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Posts Tagged ‘Home selling’

Every first of the month Ronnie, our administrative assistant, arrives at the office and begins the daunting task of addressing letters to several hundred homeowners whose listing expired at the end of the previous month. One of the good people who came off the market on November 30th called me and we met just this evening to see how I could help them sell. The details of why homes do not sell are not unfamiliar to me; price is certainly a big reason, but there are often other fatal mistakes the prior agent made that punctuate the home’s failure to sell. In this case, the home’s MLS data indicated as the size of the yard as “0 acres.” In other words, anyone who put the yard size in their search criteria would not find the house. Not good.

In discussing the options facing the home owners and what could be done to get the house sold, I was impressed with one of the seller’s concerns about the feelings of their prior agent. They didn’t get the job done, and they didn’t have my record in sales, but all the same she felt bad about letting them go after they tried so hard and were so nice.

I have to say, I wish more people cared about my feelings the way she cared for theirs. This is a woman with a good heart. I told her that this is business, not personal, but she was still kind of bummed about her old agent.

I wish there were more people like her. We spoke about it more, and the thing she acknowledged in our discussion was that it doesn’t take a cold and calculating person to make a smart business decision. You can still be a good person and do what is right in a business sense without being mercenary. Being good to people is important. That does not mean, however, that you subordinate your financial health and well being to appearing nice. If the right thing for her is to get a new, better broker, she owes it to herself to do so.

Selling a home is serious business. And it is not a vehicle for relationships. It is something some people do but once in their lives, and they owe it to themselves to have the best representation, even if their prior agents were cordial and nice. Huge money is involved, and there are no do-overs once a closing is over. I would say that all people should have a good agent, but good people especially deserve a good agent. I know of no other Westchester agent that sells more homes that previously expired with other brokers than myself. It is what we do, what we excel at, and how we grow the company in these rough times. When we do get started with this particular family, we’ll get them the results they very richly deserve.

 

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I was quoted three times in an article on the 2010 real estate market discussing how sellers have adjusted to falling property values.

“Look at it like the stages of grief,” says J. Philip Faranda, the broker-owner of J. Phillip Real Estate in Westchester County, N.Y. “In 2006 and 2007, it was denial; in 2008 and 2009, it was mourning; in 2010, it’s acceptance.”

Sellers slow to change

It’s not surprising that it would take some time for sellers to come to terms with the market’s rapid and drastic changes. It’s a learning process — a “price-discovery process,” in economic terms.

Sellers frequently concede they’re harboring unrealistic expectations only after having tried and failed to sell their home. (See “Are you the reason your home won’t sell?“) Or they’ve watched other sellers reduce prices repeatedly to get buyers to even look at their homes, then seen those sellers relinquish additional ground when negotiating.

Pride often prevents sellers from seeing foreclosures as the new competition.

“If a guy with a half-million-dollar house still thinks it’s worth $600,000, I can show him two or three foreclosures that are listed for $400,000 and $450,000 and ask him how he thinks I’m going to hypnotize people into buying his house for $600,000,” Faranda says.

The Internet has helped change expectations. A seller traditionally blames his agent when his home isn’t selling. But today, Multiple Listing Service and syndication agreements let sellers list homes for sale on a dozen or more Web sites (take a look around your neighborhood), so “all the old excuses of ‘you’re not advertising my house’ have gone away,” Faranda says.

The reporter told me that she found me on Active Rain, which is nice to hear. I post quite a bit on that blog. The link is in the sidebar. I also got a nice hate email, from some anonymous guy who told me what a bad person I am because I helped cause the economy to fail. His presumptiveness is secondary; I acknowledge his frustration.

My main point in the interview with the reporter was that, once listed, a home becomes virtually ubiquitous, and, therefore, the main reason any home doesn’t sell is price.

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I want repeat business from past clients and I also want their referrals. That won’t happen by accident, and I don’t see recipe cards as being useful. So I am available for other things they need after we close on the house. Here are just a few.

  1. Help them grieve their taxes. The taxes on homes I’ve sold in recent years may be reduced. I just emailed 4 recent sales to someone who bought a house with me in 2006 and it looks like his assessed value should go down by $50,000.
  2. Market updates. People are curious about how much a new listing as asking or what a nearby home sold for. Better that they ask me than another licensee.
  3. Make them hip to my blog. Past clients may wonder what my thoughts are about the stimulus bill, where the market is going, or just I am doing in this economy. I tell them right in these pages. Clients are a built in readership, and they select themselves- no emails for them to delete and they visit when convenient.  
  4. Service directory. Most of my clients use the lawyer, lender and home inspector I refer. I also have a filing cabinet filled with plumbers, carpenters, electricians, landscapers, chimney sweeps, heating & cooling firms, oil companies, and other sources that homeowners need. I may not be the good housekeeping seal of approval, but whoever I refer will make me look good for doing so.
  5. Network them! I count among my past clients physicians, restaurateurs, free lance artists, contractors, insurance brokers, roofers, teachers and dozens of other professionals. If someone needs E & O insurance, a tutor, artwork or a new driveway and they ask me if I know someone, why wouldn’t I give business to the people who gave business to me? If you need something, call or email me.

