Last weekend, my husband and I drove to San Francisco to celebrate my birthday at “Flower Piano.” (Put it on next year's calendar; it was loads of fun.) This annual pianos in the park event, now in its fourth year, celebrates the music in all of us. I loved it. (I got the music in me.)
With 12 Baby Grands strategically placed throughout the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park, anyone and everyone was invited to sit down and play (and they did) which means, as spectators, we were treated to all manner of compositions and levels of proficiency; some better, some worse. No matter, all of it was heartfelt.
Apart from the scheduled professionals (and there were several outstanding musical performances), the participants I really admired were the amateurs who came with their own sheet music in hand, intent on doing their best. They played with abandon (in spite of a few bad notes) as if it didn't matter how each player stacked up against the next. (They got the music in them.)
Which isn’t to say that I didn’t appreciate the flawless renditions of Chopin and Mozart, but that I was incredibly impressed by the courage it requires to simply plunk yourself down on a piano bench in front of strangers and play for the pure joy of it.
Whether an original piece or the theme music to Charlie Brown, each rendition had its own charm and appeal. There was no judgement, there was no criticism, there was no jeering; there was just pure appreciation, and the sound of music drifting through the starry night and the scented gardens as we strolled along the moonlit pathways. (Kinda romantic, don't you think?) I don't know when I've enjoyed a birthday celebration more.
Unfortunately, the business of Real Estate is ALL about judgement and how we stack up against one another, beginning, at the front door and moving on from there. But it’s not just the house that’s open for criticism, comments and opinions, it’s the Agents, the Stagers, the Painters, the Brokers and everyone else involved.
Which brings me to my point. . . I meet potential Sellers and Buyers every week, and as is appropriate, they’re typically interviewing several candidates to represent them in their transaction, meaning, they'll have to quickly come to a value judgement about how one Agent compares to another. In other words, I've only got a few moments to impress. . .
The thing is that unlike those impromptu concerts we were treated to in the park, for most Buyers and Sellers, when it comes to selecting their Realtor, it’s nearly impossible to discern the difference between the amateur and the musical prodigy.
That's not just true with respect to Real Estate; my husband’s entire appellate practice has been built on cases that were poorly represented the first time around. The truth is, that unless our jobs result in a work product that's patently obvious (like a bad haircut, or worse yet, a botched facelift), do any of us really know who’s “great” at their craft and who isn’t until after the fact? (Not really.) In truth, we’re counting on our “experts” to BE our "experts" and we rarely look beyond that assumption.
So how does a Seller or a Buyer distinguish a good Agent from a poor one? They often don't. Even if they loved their last Agent and had a fantastic experience, unless, he or she stayed in touch, they may not even remember his/her name.
Conversely, some of the “marquee” players who have great name recognition are Realtors I wouldn’t necessarily hire for my own home, yet the momentum they carry in the marketplace is impossible to deny. Which tells you that the popular Agents are adept at tickling the ivories; they know what songs to sing.
Does that make them better advocates, marketers, or neighborhood specialists? Not necessarily, BUT it does make them more memorable, and in sales, that's not a bad chorus to repeat.
So what’s a Seller or Buyer to do? Do your homework, ask questions, visit an Agent’s website, see them in action at an Open House, get referrals, but steer away from being fooled by the "percentage of sales price over the list price" trap.
Listing prices simply set the opening bid. They DON’T reflect the REAL market price of the house – AT ALL! Thus, if I were to price a property 50% below the recent neighborhood sale comps, I’m sure to look like a hero when I deliver a result that nearly doubles the ask. In short, this tactic is merely market manipulation by the Agent. It's not the chord progression you want to use.
However, here are a few notes to hit:
1. How long have you sold real estate?
2. Do you primarily work with Buyers or Sellers?
3. How many homes have you sold in my neighborhood?
4. How many competing properties/buyers are you currently representing?
5. What are the fees to sell/buy and what costs do they cover? (What costs are not covered?)
6. What preparation and inspections are typically required to bring a home to market?
7. What is your marketing plan?
8. How do you communicate with your clients and how often?
9. When is the best time to buy or sell?
10. What is your commission structure/ how do you get paid? (This one's always the elephant in the room.)
So there you have it (free of charge); the composition of questions you should be asking to beat the band. Because this is your home, after all, and in a market as competitive as the Bay Area, you want an orchestra conductor, not a third-chair oboe player. (Is there such a thing?)
AND now that you know what notes to play, you’ll be better equipped to make the music that touches your heart - and you should. (Next year, I'm going to get Cliff to play. He's definitely got the music in him!)
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.