What’s my home worth?

I hear that question the most followed by “If I sold my place I don’t know where I’d go.”

I don’t know what your home is worth.  And here’s a list of other folks that don’t know what your home is worth.

  • Your neighbor
  • Another Realtor
  • Zillow
  • Trulia
  • Redfin
  • Whatever real estate valuation site I haven’t already mentioned

Who can tell you what your home is worth?

  • A ready willing and able buyer who has stepped up to the plate, plunked down their hard earned cash and bought your home.

That’s it.  It’s not worth what your neighbor says it’s worth unless your neighbor is going to step up to the plate and plunk down their hard earned cash.  It’s not worth what another Realtor says it is unless they are going to step up to the plate and plunk down their hard earned cash.  And it certainly is not worth whatever Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, Movato, Estately, whatever real estate valuation site I haven’t already mentioned says it’s worth.  After all, when was the last time Zillow flew a drone up in your house and did a formal valuation?  Uh never?  Exactly.

You home is worth exactly what a buyer is willing to step up to the plate and plunk down their hard earned cash.  Nothing more.  Now there is always the wild card of the appraisal process, but even that is not an exact science.

This brings us to a practice called “buying the listing”.  Here’s how it works.  I come in and do a Comparative Market Analysis.  Nothing has sold for over $460,000 in the neighborhood in three years.  Could you get $460,000?  Yes.  Dressed up you might even get more depending on whether or not we find a desperate buyer.  To market it properly, however, it needs to be dressed up and go on the market at $450,000.  The seller wants over $500,000 for his home.  I get it.  I want a new M5.  And a swimming pool.  And a case of Landmark’s Grand Detour Pinot Noir.  And my own private surf instructor.  But I digress.  We don’t always get what we want.  In a capitalist society with a supply and demand based market, we get what the market is willing to give us.  We don’t get to chose what that is, we can only chose whether or not we accept the offer.

I didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear, I told them the truth.  Another agent comes in and tells the seller they can have their price and lists the home over the $500,000 they wanted.  List it over and someone will give you what you want, right?  Not exactly.  It’s a month later, the home is now stale on the market and they are doing price reductions.  When it is all said and down, they will walk away with my guess is either exactly what I said they would or sadly less, because time on the market equals less demand equals lower offers.

This practice is called “buying a listing”.  It hurts the sellers, it is dishonest and hurts our reputation as professionals and it hurts our industry.

Don’t fall for this weak, old sales stunt.  They told you what you wanted to hear just to get you under contract.  Doesn’t it make better sense to do business with someone who is honest with you?




Integrity and Real Estate

Last time we talked about how all Realtors are not the same.  Now you know you don’t want the Rex Grossman of real estate.  You want the Joe Montana.

How do you go about finding your Joe Montana?

Go to yelp!  Right?  Well, not exactly, although I can’t blame you for relying on that goodness.

Go google.  Right?  Well, not exactly.  As someone who painstakingly manages their online presence I can tell you that it is possible to manage what you, the prospective client sees.  It’s a cottage industry.

Ask your friends.  Warmer, but not there yet.  Your friends may recommend a great professional to you.  Or they may recommend their cousin Joe-Bob who just got his license, after all it was jail time and not prison so he’s not a felon and he can get a license.  Well, no he didn’t exactly finish high school, he’s not real good at tests, but he’ll sell your house for you, yessiree bobcat tail!  Now I’m a big fan of redemption and maybe Joe-Bob was just misunderstood as a lad and now has made good, but before you get too far down the line, how many homes has he sold in the last year?  What does his online presence look like?  Is it managed and sounding all markety or can you tell that Joe-Bob is a good guy, has turned his life around and genuinely cares about his clients?  Does his Facebook profile have him buying all sorts of new toys and living the life?  Or is it sprinkled with stories about great people and how he helped them buy or sell real estate?  Is Joe-Bob the kind of guy you want to align yourself with?  Do you want to hook up your cart to his horse?  Or is it a burro?  Never confuse a thoroughbred with a burro.

