Same as it ever was…

We’ve been here before, and here we go again.

The question I get asked the most is “Are we in a housing bubble?”  Quite simply, the answer is “No.” Just because homes are selling for more than they have before doesn’t mean we’re in a bubble.  A bubble is a fundamental flaw in the market. I like to say it’s like an aneurysm. An aneurysm is a bulge or “ballooning” in an artery.  It is an anomaly and if it continues to expand, it will burst. When a market has a fundamental flaw and is bulging or ballooning, it will burst.  But before that happens, there has to be a fundamental flaw. In 2006, the flaw was terrible lending practices. Borrowers didn’t even have to fog a mirror to get a loan.  A great book about that period of time is Kirsten Grind’s The Lost Bank. It’s about the failure of Wamu, formerly known as Washington Mutual. The lending practices of Wamu, the second largest bank in the country were sketchy at best and fraudulent in many instances.  It wasn’t much better at the largest bank in the country or any of the other ones for that matter. Bad lending practices caused a bubble.

Stated loans, also known as Liar loans became the standard.  Selling everyone an Alt A product (less than stellar credit, larger payment to the loan officer) became the norm, even when the client was A paper (top credit scores, most likely to repay).  They were not governed by the SEC who has my favorite Rule 405. Rule 405 essentially says to put your client in the investment vehicle that is right for their goals and risk tolerance, every time.  Ergo, a retiree should never be in a teaser rate loan, always 30 year fixed rate as they may not have the ability to withstand a shot up in the interest rates. World Savings sold a Pick-A-Pay loan that ended up on 60 Minutes for all of it’s problems.  Borrower could pick their payment. They weren’t educated on why they shouldn’t choose the lowest payment, so many negatively amortized their home having no idea what that meant.

Finally, Realtors had a lot of culpability in what happened in the housing bubble.  Never trust anyone who says a market will always go up. The real estate market, just like the stock market goes up and down.   It expands and contracts. It is cyclical. It doesn’t “always” do anything. The difference is that real estate exists, it is a finite asset.  It does not disappear in bankruptcy or failure. Even if the value is greatly reduced, there is value. That is why, over time real estate is still the most reliable asset.  For instance, if for some reason the market blew apart today and everyone lost 20% of their value and someone had to sell right now, whatever their next real estate move may be, it would cost them less because the market has contracted.  

Everybody has an angle

Today’s has a picture of my house on it and an offer to pay

  • No commissions
  • We pay the closing costs
  • No repairs
  • Moving assistance if needed
  • Fast, Fair Cash Offer

Interestingly enough, today’s missive came from a real estate office, although it was not identified as such.

Nonetheless, I see two things going on here.

First, there are people out there ready to separate you from your home. There is no way an investor is going to readily give you a fair cash offer. None. They may start with one, many investors do, but by the time their contractor is done writing up their bid, you’ll have expensive bids for repairs you never knew you needed being deducted from the purchase price. Why? Because they need to make money and they’re going to make it by squeezing you. Think you’re a great negotiator? Unless you are negotiating every day in your business, the answer is probably not. The experience is just not there for you and you’re going to get your pocket picked. End of story.

I am a decent negotiator. Even I think I leave something on the table from time to time. My current favorite negotiation story involves a home that needed some repairs that were not disclosed. My client wanted $9000 in credits. That was it. Ultimately, I never actually asked for the $9000, because the seller’s agent, a few minutes into our conversation offered me a $30,000 price reduction. I positioned the $9000 so well that she gave me $30,000 without me asking for anything. Most people are not good negotiators, was there another $5000 in there to be had? Possibly but my buyers were happy.

Knowing that you would think that I would negotiate the purchase of my new car, right? Nope. I’m not used to playing in that sandbox and while I think I could have done quite well, I used a concierge who got me everything I wanted and saved me $50 a month.

The second thing going on is that these guys are giving us insight on where they think the market is going. They are doing mass mailings into neighborhoods looking for houses to buy. If they thought we were in a bubble they’d be holding cash, but they’re looking to spend their cash. These investors are bullish on the real estate market right now.

Right now there are entire neighborhoods out there where every single house is in an equity position. Every one. That is not what a bursting housing bubble looks like. Remember, a bubble is caused by a fundamental flaw in the market, something akin to an aneurysm. With every home in an equity position, that’s a healthy neighborhood. That’s not to say that something happening in another market sector can’t create the flaw in the market, just that currently none exists.

