Cliff and I are back from the Big Apple and could not have had a nicer time. The weather was spectacular, Little Italy was a blast, Broadway is up and running, our hotel was gorgeous, Citibikes were plentiful, there were NO lines at the Empire State Building, and Tristan seems to be thriving in his new environment. What's not to love?
For those of you following the great chocolate-chip cookie saga, I was successfully able to bake the promised batch in Tristan's tiny little kitchen in his tiny little 4th floor walk-up after mistakenly leaving four dozen behind in my freezer in Oakland. (Dumb.)
When I say tiny, I mean miniscule. The refrigerator door blocked the entrance, the counter couldn't have been more than 24" wide and the entire run of dishwasher, sink, oven, and washer/dryer was no longer than your average hotel wet bar. In fact, his 2-bedroom apartment was less than 600 square feet and the boys' combined rent is more than the mortgage for our entire house, including Zee's palatial (by comparison) garden apartment downstairs. (Don't you feel great about your small home now?)
Unfortunately, the kitchen was poorly stocked: two plates, two bowls, two glasses, two forks, two spoons, two knives . . . (you get the picture) and their cookie tray was the bottom of the broiler pan. (What was I expecting?) Suffice it to say that baking in that wee little kitchen called for some back-to-basics cooking, creative thinking, and artful negotiation.
When it comes to Real Estate, the art of negotiating can be equally precarious as well, beginning with a listing price that often bears NO resemblance to the final sales price. Pair that reality with the fact that some houses are, in fact, having jaw-dropping results, while others are actually reducing their prices now that we are moving into the fall market, and you have a recipe for disappointment should your property fail to set a new record. Let's remember that buying and selling IS an emotional journey that's often fraught with ups and downs. As each house is a unique commodity, each journey is going to be entirely unique, as are the value propositions along the way.
That being said, there are constants that arise in nearly every sale . . .
If we begin with the premise that the market will ultimately decide the value of any given property, on any given day, then the results ARE going to reflect the market demand, and no amount of wishful thinking is going to change that outcome. In other words, NOT all properties are created equal. Let me preface this observation by explaining that nearly EVERY property is trading much higher than it would have two years ago, but not all. If your house failed to get the response you felt it deserved there are usually good objective reasons as to why.
Let's also acknowledge that Sellers tend to be the least objective party in the room (which is why they hire experienced LOCAL Realtors - or should.) They've loved the house. They've often remodeled the house to fit their specific needs. They've learned to overlook its shortcomings, and they almost always believe their house is better than the one that just sold down the street. (It may be, but that sale set the comp, no matter what you believe.)
Let's also respect the fact that Buyers have been beat up, battered, and bruised. They too, are dealing with emotions that can make coming to terms highly charged and ripe for misinterpretation. As they are often writing with NO contingencies, the risks can be incredibly high on their end, and second-guessing their decisions is often the resulting byproduct of a competitive and rushed process.
Finally, letting go is more difficult than Sellers think. If a Seller has resided in the house for decades, they've likely created a lifetime of memories, and these moments are incredibly valuable to the Seller. And while your memories are undoubtedly priceless, your experiences in the house mean very little to the Buyers. In other words, they're not going to pay you more because the drama club held their parties in the rec room after each play, that Thanksgivings were an annual event everyone looked forward to attending, or that the Easter Bunny hid eggs throughout the garden. Your experience may, in fact, create excellent context and we encourage you to share it, but it doesn't necessarily add exponential value.
When it comes to the world of Real Estate, the basics come down to the following:
Whatever the variables or challenges, they don't seem to keep Sellers from setting unrealistic expectations or from feeling that there's surely a rock that wasn't overturned; a miracle Buyer on the way, or some lucky happenstance that's bound to magically appear. (I wouldn't bet on it.) Statistically, the longer your house sits on the market, the lower the selling price, which is why Realtors often advise Sellers that the first offer is usually the best. (Sellers almost never believe that - another constant - but it's true.)
So with all due respect, try to look at your house the way a Buyer will; check your ego at the door (our egos almost never serve the transaction), pack your bags, and let us create the backdrop and circumstances that are most likely to bring you the desired result - that's the part we DO get to control. With the understanding that the final outcome isn't necessarily up to you, NOR solely dependent on us, we're always up for some creative thinking, hard work, and artful negotiation, followed by well-intentioned actions . . . intentions go a long, LONG way.
(Speaking of intentions, I need to send Tristan a mixing spoon and a set of hot pads posthaste.)
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Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.