Vol. 275 - I've Got a Crush on Ed
I've got a crush on Ed. Nevermind that's he's in his eighties, is happily married to a stunning woman named Mary, has grown children, several grandchildren, and I suspect, a few great grandchildren . . . I consider Ed to be my boyfriend.
When we run into one another, he quietly ambles over to me for an obligatory hug and a peck-on-the-cheek and then I watch him settle down with his coffee and some cookies and wait for whatever pearls of wisdom his years have bestowed upon him. My evening is truly not complete without this affectionate exchange.
Here's the part that really gets to me and melts my heart . . . Ed always smuggles a few cookies into his pocket for later on. Perhaps he's taking them to his beautiful bride, or maybe they are consumed on the car ride home prior to his arrival. No matter, it's an endearing action; this desire for a little treat after the fact. Or as my mother would say, "sweets for the sweet." (Ed definitely qualifies.)
Here's how "treats" translate into the world of Real Estate and can really "sweeten" the deal.
Currently, I am in the middle of a transaction; one in which my Sellers received several offers and are now in contract with a lovely family from San Leandro. (Great news!) Even better, these aggressive Buyers quickly moved through their inspections and met their contractual obligations in quick time, releasing ALL of their contingencies within a few short days. As you might imagine, this kind of integrity always makes the Sellers very happy and in return, they responded by "gifting" their trampoline, the lawn mower, and a few other incidentals at NO CHARGE to the Buyers. Now that's generous, not to mention very smart on the Sellers' part.
One Buyer I represented several years back, referred to these courtesies between Buyers and Sellers as "throwing in the mats;" a term I've never forgotten and relied upon often. (Michael is a partner at BMW, SF and Mini Cooper so it was a natural analogy for him to make, but thank you just the same for an astute observation.)
In my opinion, "throwing in the mats" is always a wise move in a market where Sellers are typically seeing results far beyond their expectations and Buyers are feeling a bit battled and bruised before, during, and AFTER the offer date. (Sellers, take heed, Buyers are beginning to drop out and push back in response.) BTW this holds true even when (especially when) the successful Buyers have the winning bid that undoubtedly required UPPING the ante. Despite, or because of the pace, it has probably never been more important to finish off your transaction on a "sweet" note.
The last thing a Seller wants is for the Buyer to move into the house after the close of escrow and start nit-picking at every flaw and defect they now discover (no matter how much disclosure, there will be unknowns) OR worse yet, come back to the Sellers with a formal demand by way of a lawyer. (Say what?)
So take the few extra moments to meet with the new Buyers and familiarize them with the sprinkler system and the other components of your former home, leave behind your garage door openers and keys, the numbers for the gardener and the handyman, as well as the warranties on your appliances and hot tub, AND take it from me, a nice note and a bottle of champagne are never a bad idea . . .
When Cliff and I took possession of our house in Piedmont several years ago, the previous owner left a long list of contacts, from dry cleaners to the dog walker to the furnace repair man and ALL of it was appreciated as we were new to the area and hadn't a clue. They'd also left a beautiful bottle of wine and a card. (They'd wisely ended the sale on a "sweet" note.) A week later, when we discovered that a large redwood tree on the property would need to come out immediately or we'd lose the out-building that was destined to be Cliff's home office, it never occurred to us to double-back around to the Sellers (or the agents) and ask them for the money. There was no blame to assign and we now owned a house in an incredible setting (yes, with majestic Redwood trees and all that entails). Forget real estate, in life, it's important to recognize the gift.
Conversely, I've witnessed Sellers and Buyers become so polarized during a transaction over the smallest of perceived offenses that they never make their way back to a cordial working relationship (You're irrevocably damaged because someone sat on the bed or turned on the remote control? Really?) In these cases, both parties invariably feel slighted and upset and you better believe both sides start looking for reasons to walk away from the deal, negotiate on price, or in the worse case scenarios - drum up a lawsuit designed to teach a lesson.(Eww, that hurts.)
I ask you, isn't a little treat a lot easier? Aren't kindness, courtesy and good intentions a better way forward? They've certainly served Ed well. (Take as many as you like, Ed, your secret's safe with me.)
Vol. 274 - Stop Digging Holes!
My dog and I are at an impasse. I want him to quietly lie in the garden and Buck wants to dig holes. I respond by planting more shrubs in the shady areas he loves and he thwarts me by finding another spot in which to dig. I can't say I appreciate being "out-foxed" by a dog. In fact, I find it rather frustrating, but he's a dog, and dogs DIG.
Unfortunately, I don't think this is a battle I am likely to win, given that I'm at work all day while he's got free run of the yard, but I'm not entirely willing to surrender either. Thus, he digs, and I plant - each of us trying to "out-fox" the other.