Finally what does that mean to the Bay Area housing market? For the time being, it means our market will remain vibrant. If you’ve been on a freeway in the last six months, our full employment is evident by the traffic. There is plenty of talk of a housing crisis and there is a problem with affordable housing. Some cities are making it easier for builders to add more affordable housing, or even more housing. It’s a supply and demand problem solved by more supply. Some cities are loading the builders up with fees and nonsense. They are understandably choosing the build elsewhere and that does not help the situation. I believe if we allow them to build more units regardless of the price of those units, the supply will catch up with the demand and that will be what finally puts some downward pressure on prices of homes and rents. If they want to build $1.5 million homes, fine. Eventually there will be too many of them and the homes that should be selling for $750,000 but aren’t due to demand will go back to $750,000 where they belong.

Wild card: Interest rates. Today’s buyers are spoiled rotten by 11 years of artificially low interest rates. Traditionally a great interest rate was about 6%. These buyers have shown their disdain for interest rate upticks and in response to their disdain, rates softened a bit at the end of the year. The stock market has ceased its rapid ascent but as of this writing seems to be capitulating within an expected margin showing signs of stabilization.

Wild card: Tariffs. The market reacted predictively poorly to the tariffs. They are currently on hold. It is my hope that they are never revisited. I thought they were going to be a problem and they were. The minute they were stalled the markets are responded positively and in my mind predictively.

Wild card: Government shutdown. Day 32 and it trudges on. If this starts turning into something like the Air Traffic Controller strike, we’re going to have a problem. Some key players who are working but aren’t getting paid: Coast Guard, TSA, FBI, and Border Patrol. A lot of these folks own homes and may not have the savings to hold on. If this gets past a second month, all bets are off. I have clients who are USCG, TSA and FBI. I can’t imagine the stress they are going through right now. For everyone’s sake and the sake of our economy, I hope this ends soon.

Time keeps on slippin’ into the future

According to the AARP, 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age every single day right now.  Morgan Stanley will tell you we are witnessing the largest transfer of wealth in the history of this country.  Baby Boomers control almost 2/3rd of the disposable income in this country yet, time is marching on for them.

Part of that unrelenting march of time is the inevitable aging and passing of the last of the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.  That means ownership of their real estate will be changing hands and that’s where it gets tricky.

The final stat I’ll share is that few baby boomers are prepared for retirement or the inevitable.  I’m a baby boomer.  I’ve got a few years until retirement.  I’m not as prepared as I’d hoped I would be.  That being said, if I were run over by a bus this afternoon, my home is in a trust.  It’s full of stuff that shouldn’t be here, but at least once it’s empty, it can be sold by my heirs.  And that is today’s subject, emptying a home for sale.

One of my favorite articles that I didn’t write is “Sorry, No One Wants Your Parent’s Stuff“.  That is the sad truth.  This was the struggle when we liquidated my own mother’s home.  I knew no one wanted her stuff, I had to wait for the rest of the family to catch up.  And I am painfully aware that no one wants my stuff either.

Very rarely can you sell a home full of stuff.  Occasionally a developer will take it on knowing the dump fees will be a few thousand dollars and that is a term they can take off the seller’s plate.  Those homes are rarely sold on the open market and are usually sold at a deep discount.  I supposed if everyone in the family is cool with leaving a lot of money on the table that’s one way to go.

If the family wants to maximize the return on the asset, it is imperative that a strategy is put into place to empty the home and prepare it for sale.  I have developed a downsizing system to help seniors and their families work through the stuff that needs to be dealt with.  It works, I’ve utilized for my clients and have used it in my own family with great success.

The first and most important step is for the senior or the heirs to remove the important family heirlooms.  Those are the things that the senior wants to spend the rest of their life surrounded by.  Pictures, Grandma’s bible, Dad’s uniform from WWII, the letter from great great Grandpa from the Civil War front, those things must be addressed first.  If Mom is going to assisted living, that might not be where those things go.  In the case of my family, Mom went to a memory care facility.  Things come and go there pretty regularly.  They disappear and reappear, things that don’t belong to my Mother appear in her room.  Her stuff shows up in another room.  Sometimes she put them in another patients room, sometimes they took them not knowing what it was.  No family heirlooms went with her.  We made copies of old family photos and framed the copies for her.  In a situation like that, the family heirlooms need to be distributed to the family.