Now check them out.  Google.  Facebook.  Twitter.  LinkedIn.  Instagram.  Pinterest.  Tumblr.  ActiveRain.  Trulia.  Zillow.  Are they on there?  Are the using the platforms?  Some not all?  That’s ok.  I don’t use them all either.  Still they need to have a presence.  Why?  If they can’t market themselves, how are they going to market your home?

Did you google “Code of ethics violators”?  You should.  Although there is plenty of questionable activity that never makes it to the COE page.  Joe-Bob isn’t there is he?  Good.

Now, how are they performing against your market?  How do their listings perform?  Do they get over asking consistently?   Do their listings sell quickly?  How do their listings look online?  Were the pictures taken with a cell phone or do they look professional?  Are the narratives inviting?  Great.

Next, do you like them?  Do you think they will represent your interests and fight for you?  A great negotiator picks your pocket and you thank them for returning your wallet.   If you are beating them in negotiating on the commission, are they a great negotiator?  I earn my commission back and then some on every single transaction.  What does that mean?  I average 12% over asking.  My commission is much less than that.  I pay for myself and I have the numbers to prove it.

Do you believe them to be honest and operating from a place of integrity?  I almost hate the word “integrity” as much as “gourmet”.  It was painful to use “integrity” in the last sentence but it was the right word.  Those two words have been cheapened by over use by individuals who have no business uttering them.   I am committed to protecting my client’s interests.  So committed that I often overlook my own.  It is my goal to win every negotiation I can on my client’s behalf.  I want to finish ever deal and say “I can’t believe they went for that!”   That way I know I’ve served my clients the best I possibly could.


#TBT Beauregard sitting poolside at Camp Dowhachuwannado.  The best damned dog.  Ever. – Version 2


The word I hear most by people describing me is “bulldog”.  As a Doberman Pinscher rescuer it’s kind of annoying, bulldogs feel kind of pedestrian next to the majestic creatures I work with normally, but I understand the commonality.  I believe that “no” is not the final answer when it’s the wrong answer.  I strive to arrive at the correct answer in every single instance.  That’s what sets me apart.  If that makes me a bulldog, then so be it.  I think it’s the difference between a Real Estate Professional and a Rex Grossman.




All real estate agents are not all the same.

Who was the greatest quarterback to ever play in the NFL?  If you are in the Bay Area chances are you answered Joe Montana.  And I would concur.  But what made Joe great?  His footwork?  Not exactly.  He ran like a duck with a potato chip up his butt.  His speed?  He’d lose a foot race to the duck.  His impeccable form?  The duck wins again.   None of that.  Joe was great because he could see things on the football field that no one else could see.  And he could react to those things and capitalize on what he saw.  That skill took him to the Hall of Fame.

Behold my bike seat.


Looks great right?  This seat tells a story.  I had not one but two professional bike fitters work on my bike this month.  Both looked at this seat and knew that there was something off about my bike and I was carrying most of the load on my left side.  I cannot for the life of me see what they see.  They are two of the best in the business and they can see it.  They see something that no one else sees and they know how to react to it.

Real estate is the same.  An agent that sells twenty houses a years sees something that an agent that sells four houses a year does not.  An agent that sells twenty homes per year sees things clearer.  That agent sees the pitfalls before they happen.  They see the play develop and they know what the next move is before it presents itself.  They are like Joe Montana.  They are like my bike fitters.  They will save you time and money because they have seen that play develop before and they know where to put the ball.

My friend and lender partner Zack Cooper likes to call it Deal IQ.  It’s what you know because you’ve been there before.  A dabbler may not have been there before and may not be able to make the play.  Pick an agent that’s been there before.  Pick a closer.  On your two minute home closing drill do you want Joe Montana or Rex Grossman?

What to expect from the housing market

I find that if I look, I can always see a theme to what’s going on around me.