The truth is, no one likes being out-foxed in any situation and it's especially difficult in today's marketplace where Buyers are rarely alone at the table and are often compelled to spend quite a bit more than they had anticipated. If you're not lucky enough to be Midas, it can be rather frustrating to watch home after home go to more aggressive (or richer) Buyers who can waive their inspection and appraisal conditions and close in mere days, as opposed to several weeks. Shucks!
"This whole process seems rather obscure," one Buyer recently confided. "Why can't I know what the other offers are so that I could decide whether or not I want to pay more?" Gee, wouldn't that be nice for us all?
Buyers would be able to quickly decipher whether or not they could realistically compete and their Realtors could save a tremendous amount of time NOT writing offers that probably don't stand a chance under current circumstances (Hmmm. . . it may be worth considering).
Of course, I'm not sure that Sellers who have now realized tremendous gains and are in possession of a unique commodity, would benefit from open bids as much as they do from a closed process - nor necessarily, would Buyers . . . Typically, when multiple offers come into play, there is often a clear winner; one that is usually well ahead of the rest of the pack.
It's not that the winning Buyer has "overpaid" for the house; it's that savvy Buyers understand the nature of the contest and are willing to set themselves apart in order to avoid a "multiple counter" response; one in which the decision is likely to become a popularity contest (at which point, they'll have NO control over the outcome). In short, these educated Buyers want the house and are willing to set the market value to get it.
Conversely, when only one offer is up for consideration, the Buyer usually has the advantage of bidding below the list price (once again, Buyers are setting the market value). And while that doesn't necessarily describe our current marketplace here in the Bay Area, it's important to remember that markets are cyclical and we've just come off of several tough years where Buyers have had the upper hand. Even with the dramatic shift, there are still many communities outside of the Bay Area where homes can still be purchased for less than asking (what a concept).
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you see it) this is the Bay Area, and given that you WILL in all likelihood, be bidding against several other Buyers on almost every home this Spring, it helps to have a Realtor who understands the nuances of the game, knows the other players in the mix, is well respected by his/her peers, and clearly understands the standard practices in each specific marketplace. (Take my word for it, terms vary greatly from region to region.) Without these advantages, you may find yourself "out-foxed" and at a real disadvantage.
Recently, I have spoken with several Buyers who have struggled with saying good-bye to their out-of-area agent, in order to work locally. And while I appreciate the strong bond created in the search for a new home, your loyalty will probably come at a heavy cost to you and perhaps, in the form of missed opportunity. (Just because I vacation in Tahoe, doesn't mean I know the marketplace there.)
By way of illustration, a few months back, I received a preemptive offer on a listing here in town, e-mailed to my inbox from an out-of-area agent who probably thought they had "out-foxed " the rest of the buying public by declaring early. (They hadn't.) Nearly everything with the offer was wrong, from the price, to transfer taxes, to their demands. At which point, their offer was politely declined and when a slightly modified offer was resubmitted come the offer date, it was declined once more - a repeat rejection. (Ouch, that really hurts.)
The truth is, their offer missed the mark on every single level - and the worse part of this story is that their agent probably didn't even know what mistakes he had made.
So if you have changed your geography by more than a few miles (I'm talking different cities, not different neighborhoods) it's probably time to reconsider your representation. If you are still feeling torn, ask your Agent to make the referral, which gives him/her an opportunity to recoup a little of their time and some of the lost commission. Granted, it won't be the same pay-out as a full sale's commission, but you're much more likely to actually achieve the intended goal of home ownership, and that should be your Agent's goal for you as well. Otherwise, we're all just digging holes.
So plant your garden. . . our spring market is in full bloom and it is thriving!
"I think the floor is sloping," the skeptical Buyer loudly informed me,"cuz there seems to be some settlement here," he continued, pointing at a corner in the hallway, intent on "educating" me (and everyone else within earshot) about the home's potential defects.
"Is there room on the price?" another interested Buyer queried, "if so, we'd be willing to write today." (You must be brand new to the marketplace - or from Mars! Yes, there's certainly room to negotiate, but northward only.)
"Are these windows single-pane? We'll need to replace them ALL," another calculates; all but showing me her spreadsheet.
And so it goes . . . (thank you for your input).
I spend most Sunday afternoons manning an Open House in Piedmont, Rockridge or the Oakland Hills, so I'm well-versed on the Buyer who is calculating the math and deducting dollars for any perceived flaws (good luck to you). At this point, I've logged more Sundays than I care to count, so I can reliably tell you that you are definitely NOT alone in hoping that there's a discount to be had. (There isn't; not in today's market).
With all due respect - you may want to rethink your strategy.
As the representative for the Seller, I'm not only there to answer questions and guide prospective Buyers toward details you may have overlooked or missed; I am also sizing YOU up as a potential candidate for the home. In a marketplace that seems to be serving up multiple bids on almost every well-priced property, Sellers now have their "pick of the litter" and overwhelmingly, they want to choose someone who will love their home as much as they do. In short, Sellers are often relying on their Realtor's opinion and gut instinct about prospective candidates as they narrow down the field and select the final winner.