Once that step is complete, we move on to the things the senior needs in their next home.  Clothing, cookware and personal items.  If Mom hasn’t baked cookies in 10 years, no need taking the bakeware.

If the senior has passed, the next step is things that the family wants.  I took some things that reminded me of my father.  An old Hickory knife that he probably paid a dollar for back in 1945 when he got out of the Navy and needed to cook.  He also had a small cast iron fry pan.  My brother took that because it reminded him of Dad.  When I use that knife I think of my old man.

Once that step is complete, I promise you there is a ton of left over stuff that no one wants or needs.  That’s when the estate seller needs to come in.  We couldn’t do one because my mother lived in a condo, so that can be a consideration.  We moved everything out of my mother’s condo that was left over and put it in storage until we could get everyone together for a garage sale.  Then we had the mother of all garage sales.  It was a nightmare.  I highly don’t recommend it, but in our case we had no choice.  If you can get an estate seller to come in and do a large sale, that’s the next step.

The final step is to donate what’s left and dump the remainder.  This is the toughest step.  The family is looking at what’s left of someone’s life knowing it is worthless.  It is the hardest and most painful step of all.  It is the step that brings on the feelings of hopelessness.

We are not our stuff.  We are the love we’ve shared, the children we’ve raised, the contributions we’ve made and the lives we’ve changed.

The problem with the entire process is if the senior has passed there tends to be an attachment to their stuff.  “If I just hang on to Grandma’s <insert item here> I can keep a small part of her with me.”  That list of items grows and grows with the grief and pretty soon the family is paralyzed.   And almost every family has that one family member that won’t help but wants all of the money.  Thankfully, I don’t, but that theme has been consistent in doing this kind of work.

I have run this system for families over and over again with success.  I had a daughter that was so distraught over her mother’s passing that I had to call her every day and make sure she was out of bed and had a plan for the day.  I’ve had a daughter whose father passed unexpectedly young and as a young woman she was faced with liquidating her father’s life.  I sat on the porch with her while she talked about her father, crying ugly the whole time.  It happens.  Eight years later I still tear up when talking about my father.  I’ve helped many seniors wrap up the Bay Area chapter of their lives and move on to be closer to their grandchildren. The thing is, the system is kind and it works.

If you are faced with downsizing or liquidating a home to go to market, I can help.  I will tailor a system to you or your families needs, write you a calendar and get you through this transitional phase of life.

Valerie Crowell can be reached at 925.381.2998.

A penny for my thoughts, oh no I’ll sell them for a dollar

They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner
And maybe then you’ll hear the words I been singin’
Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin’

~The Band Perry

Last week the real estate community lost an icon.  Carole Rodoni was an economist, a real estate guru and the toughest sub five foot woman you will have ever met.  I know real estate and I’m smart, I bowed to her insight.  She was the President of Fox and Carskadon, COO of Cornish and Carey and the President of Alain Pinel Realtors.  Most Realtors were not qualified to have a conversation with this little fireball.  Whenever I asked her a question I was always mindful to not sound like this guy.

Isn’t it true….and I would be the worm.

She gave out some of the best real estate advice I’ve ever received.  She understood how the bay area worked and how the world worked.  She would start with a view of the world’s economic situation and chunk it down to the United States and then chunk it down to California and ultimately to the bay area and Contra Costa County.

I would have liked to have heard her thoughts on the tariffs.  I am deeply concerned that they are the canary in our collective coal mines.  Most go into effect starting October 1, 2018.  I’ve had business owners tell me that their cost of goods will be going up.  Spun Bicycles in Cincinnati has received notice from several providers that various bicycles are parts will be going up in cost by 25%.  I spoke to the owner of Chase Customs who told me that a roll bar that used to cost around $350 was now costing him $700.  Steel parts were already doubled in price in some situations.

Our economy is not strong enough to withstand this kind of rise in COG and I am doubtful that it can continue to grow under that pressure.

We are used to Presidents who negotiate in a certain manner.  I believe this President is a brash, bare knuckles type of negotiator and that’s what is happening right now.  He is blustering to get the Chinese to the table and the tariffs will not ultimately be in effect long, if at all.  If I am wrong, we could be in for a long cold winter.  I wish I could give Carole a penny for her thoughts on tariffs.  She will be missed.