“You can get anything you want from Alice’s Restaurant, ‘cepting Alice”

Last month’s theme was unrealistic expectations.  That’s a tough one too.  Unfortunately due in part to what’s in the media for our consumption, it can bite us all from time to time.  Yet, you can get anything you want…


Here is Alessandra Ambrosio.  A beautiful woman in her own right, but the picture on the right is what you see in magazines and on the internet.  Her makeup artist is paid handsomely to make her look even more fabulous.  And then she gets photoshopped and is barely recognizable as the same woman.

How about the music we hear?   It is a well known fact that the engineers just fix the mistakes with autotune and the artist never hits the notes.  Listen to the difference between Kanye West and Elaine West singing the same song.

One version is shot live, the other has autotune.  One will be a huge hit, the other will be an alternative favorite…and a favorite of mine.

I can work out like a dog and eat exactly what I’m supposed to and all the airbrushing in the world isn’t going to make me a super model.  Heck, I may never see a six pack again!  All the auto tune in the world isn’t going to make me a great singer, but it did make Brittany Spears a lot of money.

Houses are the same.  HGTV is a lot of fun but they aren’t your friend.  They are all airbrushed and scripted and auto tuned.

Their buyers aren’t functioning the the Bay Area market and they aren’t paying Bay Area labor prices for the work that is being done.  There are experts helping out every step of the way on the Do It Yourself segments and the experts you see remodeling are using the show as a loss leader item.

The truth is in the home buyer process it’s a lot of give and take and trade offs.  A buyer can get it all but it’s going to be at a price.  Good schools, a freshly remodeled eco-home with an open floor plan, a clear termite in a great neighborhood is not going to be the best deal in town.  It will be a nice home to live in, but all of that comes with a price tag.  I hate agents that talk about selling buyers their dream home.  It sets unrealistic expectations for the buyer.  Not one of us is going to get everything they want in an existing home.  It just doesn’t happen.  Can a great home be found?  Yes.  Can it become a dream home?  Yes.  It probably isn’t as it stands on the market and that’s the rub.

Recently I had a buyer complaining about the schools in Danville.  I thought “homeschool?”  Danville has great schools but on the internet he was able to find complaints about the Danville schools.  There is always going to be something, it’s a matter of tolerance.  Can I live with this?  Can I work with this?  Can I thrive here?

When it’s all said and done, stuff is going to happen even in the best neighborhoods.  Martha Moxley was murdered by a Kennedy in upscale Greenwich Connecticut.  Stuff is going to happen.  What are the odds?  But it happened.  There just was a shooting in an upscale Livermore neighborhood.  Stuff is going to happen.  We mitigate as best we can and hope for the best.

I’ve sold six homes in my own neighborhood.  One had a bunch of water underneath it.  The buyer was a contractor and crawled the home.  He found a broken p-trap under the shower.  He bought the home way under market, got some fans and some lime and dried up the crawl space.   Spent about eleven dollars on a new p-trap and as of today has doubled his investment.  Another buyer had to replace all of the carpet, he’s up about $150,000.  Time can solve all.

At the end of the day, it’s a matter of tolerance.  Personally, if I have a good roof over the home and it’s the worst house in a great neighborhood, I’m in.  I have a client who tells me all the time “Val, I’m just not handy, we are not handy people”.  He pays a little more for his homes but his piece of mind comes from knowing he doesn’t have to do things outside of his comfort zone.  But he understands that it costs more to go that route.  He knows he is either paying up front or paying as he goes.  He choses up front.  That’s his tolerance.  To expect to get the best deal on a fresh house that doesn’t need any work is unrealistic and he understands that.  He’ll get a good price, just not a great one.  Someone else put in the sweat equity and that has value.

My advice, understand your tolerances.  Understand what you can and can’t live with.  Know your must haves and your can’t live withs, verbalize them to your agent and get the right home for you.

