Selling Homes and Nailing Things to Trees

My wife has an affinity for collecting quotes.  Whether humorous or inspirational, on fridge magnets or flowery stationary, she likes having the visible reminders nearby as a lifeline to help pull her out of whatever malaise she may happen to find herself mired in at a given moment.  Truth be told, prone as I am to ridicule the sappy sentimentality, I kind of like having them around the house, too.  Sitting here in the kitchen on a slowly unfolding Sunday morning, sipping my first cup of coffee and awaiting the incubating bounty of cranberry muffins that is teasing my nose and stomach, one particular wall hanging catches my eye.  Emblazoned across its whitewashed, faux wooden surface in black scroll lettering is the following:

“Raising children is like trying to nail jello to a tree.”

Not the first time I have seen it, but it still draws a chuckle.  Substitute the words “Selling Real Estate” for “Raising Children,” and you have this agent’s description of the arduous world of buying and selling property in 2009.

Case in point, one of my property listings is a short sale.  My lone short sale listing.  Now, and hopefully forever.  Over the four months it has taken our buyer’s offer to gain full approval, only to have a needed extension to the closing date entail another two week period of review and authorization from the banks involved, the twists and turns of this transaction have been nothing short of spectacular.  Fortunately, with a closing now on the horizon, we finally appear to have this bit of transactional jello firmly nailed to the mesquite in my backyard.

Apparently a glutton for punishment, I currently have two buyers with offers accepted by sellers and submitted to their respective banks for approval on short sales.  One of those buyers deploys for Iraq at the end of this month.  We will be lucky to have a loss mitigator assigned to the transaction by the time his boots touch the 130 degree foreign sands.  The other buyer is a first time homeowner who has been looking with me for several months.  In both instances, we’ve only grudgingly included short sale listings recently in our lists of properties to see.  The time factor is brutal, but it is the uncertainty that has been the primary deterrent.  It’s one thing to wait indefinitely for a foregone happy conclusion, but quite another to invest a month or six of your life into a transaction that may be doomed from the start.  As such, for many, short sale properties have really turned into the “just-in-casers.”  Throwing an offer at a bank as a contingency plan, buyers are well advised to continue shopping for a property in which the seller is in a position to provide a quicker response.  If a resale or bank-owned property pops up while the short sale is still in limbo, the buyer is free to cancel that transaction (provided a standard AAR short sale addendum is included with the standard verbiage) with no loss of earnest money and pursue the new candidate.  Lots of additional work for all parties involved, but you’ve got to get your fingers dirty in the current market if your seeds are to take root and grow into an actual sale.

Then there are the bank properties. Foreclosures, REOS or whatever other term you know them by, they differ from short sales in that the bank has already taken the property back from the defaulting homeowner.  No interminable wait while the bank assesses value and the seller’s qualification for a short sale, but there are still a few wiggly characteristics with these properties.  For starters, while infinitely quicker, you can still forget about an immediate response or any loyalty to the author of the first offer.  You can attach a two page cover sheet with your offer outlining your love of the home, how the drapes match your furniture and for the first time in your life, you feel like you have really found “home,” but the asset manager at the bank will still sit on it for 3-5 business days to see if anyone will beat it by twenty five cents.  Even if you offer full price or above.  Trust me … been there, done that.  Further, because everyone wants bank owned pricing, these properties are often highly competitive.  The banks know it.  Given this truth, the very best values that you are holding out for as a buyer are highly competitive.  If you’ve seen 100 properties and think the latest one is a screaming deal, so do the thirty other buyers who have been looking at the very same houses.  That awesome deal you see on a bank-owned price is often just the floor for the higher offers that pile up like clowns in a circus car.

Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.

Of course, if transactions involving banks are akin to manipulations with an amorphous edible substance, selling a typical resale home at present remains more like nailing a pickup truck to a tree.  By and large, resale properties continue to be drastically overpriced.  Only the savvy sellers who price to compete with the banks stand a chance of actually unloading their homes.  No matter how strong the marketing nail or stout the trunk of seller resolve, gravity continues to win that lopsided struggle.  You can only prop up an unrealistic price for so long before it finally crashes back down to market value or the broken down rig gets towed right off the market.  No buyer is going to shimmy up that tree, get behind the wheel and drive said truck straight into the ground.