Waiting on the world to change

It’s hard to beat the system
When we’re standing at a distance
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change

~John Mayer

I hear it all of the time.  We’re going to wait.  Wait to buy, wait to sell, wait for the real estate world to change.  I get it.  No one wants to make a mistake with the largest financial transaction of your life.  And adulting is scary, right?

The thing is, in this world there is a cost for everything.

Just last week I took one of my cars into the shop.  The air condition wasn’t working.  It’s not my daily driver, but my daily driver has proven to be a little unreliable.  It’s brand new and has spent 11 days of it’s first year in the shop.  It needs to go in again because the seat belt chime won’t quit bleating at me.  So I took my steady Eddie into the shop to get the air conditioner looked at.  That car has an oil leak that is going to take a day’s worth of work to correct.  That’s an expensive job and I’ve been putting it off for two years now.  Well, there’s a cost for procrastination.  In my case it was a hose in the air conditioning system that rotted out because oil was dripping on it…from the oil leak I put off fixing.  The cost of procrastination for me was $400.  I might as well have dropped that $400 in the street and set it on fire, because had I fixed the oil leak when it was discovered, the air conditioning would have never failed.  The cost of waiting.

Ten years ago when I moved into my home I installed an air conditioner at my house.  I rescue dogs and always have at least one male dog here.  Apparently air conditioners are a big deal with male dogs.  Once they lift their leg on it, the unit warms up when it’s being run and their scent goes all over the neighborhood.  It’s a four legged win/win.  And it will rot out an air conditioning unit in about 8 years.  I could have built a fence around it, or hosed it off weekly and that would have saved it.  I never got around to it so I got to spend another $11,000 replacing the entire system because the old kind of freon systems have to be completely replaced.  The cost of waiting.

Now I get waiting.  I’m have it down to expert level.  It’s not always the best course of action.

Bay Area homes are expensive.  Ridiculously expensive.  Buyers want to wait to buy because they think prices are going to come down.  Sellers want to wait because they think they’re going to keep going up.  I’m going to suggest that the cost of waiting can be insurmountable.

I could tell stories about buyers who wanted to wait for the market to cool in 2013 and are now completely priced out of the market and will probably never own unless they have some windfall in their lives.  Or sellers that wanted to wait in 2006 and ended up loosing their home to foreclosure in 2009.

Hi, I’m a Procrastinator and I like buying air conditioning equipment.

I don’t.  I hate buying air conditioning equipment.  And I hate watching people make decisions that I know are not going to benefit them in the long term.  After all, with very few exceptions, people who own real estate have 36 times the average net wealth that renters have.  Thirty six times!

Part of that is that homeowners are creating equity with every house payment as opposed to making their landlord wealthy with every rent check.  I don’t know how the new tax law is going to affect the mortgage interest deduction (which you can thank me and every other dues paying Realtor member of the National Association of Realtors who fought to keep that deduction in place) and property taxes going forward, but there are still deductions available to homeowners that renters don’t get to benefit from.

OK, so what is the real cost of waiting.


  1. Interest rate
  2. Cost of purchase
  3. Tax benefits

Current interest rates are hovering around the high 4’s.  We’re going to use 5% for this example.  And we’re going to use Bay Area prices.

The median price in the Bay Area is hovering around $900,000.  I know, that’s nuts.  There are plenty of homes in other price points in the Bay Area.  Buyer has 5% down so it’s going to be a jumbo loan with PMI.  The total amount to close this is going to be around $72,000.  The payment is going to be around $4,589.82.  Taxes are going to be around $10,000 a year and there is going to be PMI (private mortgage insurance) on the loan at around $335.00.  The house payment is going to be around $5760.  Over a period of two years, this loan will pay down to $827,990.74 adding around $22,000 to your equity.  Now you have around 7.5% equity, plus you’ve been receiving the tax benefit for two years.  What if the market goes up?  Yay!  More equity.  What if the market goes down?  Boo, your equity disappeared, but you’re still living in your own place and no one (except the City) can tell you what to do with it.  You keep paying your mortgage and the market recovers after a long arduous five year wait and the market starts running again.  Yay!  You’ve paid it down to $783,817.23 in your first five years and can probably dump the PMI.  Yay! Again!  And for those five years you’ve been writing off all of your deductions on the home.

