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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

So You Wanna Buy a For-Sale-By-Owner (FISBO)?

Being in the real estate business you can't avoid things like For-Sale-By-Owner properties, they are part of the territory. Also known as FISBO's (pronounced "fizz-bow'), one might think that they can get a bargain if they are trying to buy one of these properties. Unfortunately, that is not always true. Typically, in my experience, it's rarely true. What is true, however, is that people who try to sell their homes on their own and Realtors don't get along very well.

Almost everything in life comes down to numbers, or math, in some form or another. Such is usually the case for the seller who just wants to sell his home on his own. So why do people decide to try to sell their homes on their own? Because they think they can save money. That's pretty much it. For-Sale-By-Owners think they can cut out the listing Realtor, and possibly the buyer's agent as well, and save a bunch on commissions. But can they? And can a buyer get a "deal" on a FISBO? Are there other concerns?

First off, it's important to understand that homes are rarely sold in an arms-length transaction without the use of a Realtor. Why is that? Well, let's say the seller doesn't want a Realtor to list his home; he want's to try and sell it on his own. That's fine. However, almost all buyers, the savvy ones anyway, have their "own" agent, a buyer's agent. Rarely will buyers undertake such an important transaction without having someone to guide them. Why should they? Why would they? Considering that buyers rarely, if ever, have to pay their agent, why wouldn't they engage the services of a knowledgeable buyer's agent? Well, they would. So, what
normally happens is that these buyers are paired up with a buyer's agent and either the agent, or they, come across a FISBO. What now? As I said, buyers don't normally "pay" their agent. This is because in most situations a buyer's agent's fee is included in the price of the home, paid (shared) by the listing agent, for any home that is listed on the MLS (multiple listing service). So, you have a situation where the seller, in this case, is not a Realtor (agent). That means the FISBO seller has no agreement to pay any fees (or commissions) to anybody. However, will buyers look at a FISBO knowing that their agent may not get paid? Will buyer's agents show a home if they are not going to get paid in the end? Can you see how complicated this can get?
In reality, most FISBO sellers will agree to pay a "buyer's agent," they just don't want to "list" the house and pay "full commission." Most of them are aware that if they don't offer a fee to the buyer's agents it will be difficult to get showings and difficult to sell. So typically FISBO sellers will say "Realtor's welcome," or "will co-op," both of which mean that they are willing to pay the agent who is representing the buyer. So in essence, they may save partial commission, the commission that they didn't pay the listing Realtor. So is this a good deal for a buyer? I mean, if the seller doesn't have to pay a "full" commission, they will sell the house for less, right? Hardly. Did I mention that most FISBO sellers are  mostly motivated by money? 99% of the time if a buyer purchases a For-Sale-By-Owner the seller just pockets the extra commission they saved by not paying their own Realtor. Savings rarely get passed on to the buyer. So where are the savings to the buyer? Typically, there aren't any. In addition to not getting a discount from a FISBO purchase, sellers who attempt sell on their own notoriously over-price their homes. They always think their houses are better than the ones up and down the block. And occasionally they have some strange ways of coming to their asking price. Rarely does a FISBO seller accurately price their home due to lack of understanding, lack of knowledge, or just plain stubbornness. Ultimately, these homes are NOT a value for a buyer. And along with over-valuing their homes and being overly -thrifty (read: cheap), they usually do not understand how to negotiate a sale and they also rarely budge on their asking price. (Note: many FISBO sellers are not very motiveated to sell, either).  And some FISBO sellers seem downright paranoid that some  pesky buyer's agent is trying to get his clients, the buyers, a fair price on a home. That doesn't seem to resonate with most FISBO sellers that I've encountered. In the end, if the sellers save a few bucks on commission and sell for what they want, don't they save money? Isn't that goal in the first place?

Well, the answer is really "no." The main problem with true For-Sale-By-Owner homes is that they aren't marketed very well, if at all. Even with the internet it is difficult to find a For-Sale-By-Owner home, even if you are looking for one. These sellers are competing with the marketing power of thousands of Realtors in their local market. The bottom line is that buyers rarely find these properties. And that means they sit on the market, and eventually they end up being listed with a Realtor anyway. I would guess that 90% of homes that try to go FISBO end of being listed eventually (I read that stat just today). That means that the seller will now have to pay "full" commission anyway. And what about all of the lost market time, where the house just sat? It seems like, to me, that FISBO sellers who eventually list with an agent do so after six to twelve months. That's more mortgage payments, more upkeep, and potentially missed opportunities to buy something else because you couldn't sell your home fist.
In the end, there are rarely any savings to be had if you are a buyer considering buying a For-Sale-By-Owner home. But if you must buy one, proceed cautiously, know the value, and make sure you have a buyer's agent!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Life of a Realtor Part 1

Back in 1995 a friend of mine told me he was going to open his own real estate company and asked me if I'd be interested in coming to work for him as an agent. I had no real experience in the real estate field and not really any experience in "sales." But I was interested in houses, how they were built, how neighborhoods were put together and I liked working with people. I liked watching HGTV. So I made one of the few really risky moves in my entire life, against the advice of a few others. I went to real estate school, got my license, quit my comfortable, secure job with the county government, and went to work for my friend at his brand-new company. And I stepped out into the world of working for one's self and humping for commission.