For a comprehensive buyer’s consultation call me at 925-381-2998.  Let’s talk about the possibilities.


About your Zestimate

Yesterday I received an email from Zillow entitled “Scripts: Talking About the Zestimate With Clients”.  It linked to a five page document full of scripts, that is canned responses, for dealing with client questions regarding Zestimates.

Zestimate is what Zillow estimates a home to be worth.  Folks, it’s an algorithm.  A computer takes a guess as to what a certain home might be worth based on recent neighborhood sales, square footage and market trends.  Zillow has not come into your home.  It does not fly a drone into your house and look around.  Zillow does not know if your counters are formica from 1957 or granite from 2014.  It does not know if your flooring is state of the art hand scraped bamboo or orange shag from 1967.   It does not know if your refrigerator interfaces with your iPhone or looks like something from June Cleaver’s home.


The Zestimate is a guesstimate.  That is all.  The current Zestimate on my house doesn’t know that since it’s last sale all of the flooring has been replaced, the home has a new roof, the master bath is remodeled, air conditioning has been added and all appliances have been upgraded.

I have a listing that the Zestimate is probably off by $100,000.  Is Zillow hurting my seller?  Absolutely.  All the scripts in the world aren’t going to solve that problem.

Truth?   True value is determined by what a buyer will pay a seller.  Period.  The Zestimate is an algorithm, a computer generated guess that does not take into consideration condition or upgrades to the home.  A Realtor can give you a Comparative Market Analysis that will be closer to the valuation.  Unless that agent is going to reach into their pocket and write a check for that home, that is not the value either.  The value is what a buyer will pay for it in the open market.  There is only one way to figure that out.

Can the value vary?  Absolutely.  One of the biggest variances is predicated by bad marketing.  We call it Post and Pray.  The agent posts a sign and prays it sells.  Great agents have a marketing plan, a methodology for selling and adjust that plan according to market conditions.

Don’t fall victim to the post and pray strategy.  I have a fourteen point marketing plan that I apply to every home I sell.  To learn more about how my marketing strategies net my sellers an average of 9% over asking, give me a call at 925-381-2998 and see how much more you can get for your home.

Waiting for spring to make your move?

Let’s put this myth to bed.

For the last six months all I have been hearing is the everybody wants to wait until Spring 2015 to do something.

I think that is a mistake and I will tell you why.

How many agents or so-called experts tell you that December is a terrible time to sell?  Most do.  This December I had my best month of the year capping it off with a sale for a full 10% over asking.  Why?  It’s simple.  People do not want to move in December.  They HAVE to move in December.  That equals extremely motivated buyers who are willing to over pay for the slim inventory available in December.  Agents tell you December is slow because they don’t want to work or never have worked.  Every single December since I got into this business has been my best month of the year.  This is real estate, not grade school.  We don’t get three month summer vacations and winter breaks unless we choose them.

To that end, the myth of the Spring selling season is just that.  If every seller who has said they are waiting until Spring actually waits until Spring what does that do to the market?  It creates a ton of inventory in the market all at once.  For my high school economics classmates what does that create?  Excess supply.  We are a capitalistic economy with supply and demand driving the prices.  Low supply drives up prices, excess supply drives down prices.  Low demand drives down prices, high demand drives them.  While this should create a robust balanced Spring market, why not take part in the run up rather than join in for the stabilization?

Case in point, in Lafayette there were 46 homes for sale last September.  Today there are 10.  As a seller, would you not receive more offers when you are only one of 10 homes on the market in an entire city?  Currently there are 36 homes for sale in all of Walnut Creek.  In September there were 93.

If you are a seller, now is the time.

If you are a buyer, shouldn’t you wait?  I would say possibly.  The reason being that we are going to have a bit of a run up in the next 60 days.  Getting into this market will be a little rough and tumble but you will save some money.  Like $10,000-30,000 because this market is going to drive up the prices.  As a seller you might say “Great!” I want $30k more for my house.  That makes sense.  My question is “Where are you going to move?”, because you’re going to pay more for that house too.  If it’s a move up it could be a lot more.