Now let’s say you’re the seller.  You want to wait to next year because you want to squeeze every penny you can out of it.  After all this is the Bay Area and it will keep running….right?  Well maybe not.  The same guy who bought the home above could qualify for the large loan today, but interest rates returned to the historic norm which is 6%.  Now that payment is $5126.16 plus $335 PMI and $833 in taxes and that buyer just can’t afford your home any more.  Now you aren’t average and there is pressure on the market and what was $900,000 this year is barely $800,000 because they can only qualify for a $755,000 loan.  That buyer isn’t going to buy that home any more, they’re looking at a smaller home and as a seller, that seller is feeling the downward pressure on the market.

There is a cost of waiting.  Sometimes, it is appropriate.  Sometimes it’s misguided and will ultimately doom someone’s hopes and aspirations.  Don’t let that happen to you.  Find out what you can, can’t, should and should’t do right now.  Call or text 925-381-2998

Will you still need me, will you still feed me

Several of my clients celebrated birthdays over the weekend.  I was lucky enough to speak or see quite a few of them.  As each of us takes another trip around the sun, the truth is we’re all getting older.  And that beats the hell out of the alternative.

Roughly 10,000 baby boomers are going to turn 65 today.  Another 10,000 will turn 65 tomorrow.  And so on.  Our population is growing older and as they do, they need help.  Some may not need help at 65 or even 75, but there will be a point where they need assistance.  Maybe they can no longer safely get in and out of their shower or bathtub.  Maybe they forgot whether or not they had lunch.  Interesting fact, seniors tend towards dehydration because they forget to drink water.  Many falls are the result of undiagnosed UTI’s.  Once someone falls and breaks something, the road back can be long and difficult.  Each of my parents fell and broke a hip.  My father spent the night on the floor because no one could help him up.  Scammers prey on our seniors.  They become lonely and the scammer knows how to be of comfort…right before they get their checking account information.  There is now the Sandwich Generation.  Those folks still have to work, they have kids either still at home or are paying for college and their parents are retired and need help.  The weight can be crushing.

While my father was alive, my mother was able to care for him.  We did not know that my mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  She was a very intelligent woman and hid her symptoms eloquently, until one day she couldn’t any more.  With my father gone my brother and I struggled to balance work, life and making sure our mother didn’t 1) burn down the condo complex 2) wander away 3) give her credit card to a scammer 4) let a scammer into the house (I called one day and she said she couldn’t talk that the vacuum cleaner salesman was vacuuming the rug.)  Add to that a plethora of things we could not begin to predict.  It was stressful.  We cooked meals in advance for her so we knew she had good food to eat.  We checked on her daily to be sure she hadn’t “fallen and couldn’t get up”.  We took phone calls that barely made sense.  I canceled my New Year’s Eve plans to take her to the hospital because she fell that night.  I left events and parties because she called confused and if I didn’t I had no idea what crazy thing she was going to do next.  She called me at 5:30 in the morning to tell me not to worry she was getting a ride to the hospital with the firemen.  She wasn’t hurt, she called 911 got an ambulance ride for an old shoulder injury.  Her mind was gone but she could still dial a phone.  That doesn’t count the times I was out of town and my brother dropped everything to ferret out what was going on in her failing mind.

If any of this sounds familiar, I’m with you.  I get it.  Been there.  Done that.  Got the t-shirt.

Mom is still with us, living in a memory care facility, which in our case was the best decision to keep her safe.  Each family has different dynamics and different abilities.  In our case, everyone has to work to keep our own families afloat so keeping her in place or having her move in was not an option.  For some families, that’s the perfect option.  Sometimes that’s the sweetest time together.  Sometimes in home care is the solution.  We did that until it was not enough.

One of the resources we used was Senior Helpers in Concord.  Jenny’s staff took great care of my mother after she broke her hip and going forward until it was time to place her.  Jenny even helped us place my mother in the best place possible and helped us with the details of the best way to move an Alzheimer’s patient.  (Hint: it’s not easy).

Another resource I wanted to share was the VA.  If your senior is a veteran the VA has a program to give you a respite of 16 days if the family is the primary caregivers.  The vet goes into the VA for up to 16 days and that gives the family a break.  Sometimes it’s just a mental break, sometimes having the senior out of the house allows for deep cleaning or flooring to be replaced that would otherwise be impossible.