My conversation with my friend, who eventually became my broker, was over 16 years ago. Initially, I thought a career in real estate would be a "good opportunity" but likely just be a stepping stone to my next "career move." I honestly never thought I'd be in this business this long. And it appears that I'll be sticking around for as long as the economy allows. For the first ten years in the business I learned and honed my craft and became a successful agent for my friend's company. And for over five years now I have been the broker and owner of a successful (non-franchise) real estate company, with no plans to do anything else any time soon. I pretty much started the company from scratch and made it work.

I remember asking my friend "what's a normal day as a Realtor like?" To which he said "There is no "normal" day in this business. Every day is different." So I pressed him, "Well, what do you do all day?" He Said, "It depends. Every day is different. Some days I'm out showing homes, some days I'm in the office doing paperwork. It just depends." That answer left me with more questions than answers. Eventually, as I got my wings as a new agent, I learned what he meant. No day is ever the same.

The nice thing about being a Realtor, especially if you are the broker/owner, is that you can pretty much do what you want, when you want. Now before you rush out the door to sign up for your classes, there are limits.
You really can do what you what when you want. However, if what your doing and when you are doing it isn't leading to any income you soon find that there are limits to how you do what you do. What you can do, what you have the freedom to do, is find a way to be successful. You have the ability to be creative and find ways to make things work for you. You have the ability to be your own boss, to make decisions completely by and for yourself, and to also reap the rewards of those decisions, or suffer the consequences. And if you step out to try an idea there is probably a better chance that it won't work than it will. So you dust yourself off and try something else. It's a pattern I have repeated over the years. Find what works by trial and error. And then when find something that IS successful, don't sit on your laurels. Find something else that works as well. But try something, try anything. And remember the old adage: it takes money to make money. If you don't believe that then you wouldn't make it in this business.

But I digress. So, every day is a little bit different. Some days are scheduled and regimented, others allow more flexibility to catch up on paperwork, work on some marketing, go buy office supplies, or catch lunch with a lender or a friend (or both). Some days start at 8:00 a.m. and end at 10:00 p.m. Many times I've left the office after everybody in my building is gone and the crickets tell me "goodnight." When it's busy it's not uncommon for me to eat dinner after my kids are in bed and most of the day is gone. Some days I put it 8 hours of work but it takes 12 hours because I squeeze in other things: personal appointments, kid things, stuff like that. Sometimes I'll work most of a day, go see my daughters' (x 2, same team) soccer game and then go back to work. Sometimes I'll work in the office all day, go home at dinner time, and then work in my home office for a while. Some days I'm on showing appointments or home inspections most of the day. Other days I have appointments in and out of the office so I come and go. Once in a great while I'll take the afternoon off an just go goof off. Don't worry, I always make up for it later.

Some days all I do is work on client files and get caught up on contract issues and paperwork. Other times, like now, I'm caught up on that stuff so before I have to leave for showings I work on my blog, or my company Facebook page, or I revise some document I use or I create a new document of some sort. On the days that I'm caught up on client files the sky is the lim
it. Sometimes I'm extremely productive, sometimes I'm not that motivated. Remember: I can do what I want when I want. And since I'm my own boss I sometimes don't feel like working! YouTube comes calling and I zone out for a while. But usually just for a while and it's back to work.

Realtors don't have "normal" hours, either, or "normal" days off, for that matter. We are expected to be available from sun up to sun down (and then some), seven days a week, to service our clients. Now, it's not always like that, and every client isn't overly-demanding. But the industry has created
a model that basically says that real estate business goes on seven days a week. We do not have "business days" like other people have. We're like doctors who are on call and all of our clients are like patients. We need to be there for them. But it's the sacrifice we make because we believe in what we do and we enjoy our careers. Holidays, you say? Well I normally get Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving off. But I've probably worked every other holiday at one time. I've negotiated contracts on Christmas eve, shown houses on labor day, and met a client on the 4th of July. A few years ago I even stepped away from my daughters' birthday party to negotiate a transaction with the other (impatient) agent. I won't do that again.

