Doing Whatever It Takes

[photopress:woman.jpg,thumb,alignright]I have to admit that it felt a little odd, even to me, for us to be personally painting the kitchen of my newest listing. We, the owner and I, were getting his place ready to go on market. He had his hands full with his own projects that needed to be done before we entered the listing in the mls. The color scheme of the condo was already transcendental. I wanted the kitchen to be a light color, because darker colors minimize space, and the kitchen in an 827 square foot condo is not something you want to minimize.

In my own house, I like to “repeat” a color by adding different amounts of a “smashing” color in one space , to white paint for tone on tone effects. And given this kitchen had a “pass through” to the dining room/living room “flexible” space, I wanted the kitchen to be “a glow” of the color in the eating area. Given there is not much wall space in the kitchen, I decided it would be easier and faster if I just did it myself, rather than try to explain how to mix the color to the right degree of “glow”.

I was thinking of “anonymous Joe” when I was making the bed yesterday before the first showings. It was “kind of” made already ๐Ÿ™‚ I went around changing lightbulbs from 60 watt to 100 watt in the entry and hall, scrubbing the grout in the tile floor of the entry and kitchen, taking the “mauve” colored towel the owner had used that morning off the towel bar and ditching it in his hamper, because the mauve towel he had used was clashing badly with the citrus colored wall behind it. Turned his hand towel, the one I had picked out as “the right color” (but he wasn’t supposed to USE!) around so the tag wasn’t showing. Several other truly “anal” things, standing in the doorway of every single space from every single angle, and tweaking until I was “satisfied”.

This morning I was thinking of Russ’ before the fact contract, with a long list of “services and metrics” that all agents will provide to all. Some list of generic things that people think provide value, when really every single person needs “Whatever it takes”, and whatever it takes changes from individual to individual, be they buyer clients or seller clients. In 16 years I’ve never had to paint someone’s kitchen before, and frankly hope I never have to again. But at this time, for this client, that’s what needed to be done. The poor owner was wasted! It was hot, he had been working on “his stuff” until he was ready to slash his wrists, and I just rolled up my sleeves and chipped in from morning until night until we were done. Sometimes doing it with them, helps keep them going and sometimes my crawling around in every space helps me find things that need to be fixed, that the owner truly just never noticed. The more I do, the more I can head the home inspector off at the pass, so the seller knows his true net proceeds better, after repairs, before I hit the button sending him “live” into the MLS.

I never sat in his house with a little marketing flip chart. I never provided some big list of “services and metrics”. I didn’t even have a written contract saying I would be paid, while putting in twenty to thirty hours helping him get the place ready. When he said half jokingly after all the work was done, “maybe I should stay here”, I took his hand and looked him in the eye and said, “Seriously, if that is what you want to do, if you decide not to sell it after all, that’s OK. Don’t feel like you have to sell it now, just because we worked so hard getting it ready. You do whatever makes you happy.

I remember training a few new agents and making a little bag for each of them to put in their trunk with windex and paper towel and toilet cleaner and brushes (for the vacant house toilet rings). I remember a new agent who “got in it for the money” refusing to touch the bag and saying “I don’t want that in the trunk of my car!”. I remember him refusing to go measure the unfinished basement size, because he saw a cobweb and he had his “good suit” on. No, he’s not in the business anymore…actually he never did sell a house and yes, I did fire him and he went to a local big firm before he quit altogether.

Real estate is a business like none other, and their truly IS a reason why “we make the big bucks”. There’s a lot of reasons why we make the “big bucks”. But most importantly it’s because we do “Whatever It Takes” to sell the house “For the HIGHEST Price, In the Least Amount of Time and with the Least Inconvenience to the Seller”. This owner should have an offer within 3-5 days of “going live”, at the highest price achieveable, and be able to go back to watching his TV (which I have moved ๐Ÿ™‚ from his living room to his bedroom). To do this job right, we can’t have that House Values goal of having 20 to 30 more “leads” this month!

We can’t, as an industry, keep doing less and less for more and more. And frankly, Joe and other consumers cannot keep hounding me about exactly what I am going to do, before I meet them and see “their product”. Because clearly there are different prices because of the different amounts of effort needed to sell their home at the highest price, in the least amount of time and with the least inconvenience to them (short showing period).

Those who want to trade in one “price fits all” for a lower “price fits all”, well…I thought you wanted a “fair price” for the job at hand and an end to the price being “fixed” at “6%”. If all you want to do is trade in one price fits all for a lower price fits all, with the guy who needs more service STILL getting paid by the guy who needs less service….I truly hope that’s not the case.

Let’s let each client pay for their individual service, some higher and some lower and always a fair price for the service required to achieve the goal. I truly hope THAT change is the one coming down the pike. Let’s end “price fixing” period. Not just trade in one fixed price for a different fixed price.

Because if it’s just about a tug of war on which fixed price to use…then I’ll have to move over to the other side of that rope. Please tell me it ain’t so.

Seattle Street of Dreams – 2006

Robbie, Stephanie, Harrison and I went to the Street of Dreams together yesterday. What I enjoyed most, was their company. What Harrison (age 3 1/2) enjoyed most, was the school bus ride from and to the car. His first ride on a school bus.

The house I liked best, though not everything about it, was of course the highest priced one at $5,500,000, but I’d want it moved somewhere else with a view. Because I am a “view person”, not everyone is, I came home and liked my own house better than any of them.

Trends, products, styles, features…a run down. I guess I’m “jaded” by having seen lots and lots and lots of houses all over the country, because I didn’t see anything I liked, at least not that I liked in that setting. House number 6, which is purportedly “sold” was the best of the batch, all things considered. Best lot, house that seemed appropriate to the lot and setting, house that seemed appropriate for the area. But I’d like to “live in it” for a week or two like a timeshare. I’d want to move it to the bottom of a ski resort and timeshare it out for two weeks at a time unless I could afford it as one of many homes as a “getaway” house. But then I’m a City Girl who can’t be rustically oriented for more than two weeks at a time. I get hives.