The bottom line, no matter how unique your situation, you’re not alone.  There are resources to help you honor your loved ones as they age.  I can be reached at 925-381-2998.  I would be pleased to connect you to reputable folks who can help your loved one.

No one gets out of here alive

Christopher Bullock first uttered these words in the Cobler of Preston in 1716.

“Tis impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes.”

Ben Franklin usually gets credit, but he was not the first, and certainly not the last.  Jim Morrison famously wrote “No one gets out of here alive”.  And no one does.  Death is the great equalizer.  We all leave this life toes up.

In our society, we spend a tremendous amount of time avoiding the subject.  We don’t look forward to answering the question “what might happen when I die”.   Personally, I had a near miss last year.  Doctors misdiagnosed me with the flu.  I had pneumonia.  They treated me with a cough suppressant which is the worst thing you can do for a pneumonia patient.  By the time they properly diagnosed me I was starting to go septic.  While I was laying in that hospital bed I thought “I have to come back from this, my house is a disaster!”  I did and today my house is less of a disaster.  Because when you die, someone has to deal with your living space, whatever that is.  It can be a miserable task.  In my mind the less hellish I can make that for my family the better.  Since I got out of the hospital, bags of clothes I haven’t worn in over a year have been taken to Goodwill.  Truckloads have gone to the dump.  While this isn’t an article about organizing, it could be.  And I still have a long way to go, but I am living a much less cluttered life.

Most of us don’t get to choose when our ticket gets punched.  I was minding my own business when a guy sat down next to me on a plane.  He was sweating and coughing and three days later I had pneumonia.  Over the years I have known people in their 40’s who went to bed and never woke up.  People in their early 50’s who have suffered massive, fatal heart attacks.  People who have died driving to work, riding their bike, watching the stars.  I’ve seen random acts of God, earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, tornados all end the lives of otherwise happy and healthy people.  And I almost got my ticket punched just for taking a flight from Vegas to Phoenix.  We.  Just.  Don’t.  Know.

So the question is, knowing that information, why do we not at least make some cursory plans for the one thing we all know we will do?  It’s really not that hard to do some estate planning.  Take a couple of hours and set things up so that while your family is grieving your passing they also don’t have to deal with attorneys and courts and appraisers and the government standing there with their hand out.  They are going to probably have to deal with your stuff.  I’ll write about that in the next installment of this series.  Your real estate is going to be a major source of aggravation.  Billy Bob wants to live there rent free but his other brother Billy Ray and their sister from another mister Billie Jo want their money so they can go out and buy the dualie they always wanted and aren’t you spinning in your grave yet?  In truth, you knew your sisters kids were a bunch of knuckleheads and you really wanted your home to be donated to Habitat for Humanity and without specific instructions, that’s just not going to happen.  The thing is, it’s your life.  Your legacy, your way.

The State will divvy your stuff up according to a predetermined formula without regard for your wishes.  If you do some estate planning in advance, your possessions and your wealth can be distributed to the people and organizations you want.  Your wishes are fulfilled.

The first step is to determine what the best way to set up your estate.  Are you a key employee?  Are you self employed?  Your death could mean the end of income for your family.  Is that part covered?  Do you need life insurance?  Should you have a trust?  Only an Estate Attorney can answer these questions for sure.  Don’t rely on a google search to properly provide for your loved ones once you’re gone.

Every individual’s situation is different, yet at the end of the day, no one gets out of here alive.  I have extraordinary estate attorneys that I work with.  I would be pleased to refer you or someone you care about to one of them.  Don’t let the government determine what happens to your life’s work once you’re gone.


It’s not me, it’s you

I talk a lot about the difference between a skilled practitioner in real estate and a hack.  If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know I have no time for bozos.  Yet, consumers keeps hiring clowns.  Yesterday I wondered, at what point does the consumer have to take responsibility for their own experience?

