. But no one can, short of a crystal ball, and at least I'm willing to admit it. I can; however, deliver the market in a pinpointed, intentional and meaningful way.
With all due respect to technology (and I'm a HUGH fan of what technology has brought to the business of real estate), a computer program can't see the dilapidated house next door, the dated decorating, or the listing down the street that may have just stolen your thunder. Conversely, it also can't assign value to the stunning improvements that have been undertaken, the level yard that's tough to find, or the big oak tree out back with a swing already hanging in place. In short, computers can't measure emotional appeal and that may be the biggest unknown of all in determining true "market value."
So Redfin and Zillow, feel free to battle it out with your complicated algorithms. I appreciate the help, but I believe there's nothing that replaces good old- fashioned hard work and experience, preparation and skill, or timing and knowledge in helping to bring about the best results for my valued Sellers.
Of course, I may have to give up my day job should Cliff get the unexpected "nod" from the president (he's ready, willing and able Mr. President), but as it's highly unlikely he will (and by "highly unlikely," I mean "not a snowball's chance in hell") it's a good thing I'm thoroughly skilled and trained at assisting my clients in preparing their homes for sale so that the market can deliver its best and highest price. We may be here awhile. Therein lies the real value.
How can I help you?
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.