ALSO- The STAR exemption for your property taxes is key to saving money on your New York property taxes. All of my clients are encouraged to fill out an application to get it ASAP after closing. If you haven’t followed through, contact me and we’ll help you get it done.

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With the economy in decline and the housing market more so, real estate agents are leaving the industry. This is first and foremost a sad thing for anyone who loses a job or has a business fail; I never like to see anyone suffer or have financial problems. Overall, however, there is a silver lining to that cloud for the consumer and the licensees who remain active in the industry.

Not all, but a disconcertingly high percentage of the ex-agents should never have been agents in the first place. In the market run up from 2002-2005 we saw an unprecedented number of new and reactivated licensees enter the market to share the bounty. However, while the short term profit may have been favorable, we are still paying the price of the inexperience and, often, the negligence of practitioners who were able to outrun their mistakes in the irrational exuberance.

I remember well the calling cards of new agents who could hardly believe their good fortune at their involvement in a high-dollar transaction. Deals got screwed up left and right, but who cared? Another offer was a week away. And if you had a neophyte representing you in a purchase, it was never their fault your offer wasn’t accepted, you just lost a bidding war. We had people who never sold a house in their life collecting commissions on multimillion dollar sales like it was candy land. Just like the stock market spike of the late 90’s, many of people looked far smarter than they really were.

I know this because I am part of the cleanup crew. People listing their homes for sale today are horrified to discover that decks, finished basements or bathrooms they were told were legal at their purchase are, in fact not in compliance. Neither the last listing agent nor their buyer agent bothered to pull the property card, and the title company missed the detail in the rush of the time. I am in the midst of selling a property that last passed title in 2005 which has a submerged oil tank that would have failed a test in 1995, let alone now. It is costing my clients over $20,000. Twice in the past few months I have run across people who have excellent credit inexplicably stuck in high interest loans, most likely because a loan officer decided that profit superseded honesty. Where was their agent? Where was the advocacy? The list goes on, but I wish I had a dime for everyone who tells me that they regret using their newly licensed cousin or part-time aunt for their agent last time.

In each of these instances, an agent was paid handsomely. They did not earn that commission; it was monopoly money they used to buy homes and cars that they can no longer afford. In many cases they meant well, and their broker is responsible for the mistakes. We’ll never know in most cases, but our collective karma has caught up with the industry. Sadly, whatever price we bear is more than being shared by our clients who trusted us with their financial lives and were often hurt. We made our bed and now we are sleeping in it.

This brings us, of course, to today. One agent I know has his real estate website redirect to another endeavor. BMW’s have given way to Hyundai’s. An attorney told me recently that his biggest source of bankruptcy filings and short sales are real estate agents themselves. Enormous brokerage offices have rows of empty desks. And I am bombarded by solicitations for 2nd income opportunities from people who must know that agents are scrambling for income. Attorneys are actually thanking me for referrals.

But those of us who remain plying our trade have discovered a new environment: fresh air. It isn’t so noisy in here anymore. The overwhelming percentage of agents I am dealing with now are returning my phone calls and emails in a professional, timely manner. Oil tank tests, surveys and other due diligence are being handled in the beginning of transactions and not as part of a last minute scramble. Many agents are telling me how they remember the last decline in the late 80’s and how they coped. We are a profession again, not a pit stop for career nomads. We are conducting business, and even though the circumstances are worse, the process is civil and professional because the frosh and junior varsity are no longer clogging the field. And we know how to cope with the PR problems exacerbated by the “exes” because we always have.

Consumers now should have more confidence in the industry because by and large the pickers of low hanging fruit have left the market. Those who remain are survivors, fighters, and overall far more professional and experienced. They don’t pick apples with a broom and bucket; they know how to use a ladder. The drama may come from the outside, but far seldom from the agents themselves. It is for these reasons that I am glad the herd has thinned. I no longer have to sift through newbie’s to find a competent colleague. And these are people that know how to return a phone call, pull a property card, review a good faith estimate, and advocate for their clients. I’m not doing their work for them, or cleaning up their mess.

I salute the survivors, and I look forward to closing transactions with them. Together, we’ll help repair the damage done in the past decade and build the public’s confidence in the profession.