But don’t believe me, listen to the top real estate economists in the world.  Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics predicts a 20% increase in existing home prices for 2015.  Lawrence Yun of the National Association of Realtors predicts more buyers due to improved job market conditions and a return of buyers who were in the “penalty box” due to foreclosure or short sales.

This is the year.

Are we in a housing bubble?

Back when I lived in Germany there was an ad campaign against nuclear power.  There were bumper stickers that asked  “Atomkraft?” and the answer was “Nein danke!”

Are we in a housing bubble?  “Nein danke!”

I don’t believe we are currently in a bubble even though we have had rapid run up in home prices in the Bay Area.  Partially I believe this is because we had such a rapid crash that it had to come back to center.  Partially this is because the amount of cash in the market is still sitting at about 1/3.  And finally for the following reasons.

The Bay Area new home starts stopped in 2007.  No one built much of anything for several years.  Entire subdivisions sat dormant.  On average we need 100,000 new homes each year in the state of California to keep up with demand.  For several years they barely built that many total.  2014 they finally got back to 77,000 new units but we are years behind.  It’s simple supply and demand.  The demand is going to far exceed the supply for years to come.

But people are leaving the state of California in droves.

Are you kidding me?  Yes, the taxes are high here.  Yes, there is a lot of regulation here.  Yes, the state of California is very consumer friendly.  And the weather is still great.

The Bay Area has three cities in the top ten of the best places to live list.  If you keep going through that list you’ll find that there are more cities in California than any other state.  We win.  California is still the best place to live.  Within California I would argue that the bay area is the best place in the state to live, if you couldn’t live in Santa Barbara.

We create jobs

When I was a kid the guys I knew all got jobs at this little company called Atari.  They had a game room we used to go down to on Sunday afternoons and play video games.  It was like the new pinball.  It was 1976.  The world has changed since then.  No longer is it a couple of high school grads putting together video games.  Tech plays a huge part of our economic landscape here.  Yes, some tech companies have moved away but here is why that doesn’t work.  The creativity that exists in this area is hard to duplicate somewhere else.  Say you move your tech company to Des Moines.  That’s great, there are some good minds in Des Moines.  But your hiring pool is limited and eventually you will be importing talent or your talent pool with wither because it doesn’t have enough stimulation.  Silicon Valley FTW.

At the end of the day, people still need to live indoors.  As long as the fundamentals of the market remain intact, we are not in a bubble.  If we see an exodus of cash, the reemergence of funny money or liar liar loans then it would be time to revisit the discussion, but for now, we are not in a housing bubble.

William Lyon Homes Vineyard at Vista Del Mar -The Bordeaux

The homes in the new William Lyon Homes subdivision “Vineyard at Vista Del Mar are simply a cut above.  Guests enter through the formal living room dining room combination.

bordeux great rrom

This is not the only large open concept space on the first floor.  Just steps beyond the formal dining room area lies a kitchen dining area family room styled great room.  The configuring possibilities are endless.

bordeux kitchen

The home features a suite down, perfect for guests, in-law or au pair.  This room can also be configured as a den.

This home has my favorite features, which is when the master suite is located in such a way that occupants of the master suite can hear any one in the other bedrooms leaving the house.  This home has a galley style master bath situated between the master and the master walk in.

bordeux bath


Options exist upstairs as well.  There can be another bedroom or a loft.  If it is built out with the suite down and the bedroom up the home will have a total of 5 bedrooms and 3 baths.  All of the bedrooms are quite large.  Many of the homes in this subdivision will have Delta views due to the rolling hills of the neighborhood.

Bottom line, this is a big beautiful home in a brand new neighborhood.

If you could see yourself see yourself living in the gorgeous home, give me a call at 925-381-2998.  I’d love to show them to you.

