How responsive should your real estate agent be?

Stone stepsThe odds are good that if you are looking to hire a real estate professional, one of the criteria you seek is “responsive”. Those of us who sell real estate for a living know that consumers want to hear back from us as soon as possible when they call or email (or text, in some cases).

How responsive should your real estate agent be?

  • Most real estate agents will return phone calls within a half day regularly, or at the end of the business day worst case scenario
  • Some will answer the phone when it rings every time, unless they are with clients or otherwise crunching on something urgent, such as writing or reviewing offers
  • For emails, the response times can be similar – often within a few hours, but not more than 24 hours
  • When consumers text, the response may be faster since it seems urgent to the recipient. You’ll want to see if your agent wants texts outside of certain hours or not, or if texting should be reserved for things that demand a quick response.
  • Some agents may have a dedicated day off and will not return messages until the following day. It’s good to ask ahead of time about how time off is handled.
  • Be sure to ask about your agent’s schedule and communication style (when and how they’d like to hear from you). Make sure you let your preferred method be known so you can be on the same page not just for when to communicate, but how!

Responsiveness and phone calls

If not with clients or otherwise tied up, many Realtors (yours truly included) will pick up the phone when called during business hours. (Some won’t. Some do time blocking and return calls at set times, such as between 11am and noon and 4 and 5pm. Those who time block in this way will often put a message on their voice mail explaining when they will call back. Hopefully, that works for the caller!).  (more…)

Stress and real estate sales and purchases: as much as possible, don’t sweat the small stuff

Photo of Walden Pond and the words "Real estate stress can be helped by knowing what to expect"Buying and selling residential real estate, particularly the place where you have been living or will be living, is extremely stressful, even under the best of circumstances, such as when the reason for selling or buying is happy. (This is less true for investment property, at least for most people.)   It’s even tougher if there’s a serious illness, suicide, death, divorce, unwanted relocation or some other cause that is not of one’s own choosing.   Or if selling when the market is down and home values are falling, as they were doing in 2008.

Stress can be helped tremendously by knowing roughly what to expect and then accepting it.  Certain things tend to happen when buying or selling a home.  Things aren’t going to be perfect or 100% predictable every inch of the way, but if the buyer wants to buy and the seller wants to sell, most of the time we can get to closing without too many bumps and bruises.

Sellers:
Although most Realtors who want to show your home to their clients or preview your property will be very polite, request the time via the proper channels and will be respectful in your house and while locking up, unfortunately a few are just not as professional.  It is annoying, but almost without fail something will go wrong when a whole lot of people (Realtors and others) come through your house or condo.  Some agents will just knock at your door without an appointment.  Some will fail to lock up 100%.  Some may forget to wipe or remove their shoes or follow some other request (such as not entering a garage or particular room).  Sometimes agents simply mess up (or their clients do, or members of the public coming in at an open house). On very rare occasion, personal items will be disturbed.  Recently at a client’s home something was broken.  I’m sure it was inadvertent, but it was upsetting to my sellers. (more…)

How likely are you to find the Silicon Valley home you want in your budget?

Just starting to think about buying a home? If you’re like most people, you’ll be looking at online listings of homes for sale here in Silicon Valley to see what they cost and how they look. Viewing homes for sale and the list prices is a good thing to incorporate in your first steps to assess the cost of home buying, but there are more data points to be used to create a sense of what it will cost to get the kind of home you want (and where you want it), or, coming from the financial side, how much home your money can actually buy.  Misreading the market, or not understanding the odds of success, can lead to frustration and a slower “learning curve”, and that can be expensive in an appreciating market!   Today I spent a few minutes explaining how to get a better handle on home prices in the video below.  I hope it will be helpful to folks in the San Jose – Los Gatos – Saratoga area who are just getting into the market now.

 

 

If you are interested in home buying and looking for a seasoned Realtor to assist you, please reach out to me with an email or a phone call.

 

 

 

Many Silicon Valley homes are selling 10% to 25% over list price now

ExpectationsAlthough some properties are not selling within 10 days, many Silicon Valley homes listed for sale do go pending a week to ten days later with multiple offers.  Of those which sell quickly, pending sale prices are often far above the list price; we are seeing 10% overbids often, and sometimes 25% or more, in select cases.