Is buying and selling Real Estate in 2009 a tricky business?  Hell yes!  Up is down, down is up, and nobody knows when this crazy ride will end.  But just like raising kids, the process is uniquely rewarding.  So grab a helmet, buckle up and don’t be afraid to enter the scrum.  As long as you know what to expect and bring an experienced chaperon, you’ll eventually get where you want to go.

Even if you end up with a few stains on your shirt along the way.

Scottsdale Victorian for Lease

Update: This Home Has Been Leased

This is not your typical rental home. Gorgeous Victorian style home in prime Central Scottsdale neighborhood that you never knew existed. Nestled on a premium, oversized, interior lot, this 2300+ square foot home boasts 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, pebble-tec diving pool (fenced) and 2 car garage. Hardwood and slate flooring in main downstairs traffic areas in addition to upgraded carpeting. Slate covered fireplaces in family and living rooms. Master bathroom completely overhauled in 2008 with travertine flooring & shower surrounds, new vanity w/granite top, new fixtures, etc. Upstairs hall bath remodeled as well with travertine flooring & shower surrounds, new counter top and fixtures, etc. Wide open floor plan with all 3 bedrooms up and entertaining areas down. Kitchen opens to family room and overlooks the backyard. Front yard includes porch, beautiful mature ash trees, lawn and even a white, picket fence. The prettiest home on one of the prettiest tree-lined streets in the Valley. Close (but not too close) to Loop 101 freeway, Scottsdale Community College, parks, schools, golf, shopping, ASU, downtown Scottsdale … everything. Better hurry, these homes are quite rare and lease quickly.

Pool service included at $1895/month.  Landscaping also included at $1995/month.  $1900 security deposit (refundable) and $300 cleaning deposit ($200 non-refundable) due at move-in along with first month’s rent. $500 earnest money required to tie property up. $15 credit check fee per applicant.  Good credit & verifiable income a must. Most importantly, looking for tenants who will love the home as much as we do!

Offered for lease by Owner / Agent, Paul Slaybaugh w/ Realty Executives. (480) 948-9450

Equal Housing Opportunity.

Grinding to a Halt: The Art of Killing a Deal

Everyone wants a piranha.

Whether a professional athlete intent on a signing bonus the size of Madagascar, a victim of a vicious fender bender fixated on the 2.8 million dollar legal prescription for a tender neck or a home buyer/seller whose sole purpose on this earth at the immediate moment is to grind as many Ben Franklins as possible out of the guy on the other side of a negotiation, aggressiveness is typically the hallmark virtue in the professional representation that is sought.

The sports super agent, who we are 95% certain has a life-sized portrait of his bare chested self wearing a boa constrictor around suspiciously well tanned shoulders hanging in his posh downtown office, is universally loathed by all.  Secretly, however, we all know he’d be the only guy we’d call if we needed to make a cash withdrawal from the abundant posterior of a team owner.

The weaselly ambulance chaser with the slicked back, Grecian Formula enhanced locks is similarly unlikely to find himself on the guest lists of many Bat Mitzvahs and baby showers.  That narcissistic predator might eat the baby.  When we spill the drive-thru coffee in our laps or stumble over the “Watch Your Step!” sign at a public establishment, though, he’s the guy we call.

Amicable folks are great to have around, but when the conversation turns to business, we don’t want Mary Poppins going into battle on our behalf armed only with a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.  We’d rather employ the services of Dr. Jekyll to go all Mr. Hyde on the opposition and cram that spoon straight down their throats.

Easy, tiger.

There is a time to kill, and there is a time to frolic.  The problem with the constant grinder is that he often grinds himself right out of a transaction.  It is critical that you leave the other guy with some dignity at the end of a tough negotiation, lest all of your efforts collapse under the weight of the other party’s exhaustion.  After you’ve knocked the poor bloke to the ground and bloodied his nose, do the smart thing.  Extend your hand and help him up.

In practical terms, this is akin to finally saying “yes” after repeated “no’s.”  When you win on the key points, you are often in a position to make a small concession on some trivial tangential issue.  Too many times, I see lost opportunities for a clear victor to score easy diplomatic points at these junctures in the waning moments of a deal.  Want the inspection and other critical aspects of the transaction yet to come to go smoothly?  Give up something that isn’t really necessary.  Offer something minor, but unexpected.

You’ve bitten his neck on price, drank his blood on terms … time to give him a transfusion unless you want to carry his Doppelganger the rest of the way to closing.  For the record, undead weight is quite heavy.