As such, you should be on your best behavior at an Open House (at least in front of the listing Agent) and save your less-than-flattering opinions about the house for your own Agent to address privately. (This isn't about silencing you as much as it is about improving your odds.) You'll have plenty of time to return with him/her to ask questions and work through any objections or concerns you may have - as any informed, potential Buyer should, and is encouraged, to do.
It's not that I don't appreciate the process (I do) it's just that you want to be circumspect with how you go about it. So when I council my own Buyers in such circumstances, I encourage them to be positive and upbeat. (Any concerns should be for my ears, alone.) While agents try not to play favorites, it's only natural that we root for people we feel will indeed, be a good "fit" for the house and fairly happy in it. Starting off the process, by overtly criticizing the home, sends the message that you'll be tough to please.
So if you haven't yet been "prepped" by your own Realtor, may I offer up a few suggestions for your Sunday Open strategy that may make you a more viable candidate as you tour?
Finally, I don't know how high the home is going to go, so feel free to ask, but recognize that any number I proffer is just an educated guess at best. I will happily supply your Agent ongoing information about the level of interest and the Sellers' expectations, but that's as far as my magical powers of fortune-telling extend. As the offer date draws nearer, I hope to have a much better sense of the "real players" and will share that piece of the puzzle with your Agent as well.
Remember, Realtors set a pricing strategy only - not a market value; a willing and able Buyer defines the true market value of any given property at any given time.
So be willing and able, and then commit. Realize that every home has pluses and minuses, but understand, you'll be better served focusing on the pluses (not the minuses) especially at an Open House. And if there are too many minuses for your liking, than pass. Soon enough, there will be another property that sparks your interest. And when it does, just remember that your actions and comments are being noted.
Now go get 'em and good luck!
Vol. 272 - "Can I help You?"
"Can I help you?" the pretty, young salesgirl politely asked, clearly recognizing the confusion in my eyes. (I'm sure I'm not the first.)
"Yes!" I gushed, handing off the few shirts I had already selected, grateful for the rescue. "I desperately need some new clothes for work."
Here's the thing, take me to the Alameda Flea Market with literally row upon row of antique vendors as far as the eye can see, and I haven't a problem quickly identifying what I want or negotiating for it, BUT if I wander into any large department store, I'm utterly lost; as if I haven't a clue (I don't).
With all due respect to April, I'm not fooling, I really have NO ability to filter through the sea of clothes as most of my fashionable peers can easily do (or any 16-year-old girl for that matter). Accessories? Uh . . . what are those? I wear a pair of earrings until I lose one and then I might purchase another (or not). Purses? I own just two. "
You're not really wearing those baggy jeans?" my girlfriend, Teresa, has critically scoffed as I've arrived for an outing. (Not anymore, I'm not.) Teresa is the mother of three daughters - she always looks stylish.
Maybe it's the boy thing. Frankly, neither Tris nor Case could care less about what either one of them is wearing, let alone me, but after 20-plus years, I'm clearly out of practice and waaay out of my element. Maybe it's the fact that I spend more time at the ball field than at the shopping mall. OR, maybe there's a chromosome missing in my DNA?!?
Whatever it is, I am the first to admit that when it comes to fashion, I don't know where to begin.
Thankfully, I don't have to.
"I'm a personal shopper," Sabrina explained as she escorted me into a private changing room. "If you ever need me, here's my card." (Need you? Can I adopt you?) "I'm just going to select some options for you . . . just wait here, I'll be right back." (Relief.)
One hour later and I walked out of Macy's with three new shirts, a blazer, two skirts, a pair of pants, and a sporty little pair of Espadrilles - and they all mix and match. I'm set for the next several months. (Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!)
Relying on others with more experience, doesn't just make common sense (and cents) it's often times, the wisest course of action, and the most expedient as well - especially when it come to Real Estate.
Why reinvent the wheel when others more practiced, can better steer the way?
I can't count the number of times, when potential Sellers bring me in after they have painted or made repairs, when they'd be much better served, inviting me in before (don't mind the mess, I've seen much worse.) The truth is, there's a very different aesthetic for marketing your home for photos online, than for decorating it to meet your own personal taste and style.
AND before you spend those hard-earned dollars that I will, in all probability, ask you to respend, PLEASE CALL ME. (Think Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn catalog and you're on the right track.) And yes, it's very likely, the design will embrace a very neutral palette - and for good reason. We want potential Buyers to place themselves in your home, not get sidetracked by the photos of your darling children and their colorful artwork on the walls.
So for those of you contemplating selling your home in the next few years - or in the next few months - may I offer a few suggestions as someone who's got a great deal more experience than the average home seller typically does?
If a move is in your future, here's my Top Ten 'To Do' List:" (no charge)
Can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.