Unfortunately, Bay Area many home buyers’ expectations have not yet caught up to the reality of the overheated market and are shocked that a great “full price offer” may well be the worst of the contracts presented.

What’s causing this to happen?

First, there’s a very dire shortage of homes to buy.  That can create a buying frenzy all by itself in an area where people are well employed and want to put down roots.

Second, the listed prices are placed strategically low to attract multiple offers.  If you were to look at the list price as opposed to the comps’ sale prices, you’d see that homes are not listed where they should sell, but often about 5% below that amount in many cases (sometimes more than 10% lower, though).

It is extremely important to realize that the list price may have little to do with the eventual purchase price.  Study the comps and then assume a trajectory.  If homes are going up at the rate of $10,000 per month for the type of home you like, then when you bid, consider the sale price 30 days out – or more – and then you may hit the target.

 

 

 

 

Who finds the property? Usually, the home buyer sees it online first!

But I found the house firstOne of the most common misconceptions I see among home buyers today is that the real estate agent assisting them is the one who should locate the property to view first.  This was true 20 years ago, but not today. (A spin on this is “I found the property first. My agent has no value!”)

Let’s get this huge misconception addressed right away.  Anyone can find homes for sale on the web; the real estate community opened this up years ago and syndication made it even more pervasive.

Realtors are no longer the gatekeepers of the inventory.  Most of the time, both the agent and the home buyer are going to the web to see possible matches.  Your agent may happen to see something before you do, or may find something in an area where you aren’t looking, but the odds are that you, the hyper motivated home buyer, will see the home online first.

 

Why is that?  For one, as a home buyer, you are likely obsessed with finding your next home. Your every free moment is spent scouring real estate sites for listings.  Secondly, while you’re doing that, your agent might be showing properties, staging a listing, meeting inspectors, having photos taken of a listing, attending a sign off (settlement), getting keys duplicated, giving relocation clients a tour, etc. And your Realtor is working with LOTS of home buyers and home sellers.  So most likely, you will see it first.  Finding the home is not your real estate agent’s main value.   In other words, commissions aren’t “finder’s fees”.  They are much, much more than that.

The agent’s main value is far deeper than locating a home for you to purchase which is widely advertised on the web. (Article to read: Who Needs A Buyer’s Agent? I Can Find It All On The Web!) It is understanding the market (someone who knows what’s happening with multiple offers, concessions), understanding local issues (some red flags that you may not know about), whether relating to neighborhoods, construction issues, lending pitfalls or other items), being able to negotiate not just the purchase contract but the myriad of other details as well, understanding the nuances of the real estate contract, finding great inspectors to help you (rather than picking a name out of the proverbial phone book), navigating appraisal challenges, etc. etc.  A good, experienced Realtor will help you every step of the way and even after the close of escrow.  But he or she probably will not tell you about a home you want to see first.  You will see it first.  That’s how it is across the country now.  If you are expecting your real estate professional to locate the property first, you will be upset and disappointed because your expectations are all wrong.
A little more reading for the truly interested:

How to get a great buyer’s agent in a seller’s market (when most Realtors would rather assist home sellers)

 

 

 

Viewing Silicon Valley Homes for Sale: What to Expect

What should you expect when you go to visit homes for sale in Silicon Valley? Here are a few quick tips.