I have often gone to a home to talk to someone about selling their home.  They tell me how terrible their last experience was, and the one before that and the one before that.  That sounds awful I think to myself.  As the conversation progresses the client wants me to list their house for a deeply discounted commission, doesn’t want to make any of my suggested repairs, doesn’t want to stage and wants all the bells and whistles than come with full service pricing.  They don’t end up going with me.  They end up with an agent who will discount their commission because they are green or real estate is something they just “dabble” in when they’re not at their “real” job or they don’t know what they’re doing and have questionable ethics.  Next thing you know, the home sells for way less than the seller thought it was worth and they’ve gone on to talk about what a bad experience they had.  At what point does the consumer have take responsibility for their experience?

I don’t want to pay $5 for a cup of Peet’s coffee so I go to the truck stop across the street and get something that’s been sitting on the burner for three hours.  I only pay $1.25.  Can I complain about the coffee?  I had an opportunity to get a quality product, I was just too damned cheap.  At that point aren’t I responsible for my own experience?

I don’t understand why someone would want to sell the largest asset they own, on the cheap.  I want the best marketing, best pricing, most aggressive, most experienced hand I can find to guide me through that process.

For instances, God forbid that you should need surgery to save your life.  Do you get the guy who is fresh out of the med school on a Latin American island because he’s cheap?  Or do you choose someone who has done that surgery numerous times and knows what to do if something goes wrong?  Don’t you want someone with experience who has been there before?  Or the guy is filling in this afternoon because he needs to pick up some hours?

Granted real estate is not brain surgery, or rocket science, but it is an art.  Choose your practitioner wisely.  Here’s some questions you can ask:

  1. How long have you been selling real estate?
  2. How many transactions have you closed in the last two years?
  3. Are you a full time agent?
  4. Are you part of a team?
  5. If you go out of town who will take care of me?
  6. How often will I hear from you?
  7. Are you planning any long vacations?
  8. How many other clients are you working with?
  9. How many homes have you sold in my area?
  10. What is your marketng plan for my home.
  11. Will you hire a professional photographer to market my home?

A lot of other sites recommend you ask for references.  I am amused that no one ever does, perhaps in this day and age of online reviews that’s not a necessary question any more.  I always bring copies of a few reviews from clients who I know don’t mind being a reference to my listing appointments.

There is a difference between agents.  Sometimes that difference is huge.  If you are in the Bay Area I would be pleased to show you how different I really am.  If you’re reading this in another part of the country, that’s okay, I know professionals throughout the country who can and will take great care of you.  Give me a shout and find out for yourself what the difference really is.

Don’t hire a hack

It is becoming my life’s work to eliminate hacks from the real estate industry.

Every day thousands of internet geeks wake up and try to figure out how to make Realtors the Travel Agents of that year.  Expedia killed Travel Agents.  Why?  Because they provided minimal value and couldn’t articulate their value beyond “I have access to Sabre and can shop reservations for you”.  You can shop tickets now on Expedia, Kayak, Travelocity, Orbitz and about a hundred other sites now.  The information is all there.  Hotels can be shopped on anything from to the Westin’s own website.  The real estate industry is in danger of going the same way.

Realtors are currently up in arms about Zillow’s new instant offer roll out.  I’m not worried about that.  All that needs to happen is one seller lets one buyer into their house and gets robbed or worse and that’s the end of that.  There will be other onslaughts.  We must be eternally vigilant.

The elephant in the room is the fact that my industry needs to clean house.  We need to rid ourselves of the hacks.

Hacks come in all forms.

There are those who don’t bother to educate themselves.  Our test is easy to pass.  I passed my Broker’s test after a night of drinking.  I hadn’t had time to study and figured I’d get a report of what I needed to study and go back and take it for real at a later date.  I was 45 minutes late and had to sign a waiver.  And I passed it.  The thing is, I knew that there was a lot of stuff I didn’t know.  It is my practice to take a minimum of one class per month to further my real estate knowledge.  I travel four times a year to conventions and seminars to further my ability to serve my clients and I have two business coaches.  I care about doing the best job possible for my clients.  My team has a rule: If you see an opportunity to one plus our client’s experience, it is incumbent upon you to take that opportunity and make that client’s experience even better.  Sadly a very small percentage of my colleagues take the same approach to this business.  90% of real estate sales are handled by 10% of the agents.  The other 90% fight over the last 10%.  They don’t have the experience and won’t do the work to get better at their jobs.  Yet consumers still hire them.  I am sad that those clients won’t ever know what it’s like to work with a great Realtor.