Shea’s Montage Portico -The Regent

Shea’s Montage -Portico offers some great options for first time buyers including FHA loan approval on the project.

The Regent is a nice 1379 square foot home with the flexibility of 2 or 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths.  It offers a full two car garage.

There is an ample bonus room on the first floor as you enter the home.  This is also the optional third bedroom.  I see it as being a great den, maybe a man cave or someplace to put your teenagers and their video games.  The laundry is located on this level as well.

portico regent bonus

Your options are to go up from there to a great room kitchen combination.  Once again there is ample space and clear site lines.  The kitchen has a good amount of storage and is set up with an eating bar.  The model shows two different eating areas and a well lit living room.

portico regent kitchen

Both bedrooms upstairs are set up as suites.  The master suite has great natural light that you don’t normally see in attached homes.  There is a nice sized walk in close with a nicely appointed master bath.  The en suite is also a good size and has it’s own four piece bath.  It has a reach in closet and good natural light as well.

The Regent begins in the mid $5’s and is certainly a good option for a first time buyer.


Not everyone has a driver’s license

My favorite Realtor joke goes like this:

I’m driving down the 24 and I get pulled over by a CHP.  He ambles up to the window and says “Ma’am, could I have your real estate license and your registration?”  A little befuddled I say “Sir, don’t you mean my driver’s license?”  And he says “No, not everyone in California has a driver’s license”.

The real estate market is picking up and lots of people who couldn’t make it in a down market are returning to the industry.   This is good news and bad news.  It’s good that the market is back in good shape.  It’s bad that a lot of clients will make the wrong choice in their Realtor.

You.  Don’t.  Have.  To.  Hire.  Your.  Mom’s.  Best.  Friend.

And you shouldn’t.

I held a home open last weekend that was quite busy.  Over 30 parties through in 2 hours.  Busy.  I can’t tell you how many people had an “out of area” cousin, sister in law, friend of a friend “helping them”.  I know how that’s going to end.

A good friend of mine who is an excellent Realtor lost a listing to another agent last week.  The potential client told her that even though he was out of the area, they were going with the guy who sold the house to them.  I can appreciate loyalty, but….    They said they felt loyal to him because he spent five whole days in a row with them showing them houses.  If he had done a buyer’s consultation with them like I do, and knew the market, he could have shown them 3-6 homes and gotten them into the right home in an afternoon.  That’s what a professional does.  (side note: the market is different today) They also said he had sold 40 homes in the last seven years.  That’s about 7 homes per year.  Less than one a month.  My friend has been selling 30-40 homes per year for the five years I’ve known her.  When things get real who do you want fighting for you?  Someone with that kind of experience or a guy with a lot of time on their hands because they don’t sell that much?

My lender friend Zack Cooper speaks of a thing he calls “Deal IQ”.  I love that.  Zack has done so many loans that his experience just makes him smarter.  I’ve got Deal IQ as well.  I had a situation last week where the other agent kept telling my that my seller had to fix something because it was a “health and safety issue”.  It wasn’t a health or safety issue and it didn’t necessarily need fixing.  I finally had to tell her to quit using that phrase because it was not applicable.  Ultimately my seller chose to contribute towards eradicating the situation but only in the interest of not going back on the market.  She was in agreement that the request was a bit outlandish.

The point is, do your due diligence and hire somebody who knows what they are doing.  If your cousin wants to represent you in a transaction 50 miles away from their office, ask them to refer you to someone who knows that area.  Time in the business is sometimes a good start, but over the last five years I’ve sold nearly 100 homes. Mr. 40 in 7 looks pretty weak.  He’s probably not supporting his family with those sorts of numbers and more likely than not he has a second job.  Yes, ask if they have another job.  That matters.  It’s the largest financial asset most of us own.  And it’s the one thing where a lot of people are really pretty willy nilly about who they hire.  Your Realtor matters.  Hire a professional.