  1. Many home sellers in the San Jose area will ask that you remove your shoes. So wearing slip ons of some kind will be a lot easier than footwear with laces, buckles, zippers etc.
  2. Most of the time, sellers will not be home.  They wisely will clear out, when possible, to give you the space to look without feeling like you’re imposing on them.  Sometimes, though, for any number of reasons, this may not happen.
  3. If sellers are home, they will usually answer the door or, worst case, respond when the agent and buyers enter and announce themselves.  Once in awhile, though, there’s a surprise seller somewhere in the house.  (Maybe one time in a hundred?  I have run into people who were in bed, in a shower, on a couch and simply not responding.)  So be alert when viewing homes, be cautious, or it could be like that scene in “E.T.” where ET and the little girl see each other and scream their lungs out.
  4. Pets are usually not present and loose, but again, sometimes there’s a misfire, so be on guard for dogs and cats (more likely the latter).  If dogs are present and loose I usually will not show the home. I love dogs and own one, but they’re not all equally friendly.
  5. Personalization:  usually sellers will have decluttered and depersonalized their homes so that you and other home buyers can “see themselves” in that space.  For some sellers, particularly seniors, it can be very difficult to remove those items until the moving van is in the driveway.  So be prepared to see at least some homes with an inordinate amount of stuff, whether it’s family photos, collections, religious imagery or worship space, rooms not being used for their intended purpose, and so on.  In these places, you’ll need to be able to see past what’s currently there as the personal items can be confusing.  For instance, I have seen family rooms used as dining rooms, dining rooms used as hobby rooms, bedrooms used as prayer or exercise rooms, garages divided into several smaller rooms (with easily removable walls), etc.
  6. Normally, homes are clean and pleasant to see.  Sometimes with distressed properties, tenant occupied (unmotivated residents), homes with invalid residents, or other physical or emotional situations the home may be a wreck.  Know that you will probably see a wide spectrum of care for the house and yard.

What about your behavior in the home?  Most home buyers are very considerate but here are a couple of things to think about.

In addition to removing your shoes if requested to do so, you should plan on making sure any little members of the family stay with you and are “gentle” on the home and belongings.  Children can move fast and not all homes are child-proofed.  (I have seen kids go in the opposite direction as their parents and then jump on the home seller’s furniture, open drawers of furniture, etc. – not good.)  I worry the most when the sellers have a cat and the buyers have a toddler – often not a perfect combination.  In fact, sellers and agents usually want your group to stay together and not go in opposite directions no matter what the ages are.

Home sellers usually understand that someone may need to use the bathroom while there, but in general, of course, they’d rather that this not happen.  If you or your kids need to use the restroom, please check afterward to make sure that everything’s clean.  The other day I visited my listing and when I went into the master bathroom there were big splotches of urine on the toilet seat. Not cool! (And if the seller is home, of course you should ask permission first.)

If the sellers are home, it’s good to keep any feedback to yourself until you have left the property (or to share it quietly so as not to be overheard).

These are the basics. Happy house hunting!

 

 

 

Client control: what it is, and why it benefits everyone involved

Client control“Client control” is a strange sounding phrase. It almost seems manipulative! But that is very far from the truth.  It’s something helpful which benefits buyers, sellers and real estate agents. What is it, then?

Essentially, client control refers to home buyers and sellers behaving themselves.  Most of the time, Silicon Valley real estate consumers have a fairly good idea of what is appropriate behavior (what is expected of them and of the other party) when buying, selling, or getting through the ‘sale pending’ period.  When they don’t, their Realtor or salesperson should be providing some guidance (communicating, teaching, coaching) on what to do or not to do, and what are appropriate expectations.  When expectations are incorrect, unhappiness ensues.  It is all about expectations!

Anyone familiar with children can see the parallel with raising kids. Children who do not understand boundaries end up being miserable, and they take everyone else around them into their misery.  It’s the same with “out of control” clients.  Most Realtors try to ascertain upfront whether or not it will be possible to have a good working relationship with potential buyers or sellers between them and also in escrow.  Are they honest? Polite? Considerate? Reasonable? Teachable or coach-able? And perhaps other criteria as well. If not, it won’t be worth it to try to represent them in a transaction. It would be a giant headache.

This is true in other professions too.  I’ve known doctors and lawyers (including my dad, when he was practicing law in San Jose) to fire their patients and clients at times.  Recently I saw an article written by an attorney on this same topic. Brian Tannebaum wrote a post entitled  The Practice: Client Control, Before It’s Out Of Control  and wisely stated “I believe in the philosophy that sometimes the best client is the one you turn down”.  This is exactly the same in realty. (more…)

But when we bought or sold before, that’s not how it was!