There are those that just do a crappy job.  MLS photos.  How freaking hard is it?  iPhones are very cool.  Don’t market someone’s $500,000 house with your freaking phone.  Hire a professional real estate photographer.  Listing agents have one major job, market the client’s home to get the best exposure resulting in the most amount of money in the shortest amount of time.  Seriously.  Would you buy this?


Doesn’t that client deserve better from our industry?  It’s embarrassing.

There are those who do not have any ethics.  They need to go.  They say things to clients they have no business saying.  One just fell apart because the buyer stopped by an open house on the way to the house they in contract to buy.  The open house agent, talking out of his butt blew the transaction.  What he represented as fact about the subdivision was in fact folk lore and the buyer cancelled the transaction.  Total hack.  Agents cannot talk to clients under contract with another agent beyond casual conversation.  Unscrupulous listing agents routinely tell them they will get the house if they do business with them so they can “double end” it.  Don’t hire these hacks.  They lie to their clients, they don’t do what they need to in the time they need to do it because they don’t understand the contract.  They write unreasonable offers.  They don’t educate their clients.  Don’t hire these hacks.

Before you hire an agent, ask them how many homes they’ve sold in the last year.  The average agent sells six.  A house every two months is not enough to build what I call Deal IQ.  Deal IQ is acquired when an agent has done a lot of deals.  Something comes up and they know what to do because they’ve been there before.  Only a good, well practiced agent can do that.  In this market, with your largest financial asset at stake, I don’t know why you would want anything else.

For more information on how I properly market homes call me at 925-381-2998


It’s a dog’s life


Do you love dogs?  I love dogs.  In particular, I love my breed, the Doberman Pinscher.  I love their loyalty, their protective nature, their silliness and I feel safe when one is sleeping next to my bed.  If it were up to me, I would have one of my dogs with me at all times.  But it’s not up to me.

My job entails going in and out of other people’s homes several times a day, meetings and appointments that may last for a couple of hours, lunches in corner cafes and five star restaurants.  My dog isn’t welcome in many of those places, so I leave my dog home when I’m working.  I never take my dog anywhere he’s not welcome.  I was very ill last month.  I heard a dog collar in the hospital hallway on several occasions.  Finally I was able to get to the hallway and see a schnauzer walking by.  I asked my nurse “Are dogs allowed here?”  She said, “Yes, I see the all of the time”.  Can I have my brother bring my dog to see me?  “yes, of course, we’ll just shut the door to your room while he’s here”.  And I got to see my dog which helped me heal.


That gets me to the point.  Dogs don’t belong in real estate.

I had a listing on the market when I went into the hospital.  I received a call that an agent who witnessed another agent in my listing with their dog.  The agent’s dog peed on my clients carpet.  I am laying in a hospital bed and I had to deal with this.  How unprofessional to you have to be to bring your dog to a sellers house and then allow it to pee on the carpet?  This agent should be run out of the business.

Dogs don’t belong in real estate.

I had an open house this weekend and not one, not two, but three different parties showed up to view the open house with their dog in tow.  I’m sorry, are you kidding me?  If you are previewing homes, leave your dog at home.  I can assure you that your dog will love any home you buy as long as you are there.  Dogs are like that.

Here are some of the issues to consider before bringing your dog to someone else’s home.

  1. The homeowner has cats who may become freaked out because your pooch’s scent is now in their space.
  2. The homeowner has dogs who may become freaked out because your pooch’s scent is now in their space.
  3. The homeowner’s pet mentioned in 1 and 2 above acts out due to the new scent and starts marking territory thereby destroying what was previously a nice and odor free home.
  4. The homeowner is severely allergic to pet dander and you’ve now polluted their home.
  5. The homeowner is a severe asthmatic and you’ve now sent them to the hospital.

An open house is a private home that has been placed for sale and is open for viewing by potential buyers.  The general public does not have a right to pass and an agent can refuse entry on behalf of the seller if the agent feels the seller’s private property at risk.  Agents can even restrict visitors to those who have provided the ability to purchase the property.

With one notable exception, dogs don’t belong in real estate.  There are a few agents in our area with situations where they have service dogs.  Service dogs can be used for a number of situations including alerting to seizures in their owners.  I am not talking about these dogs.  These dogs are highly trained, highly disciplined and highly necessary to their owner’s well being.  These dogs are an exception.

Every other dog, does not belong in real estate.