"Hey Julie," my client said giving me a big smile and a hug while whipping out his phone and showing me the photos of his gorgeous, new master bathroom while simultaneously admiring the house I was hosting, "This house looks great; you should have no problem selling it. Where do you think it's going to go? (Higher, hopefully.)
And then came the question he really wanted to ask . . . "So what's my house worth now?" (The correct answer is "MORE!")
Aside from showing off a home to its best advantage, Weekend Open Houses provide the opportunity to meet the neighbors, to introduce myself to potential new Buyers and Sellers, to pass out cookies, and to entertain those who are just curious. (Everyone is welcome.) All in all, it's not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Reconnecting with past clients who are happy in their homes is the cherry-on-top of the Sundae (or should I say Sunday?). Honestly, besides witnessing my own children take flight, what could be more rewarding than watching these families thrive in houses I helped them successfully purchase? (Almost nothing.)
"So what's my house worth?"
This isn't the first time this Buyer had asked - nor is he alone. As Homeowners have watched the market rise, the natural inclination is to wonder whether or not their home values have kept pace. In truth, they want to know how their properties compare, especially if stylish improvements have been undertaken and the home remains in good condition, as is certainly the case with this particular home.
Instead, I said, "Does it really matter?"
Which isn't to say that I don't hear you and that I'm not happy to talk "value" (I am), but as with all homes - indeed, as with ALL investments - the value is only important WHEN YOU GO TO SELL. Between now and then, it's likely your home's value will climb, will fall, and will climb once again. Such is the nature of a dynamic and healthy, "supply-and-demand" marketplace.
However, your home's intrinsic value - in other words, the value it has to you - should only grow with time. This is your home and the place where you're planting roots, building your memories, and watching your children grow. That they can do so in a safe and nurturing environment is all the more important and "valuable," as it should be, and to steal a tagline from a commercial, "It's priceless."
Mulling over the correct response, it strikes me that this question probably isn't asked in most other areas in the United States (or at least, not as often), where home values hold at much steadier rates. In such cases, there's little reason to follow the bouncing ball. But we're not in other areas, we're near the epicenter of the real-estate boon. As such, we've excitedly watched our property values climb year over year and that's been great; however, it would be unrealistic to assume that values only move in one direction. (They dropped precipitously after 9/11 and again in 2018.) If I were to tell you that your home's value has gone down, it'd be no more relevant than telling you that it has gone up - unless you are selling - at which point the potential market value really does matter and then, it's appropriate to have that discussion.
Once you decide to sell, I'm going to arrive with comps in hand, recent sales figures, graphs, charts and all manner of glossy tools of the trade, and I will STILL explain that the final sales price will be set by the Buyers who will ultimately decide the value of your home - not by me - or any other seasoned Agent. Instead, the Realtor's job is to get the public into the house and excited about what they see, with the expectation that the market will then respond in kind. Thus, we're back to where we started - at the Open House!
"Can you sell our house "off-market" meaning without the fanfare of painting, staging and opening the house to the neighbors?
Yes, I can, and often with very good results and certainly, with less upheaval. Indeed, there are cases where the "off-market" sale is not only warranted, but highly appropriate.
BUT will an "off-market sale create the same sense of urgency and demand?
Maybe, maybe not.
Having others walk through the house, while discussing its attributes, works as a positive force that confirms every other Buyers' interest. AND because buying a house is a MAJOR undertaking, it's more successfully done when validated by the herd. Ironically, while most Buyers will claim they hate being in competition, the majority of these same Buyers will walk away when becoming the sole prospect, but I digress. (I'll pick that fight on another day.)
"So what's my house worth?"
It's worth what a willing and able Buyer will pay for it - come time to sell. What it's worth today doesn't matter at all, nor does it guarantee what it might be worth next week, next month, or next year.
"Now have a cookie. (I baked them fresh this morning.) I can't believe how the kids have grown; they look great!"
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 17 years and has published more than 650 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.