There are real estate marketing trends that Silicon Valley home buyers and home sellers are exposed to from realty professionals trying to win new clients, and perhaps many of these consumers do not realize the shifts in the marketing messages when they happen. One such trend that we are seeing now is to try to focus consumers’ attention on “lifestyle”. The hope of this movement is to sell you on the idea that you’re not just buying (or selling) real estate, but a whole way of life. To that end, a lot of energy and attention go toward the benefits of living in particular communities.
It’s all well and good to appreciate community events, great schools, beautiful parks, or whatever the neighborhood has to offer.
But at the end of the day, you aren’t buying lifestyle. You aren’t purchasing the free concerts (they could disappear). You aren’t buying the “walking distance” to the neighborhood grocery store (it could close). And you certainly aren’t buying the nifty shops a half mile away (they could get seedy over the next 20 years and).
You’re buying or selling real estate, a house, a condominium, a townhouse. In most cases, that means you are selling or purchasing land with some sort of housing on top of it (and if not buying it directly, as with a condo, you’re buying a percentage of it). There are real estate contracts to be navigated, with very important ramifications resulting from the many, many choices made within it. There’s a gauntlet of disclosures to complete and digest, a minefield of hints about property condition which should not be treated lightly for either buyer (who could get a lemon) or seller (who could get a lawsuit). The neighborhood needs to be analyzed too, but not for the fun stuff that “lifestyle selling” peddles. San Jose area home buyers will want to know if there are problem neighbors (most communities have at least one) and what issues do they bring – honking, screaming, garbage cans out all week? Or are their brief visits from other people to that home’s doorstep at all hours of the day or night? Is the property in a natural hazard zone?
Because there’s so much information on the internet about homes for sale, whether in Santa Clara County or across the globe, it’s easy for people not in the real estate business to think that there’s no value in having an experienced Realtor to guide and advise them with negotiations, pre-sale prep, the escrow period and so on. The thinking is “it’s all transparent now, what value does a real estate agent bring?” The old sense that buyers’ agents were simply “finders” is long gone. It’s not about finding a home, of course. It’s about finding the right one. For home sellers, it’s not about selling the house – anyone can put a sign in the yard, right? No, it’s about structuring things so that you get top dollar no matter the market.
The emphasis on lifestyle exaggerates one aspect of real estate decision making (the benefits of a particular location in terms of social opportunities) and trivializes the significant risks and rewards inherent in buying and selling real property. Talk to any full time real estate professional who’s been in the business for five years or more how many things they’ve learned. Ask them when they stopped learning (the good ones will say “never, I learn something on every transaction!”)
Focusing on lifestyle also really undermines what Realtors and other full time real estate licensees can do for clients not just in one transaction, but over many years (think relationship, not transaction). Several of my clients are in touch with me at least once or twice a year to ask what their home’s worth at the time, to seek input on which improvements would hurt or help resale, and whether or not it makes sense to do the most expensive renovations or whether a mid-range budget has a better return on investment. I cannot help them with the free concerts, the coffee shop that just closed, or schools with sinking or rising scores. But I can help them decide whether or not to spend money on pavers when they redo the driveway. I can discuss with them whether or not hardwood floors should be installed for a good return when they sell in 5 years. Not lifestyle, but real estate decisions, will be ongoing and will have financial ramifications rather than entertainment value.
Don’t get fooled by the marketing message being sent to you: real estate is wonderful, it can help you create a home, but it is also a business decision and every aspect of it, whether buying or selling, needs to be looked at with serious eyes.