Of course, because you are reading my blog, this advice assumes you were on the dispensing end of said treatment throughout the course of the initial negotiation.  If you were unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end, go ahead and drive a wooden stake through the SOB’s black heart.

The Feedback Fallacy

So an unexpected job transfer snakes its way into your idyllic garden of domestic bliss one uncharacteristically blustery evening, and everything changes.  The fertile soils that you have so lovingly cultivated within its confines are to fall under the purview and care of another’s spade.  It’s time to sell your house.

Home improvement and design shows supplant your regular programs as you strive to understand what today’s buyer is looking for in a house.  While you would never think of replacing the charming old world tiled counter tops for yourself, you know you just might have to for your suitors.  The incremental evidence of your little one’s time on this earth will be obfuscated with nothing more than a coat of fresh paint on the kitchen wall.  All such changes both minor and monumental as you prepare to open your doors to the world.

Once fully prepped, your venerable old home is a lot less old and venerable than modernly stylish.  You’d buy it all over again, and that makes the forthcoming transition doubly tough.

For every showing, you light your strategically placed oatmeal raisin cookie scented candles and illuminate just the right number of lights.  Light jazz emanates from the surround sound stereo system.  No buyer can possibly navigate your well laid maze of hugs and snare traps without signing on the dotted line.

And yet, inconceivably, they do.  The first buyer puts up a fight, and somehow manages to wriggle free.  The second showing yields a prize relo catch who is lost to the sea of competition when the line snaps just as he breaches the water.  The third candidate hops away on his one good leg after gnawing through an ensnared limb to escape your clutches.  One after another they come and go.

You know there can be no possible objection to the condition of your home.  You also know there can be no objection to the price.  Though a bit higher than recommended by your Realtor, you are well aware that your home is vastly superior to anything else on the market.  And the comps?  What a joke!  Sure the Johnson’s home sold for 100k less last month, but they didn’t even have a pantry!  Something is rotten in Scottsdale, and you demand to know what it is.

You ask your agent for feedback from the buyers and agents that have viewed the home.

Which brings me to my serpentine point.

Showing feedback is not to be trusted.  While I routinely solicit input from those who have shown my listings, I do so more as a means of keeping my properties top of mind with the buyer’s agent than as an honest assessment of our positioning within the market.  It’s a tricky business to seek the opinion of the person to whom you would sell something.  For starters, if I am working with a buyer, and the listing agent calls for my showing feedback, he or she better be prepared for the forthcoming diatribe about how horrifically overpriced they are … especially if my clients are interested in the home.  Further, if the listing agent calls me multiple times, emails me and sends a carrier pigeon to my office with a note pleading for feedback, you better believe this mako smells more than a drop of blood in the water.  You can only push so hard before the obvious desperation cedes all negotiating leverage to the other party.  Not a good way to start a dialogue.

I understand the frustration that accompanies a non-selling home.  Believe me, it frustrates your agent, too.  However, you have to tread carefully when chasing down every prospect like they stole the good china.  One of them might actually be your buyer, so you have to maintain some sense of decorum.  Even the mangiest house on the market could do well to play slightly hard to get.

As I sit here typing this, I have received a second voicemail and another email from the listing agent of a property in which a client of mine has expressed an interest.  I have pointedly ignored the first correspondence attempts just to see how hard I will be pursued.  Every subsequent call will result in a 10k reduction on what I ultimately advise my clients to offer.  Believe that.

Ain’t nothin’ but the shark in me.

Besides, the most vociferous feedback seekers don’t seek feedback at all.  They seek affirmation.

Oh yes, it’s wonderfully appointed and wonderfully priced!  It has been on the market for 150 days because buyers are obviously blithering idiots!

You already know the answers to the questions you pose, even if you are not ready to admit it.  No need to run the gauntlet of buyer agents to decode this self-evident truth:

Are you getting offers?


Drop your price.

I Am A Realtor. The Fate of the Planet Is In My Hands.

We Realtors are a self-important bunch.  Just ask us, we’ll tell you.

“I don’t only sell homes.  I sell dreams!”

“You need professional help for the most important investment of your life!”

“I have planted more behinds in houses than McDonalds has in cardiologist offices!”