Being a Realtor, and especially a broker/owner means I have to wear several hats. I am a counselor. I counsel people on their decision about buying a home. I help them understand the financial implications of owning a home as well. So I know a little about lending and investing. I also have to constantly negotiate contracts and home inspection issues so I'm a negotiator. I have to try and understand people and sometimes predict how things will turn out so I'm bit of a sociologist, psychologist and a soothsayer! As a broker, I have to manage the business, make financial decisions, pay bills, and clean the office. And I have to be familiar with any legal changes that affect real estate and keep up on industry trends. I also have to train my agents occasionally.

I have to stay up on technology because our industry is very technology-driven, when you consider the information that is out there on web sites and the "speed" at which things move these days. I also stay sharp on home construction because I need to know what I'm looking at when my clients and I are considering potential homes. So I'm a bit of a home inspector as well.

In some ways, my most important job is to be a captain. I help people make their way thorough the sea of home bu
ying, trying to avoid the waves, and give them a safe, comfortable, and memorable journey. And I do that while trying to make sure we don't get boarded by the pirates of bad experiences or sunk by cannonballs fired by resistant sellers, bad home inspections, or bad lenders. It's quite a job, if you ask me. In the end, though, we are normally sailing into the sunset on a bed of calm waters.

Stay tuned for more in the life of a Realtor.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mold and Stucco

I've been meaning to post some information on homes with stucco that are having problems with mold. I had to collect some information first.

Typically, my feeling is that stucco is a very good building material. Real stucco (vs. synthetic stucco) is basically cement. Because of that, it's usually a good building material and it needs very little maintenance. Stucco has been used on houses Columbus, Ohio area for decades. and dates back hundreds of years to Europe. It does take a little maintenance, because it can crack and peel since it is cement, but it can usually be readily fixed. And it's practically impervious to weather conditions.

Home inspectors will tell you that in-and-of-itself stucco is a good building material. The problem that inspectors and builders are finding is that it's not being installed properly. What does that mean? Basically, it's not being sealed and/or flashed properly around windows and doors, and water is seeping in behind the stucco and into the interior walls of the house. This can, and has led to major damage to homes, including a proliferation of mold because the water is in the wall cavity and can't dry out. So you get homes that basically rot from the inside out in some cases, and that are harbingers for mold. All of this happens unbeknown to the home owner.

So is this something new? What changed? Stucco has been around for a long time, why are we just now hearing about this? It appears that they way they install stucco may have changed, and that may be based on builders methods or local building codes. However, one of my inspector friends says that this may be a larger problem than anybody knows because it's so hard to detect. There may be homes that were built many years ago that have issues yet the owners are unaware. And by the time it gets detected there can be serious damage that has already taken place. The Columbus Dispatch recently posted a couple of articles regarding the problem. One is from October 2010 and one is from December 2010. Here they are:

If you read these articles you'll see that stucco problems can be very hard to detect, as I mentioned earlier. And it also appears that this is not limited to any particular builder, price range or area. It appears that this can affect any home built just about anywhere.

If you take a look at the pictures below you will see something really interesting. These pictures were taken locally. First, look at the picture in the upper left corner. From a layperson's perspective it looks fine and normal. It's a little hard to see, but there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with the stucco from this view. Now look at the (2) pictures to the right. These were taken using an infared camera (I had my picture taken with this, camera, I looked like something from Predator). The camera doesn't detect water, it detects heat variations. A camera like this is useful for other applications as well, like heat loss from a roof, due to improper insulation, etc. Regardless, you'll see the blue in the pictures. Blue, meaning cooler. You would expect to see blue at the window, windows typically loose heat. But notice the stucco under the window. It is possible that there could be heat loss based on improper insulation in the wall cavities. However, the blue here was because of moisture, which is at a lower temperature than the wall or the stucco. And you can see that its basically in a drip pattern.

It the same scenario in the (2) lager pictures in the second row. Same house, same problem. Looks fine in the first picture, blue in the second picture, indicating moisture.

The next two pictures down show small cracks in the stucco. Are these the cause of the moisture? Likely not, because most of the problems are with the sealing around the windows. This is likely a crack caused by the water. Keep in mind these are just my interpretations of the pictures and the problem. I was not present when these pictures were taken.

The last two pictures show where water has affected the flooring and the framing in the home. It appears that this was not detectable without removing drywall. Again, it's really hard to detect.

My reason for posting this particular topic was to make sure that sellers, and especially buyers, were aware of these problems related to stucco. If you are a home buyer you need to know of things like this so you can better make an informed decision when purchasing a home. Because I work with only home buyers I try to stay up on issues like this for the sake of my clients. Information is power, especially when it come to buying a home. The more information, the better.

These pictures were provided by David Tamny, with Professional Property Inspection. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact him. He has become somewhat of local "expert" on stucco and mold issues. FYI, there is no specific test or inspection for this sort of thing. Typically, an inspection can include a visual inspection, pictures with an infared camera such as this, mold testing by scraping and air-quality sampling, and more invasive procedures like removing drywyall, framing or wall board.