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The chatter has has been for years that the rise of the Internet would have real estate agents suffer the same plight as that of travel agents and stock brokers and be passed over in favor of discount, do it yourself websites. If people can find a home on the Internet, the reasoning was, why would they need an agent? Certainly, non-traditional brokerage, for sale by owner websites and discount models have become prominent, but they have not supplanted brokers. In an efficient market, if the efficacy of those models were so strong, one would expect brokerage to suffer a mortal wound.

And yet real estate brokerage has not declined. One can even make a case that brokers themselves have harnessed the net enthusiastically, with blogs and  personal websites with home search functions. With apologies to Mikey and Life Cereal, they like it.  How can this be? I’ll offer my observations here.

  • You can’t click on a house and buy it. You have to see it, walk through it, smell it, and sit in it. And few do that without a licensee present.
  • Few do that without a licensee present because most buyers don’t want the seller around when they look.
  • Even when the seller is present, most of the time they are deplorable salespeople. I have an interest in a non-traditional company. Believe me, commission “savings” is more than counterbalanced by ineptitude, lack of objectivity, and absence of professional advice. Many a seller has lost tens of thousands in sales price in order to save a few thousand in fees. Penny wise, pound foolish.
  • A trip or a security can be purchased online in 5 minutes. Real estate takes weeks and sometimes months.
  • Travel and securities don’t require an appraisal, title search, certificates of occupancy or engineer inspections.
  • Travel and securities are cash transactions that can be done with a click; real estate is seldom a cash transaction and even when it is, it requires far more due diligence. See prior bullet point.
  • At the risk of sounding Darwinist, overall real estate professionals are a tough and resourceful sort. This is a hard business. Brokers and agents the world over embraced the new technology and made it an advantage. They adapted, survived, and many thrive, even in this down market.  
  • In the same vein, good agents sell more property than mediocre agents. Good agents won’t take a pay cut to work for a discounter. Better agents work where they’ll earn more.
  • Brokerage is more than bird-dogging for a house. Who saw the house first is immaterial, and handling the shifting landscape of the transaction requires representation. People know that a few percentage points is a bargain for what they get in return, anecdotal horror stories aside.

    Interestingly, some of the non-traditional enterprises such as Foxton’s and Iggy’s House that endeavored to harness the net and gain market share via discounting failed spectacularly. The market is efficient; these concerns should have thrived if the models were viable. They weren’t. If the Internet were going to kill our business, it would have years ago. Until people can buy real estate for $500 immediately without seeing it, consumers will need our services. And that is a good thing.

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    In light of this postingon the Inman News Blog, here the few questions a home seller should ask of the prospective agent soliciting their business.

    1. Are you full time? (correct answer: yes)
    2. How long have you been in the business? (hint: you don’t want someone cutting their teeth on you)
    3. How many houses have you sold in the past 12 months?  (the more the better.)
    4. Can you provide me with references? (This can be tricky. Nobody wants their past clients inundated with calls from curious prospects, who can be time vampires. Recent thank-you notes are good)
    5. What will you do to market my house?

    This has been said 1 million times and is worth repeating: it is the agent, not the company, that makes a difference in the sale of your home. Large companies have copious numbers of part-time, mediocre and/or fledgling licensees, so there is no guarantee that someone waving a big flag has much ammo. I admit some bias toward independent firms (I own one), but it is well founded, as technology allows us to do as much as the big outfits. The agent is the key. If you are talking to someone who is full time, has a proven track record, happy references and a marketing plan that makes sense, you are reducing your chances of being frustrated and waiting for the listing term to expire.

    There are other questions you can ask, but these are the Big 5. I have been told by clients who hired me that they did so because of seemingly insignificant things I said that resonated. A few times I was told that I was hired because I mentioned that I am good at returning phone calls (they couldn’t reach their previous agent). People have chosen me because my marketing plan made sense to them. For example, if you own a farm in Dutchess County and you feel it would be a perfect 2nd home for a Manhattanite, you’ll be more likely to go for me if I am willing to pursue that kind of marketing (I am).  

     A few other points:

    • Never sign a contract longer than 4 or 6 months. Committing to a year is unnecessary and can make you a hostage.
    • Agents who tether their performance to their office, team, or company may be obfuscating their own low numbers or lack of experience. 
    • Print advertising is overrated. People look for homes on the Internet now.
    • Agents who promise a lower commission  rate than others have a low opinion of their services. You get what you pay for (please refer to Foxtons USA). There is a school of thought that says that higher commission can get you sold faster and for more money.

    There is certainly more to say, and future posts will do so, but the above points are a good place to begin.

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