Lots of too much dark, caves, caverns, pitch black theater rooms, stone inside the house, even a clay tile roof inside the house. Lots of too much “old” as in new made to look “old”. Coming from Philadelphia, I know what old looks like, and that’s not it. Two of the homes had a very dark “wood” floor that was supposed to look like the floors of an historic home. Not. Wide plank…yes, dark, yes, waves in each and every plank…not. Someone said it looked like it was made out of plastic.

Every house had a “butler pantry”, I think, and I was evaluating them all. One was totally off as if the designer didn’t know what a butler pantry really was all about. A butler pantry, copied from historic homes which were likely homes patterned from England, is that small galley between the dining room and kitchen with counters and cabinets on either side. It originally did not have a sink, as any water used by the butler would have been the “soda water” type in a bottle to freshen and make new drinks for the guests. For a “butler pantry” to be “true”, the butler should be able to stand in it and see the whole dining room table from it. He watches and quietly comes out as needed to fill a wine glass, freshen a drink or refill the string bean bowl as it gets low. The vantage point should be such that the guests do not really see him most of the time. So the one butler pantry that had only one side and standing there gave the butler a view of the backyard? I don’t think so.

Stephanie noticed this and it was a riot. In one house there is a fish tank inside the shower. Cool, but…the other side of the fish tank built into the wall was not in the master bedroom, it was in the hallway! I went into the shower and did a little dance as Stephanie stayed in the hallway to see if she could see me moving about. All of the people in the house were laughing and talking about how the kids in the “West Wing” could sneak down the hall and watch Mommy and Daddy in the two headed shower through the fish tank.

Moral of the story is NEVER go to The Steet of Dreams with a Real Estate Agent. They look at what’s wrong…not what’s right, at least this one does. Mostly the homes were not “true to themselves” mixing modern smack against historic replica features. That new sink that looks like a laundry tub (modern) next to an island with an Early American spindle table leg built into the corner. The pantry with relatively cheapo looking shelves, with a crystal chandelier hanging in the middle of the pantry. Better to hire a carpenter to build the shelves in, if you are planning to hang a crystal chandelier up between the Frosted Flakes and the Pop Tarts.

So Robbie and family got a taste of what looking at homes with Ardell is like. They look at what’s right, I look for what’s wrong. Robbie kept wanting me to give an opinion of value and projected days on market…but that’s something I do after I get home from showing property, as it is a “data” driven function, not a WAG ๐Ÿ™‚

The “HOME” Stretch

[photopress:home_stretch.jpg,thumb,alignright]The final days preceding the actual closing date are often the most confusing part of the home buying process. 9 out of 10 buyers and sellers think that something actually happens that involves them, on the closing date shown in their Purchase and Sale Agreement. I am often asked by clients “Should I take off work the day of closing?”

I can see no reason why the buyer should take off the day of closing, as most times you would have nothing to do to effect the closing, and you don’t normally get the keys to your new house until pretty close to the end, or after the end, of business that day.

There are generally two days that the buyer needs to take time from work during the real estate transaction. The first is in Phase 1, the home inspection. Yes, you can do it on Saturday and sometimes in the evening, but there are only 52 Saturdays in a year and getting the best inspector is worth taking time off work. Sometimes the one who isn’t already booked for this coming Saturday, may be the one with no appointments at all. So I would say you should plan to take time off to attend the inspection the first week after you have an accepted offer.

Now for “the HOME stretch”. You need to take time off from work (in most cases) to sign your loan documents and closing papers. This usually happens no later than the day BEFORE closing. It usually takes an hour. Sometimes up to two hours if you have a lot of questions. The frustratring part is you can’t plan ahead very well. Escrow companies will not schedule the appointment until they have the loan documents in hand. Very often that happens only a couple of days before closing. While I can’t get escrow to agree with me because they won’t even talk about an appointment until they “see the docs”, I usually tell clients to be prepared the day before closing, or the day before that, to take a couple of hours off from work.

Once all of the papers are signed, the buyer pretty much just waits until they get their keys. After you sign your documents they are sent (usually by courier or fax) to the lender for review. Lender review can take 24-48 hours at which point the lender “releases the transaction to record”. This release must happen in the morning or early afternoon. Once the transaction is “released for recording” the agent gets a call and then later in the day when it actually records, everyone involved gets a call with “recording numbers”. Once the recording numbers are received, you can get the keys to your new home. That last call often happens between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. So taking the day off from work to wait for that call and your keys is usually not a good idea.

When the documents are very late, it could be either because the escrow timeframe was short or because the loan was “difficult”. Zero down loans with stacked costs or loan amounts that are stretching the buyer slightly past the place where the lender is comfortable, usually have more “conditions to funding” and tend to be the ones where docs are arriving very late in the game. If you have a credit score of over 750 and 20% or more down, the docs may come in very early, and all you have to do at the end is wait for the keys.

More often than not, the buyer looks like the poor gal in the photo above…and very glad to be at the finish line!

Timing is Everythingโ€ฆ

On the Friday before the long-weekend I was handed a DVD from a friend at Move with only a basic overview. (He said something to the effect of “just watch it… it was produced by homestore in the dot com days and a bunch of office decorations and inside jokes will make a lot more sense…”)

[photopress:home_movie.jpg,thumb,alignright]Well, back in the dot com days when I was an engineer in a relatively boring industry, the people at Move (then known as HomeStore) were obviously having a lot more funโ€ฆ Seriously, having a lot more fun is the only way to explain the โ€œChris Smith