In most any arena, quiet confidence is the hallmark of ability.  The lowest common denominator of puffery, in turn, is an underlying insecurity about the quality (or need) of the service being rendered.  You sometimes can’t help but wonder if the egocentric assertions are for the benefit of the braggart’s audience or the braggart’s own sense of worth.  I, for one, would sooner enlist the legal assistance of my two year old than the “experienced, aggressive” attorneys who snarl their ways through 30 second local TV spots.  Is it too much to ask for a “smart, competent” one?

Look at the business cards we agents pass out with palsied fervor.  You have to wade through 6 lines of superfluous designations and production awards before you can even find a phone number.  I have been sporting the same cards for the past seven years with much the same obnoxious verbiage.  The deeper I get into my Real Estate career, the more I realize that performance is the only thing that matters.  No longer in a position where I feel the need to stand on a bar stool with a megaphone to capture my share of the market, it is a liberating thing to let go of the pompous demand for respect for simply selling a home.  Certainly, ours is an important job, but then again, show me one that isn’t.

When challenged on the role of the Realtor, and whether we really are the drain on society that most public surveys reveal us to be, I no longer attempt to shout down the vocal detractors.  My clients respect what I do and the assistance I provide, and that is all I require.  We aren’t curing cancer.  We aren’t utilizing an unparalleled skill set and education to launch unmanned crafts on Mars.  Assessing value, assisting with purchasing decisions, marketing a home, navigating a Real Estate transaction … all are skills that can be readily learned.  It outwardly seems like an easy gig.  Show a few houses, collect a fat check.  That is why there are more licensed Real Estate agents than 6 foot tall Cher impersonators at a midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

While there are few intrinsic skills that the average non-drooling citizen can’t acquire and ply successfully in the realm of Real Estate, the real value of working with a professional is the “been there, done that” factor.  It’s all about the learning curve.  Most everything in this world is doable, but more to the point, done well through practice.

Two very good cases in point occurred just yesterday amidst a very long day of showing property to two sets of buyers.  My first set of clients were highly intelligent buyers relocating from Northern California.  Tech savvy and coming to me with a month’s worth of research on the properties they wished to see, along with a spreadsheet full of notes, pros & cons, online value estimates, etc for each home.  This couple was fully dialed in and very capable of successfully purchasing a home with or without my assistance.  Much to their credit, they recognized where their knowledge gaps were, and allowed me to fill in the remaining 10-20% that can only be gained by doing something day in and day out.  Armed with their research and my local acumen, where we deviated from script was when we stopped in to look at a house that wasn’t on their list.  Brand new on the market, and an exceptional value for the school district, size and condition, it was a home that would have slid under their radar because of a few discrepancies with their original criteria.

We submitted an offer on that home and are awaiting a response.

My second buyer was another sharp, and highly educated guy.  We had been looking at property for about a month somewhat laconically, but have now really dialed up the urgency as he recently received notice that his Naval reservist status is about to be bumped to active duty.  He deploys in late July.  Highly motivated to secure a home for his family before he shoves off, we have been hammering new listings in the Southeast Valley virtually every other day for the past two weeks.  He mentioned to me last night how many part time agents he works with in the medical field that have solicited his business (are you happy with your current agent?).  What a commercial I could have made out of his quote.  Paraphrasing, he essentially brushed off the come-ons with the response that not only was he happy with my performance, but that I have done this all day, every day for the past 10 years.  In the area where I was born and raised to boot.  With the short fuse he has to get his family situated, he requires the attention and knowledge of a full-time Realtor.

You the man, Mike!

See, I told you we Realtors are a self-important bunch.  Even this purported piece of anti-puffery has morphed into a promotional effort … but I digress.

When you scythe through the hyperbole that thrives in the fields of Real Estate marketing, the underlying value that a solid agent provides is readily evident.  We simply obscure the benefits at times via the bombastic claims that occasion the rolling of eyes and heavy groans from those whom we would deem to impress by overstating our linchpin status to Western civilization.  A good agent is worth far more than his/her fee, but a poor one is worth a great deal less.  The trick is deciphering the difference between the two.

As you contemplate that sobering thought, I’ll get back to my task for the day of adding the following accomplishments to my already bloated business card.

Outstanding Achievement in Reading” – Cochise Elementary School: 1980-1982, 1984  (I was shafted in ’83).

Super Citizen Award” – March 1982, September 1983

Blue Ribbon in Long Jump” – Field Day 1985

Eating All of My Crust Award” – Grandma Slaybaugh, 1983

Junior Assembly, Fox Trot, 1st Place” – 1987

Hmm … I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat card.


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