Success strategies changeEach home sale or escrow is going to be a little different from every other one.  I’ve been selling properties in Silicon Valley for 20 years, and I can assure you that although there are many similarities from one transaction to the next, there are no exact blueprints.  Each residential real estate sale is unique.

For repeat home buyers or sellers, with one or two experiences of real estate transactions, it may seem that each purchase of sale should be just the same.  Here are some of the comments underlining that point:

  • When I sold my condo, I gave the buyer a one year home warranty.  I do not understand why this seller of the house I am buying won’t do it for me!
  • When I bought my first house, I had to pay for inspections.  There were none provided to me by the seller.  But now that I want to sell, you’re suggesting that I pay for inspections for the buyers?  That doesn’t seem fair to me that I have to do it again!
  • When my parents sold the family beach house, they had to provide a Section 1 pest clearance.  Now they want to buy another beach house, but a smaller condo this time, and the seller will not provide the pest clearance.  What gives?

In each case, the consumers are mentally tying together two unrelated transactions.  The expectation is that they should always be the same. But there are different clients involved, different properties, different areas (buying & selling homes in Silicon Valley is a little different than southern CA or elsewhere in the U.S.), sometimes different contracts and forms (CAR vs PRDS) and different markets or market conditions.

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Impulsivity and caution in home buying

What’s your home buying style?  Impulsive? Cautious? Analytic?  Deep bargain hunter?

A few times in my real estate career, I’ve worked with Silicon Valley home buyers who were so anxious to purchase a home that I was concerned that their impulsivity might be a cause for buyer’s remorse later.  When that happens, I try to slow them down a little – I’ll suggest “let’s look at least a few homes” if it happens that they want to buy the very first home they saw. Part of my fiduciary duty is to look out for my clients’ best interests, and sometimes that means putting the brakes on just a little (or telling them what they don’t want to hear).

Home buyer caution and impulsivity More commonly, it’s the other extreme that I see in our very well educated, extremely analytic population: paralysis by analysis or an overabundance of caution. (Sometimes it’s overabundance of bargain hunting.)

The vast majority of successful Silicon Valley home buyers are somewhere in between: they set up their priorities and goals (“I want to buy in the next 4 months at this price with this location or school and this type of property and size of home”). The clearer they are on their goals, wants and needs, the easier it is to help them get it – as long as they have realistic expectations. That is key!

Once – only once – I sold a Los Gatos house in which the husband purchased without the wife’s physically seeing it.  This is rare!  They had moved so many times that he understood precisely what mattered to her, and if the house met that list, he was good to go. (more…)

The Cross-Cultural Real Estate Experience: Buying and Selling Homes in Silicon Valley vs Other Places

Buying and selling homes is stressful no matter who you are or what the occasion may be.  It is even more difficult for those for whom English is not their native language and for whom the US is not their native land.

First there’s a language challenge (depending on English fluency).  Even more, there’s a cultural challenge in terms of how homes are bought and sold. Add the normal stress to the cross-cultural confusion and there’s a recipe for misunderstanding, bafflement, surprises and upset.  One of the biggest areas for clashes is how negotiations are carried out.

I have had the pleasure of traveling to many places around the globe and to live in Italy for the better part of a year while in college (in Florence, and yes, I loved it).  I remember very vividly some of my own cultural frustrations and although I was fairly fluent, missing a whole lot of social cues. I had to work to learn to negotiate for simple things like fruit and sweaters in the open air markets.  And I was just 20, not trying to purchase anything as significant as a house or condo.

My clients today come from all over. Typically, at any given time, more than half of my clients are foreign* (and I love working with them and hearing about their experiences, customs and traditions).  Every once in awhile,  we discover that buying and selling expectations are vastly different from Silicon Valley to wherever they came from. Here are a few:

  1. Expecting to negotiate at every turn, starting from the time the seller accepts the buyer’s offer and continuing until close of escrow (not done here: you negotiate at most two times – first when writing and countering offers and second prior to removing contingencies, if something new is learned during the course of the inspections.  If you negotiate at every opportunity, you will have everyone angry at you!)
  2. (more…)